Dangerous Liaisons —147—


I AM SURE YOU will be as grieved as I am, my worthy friend, to learn of the condition in which Madame de Tourvel lies; she has been ill since yesterday: her disorder appeared so suddenly, and exhibits such grave symptoms, that I am really alarmed.

A burning fever, a violent and almost constant delirium, an unquenchable thirst: that is all that can be remarked. The doctors say they can make no diagnosis as yet; and the treatment will be all the more difficult, because the patient refuses every kind of remedy with such obstinacy that it was necessary to hold her down by force to bleed her; and the same course had to be followed on two other occasions to tie her bandage, which in her delirium she persists in tearing off.

You, who have seen her, as I have, so fragile, timid and quiet, cannot conceive that four persons are barely enough to hold her; and at the slightest expostulationjg she flies into indescribable fury! For my part, I am afraid it is something worse than delirium, and that she is really gone out of her mind.

What increases my fear on this subject is a thing which occurred the day before yesterday. Upon that day, she arrived about eleven o’clock in the forenoon, with her waiting maid, at the Convent of…. As she was educated in that house, and had continued the habit of sometimes visiting it, she was received as usual, and seemed to everyone calm and in good health. About two hours later, she enquired if the room she had occupied as a schoolgirl was vacant, and, on being answered in the affirmative, she asked to go and see it: the Prioress accompanied her with some other nuns. It was then that she declared that she had come back to take her abode in that room, which, said she, she ought never to have left, and which, she added, she would never leave until her death: those were her words.

At first they knew not what to say: but when their first astonishment was over, it was represented to her that her position as a married woman prevented them from receiving her without a special permission. Neither this, nor a thousand other reasons, made any impression; and from that moment she obstinately refused, not only to leave the convent, but even her room. At last, weary of the discussion, they consented, at seven o’clock in the evening, that she should pass the night there. Her carriage and servants were dismissed ; and they awaited the next day to come to some decision.

I am assured that, all through the evening, her air and bearing, far from being wild, were composed and deliberate; only that she fell four or five times into a reverie so deep that they could not rouse her from it by speaking to her; and, that, each time before she issued from it, she carried her two hands to her brow, which she seemed to clasp vigorously: upon which, one of the nuns who were with her having asked her if her head pained her, she gazed at her a long time before replying, and said at last, “The hurt is not there!” A moment later, she asked to be left alone, and begged that no further question should be put to her.

Everyone retired except her waiting maid: who was fortunately obliged to sleep in the same chamber, for lack of other room. According to this girl’s account, her mistress was pretty quiet until eleven o’clock. She then expressed a wish to go to bed: but, before she was quite undressed, she began to walk up and down her chamber, with much action and frequent gestures. Julie, who had been a witness of what had passed during the day, dared say naught to her, and waited in silence for nearly an hour. At length, Madame de Tourvel called to her twice in quick succession; she had but the time to run up, when her mistress fell into her arms, saying, “I am exhausted.” She let herself be led to bed, and would not take anything, nor allow any help to be sent for. She merely had some water placed near her and ordered Julie to lie down.

The girl declares that she remained awake until two in the morning, and that, during that time, she heard neither a movement nor a complaint. But she says that she was awakened at five o’clock by the talk of her mistress, who was speaking in a loud and high voice; and that, having enquired if she needed anything, and obtaining no reply, she took the light and went to the bed of Madame de Tourvel, who did not recognize her, but suddenly interrupting her incoherent remarks, cried out excitedly, “Leave me alone, leave me in the darkness; it is the darkness that becomes me.” I remarked yesterday myself that she often repeats this phrase.

At length, Julie profited by this kind of order to go out and seek other assistance: but Madame de Tourvel refused it, with the fury and delirium which she has displayed so often since.

The confusion into which this threw the whole convent induced the Prioress to send for me at seven o’clock yesterday morning…. It was not yet daylight. I hastened there at once. When my name was announced to Madame de Tourvel, she appeared to recover her consciousness, and replied, “Ah, yes, let her come in.” But, when I reached her bed, she looked fixedly at me, took my hand excitedly, gripped it, and said in a loud but gloomy voice, “I am dying because I did not believe you.” Immediately afterward, hiding her eyes, she returned to her most frequent remark: “Leave me alone,” etc., and lost all consciousness.

This phrase and some others which fell from her in her delirium make me fear lest this cruel affliction may have a cause which is crueler still. But let us respect the secrets of our friend, and be content to pity her misfortune.

The whole of yesterday was equally tempestuous, and was divided between fits of alarming delirium and moments of lethargic depression, the only ones when she takes or gives any rest. I did not leave her bedside until nine o’clock in the evening, and I shall return to it this morning to pass the day there. I will certainly not abandon my unfortunate friend: but the heartrending part of it is her obstinacy in refusing all attention and succor.

I send you the bulletin of last night, which I have just received, and which, as you will see, is anything but consoling. I will be careful to forward them all to you punctually.

Adieu, my respected friend, I am going back to the patient. My daughter, who is fortunately almost recovered, sends you her respects.

PARIS, 29th November, 17–.