Dangerous Liaisons —149—


I HAD HOPED YESTERDAY, almost all day, my revered friend, to be able to give you more favorable news this morning as to the health of our dear invalid: but this hope has been destroyed since last evening, and I am only left with the regret that I have lost it. An event, seemingly of scant importance, but cruel in the results it caused, has rendered the condition of our invalid at least as grievous as it was before, if, indeed, it has not made it worse. I should have understood no whit of this sudden change, had I not received yesterday the complete confidence of our unhappy friend. As she did not conceal from me that you were also acquainted with all her misfortunes, I can speak to you, without reserve, of her sad situation.

Yesterday morning, when I reached the convent, I was informed that the invalid had been asleep for the last three hours; and her slumber was so calm and deep that I was afraid for a moment that it was lethargic. Shortly afterward, she awoke, and herself drew back the curtains of her bed. She gazed at us all with an air of surprise ; and when I rose to go to her, she recognized me, spoke my name, and begged me to draw near. She left me no time to question her, but asked me where she was, what we were doing there, if she was sick, and why she was not at home. I thought, at first, that it was a new delirium, only of a more tranquil kind than the last; but I perceived that she fully understood my answers. In fact, she had recovered her reason, but not her memory.

She questioned me very minutely as to all that had happened to her since she had been at the convent, whitherjh she did not remember coming. I answered her correctly, only suppressing what might have given her too much alarm; and when I asked her, in my turn, how she felt, she replied that she was not in pain at that moment, but that she had suffered greatly in her sleep and felt tired. I persuaded her to be quiet and to talk little; after which, I partly closed her curtains, leaving them half open, and sat down by her bed. At the same time some broth was suggested, which she took and found good.

She remained thus for about half an hour, during which time her only words were to thank me for the attention I had given her; and she brought to these thanks that grace and charm which you know. She then maintained for some time an absolute silence, which she only broke to say, “Ah yes, I remember coming here.” And a moment later, she cried pitifully, “My friend, my friend, pity me; my miseries are all coming back to me.” Then as I advanced toward her, she seized my hand, and resting her head upon it: “Dear God!” she went on, “can I not die then?” Her expression, more than these words even, moved me to tears; she perceived them in my voice, and said to me, “You pity me! Ah, did you but know …” and then, interrupting herself: “Arrange that we can be left alone, and I will tell you all.” As I believe I have informed you, I had my suspicions already as to what was to be the subject of this confidence; and, fearing that the conversation, which I foresaw would be long and sorrowful, might, perhaps, be harmful to the condition of our unhappy friend, I refused at first, under the pretext that she required rest; but she insisted, and I yielded to her instances. We were no sooner alone than she told me all that you have already heard from her, which, for that reason, I will not repeat to you. Finally, while speaking of the cruel fashion in which she had been sacrificed, she added, “I felt very certain it would be my death, and I had the courage for it; but what is impossible to me is to survive my misfortune and my shame.”

I tried to vanquish this discouragement, or rather this despair, with the arms of religion, which, hitherto, had such power over her; but I soon perceived that I had not strength enough for these august functions, and I confined myself to a proposal to call in the Père Anselme, whom I know to be entirely in her confidence. She agreed to this, and even seemed to desire it greatly. He was sent for and came at once. He stayed for a long time with the patient, and said, on leaving, that, if the physicians judged as he did, he thought the ceremony of the sacraments might be deferred; that he would return on the following day.

It was about three o’clock in the afternoon, and until five our friend was fairly quiet; so much so that we had all regained hope. Unfortunately, a letter was brought up to her. When they would have given it her, she answered first that she would not receive any, and no one pressed it. But from that moment she shewed greater agitation. Shortly afterward, she asked whence this letter came. It had no postmark: who had brought it? No one knew. From whom had it been sent? The portress had not been told. She then kept silence for some time, after which she began to speak; but her wandering talk only told us that she was again delirious.

However, there was another quiet interval, until at last she requested that the letter which had been brought should be given her. As soon as she had cast her eyes on it, she cried, “From him! Good God!” and then in a strong but oppressed voice, “Take it back, take it back.” She had her bed curtains shut immediately, and forbade anybody to come near her; but we were almost immediately compelled to return to her side. The frenzy had returned more violent than ever, and really terrible convulsions were joined to it. These attacks had not ceased by the evening, and this morning’s bulletin informs me that the night has not been less stormy. In short, her state is such that I am astonished she has not already succumbed, and I will not hide from you that I have very little hope left.

I suppose this unfortunate letter was from M. de Valmont: but what can he still dare write to her? Forgive me, my dear friend; I refrain from all reflection: but it is cruel, indeed, to see a woman make so wretched an end, who was hitherto so deservedly happy.