Dangerous Liaisons —165—


I KNOW YOU ARE already acquainted, my dear and revered friend, with the loss you have just sustained; I knew your affection for M. de Valmont, and I participate most sincerely in the affliction which you must feel. I am truly grieved to have to add a fresh regret to those which are trying you already: but, alas! you have only your tears now to bestow upon our unhappy friend. We lost her yesterday, at eleven o’clock at night. By a fatality which attended her lot, and which seemed to make a mock of all human prudence, the short interval by which she survived M. de Valmont sufficed to inform her of his death; and, as she herself said, to enable her not to succumb beneath the weight of her misfortunes until the measure of them was full.

You are aware, of course, that for more than two days she was absolutely without consciousness; and even yesterday morning, when her physician arrived, and we approached her bedside, she recognized neither of us, and we could not extract the least word or sign from her. Well, hardly had we returned to the chimney, and the physician was relating to me the sad episode of M. de Valmont’s death, when the unfortunate woman recovered her reason, whether that nature alone had produced this revolution, or that it was caused by the repetition of the words, M. de Valmont and death, which may have brought back to the patient the only ideas which have occupied her for a long time.

However that may be, she hurriedly threw back the curtains of her bed, crying out, “What? What are you saying? M. de Valmont is dead!” I hoped to make her believe that she was mistaken, and at first assured her that she had heard wrong: but far from letting herself be persuaded, she required the physician to repeat the cruel story, and, upon my endeavoring again to dissuade her, she called me and whispered, “Why wish to deceive me? Was he not already dead to me?” It was necessary, therefore, to yield.

Our unhappy friend listened, at first, with a fairly tranquil air: but soon afterward, she interrupted the story, saying, “Enough, I know enough.” She asked at once for her curtains to be closed; and, when the physician subsequently tried to busy himself with the care of her condition, she never would have him near her.

As soon as he had left, she similarly dismissed her nurse and waiting maid; and when we were left alone, she begged me to help her to kneel down upon her bed, and support her so. There she stayed for some time in silence, and with no other expression than that which was given by her tears, which flowed copiously. At last, clasping her hands, and raising them to Heaven: “Almighty God,” said she, in a weak but fervent voice, “I submit myself to Thy justice; but forgive Valmont. Let not my misfortunes, which I admit are deserved, be a cause of reproach to him, and I will bless Thy mercy!” I have permitted myself, my dear and respected friend, to enter into these details on a subject which I am well aware must renew and aggravate your grief, because I have no doubt that that prayer of Madame de Tourvel’s will, nevertheless, be a great consolation to your soul. After our friend had uttered these brief words, she fell back in my arms; and she was hardly replaced in her bed, when she was overcome by weakness, which lasted long, but which gave way to the ordinary remedies. As soon as she had regained consciousness, she asked me to send for the Père Anselme, and added, “He is now the only physician whom I need; I feel that my ills will soon be ended.” She complained much of oppression, and spoke with difficulty.

A short time afterward, she handed me, through her waiting maid, a casket which I am sending to you, which she tells me contains papers of hers, and which she charged me to convey to you immediately after her death.ju She next spoke to me of you, and of your friendship for her, so far as her situation permitted, and with much emotion.

The Père Anselme arrived about four o’clock, and remained alone with her for nearly an hour. When we returned, the face of the sick woman was calm and serene; but it was easy to see that the Père Anselme had shed many tears. He remained to assist at the last ceremonies of the Church. This spectacle, always so imposing and so sorrowful, was rendered even more so by the contrast which the tranquil resignation of the sufferer formed with the profound grief of her venerable confessor, who burst into tears at her side. The emotion became general; and she, for whom everybody wept, was the only one not to weep.

The remainder of the day was spent in the customary prayers, which were only interrupted by the sufferer’s frequent fits of weakness. At last, at about eleven o’clock at night, she appeared to be more oppressed and to suffer more. I put out my hand to seek her arm; she had still strength enough to take it, and she placed it upon her heart. I could no longer discern any movement; and, indeed, at that very moment, our unfortunate friend expired.

You will remember, my dear friend, that, on your last visit here, not a year ago, when we talked together of certain persons whose happiness seemed to us more or less assured, we dwelt complacently upon the lot of this very woman, whose misfortunes and whose death we lament today. So many virtues, laudable qualities and attractions; a character so sweet and easy; a husband whom she loved, and by whom she was adored; a society which pleased her, and of which she was the delight; a face, youth, fortune; so many combined advantages lost through a single imprudence! O Providence, doubtless we must worship Thy decrees; but how incomprehensible they are! I stop myself; I fear to add to your sorrow by indulging my own.

I leave you, to return to my daughter, who is a little indisposed. When she heard from me this morning of so sudden a death of two persons of her acquaintance, she was taken ill, and I had her sent to bed. I hope, however, that this slight indisposition will have no ill results. At her age, one is not yet habituated to sorrow, and its impression is keener and more potent. Such sensibility is, doubtless, a praiseworthy quality; but how greatly does all that we daily see teach us to dread it!

Adieu, my dear and venerable friend.