Poor Armand, would he have been able, even as a maimed man, to keep his word? We never knew, for, after seeming for a fortnight to be on the way to recovery, he took a turn for the worse, and after a few days of suffering, which he bore much better than the first, there came that cessation of pain which the doctors declared to mean that death was beginning its work. He was much changed by these weeks of illness. He seemed to have passed out of that foolish worldly dream that had enchanted him all his poor young life; he was scarcely twenty-seven, and to have ceased from that idol-worship of the Prince which had led him to sacrifice on that shrine the wife whom he had only just learned to love and prize. ‘Ah! sister,’ he said to me, ’I see now what Philippe would have made me.’
He asked my pardon most touchingly for his share in trying to abduct me, and Clement Darpent’s also for the attack on him, though, as he said, Darpent had long before shown his forgiveness. His little children were brought to him, making large eyes with fright at his deathlike looks, and clinging to their mother, too much terrified to cry when he kissed them, blessed them, and bade Maurice consider his mother, and obey her above all things, and to regard me as next to her.
’Ah! if I had had such a loving mother I should never have become so brutally selfish,’ he said; and, indeed, the sight of her sweet, tender, patient face seemed to make him grieve for all the sins of his dissipated life. His confessor declared that he was in the most pious disposition of penitence. And thus, one summer evening, with his wife, Madame Darpent, and myself watching and praying round him, Armand d’Aubepine passed away from the temptations that beset a French noble.
I took my poor Cecile home sinking into a severe illness, which I thought for many days would be her death. All her old terror of Madame Croquelebois returned, and for many nights and days Madame Darpent or I had to be constantly with her, though we had outside troubles enough of our own. Those two sick-rooms seem to swallow up my recollection.
There was indeed a good deal passing beyond those rooms where Margaret was so absorbed in her d’Aubepines that I sometimes thought she forgot her own kindred in them. Poor things! they were in sad case, though how Cecile could break her heart over a fellow who had used her so vilely, I could never understand. He repented, they said. So much the better for him; but a pretty life he would have led her if he had recovered. Why, what is there for a French noble to do but to fight, dance attendance on the King, and be dissipated? There is no House of Lords, no Quarter-Sessions, no way of being useful; and if he tried to improve his peasantry he is a dangerous man, and they send him a lettre de cachet. He