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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
Albert’s Last Days
By Madame Augustus Craven (Pauline de la Ferronays) (1808–1891)
 
From ‘A Sister’s Story’

ONE of these latter days, Albert suddenly threw his arm round me and exclaimed: “I am going to die, and we might have been so happy!” O my God! I felt then as if my heart would really break.  1
  JUNE 26TH.—Before mass, which was again said at twelve o’clock at night in his room, Albert looked at me a long time, and then said with deep feeling, “God bless you!” Then he made the sign of the cross on my forehead, and added, “And God bless your mother, too.” After a while he said, “Good-by.” I seemed surprised, and perhaps frightened, and then he said, “Good-night,” as if to change the sad meaning of the word he had used. And all the while I wished so much to speak openly to him of his death. It was I perhaps who prevented it, by my fear of exciting him. During that last mass, every time that I looked at him he made me a sign to look at the altar. The window was open, but the night was quite dark. At the moment of communion the Abbé Martin de Noirlieu and Albert’s father, who was serving mass, came up to him. The Abbé gave one-half of the sacred Host to him, and the other to me. Even in this solemn moment there was something very sweet to me in this. Albert could not open his lips without much suffering—it was for this reason that the Abbé Martin had divided the Host; but even so, he had some difficulty in swallowing, and they were obliged to give him some water. This disturbed him, but the Abbé Gerbet—who was present—assured him it did not signify. Then Albert exclaimed: “My God! Thy will be done!” O my God! this thanksgiving of his must, I think, have been pleasing to thee!  2
  Before mass he had said to the Abbé Martin, who was speaking to him of his sufferings, “The only thing I ask of God now is strength to fulfill my sacrifice.” “You are nailed to the cross with our Lord Jesus Christ,” the Abbé said, and Albert answered in a very sweet and humble way, “Ah! but I am such a miserable sinner!” The altar had a blue-silk frontal, and was dressed with flowers. It was Eugénie who had arranged it. The blue silk was one of my trousseau dresses that had never been made up, and now was applied to this use.  3
  JUNE 27TH.—Albert was light-headed; was continually talking of going into the country, and pointing to me, cried, “She is coming with me! She is coming with me!” (I was in the habit of writing down every word he said on these latter days of his life; and these words, “She is coming with me,” were the last I wrote.) After dinner that same day we were sitting by his side, without speaking. Eugénie bent over him and gently suggested his receiving extreme unction. His countenance did not change in the least. He said gently and quite quietly, “Will it not be taking advantage of the graces the Church bestows to receive it yet?” He was anointed however that same evening, and during the whole time I was standing near him, with my hand on his right shoulder. Eugénie was on the other side of me.  4
  An explanation of this sacrament, which we had read together in our happy days, made me understand all that was going on. The thought flashed through me with a wild feeling of grief: “What, must his soul be purified even of its ardent love for me? Must that too be destroyed?” But I did not shed a single tear. His own wonderful calm was so holy. When it was over, Albert made a little sign of the cross on the Abbé Dupanloup’s forehead, who received it with respect, and affectionately embraced him. Then I approached, feeling that it was my turn to receive that dear sign of the cross, which was a sweet habit of happier days. He kissed me, his parents, Eugénie, Fernand, Montal, and then Julian (his servant), who was weeping bitterly. When it came to that, Albert burst into tears, and that was more than I could bear; but he quickly recovered fortitude when I kissed him again, and beckoned to the Sister, whom he would not leave out in this tender and general leave-taking, but with his delicate sense of what was befitting, and in token of gratitude he kissed the hand which had ministered to him, in spite of her resistance. M. l’Abbé Dupanloup, who gave him extreme unction, had prepared him for his first communion, and never forgot the edification it had given him at that time to find Albert on his knees praying in the same place where he had left him three hours before in the Church of St. Sulpice—that church in which his beloved remains were so soon to be deposited. I sat down by his side. He was asleep, and I held his hand in mine while Eugénie was writing the following lines to Pauline:—  5
  “O Pauline, what a night has this been! and yet not terrible,—no, a most blessed night. Albert has just received extreme unction. What wonderful graces God bestows: but why were you not here to receive that dear angel’s blessing, who, fitter for Heaven than ourselves, is going before us there….?” After relating all that has been mentioned, she adds: “Pauline, I could not have conceived anything more touching, more holy, more soothing, or a more heavenly peace. I bless God that nothing in all this time has troubled my notions of happiness in death.”  6
 
ALEXANDRINE TO THE ABBÉ GERBET
THE SAME DAY.    
  I should feel it a great mercy if you could come, but I am however perfectly composed. I entreat you, continue your prayers for me, for I can no longer pray for myself. I can only think of God, and remind him that I asked for faith in exchange for happiness.
ALEXANDRINE.    
  7
 
ALEXANDRINE’S JOURNAL
  JUNE 28TH.—To-night I called Albert’s attention to the rising moon. I thought it had the lurid aspect which once before I saw at Rome, when I thought he was dying at Civita Vecchia. The window was open. We looked on the fine trees of the Luxembourg, and the perfume of the honeysuckles and many flowers was sometimes almost too powerful on the night air. Montal came in later and brought me Albert’s letters to him, which I had asked for. It was as if a dagger had been driven into my heart. Still I immediately began to read those pages, which though heart-rending were very sweet. The Abbé Martin gave Albert absolution and the plenary indulgence for the night. I was kneeling by his side, and said to him afterwards, “Do kiss me.” He raised his feeble head, put up his lips, and kissed me. Then I asked him to let me kiss his eyes. He shut them in token of assent. Later still, feeling unable any longer to forbear pouring my whole heart into his, and longing to take advantage of the few moments yet remaining to us of life, I said to him:—“Albert, Montal has brought me your letters. They comfort me very much….” “Stop!” he cried feebly. “Stop! I cannot bear it—it troubles me!”—“O Albert! I worship you!”—The cry burst forth in the anguish of not being able to speak to him, for the fear of troubling his soul forced me to be silent; but those were the last words of my love for him that my lips ever uttered, and he heard them, as he had asked—even as he lay dying. O my God! whom alone I now worship, thou hast forgiven me for that rash word which I never again shall use but to thee, but which I cannot help being glad—and thou wilt pardon my weakness—to have said to my poor dying love. I wanted to sit up, but from grief and want of sleep my head was confused, and wandered so much that I thought I was speaking to Fernand at the window when he was not even there. Then I became afraid of losing my senses, and Eugénie forced me to lie down on the bed. I trusted more to her than any one else to waken me in time. Already, once or twice, I had experienced that terrible feeling when roused from sleep, of thinking that the dreadful moment was come. I was resolved at any cost to be there.
  8
  At about three o’clock in the morning, the 29th of June, I saw Eugénie at my bedside, and was terrified; but she calmed me, and said that Albert had asked, “Where is Alex?” “Do you want her?” Eugénie had said. “Of course I want her,” he replied, and then began to wander again. I behaved as if I had lost my senses. I passed twice before Albert’s bed, and then went into the next room, not the least knowing what I was about. Eugénie came in, holding clasped in her hands the crucifix indulgenced for the hour of death, which the Abbé Dupanloup had lent her. She appeared then as a meek angel of death, for that crucifix was a sign that the end drew near. Albert saw it, seized it himself, kissed it fervently, and exclaimed, “I thank thee, my God!” After that he became quite calm. They changed his position, and turned his head towards the rising sun. He had fallen into a kind of sleep, with his beloved head resting on my left arm. I was standing, and afraid of slipping from my place. The Sister wanted to relieve me, but Eugénie told her not to do so, and that I was glad to be there. When Albert awoke he spoke in his usual voice, and in quite a natural way, to Fernand….  9
  At six o’clock he was then lying in an arm-chair near the window. I saw and knew that the moment was come…. Then I felt so great a strength pass into me that nothing could have driven me from my place as I knelt by his side. My sister Eugénie was close to me. His father was kneeling on the other side. His poor mother stood leaning over him, the Abbé Martin by her side. O my God! No one spoke except his father, and each one of his words were words of blessing, the worthiest that could accompany the dying agony of a son. “My child, who hast never caused us pain,—the very best of sons,—we bless you. Do you hear me still, my child? You are looking at your Alexandrine,”—his dying eyes had turned towards me,—“and you bless her also.” The Sister began to say the Litany for the Agonizing. And I—his wife—felt what I could never have conceived; I felt that death was blessed, and I said in my heart: “Now, O Lord Jesus, he is in Paradise!” The Abbé Martin began to give the last absolution, and Albert’s soul took flight before it was over.  10
 
 
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