Though seriously ill, she made light of her suffering and remained a spirited letter-writer for as long as she could hold a pen. In the middle of a lively letter to Fanny, dated 21 February 1817, she claims: I am almost entirely cured of my rheumatism; just a little pain in my knee now & then, to make me remember what it was, & keep on flannel. – Aunt Cassandra nursed me so beautifully! (Letter 151). Three weeks later, she claimed to be tolerably well ... quite equal to walking about & enjoying the Air; & by sitting down & resting a good while between my Walks, I get exercise enough. – I have a scheme however for accomplishing more, as the weather grows springlike. I mean to take to riding the Donkey (Letter 153). She did ride and reported: 'I took my 1st ride yesterday & liked it very much. I went up Mounters Lane, & round by where the new cottages are to be, & found the exercise & everything very pleasant, & had the advantage of agreable companions, as At Cass: & Edward walked by my side (Letter 155).
Who was Madame Bigeon? I am indebted to post-graduate research student Simon Kirkpatrick for the following information (sent to me in April 2013): Madame de Bigeon was, apparently, first and foremost a nurse. Madame de Bigeon and her daughter had nursed Hastings Austen prior to his death in 1801. Madame de Bigeon nursed Eliza Austen (Henry Austen's wife) up to her death in 1813 and following that acted as housekeeper to Henry. When Henry's bank collapsed it was reported that some Austen servants had lost money. Simon states that, 'Whilst accepting that Madame de Bigeon and her daughter, Madame Perigord, were long-standing servants of Henry Austen and his deceased wife Eliza (Henry's first cousin), I have not yet seen any specific reference to the fact that Madame de Bigeon was a registered account holder at Henry's bank.'