The struggles amid which I grew to manhood nearly effaced her from my memory. In after years I often fancied that I could see her again, and one day I asked my mother what had become of her. “She is dead,” my mother replied, “and of a broken heart. She had no fortune of her own. When she lost her father and mother, her aunt—a very respectable woman who kept the equally respectable Hotel ——, took her to live there. She did the best she could. Even as a child, when you knew her, she was charming, but at two-and-twenty she was marvellously beautiful. Her hair—which she tried in vain to keep out of sight under a heavy cap—came down over her neck in wavy tresses like handfuls of ripe wheat. She did all that she could to conceal her beauty. Her beautiful figure was disguised by a cape, and her long white hands were always covered with mittens. But it was all of no use. Groups of young men would assemble in church to see her at her devotions. She was too beautiful for our country, and she was as good as she was beautiful.” My mother’s story touched me very much. I have thought of her much more frequently since, and when it pleased God to give me a daughter I named her Noemi.
The world in its progress cares little more how many it crushes than the car of the idol of Juggernaut. The whole of the ancient society which I have endeavoured to portray has disappeared. Brehat has passed out of existence. I revisited it six years ago and should not have known it again. Some genius in the capital of the department has discovered that certain ancient usages of the island are not in keeping with some article of the code, and a peaceable and well-to-do population has been reduced to revolt and beggary. These islands and coasts which were formerly such a good nursery for the navy are so no longer. The railways and the steamers have been the ruin of them. And like old Breton bards, to what a case they have been brought! I found several of them a few years ago among the Bas-Bretons who came to eke out a miserable existence at St. Malo. One of them, who was employed in sweeping the streets, came to see me. He explained to me in Breton—for he could not speak a word of French—his ideas as to the decadence of all poetry and the inferiority of the new schools. He was attached to the old style—the narrative ballad—and he began to sing to me the one which he deemed the prettiest of them. The subject of it was the death of Louis XVI. He burst into tears, and when he got to Santerre’s beating of the drums he could not continue. Rising proudly to his feet, he said: “If the king could have spoken, the spectators would have rallied to him.” Poor dear man!