Page images
PDF
EPUB

Evangeline.

A TALE OF ACADIE.

PREFATORY NOTE.

The story of “EVANGELINE” is founded on a painful occurrence which took place in the early period of British colonization in the rorthern part of America.

In the year 1713, Acadia, or, as it is now named, Nova Scotia, was ceded to Great Britain by the French. The wishes of the inhabitants scem to have been little consulted in the change, and they with great difficulty were induced to take the oaths of allegiance to the British Government. Some time after this, war having again broken out between the French and British in Canada, the Acadians were accused of having assisted the French, from whom they were descended, and connected by many ties of friendship, with provisions and ammunition, at the siege of Beau Séjour. Whether the accusation was founded on fact or not, has not been satisfactorily ascertained; the result, however, was most disastrous to the primitive, simple-minded Acadians. The British Government ordered them to be removed from their homes, and dispersed throughout the other colonies, at a distance from their much-loved land. This resolution was not communicated to the inhabitants till measures had been matured to carry it into immediate effect; when the Governor of the colony, having issued a summons calling the whole people to a meeting, informed them that their lands, tenements, and cattle of all kinds were forfeited to the British crown, that he had orders to remove them in vessels to distant colonies, and they must remain in custody till their embarkation.

The poem is descriptive of the fate of some of the persons involved in these calamitous proceedings. This is the forest primeval. The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinctin the twilight, Stand like Druids of eld, with voices sad and prophetic, Stand like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms. Loud from its rocky caverns, the deep-voiced neighbouring ocean Speaks, and in accents disconsolate answers the wail of the forest.

This is the forest primeval; but where are the hearts that beneath it Leaped like the roe, when he hears in the woodland the voice of

the huntsman? Where is the thatch-roofed village, the home of Acadian farmers,Men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodlands, Darkened by shadows of earth, but reflecting an image of heaven? Waste are those pleasant farms, and the farmers for ever departed ! Scattered like dust and leaves, when the mighty blasts of October Seize them, and whirl them aloft, and sprinkle them faro'er the ocean. Nought but tradition remains of the beautiful village of Grand-Pré.

Yewho believe in affection that hopes, and endures, and is patient, Ye who believe in the beauty and strength of woman's devotion, List to the mournful tradition still sung by the pines of the forest; List to a Tale of Love in Acadie, home of the happy.

Part the First.

I.

In the Acadian land, on the shores of the Basin of Minas,
Distant, secluded, still, the little village of Grand-Pré
Lay in the fruitful valley. Vast meadows stretched to the eastward,
Giving the village its name, and pasture to flocks without number.
Dikes, that the hands of the farmers had raised with labourincessant,
Shut out the turbulent tides; but at stated seasons the floodgates
Opened, and welcomed the sea to wander at will o'er the meadows.
West and south there were fields of flax, and orchards and cornfields
Spreading afarand unfenced o'er the plain, and away to the northward
Blomidon rose, and the forests old, and aloft on the mountains
Sea-fogs pitched their tents, and mists from the mighty Atlantic
Looked on the happy valley, but ne'er from their station descended.
There, in the midst of its farms, reposed the Acadian village.
Strongly built were the houses, with frames of oak and of chestnut,
Such as the peasants of Normandy built in the reign of the Henries.
Thatched were the roofs, with dormer-windows; and gables projecting
Over the basement below protected and shaded the doorway.
There, in the tranquil evenings of summer, when brightly the sunset
Lighted the village street, and gilded the vanes on the chimneys,
Matrons and maidens sat in snow-white caps and in kirtles
Scarlet and blue and green, with distaffs spinning the golden
Flax for the gossiping looms, whose noisy shuttles within doors
Mingled their sound with the whir of the wheels and the songs of

the maidens.
Solemnly down the street came the parish priest, and the children
Paused in their play to kiss the hand he extended to bless them.
Reverend walked he among them; and up rose matrons and maidens,
Hailing his slow approach with words of affectionate welcome.
Then came the laborers home from the field, and serenely the sun sank
Down to his rest, and twilight prevailed. Anon from the belfry
Softly the Angelus sounded, and over the roofs of the village
Columns of pale blue smoke, like clouds of incense ascending,
Rose from a hundred hearths, the homes of peace and contentment.
Thus dwelt together in love these simple Acadian farmers, –
Dwelt in the love of God and of man. Alike were they free from
Fear, that reigns with the tyrant, and envy, the voice of republics.
Neither locks had they to their doors, nor bars to their windows;
But their dwellings were open as day and the hearts of the owners;
There the richest was poor, and the poorest lived in abundance.

Somewhat apart from the village, and nearer the Basin of Minas, Benedict Bellefontaine, the wealthiest farmer of Grand-Pré, Dwelt on his goodly acres; and with him, directing his household, Gentle Evangeline lived, his child, and the pride of the village. Stalworth and stately in form was the man of seventy winters; Hearty and hale was he, an oak that is covered with snow-flakes; White as the snow were his locks, and his cheeks as brown as the

oak-leaves. Fair was she to behold, that maiden of seventeen summers. Black were her eyes as the berry that grows on the thorn by the

way-side, Black, yet how softly they gleamed beneath the brown shade of

her tresses ! Sweet was her breath as the breath of kine that feed in the meadows. When in the harvest heat she bore to the reapers at noontide Flagons of home-brewed ale, ah! fair in sooth was the maiden. Fairer was she when, on Sunday morn, while the bell from its turret Sprinkled with holy sounds the air, as the priest with his hyssop Sprinkles the congregation, and scatters blessings upon them, Down the long street she passed, with her chaplet of beads and her

missal, Wearing her Norman cap, and her kirtle of blue, and the ear-rings, Brought in the olden time from France, and since, as an heir-loom, Handed down from mother to child, through long generations. But a celestial brightness - -a more ethereal beautyShone on her face and encircled her form, when, after confession, Homeward serenely she walked with God's benediction upon her. When she had passed, it seemed like the ceasing of exquisite music, Firmly builded with rafters of oak, the house of the farmer Stoo:1 on the side of a hill commanding the sea; and a shady Sycamore grew by the door, with a woodbine wreathing around it. Ru lely carved was the porch, with seats beneath; and a footpath Led through an orchard wide, and disappeared in the meadow. Under the sycamore-tree were hives overhung by a penthouse, Such as the traveller sees in regions remote by the road-side, Built o'er a box for the poor, or the blessed image of Mary. Farther down, on the slope of the hill, was the well with its moss

grown Bucket, fastened with iron, and near it a trough for the horses. Shielding the house from storms, on the north,

were the barns and the farmyarl: There stood the broad-wheeled wains and the antique ploughs and

the harrows; There were the folds for the sheep; and there, in his feathered seraglio, Strutted the lorlly turkey, an I crowed the cock, with the selfsame Voice that in ages of old hal startled the penitent Peter. Bursting with hay were the barns, themselves a village. In each one Far o'er the gable projected a roof of thatch; and a staircase, Under the sheltering caves, led up to the odorous corn-loft. There too the dove-cot stood, with its meek and innocent inmates Murm'ıring ever of love; while above in the variant breezes Numberless noisy weathercocks rattled and sang of mutation.

Thus, at peace with God and the world, the farmer of Grand-Pré Lived on his sunny farm, and Evangeline governed his household. Many a youth, as he knelt in the church and opened his missal,

Fixed his eyes upon her, as the saint of his deepest devotion ;
Happy was he who might touch her hand or the hem of her garment!
Many a suitor came to her door, by the darkness befriended,
And as he knocked and waited to hear the sound of her footsteps,
Knew not which beat the louder, his heart or the knocker of iron;
Or at the joyous feast of the Patron Saint of the village,
Bolder grew, and pressed her hand in the dance as he whispered
Hurried words of love, that seemed a part of the music.
But, among all who came, young Gabriel only was welcome;
Gabriel Lajeunesse, the son of Basil the blacksmith,
Who was a mighty man in the village, and honoured of all men
For since the birth of time, throughout all ages and nations,
Has the craft of the smith been held in repute by the people.
Basil was Benedict's friend. Their children from earliest childhood
Grew up together as brother and sister; and Father Felician,
Priest and pedagogue both in the village, had taught them their

letters Out of the selfsame book, with the hymns of the church and the

plain-song. But when the hymn was sung, and the daily lesson completed, Swiftly they hurried away to the forge of Basil the blacksmith. There at the door they stood, with wondering eyes to behold him Take in his leathern lap the hoof of the horse as a plaything, Nailing the shoe inits place; while near him the tire of the cart-wheel Lay like a fiery snake, coiled round in a circle of cinders. Oft on autumnal eves, when without in the gathering darkness Bursting with light seemed the smithy, through every cranny and

crevice, Warm by the forge within they watched the labouring bellows, And as its panting ceased, and the sparks expired in the ashes, Merrily laughed, and said they were nuns going into the chapel. Oft on sledges in winter, as swift as the swoop of the eagle, Down the hill-side bounding, they glided away o'er the meadow. Oft in the barns they climbed to the populous nests on the rafters, Seeking with eager eyes that wondrous stone, which the swallow Brings from the shore of the sea to restore the sight of its fledglings; Lucky was he who found that stone in the nest of the swallow! Thus passed a few swift years, and they no longer were children. He was a valiant youth, and his face, like the face of the morning, Gladdened the earth with its light, and ripened thought into action. She was a woman now, with the heart and hopes of a woman. “Sunshine of St. Eulalie" was she called; for that was the sunshine Which, as the farmers believed, would load their orchards with

apples; She, too, would bring to her husband's house delight and abundance, Filling it full of love and the ruddy faces of children.

II.

Now had the season returned, when the nights grow colder and longer, And the retreating sun the sign of the Scorpion enters.

Birds of passage sailed through the leaden air, from the ice-bound,
Desolate northern bays to the shores of tropical islands.
Harvests were gathered in; and wild with the winds of September
Wrestled the trees of the forest, as Jacob of old with the angel.
All the signs foretold a winter long and inclement.
Bees, with prophetic instinct of want, had hoarded their honey
Till the hives overflowed; and the Indian hunters asserted
Cold would the winter be, for thick was the fur of the foxes.
Such was the adventof autumn. Thenfollowed that beautiful season,
Called by the pious Acadian peasants the Summer of All-Saints !
Filled wastheair with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape
Lay as if new-created in all the freshness of childhood.
Peace seemed to reign upon earth, and the restless heart of the ocean
Was for a moment consoled. All sounds were in harmony blended.
Voices of children at play, the crowing of cocks in the farm-yards,
Whir of wings in the drowsy air, and the cooing of pigeons,
All were subdued and low as the murmurs of love, and the great sun
Looked with the eye of love through the golden vapours around him;
While arrayed in its robes of russet and scarlet and yellow,
Bright with the sheen of the dew, each glittering tree of the forest
Flashed like the plane-tree the Persian adorned with mantles and

jewels.
Now recommenced the reign of rest and affection and stillness.
Day with its burden and heat had departed, and twilight descending
Brought back the evening star to the sky, and the herds to the

homestead. Pawing the ground they came, and resting their necks on each other, And with their nostrils distended inhaling the freshness of evening. Foremost, bearing the bell, Evangeline's beautiful heifer, Proud of her snow-white hide, and the ribbon that waved from

her collar, Quietly paced and slow, as if conscious of human affection. Then came the shepherd back with his bleating flocks from the

sea-side, Where was their favourite pasture. Behind them followed the

watch-dog, Patient, full of importance, and grand in the pride of his instinct, Walking from side to side with a lordly air, and superbly Waving his bushy tail, and urging forward the stragglers; Regent of flocks was he when the shepherd slept; their protector, When from the forest at night, through the starry silence, the

wolves howled. Late, with the rising moon, returned the wains from the marshes, Laden with briny hay, that filled the air with its odour. Cheerily neighed the steeds, with dew on their manes and their

fetlocks, While aloft on their shoulders the wooden and ponderous saddles, Painted with brilliant dyes, and adorned with tessels of crimson, Nodded in bright array, like hollyhocks heavy with blossoms.

[ocr errors]
« PreviousContinue »