I.—The Betrothal and the Exile
On the night when Evangeline, the beautiful daughter of
Benedict Bellefontaine, the richest farmer of Grand-Pré, was
to be betrothed to Gabriel, the son of Basil Lajeunesse the
blacksmith, the two fathers were engaged in discussing the reason
of the presence of several English war vessels which were
riding at anchor at the mouth of the Gaspereau. Basil was inclined
to take a gloomy view, and Benedict a hopeful one, when
the arrival of the notary put an end to his discussion.
Then Evangeline lighted the brazen lamp on the table,
Filled, till it overflowed, the pewter tankard with brown ale,
While from his pocket the notary drew his papers and ink-horn,
Wrote with a steady hand the date and the age of the parties,
And the great seal of the law was set like a sun on the margin.
Then the notary, rising and blessing the bride and bridegroom,
Lifted aloft the tankard of ale, and drank to their welfare.
Wiping the foam from his lips, he solemnly bowed and departed,
While in silence the others sat and mused by the fireside,
Till Evangeline brought the draught board out of its corner.
Soon was the game begun. In friendly contention the old men
Laughed at each lucky hit, or unsuccessful manoeuvre.
Meanwhile, apart, in the twilight gloom of a window's embrasure,
Sat the lovers, and whispered together, beholding the moon rise
Over the pallid sea, and the silvery mists of the meadows.
Pleasantly rose next morn. And lo! with a summons sonorous,
Sounded the bell from its tower, and over the meadows a drum beat.
Thronged ere long was the church with men. Without, in the churchyard,
Waited the women. They stood by the graves, and hung on the headstones
Garlands of autumn leaves and evergreens fresh from the forest.
Then came the guards from the ships, and entered the sacred portal.
Straight uprose their commander, and spake from the steps of the altar.
"You are convened this day," he said, "by his majesty's orders.
Painful the task is I do, which to you I know must be grievous.
Yet must I bow and obey, and deliver the will of our monarch;
Namely, that all your lands, and dwellings, and cattle of all kinds,
Forfeited be to the crown; and that you yourselves from the province
Be transported to other lands. God grant you may dwell there
Ever as faithful subjects, a happy and peaceable people!"
In the midst of the tumult and angry contention that broke out,
Lo! the door of the chancel opened, and Father Felician
Entered with solemn mien, and ascended the steps of the altar.
Raising his hand, with a gesture he awed the throng into silence.
"What is this that ye do?" he said. "What madness has seized you?
Forty years of my life have I laboured among you and taught you,
Not in word alone, but in deed, to love one another!
Is this the fruit of my toils, of my vigils and prayers and privations?
Have you so soon forgotten all lessons of love and forgiveness?"
Few were his words of rebuke, but deep in the hearts of his people
Sank they, and sobs of contrition succeeded the passionate outbreak,
While they repeated his prayer, and said, "O Father, forgive them!"
Four times the sun had risen and set; and now on the fifth day
Cheerily called the cock to the sleeping maids of the farmhouse.
Soon o'er the yellow fields, in silent and mournful procession,
Came from the neighbouring hamlets and farms the Acadian women,
Driving in ponderous wains their household goods to the seashore,
Pausing and looking back to gaze once more on their dwellings,
Ere they were shut from sight by the winding road and the woodland.
Close at their sides their children ran, and urged on the oxen,
While in their little hands they clasped some fragments of playthings.
Thus to the Gaspereau's mouth they hurried; and there on the sea-beach,
Piled in confusion, lay the household goods of the peasants.
Great disorder prevailed, and the tumult and stir of embarking
Busily plied the freighted boats; and in the confusion
Wives were torn from their husbands, and mothers, too late, saw their children
Left on the land, extending their arms, with wildest entreaties.
So unto separate ships were Basil and Gabriel carried,
While in despair on the shore Evangeline stood with her father.
Suddenly rose from the south a light, as in autumn the blood-red
Moon climbs the crystal wall of heaven, and o'er the horizon,
Titan-like, stretches its hundred hands upon the mountain and meadow,
Seizing the rocks and the rivers, and piling huge shadows together.
Broader and ever broader it gleamed on the roofs of the village,
Gleamed on the sky and sea, and the ships that lay in the roadstead.
Columns of shining smoke uprose, and flashes of flame were
Thrust through their folds and withdrawn, like the quivering hands of a martyr.
Then as the wind seized the gleeds and the burning thatch, and, uplifting,
Whirled them aloft through the air, at once from a hundred housetops
Started the sheeted smoke with flashes of flame intermingled.
Overwhelmed with the sight, yet speechless, the priest and the maidens
Gazed on the scene of terror that reddened and widened before them;
And as they turned at length to speak to their silent companion,
Lo! from his seat he had fallen, and stretched abroad on the seashore,
Motionless lay his form, from which the soul had departed.
With the first dawn of the day, the tide came hurrying landward.
Then recommenced once more the stir and noise of embarking;
And with the ebb of the tide the ships sailed out of the harbour,
Leaving behind them the dead on the shore, and the village in ruins.
II.—The Quest and the Finding
The exiles from Acadie landed some on one coast, some on
another; and the lovers were separated from one another. Evangeline
sought everywhere for Gabriel, in towns and in the country,
in churchyards and on the prairies, in the camps and battlefields
of the army, and among missions of Jesuits and Moravians.
But all in vain. She heard far and distant news of him, but
never came upon him. And so the years went by, and she grew
old in her search.
In that delightful land which is washed by the Delaware waters,
Guarding in sylvan shades the name of Penn, the apostle,
Stands on the banks of its beautiful stream the city he founded.
There all the air is balm, and the peach is the emblem of beauty,
And the streets still re-echo the names of the trees of the forest,
As if they fain would appease the Dryads whose haunts they molested.
There from the troubled sea had Evangeline landed, an exile,
Finding among the children of Penn a home and a country.
Gabriel was not forgotten. Within her heart was his image,
Clothed in the beauty of love and youth, as last she beheld him.
Over him years had no power; he was not changed, but transfigured;
He had become to her heart as one who is dead, and not absent.
Patience and abnegation of self, and devotion to others—
This was the lesson a life of trial and sorrow had taught her.
Other hope had she none, nor wish in life, but to follow
Meekly, with reverent steps, the sacred feet of her Saviour.
Thus many years she lived as a Sister of Mercy; frequenting
Lonely and wretched roofs in the crowded lanes of the city,
Where disease and sorrow in garrets languished neglected.
Then it came to pass that a pestilence fell on the city.
Wealth had no power to bribe, nor beauty to charm the oppressor;
But all perished alike beneath the scourge of his anger—
Only, alas! the poor, who had neither friends nor attendants,
Crept away to die in the almshouse, home of the homeless.
Thither, by night and day, came the Sister of Mercy. The dying
Looked up into her face, and thought, indeed, to behold there
Gleams of celestial light encircle her forehead with splendour,
Such as the artist paints o'er the brows of saints and apostles,
Or such as hangs by night o'er a city seen at a distance.
Unto their eyes it seemed the lamps of the city celestial,
Into whose shining gates ere long their spirits would enter.
Thus on a Sabbath morn, through the streets, deserted and silent,
Wending her quiet way, she entered the door of the almshouse.
Sweet on the summer air was the odour of flowers in the garden;
And she paused on her way to gather the fairest among them,
That the dying once more might rejoice in their fragrance and beauty.
And with light in her looks, she entered the chamber of sickness.
Many a languid head, upraised as Evangeline entered,
Turned on its pillow of pain to gaze while she passed, for her presence
Fell on their hearts like a ray of the sun on the walls of a prison.
And, as she looked around, she saw how Death, the consoler,
Laying his hand on many a heart, had healed it forever.
Suddenly, as if arrested by fear or a feeling of wonder,
Still she stood, with her colourless lips apart, while a shudder
Ran through her frame, and, forgotten, the flowerets dropped from her fingers,
And from her eyes and cheeks the light and bloom of the morning.
Then there escaped from her lips a cry of such terrible anguish
That the dying heard it, and started up from their pillows.
On the pallet before her was stretched the form of an old man.
Long and thin and grey were the locks that shaded his temples;
But, as he lay in the morning light, his face for a moment
Seemed to assume once more the forms of its earlier manhood.
Motionless, senseless, dying, he lay, and his spirit, exhausted,
Seemed to be sinking down through infinite depths in the darkness—
Darkness of slumber and death, forever sinking and sinking.
Then through those realms of shade, in multiplied reverberations,
Heard he that cry of pain, and through the hush that succeeded
Whispered a gentle voice, in accents tender and saint-like,
"Gabriel! O my beloved!" and died away into silence.
Then he beheld, in a dream, once more the home of his childhood;
Green Acadian meadows, with sylvan rivers among them,
Village, and mountain, and woodlands; and walking under their shadow,
As in the days of her youth, Evangeline rose in his vision.
Tears came into his eyes; and as slowly he lifted his eyelids
Vanished the vision away, but Evangeline knelt by his bed-side.
Vainly he strove to whisper her name, for the accents unuttered,
Died on his lips, and their motion revealed what his tongue would have spoken.
Vainly he strove to rise; and Evangeline, kneeling beside him,
Kissed his dying lips, and laid his head on her bosom.
Sweet was the light of his eyes; but it suddenly sank into darkness,
As when a lamp is blown out by a gust of wind at a casement.
All was ended now—the hope, and the fear, and the sorrow,
All the aching of heart, the restless, unsatisfied longing,
All the dull, deep pain, and constant anguish of patience;
And, as she pressed once more the lifeless head to her bosom,
Meekly she bowed her own, and murmured, "Father, I thank Thee!"