EVANGELINE OF ACADIA
By Henry W. Longfellow
More than two hundred years ago there lived in Acadia, as Nova
Scotia was then called, a beautiful maiden named Evangeline. Benedict
Bellefontaine, Evangeline's father, was the wealthiest farmer in
the neighborhood. His goodly acres were somewhat apart from the
little village of Grand-Pré, but near enough for Evangeline not to
The people of Grand-Pré were simple and kindly, and dwelt together
in the love of God and man. They had neither locks to their doors
nor bars to their windows; visitors were always welcome, and all
gave of their best to whoever might come.
The house of Benedict Bellefontaine, firmly builded with rafters
of oak, was on a hill commanding the sea. The barns stood toward
the north, shielding the house from storms. They were bursting with
hay and corn, and were so numerous as to form almost a village by
themselves. The horses, the cattle, the sheep and the poultry were
all well-fed and well cared for. At Benedict Bellefontaine's there
was comfort and plenty. The men and the maids never grumbled. All
men were equal, all were brothers and sisters. In Acadia the richest
man was poor, but the poorest lived in abundance.
Evangeline was her father's housekeeper; her mother was dead. Benedict
was seventy years old, but he was hale and hearty and managed his
prosperous farm himself. His hair was as white as snow and his face
was as brown as oak leaves. Evangeline's hair was dark brown and
her eyes were black. She was the loveliest girl in Grand-Pré and
many a lad was in love with her.
Among all Evangeline's suitors only one was welcome, and he was Gabriel
Lajeunesse, son of Basil the blacksmith. Gabriel and Evangeline had
grown up together like brother and sister. The priest had taught
them their letters out of the selfsame book, and together they
had learned their hymns and their verses. Together they had watched
Basil at his forge and with wondering eyes had seen him handle
the hoof of a horse as easily as a plaything, taking it into his
lap and nailing on the shoe. Together they had ridden on sledges
in winter and hunted birds' nests in summer, seeking eagerly that
marvellous stone which the swallow is said to bring from the shore
of the sea to restore the sight of its fledglings. Lucky is he who
finds that stone!
And now they were man and woman. Benedict and Basil were old friends
and they desired the marriage of the children. They were ready to
marry. The young men of the village had built them a house and a
barn. The barn was filled with hay and the house was stored with
food enough to last a year.
One beautiful evening in Indian summer Evangeline and Gabriel were
Benedict was sitting in-doors by the wide-mouthed fireplace singing
fragments of songs such as his fathers before him had sung in their
orchards in sunny France, and Evangeline was close beside him at
her wheel industriously spinning flax for her loom. Up-stairs there
was a chest filled with strong white linen which Evangeline would
take to her new home. Every thread of it had been spun and woven
by the maiden.
As they sat by the fireside, footsteps were heard, and the wooden
latch was suddenly lifted. Benedict knew by the hob-nailed shoes
that it was Basil the blacksmith, and Evangeline knew by her beating
heart that Gabriel was with him.
"Welcome," said Benedict the farmer, "welcome, Basil, my friend.
Come and take thy place on the settle close by the chimney-side.
Take thy pipe and the box of tobacco from the shelf overhead. Never
art thou so much thyself as when through the curling smoke of the
pipe or the forge thy friendly and jovial face gleams as round and
red as the harvest moon through the mist of the marshes."
"Benedict Bellefontaine, thou art always joking. Thou art cheerful
even when others are grave and anxious," answered Basil.
He paused to take the pipe which Evangeline was handing him, and
lighted it with a coal from the embers.
"For four days the English ships have ridden at their anchors in
the Gaspereau's mouth, and their cannon are pointed against us.
What they are here for we do not know, but we are all commanded to
meet in church to-morrow to hear his Majesty's will proclaimed as
law in the land. Alas! in the meantime the hearts of the people
are full of fears of evil," continued the blacksmith.
"Perhaps some friendly purpose brings these ships to our shores,"
replied the farmer. "Perhaps the harvests in England have been
blighted and they have come to buy our grain and hay."
"The people in the village do not think so," said Basil, gravely
shaking his head. "They remember that the English are our enemies.
Some have fled already to the forest, and lurk on its outskirts
waiting anxiously to hear to-morrow's news. If the news is not to
be bad why have our weapons been taken from us? Only the blacksmith's
sledge and the scythes of the mowers have been left."
"We are safer unarmed," answered the cheerful farmer, who as usual
made the best of everything. "What can harm us here in the midst
of our flocks and our corn-fields? Fear no evil, my friend, and,
above all, may no shadow fall on this house and hearth to-night. It
is the night of the contract. René Leblanc will be here presently
with his papers and inkhorn. Shall we not be glad and rejoice in
the happiness of our children?"
Evangeline and her lover were standing by the window. They heard
the words of the farmer and the maiden blushed. Hardly had he spoken
when the worthy notary entered the room.
René Leblanc was bent with age. His hair was yellow, his forehead
was high, and he looked very wise, with his great spectacles sitting
astride on his nose. He was the father of twenty children, and more
than a hundred grandchildren rode on his knee. All children loved
him for he could tell them wonderful fairy tales and strange stories
of the forest. He told them of the goblins that came at night to
water the horses, of how the oxen talked in their stalls on Christmas
Eve, of how a spider shut up in a nutshell could cure the fever, and
of the marvellous powers possessed by horse shoes and four-leaved
clover. He knew more strange things than twenty other men.
As soon as Basil saw the notary he asked him about the English
"Father Leblanc, thou hast heard the talk of the village. Perhaps,
thou canst tell us something about the ships and their errand."
"I have heard enough talk," answered the notary, "but I am none
the wiser. Yet I am not one of those who think that the ships are
here to do us evil. We are at peace and, why then, should they harm
"Must we in all things look for the how and the why and wherefore?"
shouted the hasty and somewhat excitable blacksmith. "Injustice is
often done and might is the right of the strongest."
"Man is unjust," replied the notary, "but God is just, and finally
justice triumphs. I remember a story that has often consoled me
when things have seemed to be going wrong.
"Once in an ancient city, whose name I have forgotten, there stood
high on a marble column, in the public square, a brazen statue
of Justice holding her scales in her left hand and a sword in her
right. This meant that justice reigned over the land and in the
hearts and the homes of the people. Yet in the course of time the
laws of the land were corrupted and might took the place of right,
the weak were oppressed, and the mighty ruled with a rod of iron.
By and by, birds built their nests in the scales of Justice; they
were not afraid of the sword that flashed in the sunshine above
"It happened that in the palace of a wealthy nobleman a necklace
of pearls disappeared. Suspicion fell on a poor orphan girl, who
was arrested and sentenced to be hanged right at the foot of the
statue of Justice.
"The girl was put to death, but as her innocent spirit ascended to
heaven a great storm arose and lightning struck the statue, angrily
hurling the scales from the left hand of the figure of Justice.
They fell to the pavement with a clatter and in one of the shattered
nests was found the pearl necklace. It had been stolen by a magpie
who had cunningly woven the string of pearls into the clay wall of
her babies' cradle. So the poor girl was proven innocent and the
people of that city were taught to be more careful of justice."
This story silenced the blacksmith but did not drive away his
forebodings of evil. Evangeline lighted the brazen lamp on the
table and filled the great pewter tankard with home-brewed nut brown
ale. The notary drew from his pocket his papers and his inkhorn
and began to write the contract of marriage. In spite of his age
his hand was steady, He set down the names and the ages of the
parties and the amount of Evangeline's dowry in flocks of sheep and
in cattle. All was done in accordance with the law and the paper
was signed and sealed. Benedict took from his leathern pouch three
times the notary's fee in solid pieces of silver. The old man arose
and blessed the bride and the bridegroom, and then lifted aloft
the tankard of ale and drank to their health. Then wiping the foam
from his lip, he bowed solemnly and went away.
The others sat quietly by the fireside until Evangeline brought
the draught-board to her father and Basil and arranged the pieces
for them. They were soon deep in the game, while Evangeline and her
lover sat apart in the embrasure of a window and whispered together
as they watched the moon rise over the sea. Their hearts were full
of happiness as they looked into the future, believing that they
would be together.
At nine o'clock the guests rose to depart, but Gabriel lingered on
the doorstep with many farewell words and sweet good-nights. When
he was gone Evangeline carefully covered the fire and noiselessly
followed her father up-stairs. Out in the orchard Gabriel waited
and watched for the gleam of her lamp and her shadow as she moved
about behind her snowy curtains. She did not know that he was so
near, yet her thoughts were of him.
The next day the betrothal feast was held in Benedict's house and
the orchard. There were good Benedict and sturdy Basil the blacksmith
and there were the priest and the notary. Beautiful Evangeline
welcomed the guests with a smiling face and words of gladness.
Then Michael the fiddler took a seat under the trees and he sang
and played for the company to dance, sometimes beating time to the
music with his wooden shoes.
Merrily, merrily whirled the dancers, old and young together, and
the children among them. Fairest of all the maidens was Evangeline,
and Gabriel was the noblest of all the youths.
So the morning passed away. A loud summons sounded from the church
tower and from the drums of the soldiers. The men thronged to the
church leaving the women outside in the church yard.
The church doors were closed, and the crowd silently awaited the
will of the soldiers. Then the commander arose and spoke from the
steps of the altar.
How dreadful were the words spoken from that holy place! The lands
and dwellings and the cattle of all kinds, of the people were to
be given up to the King of England whom they had to obey for he
had conquered the French. They were to be driven from their homes
and Englishmen were to be allowed to take possession of Acadia.
The commander declared the men prisoners, but overcome with sorrow
and anger, they rushed to the door-way. Basil, the hot-headed
blacksmith, cried out, "Down with the tyrants of England!" but a
soldier struck him on the mouth and dragged him down to the pavement.
Then Father Felician, the priest, spoke to his people, and tried
to quiet them. His words were few, but they sank deep in the hearts
of his flock.
"O Father, forgive them," they cried, as the crucified Christ had
cried centuries before them.
The evening service followed and the people fell on their knees
and were comforted.
Evangeline waited for her father at his door. She had set the
table and his supper was ready for him. On the white cloth were the
wheaten bread, the fragrant honey, the tankard of ale, and fresh
cheese, just brought from the dairy, but Benedict did not come. At
last the girl went back to the church and called aloud the names
of her father and Gabriel. There was no answer. Back to the empty
house she went, feeling desolate. It began to rain; then the lightning
flashed and it thundered, but Evangeline was not frightened, for
she remembered that God was in Heaven and that He governs the world
that He created. She thought of the story that she had heard the
night before of the justice of Heaven and, trusting in God, she
went to bed and slept peacefully until morning.
The men were kept prisoners in the church for four days and nights.
On the fifth day the women and the children were bidden to take
their household goods to the seashore and there they were joined
by the long-imprisoned but patient Acadian farmers.
When Evangeline saw Gabriel she ran to him and whispered, "Gabriel,
be of good cheer, for if we love each other nothing can harm us,
whatever mischances may happen."
Then she saw her father. He was sadly changed: the fire was gone
from his eyes and his footstep was heavy and slow. With a full
heart she embraced him, feeling that words of comfort would do no
The Acadians were hurried on board the ships and in the confusion
families were separated. Mothers were torn from their children and
wives from their husbands. Basil was put on one ship and Gabriel
on another, while Evangeline stood on the shore with her father.
When night came not half the work of embarking was done. The people
on shore camped on the beach in the midst of their household goods
and their wagons.
None could escape, for the soldiers were watching them.
The priest moved about in the moonlight trying to comfort the people.
He laid his hand on Evangeline's head and blessed her. Suddenly
columns of shining smoke arose and flashes of flame were seen in
the direction of Grand-Pré. The village was on fire. The people
felt that they could never return to their homes and their hearts
were swelled with anguish. Evangeline and the priest turned to
Benedict. He was motionless, his soul had gone to Heaven.
There on the beach, with the light of the burning village for a
torch, they buried the farmer of Grand-Pré, and the priest repeated
the burial service to the accompaniment of the roaring sea.
In the morning the work of embarking was finished and toward night
the ships sailed out of the harbor leaving the dead on the shore
and the village in ruins.
The Acadians were scattered all over the land from north to south
and from the bleak shores of the ocean even to the banks of the
Mississippi River. Evangeline wandered from place to place looking
for Gabriel Lajeunesse, and Gabriel sought Evangeline as earnestly.
Sometimes they heard of one another but through long years they
Evangeline was growing old and her hair showed faint streaks of
gray when at last she made her home in Philadelphia. She became a
Sister of Mercy and by day and by night ministered to the sick and
A pestilence fell on the city, carrying away rich and poor alike.
Evangeline lovingly tended the very poorest, and each day she went
to the almshouse on her errand of mercy.
One morning she came to a pallet on which lay an old man, thin and
gray. As she looked at him his face seemed to assume the form of
earlier manhood. With a cry she fell on her knees.
"Gabriel, my beloved!"
The old man heard the voice and it carried him back to the home
of his childhood, to happiness and Evangeline. He opened his eyes.
Evangeline was kneeling beside him. At last they were together.