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- EVANGELINE - 2/8 -


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 vapors 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 seaside, Where was their favorite 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 odor. 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 tassels of crimson, Nodded in bright array, like hollyhocks heavy with blossoms. Patiently stood the cows meanwhile, and yielded their udders Unto the milkmaid's hand; whilst loud and in regular cadence Into the sounding pails the foaming streamlets descended. Lowing of cattle and peals of laughter were heard in the farm-yard, Echoed back by the barns. Anon they sank into stillness; Heavily closed, with a jarring sound, the valves of the barn-doors, Rattled the wooden bars, and all for a season was silent.

In-doors, warm by the wide-mouthed fireplace, idly the farmer Sat in his elbow-chair; and watched how the flames and the smoke-wreaths Struggled together like foe in a burning city. Behind him, Nodding and mocking along the wall, with gestures fantastic, Darted his own huge shadow, and vanished away into darkness. Faces, clumsily carved in oak, on the back of his arm-chair Laughed in the flickering light, and the pewter plates on the dresser Caught and reflected the flame, as shields of armies the sunshine. Fragments of song the old man sang, and carols of Christmas, Such as at home, in the olden time, his fathers before him Sang in their Norman orchards and bright Burgundian vineyards. Close at her father's side was the gentle Evangeline seated, Spinning flax for the loom, that stood in the corner behind her. Silent awhile were its treadles, at rest was its diligent shuttle, While the monotonous drone of the wheel, like the drone of a bagpipe, Followed the old man's song, and united the fragments together. As in a church, when the chant of the choir at intervals ceases, Footfalls are heard in the aisles, or words of the priest at the altar, So, in each pause of the song, with measured motion the clock clicked.

Thus as they sat, there were footsteps heard, and, suddenly lifted, Sounded the wooden latch, and the door swung back on its hinges. Benedict knew by the hob-nailed shoes it was Basil the blacksmith, And by her beating heart Evangeline knew who was with him. "Welcome!" the farmer exclaimed, as their footsteps paused on the threshold, "Welcome, Basil, my friend! Come, take thy place on the settle Close by the chimney-side, which is always empty without thee; Take from the shelf overhead thy pipe and the box of tobacco; Never so much thyself art thou as when through the curling Smoke of the pipe or the forge thy friendly and jovial face gleams Round and red as the harvest moon through the mist of the marshes." Then, with a smile of content, thus answered Basil the blacksmith, Taking with easy air the accustomed seat by the fireside:-- "Benedict Bellefontaine, thou hast ever thy jest and thy ballad! Ever in cheerfullest mood art thou, when others are filled with Gloomy forebodings of ill, and see only ruin before them. Happy art thou, as if every day thou hadst picked up a horseshoe." Pausing a moment, to take the pipe that Evangeline brought him, And with a coal from the embers had lighted, he slowly continued:-- "Four days now are passed since the English ships at their anchors Ride in the Gaspereau's mouth, with their cannon pointed against us, What their design may be is unknown; but all are commanded On the morrow to meet in the church, where his Majesty's mandate Will be proclaimed as law in the land. Alas! in the mean time Many surmises of evil alarm the hearts of the people." Then made answer the farmer:--"Perhaps some friendlier purpose Brings these ships to our shores. Perhaps the harvests in England By untimely rains or untimelier heat have been blighted, And from our bursting barns they would feed their cattle and children." "Not so thinketh the folk in the village," said, warmly, the blacksmith, Shaking his head, as in doubt; then, heaving a sigh, he continued:-- "Louisburg is not forgotten, nor Beau Séjour, nor Port Royal. Many already have fled to the forest, and lurk on its outskirts, Waiting with anxious hearts the dubious fate of to-morrow. Arms have been taken from us, and warlike weapons of all kinds; Nothing is left but the blacksmith's sledge and the scythe of the mower." Then with a pleasant smile made answer the jovial farmer:-- "Safer are we unarmed, in the midst of our flocks and our cornfields, Safer within these peaceful dikes, besieged by the ocean, Than our fathers in forts, besieged by the enemy's cannon. Fear no evil, my friend, and to-night may no shadow of sorrow Fall on this house and hearth; for this is the night of the contract. Built are the house and the barn. The merry lads of the village Strongly have built them and well; and, breaking the glebe round about them, Filled the barn with hay, and the house with food for a twelvemonth. René Leblanc will be here anon, with his papers and inkhorn. Shall we not then be glad, and rejoice in the joy of our children?" As apart by the window she stood, with her hand in her lover's, Blushing Evangeline heard the words that her father had spoken, And, as they died on his lips, the worthy notary entered.

III.

BENT like a laboring oar, that toils in the surf of the ocean, Bent, but not broken, by age was the form of the notary public; Shocks of yellow hair, like the silken floss of the maize, hung Over his shoulders; his forehead was high; and glasses with horn bows Sat astride on his nose, with a look of wisdom supernal. Father of twenty children was he, and more than a hundred Children's children rode on his knee, and heard his great watch tick. Four long years in the times of the war had he languished a captive, Suffering much in an old French fort as the friend of the English. Now, though warier grown, without all guile or suspicion, Ripe in wisdom was he, but patient, and simple, and childlike. He was beloved by all, and most of all by the children; For he told them tales of the Loup-garou in the forest, And of the goblin that came in the night to water the horses, And of the white Létiche, the ghost of a child who unchristened Died, and was doomed to haunt unseen the chambers of children; And how on Christmas eve the oxen talked in the stable, And how the fever was cured by a spider shut up in a nutshell, And of the marvellous powers of four-leaved clover and horsehoes, With whatsoever else was writ in the lore of the village. Then up rose from his seat by the fireside Basil the blacksmith, Knocked from his pipe the ashes, and slowly extending his right hand, "Father Leblanc," he exclaimed, "thou hast heard the talk in the village, And, perchance, canst tell us some news of these ships and their errand." Then with modest demeanor made answer the notary public:-- "Gossip enough have I heard, in sooth, yet am never the wiser; And what their errand may be I know not better than others. Yet am I not of those who imagine some evil intention Brings them here, for we are at peace; and why then molest us?" "God's name!" shouted the hasty and somewhat irascible blacksmith; "Must we in all things look for the how, and the why, and the wherefore? Daily injustice is done, and might is the right of the strongest!" But, without heeding his warmth, continued the notary public:-- "Man is unjust, but God is just; and finally justice Triumphs; and well I remember a story, that often consoled me, When as a captive I lay in the old French fort at Port Royal." This was the old man's favorite tale, and he loved to repeat it When his neighbors complained that any injustice was done them. "Once in an ancient city, whose name I no longer remember, Raised aloft on a column, a brazen statue of Justice Stood in the public square, upholding the scales in its left hand, And in its right a sword, as an emblem that justice presided Over the laws of the land, and the hearts and homes of the people. Even the birds had built their nests in the scales of the balance, Having no fear of the sword that flashed in the sunshine above them. But in the course of time the laws of the land were corrupted; Might took the place of right, and the weak were oppressed, and the mighty Ruled with an iron rod. Then it chanced in a nobleman's palace That a necklace of pearls was lost, and erelong a suspicion Fell on an orphan girl who lived as maid in the household. She, after form of trial condemned to die on the scaffold, Patiently met her doom at the foot of the statue of Justice. As to her Father in heaven her innocent spirit ascended, Lo! o'er the city a tempest rose; and the bolts of the thunder Smote the statue of bronze, and hurled in wrath from its left hand Down on the pavement below the clattering scales of the balance, And in the hollow thereof was found the nest of a magpie, Into whose clay-built walls the necklace of pearls was inwoven." Silenced, but not convinced, when the story was ended, the blacksmith Stood like a man who fain would speak, but findeth no language; All his thoughts were congealed into lines on his face, as the vapors Freeze in fantastic shapes on the window-panes in the winter.

Then Evangeline lighted the brazen lamp on the table, Filled, till it overflowed, the pewter tankard with home-brewed Nut-brown ale, that was famed for its strength in the village of Grand-Pré; While from his pocket the notary drew his papers and inkhorn, Wrote with a steady hand the date and the age of the parties, Naming the dower of the bride in flocks of sheep and in cattle. Orderly all things proceeded, and duly and well were completed, And the great seal of the law was set like a sun on the margin. Then from his leathern pouch the farmer threw on the table Three times the old man's fee in solid pieces of silver; And the notary rising, and blessing the bride and the bridegroom, Lifted aloft the tankard of ale and drank to their welfare. Wiping the foam from his lip, 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 manoeuver, Laughed when a man was crowned, or a breach was made in the king-row. 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 mist of the meadows. Silently one by one, in the infinite meadows of heaven, Blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels.


EVANGELINE - 2/8

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