An Acadian Easter


“ SURELY, O Christ, upon this day
Thou wilt have pity, even on me !
Hold thou the hands of Charnisay,
Or bid them clasp, remembering thee.
“ O Christ, thou knowest what it is
To strive with mighty, evil men ;
Lean down from thy high cross, and kiss
My arms till they grow strong again.
“ (As on that day I drove him back
Into Port Royal with his dead !
Our cannon made the snowdrifts black,
But there, I deem, the waves were red.)
“ Yea, keep me, Christ, until La Tour
(Oh, the old days in old Rochelle!)
Cometh to end this coward’s war
And send his soul straightway to hell.”
. . . That night, one looking at the west might say
That just beyond the heights the maples flared
Like scarlet banners, — as they do in autumn, —
The sun went down with such imperial splendor.
Near by, the air hung thick with wreathèd smoke,
And not quite yet had silence touched the hills
That had played all day with thunder of sullen cannon.
But now the veering wind had found the south
And led the following tide up no moon path,
Calling the mists — white as the circling gulls —
In from the outer rocks. Heavy with rain
The fog came in, and all her world grew dark, —
Dark as the empty west.
Though one should stand
(Praying the while that God might bless her eyes)
Upon the seaward cliff the long night through
On such a night as this (O moaning wind !),
1 think that dawn — if dawn should ever break —
Would only come to show how void a thing
Is Earth, that might have been no less than Heaven.
Yea, as it was in France so long ago
Where the least path their feet might follow seemed
The path Love’s feet had trodden but yester hour. . . .


“ A little while and I shall see
His ships returned to fight for me.
He may not dream what bitter woes
I have to bear ; but still he knows
April and I wait patiently.
“ (I pray you, sirs, that you will keep
Good watch to-night, lest they should creep
Close to the landward wall again;
You might not hear them in this rain.
And I, because I cannot sleep,
“ Shall guard this other side, till morn
Show me his sails all gray and torn,
But swift to bring to Charnisay
Tidings that it is Easter Day
On earth, and Jesu Christ is born !)
“ Shall he not come ? Can he withstand
The beckoning of April’s hand,
The voices of the little streams
That break to-night across his dreams
Of me, alone in a north land ?
“ Though yesterday in Boston town
Fair women wandered up and down
Warm pathways under green-leaved trees.
Was he not sick with memories
Of April’s hair and starry gown ?
“ Does he not hear spring’s trumpet blow
Beyond the limits of the snow ?
Hark how its silver echo fills
The hollow places of the hills,
Proclaiming winter’s overthrow !
“ How glad he was in the old days
To tread those newly opened ways!
Together we would go — as we
Shall go to-morrow, joyously —
And find ten thousand things to praise,
“ Things now so sad to think upon.
And yet he must return ere dawn ;
Because he hears at the sea’s rim,
Calling across the night to him,
The sundering icebergs of St. John.”
. . . Now, when dawn broke at last, sullen and gray,
And on the sea there gleamed no distant sail,
She quietly said, “ It is not Easter Day,
And in my vision I have dreamed strange dreams.”
Still drave the rain in from the east, and still
The ice churned by the bases of the cliffs,
And little noises woke among the firs.
“And yet,” she said, “beyond the outer seas,
Far off, in France, among the white, white lilies,
To-day they think that Eastertide has come ;
And maidens deck their bodies amorously,
And go to sing glad hymns to Christ arisen,
Within the little chapel on the hill.
Now shall I fancy it is Easter here,
And think the wasting snow great banks of lilies
And this gray cliff my chapel; and I shall go
And gather seaweed, twining it in my hair,
And know God will regard me graciously
Who fashion such sweet carols in his praise.
I must do this alone, because La Tour
Is dallying still in Boston town, where girls
Make beautiful their hair with southern blooms, —
Wood violets and odorous mayflowev blossoms,
Such as come late into our northern fields.
Was it last Easter — was it years ago —
That he and I went joyously together —
(Having prayed Christ to bless us with his grace) —
Between the wasting trunks of the tall pines
Wherein one crow called to the hidden rain ?
(For here, although it rain at Easter even,
The dawn breaks golden ; and a million hours
Seem flown since yesterday.) O golden France,
Long lost and nigh forgotten ! do they know
Who walk to-day between your palaces
The gladness that we know when April comes
Into the solitude of this our north,
And the snows vanish as her flying feet
Are heard upon the hills ? Their organs, now,
Do they sound unto heaven a prouder strain
Than these great pines ? Hark how the wind booms through
Their topmost branches, come from the deep sea!
And how old Fundy sends its roaring tides
High up against the rocks! Yea, even in France,
I think God sees not more to make him glad
To-day, — only the sunshine and the lilies ” —
She paused, hearing the chapel matin bell
Clang wearily; and, like to one that finds
No welcome in some long-imagined land
Now near at last, back from the hopeless sea,
With aged face, she turned to help them pray
Whose hearts had lost their heritage of hope. . .


“ O bloom of lilies oversea !
O throng’d and banner’d citadels!
O clanging of continual bells
Upon the air triumphantly !
Let Christ remember not that we
Await him by these bitter wells.
“ Make France so very glad and fair
That Christ, arisen, may know to-day
That he (O green land, leagues away !)
Hath come into his kingdom there ;
Let him not dream that otherwhere
Sad men have little heart to pray.
“ For we would have him glad; although,
For us, joy may not be again.
Yea, though all day we watch the rain
Striving to waste the pitiless snow,
We would not have him see or know
The limits of our grievous pain.
“ And even if he should stoop, perchance,
(Touching you gently on the stem
As you brush by his garment’s hem,)
Saying, with lighted countenance,
‘ Across the sea, in my New France,
O lilies, how is it with them ? ’ —
“ Lean you up nearer to his face
(Tenderly sad, supremely wise)
And answer, ‘ Under fair, blue skies,
Lord Jesu, in a fruitful place,
Their souls — the stronger for thy grace —
Draw nigh unto the sacrifice.’ ”
. . . So, striving to arouse their heavy faith,
Unto their distant Christ they sang and prayed
Until the gray clouds thinned, and the dull east
Grew half prophetic of the laboring sun.
“ See! He hath heard! and all is well! ” she cried.
But as her voice rang hopefully and clear
Down the dim chapel aisle, ere any man
Had caught delight from her fair bravery,
There came upon them sudden gathering sounds
Of strife, of men clamoring, and despair,
Rumor of clashing steel and crumbling walls.
Yet not in vain their prayers! O risen Christ,
Was not that fight a glorious thing to see?
Between thine altar and the front o’ the foe
Was not thy hand the hand that lent the strength
Wherewith she drave them backward through the breach,
Far from their wounded, calling all the while ?
I think that thou wert very glad, O Christ,
Watching these things; and yet, was it not thou
Who hadst made her heart the heart of very woman —
Strong for the battle, and then, when all was over,
Weak, and too prone to trust (even as a child
That wonders not at all, having belief)
In any chance-flung flag, white to the wind ? . . .


“ Hearken! Afar on the hills, at last is it surely spring ?
Have the sudden mayflowers awakened to see what the wind can bring ?
There, in the bare high branches, does a robin try to sing ?
“ O Life, why — now thou art fair and full of the promise of peace —
Oh, why dost thou shudder away, away from me, begging release,
As the dead leaves falter and flutter and fall when the warm winds cease ?
“ As the dead leaves fall from the trees. O Life, must thou hurry away ?
Behold, it is spring upon earth, and to-morrow the month will be May;
And the southmost boughs shall grow green that were barren but yesterday.
“ And I, even I, shall grow young once more; and my face shall be fair, —
Yea, fair as still waters at even, under the starlight there ;
And all of the glory of dawn shall be seen once again in my hair.
“ And yet, and yet, who will see ? Were it true that all things should be so,
What joy could we have of it ever ? Time bringeth new visions; and lo,
One may not remember in April how autumn was kind, long ago !
“ O desolate years ! are you over at last with your devious ways ?
Nay, I should say, ‘ Let me go from you gladly, giving you praise
For the least of the things I remember of you and the least of your days.’
“ Giving thanks for the noises of Earth—little noises — when April is born ;
For the smell of the roses in June, for the gleam of the yellowing corn ;
For the sight of the sea at even, the sight of the sea at morn.
“ And most—most of all — for the old fighting days! (O La Tour, are they past ?)
For the sound of beleaguering cannon, the sight of the foe fleeing fast.
Yea, and though at the end we have fallen, even now I am glad at the last!
“ How good it is here in the sun ! O strong, sweet sound of the sea,
Do you sorrow that now I must go ? Have you pity to waste upon me
Who may tarry no longer beside you, whom Time is about to set free ?
“ Nay, sorrow nor pity at all. See, I am more glad than a queen
For the joy I have had of you living! Had the things that we know never been,
You and I then had reason for sorrow, O Sea—had our eyes never seen!
“ Come close to me now, — past the weed-covered rocks, up the gray of the sand ;
Here is a path I have made for you, hollowed it out with my hand ;
Come, I would whisper a word to you, Sea, he may never withstand :
“‘Where our garden goes down to the sea’s edge (remember ? — O France, thou art fair !)
Renewing those old royal days, of all else careless now, unaware,
Among the remembering lilies her soul abides patiently there.’ ”
Francis Sherman.
  1. From 1641 to 1645 the history of Acadia is largely the history of the strife between the Sieur de La Tour and the Seigneur d’Aulnay Charnisay : the one lieutenant for the king, with headquarters at the mouth of the St. John ; the other in command of the forts at Penobscot and Port Royal. In 1643 Charnisay attacked Fort La Tour, but was repulsed. He then blockaded the harbor, but La Tour, with his wife, Frances Marie Jacqueline, slipped through and escaped to Boston. Returning with five ships he drove the surprised Charnisay back to Port Royal. Early in 1645, Charnisay, hearing that La Tour was again in Boston, once more assailed the fort. Driven back with great loss by Lady La Tour he maintained a strict blockade, and in April returned to the attack, this time from the landward side. For three days the heroic woman held the enemy at bay; and even when a Swiss sentry, bribed by Charnisay, early on the morning of Easter Sunday threw open the gates, opposed the assault with such vigor that Charnisay called for a truce and offered honorable terms, which, to save the lives of her men, Lady La Tour accepted. Once in possession, he hanged the garrison, man by man, — their mistress standing by with a rope around her neck. Her death, three weeks later, released her from captivity.