Marguerite by John Greenleaf Whittier

MASSACHUSETTS BAY, 1760.

Upwards of one thousand of the Acadian peasants forcibly taken from their homes on the Gaspereau and Basin of Minas were assigned to the several towns of the Massachusetts colony, the children being bound by the authorities to service or labor.

THE robins sang in the orchard, the buds into
blossoms grew;
Little of human sorrow the buds and the robins
knew!
Sick, in an alien household, the poor French
neutral lay;
Into her lonesome garret fell the light of the April
day,
Through the dusty window, curtained by the spider’s
warp and woof,
On the loose-laid floor of hemlock, on oaken ribs
of roof,
The bedquilt’s faded patchwork, the teacups on the
stand,
The wheel with flaxen tangle, as it dropped from
her sick hand.

What to her was the song of the robin, or warm
morning light,
As she lay in the trance of the dying, heedless of
sound or sight?

Done was the work of her bands, she had eaten her
bitter bread;
The world of the alien people lay behind her dim
and dead.

But her soul went back to its child-time; she saw
the sun o’erflow
With gold the Basin of Minas, and set over
Gaspereau;

The low, bare flats at ebb-tide, the rush of the sea
at flood,
Through inlet and creek and river, from dike to
upland wood;

The gulls in the red of morning, the fish-hawk’s
rise and fall,
The drift of the fog in moonshine, over the dark
coast-wall.

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She saw the face of her mother, she heard the song
she sang;
And far off, faintly, slowly, the bell for vespers
rang.

By her bed the hard-faced mistress sat, smoothing
the wrinkled sheet,
Peering into the face, so helpless, and feeling the
ice-cold feet.

With a vague remorse atoning for her greed and
long abuse,
By care no longer heeded and pity too late for use.

Up the stairs of the garret softly the son of the
mistress stepped,
Leaned over the head-board, covering his face with
his hands, and wept.

Outspake the mother, who watched him sharply,
with brow a-frown
“What! love you the Papist, the beggar, the
charge of the town?”

Be she Papist or beggar who lies here, I know
and God knows
I love her, and fain would go with her wherever
she goes!

“O mother! that sweet face came pleading, for
love so athirst.
You saw but the town-charge; I knew her God’s
angel at first.”

Shaking her gray head, the mistress hushed down
a bitter cry;
And awed by the silence and shadow of death
drawing nigh,

She murmured a psalm of the Bible; but closer
the young girl pressed,
With the last of her life in her fingers, the cross
to her breast.

“My son, come away,” cried the mother, her voice
cruel grown.
“She is joined to her idols, like Ephraim; let her
alone!”

But he knelt with his hand on her forehead, his
lips to her ear,
And he called back the soul that was passing
“Marguerite, do you hear?”

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She paused on the threshold of Heaven; love, pity,
surprise,
Wistful, tender, lit up for an instant the cloud of
her eyes.

With his heart on his lips he kissed her, but never
her cheek grew red,
And the words the living long for he spake in the
ear of the dead.

And the robins sang in the orchard, where buds to
blossoms grew;
Of the folded hands and the still face never the
robins knew!
1871.

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