Nora Pembroke Poems >>
A Story Of Plantagenet

In the small Village of St Joseph, below the City of Ottawa, still
lives or did live very recently, an ancient couple, whole story is
told in the following lines.


PART I

Lays of fair dames of lofty birth,
 And golden hair alt richly curled;
Of knights that venture life for love,
 Suit poets of the older world.
We wilt not fill our simple rhymes,
 With diamond flash, or gleaming pearl;
In singing of the by-gone times;
We simply sing the love and faith,
Outliving absence, strong as death,
Of one Jow-born Canadian girl.

'Twas long ago the rapid spring
 Had scarce given place to summer yet,
The Ottawa, with swollen flood,
 Rolled past thy banks, Plantagenet;
Thy banks where tall and plumed pines
Stood rank on rank, in serried lines.
Green islands, each with leafy crest,
Lay peaceful on the river's breast,
The trees, ere this, had, one by one,
Shook out their leaflets to the sun,
Forming a rustling, waving screen,
While swollen waters rolled between.

The wild deer trooped through woodland path,
 And sought the river's strand,
Slight danger then of flashing death,
 From roving hunter's hand;
For very seldom was there seen
 A hunter of the doomed red race,
Few spots, with miles of bush between,
 Marked each a settler's dwelling-place.
No lumberer's axe, no snorting scream
Of fierce, though trained and harnessed steam,
No paddle-wheel's revolving sound,
No raftsman's cheer, no bay of hound
Was heard to break the silent spell
That seemed to rest o'er wood and dell,
All was so new, so in its prime--
 An almost perfect solitude,
As if had passed but little time
 Since the All Father called it good.
Nature in one thanksgiving psalm,
Gathered each sound that broke the calm.

There was a little clearing there--
A snow white cot--a garden fair--
Where useful plants in order set,
With bergamot and mignonette.
Glories that round the casement run,
And pansies smiling at the sun,
And wild-wood blossoms fair and sweet,
Showed forth how thrift and beauty meet;
There was a space to plant and sow,
Fenced by the pines strong hands laid low.
By that lonely cottage stood,
With eyes fixed on the swollen flood,
A slight young girl with raven hair,
And face that was both sad and fair.

Oh, fair and lovely are the maids,
Nursed in Canadian forest shades;
The beauties of the older lands
Moulded anew by nature's hands,
Fired by the free Canadian soul,
Join to produce a matchless whole.
The roses of Britannia's Isle,
In rosy blush and rosy smile;
The light of true and tender eyes,
As blue and pure as summer skies;
Light-footed maids, as matchless fair
 As grow by Scotia's heath fringed rills--
Sweet as the hawthorn scented air,
 And true as the eternal hills.
We have the arch yet tender grace,
The power to charm of Erin's race;
The peachy cheek, the rosebud mouth,
Imported from the sunny south,
With the dark, melting, lustrous eye,
Silk lashes curtain languidly.

The charms of many lands had met
In Marie of Plantagenet;
She had the splendid southern eye
 She had the northern brow of snow,
The blush caught from a northern sky,
 Dark silky locks of southern flow,
Light-footed as the forest roe,
 As stately as the mountain pine,
A smile that lighted up her face,
The sunshine of a maiden's grace,
 And made her beauty half divine.
So fair of face, so fair of form
Was she the peerless forest born.
Nature is kindly to her own,
To this Canadian cottage lone,
A back-wood settler's lot to bless,
She brought this flower of loveliness,
Seldom such beauty does she bring
To grace the palace of a king.

A chevalier of sunny France,
Whom fate ordained to wander here,
To trade, to trap, to hunt the deer,
To roam with free foot through the wild,
He chanced, at husking, in the dance
To meet Marie, Le Paige's child,--
And vowed that, roaming everywhere,
Except the lady fair as day,
Who held his troth-plight far away,
He ne'er saw face or form so fair;
From France's fair and stately queen,
To maiden dancing on the green,
From lowly bower to lordly hall,
This forest maid outshone them all

When old Le Paige would hear this praise,
 Then would he turn and smiling say
To the plump partner of his days,
"We who know our Marie well,
 How true the heart so young and gay,
We will not of her beauty tell.
Her love is more to thee and me,
And yet our child is fair to see."

So many a dashing hunter brave,
 And many an axeman of the wood,
And hardy settler was her slave
 And thought the bondage very good;
But she, so kind to those she met,
She smiled on all, but walked apart,
Keeping the treasure of her heart,
The fair Queen of Plantagenet,
No thought of love her bosom stirs
Toward her rustic worshippers
Until one came and settled near
Famed as a hunter of the deer

The firmest hand, the truest eye,
The dauntless heart and courage high
Where his, and famed beyond his years
He stood among his young compeers,
He, ere the snow-wreath left the land,
Slew two fierce wolves with single hand,
Famished they followed on his tracks,
He armed with nothing but his axe
He knew the river far and near,
Beyond the foaming dread Chaudiere,
Far far beyond that spot of fear
He'd been a hardy voyageur
Through the white swells of many assault
Had safely steered his bark canoe,
Knew how to pass each raging chute,
Though boiling like the wild Culbute
The wilds of nature were his home,
His paddle beat the fleecy foam
Of surging rapids' yeasty spray.
And bore him often far away
Beyond the pinefringed Allumette,
He saw the sun in glory set,
His boat song roused the lurking fox
From den beside the Oiseau rock
Upward upon the river's breast,
The highway to the wild Nor-west,
Past the long lake Temiscamingue,
Where wild drakes plume their glossy wing,
Oft had he urged his light canoe,
Hunting the moose and caribou;
He knew each portage on the way
To the far posts of Hudson's Bay,
And even its frozen waters saw,
When roaming _courier du bois_,
In the great Company's employ,
Which he had entered when a boy.
Comely he was, and blithe, and young,
Had a light heart and merry tongue,
And bright dark eye, was brave and bold,
Skilful to earn, and wise to hold,
And so this hunter came our way,
And stole our wood nymph's heart away;
And it became Belle Marie's lot
To love Napoleon Rajotte

Of all the sad despairing swains,
Foredoomed to disappointment's pains,
None felt the pangs of jealous woe
So keenly as Antome Vaiseau.
A thrifty settler's only son,
Who much of backwoods wealth had won;
A steady lad of nature mild,
Had been her playmate from a child,
And saw a stranger thus come in,
And take what he had died to win.
He saw him loved the best, the first,
Still he his hopeless passion nursed.

At Easter time the Cure came,
And after Easter time was gone,
The hunter brave, the peerless dame
Were blessed and made for ever one

Beside the cottage white she stood,
And looked across the swelling flood--
Across the wave that rolled between
The islets robed in tender green,
Watching with eager eyes, she views
A fleet of large well-manned canoes,
The high curved bow and stern she knew,
That marked each "Company canoe,"
And o'er the wave both strong and clear,
Their boat-song floated to her ear
She marked their paddles' steady dip,
And listened with a quivering lip,
Her bridegroom, daring, gay, and young,
With the bold heart and winning tongue,
Was with them, upward bound, away
To the far posts of Hudson's Bay,
Gone ere the honeymoon is past,
The bright brief moon too sweet to last,
Gone for two long and dreary years,
And she must wait and watch at home,
Bear patiently her woman's fears,
And hope and pray until he come,
She stands there still although the last
Canoe of all the fleet is past.
Of paddle's dip, of boat-song gay,
The last faint sound has died away,
She only said in turning home
"I'll wait and pray until he come"


PART II

Spring flung abroad her dewy charms,
 And blushing grew to summer shine,
Summer sped on with outstretched arms,
 To meet brown autumn crowned with vine,
The forest glowed in gold and green,
 The leafy maples flamed in red
With the warm, hazy, happy beam
 Of Indian summer overhead,
Bright, fair, and fleet as passing dream.
 The autumn also hurried on,
And, shuddering, dropped her leafy screen;
The ice-king from the frozen zone,
In fleecy robe of ermine dressed,
Came stopping rivers with his hand
Binding in chains of ice the land;
Bringing, ere early spring he met,
To Marie of Plantagenet,
A pearly snow-drop for her breast.
An infant Marie to her home
To brighten it until _he_ come.

Twice had the melting nor-west snow
Come down to flood the Ottawa's wave.
"The seasons as they come and go
Bring back," she said, "the happy day
To welcome him from far away;
Thy father, child, my hunter brave."
That snow-drop baby now could stand,
And run to Marie's outstretched hand;
Had all the charms that are alone
To youthful nursing mothers known.

'Twas summer in the dusty street,
'Twas summer in the busy town,
Summer in forests waving green,
When, at an inn in old Lachine,
And in the room where strangers meet,
Sat one, bright-eyed and bold and brown.
Soon will he joyful start for home,
For home in fair Plantagenet.
His wallet filled with two years' pay,
Well won at distant Hudson's Bay,
And the silk dress that stands alone,
For her the darling, dark-eyed one.
Parted so long, so soon to meet,
His every thought of her is sweet.
"My bride, my wife, with what regret,
I left her at Plantagenet!"
There came no whisper through the air
To tell him of his baby fair.
But still he sat with absent eye,
 And thoughts that were all homeward bound,
And passed the glass untasted by,
 While jest, and mirth, and song went round.
There sat and jested, drunk and sung,
 The captain of an Erie boat,
With Erin's merry heart and tongue,
 A skilful captain when afloat--
On shore a boon companion gay;
 The foremost in a tavern brawl,
To dance or drink the night away,
 Or make love in the servants' hall.
The merry devil in his eye
Could well all passing round him spy.
Wanting picked men to man his boat,
Eager to be once more afloat,
His keen eye knew the man he sought;
At once he pitched upon Rajotte.
The bright, brown man, so silent there,
He judged could both endure and dare;
He waited till he caught his eye.
Then raising up his glass on high,
"Stranger, I drink your health," said he,
"You'll sail the 'Emerald Isle,' with me.
"A smarter crew, a better boat,
"Lake Erie's waves will never float,
"I want but one to fill my crew;
"I wish no better man than you;
"High wage, light work, a jolly life
"Is ours--no care, no fret, no strife.
"So come before the good chance pass,
"And drown our bargain in the glass."
"Not so," Rajotte said with a smile,
"Let others sail the 'Emerald Isle,'
For I have been two years away,
A trapper at the Hudson's Bay;
Two years is long enough to roam,
I'm bound to see my wife and home."

The captain shook his curly head,
"Did you not hear the news?" he said,
"Last summer came from Hudson's Bay,
A courier from York Factory.
He brought the news that you were dead--
Killed by a wounded grizzly bear
When trapping all alone up there--
Found you himself the fellow said;
And your wife mourned and wept her fill
Refusing to be comforted.
But grief you know will pass away,
She found new love as women will;
And married here the other day."

Not doubting aught of what he heard
He sat, but neither spoke nor stirred.
His heart gave one great throb of pain,
And stopped--then bounded on again.
His bronze face took an ashen hue,
As his great woe came blanching through,
And stormy thoughts with stinging pain
Swept with wild anguish through his brain;
But not a word he spoke.
They only saw his lips grow pale,
But no word questioned of the tale.
You might have thought the captain bold,
Had almost wished his tale untold;
But careless he of working harm
When coveting that brave right arm.
 At last the silence broke:
"He who brought news that I was dead,
Is it to him my wife is wed?
Was it? I know it must be so.
It must have been Antoine Vaiseau."
"Yes," said the Captain, "'tis the same,
Antoine Vaiseau's the very name."

So ere the morrow's morn had come,
Rajotte had turned his back from home,
 And gone for ever more,
Gone off, alone with his despair,
While his true wife and baby fair,
 Watched for him at the door.

The rough crew of the "Emerald Isle,"
Had one grim man without a smile,
So prompt to do, so wild to dare,
Reckless and nursing his despair.
The merry light had left his glance,
His foot refused to join the dance.
 His heart refused to pray.
"Oh to forget!" he oft would cry,
Forget this ceaseless agony,
 To fly from thought away."
Woe spun her white threads in his hair,
And bitter and unblessed despair
Ploughed furrows in his face;
Grief her dark shade on all things cast;
None dared to question of the past,
His sorrow seemed disgrace.

When rumour rose of Indian war;
Troops mustering for the west afar,
That wanted them a guide;
Rajotte said "I'm the man to go."
War's din he thought would drown his woe,
'Twas well the world was wide.
The Black Hawk war began--went on:
(Men dare not tell what men have done--
The white's relentless cruelty
O'ermastering Indian treachery
Rajotte, a stern determined man,
Sought death, forever in the van
On many a fierce-fought battle plain;
His life seemed charmed--he sought in vain.

Spring came and went--the years went past;
War ended, peace came round at last;
But war might go, and peace might come,
Rajotte thought not of turning home.
Till, failing strength, and fading eye,
He turned him homeward just to die.
Perhaps although he felt it not,
In his fierce wrestling with his lot,
There was a drawing influence
 From the dear home so far away;
And faithful prayers had risen from thence,
 To Him who hears us when we pray,
Who watched the lonely waiting heart
That nursed its love and faith apart;
And, pitying her well borne pain,
Ordained it should not be in vain.


PART III.

Now turn we to Plantagenet:
 Through all these weary, waiting years,
How many hopes and fears have met'
 How many prayers, how many tears!
When the time came that he should come
Back to his fair young wife and home,
Often and often would she say,
"He'll surely come to us to-day."
Pet Marie's best robe was put on
And the poor mother dressed with care--
Glad that she was both young and fair--
"To meet thy father, little one"
Oft standing on the very spot
Where she had parted from Rajotte
She stood a patient watcher long,
 And listened eagerly to hear
The voyageurs' returning song
 Come floating to her ear
But still he came not, years went by,
 Yet she must pray, and hope, and wait,
His form would some day meet her eye,
 His step sound at the river gate
Oh! it was hard to hear them say,
 "He comes not, and he must be dead
Cease pining all your life away,
 'Twere better far that you should wed
And Antoine keeps his first love still,
 And Antoine is so well to do,
You may be happy if you will
 His pleading eyes ask leave to woo"
'Twas a relief to steal away,
And tell her ebon rosary,
And to the Virgin Mother pray,
Thinking that she in Heaven above,
Remembered all of earthly love,
And human sympathy,
And having suffered human pain--
Known what it was to grieve in vain--
Might bend to listen to her prayer,
And make the absent one her care
In pleading with her Son

She waited while the years went on,
And would not think that hope was gone,
Ever his steps seemed sounding near,
His voice came floating to her ear,
And longing prayer, and yearning pain
Reached out to draw him back again;
And love beyond all estimate
Strengthened her heart to hope and wait
Pet Marie grew up tall and fair,
Her girlish love, her merry ways
Kept the poor mother from despair
Through many weary nights and days.

Spring and high water both had met
Once more at fair Plantagenet;
Once more the island trees were seen
Adorned with leaves of tender green,
Aux Lievres's roar was heard afar,
Where waters dashed on rocks to spray,
Roaring and tumbling in their play,
Kept up a boisterous holiday,
With tumult loud of mimic war.
The wild ducks of Lochaber's Bay
 Were playing round on wanton wing,
Rippling the current with their breasts,
 Feeling the gladness of the spring,
Pairing and building happy nests
All sounds of spring were in the air,
All sights of spring were fresh and fair
Sad Marie of Plantagenet,
 With silver threads among her hair,
And by her side her blooming pet,
 As she had once been, fresh and fair,
Stood on the bank that glorious day
Thinking of him so long away
Awhile they both in silence stood,
Then Marie said, "The Nor-west flood
Again another year has come.
You see those water-fowl at play
Come with the flood from far away.
What flood will bring your father home?
'Tis seventeen years ago to-day,
Since, parting here, he went away."
Just then young Marie, glancing round
"Mamma, I hear a paddle's sound,
Look there, those maple branches through,
Below us, there's a bark canoe,
'Tis stopping at our landing place
 There's but one man with hair so grey,
And a worn weather-beaten face--
 See, he is coming up this way
Mamma, I wonder who is he,
Stay here and I will go and see."

Rajotte who thought he did not care--
That he had conquered even despair,
Could bear to _see_ as well as _know_
That Marie was the Dame Vaiseau,
Came to the parting spot, and there,
In the bright sunlight's happy beams,
Stood the fair image of his dreams
As young as on the parting day,
As bright as when he went away,
As beautiful as when he met
Her first in fair Plantagenet,
His Marie, living, breathing, warm,
 Her glorious eyes, her midnight hair
Shading the beauty of her face,
The same lithe, rounded, perfect form,
The look of true and tender grace

Rajotte stood spell-bound, and the past
 Seemed fading like a horrid dream.
"Marie," he said, "I'm home at last,
 Speak, Marie, are you what you seem?
After all these long years of pain,
Art thou love given to me again?"
The maiden stood with wondering eyes,
Silent, because of her surprise,
But the wife Marie gave a cry
Of joy that rose to agony
She rushed the long lost one to meet,
And falling, fainted at his feet
He held the true wife's pallid charms
Slowly reviving in his arms,
And then he surely learned to know
 A little of the grand, true heart
That through so many years of woe
 Waited, and prayed, and watched apart,
Keeping love's light while he was gone,
Like sacred fire still burning on

While hearts are bargained for and sold,
In fashion's fortune-chasing whirl,
We simply sing the love and faith
Out-living absence strong as death,
Of one low-born Canadian girl.