Madeleine Vercheres

A poem by William Henry Drummond

I've told you many a tale, my child, of the old heroic days
Of Indian wars and massacre, of villages ablaze
With savage torch, from Ville Marie to the Mission of Trois Rivieres
But never have I told you yet, of Madeleine Vercheres.

Summer had come with its blossoms, and gaily the robin sang
And deep in the forest arches the axe of the woodman rang
Again in the waving meadows, the sun-browned farmers met
And out on the green St. Lawrence, the fisherman spread his net.

And so through the pleasant season, till the days of October came
When children wrought their parents, and even the old and lame
With tottering frames and footsteps, their feeble labors lent
At the gathering of the harvest le bon Dieu himself had sent.

For news there was none of battle, from the forts on the Richelieu
To the gates of the ancient city, where the flag of King Louis flew
All peaceful the skies hung over the seignerie of Vercheres,
Like the calm that so often cometh, ere the hurricanes rends the air.

And never a thought of danger had the Seigneur sailing away,
To join the soldiers of Carignan, where down at Quebec they lay,
But smiled on his little daughter, the maiden Madeleine,
And a necklet of jewels promised her, when home he should come again.

And ever the days passed swiftly, and careless the workmen grew
For the months they seemed a hundred, since the last war-bugle blew.
Ah! little they dreamt on their pillows, the farmers of Vercheres,
That the wolves of the southern forest had scented the harvest fair.

Like ravens they quickly gather, like tigers they watch their prey
Poor people! with hearts so happy, they sang as they toiled away.
Till the murderous eyeballs glistened, and the tomahawk leaped out
And the banks on the green St. Lawrence echoed the savage shout.

"Oh mother of Christ have pity," shrieked the women in despair
"This is no time for praying," cried the young Madeleine Vercheres,
"Aux armes! aux armes! les Iroquois! quick to your arms and guns
Fight for your God and country and the lives of the inocent ones."

And she sped like a deer of the mountain, when beagles press close behind
And the feet that would follow after, must be swift as the prairie wind.
Alas! for the men and women, and litle ones that day
For the road it was long and weary, and the fort it was far away.

But the fawn had outstripped the hunters, and the palisades drew near,
And soon from the inner gateway the war, bugle rang out clear;
Gallant and clear it sounded, with never a note of despair
'T was a soldier of France's challenge, from the young Madeleine Vercheres.

"And this is my little garrison, my brothers Louis and Paul?
With soldiers two, and a cripple? may the Virgin pray for us all.
But we've powder and guns in plenty, and we 'll fight to the latest breath
And if need be for God and country, die a brave soldier's death.

"Load all the carabines quickly, and whenever you sight the foe
Fire from the upper turret, and the loopholes down below.
Keep up the fire, brave soldiers, though the fight may be fierce and long
And they 'll think out little garrison is more than a hundred strong."

So spake the maiden Madeleine, and she roused the Norman blood
That seemed for a moment sleeping, and sent it like a flood
Though every heart around her, and they fought the red Iroquois
As fought in the old time battles, the soldiers of Carignan.

And they say the black clouds gathered, and a tempest swept the sky
And the roar of the thunder mingled with the forest tiger's cry
But still the garrison fought on, while the lightning's jagged spear
Tore a hole in the night's dark curtain, and showed them a foeman near.

And the sun rose up in the morning, and the color of blood was he
Gazing down from the heavens on the little company.
"Behold! my friend!" cried the maiden," 't is a warning lest we forget
Though the night saw us do our duty, our work is not finished yet."

And six days followed each other, and feeble her limbs became
Yet the maid never sought her pillow, and the flash of the carabines' flames
Illuminated the powder-smoked face, aye, even when hope seemed gone
And she only smiled on her comrades, and told them to fight, fight on.

And she blew a blast on the bugle, and lo! from the forest black
Merrily, merrily ringing, an answer came pealing back
Oh! pleasant and sweet it sounded, borne on the morning air,
For it heralded fifty soldiers, with gallant De la Monniere.

And when he beheld the maiden, the soldier of Carignan,
And looked on the little garrison that fought the red Iroquois
And held their own in the battle, for six long weary days,
He stood for a moment speechless, and marvelled at woman's ways.

Then he beckoned the men behind him and steadily they advance
And with carabines uplifted, the veterans of France
Saluted the brave young captain so timidly standing there
And they fired a volley in honor of Madeleine Vercheres.

And this, my dear, is the story of the maiden Madeleine
God grant that we in Canada may never see again
Such cruel wars and massacres, in waking or in dream
As our fathers and mothers saw, my child, in the days of the old regime.

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