Massachusetts Bay, 1760.
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.
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?"
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