Stedman and Hutchinson, comps. A Library of American Literature: An Anthology in Eleven Volumes. 1891. Vols. IXXI: Literature of the Republic, Part IV., 18611889
The Search for Father De Brie
By Robert Traill Spence Lowell (18161891)
[The New Priest in Conception Bay. 1858.Revised Edition of 1889.]
IT was speedily arranged that they should push over to the other side of the Barrens; and while one went straight on to New Harbor, the rest should take every opening through the woods, and every path into the Barrens, and follow it out. Skipper Edward Ressle and Skipper Abram Marchant, it was said, had gone along the Bay Road, to cross from other points.
The only hasty preparations now made had been to put off every unnecessary weight to go back with the horses. Some extra coats, and several bottles of spirits, the advancing party took with them. Skipper Isaac gave the parting directions to the men who took the beasts back.
Ef snow doesnt come in an hours time, an keep on, then, an hour after that, again come in wi the horses, an bide an hour, or thereabouts. Ef wem not here by that time, we shall stay a tother side.
Many had come up during the short delay, and among them came, panting, the Parsons dog, who had not been able to keep up with his master. As they were now all foot-travellers, he had no difficulty, and went before them in the dreary path toward the great waste of snow over which the dreary wind came blowing sharply.
It was a drift two or three feet deep, in and upon which the still body lay. The cheek of the right side was next the snow; the head was bare; the left hand holding, or seeming to hold, the hat; while the right arm was curved about the head. The outside coat was partly open, from the top downwards, as if the wearer might have unbuttoned it when heated.
The whole attitude was that of one who had laid himself down to sleep at summer-noon, and the face was lovely as in sleep; the eyelids were not fast closed; there was a delicate color in the cheek, and the lips were red. There was a bright, conscious look, too, as of one that was scarcely asleep even.
See, sir! said Skipper George, e didn fall down. Eve laid himself down to rest, most like, where the snow was soft, and falled asleep. Thats bin the wy of it. Ive bin amost so far gone, myself, sir, afore now.
Twas the dog! answered the old fisherman, tenderly, wi tryun to bring un to. Yes, he added, e was out o the path, when the good nybors from tother side comed along, an e got into un agen, afteran e was tired when e comed to this heavy walkun, an so Whatll come o the poor lady!
Weve agot store o wrappuns, sir; many thanks to you, sir, all the same, answered Jesse Hill, very heartily; and others, too, made their acknowledgments. They wrapped the body, from head to foot, in their blankets, hastily.
Oh, dear! I fear not, I fear not! said Father Terence, wiping gentle tears away. Why would he come? Or why did I hinder um comin last night?God have mercy upon um! Absolve, quesumus Domine, animam ejus, he added, privately, or something to that effect.
Skipper Isaac held the body against his own; Jesse and Isaac Maffen and young Mr. Urston helped to bear it; and they went, accompanied by all the others, as fast as they could go, through the snow, toward the tilt. Skipper George bore the hat, upon which the grasp of the owners cold hand had not been fast. Eppy, who had done his dumb part before any, now followed meekly behind. Behind all came the cold, hard wind from the Barrens, whirling the snow from time to time. The sky over all was hidden by thick clouds, foreboding storm.
Within the tilt all that they knew how to do was done thoroughly. More than once some one of those engaged exclaimed that the flesh was growing warmer; but life did not come back, and the flesh grew surely colder. The body was dead; and they gave over their useless work upon it, and clothed it as before. There it lay; no priest, no layman, no husband, no father, no man!but it was sacred, and it was reverently treated, as belonging to Christ, who would give it life again.
Crowds had been gathering about the place where the melancholy work was going on; these the Constable and Mr. Skilton and William Frank occupied, drawing them a little apart, that there might be no hindrance, from the numbers, to those who were busy about the dead. The sad, short story stilled and saddened all. Dead!Is e dead?so near home, too!Its pity for un!But e died happy, however! said different voices.
It was arranged that one or two of the young men, on the best horses, should make their way at the utmost speed to James Bishops, the nearest neighborly house in Castle Bay, and bring his sled or slide, and, in the mean time, relays of bearers were to carry the body onward with what haste they could.
The crowd making a long procession, both before and behind the bearers, trampled the snow, for the most part in silence. Up the hills and down, many men taking turns at bearing the body, they made their way between the woods; while sometimes the snow fell thickly, and sometimes the thick clouds could be seen before them and overhead.
Three heavy miles they had got over, when the slide met them; and then the burden was transferred to it; a sort of dasher, or fender, of boughs was speedily set up to keep off the snow thrown by the horses feet; and they went on: the Parson, Skipper George, Skipper Isaac, Skipper Henry, Skipper Edward, the Constable, and others of chief authority and dignity, attended at the sides and behind the sledge; all beside giving place to them. Suddenly there was a commotion, making itself felt from the foremost; and then the whole procession opened to either side, leaving the road bare between.
Cast off the horse! cried Skipper George in a quick low tone, seeing who was coming. The order was obeyed, as hastily as possible, and then the slide was left alone, in the middle of the way, while the crowd at each side stood huddled upon itself, and hushed.
Oh, I knew it! Oh! said a womans voice, heard by every one, with such a moan of wretchedness that every man seemed to start, as if it were an appeal to himself. Mrs. Barrè, pale as death, with tears streaming down her cheeks, and with light snow lying upon her dark hair and on many parts of her black dressbearing in her hand (as she had borne, hours before) a letterrushed between the sundered crowds, and at the side of the sledge fell down across the muffled load that lay upon it. Every person near drew away.
She lay with her face buried in the folds of the cloak which Mr. Wellon had spread over her husbands body, and uttered a fondling murmur against the wall of that desolated chamber, as, not long ago, she had murmured fondly against the strong, warm bosom of her recovered love. Many by-standers sobbed aloud.
Oh, Walter! she said, clasping her two hands under the heavy head, and gazing at the stiffening features, Oh, my noble husband!My beautiful, noble husband! then, shaking her head, while the tears dropped from her eyes, said, in a broken voice: Is this all, Walter? Is this the end?Yes, and its a good end! And again she buried her face on the dead bosom. Well!Oh, well! I did not seek you for myself!It never was for myself! No!No!
The Constable made a gesture to Jesse Hill and young Mr. Urston, and the horse was again harnessed to the slide. The Parson, leading his horse (which had been brought so far on the return, by one of the young men), came to Mrs. Barrès side and took her arm in his. He begged her to allow herself to be lifted to the saddle, and to ride. Skipper George, also, had come forward to suggest the same thing.
It wouldnt be too heavy, one of them said; and as if no objection could be made, she went, and, putting her arm tenderly underneath, lifted the body, seated herself upon the bier, taking the muffled head in her lap, and bent over it, lost to all things else.
All other arrangements for riding and walking having been quietly made, the procession again set forward towards home faster than before. The snow at times fell fast; but in about an hour more they were descending the high hill into Castle Bay; and before them lay the great black sea, with its cold bordering of white.
They passed along the chilly beach. At one point, whether consciously or unconsciously, Mrs. Barrè lifted her head and looked toward both sea and land. On the landward side stretched a little valley, with a knoll and rock and tree at its northern edge; a sweet spot in summer, but now lonely and desolate. She gave a sort of cry, and turned from the sight.
O my God, thou knowest! she could be heard to say, sobbing over her husbands body; and she looked up no more until, in another hour, with the cold stars and drifting clouds overhead, they had reached her desolate house.
We thank Thee, O Merciful Father, that Thou hast given to us this, our brothers body, to lay in our hallowed ground; but, above all, for the hope that his soul, washed in the blood of the immaculate Lamb who was slain to take away the sins of the world, has been presented without spot before Thee. Give our sister, we beseech Thee, strength and peace; have her and us in Thy safe-keeping, and bring us to Thy heavenly house, through Jesus Christ, our Lord.
The congregation having been dismissed with the blessing, our priest and the chief men reverently carried the body into the parlor, and disposed it there, amid the memorials of happy former years, and arranged a watch.