A STORY worth telling, our annals afford,
’Tis the wonderful journey of Laura Secord!
Her poor crippled spouse hobbled home ‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡With the news
That Bœrstler was nigh ! “Not a minute to lose,
Not an instant,” said Laura, “for stoppage or pause—
I must hurry and warn our brave troops at Decaws.”
“What ! you !” said her husband “to famish and tire !”
“Yes, me !” said brave Laura, her bosom on fire.
“And how will you pass the gruff sentry ?” said he,
“Who is posted so near us ?”
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Just wait till you see ;
The foe is approaching, and means to surprise
Our troops, as you tell me. Oh, husband, there flies
No dove with a message so needful as this—
I’ll take it, I’ll bear it, good bye, with a kiss.”
Then a biscuit she ate, tucked her skirts well about,
And a bucket she slung on each arm, and went out
’Twas the bright blush of dawn, when the stars melt from sight,
Dissolved by its breath like a dream of the night ;
When heaven seems opening on man and his pain,
Ere the rude day strengthens, and shuts it again.
But Laura had eyes for her duty alone—
She marked not the glow and the gloom that were thrown
By the nurslings of morn, by the cloud-lands at rest,
By the spells of the East, and the weirds of the West.
Behind was the foe, full of craft and of guile ;
Before her, a long day of travel and toil.
“No time this for gazing,” said Laura, as near
To the sentry she drew.
‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡‡“Halt ! you cannot pass here.”
“I cannot pass here ! Why sirrah you drowse,
Are you blind ? Don’t you see I am off to my cows.”
“Well, well you can go.” So she wended her way
To the pasture’s lone side, where the farthest cow lay,
Got her up, caught a teat, and with pail at her knees,
Made her budge, inch by inch, till she drew by degrees
To the edge of the forest. “I’ve hoaxed, on my word,
Both you and the sentry,” said Laura Secord.
With a lingering look at her home, then away
She sped through the wild wood—a wilderness gray—
Nature’s privacy, haunt of a virgin sublime
And the mother who bore her, as ancient as Time ;
Where the linden had space for its fans and its flowers,
The balsam its tents, and the cedar its bowers ;
Where the lord of the forest, the oak, had its realm,
The ash its domain, and its kingdom the elm ;
Where the pine bowed its antlers in tempests, and gave
To the ocean of leaves the wild dash of the wave,
And the mystical hemlock—The forest’s high-priest—
Hung its weird, raking, top-gallant branch to the east.
And denser and deeper the solitude grew,
The underwood thickened, and drenched her with dew ;
She tripped over moss-covered logs, fell, arose,
Sped, and stumbled again by the hour, till her clothes
Were rent by the branches, and thorns, and her feet
Grew tender and way-worn and blistered with heat.
And on, ever on, through the forest she passed,
Her soul in her task, but each pulse beating fast,
For shadowy forms seemed to flit from the glades
And beckon her into their limitless shades :
And mystical sounds—in the forest alone,
Ah! who has not heard them ?—the voices, the moan,
Or the sigh of mute nature, which sinks on the ear,
And fills us with sadness or thrills us with fear ?
And who, lone and lost, in the wilderness deep,
Has not felt the strange fancies, the tremors which creep,
And assemble within, till the heart ’gins to fail,
The courage to flinch, and the cheeks to grow pale,
’Midst the shadows which mantle the spirit that broods
In the sombre, the deep haunted heart of the woods ?
She stopped—it was noonday. The wilds she espied
Seemed solitudes numberless. “Help me !” she cried ;
Her piteous lips parched with thirst, and her eyes
Strained with gazing. The sun in his infinite skies
Looked down on no creature more hapless than she,
For woman is woman where’er she may be.
For a moment she faltered, then came to her side
The heroine’s spirit—the Angel of Pride.
One moment she faltered. Beware ! What is this ?
The coil of the serpent ! the rattlesnake’s hiss !
One moment, then onward, What sounds far and near ?
The howl of the wolf, yet she turned not in fear
Nor bent from her course, till her eye caught a gleam
From the woods of a meadow through which flowed a stream,
Pure and sweet with the savour of leaf and of flower.
By the night dew distilled, and the soft forest shower ;
Pure and cold as its spring in the rock crystalline,
Whence it gurgled and gushed ’twixt the roots of the pine.
And blessed above bliss is the pleasure of thirst,
Where there’s water to quench it ; for pleasure is nursed
In the cradle of pain, and twin marvels are they
Whose inter-dependence is born with our clay.
Yes, blessed is water, and blessed is thirst,
Where there’s water to quench it ; but this is the worst
Of this life, that we reck not the blessings God sends,
Till denied them. But Laura, who felt she had friends
In heaven as well as on earth, knew to thank
The giver of all things, and gratefully drank.
Once more on the pathway, through swamp and through mire,
Through covert and thicket, through bramble and brier,
She toiled to the highway, then over the hill,
And down the deep valley, and past the new mill,
And through the next woods, till, at sunset, she came
To the first British picket and murmured her name ;
Thence, guarded by Indians, footsore and pale
She was led to Fitzgibbon, and told him her tale.
For a moment her reason forsook her ; she raved,
She laughed, and she cried—“They are saved, they are saved !”
Then her senses returned, and with thanks loud and deep
Sounding sweetly around her she sank into sleep.
And Bœrstler came up, but his movements were known,
His force was surrounded, his scheme was o’erthrown
By a woman’s devotion—on stone be’t engraved—
The foeman was beaten and Burlington saved.
Ah ! faithful to death were our women of yore !
Have they fled with the past to be heard of no more ?
No, no ! Though this laurelled one sleeps in the grave,
We have maidens as true, we have matrons as brave ;
And should Canada ever be forced to the test—
To spend for our country the blood of her best !
When her sons lift the linstock and brandish the sword,
Her daughters will think of brave Laura Secord !
Source: Raise the Flag and Other Patriotic Canadian Songs and Poems. Toronto: Rose Publishing, 1891
Mair originally published this poem possibly in 1888 – the following was written in Grip, July 7, 1888:
The heroic conduct of Mrs. Laura Secord in apprising the British of the contemplated attack of Bœrstler’s forces in 1812, is once again made the subject of a poem, and this time the same hand that gave in Tecumseh, Vide the Week of June 21st. A first rate piece of work by a Canadian author is something uncommon enough to evoke enthusiasm, and the bard of Price Albert rarely fails to “do us proud.” After reading his latest we unanimously shout “Give us Mair, Charles, give us Mair!”
During the so-called war of 1812-14 between England and the United States, Laura Secord, the wife of a crippled British veteran, saved the British forces from surprise and possible destruction by the heroic action narrated in the ballad. Her home lay near the celebrated Queenston Heights, a few miles from the Falls of Niagara.
Softly the spell of moonlight fell ‡‡On the swift river’s flow,
On the gray crags of Queenston Heights, ‡‡And the green waves below.
Alone the whip-poor-will’s sad cry ‡‡Blent with the murmuring pines,
Save where the sentry paced his rounds ‡‡Along th’ invading lines.
But in one lowly cottage home ‡‡Were trouble and dismay ;
Two anxious watchers could not sleep ‡‡For tidings heard that day ;
Brave James Secord, with troubled heart, ‡‡And weary crippled frame,
That bore the scars of Queenston Heights, ‡‡Back to his cottage came ;
For he had learned a dark design ‡‡Fitzgibbon to surprise,
As with a handful of brave men ‡‡At Beaver Dam he lies.
‘And Boerstler, with eight hundred men, ‡‡Is moving from the shore
To steal upon our outpost there, ‡‡Guarded by scarce two score !
‘Then, wiping out, as well he may, ‡‡That gallant little band,
The foe will sweep his onward way ‡‡O’er the defenceless land.
‘Then noble Brock had died in vain— ‡‡If but Fitzgibbon knew !’—
And the poor cripple’s heart is fain ‡‡To press the journey through.
But Laura, bending o’er her babes, ‡‡Said, smiling through her tears :
‘These are not times for brave men’s wives ‡‡To yield to craven fears.
‘You cannot go to warn our men, ‡‡Or slip the outposts through ;
But if perchance they let me pass, ‡‡This errand I will do.’
She soothed his anxious doubts and fears : ‡‡She knew the forest way ;
She put her trust in Him who hears ‡‡His children when they pray !
Soon as the rosy flush of dawn ‡‡Glowed through the purple air,
She rose to household tasks—and kissed ‡‡Her babes with whispered prayer.
To milk her grazing cow she went ; ‡‡The sentry at the lines
Forgot to watch, as both were lost ‡‡Amid the sheltering pines.
The rising sun’s first golden rays ‡‡Gleamed through the forest dim,
And through its leafy arches rang ‡‡The birds’ sweet morning hymn.
The fragrant odour of the pines, ‡‡The carols gay and sweet,
Gave courage to the fluttering heart, ‡‡And strength to faltering feet.
And on she pressed, with steadfast tread, ‡‡Her solitary way,
O’er tangled brake and sodden swamp ‡‡Through all the sultry day.
Though, for the morning songs of birds ‡‡She heard the wolf’s hoarse cry,
And saw the rattlesnake glide forth, ‡‡As swift she hurried by.
Nor dark morass nor rushing stream ‡‡Could balk the steadfast will,
Nor pleading voice of anxious friends ‡‡Where stood St. David’s Mill.
The British sentry heard her tale, ‡‡And cheered her on her way ;
But bade her ‘ware the Indian scouts ‡‡Who in the covert lay.
Anon, as cracked a rotten bough ‡‡Beneath her wary feet,
She heard their war-whoop through the gloom, ‡‡Their steps advancing fleet ;
But quickly to the questioning chief ‡‡She told her errand grave
How she had walked the livelong day ‡‡Fitzgibbon’s men to save !
The redskin heard, and kindly gazed ‡‡Upon the pale-faced squaw ;
Her faithful courage touched his heart, ‡‡Her weary look he saw.
‘Me go with you’ was all he said, ‡‡And through the forest gray
He led her safe to Beaver Dam, ‡‡Where brave Fitzgibbon lay.
With throbbing heart she told her tale ; ‡‡They heard with anxious heed,
Who knew how grave the crisis was. ‡‡How urgent was the need !
Then there was riding far and near, ‡‡And mustering to and fro
Of troops and Indians from the rear ‡‡To meet the coming foe ;
And such the bold, determined stand ‡‡Those few brave soldiers made—
So fiercely fought the Indian band ‡‡From forest ambuscade,—
That Boerstler in the first surprise ‡‡Surrendered in despair,
To force so small it scarce could serve ‡‡To keep the prisoners there !
While the brave weary messenger ‡‡In dreamless slumber lay,
And woke to find her gallant friends ‡‡Were masters of the fray.
∗ ∗ ∗ ∗ ∗
If e’er Canadian courage fail, ‡‡Or loyalty grow cold,
Or nerveless grow Canadian hearts, ‡‡Then be the story told—
How British gallantry and skill ‡‡There played their noblest part,
Yet scarce had won if there had failed ‡‡One woman’s dauntless heart !
Source: Agnes Maule Machar. Lays of the ‘True North’ and Other Canadian Poems. 2nd enlarged ed. London: E. Stock, 1902
Fought June 24th, 1813. British 47 Regulars and 200 Indians. Americans, 570 with 50 cavalry and 3 guns
She knew, and her heart beat faster, ‡‡The foe would march that day !
And resolved, though only a woman, ‡‡To silently steal away
And warn the outpost at Beaver Dams ; ‡‡Alone, and on foot, to go
Through the dim and awesome forest, ‡‡To evade the vigilant foe.
And no one thought of a woman, ‡‡And she gained a path she knew
In the lonesome, stately forest, ‡‡And over the dark way flew.
On and on with a beating heart, ‡‡And never a pause for rest ;
Twenty miles of dim and distance, ‡‡And the sun low down the west.
Startled sometimes to terror ‡‡By the blood-curdling cry
Of wolves from the faint far distance, ‡‡And sometimes nearer by ;
And hollow sounds and weird whispers ‡‡That rose from the forest deep ;
And ghostly and phantom voices ‡‡That caused her nerves to creep.
But she pauses not, nor falters, ‡‡But presses along the way ;
Noiselessly through the dread distance, ‡‡Through the shadows weird and gray.
In time must the warning be given, ‡‡She must not, must not fail ;
Though rough is the path and toilsome, ‡‡Her courage must prevail.
“To arms ! to arms, FitzGibbon !” ‡‡Came a woman’s thrilling cry ;
“Lose not a precious moment — ‡‡The foe ! the foe is nigh !”
And a woman pale and weary ‡‡Burst on the startled sight
Out from the dark, awesome forest, ‡‡Out of the shadowy night.
“They come ! they come six hundred strong, ‡‡Stealing upon you here !
But I, a weak woman, tell you, ‡‡Prepare and have no fear.”
The handful of British heroes ‡‡Resolved the outpost to save,
With the aid of two hundred Indians, ‡‡Allies cunning and brave.
Still as death the line is waiting ‡‡The onset of the foe ;
And the summer winds make whisper ‡‡In the foliage soft and low.
“Ready !” and each heart beats faster ; ‡‡“Fire low, and without fear.”
And they fired a crashing volley, ‡‡And gave a defiant cheer.
Staggered by the deadly missiles, ‡‡That like a mighty blow
Fell swift on the line advancing, ‡‡Fell on the astonished foe.
And for two long, desperate hours ‡‡The furious fight raged there,
Till the foemen, foiled and beaten, ‡‡Surrendered in despair.
Well done, valiant FitzGibbon ! ‡‡Thy name shall live in story ;
Thy daring feat of arms that day ‡‡Is wreathed with fadeless glory.
One other name my song would praise, ‡‡A patriot soul so brave,
That dared the forest’s lonely wilds ‡‡FitzGibbon’s post to save.
Noble woman ! heroic soul ! ‡‡We would honor thee to-day ;
Thou canst not, shall not be forgot. ‡‡More lustrous is the ray
Time relects upon thy deed. ‡‡Thy talismanic name —
Canadians, sound it through the land, ‡‡Perpetuate her fadeless fame !
Source: Lieut.-Col. J. R. Wilkinson. Canadian Battlefields and Other Poems. 2nd ed. Toronto, William Briggs, 1901
A small town
huddling far below
the high BROCK monument,
in honor of the hero
of that historic war
of eighteen twelve.
in old Queenston
one little house
speaks of the simple life
of one who also had shared
the atrocity and misery
of that war and had shown
LAURA SECORD’s humble old house
facing the blue Niagara,
only whispers of her valour,
but right next door
her fame sells galore
delicious ice cream and sumptuous candy
in the little ice cream parlour.
No, it was not General BROCK
who gave Queenston its fame.
Rather a clever candy maker
knowing the importance of
a woman’s name in the candy trade
who made Queenston famous
with his ice-cream and chocolate
in LAURA SECORD’s name.
Source: Grol, Lini, ed. by Kevin McCabe and Lynne Prunskus. Lake to Lake: Lini Grol’s Niagara. St. Catharines: Blarney Stone Books, c2000.