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Abigail Becker - A Heroine of '54

The following is the corrected form of the poem by Miss Amanda T. Jones on pp. 447-448 of the "Ontario High School Reader". On one point Miss Jones was wrongly informed, and the error does an injustice to one who still lives. This injustice is here righted, and we trust it does no injustice to Miss Jones' poem. Mrs. Rohrer (Abigail Becker) desires the verse thirteen to be left out. (Rev R. Calvert - 1899)

Miss Jones was a native of Bloomfield, Ontario County, New York, and was born in October, 1835. She was of old Puritan stock, and her great grandfather was one of the officers who was with Wolfe, on the Plains of Abraham. In early childhood she resided at Glen Elgin, near Jordan Village, a short distance from St. Catherines. She wrote the poem of 'Glen Elgin' and other pieces. The verses here given first appeared in the Century Magazine.

As long as man shall love to read of the heroism of Ida Lewis and Grace Darling, so long shall all Canadians love to dwell on a heroism far greater than theirs - the unparalleled exploit of good, strong-bodied, simple-minded, warm-hearted Abigail Becker.

The wind, the wind, where Erie plunged,
Blew, blew, nor'-east from land to land;
The wandering schooner dipped and plunged,
Long Point was close at hand.

Long Point - a swampy island-slant,
Where busy in their grassy homes,
Woodcock and snipe the hollows haunt,
And musk-rats build their domes.

Where gulls and eagles rest at need,
Where either side, by lake or sound,
Kingfishers, cranes, and divers feed,
And mallard ducks abound.

The lowering night shut out the sight;
Careen'd the vessel, pitched, and veer'd;
Raved, raved the wind with main and might;
The sunken reef she near'd.

She pounded over, lurched and sank
Between two sand-bars settling fast;
Her leaky hull the water drank,
And she had sail'd her last.

Into the rigging, quick as thought,
Captain and mate and sailors sprung;
Clamber'd for life, some vantage caught,
And there all night they swung.

And it was cold - oh, it was cold!
The pitching cold was like a vise;
Spoondrift flew freezing - fold on fold
It coated them with ice.

Now, when the dawn began to break,
Light up the sand-path drench'd and brown,
To fill her bucket from the lake,
Came Mother Becker down.

From where her cabin crowned the bank
Came Abigail Becker tall and strong;
She dipped, and lo! a broken plank
Came rocking close along!

She pois'd her glass with anxious ken;
The schooner's top she spied from far,
And eight she counted of the men
That clung to mast and spar.

And oh, the gale! the rout and roar!
The blinding drift, the mounting wave;
A good half-mile from wreck to shore;
Eight human lives to save!

Sped Mother Becker; "Children wake!
A ship's gone down! They're needing me!
Your father's off on shore; the lake
Is just a raging sea!"

Through sinking sands, through craggy lands,
And nearer, nearer, full in view;
Went shouting through her hollowed hands,
"Courage! We'll get you through!"

Ran to and fro, made cheery signs,
Her bonfire lighted, steeped her tea,
Brought drift-wood, watch'd Canadian lines
Her husband's boat to see.

Cold, cold, it was - oh, it was cold!
The bitter cold made watching vain;
With ice the channel laboring roll'd, -
No skiff could stand the strain.

On all that isle from outer swell
To straight between the landings shut
Was never place where men might dwell,
Save trapper Becker's hut.

And it was twelve, and one, and two,
And it was three o'clock and more;
She called; "Come on! There's naught to do,
But leap and swim ashore."

Blew, blew the gale; they did not hear;
She waded in the shallow sea;
She waved her hands, made signals clear,
"Swim! swim, and trust to me!"

"My men," the captain cried, "I'll try;
The woman's judgement may be right;
For sink or swin, eight men must die
If here we swing to-night."

Far out he marked the gathering surge;
Across the bar he watched it pour;
Let go, and on its topmost verge
Came riding in to shore.

It struck the breaker's foamy track,
Majestic wave on wave uphurl'd,
Went grandly, toppling, tumbling back,
As loath to flood the world.

There blindly whirling, shorn of strength,
The captain drifted, sure to drown;
Dragg'd seaward half a cable's length,
Like sinking lead went down.

Ah, well for him that on the strand
Had Mother Becker waited long;
And well for him her grasping hand
And grappling arm were strong.

For what to do but plunge and swim?
Out on the sinking billows cast,
She toiled, she dived, she groped for him.
She found and clutched him fast.

She climbed the reef, she brought him up,
She laid him gasping on the sands;
Built high the fire and filled the cup, -
Stood up and waved her hands.

Oh, life is dear! The mate leaped in:
Himself he tries to save.
The goal seemed more than he could win
For he was weak though brave.

Her crippled step-son now comes down.
To mother's help he wants to go.
And heeding not his mother's frown,
He tries what he can do.

"I'll start to meet him in the wave."
"Keep back!" she bade. "What strength have you?
And I shall have you both to save,
Must work to pull you through!"

But out he went. Up shallow sweeps
Raced the long white-caps, comb on comb:
The wind, the wind that lashed the deeps,
Far, far it blew the foam.

The frozen foam went scudding by, -
Before the wind the seething throng,
The waves, the waves came towering high
They flung the mate along.

The waves came towering high and white,
They burst in clouds of angry spray.
There mate and cripple sank from sight,
And, clinching, roll'd away.

Oh, Mother Becker, seas are dread,
Their treacherous paths are deep and blind.
But widows soon may mourn their dead,
If thou art slow to find.

She sought them near, she sought them far.
Three fathom's down she gripped them tight.
With both together up the bar
She stagger'd into sight.

Beside the fire her burdens fell;
She paused the cheering draught to pore,
Then waved her hands: "All's well, all's well!
Come on! Swim! swim ashore!"

Sure , life is dear, and men are brave;
They came, - they dropped from mast and spar;
And who but she could brave the wave,
And dive beyond the bar?

Dark grew the sky from east to west;
And darker, darker grew the world;
Each man from off the breaker's crest
To gloomier depths was hurl'd

And still the gale went shrieking on,
And still the wrecking fury grew;
And still the woman, worn and wan,
Those gates of death went through.

As Christ were walking on the waves,
And heavenly radiance shone about, -
All fearless trod that gulf of graves
And bore the sailors out.

Down came the night, but far and bright,
Despite the wind and flying foam,
The bonfire flamed to give them light
To Trapper Becker's home.

Oh, safety after wreck is sweet!
And sweet is rest in hut or hall;
One story life and death repeat, -
God;s meercy over all.

Next day men heard, put out from shore,
Crossed channel-ice, burst in to find
Seven gallant fellows sick and sore,
A tender nurse and kind.

Shook hands, wept, laugh'd, were crazy glad;
Cried: "Never yet, on land and sea,
Poor dying, drowning sailors had
A better friend than she."

"Billows may tumble, winds may roar,
Strong hands the wreck'd from death may snatch;
But never, never, nevermore
This deed shall mortal match!"

Dear Mother Becker dropped her head,
She blushed as girls when lovers woo;
"I have not done a thing," she said,
"More than I ought to do."