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Marguerite De Roberval

The story I am about to relate may be of no historical significance, but it furnishes an illustration of the courage and endurance of the women who first visited these shores.

It will be remembered that the third voyage of Cartier, in 1541, was made under Sieur de Roberval, whom Francis the First appointed the first Viceroy of Canada. He was a wealthy French noble of a most determined and cruel disposition. His niece, Marguerite de Roberval, was a member of his household. She was a bright young girl, full of the spirit of adventure of the age, and such a favorite with her uncle that he consented to her accompanying him upon the voyage. Like many another maiden in like circumstances, Marguerite had for some time, unknown to her uncle, been receiving the attention of a poor young cavalier whose love was not unrequited. He could not bear the thought of being separated from his sweetheart, so he managed to enlist as a volunteer with Roberval, and sailed in the same ship with him and his niece. In the course of the voyage the lovers' secret was discovered, and Roberval's affection for his niece gave way to a vengeance cruel and in-human. Off the coast of Newfoundland was an island called the Isle of Demons, supposed to be the abode of evil spirits. Turning a deaf ear to the supplications of the frightened girl, the cruel monster deposited her upon this lonely shore with no other companion to share her solitude than an old nurse. With scant provisions, four guns, and a limited supply of ammunition, he left her to her fate. Her lover was powerless to stay the hand of Roberval, and as the ship was getting under way again, strapping his gun and a quantity of ammunition to his back, he leaped into the sea and with sturdy strokes soon rejoined the heart-broken Marguerite.

In vain they hoped and prayed that their pitiable plight might move the stony heart of the Governor. He never returned. Marguerite and her lover went through the form of marriage as best they could without the aid of a priest. Did ever a couple begin housekeeping under such trying circumstances? They built themselves a rude hut. The wild fowl and fish furnished their table, and from the skins of wild animals they provided them-selves with clothing to resist the cold of the approaching winter.

In the following summer Marguerite became a mother and devoted most of her time to caring for her baby. Her husband had hoped that the cruel uncle would return to relieve their suffering, and the bitter disappointment he experienced crushed his spirit. Grieving over the suffering of his loving wife, he sickened and died. The baby did not long survive him, and the faithful old nurse also succumbed. In the lonely forest this brave young woman knelt beside the graves she had made with her own hands and prayed for strength and courage to bear' up under her heavy burden. Only a few months before, she was the moving spirit in the castle of the "little King of Vimeu," as her uncle was called, and no luxury was denied her. She was his favorite and had often accompanied him upon his hunting expeditions, where fortunately she had become an expert with the arquebuse. His love had changed to hatred. The gayety of the Court was now replaced by the dreadful solitude of this lonely isle. Want and privation, discomfort and fear now con-fronted her, and the three fresh mounds, bathed with her scalding tears, warned her that she, too, was likely very soon to join the only human beings who had shared her misery. Then there would be no tender hands to caress her in her last hours. She did not yield to these despairing thoughts, but deter-mined to meet her fate with a bold front. For eighteen long and dreary months she wandered about the shores straining her eyes for a glimpse of a sail. Three or four times relief seemed at hand as a white speck appearing upon the horizon soon disclosed the dimensions of a ship, only to melt away again, leaving her more lonely than before. The third winter was almost upon her when she again espied a welcome sail. How was she to lure the ship to this dreaded shore the supposed home of mischief-making demons? Mustering all her strength for one final effort, she sacrificed her little store of fuel that she had painfully gathered from the forest and built a huge fire, in the hope that the smoke would attract the attention of the strangers. Nearer and nearer came the boat, a fisherman's barque. With frantic gestures she signaled for help. The fishermen drew near enough to descry a lonely figure, clad in skins of wild animals, wildly gesticulating as she ran along the shore. In doubt as to whether this was a human being or a dreaded spirit, they concluded to solve the mystery and land upon the island, and thus was Marguerite rescued from her perilous situation and shortly afterwards was returned to France after an absence of nearly three years.

Do the annals of any history furnish a more pathetic or a more impressive tale than this? The courage that will lead battalions to the cannon's mouth might well waver when con-fronted with the terrors of the awful exile of this brave young girl. The strength that will carry hardened soldiers through a protracted battle would in most instances succumb to the long months of solitary suffering such as was endured by Marguerite de Roberval.

* Some historians regard this narrative of Marguerite de Roberval as pure fiction, but as careful an investigator as Parkman does not hesitate to accept the story as one of the actual events of our early history.

Heroines of Canadian History, By W. S. Herrington, 1910


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