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Produced by Lee Dawei, Sandra Bannatyne and PG Distributed
THE RAID FROM BEAUSÉJOUR
HOW THE CARTER BOYS LIFTED THE MORTGAGE
TWO STORIES OF ACADIE
BY CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS
I. THE RAID FROM BEAUSÉJOUR.
II. HOW THE CARTER BOYS LIFTED THE MORTGAGE.
“BEAUBASSIN MUST GO!” The family were gathered in the kitchen.
THE RAID FROM BEAUSÉJOUR. “They sped rapidly across the marsh.”
MR. HAND. “When he reached the door he knocked imperiously.”
THE RAID FROM BEAUSÉJOUR.
On the hill of Beauséjour, one April morning in the year 1750 A.D., a little group of French soldiers stood watching, with gestures of anger and alarm, the approach of several small ships across the yellow waters of Chignecto Bay. The ships were flying British colors. Presently they came to anchor near the mouth of the Missaguash, a narrow tidal river about two miles to the southeast of Beauséjour. There the ships lay swinging at their cables, and all seemed quiet on board. The group on Beauséjour knew that the British would attempt no landing for some hours, as the tide was scarce past the ebb, and half a mile of red mire lay between the water and the firm green edges of the marsh.
The French soldiers were talking in loud, excited tones. As they spoke a tallish lad drew near and listened eagerly. The boy, who was apparently about sixteen or seventeen years of age, was clad in the rough, yellow-gray homespun cloth of the Acadians. His name was Pierre Lecorbeau, and he had just come from the village of Beaubassin to carry eggs, milk, and cheeses to the camp on Beauséjour. The words he now heard seemed to concern him deeply, for his dark face paled anxiously as he listened.
“Yes, I tell you,” one of the soldiers was saying, “Beaubassin must go. Monsieur the abbé has said so. You know, he came into camp this morning about daybreak, and has been shut up with the colonel ever since. But he talks so loud when he’s angry that Jacques has got hold of all his plans. His Reverence has brought two score of his Micmacs with him from Cobequid, and has left ’em over in the woods behind Beaubassin. He swears that sooner than let the English establish themselves in the village and make friends with those mutton-head Acadians, he will burn the whole place to the ground.”
“And he’ll do it, too, will the terrible father!” interjected another soldier.
“When will the fun begin?” asked a third.
“O!” responded the first speaker, “if the villagers make no fuss, and are ready to cross the river and come and settle over here with us, they shall have all the time they want for removing their stuff–all day, in fact. But if they are stubborn, and would like to stay where they are, and knuckle down to the English, they will see their roofs blazing over their heads just about the time the first English boat puts off for shore. If any one kicks, why, as like as not, one of His Reverence’s red skins will lift his hair for him.”
A chorus of exclamations, with much shrugging of shoulders, went round the group at this; and one said thoughtfully: “When my fighting days are over, and I get back to France, I shall pray all the saints to keep Father Le Loutre in Acadie. With such fierce priests in old France I should be afraid to go to mass!”
Pierre listened to all this with a sinking heart. Not waiting to hear more, he turned away, with the one thought of getting home as soon as possible to warn his father of the destruction hanging over their happy home. At this moment the soldier who had been doing most of the talking caught sight of him, and called out:
“Hullo, youngster, come here a minute!”
Pierre turned back with obvious reluctance, and the speaker continued:
“Your father, now, the good Antoine–whom may the saints preserve, for his butter and his cheeses are right excellent–does he greatly love this gentle abbé of yours?”
The boy looked about him apprehensively, and blurted out, “No, monsieur!” A flush mounted to his cheek, and he continued, in a voice of bitterness, “We hate him!” Then, as if terrified with having spoken his true thought, the lad darted away down the slope, and was soon seen speeding at a long trot across the young grass of the marsh to the ford of the Missaguash.
At the time when our story opens, events in Acadie were fast ripening to that unhappy issue known as “the expulsion of the Acadians,” which furnished Longfellow with the theme of “Evangeline.” The Acadian peninsula, now Nova Scotia, had been ceded by France to England. The dividing line between French and English territory was the Missaguash stream, winding through the marshes of the isthmus of Chignecto which connects Acadie with the mainland. The Acadians had become British subjects in name, but all the secret efforts of France were devoted to preventing them from becoming so in sentiment. What is now New Brunswick was still French territory, as were also Prince Edward Island and Cape Breton. It was the hope of the French king, Louis XV, that if the Acadians could be kept thoroughly French at heart Acadie might yet be won back to shine on the front of New France.
As the two nations were now at peace, any tampering with the allegiance of the Acadians could only be carried on in secret. In the hands of the French there remained just two forces to be employed–persuasion and intimidation; and their religion was the medium through which these forces were applied. The Acadians had their own priests. Such of these as would lend themselves to the schemes of the government were left in their respective parishes; others, more conscientious, were transferred to posts where their scruples would be less inconvenient. If any Acadian began to show signs of wishing to live his own life quietly, careless as to whether a Louis or a George reigned over him, he was promptly brought to terms by the threat that the Micmacs, who remained actively French, would be turned loose upon him. Under such a threat the unhappy Acadian made all haste to forget his partiality for the lenient British rule.
The right hand of French influence in Acadie at this time was the famous Abbé Le Loutre, missionary to the Micmac Indians at Cobequid. To this man’s charge may well be laid the larger part of the misfortunes which befell the Acadian people. He was violent in his hatred of the English, unscrupulous in his methods, and utterly pitiless in the carrying out of his project. His energy and his vindictiveness were alike untiring; and his ascendency over his savage flock, who had been Christianized in name only, gave a terrible weapon into his hands. Liberal were the rewards this fierce priest drew from the coffers of Quebec and of Versailles.
In order to keep the symbol of French power and authority ever before Acadian eyes, and to hinder the spread of English influence, a force had been sent from Quebec, under the officers La Corne and Boishébert, to hold the hill of Beauséjour, which was practically the gate of Acadie. From Beauséjour the flourishing settlement of Beaubassin, on the English side of the Missaguash, was overawed and kept to the French allegiance. The design of the French was to induce all those Acadians whom they could absolutely depend upon to remain in their homes within the English lines, as a means whereby to confound the English counsels. Those, however, who were suspected of leaning to the British, either from sloth or policy, were to be bullied, coaxed, frightened, or compelled by Le Loutre and his braves into forsaking their comfortable homes and moving into new settlements on the French side of the boundary.
But the English authorities at Halifax, after long and astonishing forbearance, had begun to develop a scheme of their own; and the fleet which, on this April morning, excited such consternation among the watchers on Beauséjour, formed a part of it. Lord Cornwallis had decided that an English force established in Beaubassin would be the most effective check upon the influence of Beauséjour; and the vessels now at anchor off the mouth of the red and winding Missaguash contained a little army of four hundred British troops, under command of Major Lawrence. This expedition had been sent out from Halifax with a commendable secrecy, but neither its approach nor its purpose could be kept hidden from the ever-alert Le Loutre. Since Beaubassin was on British soil, no armed opposition could be made to the landing of the British force; and the troops on Beauséjour could only gnaw their mustaches and gaze in angry silence. But Le Loutre was resolved that on the arrival of the British there should be no more Beaubassin. The villagers were not to remain in such bad company!
Pierre Lecorbeau was swift of foot. As he sped across the gray-green levels, at this season of the year spongy with rains, he glanced over his shoulder and saw the abbé, with his companions, just quitting the log cabin which served as the quarters of Boishébert. The boy’s brow took on a yet darker shadow. When he reached the top of the dike that bordered the Missaguash, he paused an instant and gazed seaward. Pierre was eagerly French at heart, loving France, as he hated Le Loutre, with a fresh and young enthusiasm; and as his eyes rested on the crimson folds, the red, blue, and white crosses that streamed from the topmasts of the English ships, his eyes flashed with keen hostility. Then he vanished over the dike, and was soon splashing through the muddy shallows of the ford. The water was fast deepening, and he thought to himself, “If Monsieur the abbé doesn’t hurry, he will have to swim where I am walking but knee-deep!”
There was another stretch of marsh for Pierre to cross ere reaching the gentle and fruitful slopes on which the village was outspread. On the very edge of the village, halfway up a low hill jutting out into the Missaguash marsh, stood the cabin of Pierre’s father amid its orchards. There was little work to do on the farm at this season. The stock had all been tended, and the family were gathered in the kitchen when Pierre, breathless and gasping, burst in with his evil tidings.
Now in the household of Antoine Lecorbeau, and in Beaubassin generally, not less than among the garrison of Beauséjour, the coming of the English fleet had produced a commotion. But in the heart of Lecorbeau there was less anxiety than curiosity. This temperate and sagacious farmer, had preserved an appearance of unimpeachable fidelity to the French, but in his inmost soul he appreciated the tolerance of the British rule, and longed to see it strengthened. If the visitors were coming to stay, as was rumored to be the case, then, to Antoine Lecorbeau’s thinking, the day was a lucky one for Beaubassin. He thought how he would snap his fingers at Le Loutre and his Micmacs. But he was beginning to exult too soon.
When Pierre told his story, and the family realized that their kindly home was doomed, the little dark kitchen, with its wooden ceiling, was filled with lamentations. Such of the children as were big enough to understand the calamity wept aloud, and the littler ones cried from sympathy. Pierre’s father for a moment appeared bowed down beneath the stroke, but the mother, a stout, dark, gentle-faced woman, suddenly stopped her sobs and cried out in a shrill voice, with her queer Breton accent:
“Antoine, Antoine, we will defy the wicked, cruel abbé, and pray the English to protect us from him. Did not Father Xavier, just before he was sent away, tell us that the English were just, and that it was our duty to be faithful to them? How can we go out into this rough spring weather with no longer a roof to cover us?”
This appeal roused the Acadian. His shrewd sense and knowledge of those with whom he had to deal came at once to his aid.
“Nay, nay, mother!” said he, rising and passing his gnarled hand over his forehead, “it is even as Pierre has said. We must be the first to do the bidding of the abbé, and must seem to do it of our own accord. It will be hours yet ere the English be among us, and long ere Le Loutre will have had time to work his will upon those who refuse to do his bidding. Do thou get the stuff together. This night we must sleep on the shore of the stream and find us a new home at Beauséjour. To the sheds, Pierre, and yoke the cattle. Hurry, boy, hurry, for there is everything to do and small time for the doing of it.”
From Lecorbeau’s cottage the news of Le Loutre’s decree spread like wildfire through the settlement. Some half dozen reckless characters declared at once in the abbé’s favor, and set out across the marsh to welcome him and offer their aid. A few more, a very few, set themselves reluctantly to follow the example of Antoine Lecorbeau, who bore a great name in the village for his wise counsels. But most of the villagers got stubborn, and vowed that they would stay by their homes, whether it was Indians or English bid them move. The resolution of these poor souls was perhaps a little shaken as a long line of painted and befeathered Micmacs, appearing from the direction of the wooded hills of Jolicoeur, drew stealthily near and squatted down in the outermost skirts of the village. But Beaubassin had not had the experience with Le Loutre that had fallen to the lot of other settlements, and the unwise ones hardened their hearts in their decision.
As Le Loutre, with his little party, entered the village, he met Antoine Lecorbeau setting out for Beauséjour with a huge cartload of household goods, drawn by a yoke of oxen. The abbé’s fierce, close-set eyes gleamed with approval, and he accosted the old man in a cordial voice.
“This is indeed well done, Antoine. I love thy zeal for the grand cause. The saints will assuredly reward thee, and I will myself do for thee the little that lies in my poor power! But why so heavy of cheer, man?”
“Alas, father!” returned Lecorbeau, sadly, “this is a sorrowful day. It is a grievous hardship to forsake one’s hearth, and these fruitful fields, and this well bearing orchard that I have planted with my own hands. But better this than to live in humiliation and in jeopardy every hour; for I learn that these English are coming to take possession and to dwell among us!”
The abbé, as Lecorbeau intended, quite failed to catch the double meaning in this speech, which he interpreted in accordance with his own feelings. Like many another unscrupulous deceiver, Le Loutre was himself not difficult to deceive.
“Well, cheer up, Antoine!” he replied, “for thou shalt have good lands on the other side of the hill; and thou wilt count thyself blest when thou seest what shall happen to some of these slow beasts here, who care neither for France nor the Church so long as they be let alone to sleep and fill their bellies.”
As the great cart went creaking on, Lecorbeau looked over his shoulder, with an inscrutable gaze, and watched the retreating figure of the priest.
“Thou mayst be a good servant to France,” he murmured, “but it is an ill service, a sorry service, thou dost the Church!”
Within the next few hours, while Antoine and his family had been getting nearly all their possessions across the Missaguash, first by the fords, and then by the aid of the great scow which served for a ferry at high tide, the tireless abbé had managed to coax or threaten nearly every inhabitant of the village. His Indians stalked after him, apparently heedless of everything. His few allies among the Acadians, who had assumed the Indian garb for the occasion, scattered themselves over the settlement repeating the abbé’s exhortations; but the villagers, though with anxious hearts, held to their cabins, refusing to stir, and watching for the English boats to come ashore. They did not realize how intensely in earnest and how merciless the abbé could be, for they had nothing but hearsay and his angry face to judge by. But their awakening was soon to come.
Early in the afternoon the tide was nigh the full. At a signal from the masthead of the largest ship there spread a sudden activity throughout the fleet, and immediately a number of boats were lowered. For this the abbé had been waiting. Snatching a blazing splinter of pine from the hearth of a cottage close to the church, he rushed up to the homely but sacred building about which clustered the warmest affections of the villagers. At the same moment several of his followers appeared with armfuls of straw from a neighboring barn. This inflammable stuff, with some dry brush, was piled into the porch and fired by the abbé’s own hand. The structure was dry as tinder, and almost instantly a volume of smoke rolled up, followed by long tongues of eager flame, which looked strangely pallid and cruel in the afternoon sunshine. A yell broke from the Indians, and then there fell a silence, broken only by the crackling of the flames. The English troops, realizing in a moment what was to occur, bent to their oars with redoubled vigor, thinking to put a stop to the shameless work. And the name of Le Loutre was straightway on their lips.
The ships were a mile from shore, and the shore nearly a league from the doomed village. When that column of smoke and flame rolled up over their beloved church the unhappy Acadian villagers knew, too late, the character of the man with whom they had to deal. It was no time for them to look to the ships for help. They began with trembling haste to pack their movables, while Le Loutre and a few of his supporters went from house to house with great coolness, deaf to all entreaties, and behind the feet of each sprang up a flame. A few of the more stolid or more courageous of the villagers still held out, refusing to move even at the threat of the firebrand; but these gave way when the Indians came up, yelling and brandishing their tomahawks. Le Loutre proclaimed that anyone refusing to cross the lines and take refuge at Beauséjour should be scalped. The rest, he said, might retain possession of just so much of their stuff as they could rescue from the general conflagration. The English, he swore, should find nothing of Beaubassin except its ashes.
Presently the thin procession of teams, winding its gloomy way across the plains of the Missaguash toward Beauséjour, became a hurrying throng of astonished and wailing villagers, each one carrying with him on his back or in his rude ox cart the most precious of his movable possessions; while the women, with loud sobbing, dragged along by their hands the frightened and reluctant little ones. By another road, leading into the wooded hills where the villagers were wont to cut their winter firewood, a few of the more hardy and impetuous of the Acadians, disdaining to bend to the authority of Le Loutre, fled away into the wilds with their muskets and a little bread; and these the Indians dared not try to stop.
The English boats, driven furiously, dashed high up the slippery beach, and the troops swarmed over the brown and sticky dikes. Major Lawrence led the way at a run across the marshes; but the soft soil clogged their steps, and a wide bog forced them far to one side. When they reached the outskirts of the village the sorrowful dusk of the April evening was falling over the further plains and the full tide behind them, but the sky in front was ablaze. There was little wind, and the flames shot straight aloft, and the smoke hung on the scene in dense curtains, doubling the height of the hill behind the village, and reflecting back alike the fierce heat and the dreadful glare. At one side, skulking behind some outlying barns just bursting into flame, a few Indians were sighted and pursued. The savages fired once on their pursuers, and then, with a yell of derision and defiance, disappeared behind the smoke. The English force went into camp with the conflagration covering its rear, and philosophically built its camp fires and cooked its evening meal with the aid of the burning sheds and hayricks.
As Pierre Lecorbeau drove his ox cart up the slope of Beauséjour toward the commandant’s cabin, where his father was awaiting him, he halted and looked back while the blowing oxen took breath. His mother, who had stayed to the last, was sitting in the cart on a pile of her treasures. The children had been taken to a place of safety by their father, who had left the final stripping of the home to his wife and boy, while he went ahead to arrange for the night’s shelter. Antoine Lecorbeau had lost his home, his farm, his barns, his orchards, and his easy satisfaction with life; but thanks to Pierre’s promptitude and his own shrewdness he had saved all his household stuff, his cattle, his hay and grain, and the little store of gold coin which had been hidden under the great kitchen hearth. His house was the last to be fired, and even now, as Pierre and his mother stood watching, long red horns of flame were pushed forth, writhing, from the low gables. The two were silent, save for the woman’s occasional heavy sobs. Presently the roof fell in, and then the boy’s wet eyes flashed. A body of the English troops could be seen pitching tents in the orchard. “Mother!” said the boy, “what if we had stayed at home and waited for these English to protect us? They are our enemies, these English; and the abbé is our enemy; and the Indians are our enemies; and our only friends are–yonder!”
As Pierre spoke he turned his back on the lurid sky and pointed to the crest of Beauséjour. There, in long, dark lines, stood nearly a thousand French troops, drawn up on parade. The light from the ruined village gleamed in blood-red flashes from their steel, and over them the banner of France flapped idly with its lilies.
That night, because Antoine Lecorbeau was a leader among the villagers of Beaubassin, he and his family had shelter in a small but warm stable where some of the officers’ horses were quartered. Their goods were stacked and huddled together in the open air, and Pierre and his father cut boughs and spread blankets to cover them from the weather. In the warm straw of the stable, hungry and homesick, the children clung about their mother and wept themselves to sleep. But they were fortunate compared with many of their acquaintances, whom Pierre could see crowded roofless about their fires, in sheltered hollows and under the little hillside copses. The night was raw and showery, and there was not houseroom in Beauséjour for a tenth part of the homeless Acadians.
By dawn Pierre was astir. He rose from his cramped position under a manger, stretched himself, shook the chaff and dust from his thick black hair, and stepped out into the chilly morning. The cattle had been hobbled and allowed to feed at large, but the boy’s eye soon detected that his pet yoke had disappeared. Nowhere on Beauséjour could they be found, and he concluded they must have freed themselves completely and wandered back home. Pierre had no reason to fear the English, but he dreaded lest the troops should take a fancy to make beef out of his fat oxen; so, after a word to his father, he set out for the burned village. Early as it was, however, Beauséjour was all astir when he left, and he wondered what the soldiers were so busy about.
As Pierre approached the smoldering ruins of his home, an English soldier, standing on guard before the tents in the orchard, ordered him to halt. Pierre didn’t understand the word, but he comprehended the tone in which it was uttered. He saw his beloved oxen standing with bowed heads by the water trough, and he tried to make the soldier understand that he had come for those oxen, which belonged to him. On this point Pierre spoke very emphatically, as if to make his French more intelligible to the Englishman. But his struggles were all in vain. The soldier looked first puzzled, then vacuously wise; then he knit his brows and looked at the oxen. Finally he laughed, took Pierre by the elbow, and led him toward one of the tents. At this moment a pleasant-faced young officer came out of the tent, and, taking in the situation at a glance, addressed Pierre in French:
“Well, my boy,” said he, kindly, “what are you doing here so early?”
Pierre became polite at once; so surely does courtesy find courtesy.
“Sir,” said he, taking off his hat, “I have come after my father’s oxen, those beasts yonder, which strayed back here in the night. This was our home yesterday.”
Pierre’s voice quivered as he spoke these last words.
The officer looked very much interested.
“Certainly,” said he, “you shall have your oxen. We don’t take anything that doesn’t belong to us. But tell me, why is not this your home to-day? Why have you all burnt down your houses and run away? We are the true friends of all the Acadians. What had you to fear?”
“We didn’t do it!” replied the boy. “It was monsieur the abbé and his Indians; and they threatened to scalp us all if we didn’t leave before you came!”
The young officer’s face grew very stern at the mention of the abbé, whom he knew to mean Le Loutre.
“Ah!” he muttered, “I see it all now! We might have expected as much from that snake! But tell me,” he continued to Pierre, “what is going on over on the hill this morning? They are not going to attack us, are they? We are on English soil here. They know that!”
“I don’t know,” said Pierre, looking about him, and over at Beauséjour. “They were very busy getting things ready for something when I left. But I wanted my oxen, and I didn’t wait to ask. May I take them away now, monsieur?”
“Very well,” answered the officer, and he offered Pierre a shilling. To his astonishment Pierre drew himself up and wouldn’t touch it. The young man still held it out to him, saying: “Why, it is only a little memento! See, it has a hole in it, and you can keep it to remember Captain Howe by. I have many friends among your people!”
“My heart is French,” replied Pierre, with resolution. “I cannot take money from an enemy.”
“But we English are not your enemies. We wish to do you good, to win your love. It is that wicked Le Loutre who is your enemy.”
“Yes,” assented Pierre, very heartily. “We all hate him. And many of us love the English, and would be friends if we dared; but I do not love any but the Holy Saints and the French. I love France!” and the boy’s voice rang with enthusiasm.
A slight shade of sadness passed over the young captain’s earnest face. Edward Howe was known throughout Acadia as a lover of the Acadians, and as one who had more than once stood between them and certain well-deserved restraint. He was attracted by Pierre’s intelligence of face and respectful fearlessness of demeanor, and he determined to give the young enthusiast something to think about.
“Do you not know,” said he, “that your beloved France is at the back of all this misery?” And he pointed to the smoking ruins of the village. “Do you not know that it is the gold of the French king that pays Le Loutre and his savages? Do you not know that while King Louis instructs his agents in Quebec and Louisburg and yonder at Beauséjour, to excite the Indians, and certain of your own people too, to all sorts of outrages against peaceful English settlers, he at the same time puts all the blame upon your people, and swears that he does his utmost to restrain you? O, you are so sorely deceived, and some day you will open your eyes to it, but perhaps too late! My heart bleeds for your unhappy people.”
The young man turned back into his tent, after a word to the sentry who had brought Pierre in. The boy stood a few moments in irresolution, wanting to speak again to the young officer, whose frank eyes and winning manner had made a deep impression upon him. But his faith in the France of his imagination was not daunted. Presently, speaking to his oxen in a tone of command, he drove the submissive brutes away across the marsh.
As he left the English camp a bugle rang out shrilly behind him, and a great stir arose in the lines. He glanced about him, and continued his way. Then he observed that the slopes of Beauséjour were dark with battalions on the march, and he realized with a thrill that the lilies were advancing to give battle. In another moment, looking behind him, he saw the scarlet lines of the English already under arms, and a signal gun boomed from the ships.
Trembling with excitement, and determined to carry a musket in the coming fray, Pierre urged his oxen into a gallop, and made a detour to get around the French army. By the time he got back to his stable, and possessed himself of his father’s musket, and started down the hill at a run, expecting every moment to hear his father’s voice calling him to return, the soldiers of France had reached the river. But here they halted, making no move to cross into English territory. To have done so would have been a violation of the existing treaty between France and England.
Major Lawrence, however, did not suspect that the French movement was merely what is known as a demonstration. He took it for granted that the French were waiting only for some favorable condition of the tide in order to cross over and attack him in his position. He saw that the French force three or four times outnumbered his own; and as his mission was one of pacification, he decided not to shed blood uselessly. He ordered a retreat to the ship. The men went very reluctantly, hating to seem overawed; but Major Lawrence explained the situation, and declared that, Beaubassin being burned, there was no special object in remaining. He further promised that later in the summer he would come again, with a force that would be large enough for the undertaking, and would build a strong fort on the hill at whose foot they were now encamped. Then the red files marched sullenly back to their boats; while a body of Indians, reappearing from the woods, yelled and danced their defiance, and the French across the river shouted their mocking ballads.
When it was seen that the English were actually reembarking, a fierce indignation broke out against Le Loutre for the useless cruelty and precipitancy of his action. The French troops had some little feeling for the houseless villagers, and they were angered at being deprived of their chief and most convenient source of supplies. The fierce abbé insisted that the movement of the English was a ruse of some sort; but when the ships got actually under way, with a brisk breeze in their sails, he withdrew in deep chagrin, and returned with his Micmacs to his village on the muddy Shubenacadie. Relieved of his dreaded presence the Acadians set bravely to work building cabins on the new lands which were allotted them back of Beauséjour, and along the Missaguash, Au Lac, and Tantramar streams. A few were rash enough to return to their former holdings in Beaubassin, rebuilding among the ashes; but not so Antoine Lecorbeau. On the northwest slope of Beauséjour, where a fertile stretch of uplands skirts the commencement of the Great Tantramar marsh, he obtained an allotment, and laid his hearthstone anew. The burning of Beaubassin had not made him love France the more, but it had cooled his liking for the English. The words of Captain Howe, nevertheless, which Pierre had repeated to him faithfully, lay rankling in his heart, and he harbored a bitter suspicion as to the good faith of the French authorities. He saw that they professed disapproval of the methods of Le Loutre, but he began to doubt the sincerity of this disapproval. Pierre, however, was troubled by no such misgivings.
The summer, though a laborious one, slipped by not at all unpleasantly. Mother Lecorbeau soon had a roof to shelter her little brood of swarthy roisterers; a rough shed, built over a hillside spring in a group of willows, served as the dairy wherein she made the butter and cheese so appreciated by the warriors on Beauséjour. Lecorbeau got in crops both on his new lands and on the old farm, and saw the apples ripening abundantly around the ruins of his home in Beaubassin. As for Pierre, in his scanty hours of leisure he was always to be found on the hill, where an old color sergeant, pleased with his intelligence and his ambition to become a soldier of France, was teaching him to read and write. This friendly veteran was, in his comrades’ eyes, a marvel of clerkly skill, for in those days the ability to read and write was by no means a universal possession among the soldiers of France.
One evening in the first of the autumn, when here and there on the dark Minudie hills could be seen the scarlet gleam of an early-turning maple, just as the bay had become a sheet of glowing copper under the sunset, a rosy sail appeared on the horizon. The pacing sentry on the brow of Beauséjour stopped to watch it. Presently another rose into view, and another, and another; and then Beauséjour knew that the English fleet had returned. Before the light faded out the watchers had counted seventeen ships; and when the next morning broke the whole squadron was lying at anchor about three miles from the shore.
With the first of daylight Pierre and his father hastened up the hill to find out what was to be done. To their astonishment they learned that the troops on Beauséjour would do just nothing, unless the English should attempt to land on the French side of the Missaguash. They had received from Quebec a caution not to transgress openly any treaty obligations. To Antoine Lecorbeau this news seemed not unwelcome. He was for quiet generally. But Pierre showed in his face, and, indeed, proclaimed aloud, his disappointment. The old sergeant laughed at his eager pupil, and remarked:
“O, my young fire eater, you shall have a chance at the beefeaters if you like! His Reverence the abbé arrived in Beauséjour last night about midnight, and he’s going to fight, if we can’t. Treaties don’t bother him much. He’s got all his Micmacs with him, I guess. There they go now–the other side of the stream. In a bit you’ll see them at work strengthening the line of the dike. They’re going to give it to the beefeaters pretty hot when they try to come ashore. There’s your chance now for a brush. His Reverence will take you, fast enough.”
“Pierre shall do nothing of the sort, whether he wants to or not,” interrupted Lecorbeau, with sharp emphasis.
“I wouldn’t fight under him!” ejaculated the boy, with a ring of scorn in his voice.
The old sergeant shrugged his shoulders.
“O, very well,” said he. “I’m of the same way of thinking myself. But all your people are not so particular. Look now, over at the dike. Did you ever see an Indian that could handle the shovel as those fellows are doing. I tell you, half those Indians are just your folks dressed-up, and painted red and black, and with feathers stuck in their hair. The abbé ropes a lot of you into this business, and you’re lucky, Antoine Lecorbeau, that he hasn’t called on you or Pierre yet.”
At this suggestion Lecorbeau looked grim, but troubled. As for Pierre, however, with a boy’s confidence, he exclaimed:
“Just let him call. I think I see him getting us!”
Yet, for all his bitterness against Le Loutre, Pierre felt the fever of battle stir within him as he watched the preparations behind the long, red Missaguash dike. His father, seeing the excitement in his flashing eyes and flushed countenance, exacted from him then and there a promise that he would take no part in the approaching conflict.
On that September day the tide was full about noon, and with the tide came in the English ships. Knowing the anchorage, they came right into the river’s mouth, in a long, ominously silent line. The mixed rabble of Le Loutre crowded low behind their breastworks; and hundreds of eager eyes on Beauséjour strained their sight to catch the first flash of the battle.
“Do you see that little knoll yonder with the poplars on it?” said Pierre to his father and the sergeant. “Let’s go over there and hide in the bushes, and we can see twice as well as we can from here. There’s a little creek makes round it on the far side, and we’ll be just as safe as here!”
“Yes,” responded the sergeant, “it’s a fine advanced post. We’ll just slip down round the foot of the hill as if we were bound for the dikes, so there won’t be a crowd following us.”
[Illustration “They sped rapidly across the marsh.”]
As the three sped rapidly across the marsh, Antoine Lecorbeau said significantly to his son:
“Do you see how these English spare our people? They haven’t fired a single big gun, yet with the metal on board their ships they could knock those breastworks and the men behind them into splinters. They could batter down the dike, and let the tide right in on them.”
“Aye! aye!” assented the old sergeant, “they’re a brave foe, and I would we could have a brush with them. They’re landing now without firing a shot!”
At this moment the irregular firing from the breastwork grew more rapid and sustained, and our three adventurers hurried on to the knoll, eager for a better view. They found the post already occupied by half a dozen interested villagers, who paid no attention to the new arrivals.
By this time the English boats had reached the water’s edge. On this occasion Major Lawrence had nearly eight hundred men at his command, and was resolved to carry his enterprise to a successful issue. The troops did not wait to form, under the now galling fire from the breastwork, but swarmed up the red slope in loose skirmishing order, pouring in a hot dropping fire as they ran. As they reached the dike a ringing cheer broke out, and they dashed at the awkward and slippery steep.
A few reached the top, and for a moment the English colors crowned the embankment. But at the same time the painted defenders rose with a yell, and beat back their assailants with gunstock and hatchet. The red flag was seized by a tall savage, and Pierre gave a little cry of excitement as he thought the enemies’ colors were captured. But his enthusiasm was premature. The stripling who carried the colors, finding no chance to use his sword, grasped the Indian about the waist and dragged him off the dike, when he was promptly made captive.
Now the English withdrew a few paces, held back with difficulty by their officers, and one, whom the watchers on the knoll took for Lawrence himself was seen giving orders, standing with his back half turned to the breastwork, as undisturbed as if the shower of Micmac bullets were a snowstorm. Presently the redcoats charged again, this time slowly and silently, in long, regular lines.
“Ah!” exclaimed the sergeant under his breath, “they’ll go through this time. That advance means business!”
In fact, they did go through. At the very foot of the dike a single volley flashed forth along the whole line, momentarily clearing the top of the barrier. The next instant the dike was covered with scarlet figures. Along its crest there was a brief struggle, hand to hand, and then the braves of Le Loutre were seen fleeing through the smoke.
The Missaguash is a stream with as many windings as the storied Meander, and about half a mile beyond the lines which the English had just carried the contortions of the channel brought another and almost parallel ridge of dike. Over this the flying rout of Micmacs and Acadians clambered with alacrity, while the English forces halted where they found themselves.
To the little knot of watchers on the knoll the contest had seemed too brief, the defeat of their people most inglorious.
“As a fighting man monsieur the abbé makes rather a poor show, however good he may be at burning people’s houses!” exclaimed Pierre, in a voice that trembled with a mixture of enthusiasm for the cause, and scorn for him who had it in charge.
“You will find, my son,” said Lecorbeau, sententiously, “that the cruel and pitiless are often without real courage!”
“O!” laughed the old sergeant, “I’ll wager my boots that His Reverence is not in the fight at all. It’s likely one of his understrappers, Father Germain, perhaps, or that cutthroat half-breed, Etienne Le Bâtard, or Father Laberne, or the big Chief Cope himself, is leading the fight and carrying out the saintly abbé’s orders.”
“Fools! Fools and revilers!” exclaimed a deep and cutting voice behind them; and turning with a start they saw the dreaded Le Loutre standing in their midst. Lecorbeau and Pierre became pale with apprehension and superstitious awe, while the old sergeant laughed awkwardly, abashed though not dismayed.
The abbé’s sallow face worked with anger, and for a moment his narrow eyes blazed upon Lecorbeau and seemed to read his very soul. Then, as he glanced across the marsh, his countenance changed. A fanatic zeal illumined it, taking away half its repulsiveness.
“Nay!” he cried, “I am not there in the battle. France and the Church need me, and what am I that I should risk, to be thought bold, a life that I must rather hold sacred. Should a chance ball strike me down which of you traitors and self-seekers is there that could do my work? Which of you could govern my fierce flock?”
To this tirade, which showed them their tormentor in a new light, Pierre and his father could say nothing. Wondering, but not believing, they exchanged stolen glances. It is probable that the abbé, in his present mood, was sincere; for in a fanatic one must allow for the wildest inconsistencies. The old sergeant, more skeptical than the Acadians, was, at the same time more polite. He hastened to murmur, apologetically:
“Pardon me, Reverend Father! I see that I misunderstood you!”
Le Loutre made no answer, for now events on the battlefield were enchaining every eye.
Behind the second line of dikes the Micmacs and Acadians had again intrenched themselves. Major Lawrence, perceiving this, at once ordered another charge. Then the Indians resolved on a bold and perilous stroke.
The right of their position was nearest the attacking force. At this point, acting under a sudden inspiration, they began to cut the dike. Almost instantly a breach began to appear, under the attack of a dozen diking spades wielded with feverish energy.
An involuntary cry of consternation went up from the group of Acadians on the knoll, but the grim abbé shouted, “Well done! Well done! my brave, my true Laberne!” And he rushed from his hiding place on some new errand, leaving the air lighter for his absence.
The English detected at once the maneuver of their opponents. They broke into a fierce rush, determined to stop the work of destruction before it should be too late. From his left Major Lawrence threw out a few skilled marksmen, who concentrated a telling fire upon the diggers, delaying but not putting an end to the furious energy of their efforts. Already a stream of turbid water was stealing through. Presently it gathered force and volume, spreading out swiftly across the marsh, and at the same time the crest of the dike was fringed with smoke and the pale flashes of the muskets.
The tide was now on the ebb, and a current set strongly against the point of dike where the diggers were at work. This fact tended to make the results of their work the more immediately apparent, rendering mighty assistance to every stroke of the spade. At the same time, however, it told heavily in favor of the English, for, in order to counteract the special stream, the dike at this point was of great additional strength. Moreover, in the tidal rivers of that region the ebb and flow are so vast and so swift, that the English hoped the tide would be below a dangerous level before the destruction of the dike could be accomplished.
In this hope they were right. Ere they had more than half crossed the stretch of marsh the waters of the Missaguash were oozing about their ankles. But as they neared the dike it had grown no deeper. They saw the diggers throw down their spades, pick up their muskets, and fall in with their comrades behind the dike. The fire from the top of the barrier ceased, and in silence, with loaded weapons, the Indians awaited the assault. From this it was plain to Major Lawrence that the defense was in the hands of a European. He straightened out his lines before the charge.