THE RAID FROM BEAUSEJOUR
HOW THE CARTER BOYS LIFTED THE MORTGAGE
TWO STORIES OF ACADIE
BY CHARLES G. D. ROBERTS
I. THE RAID FROM BEAUSEJOUR.
CHAPTER I. "BEAUBASSIN MUST GO!"
CHAPTER II. PIERRE VISITS THE ENGLISH LINES.
CHAPTER III. FRENCH AND ENGLISH.
CHAPTER IV. PREPARING FOR THE RAID.
CHAPTER V. THE MIDNIGHT MARCH.
CHAPTER VI. THE SURPRISE.
CHAPTER VII. PIERRE'S LITTLE ONE.
CHAPTER VIII. THE NEW ENGLANDERS.
* * * * *
II. HOW THE CARTER BOYS LIFTED THE MORTGAGE.
CHAPTER I. CATCHING A TARTAR.
CHAPTER II. THE HAND OF THE LAW.
CHAPTER III. A PIECE OF ENGINEERING.
CHAPTER IV. A RESCUE AND A BATTLE.
CHAPTER V. THE TRANSFER OF THE MORTGAGE.
"BEAUBASSIN MUST GO!" The family were gathered in the kitchen.
THE RAID FROM BEAUSEJOUR. "They sped rapidly across the marsh."
MR. HAND. "When he reached the door he knocked imperiously."
* * * * *
THE RAID FROM BEAUSEJOUR.
"BEAUBASSIN MUST GO!"
On the hill of Beausejour, 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 Beausejour. There the ships lay swinging at their cables, and all seemed quiet on board. The group on Beausejour 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 Beausejour. 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 abbe 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 abbe 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 Abbe 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 Boishebert, to hold the hill of Beausejour, which was practically the gate of Acadie. From Beausejour 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 Beausejour, 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 Beausejour; 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 Beausejour 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 abbe, with his companions, just quitting the log cabin which served as the quarters of Boishebert. 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 abbe 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 Beausejour, 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 abbe, 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 abbe, 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 Beausejour. 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 abbe'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 Beausejour with a huge cartload of household goods, drawn by a yoke of oxen. The abbe'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 abbe, 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 abbe 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 abbe'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 abbe 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 abbe 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 abbe'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.
PIERRE VISITS THE ENGLISH LINES.
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 Beausejour 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 Beausejour, 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 Beausejour 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 abbe 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 Beausejour. 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 Beausejour 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 Beausejour 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, Beausejour 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 abbe 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 abbe, 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 Beausejour. "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 Beausejour, 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 Beausejour 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.
FRENCH AND ENGLISH.
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 abbe 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 Beausejour, 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 Beausejour, 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 Beausejour. 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 Beausejour stopped to watch it. Presently another rose into view, and another, and another; and then Beausejour 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 Beausejour 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 abbe arrived in Beausejour 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 abbe 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 Beausejour 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."
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 abbe 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 Batard, or Father Laberne, or the big Chief Cope himself, is leading the fight and carrying out the saintly abbe'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 abbe'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 abbe, 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 abbe 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.
PREPARING FOR THE RAID.
"Thank heaven!" ejaculated Antoine Lecorbeau, "they have saved the dike!"
In Acadian eyes to tamper with the dikes was sacrilege.
"Well!" said the sergeant, with a somewhat cynical chuckle, "at least the English have got their feet wet!"
Pierre broke off his laugh in the middle, for at this moment the red lines charged. The deadly volley which rang out along the summit for an instant staggered the assailants; but they rallied and went over the barrier like a scarlet wave. The dike was much easier to scale when thus approached on the landward side.
And now ensued a fierce hand-to-hand struggle. The spectators could hardly contain their excitement as they saw their party, fighting doggedly, forced back step by step to the edge of the water. Some, slipping in the ooze of the retreating tide, fell and were carried down by the current. These soon swam ashore—discreetly landing on the further side of the river. The rest seeing the struggle hopeless, now broke and fled with a celerity that the English could not hope to rival. Along the flats, for perhaps a mile, a detachment of the English pursued them till a bugle sounded their recall. Then Major Lawrence, finding himself master of the field, directed his march to that low hill where he had encamped the previous spring, and a fatigue party was set to repair the dike.
On this hill the English proceeded to erect a fortified post, which they called Fort Lawrence; and in an incredibly short time the red flag was waving from its battlements, not three miles distant from Beausejour, and an abiding provocation to the hot-headed soldiery of France. As for Le Loutre, after his disastrous repulse, he yielded to the inevitable, and gave up all thought of preventing the establishment of Fort Lawrence. But he was not discouraged; he was merely changing his tactics.
The Missaguash being the dividing line between the two powers, he caused his Acadian and Indian followers to enrage the English by petty depredations, by violations of the frontier, by attacks and ambuscades. Soon the English were provoked into retaliations; whereupon the regulars of Beausejour found an excuse for taking part, and the turbid Missaguash became the scene of such perpetual skirmishes that its waters ran redder than ever.
Even then there might have been erelong an attempt at reconciliation, to which end the efforts of Captain Howe were ceaselessly directed. But Le Loutre made this forever impossible by an outrage so fiendish as to call forth the execration of even his unscrupulous employers. One morning the sentries on Fort Lawrence were somewhat surprised to see one who was apparently an officer from the garrison of Beausejour, with several followers, approaching the banks of the Missaguash with a flag of truce. The party reached the dike, and the bearer of the flag waved it as if desiring to hold a parley. His followers remained behind at a respectful distance, standing knee-deep in the heavy aftermath of the fertile marsh.
In prompt response to this advance Captain Howe and several companions, under a white flag, set out from Fort Lawrence to see what was wanted. When Howe reached the river he detected something in the supposed officer's dress and language which excited his suspicions of the man's good faith, and he turned away as if to retrace his step's. Instantly there flashed out a volley of musketry from behind the dike on the further shore, and the beloved young captain fell mortally wounded. The pretended officer was one of Le Loutre's supporters, the Micmac chief, Jean Baptiste Cope, and the fatal volley came from a band of Micmacs who had, under cover of darkness, concealed themselves behind the dike.
The assassins kept up a sharp fire on the rest of the English party, but failed to prevent them from carrying off their dying captain to the fort. The scene had been witnessed with horror by the French forces on Beausejour, and their officers sent to Fort Lawrence to express their angry reprobation of the atrocious deed. They openly laid it to the charge of Le Loutre, declaring that such a man was capable of anything; and for a few weeks Le Loutre did not care to show himself at Beausejour. At last he came, and met the accusations of the French officers with the most solemn declaration that the whole thing had been done without his knowledge or sanction. The Indians, he swore, had done it by reason of their misguided but fervent religious zeal, to take vengeance on Howe for something he was reported to have said injurious and disrespectful to the Church. "The zeal of my flock," said he, solemnly, "is, perhaps, something too rash, but it springs from ardent and simple natures!"
"Aye! aye!" said the old sergeant to his companions-in-arms, when he heard of the abbe's explanations, "but I happened to recognize His Reverence myself in the party that did the murder."
There were many more on Beausejour whose eyes had revealed to them the same truth as that so bluntly stated by the sergeant. But the abbe was most useful—was, in fact, necessary, to do those deeds which no one else would stoop to; and, therefore, his explanation was accepted. At this time, moreover, there was a work to be done at Beausejour requiring the assistance of the abbe's methods. Orders had been sent from Quebec that a strong fort should straightway be built at Beausejour, as an offset to Fort Lawrence. And this fort was to be built by the ill-fated Acadians.
The labor of the Acadians was supposed to be voluntary. That is, they were invited to assist, without pay other than daily rations; and those who appeared reluctant were presently interviewed by the indefatigable and invaluable Le Loutre. His persuasions, with blood-thirsty Indians in the background, invariably produced their effect. To be sure, there was money sent from Quebec for payment of the laborers; but the authorities of Beausejour having Le Loutre to depend upon, found it more satisfactory to put this money in their own pockets.
With his customary foresight, Antoine Lecorbeau had promptly evinced his willingness to take part in the building. Either he or Pierre was continually to be found upon the spot, working diligently and, without complaint—which was a disappointment to Le Loutre. The abbe had not forgotten the remark of Antoine which he had caught the day of the battle on the Missaguash. He was seeking his opportunity to punish him for the rash utterance. For the present, however, there was nothing to do but commend the prudent Acadian for his zeal.
Upon Pierre and his father this fort building fell not heavily. They had a tight roof and a warm hearth close by. But their hearts ached to see hundreds of their fellow-countrymen toiling half-clad in the bitter weather, with no reward but their meager daily bread. These poor peasants had many of them been the owners of happy homes, whence the merciless fiat of Le Loutre had banished them. The hill of Beausejour lies open to the four winds of heaven, one or the other of which is pretty sure to be blowing at all seasons; and some of the dispirited toilers had not even rawhide moccasins to protect their feet from the biting frost. Le Loutre was continually among them working in his shirt sleeves, and urging everyone to his utmost exertions. But as the winter dragged on the Acadians became so weak and heartless that even the threats of the abbe lost their effect, and the fort grew but slowly. Upon this it became necessary to increase the rations and even to give a small weekly wage. The effect of this was magical, and in the following spring the fortress of Beausejour was ready for its garrison. Its strong earthworks overlooked the whole surrounding country, and in the eyes that watched it from Fort Lawrence formed no agreeable addition to the landscape. Across the tawny Missaguash and the stretches of bright green marsh the red flag and the white flapped each other a ceaseless defiance.
Elated at the completion of the fort, Le Loutre concluded the times were ripe for a raid upon the English settlements. On the banks of the Kenneticook there was a tiny settlement which had been an eyesore to the abbe ever since its establishment some three years before. There were only a half dozen houses in the colony and against these Le Loutre decided to strike. In the enterprise he saw an opportunity of making Lecorbeau feel his power. He would make the careful Acadian take part in the expedition. To assume the disguise of an Indian would, he well knew, be hateful to every instinct of the law-abiding Lecorbeau. As the abbe took his way to the Acadian's rude cabin his grim face wore a sinister gleam.
It was about sunset, and the family were at their frugal meal. All rose to their feet as the dreaded visitor entered, and the children betook themselves in terror to the darkest corners they could find. The abbe sat down by the hearth and motioned his hosts to follow his example. After a word or two of inquiry as to the welfare of the household, he remarked abruptly:
"You are a true man, Antoine—a faithful servant of the Holy Church and of France!"
His keen eyes, as he spoke, burned upon the dark face of the Acadian.
Lecorbeau did not flinch. He returned the piercing gaze calmly and respectfully, saying:
"Have I not proved it, Reverend Father?"
A phantom of a smile went over the priest's thin lips, leaving his eyes unlightened.
"It is well! You shall have yet another chance to prove it. It is just such men as you whose help I want in my next venture. I have business on hand which my faithful flock at Cobequid are not sufficient for, unaided. You and certain others whom I need not name shall join them for a little. I will bring you such dress, equipment, and so forth, as you will need to become as one of them. Be ready to-morrow night."
As he spoke he studied intently the face of Lecorbeau. But the sagacious Acadian was a match for him. Lecorbeau's heart sank in his breast. He was a prey to the most violent feeling of hatred toward his guest, and of loathing for the task required of him. He saw in it, also, the probability of his own ruin, for he believed the complete triumph of the English was at hand. Notwithstanding, his face remained perfectly untroubled, while Pierre flushed hotly, clenching his hands, and Mother Lecorbeau let a sharp cry escape her.
"Be not a child, Jeanne!" said Lecorbeau, rebuking her with his glance. Then he answered to the demand of Le Loutre.
"In truth, Reverend Abbe, I should like to prove my zeal in some easier way. Have I not obeyed you with all diligence and cheerfulness, nor complained when your wisdom seemed hard to many? Surely, you will keep such harassing service for younger men, men who have not a family to care for! Will you not deal a little gently with an old and obedient servant? I pray you, let young men go on such enterprises, and let me serve you at home!"
"I am too lenient to such as you," cried the priest, in a voice grown suddenly high and terrible. "I know you. I have long suspected you. Your heart is with the English. You shall steep your hands in the blood of those accursed, or I will make you and yours as if you had never been!"
Antoine Lecorbeau held his countenance unmoved and bowed his head. "It shall be as you will, father," he said, quietly. "But is this the way you reward obedience?"
The abbe's reply was interrupted by Pierre, who stepped forward with flashing eyes and almost shouted:
"Our hearts are not with the English! We are the children of France!"
The abbe, strange to say, seemed not offended by this hot contradiction. The outburst rather pleased him. He thought he saw in Pierre the making of an effective partisan. Diverted by this thought, and feeling sure of Antoine after the threat he had uttered, he rose abruptly, blessed the household, all unconscious of the irony of the act, and stepped out into the raw evening. There was silence in the cabin for some minutes after his going forth. The blow had fallen, even that which Lecorbeau had most dreaded.
THE MIDNIGHT MARCH.
The children crept forth from their corners and looked wonderingly at their sobbing mother.
"O, you will certainly be killed," wailed the good woman, thoroughly frightened.
"There is little danger of that," rejoined Lecorbeau. "The abbe prefers to strike where there is small likelihood of a return blow. There will be as little of peril as there will be of glory in attacking a few sleeping villagers and perhaps murdering them in their beds. The thought of such cold-blooded butchery is terrible, but anything is better than that you and the little ones should be exposed to the rage of those savages. It may mean ruin for us, however, for the English governor at Halifax is likely to hear of me being concerned in the raid; and, you remember, I was one of those that took the oath when I was a lad. I shall be an outlaw, that's all!"
Reassured as to the immediate physical peril of the enterprise, the good wife dried her eyes. The scruples that troubled her husband were too remote to give her much concern.
"Well, if you must go," said she, "I suppose you, must! Do try and please that hard-hearted priest; and you must put on warm clothes, for you'll be sleeping out at night, won't you?"
"But, father!" began Pierre—and then he stopped suddenly. "I wonder if I foddered the steers," he went on. As he spoke he rose from the bench whereon he was sitting, and went out to the barn.
Pierre had been on the point of saying that he was the one to go on the raid, as he had not taken any oath of allegiance to the English. It had occurred to him, however, that his father would probably forbid him thinking of such a thing, and he knew that in such a case he would be unable to put his plan in execution, as he had not learned in that simple neighborhood the lesson of disobedience to parents. He saw that if he went on the raid the requirements of Le Loutre were likely to be satisfied, while at the same time his father would be delivered from the danger of an accusation of treason. It was quite certain in Pierre's mind that his design would commend itself to the clear wisdom of his father, but he felt that the latter would forbid it because of his mother's terrors. He decided to act at once, and he turned his steps toward the fort. Certain misgivings troubled his conscience at first, but he soon became convinced that he was doing right.
While good wife Lecorbeau was wondering what kept Pierre so long at the barn, Pierre was at the commandant's quarters talking to the abbe. The latter greeted the boy kindly, and asked at once what brought him.
"I came to speak about to-morrow night, Reverend Father!" began the boy, doubtfully.
"Well, what of it?" snarled the priest, in a harsh voice, his brow darkening. "Your father isn't trying to beg off, is he?"
"O, no, no!" Pierre hastened to reply. "He's getting ready, and he doesn't know I've come to see you. He'd have forbidden me had he known, so I stole away. But I want to go instead of him. See, I'm young and strong; and I love fighting, while he loves peace; and he has pains in his joints, and would, maybe, get laid up on the march, whereas I can be of more use to the cause. Besides, he can be of more use to the cause by staying home, which I can't be. Take me instead—!"
Pierre broke off abruptly, breathless in his eagerness. For a moment his hopes died within him, for the abbe's face remained dark and severe. That active brain reviewed the situation rapidly, and at length approved the proposal of Pierre. It was obvious that Pierre, ardent and impetuous, would be more effective than Antoine in such a venture; and it occurred to Le Loutre that in taking the boy he was inflicting a sharper punishment upon the father.
"You are a right brave youth," he said, presently, "and it shall be as you ask. You shall see that I do well by those that are faithful. As for the traitors, let them beware, for my arm is longer than they dream. I reach to Annapolis and Fort St. John and Louisburg as easily as to Minas or Memramcook." Here the abbe paused and was turning away. Looking back over his shoulder he added, but in a low voice:
"Come hither at dusk to-morrow. I will send a messenger to your father in the morning, saying that I release him from the expedition. See that you say nought to him, or to any living soul, of that which is to be done!"
When Pierre returned to the cabin his mother began to question him. He answered simply that he had to go up to the fort. "What for?" inquired his mother persistently. But Lecorbeau interposed.
"Pierre is as tall as his father," he said, smiling at the youth. "See how broad his shoulders are. Is he not old enough, anxious mother, to be out alone after dark?"
The good woman, assenting, gazed at her son proudly. And Pierre felt a pang at the thought of what his mother's grief would be on learning that he had gone on the abbe's expedition. His heart smote him bitterly to think he should have to leave without a word of explanation or farewell; but he knew that if his mother should get so much as a hint of his undertaking, her fears would ruin all. He crept to his bed, but lay tossing for hours, wide-eyed in the dark, before sleep put an end to the wearying conflict of his thoughts.
The following morning brought unexpected joy to the cabin at the foot of Beausejour. Antoine Lecorbeau could hardly believe his ears when a messenger came to tell him that the abbe, in consideration of faithful services already rendered, would release him from the duty required of him. A load rolled off the Acadian's prudent soul, though he remained in a state of anxious perplexity. Had he known our Shakespeare he would have said, in the strict privacy of his inward meditations, "I like not fair terms and a villain's mind." But as for his good wife, she was radiant, and reproached herself volubly for the evil thought she had harbored against the good abbe. Pierre himself, seeing that Le Loutre was sticking to his promise, found a good word to say for him, for the first time that he could remember.
That same evening, supper being over about dusk, Pierre said he would go up to the fort and see the old sergeant. As he got to the cabin door he turned and threw a kiss to the dear ones he was leaving. Had the light been stronger his mother could not but have noticed his set mouth and the moisture in his eyes. He dared not trust himself to speak.
"Bring us back what news you can of the expedition, lad!" cried Lecorbeau after him; and it was with a mighty effort that Pierre strained his voice to answer "All right!"
At the fort everything was very quiet. Le Loutre was at the commandant's quarters with a half dozen befeathered and bepainted braves, in each of whom Pierre presently recognized a fellow-Acadian skillfully disguised. In fact, there was not an Indian among them. The real Indians were awaiting their leader and spiritual father in the woods beyond Fort Lawrence.
Pierre was warmly greeted by his fellow-villagers, all of whom had evidently worked themselves up into something like enthusiasm for their undertaking. Of the regular French soldiery there were none about. Not even a sentry was to be seen. The commandant was on hand, helping to complete the disguises of the Acadians, and he did not choose that any of his men should be able to say they had seen him give personal countenance to a violation of the treaty.
The commandant was very well disposed to the family of Antoine Lecorbeau, from whom he bought farm produce at ridiculously low terms, to sell it again in Louisburg at a profit of one or two hundred per cent. He spoke good humoredly to Pierre, and even helped him with his paint and feathers. Unscrupulous and heartless where his own interests were at stake, in small matters he was rather amiable than otherwise.
"Won't your father and mother be terribly anxious about you, when you fail to put in an appearance to-night? The good abbe tells me they are not to know of your whereabouts!" said the officer to Pierre, in a low voice.
"What, sir!" cried Pierre, aghast at the thought. "Won't they be told where I've gone?"
"His Reverence says not," replied the officer. "His Reverence is very considerate!"
Pierre was almost beside himself. He knew not what to do. His hands dropped to his side, and he could only look imploringly at the commandant.
"Well, well, lad!" continued the latter, presently, "I'll let them know as soon as the expedition is safely out of this. This priest is quite too merciless for me. I'll explain the whole thing to your father and mother, and will assure them that there's no danger; as, indeed, is the truth, for it is pretty safe and easy work to shoot a man when he's not more than half awake. Now, be easy in your mind, and leave the hard work and any little fighting there may be to those red heathens that His Reverence talks so much about."
With these words, which relieved Pierre's mind, the commandant turned away, and left the youth to perfect his transformation into a Micmac brave.
It was drawing toward midnight when the abbe's imitation Micmacs, after a hearty supper of meat, took their way from Beausejour. They saw no sentry as they stole forth. Le Loutre was with them, and himself led the way. The night was raw and gusty, with rain threatening. As they descended the hill they could hear the stream of the Missaguash brawling over the stones of the mid-channel, for the tide was out. Across the solitary marshes could be seen the lights of Fort Lawrence gleaming from their hilltop. Overhead was the weird cry of flocks of wild geese voyaging north. The gusts made Pierre draw his blanket closer about him, and the strangeness of his surroundings, with the dreadful character of the venture on which he was bound, filled his soul with awe. He was determined, however, to produce a good impression on the dreaded abbe. He stalked on with a long, energetic stride, keeping well to the front and maintaining a stoical silence.
Le Loutre led the way far up the Missaguash, so giving Fort Lawrence a wide berth. Once beyond the fort he turned south, skirting the further edge of what had been peaceful Beaubassin. At this point he led his party into the woods, and for perhaps half an hour the journey was most painful and exhausting. Pierre was running against trees and stumbling over branches, and at the same time, in spite of his discomfort and the novelty of the situation, growing more and more sleepy. The journey began to seem to him like a dismal nightmare, from which he would soon awaken to find himself in his narrow but cosy bunk at home.
Suddenly he was startled by the half-human cry of the panther, which sounded as if in the treetops right overhead. "Is that a signal?" inquired one of the startled travelers, while Pierre drew closer to his nearest comrade.
"It's a signal that Monsieur Loup Cervier wants his supper, and would be quite willing to make it off a fat Acadian!" replied the abbe with a grim laugh.
The party upon this began to talk and laugh aloud, which probably daunted the animal, for nothing more was heard of him. In the course of another ten minutes a light was seen glowing through the trees, and immediately the abbe hooted thrice, imitating perfectly the note of the little Acadian owl. This signal was answered from the neighborhood of the fire, whereupon the abbe gave the strange, resonant cry of the bittern. A few moments more and Pierre found himself by a camp fire which blazed cheerfully in the recess of a sheltered ravine. Around the fire were gathered some twoscore of Micmacs in their war dress, who merely grunted as the abbe and his little party joined them.
Here, wrapped in his blanket, his feet to the fire and his head on an armful of hemlock boughs, Pierre slept as sweet a sleep as if in his bed at home. At dawn he woke with a start, just as the abbe drew near to arouse him. For a moment he was bewildered; then gathering his wits he sprang quickly to his feet, looking ready for an instant departure. Le Loutre was content and turned away. Not many minutes were consumed in breakfasting, and the raiders were under way by the time the sun was up.
All that day the stealthy band crept on, avoiding the trails by which communication was kept up between the settlements. Early in the evening Le Loutre called a halt, and Pierre, exhausted, fell asleep the moment he had satisfied his hunger. Next morning the sun was high ere the party resumed its march, and not long after midday Le Loutre declared they had gone far enough as they were now near the settlement of Kenneticook. There was now nothing to be done but wait for night. A scout was sent forward to reconnoiter, and came back in a couple of hours with word that all was quiet in the little village, and no danger suspected.
About nine o'clock the abbe gave his orders. Not a soul in the village was to be spared, and not a house left standing. The enemy were to be destroyed, root and branch, and the English were to receive a lesson that would drive them in terror within the shelter of the Halifax stockades. In a few minutes the party was on the march, and moving now with the greatest secrecy and care.
During that silent march, every minutest detail of which stamped itself indelibly on Pierre's memory, the lad clung desperately to the thought of all the injuries, real or pretended, which the English had inflicted upon his people. He dared not let himself think of the unoffending settlers trustfully sleeping in their homes. He strove to work himself up to some sort of martial ardor that might prevent him feeling like an assassin. Presently the rippling of the Kenneticook made itself heard on the quiet night, and then the dim outlines of the lonely and doomed hamlet rose into view.
The midnight murderers were at the very doors before even a dog gave warning. Then several curs raised a shrill alarm, and a great mastiff, chained to his kennel in the yard of the largest house, snapped his chain and sprang upon the raiders. The dog bore an Indian to the ground, and then fell dead, with a tomahawk buried in his skull. At the same moment the long, strident yell of the Micmacs rang through the hamlet, and a half dozen hatchets beat in every door. There was no time for resistance. The butchers were at the bedsides of their victims almost ere the latter were awake. Here and there a settler found time to snatch his rifle, or a andiron, or a heavy chair, and so to make a desperate though brief defense; and in this way three Micmacs and one Acadian were killed. The yells of the raiders were mingled with the shrieks of the victims, and almost instantly the scene of horror was lighted up by the flames of the burning ricks.
Pierre, with rather a vague idea of what he was going to do, had rushed to the attack among the foremost, and had plunged headlong over the body of the dead mastiff. In the fall he dropped his rifle, but clung to his hatchet, and in a moment he found himself in the hallway of the chief house. His perception of what took place was confused. He felt himself carried up the stairs with a rush. A faint light was glimmering into existence in the large room, in the middle of which he saw a man standing rifle in hand. There was a deafening report, and everything was wrapped in a cloud of smoke. Then a sudden glare filled the room as a barn outside blazed to heaven; and the man, clubbing his rifle, sprang at his assailants. Pierre did not wait to see his fate, but darted past him into a room beyond.
This was plainly the children's bedroom. Pierre's eye fell on a small, yellow-haired child, who was sitting up amid her bedclothes, her round eyes wild with terror. She shrieked at the sight of Pierre's painted visage, but the lad's heart went out to her with passionate pity as he thought of the little folk at home. He would save her at all hazards. He was followed into the room by three or four of the fiercest of his party. Pierre sprang with a yell upon the child's bed, throwing her upon her face with one hand while he buried his hatchet in the pillows where she had lain. In an instant the little one was hidden under a heap of bedclothes, and too frightened to make an outcry. Somewhere in the room the butchers had evidently found another victim in hiding, for their triumphant yell was followed by a gasping groan, which smote Pierre to the heart, and filled him with an avenging fury.
A cloud of smoke blown past the window, for a moment darkened the room. An Indian ran against Pierre and grunted, "Ugh! All gone?"
"All gone!" replied the lad, and he saw the murderers glide forth to seek their prey. But one remained, delaying to remove a victim's scalp. The room again became bright, and as the Indian passed Pierre his quick eye caught a motion in the heap of bedclothes. His eyes gleamed, and he jerked the coverings aside. Pierre thrust him back violently and angrily, just as the child sat up with a shrill cry. The savage hesitated, impressed by Pierre's uncompromising attitude, then turned with a grunt to seek satisfaction elsewhere.
The child was apparently five or six years old, but a tiny, fairylike creature.
"Sh-sh-sh!" said Pierre, soothingly, taking it for granted that she would not understand French. The child comprehended the sign, and stopped her cries, realizing that the strange and dreadful-looking being was her protector. Pierre, knowing that the house would soon be in flames, made haste to wrap the child in a thick blanket. He saw that beneath the window there was a shed with a sloping roof, by which he could easily reach the ground. He waited a few moments, with the child in his arms, covered as much as possible by his blanket, and so held as to look like a roll of booty. When the smoke once more blew in a stifling volume past the window, Pierre stepped out upon the roof with his precious burden, dropped to the ground, and made haste away in the direction of the least glare and tumult.
As he was stealing past a small cottage just burst into blaze, two of the raiders stepped in front of him. Pierre's heart sank, but he grasped his hatchet, and a sort of hunted but deadly look gleamed in his eyes. The men didn't offer to stop him, but one cried:
"What have you there?"
As he spoke Pierre recognized them for two of the Acadians, and his fears ceased.
"It's a child I'm saving," he whispered. "Don't say anything about it."
"Good boy!" chuckled the singular marauders; and Pierre hastened on, making for a wood near by.
Ere he could reach that shelter, however, Fate once more confronted him in the shape of a tall Micmac, whom Pierre recognized as one of the subchiefs of the tribe, a nephew of Cope. The chief, supposing Pierre was carrying off something very rich in the way of booty, stopped him and demanded a share. Pierre protested, declaring it was all his. When he spoke the savage recognized him, and having a lofty contempt for one who was both an Acadian and a mere boy, coolly attempted to snatch the bundle from his arms.
Pierre's eyes blazed, as he grasped the Indian's wrist and wrenched the cruel grip loose. He looked the savage straight in the eye.
"That's mine!" said he steadily. "Keep your hands off!"
The Indian snatched again at the bundle, this time ineffectually; and then he drew his knife as if to attack Pierre. The latter jumped back, laid his burden on the ground, and stood before it, hatchet in hand. Seeing he was not to be intimidated, and willing to avoid a hand-to-hand struggle with one who seemed so ready for it, the savage withdrew grumbling, at the same time resolving that he would force Pierre later on to divide his booty. As soon as he was gone Pierre snatched up his charge and sped away exultant.
The boy's design was to follow the Kenneticook to its mouth, and thence to ascend the Piziquid to the Acadian settlement, which he knew stood somewhere on its banks. He did not dare to try and find his way back to Beausejour. He knew that if he followed the trail of his party he would be captured and the child killed; and we was equally certain that if he deserted the trail he should be lost inevitably. Once at Piziquid, however, he counted on getting a fisherman to take him to Beausejour by water.
After toiling through the woods for perhaps an hour, keeping ever within hearing of the stream, Pierre set his burden on the ground and threw himself down beside her to snatch a moment's rest. The little one was in her bare feet, so it was impossible for her to walk in that rough and difficult region. Indeed, she had nothing on but a woolen nightdress, and Pierre had to keep her well wrapped up in the blanket he had brought from her bed. The little one had been contentedly sleeping in her deliverer's arms, all unconscious of the awful fate that had befallen those whom Pierre supposed to be her people. She remained asleep while Pierre was resting, nor woke till it was clear dawn.
Long ere this Pierre had found easier traveling, having come out upon a series of natural meadows skirting the stream. Beyond these meadows were wide flats, covered at high tide, and Pierre, with an Acadian's instinct, thought how fine it would be to dike them in. He had little fear now of being followed. His party would take it for granted, not finding him or his body, that he had fallen in the attack and been burnt in the conflagration. He felt that they would not greatly trouble themselves. As for those four who had seen him with his prize, two at least would not tell on him and he had strong hopes that the two Micmacs whom he had encountered would forget his prize in the confusion of the hour. Beside a rivulet, in the gray of dawn, he stopped to wash himself; that his appearance might not frighten the child on her awaking.
When the little one opened her eyes she looked about her in astonishment, which became delight as she saw the glittering brook close beside her and the many-colored sky overhead. She crept out of her blanket and stood with her little white feet shining in the short spring grass. Then she stepped into the brook, but finding it too cold for her she came out again at once. Then she stood shivering till Pierre, after drying her feet on his blanket, once more wrapped her up and seated her on a fallen tree beside him. The child kept up a continual prattle, of which, of course, Pierre understood not a word. He could only smile and stroke the little fair head. When he spoke to her in his own language the child gazed at him in wide-eyed wonder, and at last laughed gleefully and began to pat his face, talking a lot of baby gibberish, such as she imagined Pierre was addressing to her.
By and by Pierre remembered he was hungry. Taking some barley bread and dried meat out of the bag he carried at his waist, he offered the choicest bits to his tiny companion, and the two made a good breakfast. Out of a strip of birchbark the lad twisted a cup and gave the child to drink. Then, lifting her to his shoulder, he resumed his journey.
As the sun rose and the day grew warm Pierre let the child walk by his side; but the tender little feet were not used to such work, and almost immediately she cried to be taken up again. On this Pierre improvised her a clumsy pair of moccasins, made of strips of his blanket.
These the little one regarded at first with lofty contempt, but when she found they enabled her to run by her protector's side she was delighted. It was necessary to stop often and rest long, so our travelers made slow progress; but at noon, climbing a bluff which overlooked the river for miles in either direction, Pierre was delighted to find himself within two or three miles of the mouth. He marked, moreover, a short cut by which, taking advantage of the curve in the main river, he could cut off five or six miles and strike the banks of the Piziquid without difficulty or risk.
"By this time to-morrow, if all goes well, we'll be safe in Piziquid, cherie!" he cried joyously to the child, who responded with a mirthful stream of babble. Pierre's conversation she regarded as a huge and perpetual joke.
That night Pierre built a rough lean-to under the shelter of a great white plaster-rock, and there in a heap of fragrant branches, the child wrapped closely in the lad's arms, the lonely pair slept warm and secure. The next day was mild and our travelers found their path easy. Ere noon they arrived within sight of Piziquid.
They were on a hill with the Acadian village stretched out before them far below, but a broad river rolling between them and their destination. Pierre had forgotten about the St. Croix, but he recognized it now from description. He saw, to his disappointment, that he would have to make a long detour to pass this obstacle, so he sat down on the hill to rest and refresh his little companion. The little one was now so tired that she fell instantly to sleep, and Pierre thought it wise to let her sleep a good half hour. Even he himself appreciated well the delay; and the view that unrolled beneath him was magnificent.
Right ahead, in the corner of land between the Piziquid River and the St. Croix, rose a rounded hill crowned with the English post of Fort Edward. Beyond to right and left expanded plains of vivid emerald, with a line of undulating uplands running back from Fort Edward and dividing the marshes of the St. Croix from those of the Piziquid. The scene was one of plenty and content. Pierre concluded that it would be necessary for him to avoid being seen by the garrison of the fort, lest he should be suspected of being one of the raiders. He decided to seek one of the outermost houses of the settlement about nightfall and there to tell his story, relying upon the good faith of one Acadian toward another. The child, he made up his mind must stay in his care and go with him to Beausejour. Having risked and suffered so much for her, he already began to regard her with jealous devotion and to imagine she was indeed his own.
The child woke as joyous as a bird. Hand in hand the quaint-looking pair—a seeming Indian with a little white-skinned child in a flannel nightgown—trudged patiently up the stream, till in the middle of the afternoon they came to a spot where Pierre thought it safe to wade across. By this time the little one's feet were so sore that she had to be carried all the time; and it was well after sunset when Pierre set his armful down at the door of an outlying cottage of Piziquid, well away from the surveillance of the fort.
In answer to Pierre's knock there came a woman to the door, who started back in alarm. With a laughing salutation, however, Pierre followed her into the blaze of firelight which poured from the heaped-up hearth. In spite of his disguise he was at once recognized by the man of the house as an Acadian, and the wanderers found an instant and hearty welcome. Over a hot supper (in the midst of which the tired child fell asleep with her head in her plate, and was carried to bed by the motherly good wife) Pierre told all his story.
"We shall have to keep you hidden till we get you away!" said the villager, one Jean Breboeuf by name. "You see, their eyes are open at the fort. They got word at Halifax, somehow, that our precious abbe (whom may the saints confound!) was planning some deviltry, and messages were sent to the different posts to guard the outlying settlements. It's a wonder you didn't find English soldiers at Kenneticook, for a company started thither. However, if the English catch you in this dress they won't take long deciding what to do with you."