Read CHAPTER IX - GRAND PRE of The Lily and the Cross A Tale of Acadia , free online book, by James De Mille, on ReadCentral.com.

Nearly thirty years before this, the French government had been compelled to give up the possession of Acadie to the English, and to retire to the Island of Cape Breton.  Here they had built a stronghold at Louisbourg, which they were enlarging and strengthening every year, to the great disgust and alarm of the New England colonies.  But though Acadie had been given up to the English, it could hardly be said to be held by them.  Only two posts were occupied, the one at Canso, in the strait that separated Cape Breton from Acadie, and the other at Annapolis Royal.  At Canso there was a wooden block-house, with a handful of soldiers:  while at Annapolis Royal, where the English governor resided, the fortifications were more extensive, yet in a miserable condition.  At this last place there were a few companies of soldiers, and here the governor tried to perform the difficult task of transforming the French Acadians to loyal British subjects.

But the French at Louisbourg never forgot their fellow-countrymen, and never relinquished their designs on Acadie.  The French inhabitants of that province amounted to several thousands, who occupied the best portions of the country, while the English consisted of only a few individuals in one or two posts.  Among the French Acadians emissaries were constantly moving about, who sought to keep up among them their old loyalty to the French crown, and by their pertinacity sorely disturbed the peace of the English governor at Annapolis Royal.  The French governor at Louisbourg was not slow to second these efforts by keeping the Acadians supplied with arms and ammunition; and it was for this purpose that the Aigle had been sent to the settlements up the Bay of Fundy.

Up the bays he now sailed, in accordance with the wish of Cazeneau.  His reason for this course was, that he might see the people for himself, and judge how far they might be relied on in the event of war, which he knew must soon be declared.  It was his intention to land at Grand Pre, the chief Acadian settlement, and thence proceed by land to Louisbourg.  He had understood from Captain Ducrot that an Indian trail went all the way through the woods, which could be traversed on horseback.  Such a course would impose more hardship upon the aged Laborde and Mimi than would be encountered on shipboard; but Cazeneau had his own purposes, which were favored, to a great extent, by the land route.  Besides, he had the schooner with him, so that if, after all, it should be advisable to go by water, they could make the journey in her.

The Aigle sailed, and the schooner followed.  The wind had changed, and now blew more steadily, and from a favorable quarter.  The currents delayed them somewhat; but on the third morning after the two vessels had met, they reached the entrance of the Basin of Minas.

The scenery here was wild and grand.  A few miles from the shore there rose a lofty rocky island, precipitous on all sides save one, its summit crested with trees, its base worn by the restless waves.  Opposite this was a rocky shore, with cliffs crowned with the primeval forest.  From this pond the strait began, and went on for miles, till it reached the Basin, forming a majestic avenue, with a sublime gateway.  On one side of this gateway were rocky shores receding into wooded hills, while on the other was a towering cliff standing apart from the shore, rising abruptly from the water, torn by the tempest and worn by the tide.  From this the precipitous cliff ran on for miles, forming one side of the strait, till it terminated in a majestic promontory.

This promontory rose on one side, and on the other a lofty, wooded island, inside of which was a winding shore, curving into a harbor.  Here the strait terminated, and beyond this the waters of the Basin of Minas spread away for many a mile, surrounded on every side by green, wooded shores.  In one place was a cluster of small islands; in another, rivers rolled their turbid floods, bearing with them the sediment of long and fertile valleys.  The blue waters sparkled in the sun under the blue sky; the sea-gulls whirled and screamed through the air; nowhere could the eye discern any of the works of man.  It seemed like some secluded corner of the universe, and as if those on board the ship

    “were the first that ever burst
  Into that silent sea.”

But, though not visible from this point, the settlements of man were here, and the works of human industry lying far away on the slopes of distant hills and the edges of low, marshy shores.

It was not without much caution that they had passed through the strait.  They had waited for the tide to come in, and then, with a favorable wind, they had made the venture.  Borne onward by wind and tide together, they sailed on far into the bay, and then, directing their course to the southward, they sailed onward for a few miles farther.  The captain had been here before, and was anxious to find his former anchorage.  On the former occasion he had waited outside and sent in for a pilot, but now he had ventured inside without one, trusting to his memory.  He knew well the perils that attend upon navigation in this place, and was not inclined to risk too much.  For here were the highest tides in the world to be encountered, and swift currents, and sudden gusts of wind, and far-spreading shoals and treacherous quicksands, among which the unwary navigator could come to destruction only too easily.

But no accident happened on this occasion; the navigation was made with the utmost circumspection, the schooner being sent ahead to sound all the way, and the ship following.  At length both came to anchor at a distance from the shore of about five miles.  Nearer than that the captain did not dare to go, for fear of the sand-banks and shoals.

Here a boat was lowered, and Cazeneau prepared to land, together with the aged Laborde and Mimi.  The Abbe Michel also prepared to accompany them.

Ever since Laborde had been saved from the wreck, he had been weak and listless.  It seemed as though the exhaustion, and exposure, and privation of that event had utterly broken down his constitution.  Since he had been taken to the ship, however, he had grown much worse, and was no longer able to walk.  He had not risen from his berth since he had come on board the Aigle.  Mimi’s anxiety about him had been excessive, and she had no thought for anything else.  The situation of Claude was unknown to her, and her distress about her father’s increasing weakness prevented her from thinking much about him.  Her only hope now was, that on reaching the shore her father would experience a change for the better, and be benefited by the land air.

On removing Laborde from his berth, it was found that he not only had not strength to stand, but that he was even so weak that this motion served of itself to exhaust him fearfully.  He had to be placed on a mattress, and carried in that way by four sailors to the ship’s side, where he was carefully let clown into the boat.  There the mattress was placed in the boat’s stern, and Laborde lay upon this, with his head supported against Mimi, who held him encircled in her arms.  In this way he was taken ashore.

It was a long row, but the water was comparatively smooth, and the landing had been postponed until the flood tide, which made the boat’s progress easier and swifter.

The nearest shore was very low, and the landing-place was two or three miles farther on.  In the distance the land rose higher, and was covered with trees, with here and there a clearing.  The land which they first approached was well wooded on the water side, but on passing this the whole scene changed.  This land was an island, about two miles distant from the shore, with its inner side cleared, and dotted with houses and barns.  Between this and the shore there extended a continuous tract of low land, which had evidently once been a salt-water marsh, for along the water’s edge the coarse grass grew luxuriantly; but a little distance back there was a dike, about six or eight feet high, which ran from the island to the shore, and evidently protected the intervening level from the sea.  The island itself thus served as a dike, and the artificial works that had been made ran where the sea had the least possible effect.

At length they approached the main land, and here they saw the low marsh-land all around them.  Here a turbid river ran into the Basin, which came down a valley enclosed between wooded hills, and, with voluminous windings, terminated its course.

At this place there was a convenient beach for landing, and here Laborde was removed from the boat and carried up on the bank, where he was laid on his mattress under a shadowy willow tree.  This point, though not very elevated, commanded a prospect which, to these new comers who had suffered so much from the sea, might have afforded the highest delight, had they been sufficiently free from care to take it all in.  All around them lay one of the most fertile countries in all the world, and one of the most beautiful.  The slopes of the hills rose in gentle acclivities, cultivated, dotted with groves and orchards, and lined with rows of tall poplars.  The simple houses of the Acadian farmers, with their out-buildings, gave animation to the scene.  At their feet lay a broad extent of dike-land, green and glowing with the verdure of Juno, spreading away to that island, which acted as a natural dike against the waters of the sea.  Beyond this lay the blue waters of Minas Basin, on whose bosom floated the ship and the schooner, while in the distance rose the cliff which marked the entrance into the Basin, and all the enclosing shores.

But none of the party noticed this.  Cazeneau was absorbed with his own plans; Laborde lay extended on the mattress, without any appearance of life except a faint breathing and an occasional movement; over him Mimi hung in intense anxiety, watching every change in his face, and filled with the most dreadful apprehensions; at a little distance stood Pere Michel, watching them with sad and respectful sympathy.

Captain Ducrot had come ashore in the boat, and, leaving Laborde, he accompanied Cazeneau to a house which stood not far away.  It was rather larger than the average, with a row of tall poplars in front and an orchard on one side.  A road ran from the landing, past this house, up the hill, to the rest of the settlement farther on.

An old man was seated on a bench in the doorway.  He rose as he saw the strangers, and respectfully removed his hat.

“How do you do, Robicheau?” said Ducrot.  “You see I have come back again sooner than I expected.  I have brought with me his excellency the governor of Louisbourg, who will be obliged if you can make him comfortable for a few days.  Also there are the Count de Laborde and his daughter, whom I should like to bring here; but if you cannot make them comfortable, I can take them to Comeau’s.”

Upon this, Robicheau, with a low bow to Cazeneau, informed him that he thought there might be room for them all, if they would be willing to accept his humble hospitality.  The old man spoke with much embarrassment, yet with sincere good will.  He was evidently overwhelmed by the grandeur of his visitors, yet anxious to do all in his power to give them fitting entertainment.  Ducrot now informed him that the Count de Laborde needed immediate rest and attention; whereupon Robicheau went in to summon his dame, who at once set to work to prepare rooms for the guests.

Ducrot now returned to the landing, and ordered the sailors to carry Laborde to Robicheau’s house.  They carried him on the mattress, supporting it on two oars, which were fastened with ropes in such a way as to form a very easy litter.  Mimi walked by her father’s side, while Pere Michel followed in the rear.  In this way they reached Robicheau’s house.  The room and the bed were already prepared, and Laborde was carried there.  As he was placed upon that bed, Mimi looked at him with intense anxiety and alarm, for his pale, emaciated face and weak, attenuated frame seemed to belong to one who was at the last verge of life.  An awful fear of the worst came over her ­the fear of bereavement in this distant land, the presentiment of an appalling desolation, which crushed her young heart and reduced her to despair.  Her father, her only relative, her only protector, was slipping away from her; and in the future there seemed nothing before her but the very blackness of darkness.

The good dame Robicheau saw her bitter grief, and shed tears of sympathy.  She offered no word of consolation, for to her experienced eyes this feeble old man seemed already beyond the reach of hope.  She could only show her compassion by her tears.  Pere Michel, also, had nothing to say; and to all the distress of the despairing young girl he could offer no word of comfort.  It was a case where comfort could not be administered, and where the stricken heart could only be left to struggle with its own griefs ­alone.

A few hours after the first boat went ashore, a second boat landed.  By this time, a large number of the inhabitants had assembled at the landing-place, to see what was going on; for to these people the sight of a ship was a rare occurrence, and they all recognized the Aigle, and wondered why she had returned.  This second boat carried Claude, who had thus been removed from the ship to the shore for the purpose of being conveyed to Louisbourg.  Captain Ducrot and Cazeneau had already succeeded in finding a place where he could be kept.  It was the house of one of the fanners of Grand Pre, named Comeau, one of the largest in the whole settlement.

Claude landed, and was committed to the care of Comeau, who had come down to receive his prisoner.  It was not thought worth while to bind him, since, in so remote a place as this, there would be scarcely any inducement for him to try to escape.  If he did so, he could only fly to the woods, and, as he could not support his life there, he would be compelled to return to the settlement, or else seek shelter and food among the Indians.  In either case he would be recaptured; for the Acadians would all obey the order of the governor of Louisbourg, and deliver up to him any one whom he might designate; while the Indians would do the same with equal readiness, since they were all his allies.  Under these circumstances, Claude was allowed to go with his hands free; and in this way he accompanied Comeau, to whose charge he was committed.  He walked through the crowd at the landing without exciting any very particular attention, and in company with Comeau he walked for about half a mile, when he arrived at the house.  Here he was taken to a room which opened into the general sitting-room, and was lighted by a small window in the rear of the house, and contained a bed and a chair.  The door was locked, and Claude was left to his own reflections.

Left thus to himself, Claude did not find his own thoughts very agreeable.  He could not help feeling that he was now, more than ever, in the power of the man who had shown himself so relentless and persevering in his enmity.  He was far away from any one whom he could claim as a friend.  The people here were evidently all the creatures of Ducrot and Cazeneau.  He saw that escape was useless.  To get away from this particular place of imprisonment might be possible, for the window could be opened, and escape thus effected; but, if he should succeed in flying, where could he go?  Annapolis Royal was many miles away; He did not know the way there; he could not ask; and even if he did know the way, he could only go there by running the gantlet of a population who were in league with Cazeneau.

That evening, as old Comeau brought him some food, he tried to enter into conversation with him.  He began in a gradual way, and as his host, or, rather, his jailer, listened, he went on to tell his whole story, insisting particularly on the idea that Cazeneau must be mistaken; for he thought it best not to charge him with deliberate malice.  He hinted, also, that if he could escape he might bestow a handsome reward upon the man who might help him.  To all this Comeau listened, and even gave utterance to many expressions of sympathy; but the end of it all was nothing.  Either Comeau disbelieved him utterly, but was too polite to say so, or else he was afraid to permit the escape of the prisoner who had been intrusted to his care.  Claude then tried another means of influencing him.  He reminded him that the governor of Louisbourg had no jurisdiction here; that the Acadians of Grand Pre were subject to the King of England, and that all concerned in this business would be severely punished by the English as soon as they heard of it.  But here Claude utterly missed his mark.  No sooner had he said this, than old Comeau began to denounce the English with the utmost scorn and contempt.  He told Claude that there were many thousands of French in Acadia, and only a hundred English; that they were weak and powerless; that their fort at Annapolis was in a ruinous state; and that, before another year, they would be driven out forever.  He asserted that the King of France was the greatest of all kings; that France was the most powerful of all countries; that Louisbourg was the strongest fortress in the universe; and that the French would drive the English, not only out of Acadia, but out of America.  In fact, Claude’s allusion to the English proved to be a most unfortunate one; for, whereas at first the old man seemed to feel some sort of sympathy with his misfortunes, so, at the last, excited by this allusion, he seemed to look upon him as a traitor to the cause of France, and as a criminal who was guilty of all that Cazeneau had laid to his charge.