"FATHER, FORGIVE THEM "
"Hear ye, men of Grand-Pre!" The cold, official tones of the burly English captain fell upon the ears of the amazed Acadians with ominous solemnity.
"You are commanded by order of the Governor-General to assemble at once in the church of, the village."
The crowd muttered its disapproval.
Men put their women-folks behind them and faced the armed soldiers without flinching. A wave of fear swept over the face of Evangeline. Instinctively she clung closer to Gabriel, in this moment of impending danger. Angry protests fell from the lips of Basil and Benedict as they made their way through the crowd to the commanding officer.
"You have no right to intrude, sir." Benedict cried, his eyes blazing with indignation. "This is my daughter's betrothal feast."
"This is a sacred right with us," Rene' Leblanc began. "I beg you ..."
"Will you come or shall I be obliged to Use force?” the captain demanded sharply. "You will gain nothing by offering resistance. In the village, Colonel Winslow and three companies of infantry await your presence."
News that such a force had been dispatched to Grand-Pre staggered them.
Father Felician was first to regain his composure. In his benign way, with uplifted hand, he turned to his parishioners with a reassuring smile.
"Let us obey, my people," he pleaded fervently. "In the house of God we have nothing to fear."
To this many agreed, and the few who refused and started to leave were brought back at the point of the bayonet.
"I shall not be parted from you!" Gabriel muttered savagely as he held Evangeline to him.
"Fall in!" a soldier commanded. He placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. Gabriel was about to knock it away when Evangeline stopped him.
"I will follow you to the church," said she. "Go! lest they run you through."
He kissed her again, as the soldier smirked at them, and ran a keen, appraising eye over Evangeline.
Gabriel could see his father, Benedict, and even the cure, waiting for the word to march.
In quick, military precision the red-coated soldiers pressed the men into line and marched them away. Anxiously the frightened women, their whimpering children tugging at their skirts, followed the long, sad procession.
Evangeline passed the Widow Lamphrey.
"It was this you saw in my cup," Evangeline told her,
The Widow shook her head. "You are mistaken, my child," and for once the old crone spoke the truth.
As the Acadians entered the village, they saw soldiers everywhere, and in the harbor, riding at anchor, their guns trained on the town, the three men-of-war that had brought them.
Straight to the steps of the church the detail of soldiers marched the Acadians. Between columns of flashing bayonets they entered the holy place.
The sacred atmosphere of the rustic house of worship took on a grim, military aspect as the armed soldiers reached their places and stood at rigid attention around the walls, in front of the windows and before the altar, with its shining crucifix of silver and its gold candlesticks, their muskets casting grim, menacing shadows across the gleaming whiteness of the lace altar-cloth.
"It's a trap," Basil warned his son in low whispers as Colonel Winslow, tall,
erect and soldierly, entered from the chancel, nervously fingering the Governor-General's proclamation as he waited for the Acadians to sink into the pews.
"Men of Grand-Pre, you are convened here this day by order of His Excellency, Colonel Lawrence, Governor-General of Nova Scotia, to hear his answer to your petition," Winslow began reluctantly, his attitude evidence enough that the task before him was a painful one.
A great silence settled upon the church, broken only by the uneasy scuffling of the soldiery as they stood at attention. Winslow paused to study the parchment document he held in his hands.
"His Excellency desires to recall to you the fact that for more than forty years the Crown has shown you greater consideration and leniency than has been the indulgence of its subjects in any part of its dominions.
"You have been called upon many times to take this oath of allegiance to this Government. Always, as in the present instance; you have sought to claim the rights of neutrals, refusing to take up arms against the enemies of the Crown or pledge yourselves and fortunes to its success.
. "Now, therefore, it is the final resolution of His Excellency that, grievous as the consequences may be to you, and disagreeable as my task is to me, you be informed that as a penalty for your refusal to agree to take up arms against the enemies of the Crown and pledge yourselves, fortunes and goods, if necessary, to the proper prosecution of the war with France, all your lands, cattle and such livestock as you may possess are forfeited to the Crown, together with your dwellings and such harvested crops or stores of wheat and other grains as are in your granaries, and that they are now and henceforth the property of His Majesty, King George, the second."
As the dreadful import of his words slowly made its way into the consciousness of the assembled Acadians a groan of bitter anguish, not unlike the bending of a tree under the lashing of a storm, arose from their lips and was echoed by the wailing of the women without.
Colonel Winslow raised his hand for silence. The words came slowly to his lips, and it was with an obvious effort that he steeled himself before he could go on.
"Your household effects and such cash monies as you
possess, are, by the special permission of His Excellency, to remain your
property. Further, it is the especial and peremptory command of the Crown that
you and all of the French inhabitants of Grand·Pre and the several villages of
the countryside be removed from this Province now and forever and be conveyed
to the colonies of
A portentous silence followed his words. Too stunned for speech, the Acadians sat and stared dumbly at the King's officer.
"Transports for your removal will arrive in a day or two. I respectfully request you to remember that accommodations will limit the extent of such household goods as you may take with you, being mindful of the fact that I desire whole families to go in the same vessel, you will gauge yourselves accordingly."
Slowly the speechless wonder that gripped his listeners gave way to a rising wail of rage and anguish. Louder and louder it grew, and the soldiers lining the walls shifted about, their guns ready. Suddenly the storm broke, like the angry waters of a released torrent that sweeps everything before it in its mad, bellowing plunge down a chasm, so the Acadians rose in billowing waves.
"Down with the Governor-General? Down with all tyrants!" shouted Gabriel.
"Death to those who would rob us of our homes and farms!” cried Basil, his eyes wild with baffled rage.
Their voices rose in angry volume. Gabriel's defiant outburst firing them into open rebellion. Springing from their seats they . rushed madly for the. doors and windows.
"Vive la liberte!" Gabriel yelled above the din of their angry cries. They took it up.
"Vive la liberte!
"Vive la liberte!''
The soldiers guarding the doors lowered their bayonets.
"Run them through if they advance another step," a sergeant shouted.
It had the desired effect on the others, but Gabriel flung himself at the bristling line of bayonets as though they were not there. A blow from the butt of a musket felled him.
Outside the church, Evangeline beat her hands against the oaken doors and cried out: "Gabriel! Gabriel!"—and got no answer. Basil heard her cry, and like an angry bull set himself for the charge when into the midst of the angry chaos Father Felician entered from the chancel. He paused beneath a painting of the crucifixion and raised his hand with a solemn gesture.
Colonel Winslow fell back before his gaze. The soldiers also sensed his power.
"What is this you do, my children? What madness has seized you?" cried he. He faced them, his arms outspread. "Here where the crucified Christ gazes at you from His cross, you give way to rage and hearts overflowing with hatred."
"Would you profane the house of God with your violence?” His gentle, compassionate eyes searched the bewildered faces of his parishioners.
The soldiers fell back and slowly the tumult of angry voices was stilled and the men of Grand-Pre sank into their seats.
"Forty years of my life I have labored among you and taught you, in word and indeed, to love one another. Is this, then, the fruit of my labors and privations and prayers? "
His eyes, darkened with rebuke, fastened on his flock. "Have you so soon forgotten all those lessons of love and forgiveness?"
Turning, Father Felician met the eyes of Colonel Winslow.
"Our children have been baptized here . . .our people married. Out in the churchyard repose the remains of our loved ones. It is a sacrilege to turn this place of worship into a military prison!" The old priest's voice trembled and his eyes flashed with holy wrath.
"It is a military necessity," Colonel Winslow replied, wincing at the rebuke. The curé pointed dramatically to the huge crucifix of Christ that hung on the wall. The Acadians, now wholly under his quieting influence, followed his gaze and stared transfixed at the cross.
"My children," said he, "in this hour when the wicked assail us, let 11S repeat the words of the Master and say, "O, Father, forgive them! They know not what they do!"
Reverently he bowed his silvery head and crossing himself, addressed his plea to God.
His compassionate words fell like a benediction on the vast assemblage, now prisoners in their own church. With sobs of contrition, they sank to their knees bowed their heads and murmured "O, Father forgive them!”
"YOU ARE MY LIFE!”
As darkness began to fall, the guards came out and told the waiting women and . children that the men would remain in the church over night and ordered them to disperse to their homes.
In their grief and misery they turned to Evangeline, and forgetful of self, she sought to cheer them with words and demeanor, hoping to show them by her meekness and patience that she had not given up hope.
Urged by their household cares and the weary feet of their children, they began to move away across the fields and down the winding street.
From the steeple, as though nothing were amiss, sounded the angelus. It brought a hint of peace to Evangeline, and she stole away into the dusk of the churchyard, listening for some sound from within the walls that held her father and lover. The guard had changed and half a dozen soldiers lounged along the wall after her, casting knowing glances in her direction and exchanging bawdy comments among themselves concerning her. Colonel Winslow stepped out and took in the scene at a glance.
"Go home, my child," he said to Evangeline, his voice husky with the strain of the day's business.
When she· had left, he summoned the captain of the guard. "Establish sentry posts at once," he ordered. "No one will leave the church-yard without leave from me."
Shortly after the expedition pitched its tents beside the. church.
Evangeline wandered home as the stars began to blossom. Across the fields came the plaintive lowing of the untended kine, their udders heavy with milk.
Like one in a dream she wandered past the tables spread for the betrothal feast. Coals still glowed in the pits. When the cows had been milked, she returned to the silent house, her steps weary and slow.
In the kitchen she found honey and cheese, brought fresh from the dairy that morning, but she could not eat. Disconsolately she lighted the hearth and stood beside her father's favorite chair dazed and bewildered by the sudden change of events that had ruthlessly swept away the happiness of her betrothal festival. She drew the great armchair in front of the fireplace at last and slipped down into its depths, pondering deeply over what fate held in store for her and Gabriel, depressed by the haunting loneliness of the silent house in the eerie stillness of the night, and imagining in the rustling of the withered leaves outside the window that she heard the sound of stealthy footsteps.
Staring into the dying embers of the fire, her beautiful face spiritual in its poignant sadness and her troubled eyes mirroring the anguish and suffering of her heart, she presented a somber figure, hardly recognizable as the gay, vivacious Evangeline who had only a few, short hours before exhibited the treasures of her wedding chest to the maidens of the village and danced with Gabriel to the merry strains of old Michael's fiddle.
With echoing steps she mounted the stairs to her bed-room. Long after .midnight she awakened to hear the driving rain beating down on the withered leaves beneath the sycamore. The lightning flashed and the answering thunder boomed across the sky.
In some indefinable way this evidence that God was still in His heaven brought a sense of peace to Evangeline.
But in the church in Grand-Pre, lighted only by the fitful gleam of the tapers on the altar, the soldiers stationed at the huge doors refused to listen to the imprisoned men who clamored for the privilege of visiting their loved ones. The first thought of the stricken men had been for their families.
At last, the guards sent for Colonel Winslow. Basil and Benedict approached him with their request and he at once granted the release of twenty men, holding the others as hostages to insure their return.
Immediately all surged forward, anxious to be among the chosen few. Gabriel struggled with the others and finally made his way to Colonel Winslow and pleaded to be selected as one of the favored twenty. His heart sank as he saw the officer shake his head.
"You are too late," snapped Winslow. "The last man has been selected."
Benedict Bellefontaine, scrawling his trembling signature on the list of the chosen ones, looked up and caught the tragedy in Gabriel's face, saw him turn and walk away, his eyes heavy with disappointment and despair. With a quick stroke of the quill Benedict crossed his name from the parchment list and wrote Gabriel's name in its place.
"Let him go in my stead," Benedict pleaded with Colonel Winslow. "He is my daughter's betrothed."
The old man's trembling lips, the tears in his voice and his willingness to deny himself moved the stolid officer to sympathy, and he acquiesced to the substitution of lover for father.
Gabriel started to protest.
"She would have it so," Benedict answered simply.
Joyously Gabriel accepted the generous offer. His heart was young and his desire to see Evangeline was all-consuming.
"Tell her to be brave," Benedict murmured .
With quavering lips and moistened eyes, he saw Gabriel led to the door with the others who were to leave. Unsteadily, his head reeling dizzily in the stifling air of the crowded church, Benedict made his way back to a seat near Basil and Baptiste.
Surprised, Basil glanced up from his seat as Benedict slowly sank down beside him. "Benedict! I thought I heard your name called as one of those to be released!"
"I was called, Basil, but I let Gabriel go in my place!" Benedict's voice was listless, his eyes blurred with tears of weakness and exhaustion. He was like a mighty oak suddenly stricken by lightning, so deep had their unhappy fate plunged its knife into his heart.
Basil could not answer. A great lump came into his throat as he realized the full significance of the man's sacrifice. Gruffly he reached out and put an arm around Benedict's shoulder with the understanding affection of two old friends, brought closer together by their children's love for one another.
Baptiste's face lighted up as he heard of Benedict's sacrifice for Gabriel. He found it in his unselfish heart to be grateful that Evangeline was to be granted the comfort of Gabriel's presence in these tragic hours of sorrow and uncertainty that had engulfed them all.
Like one possessed, Gabriel dashed through the rain. The storm passed before he reached Benedict's house.
His imperative knock aroused Evangeline from her racing, troubled dreams.
Trembling, hand hesitant on the latch, her heart beating with fear, she called out.
Gabriel's reassuring voice reached her ears and her nervous fingers quickly released the bolt.
"Gabriel!" she cried.
"We are all prisoners in the church," he explained breathlessly as he enfolded her in his strong arms. "Only twenty have been released . . .the others are held to guarantee our return."
She snuggled up to him, a sweet reassurance creeping over her as she listened to Gabriel's story of her father's sacrifice.
"Surely they will let me see him to-morrow.”
"I hope so," he replied without conviction, dreading the moment when he would have to tell her the truth. He walked over to the fireplace and kicked the graying embers into flame. Tremulously she followed him, peering anxiously into his troubled face and overwhelming him with a flood of questions.
"Tell me the truth," she pleaded. Gabriel bowed his head, knowing she must be told.
"Our lands—our cattle—even our
homes have been taken from us!" he finally answered, the words falling from his lips like a deadly calm on a
gloomy sea, “We are to be deported! Driven into exile . . . scattered from
She drew back, a gasp of horror on her pallid lips, her mind in a dizzy whirl, unable to grasp the terrible import of his words.
"No, Gabriel," she cried hysterically, "not that!"
"So it has been ordered. The ships to carry us away will arrive to-morrow or the following day."
" And you will go on a journey. . ." Evangeline muttered the words to herself more than to Gabriel. "She knew—and I knew! It is as I dreamed, Gabriel!"
"We will not wait for them to send us away," he answered quickly. "The forest is close. We can steal away before morning. The Indians will hide us. . . "
"No, Gabriel, we can not leave our fathers. They are old; our place is with them."
"You are right," Gabriel admitted.
"They will need us more than ever now." He drew her into his arms, his heart aching as he tried to console her, smiling to hide his own anxiety and fear. Unable to control her pent-up emotions, Evangeline cried without restraint, shaking with convulsive sobs, engulfed in the dark, forbidding waves of the great catastrophe that had befallen them.
"The tyrants!" he groaned out bitterly. “God forgive them!" .
"Gabriel, my beloved," Evangeline whispered after the first shock of the tragedy had spent its force, her eyes brave through her tears, "they .may take our lands. . . drive us from our homes," she choked back her tears as the words trembled on her lips, "but nothing shall ever separate us. . .nothing shall take from our hearts the great love God has given us!”
"Colonel Winslow has promised that whole families shall go in the same boat," he exclaimed, her courageous words bringing a new flame of hope to Gabriel.
"All is not lost, beloved," she whispered bravely, "for if we love one another, no harm can come to us, whatever may happen!"
"You are my life!" he cried. His face lightened as he smiled back at her and saw shining in the depths of her dark eyes, fringed with their tear-laden lashes, the beauty and strength of a woman's devotion ... affection that hopes and endures and is patient.
"Out of the ruins of our dreams, Evangeline," he told her, and his voice was vibrant with resolution and promise, "in the unknown land of our exile, we shall find the realization of our love!"
They looked long at one another, each trying to console the other, while out of the debris of their youthful hopes rose a new-found happiness, a love strengthened by the tragedy they faced together.
“WHERE ARE YOU, GABRIEL?”
It soon became apparent to Colonel Winslow that he would need the assistance of the men imprisoned in the church in the matter of impounding the livestock and collecting the herds and driving them to the village.
Accordingly, he appeared before them. They had not slept throughout the night, and they stared at him with red-rimmed eyes.
"Something may have happened to our advantage," Rene Leblanc whispered to Benedict.
Benedict gave no heed to his words.
"Men of Grand-Pre," Colonel Winslow addressed them. "It has become apparent to me that my soldiers can not accomplish the bringing together of your cattle and livestock without your assistance. If you will take oath to make no attempt to escape nor to hurt, kill or destroy anything of any kind, whether it be crops, livestock or what not, you will be allowed to depart from the church with the distinct understanding that you are to report here for the night, before sundown.”
Bitter as was this reprieve from their prison, the men gladly accepted Colonel Winslow's conditions. The church doors were opened and they were free to go.
Father Felician stopped them for a moment.
"Take advantage of this opportunity to instruct your women in the matter of the household goods we are to take with us," said he. "It would save confusion if they were to begin to assemble them on the beach."
So the day passed, with the Neutrals doing the bidding of their masters. The huge wains, heavily laden with goods began to move toward the beach. Tagging along, beside their mothers and elder brothers and sisters, the children clasped their playthings in their tiny hands, intent that they should not be left behind.
On the beach itself, great piles of goods began to grow, seemingly in hopeless confusion, and yet, the owners knew where every article was placed, and to guard them were prepared to spend the night on the sands.
Father Felician moved about among cheering them on with his kindly and admonitions.
From the fields and pastures the men brought the livestock, their eyes hot with resentment as they turned over to the soldiers the fruits of their toil.
Benedict had found Evangeline waiting him. Her heart smote her as she beheld him. The glow, was gone from his cheeks, his eyes, that had always danced with a merry light, were heavy and dull. Even footsteps seemed weighted with the sorrow in his heart.
"We are to collect the cattle and grain," he said simply. "You will collect such goods as you care to take from the house."
He sank into his chair and sat without moving, like one in a trance, as he stared through the open window at the broad fields that his industry had claimed from the ocean.
At noon, their own simple tasks completed, his farm-hands came to assist him.
Evangeline urged food on him, but he refused it and walked away with the men.
In that house of many heirlooms and things rich with the memories of childhood, Evangeline knew not where to turn in her desire to take everything with her. The wain her father had sent was filled at last, and she started away for the village, only to stop a dozen times as she remembered some treasured possession that could not be left behind.
Half way to the beach she encountered Gabriel.
"The transports have arrived," he told her. "We should have taken to the woods as I suggested. Many have, and when the roll is called to-night they will be found missing. "
Gabriel spoke the truth, and when the prisoners lined up at sunset, and Colonel Winslow discovered how many were gone, he stormed in righteous indignation.
"It is thus that you repay me for my kindness, " said he, and his face grew sterner than they previously had seen it. "The transports have arrived. Therefore you will spend the night here and embark in the morning."
In brooding silence they heard him out, secretly wishing that they too might have taken to the long dim trails of the forest. No bright star of hope rose for them that night. Basil and Rene sat with Benedict and planned that they should go on the same boat, that in some new land they might gather about them the friends and companions of their youth.
Gabriel sat apart with Baptiste.
"If I am separated from her, promise me you will protect her with your life Baptiste, Gabriel urged.
"I swear it!" answered Baptiste. "But Colonel Winslow has promised that we shall not be separated."
"I know—but I am in disfavor with him. He suspects that it was I who urged Francois and the others to flee. If he gets proof of it, I'll be punished."
The night wore away at last. In the cold, penetrating fog of early dawn, the men were told to get ready to leave.
"The young men will go first," an officer shouted.
"We do not want to be separated from our fathers," Gabriel protested.
The officer brushed him aside. "The young will march now. Go!"
Sons and fathers clasped hands and embraced oach other, fearful of what this move might mean.
Gabriel said farewell to Basil and reluctantly started to follow the others. A soldier pushed him back.
"You will remain," said the officer.
Soon the men were made ready. An order was barked at them and they filed out of the little church with measured steps. Only Gabriel was left.
Colonel Winslow approached him presently.
"I have definite proof that you aided and abetted the escape of the prisoners yesterday," said he. "Your young men evidently look on you as their leader. That you may realize the folly of your conduct and recognize the futility of further inciting them to disobedience, the town shall be fired, and you will be made to witness the burning."
"You tyrants! You fiends!" Gabriel screamed as they led him away.
The human herd, destined for exile in alien lands, poured down to the cold bleak shore of the Gaspereau in the silence of desperation, pausing ever and anon to "'lance back for one last glimpse at the homes of their childhood with all of their
Around fitful fires of driftwood, the women and children huddled in forlorn
groups, the sound of their cries of anguish and woe mingling with the monotonous moan of the sea as they waited their turn to be crowded into dories and rowed out through the beating surf to the transports riding at anchor, dark and sinister in the ghostly gray light.
Under guard came the young men. Mothers called out to sons; sisters ran forward to embrace their brothers.
Evangeline leapt forward with the others, looking for Gabriel. Baptiste saw her.
"Gabriel was held back," he informed her. "He asked me to tell you to wait.”
The men of Grand-Pre followed almost immediately. The guards were not able to keep them in line as wives and mothers and children greeted the heads of their families.
Colonel Winslow waited for the confusion to subside. Half an hour passed without bringing order. The masters of the ships sent word that they must be ready with the tide. It galvanized the Colonel into action.
Father Felician was leading his people in prayer. "Let us sing 'Sacred Heart of the Saviour,' " he called. They responded bravely.
Winslow waited until they finished. Then without ado gave the order for the embarkation to begin.
Knowing there was no time to lose, the soldiers hurried the exiles into the dories.
The tumult grew. Despite Winslow's orders, families were parted, wives were torn from their husbands, mothers and fathers separated from their children. Everywhere the pitiful cries of those who had lost sight of their loved ones rent the air, rising above the roaring of the surf as it pounded out its dirge of doom.
"Mama! Mama! I want my Mama!" rose the heart-rending cry of a little girl whose chubby arms were outstretched to a dory tossing in the surf. It reached the ears of Baptiste as he walked along the shore searching everywhere for his father.
Without hesitating for a second, he picked the little tot up into his arms, and as the boat carrying the frantic screaming mother out to sea was borne toward the
shore momentarily on the crest of a wav, he tossed the child through the spray into the safety of its mother's arms.
Colonel Winslow had himself rowed out to his flagship, unable to further witness the scene taking place on the shore. Once aboard, he stood in the shadow of the bridge, overseeing the deportation, hastening the unloading of the people as they reached the transport and were led down into the hold of the vessel. He winced as he saw the rebellious few felled with a gun butt for refusing to obey orders.
In the cold gray mist, Father Felician, forgetful of self, went from group to group, cheering the people of his parish in their hour of tragedy, comforting them as best he could and blaming their plight on his own failure to reach the ear of God.
"Our Father in Heaven," he prayed as another forlorn group, making ready to embark, gathered around him asking for spiritual guidance and blessing, “fill our hearts this day with strength and submission and patience. Weak though we are, do not desert us."
Wandering with faltering footsteps from fire to fire, old Michael, dazed and pitiful, played disjointed snatches of melodies, hoping to lighten the burden of his people . .A burly soldier grabbed the fiddle from his hands suddenly and crushed it into the sand with the heavy heel of his boot.
"Get into the boat!" he growled.
Under the shelter of a rocky ledge, waiting for Gabriel with ever-growing concern, Evangeline turned from searching the crowd to administer to her father, a terrible fear clutching at her heart when he did not answer her words of endearment but gazed at the flickering light of their campfire with glassy eyes. His expressionless face, haggard and worn, without thought or emotion, was like the dial of a clock from which the hands have been removed.
"Father," she pleaded, "don't give way. For my sake . . ."
Benedict tried to muster a smile for her, but it died on his lips. "I'll be all right," said he. "Find Gabriel."
She left her father's side and darted away to peer into the faces of another group of prisoners. Gabriel was not among them.
"There can not be many more to come," she said to Esdras Prudhomme.
"We are the last," Esdras answered. Father Felician approached hurriedly. "Everything is arranged for your going aboard, " said he. "As a special consideration the families of Leblanc, Lajeunesse and Bellefontaine will go together."
"But Gabriel—he is not here," she cried in fresh dismay. "I've looked everywhere for him. We can not go without him, Father!”
“Didn't he come with the young men?" "No! I couldn't have missed him," she moaned, her eyes unceasingly scanning the faces or those passing by. With a sob of despair, she turned away from the cure and ran down the sands crying, "Gabriel!
Gabriel! Where are you?"
FAREWELL TO ACADIE
Alone in the deserted church Gabriel waited. He rattled the doors, but they were still locked. At last a ruffian shouted: "Attend, Gabriel Lajeunesse!" The door was thrown open and Gabriel marched out into the empty street.
Half a dozen soldiers were running from house to house, touching their torches to the thatched roofs.
Gabriel started to hurl himself at one of them when a bayonet was pushed against his hack. "None of that, my bucko!" a coarse voice boomed in his ear.
With bloodshot eyes Gabriel saw his own home offered to the flames.
"We'll teach you Frenchies a lesson!" a soldier mocked him.
"And you call yourselves men!" Gabriel dared to taunt him.
The soldier swung at him. Gabriel dodged away and let drive with his own fist. The man went down and lay still. The sergeant in charge came running.
"Turn around!" he cried, and as Gabriel faced about they hurried him away, prodding him with their bayonets and hoping he might try to break away.
Father Felician had tried to follow Evangeline, and now as she came back to Benedict, the cure caught up with her.
"He is not here," she wailed.
Father Felician was about to answer when his old eyes caught sight of the flames rising from the village.
"They are burning our homes, " Benedict moaned. "It is the final blow."
Suddenly the bleak morning was luridly lighted and the misery of the huddled groups on the shore was brought into sharp relief—mothers cradling crying babies in their arms, the old and the sick grouped together in crumbled heaps of hopelessness, lovers clinging to each other in frenzied fear of separation, little children clutching their broken toys. Rising piteously above the clamor sounded the frantic barking of dogs, racing from group to group in search of their masters.
"God have mercy!" mumbled the cure. From a hundred housetops flames leaped high as the homes of. the Acadians were given to the torch. Columns of smoke rose as the wind seized the burning thatch and whirled it through the air. Frightened by the fiery whirlwinds billowing about them, the bellowing herds and horses broke from their fences and folds and dashed madly over the meadows in thundering stampede, the work of yesterday destroyed in a twinkling.
Higher and higher leaped the flames, gleaming on land and sea and mocking the tragic plight of the exiles . .Aroused from this stupor by the brilliant glare, Benedict Bellefontaine tried to rise to his feet to catch the last glimpse of his burning home. Feebly he sank back in a trembling heap.
“We shall never see our home again, my child,"
he muttered incoherently, "nor our beautiful
"Fiends out of hell!" a voice roared. It was Basil, terrible to behold in his rage.
Vainly Evangeline tried to keep back the tears that filled her eyes as she saw the happy home of her childhood consumed. She smothered a cry of misery as she visualized the hungry flames, perhaps at that very moment, eating their way into her treasure chest and greedily turning to lifeless gray ashes the filmy lace and shimmering silk of her wedding dress.
Farther up the hill, nestling against the grassy slope, was the thatched-roof cottage to which Gabriel was to have taken her as his bride. As a column of black smoke rose from its roof and engulfed the cherished spot where they had spent so many precious hours planning and dreaming, she hid her tear-stained face against her father's shoulder to shut out the vision and cast from her heart the stark fear that perhaps she might never see Gabriel again.
But suddenly into her troubled eyes leapt a gleam of tragic joy as she beheld her lover, walking between the soldiers. She sprang to her feet and ran to him, all her morbid fears dispelled in the protection of his arms.
The soldiers tried to force her back.
"We have been waiting for you, Gabriel . . .so long," she murmured breathlessly. "Now I shall get Father. Let nothing separate us!" she warned as she darted away. "We are to go together!"
She was at Benedict's side immediately
"Come, Father! Gabriel is her!" Feverishly she tried to make him understand. With Father Felician's aid she helped him to his feet. Bravely Benedict tried to walk, but slowly his determination gave way, his legs tottered, his head fell on his chest and with a choking gasp he pitched forward on the wet sand.
"Father! Father!" Evangeline screamed, a cold terror seized her. Benedict did not answer, and a wild, half-crazed look came into her eyes as she gazed at her father's ashen face and realized that the pall of death was upon him. "Speak to me!" she implored. But Benedict's head sagged forward on her breast. Slowly she raised her eyes and searched the cure's.
"He . . . is . . . dying!" said Father Felician as he bowed his head and prayed.
"He . . . is . . . dying!" muttered the crazed girl.
"He . . . is . . . dying!" echoed the mournful waves of the surging sea.
The soldiers had hurried Gabriel along, intent on showing him no consideration whatever for his attack on their companion.
From the jutting crags where the sailors were crowding the men and their families into the dories, Gabriel looked back and saw Evangeline fall prostrate across the body of her father, sobbing and kissing his cold, lifeless face.
"Let me go!" he shouted defiantly as he tried to break away. The soldiers closed in on him, but Gabriel fought back desperately, determined not to give in, finding in his arms the superhuman strength that often comes to man and animal alike when they are trapped.
He slipped and went down. A boot heel flashed out and ripped his scalp. With a strange little groan he fell on the sand unconscious, the blood gushing from his head and staining his face.
Evangeline, already hysterical with grief, lifted her tear-drenched eyes just in time to see the soldiers pick up Gabriel and ruthlessly pitch him into a tossing dory.
Frantic, not knowing what she was doing, she sprang to her feet and dashed to the water's edge as the sailors struck out for one of the transports. She stared at the receding dory, and saw Basil bend over and pick up Gabriel.
"Gabriel! . . .Gabriel! . . . come back!" she screamed.
She saw Basil argue with the sailors. They pushed him back into his seat and went on.
At her wits' end, not knowing which way to turn, torn between her love for
Gabriel and her duty to her dying father, she plunged into the sea and waded out waist-deep into the pounding surf.
"Gabriel . . . my Gabriel!" she called piteously, her eyes wild with terror. The sound of the sea drowned her voice, but her delirious lips continued to call out the name of her lover.
Fearful lest she be carried out in the fierce undertow, Father Felician waded in after her and half carried her drooping form back to the beach.
"You must not fail me," said he. "You must be the inspiration of us all.”
On board the crowded transport, in the confusion of the milling, wailing throngs frantically crowding the rail for a last look at their homeland, Gabriel regained consciousness. Awakening to the terrible realization of what had happened, he evaded the guards and made his way into the rigging, determined to leap into the turbulent sea and battle his way back to Evangeline
"Nothing shall keep us apart!" he groaned. He was about to leap when suddenly the strong hands of his father pinioned his arms through the shrouds and held him helpless and struggling
"Don't be mad, my son!" Basil pleaded.
"Father, let me go!" Gabriel cried angrily, no longer himself in his anxiety. Furiously he tried to fight free. "I must go to Evangeline!"
"You know I would be the last one to hold you back, my son . . . but this is folly. In this mad sea you would never make the shore. It is suicide to try it." He patted Gabriel's shoulder sympathetically and wiped the blood from his cheeks. "Take heart, Gabriel . . . Evangeline and Benedict may come out in the next dory!"
For a moment Gabriel was consoled. Then he glanced up and saw the crew going aloft to unfurl the sails. A moment later he felt the vessel lurch as she weighed anchor and swung around. The tide caught her and she began to move away even before the wind filled her sails
"We're leaving!" Gabriel shouted "The ship is sailing!"
Basil nodded his head but only held him tighter.
"Let me go! Let me go!"
Basil's eyes filled with sympathetic tears at his son's grief, but he did not loosen the vise-like grip in which he held him, determined not to allow him to jump to his death in his hysterical frenzy.
As Evangeline stared out to sea, her eyes riveted on the transport that was carrying Gabriel away, she saw the sails flatten out in the wind.
An unintelligible groan broke from her lips. Her knees gave way and she fell convulsively over the lifeless body of her father, her hair disheveled, her wet clothes clinging to her slender body, her face grown old in her tragic hour of despair.
“He . . . is . . .dead!” said the priest.
“He . . . is . . .dead!” moaned the girl.
“He . . . is . . .dead!” mocked the sea.