“WELCOME, MY FRIENDS!”
On the banks of the river, half hidden in a grove of red cedars, that blocked the march of the limitless prairies that swelled away to the horizon, stood the home of Basil Lajeunesse, the blacksmith of Grand-Pre, blacksmith no longer but the lord of a landed estate as large as half of Nova Scotia.
Large and low was the ranch-house of comfortable Spanish architecture. Climbing roses wreathed the wide veranda that half circled the house. Silence reigned over it, broken only by the cooing of the doves and the song of whip-poor-wills as evening came on apace,
Above the chimney a lazy column of blue smoke rose into the sky. From the direction of the prairie came the sharp hoof beats of a cavalcade of galloping horses. A little cloud of dust traveled with them as they crossed the plain. The horsemen rode with the free, easy swing of the Spaniard, and their Spanish bits, saddles and huge
tapaderos gave them the appearance of the vaqueros to be found farther to the southwest
At their head rode a man of wide girth and broad shoulders, decked out in chaps and doublet of deerskin. It was Basil.
From under the broad brim of his Spanish sombrero, his jovial eyes drank in the indolent charm of his rancho as his lazy servants, quickened to life at the sound of his coming, rushed forward with ingratiating bows to serve him.
At the steps of the spacious veranda, he suddenly stopped and peered down a path that led from the river,
He stood speechless as he saw coming toward him a weary old man with a girl trudging beside him. Slowly a light of joyous recognition illumined his eyes and he rushed forward with excited exclamations of welcome.
"Evangeline! Father Felician!" he shouted as he gathered them both into his huge arms in a bear-like embrace,
Tired from her long journey, but happy with expectancy, Evangeline snuggled close to Basil as Father Felician, beaming with joy, noted the change that had come over ms old friend,
"Are you really Basil Lajeunesse?"
Father Felician laughed,
"With all these Spanish trappings you seem more like some Don of old
Basil laughed with his old time vigor.
"Talk not to me of Grand-Pre," he roared. "Here is a land that is better than the old one! No hungry winter freezes your blood, no field is filled with stones to break the back and the heart of the farmer. Why, the grass grows more in a single night than in a whole Canadian summer!”
“It is easy to see that you've prospered," nodded the cure.
"Why not—with everything at hand to help you? Here land is to be had for the asking. My herds—I never have time to count them—run wild on the unfenced prairies. It takes only a few blows of the axe to fell timber enough for a mansion. Yes, and after your house is built there is no tyrant to drive you away from it or steal your crops and your cattle!"
The memory of his expulsion from Grand-Pre brought a snort of wrath to his nostrils.
"But enough of myself and this new land that I love. Welcome to you, my good friends . . .you who have so long been friendless and homeless! Tell me where you have wandered and how you came to find me!"
Basil would have discussed their wanderings. Questions tumbled from his lips as he started to lead them to the house.
Evangeline slipped from his embrace and confronted him.
"Gabriel . . . where is Gabriel?" she asked,
Basil stood rooted in his tracks. Too late he remembered the long years of seeking that had driven his son up and down the rivers and finally taken him away to the mountains. His happiness of a moment before ran away from his face like water out of a basin.
Evangeline grasped his dismay immediately.
'''He is not here?" she cried.
"If you came by the river and the bayous, how have you missed him?" he parried. “Even now he must be somewhere between here and the junction of the rivers.”
Basil's surprise was as genuine as their dismay.
"Gone . . .Gabriel gone?"
Evangeline still was unwilling to believe his words. As she saw Basil nod, her overburdened heart gave way and, unable to stand up under the crushing disappointment, she buried her face on his bosom and wept.
Basil tried to console her, but her grief knew no stopping.
"Only yesterday Gabriel left for the Ozarks," said he. "Thinking ever of you, restless and troubled, no good to himself or to me, he went away, hoping in new lands to hear some word of you.”
"If only we had hurried," Evangeline sobbed. "If we had not tarried so long in
"Be of good cheer, Evangeline," Basil comforted her, caressing her cheek and smiling with broad reassurance, "to-morrow at dawn we shall leave and overtake him. I will take my swiftest and lightest canoe. Father Felician can wait here until we return. I promise that if we have to go all the way to the mountains, I will find Gabriel for you."
Basil finally coaxed a smile to her lips and led them into the ranch-house, ordering his servants to hasten the dinner, and brooking no delay with as imperious a manner as ever he charged to the Governor-General of Nova Scotia.
In the great living-room of the ranch-house, with its comfortable Spanish furnishings, she looked anxiously about for trace of Gabriel's belongings.
"Here is his room," he .suggested, and led her to the door.
As she slipped inside, Basil turned to Father Felician with a broad smile and a knowing glance.
Just to be alone in the sweet intimacy of Gabriel's room brought a flush to Evangeline's cheeks. Murmuring dreamily to herself, she moved about, touching with tender affection the articles his hands had used so often and finding little tokens that she had given him back in the days when they were children.
On the wall she discovered an old hunting jacket. She pressed her cheek to the sleeve, and closing her eyes, tried to imagine that his arm was in it and slowly drawing her close to his side.
"Soon we shall be together, Gabriel," she mused. "Here, in this new land that your father loves, we will be happy."