A Corner of Acadie

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A Corner of Acadie
M. M. Taggart
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A CORNER OF ACADIE. BY M. M. TAGGART. (From the Catholic World.) The primitive red stage bounced and bowled down the hard road, its black leather curtains flapping in the wind. A cloud of dust arose behind it, in which the inevitable yellow dog, rushing out from each house to bark at it, became lost to sight, and little bare-legged children hung on gates, and tall, thin women looked out of windows, all speculating on what could bring the stage out of its course, as they watched it go by. Viewed from an artistic and exterior point of view, it was an interesting survival of ante-railway days; but that was not the point of view of those who for thirty miles had been tossed by its unspringing springs, and we were glad to see our youthful driver rein up before a small house, sitting attractively back in the fields which continued past it down to the water’s edge. This was West Pubnico, our destination, in a sense an undiscovered country, for as it is off the road to “all wheres,” to quote an old man of the region, one going there goes with full determination. Since there are not many who know of its existence, those who take this determination are necessarily few; thus it is to the traveler from the States an undiscovered country. One reaches it by the steamer to Yarmouth, thence by coach to Pubnico. The thirty mile drive is a very pleasant one, although the stage is of such a primitive stamp. The road is good, and lies past a succession of beautiful lakes, wooded to their shores and dotted with islands. Corning as we did in the middle of June, the orchards were white with blossoms, the lilacs just bursting forth, the violets blooming by the wayside, all of which emphasized the fact that we had stepped back a month in the season. A northern aspect is given to the country by the absence of any trees except varieties of spruce, hemlocks, pines, and other everygreens hardy enough to bear the climate. The hackmatack, as the tamarack, or larch, is called here, breaks with its feathery bright green upon the dull browns, olives, and dark greens of the other trees, and the long moss sways in the wind from the trunks of the patriarchs : “The murmuring pines and the hemlocks, Bearded with moss, and in garments green, indistinct in the twilight, Stand, like harpers hoar, with beards that rest on their bosoms.” West Pubnico is a point of land eight miles long by one and a half wide. Its western shore is washed by the waters of the beautiful Argyle Bay, or Lobster Bay, which is really the ocean making up into the land. It is said to lap in its embrace three hundred and sixty-five islands, but as this is the regulation number it is not necessary to pin one’s faith to the absolute correctness of the statement; let us say three hundred and sixty-seven fir-clad, rocky, and beautifully irregular islets, around which the surf breaks in a perpetual murmur, mingling with the sighing of the pines, but with no other sound except the cry of the sea-birds. Anything more grandly desolate than the shore of West Pubnico on Argyle Bay would be hard to fancy, and while the soltitude, the salt and balsam-laden air do their healing work, over and over, as one stands alone on those rocks, the line repeats itself : “The wolf’s lone howl on Oonolaska’s shore. ” Across the narrow strip of land lies the pretty harbor, framing the east shore of the point. Quite different from the ocean side is this peaceful little sheet, its waters washing on all sides cultivated fields. The other shore across the harbor is East Pubnico, called familiarly “the east side’; at the end lies Pubnico Head, or “the Head,” and West Pubnico is known as “the west side,” while as a sort of b to the third number on the programme is Lower West Pubnico, by the dyke built after the return from exile. Below this the point ends in the ocean, where again silence reigns, only broken by the sound of voices when once a day the men go there to purse the deep sea-trap off the end. From the dyke up there is a close succession of small houses, alike in architecture as in condition, for this is markedly the hamlet of equalities. It would be quite safe to go to any of these doors and inquire if Mrs. d’Entremont were at home, for nearly every one in Pubnico bears that name; the Surettes, Amiraults, and Duons being too few to more than add a slight zest of uncertainty to the question. Between the upper end of the west side and the Head this succession of houses abruptly ends, and between them and the resumption of building, where Pubnico Head begins, stands a bit of woodland, line of demarcation which so far no one has violated. These woods divide two races and religions, for the Head is Fnglish, as is the upper part of the east side, while the west side is Acadien of pure blood. Unknown and insignificant as this little settlement is, it has its history, by no means an inglorious one—the history of the persecution of a peaceful people at the hands of brutal men, who hated them for their race and religion, the history which the best beloved of the American poets has made familiar in “Evangeline.” It was in 1651 that Charles de La Tour, coming to take possession of the half of Acadie which his majesty Louis XIV., whose lieutenant-general he was, had given him, brought with him Philippe Mius d’Entremont, a gentleman of good family in Normandy. Upon him De La Tour bestowed the lands which are now Pubnico—then called by name of disputed origin, from which the modem name is derived. He created him Baron of Pobomcoup at Cape Sable, and a Château d’Entremont was built on the east side. This was a fief, held as all feudal baronies were held, by the payment of an annual tribute, which took the form of something described in the grant by Indian words no longer understood, and two bouquets of flowers on the eve of St. John. Philippe, the first D’Entremont, had three sons, two of whom married the daughters of Charles de La Tour, and thus in the veins of the fishermen of the present day, their lineal descendants, runs noble blood of old France—indeed, the tradition is that the first D’Entrement had a stain of Bourbon blood. Be that as it may, they increased and prospered, till many houses had sprung up-around the Château d’Entremont. Amiraults and Duons, and a few others had joined them, the land had been cleared to the head of the pretty harbor, and the thrift and industry which ever characterized this upright race had wrought its certain results, and though in a colder and more sterile region than their kindred up the bay, in the basin of Minas, they flourished as they did, and like them were stricken. It was in September, 1755, as all the world knows, that Winslow accomplished his awful task in Grand Prè. Here for many their knowledge of Acadien history stops, and they are ignorant that for two years the work of destroying an innocent people went on, amid suffering of which the story of Evangeline dots not give the alphabet. It was in 1756 that the storm struck Pubnico. The Château d’Entremont was burned and all the other dwellings. The cruelties of Grand Prè were repeated; quite without necessity families were separated; many of the D’Entremonts were carried to England and France—one, Marguerite, lay for seven years in an English prison, and at last those whom the ocean divided from land and kindred united at Cherbourg, where their descendants are living to-day. Jacques d’Entremont, the grand-son of Charles de La Tour, and his three sons, Joseph, Paul, and Bénoni, were carried to Boston. Here they fared better than many of their compatriots, owing to an English-man, or colonist, as he probably was, whose life Jacques had saved from shipwreck not many years befor. This man happened to be on the wharf when the vessel bearing the captives came into Boston, and remembering his debt, he set about doing what he could to ameliorate the sufferings of exile and poverty for him whom he had last seen the prosperous head of a well-known family, whose roof had been his shelter through the rigors of a long winter, when he had been east up friendless on an enemy’s shore. The Englishman led Jacques before Governor Shirley and told him the story of his rescue, urging the influence he seems to have possessed to obtain help for the exile. The governor gave Jacques a watch, a suit of clothes, and a sword-cane, and what was more, gave him the freedom of the city, where, instead of sharing the starvation and confinement of his fellow-Acadiens, he went and came as he pleased, gained an honorable livelihood as accountant, for in those days of few schools and poor instructors the D’Entremonts were well educated. There lie before me letters, yellow with age, scarred with their long journey to Pubnico, by way of Newfoundland, written after the expulsion by those of the family who where in Cherbourg. The writing is beautifully clear, the composition good; they breathe in resignation the cry of longing for home, of anguished desire to know whether those the writers loved were alive, or had succumbed to their tortures; they are eloquent of poverty, but they prove the superiority of the D’Entremonts to the surroundings, and substantiate the claim to gentle breeding. The cane which the governor of Massachusetts gave to Jacques d’Entremont is preserved in the house of one of his descendants at Pubnico; it lay across my knee while I copied the following record made by his youngest son, Bénoni, in the back of an old law-book : “Bénoni né 1745. fussent amené à la Nouvelle Angleterre 1756. Jacques mort 1759. Retour au Cap Sable 1766. Première Communion 1769.” This shows that old Jacques d’Entremont lived but three years in exile; his body was laid to rest in Roxbury, and has mouldered to dust apart from any of his race or kin. When, ten years after the proscription, the three sons of Jacques, accompanied by Amiraults and a Duon, filled with longing for their native land, and the hope of finding again their lost kindred who might have crept back to the old spot, returned from exile to found a home where they might practise their religion and speak their own tongue, they found what all returned Acadiens found, the English occupying the land their fathers had cleared. To their desire for national and religious distinctness West Pubnico owes its origin, for hither they turned their faces and made the clearings which grew into the present village. Before the expulsion there had been what was for those days a large sum of money, and silver dishes, and skins, hidden in the ground —the money on an island in Argyle (sometimes called then Tusket) Bay, which bears to this day the name of l’île d'argent. The secret of this hidden treasure seems to have been best known to those members of the family who had taken refuge in Cherbourg. The letters are full of allusions to it, and directions how to obtain it. Misfortune in all forms bore heavily at this time upon the D’Eatremonts; not only were they persecuted by their enemies, but their friends betrayed them. One Basil Bondiot, who knew the place of concealment of the money which they so sorely needed, came to Acadie, unearthed the treasure, and made off with the greater part; a little escaped him, and ultimately reached its owners Here is the first letter, dated Cherbourg, the twentieth of April, 1773, when the news of the treachery seems just to have reached the exiles. A free translation of the letter is as follows : “OUR VERY DEAR COUSINS: I have had the honor to receive your letter, dated May 16, 1772, by which we learn that you enjoy good health. We pray the Lord that the present will find you in good and perfect state, as well as all your dear family, for whom we wish all the good, and the blessings of Heaven and earth, spiritual as well as temporal. We are much disturbed that you do not speak of your dear brothers and sisters. “As regards ourselves, my dear cousin, I cannot tell you the sad and humiliating state to which misery has reduced us. Always getting better, only to fall ill again, usually confined to the bed. Always sorrow and grief in the heart, which overwhelms us, and puts us in an inconceivable condition, (and we suffer) from the poor food which we have in this country. Ah, my dear cousins, what weeping, and what tears have been shed by us in these fourteen years in which we have been in pain and suffering, without any consolation! Our allowance has been reduced this year, we receive more (not more?) than five, four, and three sous a day. Judge whether one can live well on that, and be able to earn nothing in this country with everything extraordinarily dear except water. I will not say more to you of this to make you understand the afflictions which we actually suffer. We have learned from a letter coming from you, that Basil Bondiot has been with you, and has dug up all our money which was hidden in Tusket Bay, after we had so many times forbidden him, when he left us, to raise it, or to show it to any one, with reason, and you tell us that this (quantien?) and thief has dug it up, and carried it off without putting any of it in your hands? We pray and supplicate you, for mercy’s sake, to inquire of all the acquaintances and friends which you have, to see if you can discover where he can be, and also what he can have done with the money. Whether he has put it at interest in the shipping or in business, or at profit, or if he has still something remaining, or if he has spent it all. We pray you give us some knowledge of this. . . . You tell us that this ([illisible]) told you that we had taken away the altar silver, and (the value of?) a fourth part of two vessels. I assure you in truth, my dear cousins, that I have never received anything of it, and this is very false. You tell us that if there is still anything hidden you will find it. I reply that we have no more money hidden; however, I tell you that we left between (two Indian names of islands); the two largest islands, those that are nearest Tusket River, on the north, north-west side—we left in a shed eighty-two skins of (illegible) and five skins of cattle. You will look also in another shed, which is directly opposite this one of which we speak, and you will find there within a plough-iron. I tell you also that we hid the iron of the mill in the first path coming from the houses, which one passes to go to the mill, at the left hand going toward the shore. Look under the stone; you will find them. “We pray you tell us in what part of Cape Sable you are established, if you are comfortable there, and if they have spoiled all for you; and whether all Acadie is inhabited, and if affairs go as well as in the past. “Our address is care Monsieur D’Aujacque, Commander of the Islands St. Peter and Miquelon, for him to forward, if he will, to Charles d'Entreraont, at Cherbourg, Normandy. You can address to whom you please of the family. “All the family assures you of their sincere friendship, wishing you all good and perfect health. Hoping for news of you, our very dear cousins, we are with all the affection possible, Your very humble and very faithful cousins, CARLES MIUS D’ENTREMONT, PIERRE MIUS D’ENTREMONT, JOSEPH LANDRY.” (Continued.)