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. (Continued.) Another letter-to choose out of the collection where all arc interesting—is from the sister of the three D'Entremonts, who had returned to Pubnico. Evidently they had sent out of their scanty store money to relieve the necessities of those in France, who, even less fortunate than they, could not earn enough to sustain health. “MY VERY DEAR BROTHER: I have received the letter which you did me the honor and kindness to write me, dated September 1, 1774, which tells me that you enjoy good and perfect health. I pray God that the present may find you in the same condition. “I am sensible (one could not be more so) and penetrated with a lively gratitude for your kindness, and for the trouble which you have taken on our account, but it is impossible for me to give you proofs of my attachment and great love; as I am situated now I can only offer to Heaven my prayers for your preservation and that of your dear family, to whom I wish all the good and contentment which one could desire in this world. “I will tell you, my dear brother that I have not yet touched the money which you had the goodness to take to St. Peter. We shall receive it through a ship-owner of this city, who only waits for a letter of exchange to come from Paris to render us account of it. He has already even wished to give us a part deducted, and we hope to get it this week, or the week following. “You did well in sending the money to the priest of St. Peter, who had the kindness to procure for you a very safe way of sending to us (anything) which may belong to us, if you have the goodness to bring it to St. Peter yourself. “I must tell you, my dear brother that your first letters never reached us; we are very much annoyed that they have been lost, because you have set forth everything in them. Also I beg you to tell me how much you made of the silver, the clothing, and the furs, for the reason that the family of my uncles have a share in this money, but the dishes and the silver money belonged to my late father. “I believe that you must have dug up this silver when you took up that in the shed (cabanaux, in Acadie, any little outbuilding belonging to the house), for it seems to me that my late husband showed it to his brother Joseph; but in case you should not have dug it up, it is in the Southwest corner of the shed and this shed is one under a tree, and the tree is a little uprooted. If you have it, or can find it, I beg you to carry it with the other to St. Peter, and I beg you also to tell me the sum of the silver. “As to the silver spoons, my dear brother, I give them to you. They are not compensation for your trouble, but you are able to satisfy yourself with what you judge right. If you do not wish satisfaction for yourself, assess the sum you would (have taken), send it here to your nephews, who are sufficiently in want, and who have had no help from their relations since they have been in this country, and each one thinks of himself and troubles himself very little with others. You will not speak of these things but in my letter. “Do not make objections to accepting the spoons which I give you, for I give them with all my heart. I finish by embracing you a thousand and a thousand times, and am with all the friendship and sincerity possible, my dear brother, “Your very affectionate sister, ‘‘MARGUERITE LANDRY.” The spoons of which Marguerite Landry—a D’Entremont by birth— speaks are preserved in the house of a grandson of Bénoni. They are heavy, old-fashioned in style; one large, and three teaspoons. One handles them with awe, remembering their history, and how they laid in the faithful earth, where the hands of true confessor of the faith had deposited them. The next letter is interesting for two reasons. First, because the alliance to which the writer, an aunt of the first Marguerite—alludes must have been one of the “marriages by witnesses” to which the Acadiens were obliged to resort after the return, because the visits of missionaries were so rare. And secondly, because in the few lines of this older woman’s letter breathes the anguish of the life she was enduring, and the longing for dear faces, and the beloved Acadie; the human cry of nostalgia which time could not still. It is addressed to “Madame la veuve feu Jacques d’Entremont, à Pobomcoup,” and is dated the fourth of March, 1775 : “I have received, my dear sister-in-law, your letter dated the 7th of March, 1774, which gave me a sensible pleasure to learn the dear news of you, and of my dear nephews and niece. You tell me of their establishment. I am—one could not be more—delighted. I am not ignorant that these unions are not made except by common agreement. I am touched—one could not be more so—by the tender remembrance which you have of me, and of my poor children. It is a recollection which will not fade till God himself shall have severed the thread of my days. Be sure of the same sentiments from all my children. I cannot tell you without sorrow that they do not enjoy perfect health, or nearly so. It is a cross which God judges good for me to bear, but I must avow, to my confusion, that this cross is heavy to me. I do not say as often as I should “May the holy will of God be done’; pain on pain, denial upon denial, and without hope of ever enjoying a condition more gracious. “Again my dear sister-in-law; I let myself be borne with you to dwell on that wretched hour when we were parted, and parted, forever. “I will not give you any news, my dear sister-in-law; my son Joseph is writing to his cousin Joseph, he will set down any little thing of which he may know. “Receive I pray you, from me and from my children, our tender embraces, and the prayers which we pour forth to Heaven for your preservation, and that of my nephews and niece, to whom we wish all the joy and prosperity in their establishment which one can wish. “Be assured, my dear sister in-law, that we are, my children and I, for life, with the most sincere friendship, “Your, very submissive sister-in law. “ Marguerite d’Entremont. “Widow of Peter Landry. “I should tell you that the Count of Provence and the Count d’Artois, brothers of the present king, have married the two daughters of the King of Sardina, and that none of the three (i.e., king, or his brothers) have children. It is the Count de Maurepas who is Grand Minister of France. I ask you to tell me how many French are established in the surrounding country of Cape Sable, and if the English are living in the old home at Cape Sable?” The next letter is from the son of this elder Marguerite, written two days before his mother’s, and undoubtedly sent with hers. It is the one in which she says he will “set down any little thing of which he may know.” It is impressive to read, with the knowledge of subsequent events which we possess, the hope which he expressed for the peace and safety of France, through the accession to the throne of Louis XVI., hopes which make us realize how truly he was Louis the Desired. “MY VERY DEAR, AND VERY HONORED COUSIN : I hastily toss off this (letter) to have the honor to inform myself of the state of your health, and all which regards you. I pray the Lord that he will preserve you, and all your dear and amiable family, in good and perfect health. This is what I wish you with all my heart, as well as to all the dear and amiable family, to whom I wish all good, and the dew of heaven and of earth. “As to mine (health), I am always on a bed of suffering, such as would make every one weep. My poor body is covered with disease within and without. To sum up, my very dear cousin, I cannot die and I cannot live. My dear mother and my brothers and sisters all—(illegible)—two whole days on a bed of pain; but if such be the will of God, may his will be done, and not ours. “Ah, dear cousin, sad these days which we pass in this land, living and dying in sorrow; to see one’s self so far removed from one’s country, and all one’s dear relations and friends, is not easy; but, however, for a year bread (the quality and price) has been more suitable than in the past. For the seven years that there was famine in France bread was sold for four sous a pound, and now it is worth but two sous a pound. “I should tell you that the King of France is dead; died on the sixth (tenth) of May, last May; and the queen and dauphin are also dead; it is the grandson of Louis XV. who mounts the throne. He has married the daughter of the Queen of Hungary (Austria); he is twenty years old, and every one says that there has never been a king so full of wit, intelligence, and wisdom as this one, and ail the world hopes that France may be better governed in the future than she has been in the past, and that she may not be betrayed and sold as she has been. France and all Christian kingdoms allied with her; Spain, Portugal, the emperor, the King of Sardinia, who would war with one; he bas with all five, but for the present all is in peace.” (Here follows an omitted paragraph relating to a proposed establishment of the Acadiens near Rochelle.) “There has been no death among us since I wrote you. I have not received all the letters which you have written. I have received two of them, one dated the fourth, the other the seventh of March; the others I have not received. We are very much annoyed that they have not arrived. “My dear, amiable cousin, how I praise your destiny, and still more that of your dear children for the salvation of their souls, which one has not among the world, for if you heard and saw all that I hear and see yon would be overwhelmed, and shut yourselves away. But, you will say to me, there are priests, Mass, instruction every day before one’s eyes! but I tell you that there is nothing worse than to laugh at these things, and when one will not hear, and when all are unwilling to see the light, one shuts the eyes, and one sees it no more. Ah, sad are these days for the salvation of souls, and of youth in this country! To end, my dear, amiable cousin, taking courage and patience, let us imitate the holy man Job on the dung-hill, and perhaps one day God will have pity on us, and will give us the consolation we desire give it to us all. To close, my dear cousin, nothing more can I say to you, unless with tears in my eyes and sobs in my heart I embrace you, and all my dear relations in general, a thousand, million times, and I am to you, and shall be to the last breath of my life, “Your faithful cousin, “JOSEPH LANDRY. “I embrace a thousand times my dear aunt, and assure her of my very humble respect. I embrace your dear spouse, and all your family. I embrace all in general—all my dear and amiable cousins, million of times. “My dear mother, my dear brother and sister embrace you, your dear mother, brother, and sister a million of times with all their heart. Our compliments to Jacques Amirault, to his wife and ail his dear children, whom I embrace a million of times. “Our compliments to Charles Amirault, and to his wife, and to all his dear family whom I embrace. ‘‘Our compliments to all the—in general, whom I (we) embrace with all our hearts. Your dear mother tells us that you are established beside the Iles de Grâve. Is this because the English have taken the old home that you are not living upon it? Tell us this, and how many French are settled at Cape Sable. Your cousin, Peter d'Entremont, embraces you, your wife, and all his cousins with all his heart. Dated at Cherbourg, March 2, 1775.” Joseph Landry—to whom after all his sufferings God gave rest more than a century ago—did not spell very well, his tenses are very erratic, and his writing hard, at times impossible, to decipher, but his letter, with its news of the day and complaint of the Voltairian spirit of ridicule for holy things, is the most generally interesting of all, and with its touching plaint that he “could neither die nor live” must close these few glimpses of the stricken people who actually suffered all Longfellow portrayed. And that they suffered for conscience’s sake, in spite of the historians who would deny it, let the following oath show. It was the required oath to be taken by all who sat in the Assembly of Nova Scotia, the sufficient reason why no Acadien ever did sit there until 1836, when Simon d’Entremont, the grandson of one of the exiles, obtained its abolishment, and was the first of his race to sit in the Assembly, having taken the oath which is now presented to legislators in lieu of the former. “I swear that I abjure, abhor, detest, and deplore the damnable doctrine called popery. “I swear that the sacrifice of the Mass now celebrated by Catholics, and invocation or saints and of the Virgin Mary, is superstitious and idolatrous. “I swear that no pope or priest bas any power to remit sin by absolution. “I swear that there is no partaking of the Body and Blood of Christ in the Sacrifice (of the Mass).” “The ancienne habitation,” the old dwelling-place of which the exiles so anxiously inquired, was taken by the English, and is the upper East Pubnico of to-day. And on the west side, by “l'Isles de Grâves,” as Joseph Landry had heard, their descendants are now living. They are all fishermen, grave, dignified in deportment, up-right, and God-fearing. On Monday morning the little fleet of Pubnico schooners sets sail for the week’s cod-fishing, returning Saturday night to keep Sunday. They gather in knots Saturday evenings to discuss the events on sea, and sometimes the younger people have a dance on that night when the boats are in, for it is necessary to improve the hours, since sweethearts are gone so much of the time. On Sunday the church is crowded at Mass and Vespers. The priest has a parish of sixty miles in extent. He says Mass one Sunday in the pretty little church on the east side, and the two succeeding Sundays is upon the west side. When the tide serves the harbor is dotted with boats, white sails, Venetian red, and an occasional yellow, illumined in the morning sunshine, and thrown out picturesquely against the intensely blue sky and the dark firs. They bring the people from across the harbor to hear Mass, and it is a pretty sight to see the little fleet winding through the islands, bringing the devout Acadiens to the church, remembering what their fathers suffered that they might enjoy this very Sunday hallowing. As one comes down the road one sees a black group of men outside the church gate, on the brow of the hill where the edifice stands, and inside the yard a similar group of women. These Sundays and holy-days are the opportunities for the meeting of friends; for some who live apart, the only ones. When the bell sounds, warning the people that the priest is in the sacristy, all turn and obediently file into place, not one lagging after the Asperges. The church is a large and fine one built by the energy of the earnest priest and the sacrifices of a poor people to whom religion is the first cause for which to live, as their fathers had taught them in suffering, more eloquent than words. The congregation is an edifying one; attentive, devout, and large. The “Marguilliers,” two elderly men, following an Acadien custom, sit in the front pew on the epistle side, and guide the people in the right moment of rising, kneeling, or sitting. There is none of the French vivacity left in these people; a life of hardship in a severe clime has effectually sobered them. They are intensely proud, honest, and virtuous. Crime is unknown in their midst, and while marriages must differ in degrees of happiness here as else-where, there are no domestic tragedies; the women are modest, the men constant, families are very large, and well cared for. They tell one in Pubnico that they are poor, but there is no poverty as we know it. Every one owns his little home; ready money is not plenty, but there is little needed. Twenty-five dollars a year would be a good house-rent, though few houses are rented; a dollar a week is the usual wages of a servant, twenty-five cents a day for a woman to make or wash one’s clothing. The women are very hard-working. Each house has its spinning-wheel : the wool is spun, the stockings, and even the underclothing, knitted by the busy hands that sew, and bake, and scrub, as well as tend, through a constantly recurring infancy, a family of eight to fourteen children. The floors are painted by the women, who, though they have never learned drawing, cover the rooms with sail-cloth, upon which they paint designs so beautifully that no one could distinguish it from oilcloth, except that it is so much warmer and better, while the “hooked in” and braided rugs are marvels of beauty. Out of doors, these same women tend the cod-fish drying upon the flakes, and while the warm days last help get in the crop, for men are on the sea and hay must be made while the sun shines. The girls are many of them very pretty, but it is not strange that they grow early old, or that the sprightliness of France is forgotten. There are but two English families in West Pubnico; French is the language of the place, and English only acquired by patient labor in very good schools. The French is wonderfully pure, considering the effort that was made to destroy all national life. It has certain peculiarities to which the ear must become accustomed, such as ch for q, in such words as que and qui, pronounced che and chi; the long Sound of i in chien, bien, etc.— chine and bine; a in words ending in ais—anglah, parlait, jamah. Old words obsolete in France are retained here notably the ancient way of counting, septante, octante, nonante, seventy, eighty, ninety; icite for ici itou, aussi, and other peculiarities. The climate of Pubnico is very nearly perfect for summer—would be quiet so were it not for the fogs which haunt Nova Scotia. When the thermometer registers 80 ° the good men remove their coats, and walk home from church mopping their brows and exclaiming : “Fait chaud, aujourd’hui,’’ adding to the American : “Vous pensez ch'il fait frette” (froid) They think of the States as a kind of fiery furnace, and as the summer progresses there, and one never becomes more than delightfully warm, none too warm for a walk at noon-day, one begins to share their view. There is no night through the summer when a blanket is not a necessity. A kinder people could hardly be; the French blood shows itself in courtesy and natural politeness. They live like one great family—as indeed they are—being all closely related, and they share with each other property, labor, and good offices. And they show the inheritance of faith and the blood of martyrs by a virtue that lifts them far above the descendants of English settlers, as well as by better breeding and greater intelligence—that is, of course, better than those who, like them, labor to live, and are removed from the centres of learning and society. What will be the end of this little community it is hard to predict. French has been retained so far; it is hardly possible it will always be spoken. To-day the schools are very good; two generations ago it was hard to obtain the rudiments of an education. Now the older girls speak English, many of the mothers speak it little or not at all; two generations hence, at that rate, it is not unlikely that it will have superseded the French. With French will go much that is characteristically good; it is impossible to withstand the march of time, and with all gain comes some loss, but to one who loves the Acadien it is painful to foresee his amalgamation into the Nova-Scotian. A railroad is projected, partially graded, from Yarmouth to Pubnico Head; with the rush of steam, and the withdrawal of our uncomfortable coach, will come more American tourists, and a complete change on the face of Pubnico. We learned to love it, the kindly people, its intensely Catholic life, its traditions of persecution, the French of the time of the expulsion, its great lakes, the murmur of pines its bleak solitudes, and breaking surf. If the rush of the nineteenth century must invade the stillness of past centuries, we are glad that we knew it while it was still a remnant of Acadie.