After Amelie survives smallpox, Me’tekw took her to Quebec City where she became a healer at the crowded hospital. He disappeared after that, and she did not know that he had headed back to look for her brothers, who would soon be a part of the Battle of the Plains of Abraham.
Warning: this is quite a long section! A few chapters …
Would this rain never stop? For four days it had fallen from the heavens, turning the grass to mud and draining any sort of warmth from my bones. I hugged myself tighter, shivering. September could be unpredictable at the best of times, but I couldn’t recall it ever being quite so wet before. Claire would have said all this rain was a bad omen. Or maybe, surrounded by so much tragedy, she would suggest it was God’s way of cleansing the land of so much blood.
But I would not think of Claire. I could not think of any of them.
The wind hadn’t come, which was a relief. Hurricanes had crashed against our little home in Grand Pré, ripping tree roots from the shallow ground until the trunks and their rustling costumes of green and gold came crashing down. The great, slamming gusts of rain had frightened me had also brought a secret thrill. As a little girl I had twice escaped the house during a tempest, greeting the screaming wind with my arms open wide. Maman had sent André to fetch me, and though he tried to scold, I knew he loved the wildness of it as much as I. I knew of no more powerful thrill than standing high over the ocean before a storm hit, feeling the furious humid breath of the wind on my face, my skirt and shawl flapping in taut curtains behind me.
But now the cold wet greyness of the days only reflected my mood. From my safe refuge in the doorway I stared across the courtyard of Hôpital Général de Québec, wondering if there might ever come a day when the beautiful central garden might bloom again, a day when people could once again stroll unafraid through the manicured walkways. I didn’t blame the rain. It wasn’t responsible for the neglect; God was doing his best to bring life back to the hospital gardens. The war, the damn English, and the greed of men must bear the weight of that blame.
The thought raised heat in my cheeks, but it was not the kind of warmth I craved. I mused briefly with the idea of going to the kitchen and pretending to be of help while I snuggled close to the fire, but the room would already be too crowded. Besides, I knew my place here. When I could stand the chill no longer I would go back inside and breathe in hot, stale air where the wounded and ill suffered, where desolate families gathered.
Years ago, Anna and her mother had taught me the Mi’kmaq ways of healing, and I’d been fascinated by the lessons. At the time I could have had no idea that someday I might use them to become somewhat of a healer among my own people, helping women, children, and the infirm who had run out of places to hide and could no longer take care of themselves. After my body had recovered from the ravages of the pox, I had been given a home in the hospital because of what I could do for the other sufferers.
No one could help me heal. I was on my own, adrift on a sinking raft, floating without the aid of a breeze. I fought the gnawing exhaustion, knowing I needed to be strong, but the truth was I felt weaker by the day, worn down by so much heartache and so little hope. I had come this far, surviving the pox and its aftermath, stumbling through the dark to find some kind of security here, but the hospital hadn’t been able to offer much besides four walls and the small comfort of other souls living near me. The British had blockaded the river for months, cutting off supplies, and everyone was on rations. Until they relented, things would only get worse. If the people of Quebec weren’t dying of injuries, they were slowly starving to death, and I had helped bury more infants than I would ever forget. Their grieving mothers had often followed, and I’d done my best to arrange it so they could be buried near each other. My days and nights were spent at bedsides, offering what little I could while mopping sweat and humidity from my face and neck.
It had been a hot, sticky summer. I supposed I should be grateful for the rain. When it stopped, would I see a rainbow? I already knew that when the sun shone at last I would take off my worn moccasins and dance through the wet grass, maybe even splash in a puddle. Perhaps I would encourage some of the children to join me. Anything to brighten my days.
I no longer jumped when the British fired shells at the city, crushing buildings, creating a wasteland of what I assumed had once been a thriving city. The impact vibrated against the windows like thunder, but people rarely reacted anymore, other than to dive deeper into their prayers. Indeed, more prayers than medicines were being used in this hospital. The city of Quebec was being destroyed, and sometimes I became infuriated by how the French army never seemed to fight back. I understood their supplies were as limited as were those of the general population, and I imagined their ammunition was low as well, but even a little show of strength might help these people feel a little stronger. Might help me feel a little braver.
Was it raining in Grand Pré? Could I even remember that looked like? Smelled like? Sounded like? Four years had stolen even the comfort of memories. Had they built anything over the mounds of our burned homes and farms? Were Anna and her family still safely sheltered in their wigwam, wrapped in furs and telling stories I knew so well? Were Henri and Michel still safe with them?
What about André? Where was he? After all this time, the question still hung in my mind, always in the way. It made no sense that he would abandon us the way he had. Whenever I thought of him, of his stiff back and commanding eyes, I was confused. I had never imagined living without my brother, and he had never even said goodbye. Would I ever know the answer?
Today I let melancholy lead my thoughts. I gave myself permission to ask the question I often tried to avoid: What about Connor? Where was he?
Thinking of him hurt, but the pain was different from how it felt when I thought about my family. It had taken a while for me to come to terms with the realization that the torment I felt every time I imagined his face was more than just disappointment that he hadn’t been able to protect me, to do what he’d promised he’d do. Over the past four years I had suffered more than he could ever know, and the truth was he could have done nothing about any of it.
No, the pain that pulsed through me whenever I thought of Connor came from regret. I’d fallen in love with him then lost him, all in the space of a few hurried weeks. I had no idea if he still lived, yet here I was, all these years later, wishing that somehow he could appear before me, his warm eyes full of the love I’d seen before. The last time I’d seen that look had been on the ship. Before I’d silently bid him farewell through the fog.
I turned, surprised to hear anyone call my name. I had been awake for hours, tending to patients. Seeing my exhaustion, someone had finally sent me away to rest. Usually that meant I was left alone for a while, not disturbed unless it was an emergency.
“Oui. What do you need?”
A small, timid woman approached—Beatrice Lachance, I recalled just in time—her hands clutched in front of her. Beatrice had only recently arrived at the hospital and was anxious to help, but the woman didn’t have any idea what she was doing. “I’m am sorry to interrupt, mademoiselle, but they say they need your help with that little boy with the … em, the wounded leg.”
“Little Jean? What happened?”
“It has started to bleed again,” she said reluctantly, as if it were her fault.
“Eh bien,” I said, straightening. The cool hard doorframe had been an odd sort of comfort, and now that I stood without it, I missed it. I gave Beatrice a reassuring smile. “Let us go and see what we can do.”
Out of habit I patted the little bag hanging over my shoulder, which I constantly filled with whatever I thought I might need for medical emergencies. I carried it with me at all times. It had become a habit, since I was so often stopped for help in the hallway or when I walked outside. It only made sense for me to keep it with me. I dug inside and pulled out a small pouch.
“Do you recall what I said about bunchberry? Remember we went to pick it just the other day, before the rain started?”
My assistant’s eyes widened. “Oh yes! Bunchberry. Let me see. I need to … em …”
Everything learned is taught, I reminded myself. I must be patient. I pulled out a few leaves and handed them to her. “Put these in your mouth and chew—but don’t swallow. These will help stop the bleeding.”
Beatrice chewed as we climbed the stairs to the children’s area. Jean was in a central bed, recovering after a nasty fall. He’d gotten cut on a sharp rock edge, and I had sewn his wound shut despite the wailing child’s objections. Fortunately, the cut wasn’t festering, but his restless movements had torn the skin again. I nodded toward the boy, encouraging Beatrice to pack the cut with the sodden leaves, then I left her there. I wanted her to know she could do some of these things on her own, not rely on me. Once she seemed secure, I started walking through the room. I had many other people to visit.
“Monsieur Bisset,” I said, stopping beside one bed. “How are you this afternoon, sir?”
“I am cold,” the old man told me, irritably gathering a threadbare blanket around himself. “I am always cold, and that child, Isabeau, left the shutters open.”
I touched his forehead, relieved to hear him complaining. I had worried we might lose him a few days ago, but he was back to his old, grumpy self at last. “I shall find you another blanket, monsieur. And I shall close the window for you so you may sleep comfortably.”
The window was above the head of his bed, and when I leaned over to pull the shutters closed I noticed the rain was finally beginning to slow. After the tumult, the silent, gathering mist seemed almost eerie. Claire certainly would have seen it as a warning. For a moment I thought I heard something, so I stood still, listening hard. I heard nothing but the tap! tap! tap! of water dripping from the roof into the mud puddles below. And yet the feeling persisted.
Nothing had happened in the hospital to cause alarm, and no new patients had been admitted. The rain looked to be done for now, and later I hoped to enjoy a vivid pink sunset along with some of the others. Tomorrow would be lovely, I was sure, and I planned to enjoy what sunshine I could.
That was my plan. Everything changed when my Mi’kmaq protector appeared at the hospital gates.
As before, he spoke not a word and made no sign that he even heard my questions. He looked no different from how he had appeared months before, although perhaps he seemed a little ragged. As if he’d been living rough. He wore no shirt, and his buckskin leggings looked worn. His eyes, as always, scanned the world around him, always alert.
From his tight expression, I was clearly expected to accompany him again. Mystified, I followed him away from the hospital, through wet forest pathways I never could have found on my own. With every step we drew closer to the terrible booming noises of battle. It was midmorning when we arrived at an open field, and I realized we were only about a quarter mile from the battle. Puffs of smoke followed deafening musket blasts, and I began to be aware of the awful noise of men screaming. I stayed as close to my guide as he would allow, my eyes streaming from the sulphuric smoke in the air. The vibrating closeness of the guns terrified me, yet I was fascinated by the reality of where I stood, of the trembling earth beneath my feet. A sudden boom pitched me forwards, and I scrambled back to my feet, wanting to see the responsible cannon. White smoke still rose from its barrel.
My guide was not happy with the delay. He ran back and jerked me into motion, but for the first time, I rebelled. I planted my feet and glared at him. None of this made any sense. After months of my not seeing him, why would he suddenly appear and lead me to this field of death?
“Why would you bring me here?” I demanded in Mi’kmawi’simk. “I do not belong here! Take me back to the hospital where I can make some sort of difference to people.”
The ground beneath me rumbled, and the air pounded with another explosion of cannon fire. I lost my balance and fell again, but I recovered into a squat, ready to run. The warrior crouched low beside me, his eyes straight ahead. This time screams of the cannon’s victims travelled clearly across the field and jammed the breath in my throat. I no longer wanted to stay here. Tears poured from my eyes, but they were not due to the smoke.
“Please,” I sobbed. “I cannot help here. I … I’m not equipped.”
He swallowed but kept his eyes on the field, seeming unaffected by the violence of the scene. I was grateful he had at least paused so I could catch my breath.
“Please,” I begged. “Please take me back.”
Another explosion hit the earth, but rather than stay in hiding my guide stood and dashed to the trees at the side of the field. I raced behind him, afraid for my life. I had no breath or time for tears, and I could only hope I would understand the reason for this adventure soon enough. When we reached the tree, I ducked under branches and wound around trunks and stones, always moving. My guide didn’t seem to care if I kept up or not by this point. He was clearly on a mission, and I was expected to stay with him. He had little to fear on that account, since I was too petrified to even consider crossing back across that field on my own.
I began to be aware of movement within the trees around me; my guide and I were no longer alone. Shadows slid silently through the maze of trees, hidden from anyone not trained to see in the dark. I, however, was like an owl. My pale white skin was as obvious as could be in this quiet world, and I knew everyone was watching me. If only I knew what they were looking for.
The noises of battle grew louder as we moved through the trees, and everything in me screamed that I should run the other way. Only danger lay ahead, I was certain. When another cannon blast fired, much closer this time, I froze. My guide paused and looked back.
I shook my head. “I do not want to go there,” I told him quietly. “Please don’t make me go there.”
He stepped closer to me, and I saw again that look I had first seen in his eyes. He seemed to be looking beyond my expression, trying to see inside me. As if he knew me. It wasn’t uncomfortable, but it was confusing. I stared back helplessly.
A blast of musket fire exploded near the tree line, and my head turned reflexively toward it. In the moment where I looked away from him, the Mi’kmaq warrior touched the side of my face with his fingertips, holding me there. I didn’t dare move. I hardly dared breathe.
“What?” I whispered. “What do you seek?” He dropped his hand, and I stared at him. “You have to tell me what you want from me. I don’t understand.”
I knew he understood. I saw my words in his expression, saw a flash of empathy, and I thought I saw him fight for words. Then he let out a breath, and that was all. Instead of words, he took my hands in his. It was the first time he had physically touched me, other than when he’d carried me to the hospital when we’d first arrived. His hands were warm and twice as large as my own. The liquid brown of his eyes looked down from a lofty height, but instead of being intimidated, I relaxed somewhat. He wanted—no, he needed me to trust him. The big fingers closed more tightly over mine in an attempt to reassure me. Then he released one hand and gently pressed his fingers against my chest, then his. He was connecting us. Our mission was important, and he needed me to believe that.
I swallowed hard, hoping I had read him correctly. “You will protect me?”
Finally he smiled, though he never revealed his teeth. He nodded once. I will protect you. His silent promise was loud and clear in his eyes.
I blinked a few times, daring myself, then I nodded.
We ran again, and I focused on the straight line of his back while trying not to trip on roots or stones in our path. Before long we were parallel to the battle, and I saw injured French soldiers and their Indian companions being dragged from the field, pulled deeper into the security of the forest. My guide adjusted our route so that we, too, were out of shooting range, and his pace finally slowed.
I heard the men around me now, their moans and cries as they were tended, and I realized I had been brought here as a healer. With a new sense of purpose I crouched beside one of the fallen Maliseet warriors and started to examine his bleeding leg. But when I reached into my bag, my guide grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet, shaking his head emphatically. Another man stepped in, ready to aid the fallen warrior, but I was confused. I opened my mouth to object again, but he had already turned and was leading me toward a number of rough shelters in the trees. Perhaps the more badly injured were in there, I thought. Frowning, I waited outside a tent while he opened one of the large canvas flaps so I could pass underneath.
It was dark within, the air ripe with blood and fear. I glanced back as the flap closed, but my guide had not come inside. I clutched my bag and began walking into the makeshift ward, checking on the fallen men. The faces I saw were mostly Mi’kmaq or other kinds of Indians. None were familiar to me.
“Amelie? Is it you?”
My heart leapt into my throat, and I spun towards the voice I knew so well. “Michel!”
He laughed out loud, and tears cut through the grime on his face. “Oh, Amelie! What are you doing here?” His smile faltered, but he forced it back. “This is not a good place for you to be.”
Four years had turned Michel into a man. All trace of boyhood roundness was gone from his lean cheeks, replaced by ruddy skin and the beginnings of a black beard, all of which were caked in dried dirt and blood. His dark hair had grown well past his shoulders, and he had tied it behind his neck. The blue eyes I had so often seen twinkling with mischief were rimmed with red. They were also wide and incredulous, staring at me.
Dizziness washed over me, and I dropped to my knees beside him. He caught me firmly in his arms and pulled me tight against him.
“My God, Amelie. I thought . . . I thought . . .”
His chest was hard and warm, and he smelled like he had gone a very long time without washing. I breathed in the stink and thanked God for it. When I drew away, I noticed Michel’s lower body was covered in a blanket, and I carefully folded it back.
“It is only broken,” he said almost apologetically.
When I was satisfied it had been treated as well as could be in this place, I frowned. “But this was set a while back. Why are you in here with the recent patients?”
He bit his lip and narrowed his eyes, something he had always done when he didn’t want to tell me something.
“What is it?”
“It is Henri.”
I sat taller, surprised. Both my brothers were here? What happy news! Just as quickly, dread filled my belly with ice. “He is here? But what is wrong?”
He swallowed and his eyes were suddenly shiny with tears. His hand went to another blanket, just behind him. “He is here, Amelie.”
From the look on his face, I was sure Henri was dead. My other brother lay still, barely breathing, all colour leeched from his face. My fingers went instinctively to his brow, seeking heat but finding little. I hadn’t seen the wound yet, but at least he had no fever. When I glanced at Michel, he looked away, so I folded back Henri’s blanket on my own.
“Oh no,” I whispered, trying very hard not to cry again. Someone had pulled a leather belt tightly around my brother’s upper left arm, hoping to stop the bleeding before he lost it all. Everything from just above his elbow was gone, taken by a cannon, I assumed. The explosion had also cut a wide swath across his side; his ribs and belly were tightly wrapped.
I placed my hand very lightly on the bandage. “How bad is this injury, Michel?”
He wouldn’t look. “His arm, Amelie. It’s gone.”
“Yes, yes. I can see that. What about his chest? Is it bad?”
“I do not know.”
I had thought the worst of the pain had to be over, but as I stared at Henri my heart broke yet again. “Oh, Michel. It will be all right,” I told us both. “I will take care of him, and when he is well enough we shall make sure his other arm learns how to do everything. He was always quick to learn new things. He will be all right.”
Michel glared at his leg with disgust. “I should have been there with him, but I was stuck here.”
“Then I could have lost you both,” I said quietly. “And I would never have known what happened. It will be all right, Michel. We will make it all right.”
“Why are you here, Amelie? Here in the middle of a battlefield. This is no place for you.”
I started to tell him that I was living in the hospital, that I was helping with the wounded there, but we were both distracted by the sound of men’s voices raised with excitement. It sounded like a large group, and as they came closer I realized they were yelling in French.
“The militia,” Michel said. “We do not usually have much to do with them, but this morning has been bad. Perhaps they have run out of places to heal themselves.” He smiled. “Or maybe they heard a beautiful woman had come here to help fix them up.”
My objection was interrupted by a man’s tortured cry, then the flap opened and I stared numbly at the bodies they carried in. I had never seen so much blood in one place. The stink of the tent was suffocating, and though I avoided breathing through my nose, I could not escape it altogether. I stood, then I stumbled, dizzy and nauseous.
“My sister needs air,” Michel cried. “Someone take her outside!”
“I’m all right,” I said, but my words came from far away. Tiny stars flickered through my sight. “I … I … am …”
My eyes opened to a canopy of trees. I lay on the cool ground, and a large rock poked into my shoulder blade.
“Are you all right now, Amelie?”
The voice belonged to a quiet Mi’kmaq woman, and her kind eyes were so familiar they took my breath away.
“He needs me to go with him,” I told Anna. “He only comes to me when he needs me to go with him.”
“I will come too,” she said, smiling. “Now I’m curious.”
For so many reasons I was glad to have her with me. Her fingers fumbled around mine until we hooked them together as we had as little girls. Me’tekw led us to another rough shelter, and he stopped at the entrance.
“Will you come in?” I asked.
A gentle smile lifted one corner of his mouth, but he shook his head. I will wait here.
Beside him, Anna was looking restless. Her gaze returned to my brothers’ tent, and she smiled apologetically. “You should go in,” she said. “I will come right back, but I need to check on your brothers first.”
I nodded, and Me’tekw held open the flap. Again the place was dark and smelled of blood and sickness. Would I ever get used to the foulness of war? The waste of human life? Would a day ever come when I could be truly happy and carefree again, when I could forget all this?
A man to my right groaned, but when I leaned down I did not recognize him. His arm was strapped tightly against his chest, but I saw no other injuries.
“Sleep, soldier,” I said quietly. “You will survive this.”
“Who’s that?” I heard. “Who is here?”
I froze. Could it be?
“Who is it?” he demanded, frustration in his voice.
André. My beloved oldest brother lay a few feet to my left, his face bandaged and his eyes covered. But he breathed. He spoke. He lived. Beaten and bloody almost beyond recognition, but I would have known him anywhere. His chest was wrapped as well. I didn’t know where to touch him where it might not hurt, but I needed so badly to convince myself that he was real. I settled for placing my hands over his where they rested on his stomach.
I had been wrong. There were four of us left.
“Oh, André,” I cried, dropping beside him. Sobs caught in my throat, and I forced my way through. “It is me! Amelie!”
“Amelie?” he whispered. I saw his chest rising and falling quickly, and the thrill that he felt raced through my heart as well. “Amelie?”
Four years ago, two of my brothers had sunk to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Shortly after, my mother and Claire joined them in heaven, having succumbed to starvation and sickness. They had died within hours of each other.
Giselle and Papa had done the same, dying together, leaving me all alone.
They were all gone. For so long I’d been by myself. Now, in the space of an hour, Me’tekw had brought me all of my brothers, hurt but alive.
When the initial shock had passed and our tears had dried, I demanded that André tell me all. I learned he had joined Joseph Broussard—otherwise known as Beausoleil, the leader of the Acadian rebels. Broussard was also the brother of my friend, Alexandre, and Victor’s uncle. André said he and the others had watched helplessly as our ships pulled away from the port so long ago. After we were gone, he had fought with the rebels for four years. When he heard the fight was moving to Quebec, he had gone as well.
André, my solid virtuous brother, had become a rebel—though considering his injuries, I thought he might have seen the end of those days. I hadn’t seen his eyes yet, but I had to wonder if he was blind. I ached with sympathy at the thought of scars taking over his handsome face, but at least he was alive.
He did not know Henri and Michel were so close. He listened, rapt, as I told him of their injuries, then I gave him the happier news of their marriages and children.
Eventually, he faded off to sleep at my urging. With a deep, grateful swell of love, I watched the muscles of his face relax. And yet, tears of grief rolled down my cheeks. The miracle of having my loved ones back only reminded me of how many were gone.
Me’tekw opened the flap of the tent, bringing in light. He waited for me at the tent’s opening, and for once he seemed impatient. I gave my brother a soft kiss on the cheek and got to my feet.
“Thank you,” I said to Me’tekw. “I don’t know how you did it, but you have brought us all together. I can never thank you enough.”
He tilted his head to one side and walked away, clearly in a hurry.
“What? There can’t be more,” I told Me’tekw, following him closely. “I have no more family.”
He simply strode deeper into the forest, and I followed without further question. I ached to return to my brothers, but clearly I owed Me’tekw my attention as well as my gratitude.
We came upon four Mi’kmaq warriors standing together in the trees, their arms folded, their heads close in conversation. Two of the four were bandaged, but they seemed relatively unhurt. I waited for an explanation. If Me’tekw wanted me to help someone, he would have to be more forthcoming.
The men faced us as we approached, and I saw the respect in their expressions when they saw my companion. Now that I knew who he was, I understood their deference. I was surprised, though, when Me’tekw stepped behind me. The men stared at me, not comprehending any more than I did. Me’tekw only nodded at them, waiting.
“We have found a man,” one of the Mi’kmaq eventually said, looking up at Me’tekw as if to ask permission. Me’tekw nodded, looking pleased to have been understood. “He says he is a friend of your brother’s, but we do not trust him.”
“He is the enemy,” another said, sneering. “I would like to slit his throat.”
They seemed in agreement, but I didn’t know what to say. Me’tekw nudged the middle of my back, prompting me.
“Why didn’t you?” I asked the men. “Why ask me?”
“He is Me’tekw’s prisoner. Perhaps he wants you to tell us if he is André’s friend or not.”
“I don’t know André’s friends,” I told them. “I didn’t even know he was alive until just now.”
They frowned at each other then seemed to make up their minds. The first man spoke again. “You will come and see.”
I shrugged and followed them to where a man sat on the ground, tied to a tree. He was facing away from us, but I could see as I got closer that his hands were bound before him, and his arms were swathed in the detestable red coat. A sick feeling of dread settled in my stomach. I was certain not to know this stranger, and if I admitted that, would they kill him in front of my eyes? I could not bear to see that, even if he were an enemy. But war was war, and the victors were entitled to the spoils, I’d heard. I swallowed, determined to tell the truth then turn away as soon as I could so as to avoid the violence that was sure to follow.
The prisoner’s head was lowered so that his short dark beard touched his chest, and his hair hung limply around his cheeks, hiding his face. Despite his posture, I knew he wasn’t asleep as he pretended to be. I stood before him, glaring down.
“Who are you who claims to be my brother’s friend?” I demanded.
He hesitated. “No,” I heard him whisper, but the sound was one of disbelief, not anger.
Slowly Connor raised his head, and I forgot to breathe. Stars sparked in my head, whirling dangerously behind my eyes. I must have wavered, because Me’tekw’s hands gripped my arms, keeping me upright. His hands were so tightly bound he couldn’t move. I glanced up, and Me’tekw passed his knife to me. I sawed quickly through the bindings and Connor’s hands fell free. Weeping without restraint, I grabbed one of them and held it to my cheek, closing my eyes and riding waves of happiness. He cut the ropes around Connor’s waist, setting him free, then both men stood and faced each other. I clung helplessly to Connor’s arm, never wanting to let him go again.
When the fighting was over and the dead and injured were being retrieved from the field, we headed to the city. Quebec was a terrible place to be – WHY???? – , but they needed healers so I did what I could to help. The city was beyond exhausted by five long years of famine and fear, and nothing I did seemed to help. The walls had been pounded by the guns of the British until they barely stood, and any families who could afford to do so fled for Montreal or Trois-Rivières to start fresh. Others sought refuge at the hospital, but that old building soon ran out of room.
Connor and I were married in a small service in Quebec City. He had offered to take me back to Acadia—or rather to Nova Scotia—so I could be married in the same church where I had been baptized as a baby, but I told him I didn’t want that. I ached to return to my home, but I could not imagine walking into that church. I knew very well that the war had started way beyond that building, but I still saw it as the core of so much evil. The devil had stolen my church. To my surprise, Connor seemed relieved at that. He said he’d spent too much time there, and it held memories for even him which he would like to forget.
Connor did not return to the army. CHANGE THIS —– THEY DID NOT GO BACK TO GRAND PRE At his request, he was posted back in Grand Pré as some sort of peacekeeper, and he built me a small house by the sea. Yes, we were newlyweds, but there were no friends and family to celebrate and help us build, so it was a slow process. Over time we added a barn, to which we introduced chickens, goats, and eventually a couple of cows.
The sun was sinking, a chill setting in, and Connor stepped behind me so he could fold his arms around me and rest his chin on my head.
It would take years before Acadia could thrive again. If she ever did, she would no longer be called Acadia. Our home was “Nova Scotia” now, though her paths, her sky, and her air would always be Acadia to me. The shoreline had changed drastically, bringing the water so much closer, because the English had destroyed the dikes after we had been shipped away. The destruction made no sense to me, for now the fertile, generous fields had been given back to the sea, and she had devoured it. When I asked Connor what they could possibly have been thinking to do that, he only said they were claiming the land as their own, making sure the Acadians had nothing left.
“It doesn’t matter,” he said. “They’d have had no idea how to do it as you had.”
“I have heard tell they’re bringing some of the Acadians from the prisons in Halifax, expecting them to put this place back in order then teach them how it’s to be done,” he said, then he let out a resigned breath. “But I don’t think that will happen. They destroyed it, and though the land will survive, the dikes and fields will become a chapter in stories.”
“But that is a tragedy!”
“Many a story ends in tragedy,” he told me, wrapping an arm around my waist. “And though you are right, this one need not end that way. For I have you, and that is the most wonderful of endings right there.”
I snuggled into him, letting him comfort me, loving the strength of his arm and the warmth of his soft linen shirt against my cheek, but my eyes still passed over the shoreline, now so unfamiliar. How many times had I stood here as a child, taking it all for granted? How could I have known life was not to be trusted, that so much could be taken away? My sisters, my parents, my poor little brothers, all gone. I saw them here, remembered them raking hay in the barn, pulling fish from the weirs and hoisting the basket over their shoulders as they carried them up to the house. I breathed in and though salt was thick in the air, what I remembered was the sweet aroma of Maman’s bread cooling, her pies baking in the oven.
When last I saw Michel, he was struggling to walk without crutches. His broken leg healed more easily than the shrapnel and gunshot wounds suffered by my other brothers, and he was determined to be the strong, supportive one, helping them all through. I was never so proud of him as I was when he helped his older brothers, wearing a smile on his weary face.
André lost an eye, but the wound which had caused so much blood to spill over the wet Quebec grass had been on the surface. Anna was able to sew him up, and he was soon up and learning how to balance again. My André had always been quiet, speaking only when necessary, but his thoughts had sunk deeper since all this had begun. His grief had built like a wall, and his words could not climb over it.
Dear Henri did not survive more than two days after that fateful battle, but I was with him at the end. Anjij and my beautiful namesake traveled to us, needing to be with him, and they arrived just in time to say goodbye. After so many deaths, one might think I could become hardened to another, but it does not work that way. All of us were there for him, gathered around, holding him as his shudders weakened. He had garnered enough strength to touch his daughter’s little cheek and wish her a long life, then he had kissed Anjij and left us.
Anna, Anjij, and the rest of my Mi’kmaq family faded into the forest as they always had.
My two remaining brothers did not come home with me. They went off to the woods with the Mi’kmaq, though I had pleaded with them to come. Connor had explained to us all about the parcels of land in Nova Scotia, how he had one for us with plenty of room for them, but they said they could not look upon that land again. She was no longer theirs, they said, and they would not love another man’s woman.
I never saw Me’tekw again, but I imagine him sometimes, paddling silently through the calm cool of the river, seeking a new direction for his life.
“This is not the ending,” I told him.
He made a soft, noncommittal sound.
“It isn’t,” I insisted, speaking matter-of-fact. “In fact, soon we will start a new chapter.”
He hesitated, and I practically felt his question before he lifted his chin and asked. “What adventure do you have planned for us now, my love?”
I turned in his arms and sank my face into his shirt, breathing in his scent and thanking God for allowing me to live to this moment. He was frowning curiously down at me when I lifted my chin.
“Do you know how to build a crib?”
The frown was replaced by a broad, brilliant grin. “Amelie!” he cried, pulling me off my feet. He lifted me high, holding my stomach to his face so I saw over his head. Laughing, he spun around, and I clung to his shoulders, watching the colours of the landscape blend around me. I had spun like this as a child, though I had done it on my own two feet. I had spread my arms like wings and laughed up at the clouds, rejoicing in life as the sun warmed my smiling face.
Years before, I had stared back at the burning remains of our beautiful Acadian life, its roaring colours blurring my tears, and I had silently promised my missing brothers I would survive. Just before we’d stepped on board the ship, my sister had promised our family would live here again someday.
Claire was no longer with me except in spirit, but she had been right. We both had.
I had survived. And now Connor and I would start a new family, right here in the land of our people.