The torch flashed across the river's surface and drew the
dark-eyed, shimmering prey, their instinctive bodies twisting and
darting toward the luminous deceit. Evangeline leaned toward
Gabriel, her free hand outstretched for balance, the pine pitch
hissing as it cast its halo around his feet. They balanced on
posts, surplus from a past season’s dike building that had
been sunk beyond the barriers so fishermen could tie off their
small boats. After several years, the moorings jutted at rude
angles from the soft bottom, but they had chosen these tenuous
perches to show off for each other. If they did misstep, the water
was only knee-deep.
Gabriel thrust, and withdrew the spear. The scales of the small
salmon glistened like metal as he freed it from the iron point and
flipped it to shore where it lay, silently gasping on the dark
riverbank. After he had added several more, Evangeline let their
torch slip into the Gaspereau, and they sat beside the catch,
talking quietly and watching the few other torches flicker until
the sky softened into dawn.
Home for Evangeline was the top of the hill, but Gabriel had a
long walk back to the Habitant, where he might still arrive in time
for the day’s work at his father’s smithy. There would
be no sleep for Gabriel, but she could expect a few restful
Grand Pre woke early and noisily on summer mornings. The spear
fishermen trudged home past farmers headed toward the water to
check on stock left overnight to graze. The cattle were unmarked,
but each knew his own as well as his neighbor’s. Children
hurried through milking and wood gathering to free themselves to
spend the afternoon on the river. A skiff was beached on the gray
mud flat of the Minas, landlocked by the ebb tide. A man sat in the
boat, sewing a linen patch onto the canvas sail. As he worked, the
man looked out to sea, worried over what he might find there.
Around them, the Success’ passengers divided into
bands and occupied themselves scavenging for materials to build
shelters and light fires while tending to the sick. As the sky
darkened on their first night in Carolina, Etienne Gravois walked
into the ring of their firelight.
“Basil, Gabriel, I’m so glad to have found you.
I’ve just found my mother up the beach with my
brother’s family. Is it all right to bring everyone
over?” His clan waited in the dark, more than a dozen
shadows. His father and Alain exchanged a look, and his father
“None of us have been sick, Etienne.”
“We haven’t either, Basil.”
Basil hadn’t reused the filthy wrapping covering his
wound, but, in spite of the crusted blood, looked whole and
menacing for the first time since entering the church.
“You’re going to need to make your own
“This is absurd. My family’s freezing. It’s
Basil dug around the logs at the edge of the fire and drew one
out, its tip as red as from the forge.
“It’s best if we keep to ourselves, and then this
sickness won’t spread further than it has to.” Basil
motioned with the brand. “Walk down the beach aways and dig
up some grass.”
Etienne opened his mouth but said nothing, standing stunned for
a moment before regaining his composure and leading his family
away. Gabriel gathered up an armload of wood and followed his
father down the beach where he dumped the gift and returned to
their fire without a word. Neighbors from home were quickly become
strangers, Gabriel thought.
As they closed on the fort they saw heavy smoke rising lazily,
and a man in a blue hunting coat sat on a flat rock near two
well-used canoes at the water’s edge. He got to his feet
slowly, his musket slung over his shoulder.
“We’re French,” Felician called out.
“Come ashore, then,” the sentry shouted back, louder
than was needed for only their ears.
They did, and the man helped them drag their canoe onshore
alongside the others.
“Geoffrey Lafourge,” he said, shaking hands with
each of them, including Evangeline, as though she were a man.
“Welcome to Fort Defiance.”
“Good name, son,” Felician said.
“Well, we haven’t earned it, Father,” the
soldier said. “I never actually saw a battle myself, though
this frontier has me acquainted me with death so that I forget the
“Why are you still showing your colors?” Bernard
“Because no one has bothered to come take them
down,” Geoffrey answered, “and I don’t have a
flag of the union to run up there for them.”
Not quite the resilient garrison they had hoped, Evangeline
thought, as they followed the soldier up a trail lined with the
copper fleur-de-lis emblems they’d seen upriver. The earth
was dry and hard as rock underfoot in the late summer, and she was
sweating by the time they reached the top of the hill. They passed
between two bastions and through the open gate. There was an
unmanned redoubt inside the gate, several low buildings, and a
sturdy-looking magazine. Two separate fires burned, though the
small compound was nearly empty.
Near one, two squaws in rags of blue uniforms stooped over a
“Turtle soup,” Geoffrey volunteered, nudging one of
the large shells almost respectfully with a moccasin. The fleshy
undercarriages heaved in the boil like the flayed pelts of tiny
people. The steam carried an aroma like ancient wood, moldy and
moss-encrusted, dragged loose from some equatorial swamp and laid
spattering atop the coals.
“It takes an awfully long time to boil the fat off a
turtle.” The soldier shrugged and moved toward the
encampment’s other fire.
Shells were scattered amid the bones of other animals throughout
the interior of the stockade. Blood’s tang was fresh and
heavy on the air where it coalesced with the disquieting odor of
the soup and gave the open courtyard an unholy smell, the reek of
At the other fire was a man wearing only pants, bald but with
dark hair over his chest and back. He rested on his haunches,
skewering hunks of venison. The remains of the kill lay near to
hand, and Evangeline was relieved to have found the source of the
“How many of you are there?” Felician asked the man
who escorted them.
“Just the four of you?”
Felician looked back at the two women around their own fire, who
might have been on a mountain across the world for the attention
they paid the newcomers.
“No, there are four of us.” Geoffrey pointed to the
half-naked man poking sticks through meat. “There are two of
them.” He didn’t gesture this time.
Excerpted from EVANGELINE ©