Authors: Philip Roy
by Philip Roy
Copyright Â© 2012 Philip Roy
This book is a work of fiction. The characters and events depicted are products of the author's imagination.
All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or used in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information storage or retrieval system, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Cape Breton University Press recognizes fair dealing exceptions under Access Copyright. Responsibility for the opinions, research and the permissions obtained for this publication rest with the author.
Cape Breton University Press recognizes the support of the Canada Council for the Arts, Block Grant program, and the Province of Nova Scotia, through the Department of Communities, Culture and Heritage, for our publishing program. We are pleased to work in partnership with these bodies to develop and promote our cultural resources.
Cover design by Cathy MacLean Design, Pleasant Bay, NS
Layout by Mike Hunter, Port Hawkesbury and Sydney, NS.
eBook development by Wild Element
First printed in Canada
Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication
Roy, Philip, 1960-
Blood brothers in Louisbourg : a novel / Philip Roy.
Cape Breton University Press
P.O. Box 5300
Sydney, Nova Scotia B1P 6L2 CA
by Philip Roy
Cape Breton University Press
Sydney, Nova Scotia, Canada
met a ghost once. Well, he wasn't really a ghost, he was a warrior who could fly over walls like a bird and run under the ground like a rat and never make a sound. I saw him only a dozen times or so when he didn't even know I was there. We never spoke. I suppose he did try to kill me. He thought I was his enemy. I admired him anyway.
y father served the King, Louis XV. He was a captain and military engineer in the
Compagnies franches de la Marine
. He sailed on the King's ships and wore the King's uniform and liked to joke that he sat on the King's pot. But he never actually met the King. He built His fortresses, carried His pistol and wore His insignia close to his heart but never once set eyes upon Him. I couldn't understand how he could be so devoted to a person he'd never met.
One day in my fifteenth year my father had me accompany him in his carriage to Paris, where he would receive new orders. It was a snowy day; the horses were slipping on the road. My father was in a good mood. The King had just declared war on the English. This, he said, was great news. The King would almost certainly send him back to the great Fortress of Louisbourg, where the fortifications, which he had helped design and build, would need reinforcing.
“And if I go, Jacques, then you will come with me.”
I thought he was joking. But he wasn't.
“Wear a uniform, carry a musket and defend the King! At Louisbourg, Jacques, you will become a man.”
I stared out the carriage window. The wind spun the snow into spirals. I was not close to my father. He was a stranger when I was growing up because he was always away. My earliest memory of him was when my mother put me on his knee and he picked me up, shook me and laughed. He smelled strange. He sounded strange. I was frightened and I cried. He was never home for more than a few months at a time and never paid much attention to me when he was. Now, suddenly, he was taking an interest in me.
My father loved uniforms, weapons, military strategy and anything to do with killing the enemy efficiently. He spoke of the efficiency of killing soldiers the same way he spoke of the efficiency of bridges, roads or fortifications. He loved building things and he loved war. He said the greatest glory a man could achieve was to distinguish himself in battle, especially to die in battle.
I really didn't understand. I understood his fascination with building things, such as roads and bridges and walls, but where was the glory in killing people? Or dying? That didn't make any sense to me at all. I loved learning about new things, especially scientific inventions such as the diving bell, the steam engine and the pianoforte, and music and books. Weapons were interesting too â how they were constructed and how they worked â but it bothered me that they were used to kill people. When I was little, I saw a man crushed beneath a carriage. He fell down in the street and the wheels rolled over him and killed him. I learned then that the body was not made to stand up to wood and metal. Even the strongest man's body could be broken with a block of wood. When I thought of people creating mechanical inventions to rip apart the flesh and bones of other people, I felt horrified inside. But that was a secret I kept to myself. I didn't want anyone to think I was afraid.
At fifteen I had already exceeded my father's expectations for education. No one needed
much book learning, he said. Now was the time to concentrate on the manly arts: swordsmanship, wrestling and musketry. I shut my eyes when he said that. I
wrestling, was hopeless with a sword and couldn't fire a musket to save my life. Other boys my age had fathers or older brothers around to show them those things. I didn't. Not to worry, said my father. There was still time to learn. At Louisbourg I would learn everything I needed to know to become a man. As the carriage entered the city gates I made an attempt to discuss Voltaire, my favourite writer, in the hope of showing my father that my talents lay elsewhere. Voltaire was a visionary. He wanted to make things better for France, not just for the King. The future was in the brandishing of new ideas, not swords and muskets. “Voltaire has a new way of â¦”
“Voltaire?! Voltaire is a criminal!” my father shouted. “That is why he was thrown in the Bastille. He wrote against the King. He should have been shot for that! No, you need to study the manly arts now, Jacques. You have read enough books.”
I felt desperate. “Will I be able to bring my violoncello?”
He smiled, but it wasn't genuine. “Sure. Why not? Bring anything you like, though I doubt you will feel much like playing it there. The Fortress of Louisbourg is the greatest defence system in the New World, Jacques. Just wait until you see it. You will be so impressed. And with all our military preparations, I think you will find little time for music.”
As the snow thickened on the branches outside, I tried to imagine raising a heavy musket to my shoulder, aiming and firing at an enemy soldier. He would have a look of horror on his face. He would fall to his knees, drop forward onto the ground and his blood would drip into the soil. Then, someone else would shoot me and I would fall. I would bleed to death too. I hadn't even reached my sixteenth birthday. Would my father see glory in that? That was insane. War was insane. All the great philosophers had said so. But my father hadn't read them.
As for the New World, why should I care about a place so far away? Wasn't it just filled with savages? I wouldn't go. And if my father forced me to, I would hate him forever.
My mother was upset at the thought of losing me, but would not go against my father's wishes. I could see it in her eyes, behind her tears. I didn't blame her for that. That was the way of our society. We sat down for tea the next morning. “I will bring my violoncello, Mama,” I said.
She looked troubled.
“What? What is it?”
“Jacques, your father has decided your violoncello will stay behind.”
“No, no. He clearly said I could bring it.”
She shook her head. “I don't think he meant it.”
My mind raced. I thought of running away. I had cousins in Provence. But they would not take me in if I went against my father's will. “Are you sure, Mama? He clearly said I could take whatever I liked.”
“I believe he will tell you there is space for one chest only. Can you fit your violoncello in one chest?”
“Perhaps, if I remove the neck and bridge. And I pack my things around it.”
“Jacques â¦” She took my hands. “Your father has it firmly in his mind that you will come back from the New World a grown man. That you will join him in the
Compagnies franches de la Marine
“And build fortresses?”
I shook my head. “Mama, I will write to you every day and make certain the letters are sent with each sailing ship.”
My mother's tears fell hard. How I hated to see her cry. “I know, my son. I will write you as well.” She forced herself to smile. “And perhaps you will find the pendant I gave to your father on his first voyage there. It is a turquoise oval cut with a woman's face. Look, it matches this ring. See how lovely it is? My grandmother gave it to me when I was a little girl. It was my favourite possession.”
“If it is there, Mama, I will find it.”
I packed my violoncello. I took it secretly to the instrument maker's where they separated the neck from the body and gave me glue for reattaching it. I wrapped my clothes around it and just managed to squeeze the body inside the chest. I wrapped the neck, bridge and bow, rolled up the strings and packed them all separately. This left little space for anything else so I chose my books carefully and took only what clothing I couldn't live without. I was hardly expecting to frequent high society in the rustic Fortress of Louisbourg.
wo-feathers woke in freshly fallen snow. He raised the spruce boughs that had kept him warm and listened to the silence. He had been woken by the squeal of a rabbit caught in a snare he had set the night before. Moving quietly through the snow, he grabbed the animal, freed it from the snare and held it firmly against his stomach. Petting its soft ears and whispering words of apology and gratitude, he deftly slit its throat and held on as it released its life to him.
In the pit where he had slept he built a fire, skinned the rabbit and sat roasting it. The wind twisted softly through the trees carrying the earliest scent of spring. Two-feathers breathed deeply and smiled. He had survived the harshest winter. He was not so far from the sea now, where the bluecoats had constructed their great village. It was legendary among his people, a village that had consumed the forest for half a day's walk in every direction, with weapons that blew stones the weight of a man out to sea, and a harbour of giant canoes that carried warriors beyond the sea and sky
Two-feathers was keen to see it all for himself, though that was not why he had come.
He tied his deerskin clothes tightly at the wrists and ankles to trap his body's heat, picked up his bow and pack and followed the frozen river. Soon the rivers would break apart and flow freely to the sea, and they would run thick with salmon. In the shadows of morning he heard the snap of a branch and turned â there, at the river's edge, a young doe was drinking; one he had seen the day before. She dropped her head in solitude; she did not know he was there. Two-feathers quickly fitted an arrow to his bow. The shot was clear, but he hesitated. He could not take the life of a deer for just one meal. Pursing his lips he whistled, and the startled deer fled like the wind. In its escape it roused a partridge. Two-feathers quickly aimed, and the bird gave itself in the doe's place.
As he hung the partridge from his pack, he wondered if the doe had come as a sign from the spirit of his mother, Running-deer. Perhaps she had come to guide him, or warn him, or maybe even to apologize for having left him. Many years before, he was told by his chief, she had travelled with a trading party to the bluecoats' village, where she fell in love with a young bluecoat warrior. The bluecoats sometimes took wives from his people for companionship as well as for advantage in the fur trade. But the young warrior who had won Running-deer's affection did not want to keep her; after two seasons he returned to his own land, and she to her people, the Mi'kmaq, where she gave birth to Two-feathers, so named because the blood of two peoples flowed through his veins.
Three years later, Running-deer left once more to try to reunite with Two-feathers' father, who had returned but was now married in his own land. Despairingly, she threw herself at a man who had closed his heart and would not see her. Alone and distraught, she ran from the fortress in the dead of winter. That was the story as Two-feathers had received it. No one knew what had happened to her after that, whether she met with wild animals, succumbed to the cold or simply died of a broken heart. She was never seen again.
Two-feathers was raised by the Mi'kmaq. He became the brightest young warrior of his tribe. The role of warrior came to him as naturally as flight to a bird, and he loved it with every part of his being. And yet, even as a boy he sensed that, since his father could not be counted among the Mi'kmaq, it was even more important that he become stronger, faster, more skilled and more aware than his companions. And he did. He excelled in hunting, fishing, scouting and trapping. He could make fires when the rain would not end and keep warm in the deepest cold. Still, he was never able to forget that his father was not one of them. He liked to believe that his father was a noble warrior among his
people, but a nagging doubt haunted him. What noble warrior would put the mother of his child out in the cold? Now, almost a man himself, Two-feathers needed to find out.
The woods were full of spirits. Two-feathers felt them around him in the day and night. Sometimes they took the form of animals, their favourite, and sometimes trees or plants. Usually they were peaceful and helpful, but occasionally they were angry and he had to be careful when crossing a river, or climbing a rock face or hunting a bear. This he had learned the hard way, having once brought down a young bear with his bow and arrow. As he approached, the bear suddenly leapt to its feet and clawed at his leg, cutting a deep wound. Two-feathers retaliated by stabbing the bear with his knife until it was dead. Now he carried a scar that reminded him that the spirits kept their own council and could change their minds without warning.
The woods were also frequented by trappers and soldiers: bluecoats, who were friendly; and redcoats, who were not. Two-feathers
came upon parties of each but went out of his way to avoid them. They were strong, capable men, these white-skinned warriors, but they carried strange and dangerous sickness. They salted their food until it tasted like seawater, and drank a poisonous drink that made them laugh, sing and dance until they fell down, but clouded their senses so that they could not shoot straight, nor walk straight, nor even stand up if they drank too much of it. To the Mi'kmaq this poison was particularly dangerous. Two-feathers was told many times by his chief and the warriors who trained him that he must never drink it or, once he started, he would never be able to stop. And then, though he would laugh, sing and dance, his arrows would no longer hit their targets and he would wake in the morning with pain and thunder in his head. And so he promised himself, as he promised his elders, that he would never drink the poison of the pale-skinned warriors from a faraway land, even though his father was one of them.
He could always smell, hear and see the soldiers long before they would know he was there. They travelled noisily and heavily, wrapped in so many furs they could not run nor even walk quickly through the deep snow. They stopped often and ate for three men each. But he did like their music, which they played at night when they made camp. He would sometimes camp not far away just to listen, though they would not know he was there.
Two-feathers' greatest skill was moving through the woods with invisibility. This he had learned from his teachers, but also from the animal spirits. To carry invisibility you had to first believe that you were. Then, you could cross the snow-covered river leaving no tracks because you had no weight. You could pass through the woods in silence because you made no sound. You could slip between trees unseen because you had no shape and cast no shadow. Only then, when you felt this way, could you move amongst strangers without them seeing you.
In the afternoon he heard them â soldiers â passing through the woods with a noise like falling trees. Turning into the wind, he closed his eyes and raised his nose. Their scent was strong. There were at least half a dozen of them. He wondered why they had come so far inland where there were no trading parties and few furs. And then he saw them. Redcoats! But this was land held by the bluecoats, with the help of the Mi'kmaq. Why would a party of redcoats travel so far north? Was this a scouting party? Were the redcoats preparing an attack? Two-feathers didn't care for either group of warriors, but since his people were allied with the bluecoats he felt a responsibility to find out why the redcoats were here. And so he followed them. As it turned out, they were headed in the same direction â towards the bluecoats' great village.
e sailed from St. Malo in the northwest, on the 27th of March. Ships from St. Malo sailed all over the world. It was a three-day journey by coach to get there. I travelled alone; my father followed later with his regiment. That was a good thing. Three days in a stuffy coach was bad enough, but if I had to listen to him rage against the English all the way I would have gone insane. He would have supported a war against the Austrians or the Persians or the Mongolians, if the King had declared one. War was war to a man who believed in war. However, opinions about the war actually varied quite a bit in France as I learned during the coach ride.
It was crowded. I ended up giving my window seat to a young lady travelling with her mother. Now I was boxed in and couldn't see much out the window. And so I buried my head in my book. It was a copy of Voltaire's
, in which he praises the English parliamentary system and criticizes the French monarchy. This was the book that had been banned in France, and the reason Voltaire had been imprisoned in the Bastille. Even so, there were copies being quietly handed around and I had borrowed one from an English friend of mine who played violin. Voltaire really cared about France and its people. You could tell by the way he wrote. Yes, his ideas were revolutionary, but that's what was so exciting. Real change would take courage. And Voltaire was courageous. Even the King had been unable to shut him up. As I stared out through the little patch of window, I thought how much more noble it would be to die for a revolutionary idea than for a senseless war.
As I slowly read and re-read pages of the book, which wasn't easy with the coach swaying and bouncing along the road, a rather angry-looking man across from me was watching. He wasn't really paying attention. He was sleepy. He did not strike me as an educated man, but after an hour or so his gaze slowly slid across the cover of my book. I watched as his eyes suddenly opened wide, and a look of disgust appeared on his face.
“Hey!” he barked. “What rubbish is this?”
He jumped to his feet. All in one motion he grabbed the book out of my hands, leaned across the lap of the young lady without excusing himself, opened the window and threw the book out. He sat back down with such an angry expression I didn't dare say a word.
“Heretic!” he yelled at me.
The next thing that happened surprised me even more. The man to my right, a well-dressed, elderly man, raised his cane and bumped against the roof of the coach, ordering the riders to stop. The coach came to a halt with lots of noise and shaking of the horses. The older man stepped out and held the door. Very politely he said to me, “Go. Fetch your book.”
“No!” screamed the other man. “I will not ride in a coach with a heretic!”
I saw him reach clumsily for the hilt of his sword, but the elderly man drew his own sword so quickly it appeared as if by magic. He bowed and apologized to the ladies, then politely said, “If Monsieur feels so strongly, perhaps he would like to take a moment to step outside the coach.”
The angry man took his hand away from the hilt of his sword and looked away, mumbling under his breath.
“My young scholar,” the older man said to me, “fetch your book.”
Excusing myself, I hopped out of the coach, ran down the road and found my book. I wiped the mud off it, straightened up its cover and put it into my pocket. Then I returned to the coach, thanked the elderly man and took my seat. As we resumed our journey, the man opposite me sat burning up with rage. If ever a man could have exploded out of anger it would have been him. At the next exchange of horses he left the coach and stayed behind to wait for another. He said he would not ride with heretics and traitors and swore that we were all damned to burn in Hell. I found it amazing that a single book could stir up so much anger, especially when the offended man had probably never even read it.
At St. Malo the ship sat in the harbour like a floating bee's nest. Sailors climbed all over it, loading it and preparing it for sea. At first glance I shook my head. Something about it didn't look seaworthy to me, even though I didn't know anything about sailing and had never even been on a boat before. There was nothing quick-looking about it; it just looked heavy, stumpy and slow. For two days they continued loading it until I thought it was going to sink. I smiled when they picked up my chest and carried it on board.
Finally, my father boarded the ship with his regiment and all were given sleeping quarters below deck. As I watched the soldiers march on board I thought the ship would sink for sure. Then I began to realize that there was a relationship between wood and water that was beyond all manner of reason. A ship was to a sailor what a donkey was to a farmer â a beast of burden.
I had to confess there was a moment, just a brief moment, when we first came under sail â when the ship cleared the harbour and caught its first gust of wind with full sails â when I felt a tinge of excitement. I felt the pull of the ship beneath my feet. I turned and looked at my father. He was as excited as a child.
“How now, Jacques?” he yelled.
I smiled a little. I couldn't help it. A few hours later we were barely out of sight of land when I fell into the worst case of seasickness anyone ever had. Thus began the worst month of my entire life. I felt so sick with the movement of the sea that I truly wanted to die. Night and day I lay on my bunk, except when my father forced me to my feet and onto the deck for fresh air. I wanted to die, just die and put an end to the terrible sickness in my head and stomach.
But I didn't die. Neither did I improve. At first my father was understanding. He laughed and said, “The sea will do you good. Give you the stomach of a man.” But after a week or so of my lying around whimpering like a dog, I think he began to feel embarrassed for me. “Come on, Jacques! Pull yourself together. Find the man inside of yourself!”
I didn't care. I didn't care about his stupid fortress or stupid war or stupid ideas of what a man was supposed to be, I just wanted to get off that cursed, floating nightmare. Halfway across the Atlantic, which I was beginning to believe stretched on forever and ever, and just when I thought things could never get worse â¦ they did.
I had soiled my clothes with sickness and my father went looking through my chest to find more. I never knew he was looking. He found the chest. Then, he found the violoncello. Filled with frustration and shame on my account, he broke into a rage when he saw the instrument taking up so much space, space that might have been filled with the muskets, pistols and swords of a “real” man going to war. He never said a word to me, just passed by with the body of the violoncello in one hand, the neck and bow in the other. I clambered out of bed after him. By the time I reached the deck he was already at the stern of the ship. I had hardly eaten in weeks, and my legs were wobbly. I made a desperate attempt to catch him, to yell at him to stop, but I was too late. Raising the violoncello above his head, he threw it overboard into the sea. The wind howled like a demon as the violoncello disappeared beneath the waves without a sound.
We didn't talk anymore after that. He occasionally barked a few orders at me and I obeyed, but I never looked at him or answered. I was fully prepared to suffer a whipping if he insisted on giving me one, and I think he realized that. Perhaps he felt he had gone too far. I never knew. My seasickness cleared up shortly afterwards. Something changed inside of me too, though I didn't know what it was. My father, no doubt, must have thought it was a change towards manhood. But that was the last time we ever made direct eye contact.
Well â¦ there would be one more time.
he redcoat stood on the ice and raised his musket. The deer turned her head with concern. She sensed his presence but was hearing sound from all directions and was confused. For two days the temperature had risen above freezing and the woods were filled with the anticipation of spring. The soldier braced himself and took careful aim. How pleased he would be to provide fresh meat for his companions. He placed his finger on the trigger and made one final guess for the wind.
At that very moment, Two-feathers let his arrow fly. The arrow sliced through the air and struck the bough directly above the deer. She bolted. The soldier followed her with his eye and pulled the trigger. The musket fired with a sharp concussion that echoed through the woods but missed its target. The noise angered the river. It opened up the ice directly beneath the soldier and swallowed him, musket and all. Two-feathers watched as the redcoat slipped beneath the ice without a trace. It happened too quickly and he was too far away to try to save him. The ice straightened itself and there was nothing left but the redcoat's tracks in the snow.
Two-feathers waited until the other redcoats came looking for their hunter. He saw them follow his tracks onto the river and wondered how many more the angry spirit would take. There were only five of them left. When they reached the end of their companion's tracks the river opened again and grabbed at two of them, but the others held on and fought for them. As they fought bravely, the angry spirit let them go.
The redcoats returned to their camp shouting and shaking their heads. They were angry with the river spirit and afraid of it. Perhaps they would not go any further now. But Two-feathers would. It was the third time he had rescued the young doe and now he knew she was definitely following him, or perhaps leading him. Now that she had crossed the frozen river, he would also.
As twilight descended and the redcoats drowned their sorrow in poisonous drink, Two-feathers went to the river's edge and asked for safe crossing. The river spirit refused. He explained that he needed to cross the river in order to follow the spirit of his mother, who had taken the form of a deer. The river spirit was silent. It was considering his request. Suddenly a wind gusted from behind and pushed him forwards. Two-feathers took this as a sign of permission. Standing tall, he walked boldly across the ice. He knew it was important to show that he was not afraid. If the river spirit detected any weakness in his courage it would swallow him instantly.
On the other side he did not see the doe but found her tracks. That was enough. He was certain she would appear to him again.
He found a gully, cut spruce boughs for his bed, made a fire and roasted a rabbit. The meat was tender and filling, yet not completely satisfying. Always in the spring he felt a hunger for the fruits of summer, the cranberries, blackberries, blueberries, apples, tubers and chestnuts. In the winter he ate like a fox, feasting on rabbits, pigeons and partridge. In the summer he ate like a bear, scooping salmon from the river and berries from the fields. Winter was a time of survival. Summer was a time of replenishing. Only the summertime provided the nourishment he needed to stay healthy and strong.
Two-feathers lay down in his bed and pulled the boughs around him. He drifted off to sleep dreaming of the young doe standing in a field of cranberries. In his dream, she spoke to him, with the voice of his mother.
“I have come to you,” she said, “to give your heart rest. I want you to know that, though I died young, I am content where I am. I am happy. You must not worry for me.”
The dream was pleasant and comforting but not the only visitation he received that night. Some time later, in the dead of night, he heard the howl of a wolf. But this was not a dream. It was a rare sound in the woods. Ever since the coming of warriors from beyond the sea, the wolf was rarely heard and almost never seen. And yet, Two-feathers recognized the howl instantly. He had no doubt it was an angry spirit coming to frighten him, to make him turn back. As he lay still and listened to the howls growing closer, he had to fight down his fear. He was no match against a full-grown wolf, especially in the dark. How he wished he had kept the fire going and had gathered more wood. If he kept a roaring fire through the night he might have held the wolf off from attacking until morning. But it was too late now.
The wolf's howl was very close. Of all the sounds that haunted the woods, it was the most frightening. It was a sound that spread hopelessness and fear. Two-feathers felt a shiver go up his spine. He scarcely breathed. Then, he heard the punch of paws in the snow. They were so heavy. The wolf had found his sleeping berth. Next came the sound of violent breathing as the beast sniffed at his spruce-bough cocoon. And then â¦ the growl. It was low and deep and terrifying, designed to scare the courage out of every living creature.
But Two-feathers was a warrior. If he were going to die, he would die a warrior, not a coward. Responding to the wolf's intimidation, he raised a growl from within his own chest. He didn't even hear it himself, so consumed was he with setting loose a growl more vicious than the wolf's own. Two-feathers' growl told the wolf that he was a great warrior about to rise from his sleep and take his long knife and strike the wolf down and slay him and skin him and wear his fur and dangle his teeth in a chain of decoration. All of this Two-feathers communicated in a single growl, with the greatest conviction of his life.
And he really would have risen out of his bed and struck at the wolf with all his skill. And likely he would have died. But he was never given the chance to find out. The wolf was satisfied that Two-feathers was a worthy opponent. There was no need to spill blood to prove anything. And the thought of its teeth dangling in a neckpiece did not especially appeal to the beast. There were many delicious creatures in the woods that would not be nearly so much trouble to catch and eat. So the wolf snorted and moved on. Two-feathers breathed deeply and tried to relax. The creation of such a powerful growl had exhausted him and caused his body to break out in a sweat. He shivered for a long time until his limbs finally dried and warmed again and he was able to fall back to sleep.
In the morning the doe appeared once again. Two-feathers was glad to see that she had also escaped the hunger of the wolf. But something in the look of her was different. It was as if she carried an impatience, as if where she was leading him was now not so far away. Was this, he wondered, why the spirit of the wolf had visited him; to scare him away from what he would discover today?
He followed the doe through the morning, catching glimpses of her twice and staying steadily on her tracks until they came to a great oak, an enormous tree of many generations' growth. Such a tree would surely be visited by rich and benevolent spirits. Two-feathers stood and admired the tree for a long time, offering words of respect. In its branches the voices of birds sang the song of spring, while below on the ground the ice and snow had melted away from its great trunk, revealing yellowed grass with a hint of green. Two-feathers was in awe. It was as if he had discovered the very origin of spring.
A closer look at the tree revealed an opening on one side. The trunk contained a cavity large enough for a small person to crawl inside. Gripping the wet bark with both hands, he stuck his head in. His heart beat wildly. He knew he had come to a sacred place. After a moment's adjustment to the darkness inside the tree, he opened his eyes and stared. There, curled up like an infant, was his beloved mother.
n the third of May, 1744, we sailed into Louisbourg Harbour. If this was spring in the New World I wasn't very impressed. It was cold and damp, and I couldn't see anything but rocks and a few stubby bushes. There wasn't a single flower to be seen, or even a tree. There were tree stumps but no trees. There were many cannon pointed in our direction as we glided into the harbour. Several were fired to announce our arrival. It was a wonder they didn't sink us right then and there. I had only one thought in my head â to get off that cursed ship and never set foot upon one again. That left me with a problem, of course â how to return to France. For the time being, I decided not to think about it.
The soldiers on the ship were shouting, and the people on the quay were yelling, groping at the air and waving their arms. We dropped anchor, lowered our rowboats and rowed to shore. I saw when we got closer that the people were not yelling out of excitement as much as desperation. They were more interested in the food and supplies we were carrying than the pleasure of our company.
I followed my father onto the quay. We were met by the Governor of Louisbourg, no less, and a few other local dignitaries, who stood out from the people like flowers amongst weeds. The Governor, in particular, looked out of place. He carried himself with an air of exasperation or illness, as if his being here was by accident. The people around him were very rough â soldiers and fishermen mostly. Their children were worse. They were straggly and unkempt. Not a single person struck me as having the strength, the will, nor the ferocity to defend the fortress against the English. They looked already defeated.
We were introduced to the Governor briefly; then to Monsieur Anglaise, a rich merchant who was staying with the Governor; then to the Master Engineer â a man my father liked a lot; and to the fortress priest â a man my father appeared to hate. I found the priest rather grim myself, but everyone seemed rather grim. I didn't realize that they were practically starving. The arrival of our ship was their salvation.
I was given a bed in a barracks â my father insisted; he wanted me to experience the soldier's life â but he stayed at the Master Engineer's house across the street. I could tell from the way engineers were treated that they were held in high regard in Louisbourg. They were the creators of the fortress's impenetrable defence system. I didn't see what was so impenetrable about it; the walls were just heavy blocks of stone. And the stone looked soft, as if it would crumble if you hit it hard enough.
The Governor lived in his own residence above the town. It was surrounded by a wall and moat. Entrance to his courtyard was gained through one gate only, across a drawbridge guarded by soldiers. No one passed through the gate without the Governor's official consent, but it was the guards who decided who would receive the Governor's consent and who wouldn't.
After a few days of settling in, during which time I never even saw my father, so busy was he preparing to refortify the fortress, I was called to the Governor's residence. A young servant, just a boy, came into the barracks first thing in the morning and shook my shoulder gently. I couldn't imagine why the Governor would want to see me.
As I left my bed and followed the boy through the cobblestone streets I realized that the supplies of our ship had already raised the spirits of the people. I saw it on their faces in the street. Gone was the dull greyness. In its place were rosy cheeks, laughter and a skip in their step. We had also brought news of war. This raised the spirits of many too. I couldn't imagine why.
The guards on the drawbridge knew I was coming and let me pass. I think they shared a joke on my account because I didn't look anything like a soldier. I didn't care. I wasn't trying to impress anyone here, least of all the soldiers.
The first door inside the Governor's courtyard led into the fortress chapel, where I caught a glimpse of the priest, who did not appear to have cheered up at all. We continued on our way until I was led into the rooms of the Governor, where I stood and waited. But it wasn't the Governor who wanted to see me at all. It was the rich merchant, Monsieur Anglaise. He got up from a chair next to the Governor and greeted me warmly. He seemed very happy to see me. I had no idea why.
“Ahhhhh â¦ Master Jacques! At last. Please come in. You have met the Governor.”
He gestured towards the Governor. The Governor nodded and raised his hand frivolously but never said a word. I bowed deeply. “It has been my honour, sir.”
M. Anglaise gestured for me to sit on a plush velvet chair in a corner of the room. Tea was brought in by a young maid and laid on an ornate serving table. I was impressed with the elegant dÃ©cor of the room. It was as if a small piece of proper French society had been transported into the wilds of the New World.
M. Anglaise was surprisingly talkative and appeared to have the answers to all of his questions before he even asked them. “Jacques. I understand you are an educated young man.”
I shrugged my shoulders. “I have read a few books, sir.”
“That is the answer of an educated man. Have you read Voltaire?”
“Good! Then you know that there is at least one man in France who can tell the difference between a king and an opulent ass.”
I started to smile then bit my lip. He changed his expression suddenly and stared at me intensely, not in an unfriendly way. “Words spoken in this room do not leave this room. Do you understand?”
“Good. Have you read Michel de Montaigne?”
“Yes, sir. Some.”
“Yes, sir. The dialogues.”
“Not yet. I'm planning to.”
“Ahhh, yes, you must! Then you will really understand where Voltaire is coming from.”
“A monarchy is an extravagant thing, Jacques. It's too costly for any country. Plato understood that two thousand years ago.”
I glanced at the Governor. I wondered what he thought of M. Anglaise calling the King an ass. It was probably treason, or blasphemy, punishable by death. But the Governor didn't appear to be paying attention. He started coughing. M. Anglaise got up from his seat, crossed the room, put his hand on the Governor's shoulder and squeezed it. Then he pulled it away and paced about the room thoughtfully. “Tell me, Jacques. Have you ever managed to read Boethius?”
The Consolation of Philosophy
. Yes, sir.”
“Ah, you are well educated indeed. How peculiar to have been raised in the home of a military engineer. I take it you don't share your father's views on war?”
“No, sir. I believe the destiny of France lies in the spread of new ideas, not weapons.”
“Indeed! A delightfully revolutionary view. Be careful you don't find yourself in a dungeon, my passionate young scholar. You must know that Boethius bestowed his philosophy upon us from the confines of a dungeon, do you?”
“No, sir, I didn't know that.”
“Yes, indeed. He fell out of favour with the ruling elite. Do you understand the function of a dungeon, Jacques?”
“To punish, sir?”
“Not merely, Jacques. Not merely. The function of a dungeon is to destroy the spirit of a man. Our engineers are proud of their dungeons. They claim they are escape-proof.”
M. Anglaise stopped pacing and stared out the window. He seemed far away. “But I don't imagine we have a Boethius in our dungeon now.”
“No, sir. Is there anyone in the dungeon, sir?”
M. Anglaise raised his eyebrows and deferred the question to the Governor. The Governor wiped his mouth with his handkerchief and answered dryly. “What? Oh. Yes. Yes, of course. A few drunks, I think.”
M. Anglaise looked out the window again. I still didn't know why he had summoned me. “Tell me, Jacques. Do you subscribe to the notion of the ânoble savage'?”
“I don't know, sir. I have read about it. Having never seen one, I don't know what to think.”
“It is a romantic notion, but there must be something to it. All our great writers have written of it. I am afraid we are a poor influence on the Natives here, Jacques. They still trust us though we steal their land and kill them with disease. Certainly, if there are noble people in the New World it is not the French.”
He turned from the window and faced me again. “The reason I have asked you here, Jacques, is that I have a daughter. She is a delicate and intelligent creature, the treasure of my heart. Celestine is her name. She is almost sixteen, and, like you, comes from good society and is well educated. Her mother died three years ago. It was a loss from which she has not recovered. I was unwilling to leave her behind, and, against my better judgment, brought her here, where I believe she is unhappy. Well â¦ I
she is unhappy. I understand that you are accomplished in the playing of the violoncello, is this true?”
“It is my passion, sir.”
“Excellent! Celestine enjoys the violoncello more than anything else. I do not know if she has any talent; she has not benefited from expert teaching and I am tone deaf. If you would be willing to commit some of your time and energy to her musical education, thereby bringing a few rays of sunshine into her dreary existence, I would be most grateful and will, in return, compensate you during your stay here in any way that I can.”
“I would be honoured, sir.”
“Splendid! That is what I hoped you would say. You will find her in the sitting room upstairs. Please don't be put off by her dour disposition and reticence. She has a cheery heart, really, and a sharp wit too if you can coax it out of her. It has not been an easy thing for her to spend so much time amongst the likes of soldiers and fishermen.”
“I will do my best, sir.”
He smiled, nodded his head and turned his back to me. I took that as a sign to leave. I bowed respectfully and left the room.
I climbed the stairs and stood at the doorway to the upper sitting room. It was just as fancy as downstairs. A maid stood in my way, told me to wait, then came back and led me into the room.
As I entered, I saw a shy but pretty girl turn from her writing desk and look up. She said a word or two to the maid and, like a lady, held out her hand to me. I crossed the room, took it and lightly kissed it. She had the look of someone who had been ill, though her cheeks were rosy. Probably they were coloured with powder. Her dress, ribbons, jewellery and shoes were all the latest fashion in France and were quite elegant. The fragrance of her perfume made me think of flowers. We could have been in any drawing room in Paris, in any capital of Europe really, anywhere but in the New World.
As a well-trained young lady she looked directly into my eyes and made an effort to smile. But it wasn't very convincing. Her lips curled up but the corners of her mouth stayed down as if they were weighted with bags of salt. Her eyes looked tired and wounded. The wound was deep. I bowed my head. “I am honoured to meet you, Mademoiselle.”