(Excerpt from the BOOK OF GUILLAUME BANCOUER, entry date 1744)
Late in the afternoon, while the women cook the evening meal, I sit on the bench in front of my house, with the sun warm on my face and my pipe in my hand, and enjoy one of the few pleasures left to an old man. I close my eyes to think of other times and places. A puff of air caresses my face, as delicate hands once did.
The tall oak in front of me has sheltered our thatched-roof house for as long as we’ve lived here. As the sun goes lower, its light will be dappled by the leaves that chatter when the breeze gusts across the wide meadows. The song of a distant bird and the buzz of insects gathering nectar from the nearby garden comfort me and soothe my thoughts. I lean my back against the whitewashed boards that wall the house to hear the sounds within more clearly and listen to the familiar hum of women chattering and the clatter of pottery as they move about preparing the food. I’m troubled about my first-born son, Paul Dancing Crow. Since the English came last spring to break the French siege on Annapolis Royal, I’ve had no word of him and pray he survived. I remember when he was a boy, how he’d grab at my leg for me to lift him up. I feel a pull, and as I reach down still living in my memory of him, there’s one of the puppies from the barn tugging at me. I pick up the wriggling bundle of fur. Its pure joy at being held and stroked brings back the ache of my emptiness.
“Hungry? Supper’s almost ready.” Jerusha’s voice summons me from my reverie. I put the puppy down and watch it run off to join its fellows. My wife stands in the doorway, wiping her hands on her apron and gives me an appraising look. “Ye seemed so far away. What’s on your mind?”
I think what answer to make to please her. “I recall your father, when I first met him. He convinced me that once the land was diked to curb the tides, there’d be many more acres ready for the plow. And if I married you, he said, we could live here for the rest of our lives and never lack for bountiful harvests.” I gesture toward the broad expanse of bottomland that stretches before us all the way to the sea.
“Do ye remember when ye first saw me?” She often asks this, as she did in the time just after we were first wed. Her face softens and makes her look as young and tender to me now as she was then. “Aye, I do that.” I wink at her. “Such a beautiful young woman I’d never seen in all my life.” Her smile still inspires springtime within me.
When the meal is finished we go outside to enjoy the beautiful summer evening – Jerusha, our daughters, and our sons Armand, a recent widower, and Guillaume-Honoré, come with his son Mathieu to help in the fields.
Honoré was the first of my sons that I watched grow all the way from a babe to a young man; now here’s his boy coming along. Jerusha was so pleased her first child was a son, she couldn’t let him out of her sight. At eighteen years of age, he struck out for the high marshes to claim land, build a farm and marry. She’s never forgiven him for leaving her.
Just a month ago Father Germain came to Beausejour to hear confessions and say mass for the farmers. The chapel sits on a grassy knoll, overlooking the fields. The Black Robe’s a gentle man with the Acadians. Whenever I look at his face and recall how kind he was during our family’s troubled time, I can’t believe the fierceness rumored of him when he goes to lead the Indians. He sat in the sunshine, on the bench in front of the priest house, picking some sticky burrs from the hem of his cassock as I spoke to him of Jerusha wanting to know about my years among the Indians and how reluctant I was to tell her. I didn’t expect the priest’s response. “Secrets have power,” he said, looking up at me, his eyes darkening. Confused, I answered that I didn’t fathom his meaning. I stammered as I asked, “Why do ye speak so?”
The priest fingered the wooden cross that hung on his breast. “You’re keeping something secret that Jerusha wishes to know, but can’t unless ye tell her. That keeps her in thrall to you and to your secret.”
“But when I die, my secrets will die with me.”
His eyes flashed as a cloud crossed the sun, casting a momentary shadow on us. “That’s my point,” said the priest. “Rather, it’ll outlive ye, and always have power over Jerusha’s memory of ye for as long as she lives. Is that what you want?” His words surprised me. But as I’ve become older, I’ve learned that many times things aren’t always as I expect them to be.
Jerusha became my second wife several years after I arrived in Acadia. While I was among the Indians, I married and fathered a son, Paul Dancing Crow. Whenever Paul came to visit me, he and I would go off for a day or two into the forest. Armand saw us once, camped in the wilderness, sitting by the smoldering embers of a fire as we talked. He later told me that he felt he witnessed something very special, a bond between his father and the eldest son that made him feel a hot pang of jealousy, something his Acadian brothers didn’t arouse in him. He said he knew it was unworthy, but he couldn’t help it. I love him for confessing that. I love all my children, each in the same way, I told him. But in my heart, I know that no father ever feels so.
For a time, I measured the Abbé’s words, turning them over in my mind. Then I agreed to tell Jerusha those things she wanted to know. I’ve never understood why they made her suffer over and again, all through our years together. When I tell her about Song Sparrow, I want Jerusha to know that I only tried to shield her from the effects of the terrible pain and anger I suffered because of her loss. When I finish the telling, I want us to be together again as man and wife. I want to be at peace with her when the circle of my life finally closes, and know that at last she has the contentment she deserves.