Cajun History

Acadian Reminiscences – Chapter 8

 

Acadian Reminiscences
by Felix Voorhies, 1907

 

The Acadian Reminiscences, is a word painting of the life of the Acadians in the Teche Country in the long ago.

 

The plain, simple frugal life of these people, their devotion to principle, their unbounded faith in the goodness of God, their love for each other during all their misfortunes and perilous wanderings, appeal to the heart.

 

The simple pathos of the grandmother’s story comes to us with such consummate art, that the eye unwittingly grows moist, as the reader follows the journeyings of this little band, self-exiled and noble in their poverty, from desolated homes on the bleak Acadian coast, to their final destination in the hospitable valley of the Teche.

 

 

Chapter 8 – The True Story of Evangeline

“Emmeline Labiche, petiots, was an orphan whose parents had died when she was quite a child.  I had taken her to my home, and had raised her as my own daughter.  How sweet-tempered, how loving she was!  She had grown to womanhood with all the attractions of her sex, and, although not a beauty in the sense usually given to that word, she was looked upon as the handsomest girl of St. Gabriel.  Her soft, transparent hazel eyes mirrored her pure thoughts; her dark brown hair waved in graceful undulations on her intelligent forehead, and fell in ringlets on her shoulders; her bewitching smile, her slender, symmetrical shape, all contributed to make her a most attractive picture of maiden loveliness.

“Emmeline, who had just completed her sixteenth year, was on the eve of marrying a most deserving, laborious and well-to-do young man of St. Gabriel, Louis Arceneaux.  Their mutual love dated from their earliest years, and all agreed that Providence willed their union as man and wife, she the fairest young maiden, he the most deserving youth of St. Gabriel.

“Their bans had been published in the village church, the nuptial day was fixed, and their long love-dream was about to be realized, when the barbarous scattering of our colony took place.

“Our oppressors had driven us to the seashore, where their ships rode at anchor, when Louis, resisting, was brutally wounded by them.  Emmeline had witnessed the whole scene.  Her lover was carried on board of one of the ships, the anchor was weighed, and a stiff breeze soon drove the vessel out of sight.  Emmeline, tearless and speechless, stood fixed to the spot, motionless as a statue, and when the white sail vanished in the distance, she uttered a wild, piercing shriek, and fell fainting to the ground.

“When she came to, she clasped me in her arms, and in an agony of grief, she sobbed piteously.  “Mother, mother,” she said, in broken words, “he is gone; they have killed him; what will become of me?”

“I soothed her grief with endearing words until she wept freely.  Gradually its violence subsided, but the sadness of her countenance betokened the sorrow that preyed on her heart, never to be contaminated by her love for another one.

Thus she lived in our midst, always sweet tempered, but with such sadness depicted in her countenance, and with smiles so sorrowful, that we had come to look upon her as not of this earth, but rather as our guardian angel, and this is why we called her no longer Emmeline, but Evangeline, or God’s little angel.

“The sequel of her story is not gay, petiots, and my poor old heart breaks, whenever I recall the misery of her fate,” and while our grandmother spoke thus, her whole figure was tremulous with emotion.

“Grandmother,” we said, “we feel so interested in Evangeline, God’s little angel; do tell us what befell her afterwards.”

“Petiots, how can I refuse to comply with your request?  I will now tell you what became of poor Emmeline,” and after remaining a while in thoughtful revery, she resumed her narrative.

“Emmeline, petiots, had been exiled to Maryland with me.  She was, as I have told you, my adopted child.  She dwelt with me, and she followed me in my long pilgrimage from Maryland to Louisiana.  I shall not relate to you now the many dangers that beset us on our journey, and the many obstacles we had to overcome to reach Louisiana; this would be anticipating what remains for me to tell you.  When we reached the Teche country, at the Poste des Attakapas, we found there the whole population congregated to welcome us.  As we went ashore, Emmeline walked by my side, but seemed not to admire the beautiful landscape that unfolded itself to our gaze.  Alas! it was of no moment to her whether she strolled on the poetical banks of the Teche, or rambled in the picturesque sites of Maryland.  She lived in the past, and her soul was absorbed in the mournful regret of that past.  For her, the universe had lost the prestige of its beauties, of its freshness, of its splendors.  The radiance of her dreams was dimmed, and she breathed in an atmosphere of darkness and of desolation.

“She walked beside me with a measured step.  All at once, she grasped my hand, and, as if fascinated by some vision, she stood rooted to the spot.  Her very heart’s blood suffused her cheeks, and with the silvery tones of a voice vibrating with joy:  “Mother!  Mother!” she cried out, “it is he!  It is Louis!” pointing to the tall figure of a man reclining under a large oak tree.

“That man was Louis Arceneaux.

“With the rapidity of lightning, she flew to his side, and in an ecstacy of joy:  “Louis, Louis,” said she, “I am your Emmeline, your long lost Emmeline!  Have you forgotten me?”

“Louis turned ashy pale and hung down his head, without uttering a word.

“Louis,” said she, painfully impressed by her lover’s silence and coldness, “why do you turn away from me?  I am still your Emmeline, your betrothed, and I have kept pure and unsullied my plighted faith to you.  Not a word of welcome, Louis?” she said, as the tears started to her eyes.  “Tell me, do tell me that you love me still, and that the joy of meeting me has overcome you, and stifled you utterance.”

“Louis Arceneaux, with quivering lips and tremulous voice, answered:  “Emmeline, speak not so kindly to me, for I am unworthy of you.  I can love you no longer; I have pledged my faith to another.  Tear from your heart the remembrance of the past, and forgive me,” and with quick step, he walked away, and was soon lost to view in the forest.

“Poor Emmeline stood trembling like an aspen leaf.  I took her hand; it was icy cold.  A deathly pallor had overspread her countenance, and her eye had a vacant stare.

“Emmeline, my dear girl, come,” said I, and she followed me like a child.  I clasped her in my arms.  “Emmeline, my dear child be comforted; there may yet be happiness in store for you.

“Emmeline, Emmeline,” she muttered in an undertone, as if to recall that name, “who is Emmeline?”  Then looking in my face with fearful shining eyes that made me shudder, she said in a strange, unnatural voice:  “Who are you?” and turned away from me.  Her mind was unhinged; this last shock had been too much for her broken heart; she was hopelessly insane.

“How strange it is, petiots, that beings, pure and celestial like Emmeline, should be the sport of fate, and be thus exposed to the shafts of adversity.  Is it true, then, that the beloved of God are always visited by sore trials?  Was it that Emmeline was too ethereal a being for this world, and that God would have her in his sweet paradise?  It does not belong to us, petiots, to solve this mystery and to scrutinize the decrees of Providence; we have only to bow submissive to his will.

“Emmeline never recovered her reason, and a deep melancholy settled upon her.  Her beautiful countenance was fitfully lightened by a sad smile which made her all the fairer.  She never recognized any one but me, and nestling in my arms like a spoiled child, she would give me the most endearing names.  As sweet and as amiable as ever, every one pitied and loved her.

“When poor, crazed Emmeline strolled upon the banks of the Teche, plucking the wild flowers that strewed her pathway, and singing in soft tones some Acadian song, those that met her wondered why so fair and gentle a being should have been visited with God’s wrath.

“She spoke of Acadia and of Louis in such loving words, that no one could listen to her without shedding tears.  She fancied herself still the girl of sixteen years, on the eve of marrying the chosen one of her heart, whom she loved with such constancy and devotion, and imagining that her marriage bells tolled from the village church tower, her countenance would brighten, and her frame trembled with ecstatic joy.  And then, in a sudden transition from joy to despair, her countenance would change and, trembling convulsively, gasping, struggling for utterance, and pointing her finger at some invisible object, in shrill and piercing accents, she would cry out:  “Mother, mother, he is gone; they have killed him; what will become of me?  And uttering a wild, unnatural shriek, she would fall senseless in my arms.

“Sinking at last under the ravages of her mental disease, she expired in my arms without a struggle, and with an angelic smile on her lips.

“She now sleeps in her quiet grave, shadowed by the tall oak tree near the little church at the Poste des Attakapas, and her grave has been kept green and flower-strewn as long as your grandmother has been able to visit it.  Ah! petiots, how sad was the fate of poor Emmeline, Evangeline, God’s little angel.”

And burying her face in her hands, grandmother wept and sobbed bitterly.  Our hearts swelled also with emotion, and sympathetic tears rolled down our cheeks.  We withdrew softly and left dear grandmother alone, to think of and weep for her Evangeline, God’s little angel.