***** WARNING SPOILERS *****
In 1750 the road to Quebec leads through a small Acadian settlement called Tintamarre. The English order a final solution.
Mathilde Girouard (“geerwaw”) sprinkles salt on her loaves of bread. The smell of smoke from the men burning the fields reminds her of a story told by her grand-mére: how the English had burned their village and scalped her grand-pére as the family watched. She goes to bed and prays to the Holy Father that her family will never face such terror.
Mati and her husband, Acquila, are shocked awake by a blood-curdling scream and a loud crash and they rush downstairs. A war-painted savage is forcing his way into the house. Acquila grabs his musket and knocks him unconscious. Mati hurries upstairs and gets their children and they escape into a wooded area and watch as the entire village is set aflame; with people running in terror towards a bridge across the Mesagoueche River.
Three huge ships enter the bay; the English arrive. Acquila and the other men frantically build new shelters on the other side of the river where the French army are building a fortress.
As their new home is being built, Mati needs items left behind in their old home and Acquila goes to recover them. Mathilde’s friends learn of Acquila’s success and ask her to recover theirs.
Mati makes the trip with an old horse and passes by the new English trading post which attracts her interest; “what could the English be selling?” There’s an Indian outside that looks familiar; it’s the savage who burned their home.
She begins recovering valuables from the burned shells of houses. But when she digs under the stairs of an old widower who had just died, she’s startled: there’s a big bag of gold coins!
She wonders how can she return home without drawing the attention of the Indian. She decides to bluster her way past him and hides the bag of coins under her clothing to look pregnant.
She enters the store but the Indian follows her and eyes her suspiciously. She takes a silk handkerchief and appears to hide it under her arm. The shop keeper and an English soldier notice this and start to intercept her. But she takes out her purse and buys the handkerchief and the soldier helps her mount her horse and ride away.
Her face breaks into a smile as she rides; regardless of what happens, they have gold to perhaps buy their way out of trouble.
Acquila’s exhausted from helping his fellow Acadians build their houses when they are visited by a priest who orders him to join the resistance. Mathilde is distraught; but Acquila needs to protect his soul and his family and he sees no way out. Mati concedes that they will need to fight back, but wishes it wasn’t always her husband who had to do things for others.
Acquila joins an attack on an English settlement and watches with horror as dozens of men, women and children are massacred. He’s disgusted and barely takes part, but is rebuked for not killing. At an English fort being built near Halifax, Acquila kills as commanded, losing part of his soul in the process.
Mathilde discovers that their cache of gold coins is missing and suspects they were taken by the Indian that had terrified her. They’re critical to their family’s survival and Acquila sets out to recover them. He and a French soldier hunt down the Indian and get them back.
A New England invasion force of two thousand men arrive to take control of Tintamarre. Acquila hides the coins in the well and joins his family for protection in the French fort called Beauséjour. Within four days the French surrender.
Acquila needs to get his family to safety and helps them board a boat, but needs to recover the coins. But when he arrives at the well an English soldier is there. He kills him, jumps in the well and retrieves the coins and runs back to the boat, but it’s starting to leave. He runs into the river and throws the bag of coins toward Mathilde, but slips and doesn’t see if it reaches its target. Mathilde catches the bag, but doesn’t see if he survives.
Acquila starts walking toward his family’s safe destination and en route he comes across the Acadian resistance camp. He needs to find his family and rejoins the resistance.
Mathilde awakes when her eldest son, Emile, comes into their new home in a panic, “Maman, there are raiders.” Mati looks outside and sees men in red coats throwing torches on roofs. “Vite, Emile, take your brother and musket and run! Find your father.”
She escapes the village and comes to the edge of a large clearing and sees her boys and starts to walk toward them. But then she sees her taller son, Maurice, fall to the ground. Emile then runs into the woods. An English Ranger lifts her son’s head and scalps him. After they leave she goes to Maurice’s corpse and cries until she can cry no more.
Emile walks for hours until he comes to a river and sees a boat filled with red coats. Then he runs into a group of men hidden behind a dyke. Emile watches as the English are slaughtered by the Acadian resistance.
Emile tells his father of Maurice’s death and they go to rescue the surviving family members. But they arrive only in time to see Mati and the children led to a boat by English rangers.
The resistance learns that the English are shipping the Acadians to other colonies and that the families are imprisoned at Fort Beauséjour. They develop a plan to free the prisoners.
The resistance arranges an attack by MiqMaqs on a smaller English fort at Baie Verte as a distraction. A hundred soldiers leave Beauséjour to respond to leaving the English short handed. Then Acquila and a friend surrender at the Fort and he rejoins his family.
As night falls, the resistance launches an attack on Fort Beausejour, itself, and Acquila and his friends begin tunneling while the English are distracted. Within an hour they are through. Acquila gathers Mati and his family and they escape and run to a boat a few hundred yards away. The Girouards and their friends climb aboard and sail to safety.
Six women, some with flames smoldering on their clothing, tried to escape into the wooded area, but in their long dresses they were slow and a couple tripped. Six muskets took aim and fired and three of the women fell; shot in the back. Danks saw no value to a terror campaign if there was no one to tell the story.
"Hold yer bloody fire Let them go."
Danks yelled at his subaltern, "King".
A young clean-cut ranger came running toward him, "Capt'n."
"Look inside the buildings and see if there are any bairns. Bring them out if there are. We shan't kill them, and we won't let them burn. Put them in the animal barn. The women will return and find them, I expect."
"Yes, Capt'n." King hurried off. Danks filled and lit his pipe and withdrew a skin filled with whiskey and enjoyed a long drink of the fiery liquid. He lit his pipe and watched his rangers finish their days work.
One of his men gathered the scalps and brought them to the Captain. He added them to the existing twenty that were festering and stinking in the bag hanging about his waist.
1 - UN
Mathilde Girouard brushed the top of her oversized loaves of bread with butter and liberally sprinkled it with coarse salt, the way her grand-mére had taught her. Her husband, Acquila, had travelled many miles to the area called Remsheg to dig the salt from the ground where the seasoning rose from the very ground. She stood back and admired her "boules" and put all four of them on a cooking rack in the fireplace that ’Quila had made for this singular purpose.
Mati loved the way her husband always came up with inventions that made her life easier or better able to do things for her family. Her kitchen was the envy of almost every other woman in Beaubassin and sometimes it was difficult for her to not brag about how happy she was about how her life had turned out.
She hummed a little ditty that she had heard one of the local musicians play on his wooden whistle after mass the previous week.
She also loved the simple beauty of making her bread; how ‘Quila put in his time with the other men to plant and harvest the oats and wheat seeds on the low lands, mill the grain into flour and pack it into barrels. There was something extremely fulfilling, almost sensual, about being the one to finish the work of many people and being able to give something back. She felt a little guilty about how she would get the credit for the final result when she believed that she had the easiest job of anyone involved in the lengthy and strenuous process of bread making.
Mathilde was born in Nanpan, a small settlement only a few miles from where she now lived. She had never ventured further than the return trip to visit her mère, Domithilde, et père, Charles. She and Acquila had lived with them when they were first married as her parents had lived with their parents. Her brother Jacques had married, stayed at home and was still raising his family there.
Acquila had started building this house when they had been first married. It had taken an entire summer to lay the foundation and cut, saw, and season all the wood. When he had finished all this, the other men in Beaubassin had worked together to assemble and finish it. By then, they had three children.
Her father’s family, the Leblancs, had been in Acadie for well over a century and were among the first settlers in the area of Tintamarre.
Looking out the window, she could see that the men were burning the marshes to eliminate the dead hay and allow better for new growth. The appetite of flames for the dry grass brought to her mind one of the most vivid memories of her childhood. It was the telling of a story to her by her grand-mère, Louise Poirier:
“When I was small, younger than you, we were living closer to the river, us. One day mon père, he came running into the yard in a great hurry. He was very upset, him. He grabbed ma mére by the arm and told us all to run into the forest and keep running until we could run no more and then hide.
“I looked back, when I was running, me, and I saw the church, it was burning and I could hear loud sounds that were muskets, I think.
“We ran into the woods, a mile, maybe more, and we hid until dark. In the moonlight, we returned home and looked at the settlement from the edge of the forest. It was all on fire, every building. And the only people walking they wore red coats, like the devil.
“There were many bodies on the ground and I saw one of the red coat devils walk over to one of the bodies. And that devil, him, that devil, he cut the hair from the head of that body.
“We slept all night in the forest, and we waited until all the red coat devils had left and then we returned. And ma mère, she turn over the dead body that the red coat devil had desecrated. And it was mon père.”
Ever since being told that story, even though she had never met even one English, Mati had nightmares of monsters who wore red coats and brought death and fire to her people.