“Like Arnold’s troop,” the lawyer said, referring to the Revolutionary War general and later traitor, “disappearing in the muskeg of Quebec.”
The lawyer was sixty-ish, short, burly, gray. He had not spoken English until he was twelve, and the French-Canadian accent was a thin and a sweet syrup on the other man’s ear.
The two men—the lawyer and the salesman—they stood at the back window of the law office. Their view out the window was down and across a sloping clutter of slap-dash houses, to the flat bottom beside the river.
Along the river ran the trains. A logging train ran just then, slowly, eastward: car after car with the thick ends of the tree trunks fore and aft, and the thin ends in the middle. The river’s flow was to the men’s right, eastward, the same direction as the logs, always eastward, always, that is, since this clench–jaw countryside had been neighbored.
The two men had been acquaintances for over a dozen years; they were content with quiet.
The lawyer continued, “Back then we didn’t know if we belonged to the King or to Congress: were we French or English?”
The salesman, also sixty-ish, was burly and gray, too. The men had concluded their business—one bought, one sold. Stacks of law books were on the shelves of the office and on the floor. Out-of-date. Their weightiness impressed the lawyer’s clients, and—the salesman surmised—the lawyer himself. The presence of their outmoded decisions and methodologies meant that the lawyer was able to fly by the seat of his pants, as he had done successfully during thirty years.
The salesman always tempted the lawyer with up-to-date books, but the lawyer always demurred; he liked seat-pant flying. He bought off-hand things, a small book here or there, for the purpose—again the salesman surmised—of keeping this salesman stopping in, when he was on one of his trips from the south, calling on lawyers who kept their lights on in towns along this very northern Maine river bottom.
Now that the selling was done, the two men were doing what they preferred, really, to do. They were reflecting slowly about why they were there.
“So the French settlers, the Acadians, they were driven out again from around here and they squatted in the forests over there.” The lawyer pointed across the river. “And then after the war, when the loyalists were driven away, they needed to go somewhere, so they came here. And, since they were loyalists, they appealed to the King, and he granted them legal title, and they drove the Acadians away all over again.”
The salesman was struck by the lawyer’s reference to “the war.” It was the Revolution, here, in Acadia, which still counted.
“My people were Acadians. We married our women to the English, in the winter.” He pointed at the river. “That’s how we communicated. The river froze. You walked down the river and found an Englishman to marry your daughter. So we became farmers then, up around Saint Agathe.”
“So you were with the King.”
“No one knew where the border was, both sides of the river. And there was no way to get south, really south, to America. The river took you to the sea, but that wasn’t America. Nothing but forest between here and there. Maybe a horse track, or a trapper. That’s why Arnold had such a bad time.”
After a moment, the salesman asked, “I’ve always wanted to know: why the law?”
The lawyer thought. “Tales in my family, maybe. From the early years, the late 1800s. Men came from America, from the government. We didn’t know, were they here to steal our land? We’ve always been stand-offish.” The lawyer paused. “Maybe it was that. Help the people to keep their land.”
There was silence in the room. After a bit, the salesman picked up his bag. “I should go.”
The lawyer chuckled quietly. “I like to think I might retire sometime. Probably never will.” He looked at the salesman. “I’d like to know more about the history, though, that’s what I’d like. That’s what I do on weekends. I go around, and I ask about the history.”
They shook hands. “See you next time.”
“Yes. Do stop. That was some journey, that Arnold expedition. We helped his men, you know that? We Acadians. We hated the British. We helped to get Arnold to Quebec, for his attack, after he came out of the forest.”
“And now they’re Canadians, and we’re Americans.”
The lawyer glanced across the St. Johns River, at Canada. “Well, sort of. Sometimes.”
The salesman left the office and walked to where he had parked his car. He sat down, turned the key, and tuned the radio to find news. Most of the stations spoke French, and when he found English it was Halifax: an accident had occurred between two ships in the harbor.
The American election was to occur shortly; great excitement. But the salesman took the longer view: he slid in a disc of old spirituals and drove away.
© 2021 Dikkon Eberhart
Dikkon Eberhart is the author of The Time Mom Met Hitler, Frost Came to Dinner, and I Heard the Greatest Story Ever Told, Paradise, and On the Verge. Dikkon is a Maine native transplanted recently to the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. He is a retired salesman, former actor and food critic, and always a writer.
Read more at www.dikkoneberhart.com