by Chloe Slauenwhite
Though I have lived on Sable Island for many years now, my story starts in mainland Nova Scotia, the land where I was born.
My mother was so beautiful, a stunning palomino with the creamiest mane and tail, full and flowing. I inherited my father’s chestnut coat, but I had white socks on my front legs and a white star on my forehead.
I was born in Acadia in 1751, and soon I learned that I, along with my mother and the rest of my herd, belonged to the Aubuchon family. I considered myself a very fortunate horse, because the Aubuchons had two children; a girl named Julie and her older brother, Paul. Julie was the one who named me, and to this day I go by the name she chose, Beauté Unique, which means ‘unique beauty’. They called me Belle for short. I loved Julie very much, and she was always good to me, bringing me apples when her mama could spare them, and when neither of us were working she took me for swift, exhilarating gallops through the countryside and apple orchards. She rode like an angel.
She worked doing chores for her mama, and I worked in the dykes with her papa. The Aubuchons had a total of five horses: myself; my mother, Swift; my father, Flamme; my older brother, Goliath; and my mother’s sister, Fleur.
I loved living near the ocean. The salty smell was all I had ever known, and the rich smell of dirt when Julie’s papa tilled the land in the spring tickled my nose and sometimes made me sneeze, but I loved that too. Julie often told me how she felt that she couldn’t live without the sea, and I agreed. Little did I know that later I would live on an island completely surrounded by the salty waters of the Atlantic.
But I should not get ahead of myself.
By my fifth spring, the Aubuchons were not as happy as they usually were. Julie’s papa went to many meetings, and he came home looking worried.
“The British want us to promise to fight for them in the war that is approaching. We are free people, and we were here before them. We will promise nothing,” I heard him tell his wife one day. I thought that sounded fair. Why should we have to fight? The Acadians had been allowed to stay neutral for years. I knew I didn’t want to have a part in a war. Goliath seemed excited about the prospect, but my mother looked sad. She had lived with the Aubuchons all her life, as had I, and she did not wish to be separated from them.
That evening, Julie ran out to the barn and hugged me. I could tell she needed comforting, so I stood still and breathed on her hair. We stayed like that for a few minutes, and then she sat down in the hay on the floor.
“Oh Belle, I don’t want a war,” she sighed.
* * * * *
The next morning, Mr. Aubuchon left for another meeting at the chapel. When he came home, he looked even more grave than usual. I assumed that there were more arguments between the men about what to do concerning the British, as there often is, and so I just kept munching on my patch of grass.
Things continued to be tense throughout the whole summer, but then in early September of 1755, all the men went to the church and didn’t come back! Julie came crying to me and wailed that her father and brother had been taken prisoner by the British. I didn’t understand why, but I did my best to be her comfort. Her mama came out to the barn after a little while and said, “Come inside, love. We must pray for our men. I hope with all my heart that they will not be made to fight.” Then Mrs. Aubuchon hugged Julie and me at the same time, and they left.
They did their best to keep up with the farming, and when they asked us to help, we obeyed as always. Then one morning, we horses heard shouts and screams, and I could pick Julie’s voice out from it all. She was screaming and crying and we could hear sounds of struggle. But we were stuck in our stalls and could do nothing to help. We kicked and thrashed at our doors, Flamme was neighing at the top of his lungs, Swift was whinnying in fright, and all I could think of was that Julie and her mama were being killed!
That afternoon a British soldier let us out to our pasture, and I saw the ships in the harbour. More than I had ever seen. And many people on their decks and more getting on. Most of the humans on the decks were dressed in the uniforms of British soldiers, but many of the people who were going across the short span of water in the rowboats were dressed in the simpler clothing of the Acadians. I looked for the Aubuchons, but I couldn’t find them. I was worried. I wondered if the women were being taken prisoner also, and would anybody ever come back?
As it turns out, I never saw them again.
* * * * *
We spent the winter being cared for by soldiers. All the Acadians were gone, taken away by the ships. The rough men took care of us well enough, but they didn’t love us like our family did. Flamme grew thinner, Swift got grey hairs on her face, and Goliath, Fleur and I were quiet and sullen.
That spring, a new man came to us and looked us over. He was weather-hardened and rough looking, but his touch was gentle. He examined us all, and left. We wondered what would happen to us now. Would we be sent away too?
To answer my own question – yes, we were. But not all of us. The man chose me, Goliath and Flamme to go with him on yet another ship that was floating in our harbour.
It was terrible. The rocking, the smell of the fear of the 59 other horses in the belly of the ship, and I always felt ill. The hay was moldy and the water was scummy by the time we reached our destination. It felt as if we were in that ship for a year. We could very well have been; we had no way to count the days. It was always dark in the belly of that stinking monster.
When we finally stopped moving, I was relieved. I couldn’t wait to get off, no matter where we were. The man, who I learned was named Thomas Hancock, came down into the hold and said, “We have arrived. Welcome to your new home.”
I was among the last of the horses to get out, and I whinnied when Flamme and then Goliath were led away. They were comforting to me through our voyage and I was thankful to be put in the stall between them, though I had made friends with some of the mares.
When my turn finally came, I walked warily beside one of the crew members who had helped feed and water us. I sniffed the air, and it smelled good. Not quite the same as Acadia, but close. No apple trees, and with more salt and less dirt. I looked to my right and saw no trees at all, only sand and light green patches of grass.
When I got ashore, I looked around for Flamme and Goliath, and a few of my mare friends. I could see them about a quarter of a kilometre away. I cantered to catch up, for I did not want to be alone on this strange stretch of land with no trees to hide me. Safety is in the herd, and a horse’s herd instinct is strong.
When I reached the others, I looked back at the ship. And what did I see those rascals of sailors doing? Leaving! Taking up anchor and sailing away, leaving us! I snorted in their direction, and wondered to myself why I had trusted them even a little bit.
We equine outcasts began as one big herd, but the jealousy of the stallions soon drove us into four separate herds, plus a herd of rogue bachelor stallions, ever trying to steal mares away to start their own herds. I was happy to be a part of Flamme’s herd, though I felt a little bit bad for Goliath, who became part of the bachelors.
My herd explored our new home, and we discovered within a week that we were stranded on an island about 40 kilometres long and little more than one kilometre wide. Even on days when the wind came from the west, we could not smell Acadia. I missed the smell of trees intensely.
But the salty marram grass here tasted good, there were sand dunes for our shelter, and ponds of fresh rainwater to drink from when we were thirsty. And the fog! It had been foggy in Acadia, but not as often or as thick as it was here! More often than not we could scarcely see a herdmate standing three feet away from our muzzle.
My particular friend and favourite herdmate was Perle, whom I had met before in Acadia. She was the only horse taken from her family’s farm, so she was lonely on the ship until I recognized her and greeted her with a happy whinny. Perle was pleased to see that she had a friend to talk to. I was pleased to have her in my herd, and we always stuck close together. Usually our names were called one after the other, too. “Belle and Perle!” was a phrase our other friends heard often. Flamme wanted his herd to stick close to him, to lower the risk of having a mare or two stolen by a bachelor.
Often there would be large storms, with the wind whipping our manes and tails and driving into our faces if we turned the wrong way. But we horses are equipped with instincts to tell us to turn our backs on the wind and huddle in the shelter of a hollow made by sand dunes. Some of the smaller hills were constantly shifting, blowing away and reforming in the strong ocean winds, but many of the larger hills stayed where they were and gave us our regular hiding places and sheltered spots.
One foggy night, Perle and I got separated from our herd. The fog made it so that almost all smell was concealed, and we could see hardly anything. We stood shoulder to shoulder, wondering what we should do. Do we stay put and hope Flamme finds we are missing and comes to our rescue? Or do we try to find where he led our friends and risk getting separated further? Either way, we could be found by the other herds and be stolen!
We neighed and whinnied, nickered and called. Finally I heard something. A stallion’s neigh! It was Flamme. We kept up our racket and he continued to answer. When he emerged from the fog, with the rest of the herd behind him, it was almost ghost-like. Perle and I were relieved, and after that incident we followed behind our stallion closer than any of the other mares did.
The winters on our island, called Sable, were surprisingly not as cold as the Acadian winters were. Windy, yes, terribly windy at times, but the temperature didn’t drop down as low. For that we were thankful, and when the wind came we turned tail and huddled together.
But the summers! The summers were beautiful. Over a hundred different species of plants, and so many different birds I could have never counted them all. My favourite birds were the graceful white seagulls, which reminded me of home, and my favourite flower was the wild rose. My mother had always loved the roses that grew in the Aubuchon’s garden, and while the wild ones here were not as refined, I loved them nonetheless.
Also, we became friends with the seals. They were playful and not scared of us at all, and after we gave them a careful sniff test, we concluded that they would not prey on us, and played in the water with them on warm days.
We never saw humans up close, but we saw ships frequently. Once we even saw a large vessel hit a sand bar hidden under the water. The ship broke apart, and we could hear faint screaming from where we stood watching on the beach. We saw a few specks that were survivors swimming toward us, but they did not make it. I felt sorry for those unfortunate men, but I did not want sailors on our island. It was peaceful without any humans, though occasionally I still thought of Julie and wondered where she was.
But in the spring of 1757 I discovered what it was like to be a mother. Flamme was the father of my beautiful, fiery red chestnut filly. I named her Fleurette, in memory of my old friend and herdmate from Acadia.
I have had many more foals over the years, but now I am old and growing grey hairs, and I haven’t had a new baby since two springs ago. I have loved living on our island, Île de Sable, the Island of Sand. My dear friend Perle passed away a few months ago, at the end of a particularly harsh winter. She was older than I and getting tired of life, but I will miss her.
My herd was won by a younger stallion a few years ago, who, seeing that Flamme was growing old, challenged him to a fight for my herd. Flamme lost, and for that I was sad, but a mare needs a strong protector, and this new lead stallion, Grey Fury, was that for us.
And so I conclude the story of my life and my journey. I am Beauté Unique, long-time member of the first Sable Island herd.
Chloe Slauenwhite © 2021
Age 15, homeschooled, 1250 highway 360, Garland, NS
Sable In Words 2021
Youth Writing Contest, 14-17 age group
Sable Island Institute