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In the idyllic village of Grand-Pré, in the French Canadian colony of Acadia, there lives an honest farmer—Benedict Bellefontaine—and his lovely daughter Evangeline. Their lives are great: they enjoy beautiful scenery, healthy livestock, and plentiful farmland. Best of all, Evangeline is in love. The lucky guy is Gabriel Lajeunesse. He is the son of Basil the blacksmith and is about to become Evangeline's husband.
They arrange the wedding and it seems like nothing can stand in the way of their living happily ever after—certainly not those English warships that have anchored off the coast nearby, with their cannons pointed at the locals. Ah, who are we kidding? That's exactly what happens. The soldiers in the ships order all the locals to attend a meeting in the village church. Right in the middle of Evangeline and Gabriel's wedding feast, all the menfolk have to put down their plates and trundle off to hear what these soldiers have to say.
The upshot is this: "All your lands and money and animals are belong to us." The Acadians are told to get out, by order of King George of England. The men are not pleased to hear this news, but they're locked up in the church by the soldiers. Meanwhile, the women and children of Grand-Pré are forced to pack all their stuff up into wagons and haul it down to the beach, where ships are waiting to take them… someplace else.
Eventually, the Acadian men are released and they join the women and children on the beach. The eviction is pretty hectic. In all the hubbub, Evangeline's father dies, and she's separated from Gabriel—bad times. She's forced to bury her father on the beach, and then becomes essentially a refugee, moving from place to place in search of Gabriel. She has a lot of luck in this: all of it bad. In fact, at one point Evangeline travels by boat to Louisiana and, along the way, falls asleep on a riverbank. Gabriel, meanwhile, paddles right past her, off on a hunting trip. But he doesn't notice her and so the pair never connect.
When she reaches her destination in Louisiana, Evangeline does manage to reunite with Gabriel's dad, Basil, and learns that she has just missed him. She takes off again, following Gabriel up to the Ozark Mountains, but again: no soup. At a Catholic Mission, she waits for Gabriel to return from his hunting trip. Months pass with no sign of him. Then, when she hears a rumor that he's living in a hunting lodge in Michigan, she takes off again. She finds the lodge, but not Gabriel. Evangeline is on a serious losing streak.
The years pass by and Evangeline winds up in Philadelphia. She tries to move on with her life by joining a charity group called the Sisters of Mercy. They help the sick and the dying. One day, Evangeline is tending to some sick people when she recognizes Gabriel, lying there before her. Good news: at last they're together. Bad news: Gabriel's on his deathbed. He can only muster up enough strength to mouth her name before he shuffles off his mortal coil. And that, folks, is the sad, really sad, super-sad story of poor Evangeline.