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Wayside Cross

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way cross

Presend Day Wayside Cross at the mouth of Big Mountain Row, Saint Joseph of Beauce, Quebec.


Rarely did Raoul Poulin pray. A practical man, he found happiness each day while he expected hard work to make good things happen. When it came to God, womenfolk offered intercessions, however, this journey and all the risks that it entailed demanded the added pull of prayer.

He walked to the bend in Big Mountain Row and turned the corner, his target an old wooden wayside cross with clover endpoints, and bent a knee on the weathered frame that doubled as a kneeler. This was Raoul’s favorite.

Wayside crosses were everywhere in Quebec, offering rest and comfort for the road-weary. Each was unique, some made of wood, even discarded farm equipment, whatever could be hammered or welded into its shape.

He didn’t want an audience, his being here a private matter, a moment all his. The sound of hoofbeats gained his attention, faint at first, then louder until the whoosh of front skis on the road slapped in his face. He stood and turned from the spray of slush, took a knee.

“God, you know me and my heart, help us to be safe and find gold when we get to the Klondike. Don’t let any bears or Indians get us, you know how I feel about Indians.”

He shivered with cold as visions of the settlers who died by the hands of fifteen hundred Mohawks in the Lachine massacre turned in his mind. That the massacre happened two hundred years ago or more made no difference to him.

“Make sure we find our way.”

Deep in his chest, he felt the same twinge of sorrow that had marked his mother’s last days. The lamented sobs through the bedroom walls as his mother cried, calling for Romeo and Gaudias, his brothers, lost for sure.

Even the one letter received six years ago offered no proof they were alive. Raoul breathed in, took his time to get all the words right, proved how much he was in earnest.

“Help my Lucia and the farmhands, protect my two little ones and watch my father.” His words dissolved in the crisp air as dusk signaled vespers from the peel of bells at the small, nearby chapel.

“You know how many lives depend on us, Lucia and my children, Nazaire and his. We’ll give it all we’ve got in the mines, but I hold you to your part.”

Raoul walked home, a little spring in his step as he considered the issue closed. The day had exhausted everyone, and with time running short, Raoul and Lucia had much to settle before they slept.

He had grown to depend on Lucia. She was thin but solidly built, and smart. Her skin glowed with a milky complexion. In Varis’ farmhouse, Raoul and Lucia shared an upstairs bedroom with their two toddlers in an alcove at the bottom of the stairs.

In their small bedroom that night, Raoul began, “It’ll be difficult, but the farmhands will do the bulk of the work. I’ll make maybe ten or fifteen dollars a day compared to the fifty-three cents I would make here. It’s a chance for us to get ahead, maybe get us our own farm.”

“You’re right, the time for sacrifice is now when the children are small,” Lucia said.

Raoul’s mind raced with excitement. In bed, he wrapped his arms around Lucia, took in the softness of her hair, the curve of her chin, how her eyes sparkled. How would he manage without her?

For two years, Lucia had become most of Raoul’s nights and days, and he needed her as much as loved her. She was steadfast and constant, what a farmer needed in a spouse. In the morning, he would leave, might not return. His eyes hurt from all the thoughts that roiled in his head but he’d think about it after he was on the road. Now he wanted to concern himself only with her white shoulders and those delicate pink pearls rigid against his chest.

“Woman,” he whispered as he pulled her atop him, felt the lightness of her body, the shimmer of her breasts.

Lucia tucked a hand under his chin while the light scent of vanilla rose from the back of her ears. His passions flared with the creak of the bed springs, encouraged by her sweet laugh. How can I leave this woman? He cursed the sacrifice this journey would demand of him.

Again, he moaned, “Woman.”