The Shining Cross of Rigaud by Edward William Thomson
When Mini was a fortnight old his
mother wrapped her head and shoulders
in her ragged shawl, snatched him from
the family litter of straw, and, with a volley of
cautionary objurgations to his ten brothers and
sisters, strode angrily forth into the raw
November weather. She went down the hill
to the edge of the broad, dark Ottawa, where
thin slices of ice were swashing together. There
sat a hopeless-looking little man at the clumsy
oars of a flat-bottomed boat.
"The little one's feet are out," said the man.
"So much the better! For what was
another sent us?" cried Mini's mother.
"But the little one must be baptized," said
the father, with mild expostulation.
"Give him to me, then," and the man took
off his own ragged coat. Beneath it he had
nothing except an equally ragged guernsey,
and the wind was keen. The woman surrendered
the child carelessly, and drawing her
shawl closer, sat frowning moodily in the stern.
Mini's father wrapped him in the wretched
garment, carefully laid the infant on the pea-straw
at his feet, and rowed wearily away.
They took him to the gray church on the
farther shore, whose tall cross glittered coldly
in the wintry sun. There Madame Lajeunesse,
the skilful washerwoman, angry to be taken so
long from her tubs, and Bonhomme Hamel,
who never did anything but fish for barbotes,
met them. These highly respectable connections
of Mini's mother had a disdain for her
inferior social status, and easily made it understood
that nothing but a Christian duty would
have brought them out. Where else, indeed,
could the friendless infant have found sponsors?
It was disgraceful, they remarked, that the
custom of baptism at three days old should
have been violated. While they answered for
Mini's spiritual development he was quiet,
neither crying nor smiling till the old priest
crossed his brow. Then he smiled, and that,
Bonhomme Hamel remarked, was a blessed
"Now he's sure of heaven when he does
die!" cried Mini's mother, getting home
again, and tossed him down on the straw, for
a conclusion to her sentence.
But the child lived, as if by miracle. Hunger,
cold, dirt, abuse, still left him a feeble vitality.
At six years old his big dark eyes wore so sad
a look that mothers of merry children often
stopped to sigh over him, frightening the child,
for he did not understand sympathy. So unresponsive
and dumb was he that they called
him half-witted. Three babies younger than
he had died by then, and the fourth was little
Angélique. They said she would be very like
Mini, and there was reason why in her wretched
infancy. Mini's was the only love she ever
knew. When she saw the sunny sky his weak
arms carried her, and many a night he drew
over her the largest part of his deplorable
coverings. She, too, was strangely silent. For
days long they lay together on the straw, quietly
suffering what they had known from the beginning.
It was something near starvation.
When Mini was eight years old his mother
sent him one day to beg food from Madame
Leclaire, whose servant she had been long ago.
"It's Lucile's Mini," said Madame, taking
him to the door of the cosey sitting-room, where
Monsieur sat at solitaire.
"Mon Dieu, did one ever see such a child!"
cried the retired notary. "For the love of
Heaven, feed him well, Marie, before you let
But Mini could scarcely eat. He trembled
at the sight of so much food, and chose a crust
as the only thing familiar.
"Eat, my poor child. Have no fear," said
"But Angélique," said he.
"Angélique? Is it the baby?"
"Yes, Madame, if I might have something
"Poor little loving boy," said Madame,
tears in her kind eyes. But Mini did not cry;
he had known so many things so much sadder.
When Mini reached home his mother seized
the basket. Her wretched children crowded
around. There were broken bread and meat
in plenty. "Here—here—and here!" She
distributed crusts, and chose a well-fleshed
bone for her own teeth. Angélique could not
walk, and did not cry, so got nothing. Mini,
however, went to her with the tin pail before
his mother noticed it.
"Bring that back!" she shouted.
"Quick, baby!" cried Mini, holding it that
Angélique might drink. But the baby was not
quick enough. Her mother seized the pail
and tasted; the milk was still almost warm.
"Good," said she, reaching for her shawl.
"For the love of God, mother!" cried Mini,
"Madame said it was for Angélique." He
knew too well what new milk would trade for.
The woman laughed and flung on her shawl.
"Only a little, then; only a cupful," cried
Mini, clutching her, struggling weakly to restrain
her. "Only a little cupful for Angélique."
"Give her bread!" She struck him so that
he reeled, and left the cabin. Then Mini
cried, but not for the blow.
He placed a soft piece of bread and a thin
shred of meat in Angélique's thin little hand,
but she could not eat, she was so weak. The
elder children sat quietly devouring their food,
each ravenously eying that of the others. But
there was so much that when the father came
he also could eat. He, too, offered Angélique
bread. Then Mini lifted his hand which held
hers and showed beneath the food she had
"If she had milk!" said the boy.
"My God, if I could get some," groaned the
man, and stopped as a shuffling and tumbling
was heard at the door.
"She is very drunk," said the man, without
amazement. He helped her in, and, too far
gone to abuse them, she soon lay heavily
breathing near the child she had murdered.
Mini woke in the pale morning thinking
Angélique very cold in his arms, and, behold,
she was free from all the suffering forever. So
he could not cry, though the mother wept when
she awoke, and shrieked at his tearlessness as
Little Angélique had been rowed across the
great river for the last time; night was come
again, and Mini thought he must die; it could
not be that he should be made to live without
Angélique! Then a wondrous thing seemed to
happen. Little Angélique had come back.
He could not doubt it next morning, for, with
the slowly lessening glow from the last brands
of fire had not her face appeared?—then her
form?—and lo! she was closely held in the
arms of the mild Mother whom Mini knew
from her image in the church, only she smiled
more sweetly now in the hut. Little Angélique
had learned to smile, too, which was most
wonderful of all to Mini. In their heavenly
looks was a meaning of which he felt almost
aware; a mysterious happiness was coming
close and closer; with the sense of ineffable
touches near his brow, the boy dreamed.
Nothing more did Mini know till his mother's
voice woke him in the morning. He sprang
up with a cry of "Angélique," and gazed round
upon the familiar squalor.
From the summit of Rigaud Mountain a
mighty cross flashes sunlight all over the great
plain of Vaudreuil. The devout habitant,
ascending from vale to hill-top in the county
of Deux Montagnes, bends to the sign he sees
across the forest leagues away. Far off on the
brown Ottawa, beyond the Cascades of Carillon
and the Chute à Blondeau, the keen-eyed
voyageur catches its gleam, and, for gladness
to be nearing the familiar mountain, more
cheerily raises the chanson he loves. Near
St. Placide the early ploughman—while yet
mist wreathes the fields and before the native
Rossignol has fairly begun his plaintive flourishes—watches
the high cross of Rigaud for the
first glint that shall tell him of the yet unrisen
sun. The wayfarer marks his progress by the
bearing of that great cross, the hunter looks to
it for an unfailing landmark, the weatherwise
farmer prognosticates from its appearances.
The old watch it dwindle from sight at evening
with long thoughts of the well-beloved vanished,
who sighed to its vanishing through vanished
years; the dying turn to its beckoning radiance;
happy is the maiden for whose bridal it
wears brightness; blessed is the child thought
to be that holds out tiny hands for the glittering
cross as for a star. Even to the most
worldly it often seems flinging beams of heaven,
and to all who love its shining that is a dark
day when it yields no reflection of immortal
To Mini the Cross of Rigaud had as yet
been no more than an indistinct glimmering,
so far from it did he live and so dulled was he
by his sufferings. It promised him no immortal
joys, for how was he to conceive of heaven
except as a cessation of weariness, starvation,
and pain? Not till Angélique had come, in the
vision did he gain certainty that in heaven she
would smile on him always from the mild
Mother's arms. As days and weeks passed
without that dream's return, his imagination was
ever the more possessed by it. Though the
boy looked frailer than ever, people often
remarked with amazement how his eyes wore
some unspeakable happiness.
Now it happened that one sunny day after
rain Mini became aware that his eyes were
fixed on the Cross of Rigaud. He could not
make out its form distinctly, but it appeared to
thrill toward him. Under his intent watching
the misty cross seemed gradually to become the
centre of such a light as had enwrapped the
figures of his dream. While he gazed, expecting
his vision of the night to appear in broad
day on the far summit, the light extended,
changed, rose aloft, assumed clear tints, and
shifted quickly to a great rainbow encircling
Mini believed it a token to him. That
Angélique had been there by the cross the
little dreamer doubted not, and the transfiguration
to that arch of glory had some meaning
that his soul yearned to apprehend. The cross
drew his thoughts miraculously; for days thereafter
he dwelt with its shining; more and more
it was borne in on him that he could always
see dimly the outline of little Angélique's face
there; sometimes, staring very steadily for
minutes together, he could even believe that
she beckoned and smiled.
"Is Angélique really there, father?" he
asked one day, looking toward the hill-top.
"Yes, there," answered his father, thinking
the boy meant heaven.
"I will go to her, then," said Mini to his
Birds were not stirring when Mini stepped
from the dark cabin into gray dawn, with firm
resolve to join Angélique on the summit. The
Ottawa, with whose flow he went toward Rigaud,
was solemnly shrouded in motionless mist, which
began to roll slowly during the first hour of his
journey. Lifting, drifting, clinging, ever thinner
and more pervaded by sunlight, it was drawn
away so that the unruffled flood reflected a
sky all blue when he had been two hours on
the road. But Mini took no note of the river's
beauty. His eyes were fixed on the cloudy hill-top,
beyond which the sun was climbing. As
yet he could see nothing of the cross, nor of
his vision; yet the world had never seemed so
glad, nor his heart so light with joy. Habitants,
in their rattling calèches, were amazed by the
glow in the face of a boy so ragged and forlorn.
Some told afterward how they had half
doubted the reality of his rags; for might not
one, if very pure at heart, have been privileged
to see such garments of apparent meanness
change to raiment of angelic texture? Such
things had been, it was said, and certainly the
boy's face was a marvel.
His look was ever upward to where fibrous
clouds shifted slowly, or packed to level bands
of mist half concealing Rigaud Hill, as the sun
wheeled higher, till at last, in mid-sky, it flung
rays that trembled on the cross, and gradually
revealed the holy sign outlined in upright and
arms. Mini shivered with an awe of expectation;
but no nimbus was disclosed which his
imagination could shape to glorious significance.
Yet he went rapturously onward, firm in the
belief that up there he must see Angélique face
As he journeyed the cross gradually lessened
in height by disappearance behind the nearer
trees, till only a spot of light was left, which
suddenly was blotted out too. Mini drew a
deep breath, and became conscious of the greatness
of the hill,—a towering mass of brown
rock, half hidden by sombre pines and the
delicate greenery of birch and poplar. But
soon, because the cross was hidden, he could
figure it all the more gloriously, and entertain
all the more luminously the belief that there were
heavenly presences awaiting him. He pressed
on with all his speed, and began to ascend the
mountain early in the afternoon.
"Higher," said the women gathering pearly-bloomed
blueberries on the steep hillside.
"Higher," said the path, ever leading the tired
boy upward from plateau to plateau,—"higher,
to the vision and the radiant space about the
Faint with hunger, worn with fatigue, in the
half-trance of physical exhaustion, Mini still
dragged himself upward through the afternoon.
At last he knew he stood on the summit level
very near the cross. There the child, awed by
the imminence of what he had sought, halted
to control the rapturous, fearful trembling of his
heart. Would not the heavens surely open?
What words would Angélique first say? Then
again he went swiftly forward through the trees
to the edge of the little cleared space. There
he stood dazed.
The cross was revealed to him at a few
yards' distance. With woful disillusionment
Mini threw himself face downward on the rock,
and wept hopelessly, sorely; wept and wept,
till his sobs became fainter than the up-borne
long notes of a hermit-thrush far below on the
edge of the plain.
A tall mast, with a shorter at right angles,
both covered by tin roofing-plates, held on by
nails whence rust had run in streaks,—that was
the shining Cross of Rigaud! Fragments of
newspaper, crusts of bread, empty tin cans,
broken bottles, the relics of many picnics scattered
widely about the foot of the cross; rude
initial letters cut deeply into its butt where the
tin had been torn away;—these had Mini seen.
The boy ceased to move. Shadows stole
slowly lengthening over the Vaudreuil champaign;
the sun swooned down in a glamour of
painted clouds; dusk covered from sight the
yellows and browns and greens of the August
fields; birds stilled with the deepening night;
Rigaud Mountain loomed from the plain, a
dark long mass under a flying and waning
moon; stars came out from the deep spaces
overhead, and still Mini lay where he had