Excerpt from The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Last Crossing

by Guy Vanderhaeghe

The Last Crossing
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2004, 400 pages
    Paperback:
    Jan 2005, 400 pages

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Latimer, bound to the stake, had said to the chained and sobbing Nicholas Ridley beside him, "Play the man, master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out."

He would have welcomed to burn like Latimer now.

The horse gave a grunt, stumbled, fell in slow, dreamy increments. Simon became a boy again. His father had bought him a ticket at the London zoo for a ride on the camel. The dromedary was lowering itself to earth, in stages, a complicated, groaning piece of machinery, settling to its knees, sinking.

Pitched headlong, Simon lay in a pillow of snow, listening to Ridley screaming in the flames.

No, not Ridley screaming, the horse. He staggered to the fallen gelding. It was trying to rise on three legs, the fourth was horribly broken. Lurching up and falling back, lurching up and falling back. Simon caught the head stall, pulled the beast down and squatted on its neck, bringing to an end the terrible struggle. The horse stared up at him. Its eye a coal-yolked egg.

He placed his hand over the eye. His brother Addington had smashed a lot of hunters' legs. Addington, merciless rider. Long ago, a boy of ten, he'd seen one of the victims of Addington's recklessness destroyed. The gamekeeper delivered the coup de grâce while Addington and his fox-hunting friends drank whisky in the house. The callous cruelty of it had made him sob miserably, displeasing his father. "Buck up," Father had commanded him.

Left hand blinkering the eye of the horse, Simon reached for the knife sheathed on his belt. Less a knife than a small, bone-handled sword bought in Fort Benton, a bowie knife the Americans called it.

He told himself, "The Holy Ghost reads hearts."

When he sliced the throat, a tremor ran down the horse's neck, hot blood scalded his hand. The weary horse did not take long to die.

Whimpering, Simon huddled against its belly, cringing from the wind. His hands were alive with needles of agony; when he slipped them down the front of his pants to warm them, he felt the gluey blood on his privates.

There was a hymn – it skipped about his brain before he heard himself singing. "‘How mighty is the Blood that ran for sinful nature's needs! It broke the ban, it rescued man; it lives, and speaks, and pleads!'" Blood running for sinful nature's needs. Living, speaking, pleading. To rescue man.

Simon scrambled to his knees, knife upraised. Drove the sixteen inch blade into the horse's chest, sawed the belly down to the legs. Guts spilling, a thin steam sifting out of the lips of the incision. Plunged his hands into the mess of entrails. Tore away, scooping offal behind him, hacking with the knife at whatever resisted, whatever clung. Moaning, hunching his shoulders, drawing his knees up to his chest, wriggling away at the mouth of the wound, he burrowed into the balmy pocket.

O precious Side-hole's cavity
I want to spend my life in thee . . .
There in one Side-hole's joy divine,
I'll spend all future Days of mine.
Yes, yes, I will for ever sit
There, where Thy Side was split.

Safe in the slick, rich animal heat, out of the cruel wind. Not all of him, but enough. An embryo, curled in the belly of the dead horse.

The little bells sewn to the hem of Talks Different's caped buffalo robe jingled crisply as she strode along, towing an old buffalo bull hide piled with sticks rooted out of a coulee bottom. The sharp cold that had greeted her at dawn was lifting; Sun was climbing higher and higher, softening the snow, making it stick to the parfleche soles of her moccasins.

The passing of last night's blizzard had left the air perfectly still. Talks Different sweated in her robe, eyes squinted against Sun's dazzling dance on the white plain. All at once, she stopped and stared. Off in the distance, something was moving, most likely a prairie wolf gorging on a kill. She gave a tug to the hide-tail, briskly covered another hundred yards, but still could not give a name to what it was she saw. Something crouched above a carcass, something forbidding and black. The bells of her robe pealed a thin warning, but the creature did not run from the ringing like a coyote or wolf would. And it was too small to be a grizzly.

Copyright © 2002 by G & M Vanderhaeghe Productions Inc.. Reprinted with permission from Grove Atlantic, Inc. All rights reserved.

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