A/N On the names: Romeo is the French version, so not romy-o but ro-MAY-o. Gabriel is pronounced like the English name Gabrielle.
A grievous stream, that to and fro
Athrough the fields of Acadie
Goes wandering, as if to know
Why one beloved face should be
So long from home and Acadie
Part the First
A dusty figure walks up the beaten dirt road known as the Haute Aboujagane. His feet are sore, crusted with blood, and his shoulders slump under the weight of travel. One small bundle is strapped to his back and a worn wooden stick eases his movement. The fields of Acadie are burning under the scorching July sun. They shimmer at noon-tide. The figure holds his hand over his eyes and peers into the distance. Whether or not he sees what he would like to, we cannot know.
Shortly, he drops himself underneath the shade of a willow. He leans back into the trunk and soaks up the coolness. He pulls a piece of tough bread from his bundle, picks out a spot or two of mold, and eats. After he finishes chewing, he adjusts his body, intending to nap until the sun is not as fierce.
Aurelie has just finished kneading the dough on her wooden table-top. She places a soft cloth overtop and sits down for a short rest. She grabs a cup and opens the lid of the pot where she keeps her water, and murmurs to herself in dissatisfaction with the level of water. She puts down the cup and grabs the tin pail. At the water pump she fills up the pail and starts to carry it back into the house. On her way to the front of the house she notices a figure lying at the willow by the gate.
At first she pays no attention, but once inside she takes a second cup and also fills it with the cool well-water. Taking both cups with her she walks out to the willow. The figure is a young man, probably two decades old. Aurelie smiles to herself – he reminds her of her son, before he left for Saint John. The young man has dark hair that looks indelibly smooth, in spite of the dust that coats it. His tan skin – no stranger to the sun – is flush with youth. But under all of this is a weariness.
Aurelie dabs a bit of water with her fingers across his scalp. His eyes flutter open.
"Nephew," she says, for already she thinks of him so, "where are you off to? Why don't you rest inside for a while?"
The weariness and fatigue of his person are her only answer, as he follows her the short distance to her house. The house was large, but right inside the door, opposite the kitchen, was a pallet where she indicated for him to rest.
When he awoke noon had passed long ago, and the fading rays of the sun indicated the late hour. His body is weak and he struggles to get up. Aurelie walks in the front door, and when she sees him says:
"Oh no, rest, dear, rest. Let me get you some food." She takes an iron pot from the fire and gives it a stir, and then ladles a healthy portion into an earthen bowl for him. She assists him in sitting up and gives him a cushion to keep the hot bowl off his knees. As he eats she takes a cloth and wipes the dirt from his callused feet. He winces once or twice, as she scrubs away particles of dirt embedded in the cracks of his feet, but he is grateful beyond words.
After eating the stew, he attempts to get up, but Aurelie stops him. She takes his bowl and spoon, places them in the wash tub, and turns back to him.
"My name is Aurelie. You can call me auntie, dear. Now I'm afraid we'll have to wash the rest of you. Don't be embarrassed, dear, it's something I've seen a million times before." She wrings a cloth and helps the young man out of his clothes.
"To think you would have just kept on walking," she muses, "right into the grave no doubt. What are you looking for? Don't answer that yet, nephew, we can talk in the morning."
Afterwards, she pulls the soft cotton sheets over him, and kisses his forehead. "Sleep well, cherie, sleep well."
The stranger falls asleep listening to the frogs in the nearby stream.
The sun rises gracefully over the low hills to the east, lighting up all the valleys and plains of Acadie. Aurelie wakes up with the sun, stretching her old bones. She brushes her hair thoroughly, braiding it behind her head, and dons a dress. When she reaches the bottom of the stairs, she is in the one large room that is the first floor of the house. Seeing that the young man is still asleep, she starts the fire and places her iron pot above the flames. Once she is sure the fire will last, she exits and tends to her sheep and goats.
Once she returns, she sees that the water in the pot is boiling, so she pours in her oats and stirs. She begins the preparation for making bread, leaving it to rise for an hour before she kneads it. She descends into the basement and down in the damp cool darkness, she finds what she is looking for. Upon her return to the first floor, she hears a moaning noise. She can see it is the strange wanderer. He tries to say something, but his voice is cracked and thick. She shushes him and brings him a cup of water.
After downing the cup, he speaks clearly. "Thank you," he says.
"No problem my boy. I'll have some oats for you in a minute."
Once she serves him the oatmeal, she serves herself some and sits in a high-backed wooden chair. She takes the blackberries she took from the basement and puts a few in each of their bowls.
"My name is Romeo," he says, in between mouthfuls.
"So," she begins, "what are you travelling for? Are you looking for something?"
"I'm looking for something," he confirms. "Actually, I'm looking for someone in particular. My friend," he says.
"Please go on," she prompts. She wouldn't admit it, but she wasn't heard a good story in ages.
"It's a long and painful story. But, goodness knows, it has haunted me long enough. Maybe the telling will exorcise my heart. It all began years ago, years and years… in fact, I only know how this story begins because my eldest sister would tell me, on cold winter nights…"