by Nancy M. Bell
GENRE: Canadian Historical Mystery
When the British arrived in Winnipeg in the 1800s it was convenient for the men to take Metis wives. They were called a la vacon du pays – according to the custom of the country.
These women bore the brunt of ensuring survival in the harsh environment. Without them the British army and fur traders would not have survived the brutal winters. However, as society evolved it became accepted that wives must be white, schooled in British ways, fashionable in the European sense and married by the Anglican church.
The Metis wives and their ‘country born’ offspring were thrown out and forced to fend for themselves. The unrepentant husbands continued to live comfortably with their ‘new’ wives. It was inevitable that some discarded wives did not accept their fate quietly and hard feelings on both sides were unavoidable.
When the bodies of two discarded Metis wives, Marguerite and Marie-Anne, are found floating in the Red River, Guilliame Mousseau, sets out to get to the bottom of his sister Margueite’s murder.
Read an Excerpt:
The group halted by the river and milled around, held back by the ring of men accompanying the Hudson Bay officers. Guillaume elbowed his way to the front, heedless of the feet he trod on. Reaching the wall of onlookers, he gripped the nearest man’s arm.
“What have they found? Do you know who it is?” He peered over the shorter man’s shoulder. A bit of ragged shawl fluttered in the brisk breeze. “Marie-Anne!” Guillaume shoved the man aside and shook off the next man who sought to hold him back. Pushing his way through, he approached the small group of Hudson’s Bay officers surrounding the bodies.
“Hold, you!” One of the clerks moved to block his vision. “Get back where you belong!”
“Lord Ashmore! I demand to speak with Lord Ashmore!” Guillaume stood his ground.
“Yes, what is it?” Miles Ashmore turned from his perusal of the scene at his feet. “Ah, Mister Mousseau, what brings you here? This isn’t a place for you.”
“Don’t you recognize her?” Guillaume shook off the man still attempting to hold him back and knelt by the figures on the cold earth. He pushed back the hank of hair that had come unbound and covered the nearest victim’s face. It was Marie-Anne, he was sure of it because of the colourful shawls, though her features were beaten beyond recognition. He glared up at Ashmore. “This is my sister, Marie-Anne.” He rose and turned the other woman over. “And this is also my sister, Marguerite.” He surged to his feet, taking two long strides closer to the Englishman. “How did this happen? They came to you for help, how did they end up like this?”
“I’m sure I don’t know.” Lord Ashmore held up his hands, silently signalling the men to step back for the moment “I gave them a script to take to Doctor Schultz in order to obtain medicine for the boy. Other than that I have no idea where your women went afterward. It really is no concern of mine.”
“No concern of yours?” Guillaume’s voice dropped dangerously low. “Two women are murdered, one of them is the mother of your sons, and you claim it is no concern of yours?”
He ignored the surprised whispers from the enlisted men behind him, gaze pinning the man in his place. “Murders of innocent women are of no concern to you?” he repeated.
“I might quibble with the term innocent,” Ashmore began before quickly changing tack when Guillaume’s expression darkened, “but be that as it may, I think this is something that your community should handle. It’s not really a matter for me to be concerned with.” He stepped back, in effect washing his hands of the situation.
J.J. Hargreaves pushed his way through the line of soldiers. “What do we have here? Oh dear.” He stopped at the sight of the battered women laying on the banks of the Red River. Hargreaves came to stand beside Mousseau. “Do you know who they are?” He pulled a note pad and graphite stick out of his pockets.
“Oui, my sisters,” he said shortly.
“How did they come to be here so early in the morning, and in such condition?” Hargreaves licked the end of his pencil.
“I do not know. They came into the village late last night to ask for medicine for my nephew. They went to the lord’s house and got a script for Doctor Schultz and somehow ended up here.” He glared at Ashmore. “I came looking for them when I arrived home this morning and was informed they hadn’t returned last night.”
“Really?” Hargreaves scribbled on his note pad. “Did they ever make it to the apothecary’s?”
“That I do not know, yet. I had only started my search when I heard the commotion and came here with no idea of what I would find. Certainly, not this.” He nodded at his sisters’ bodies.
“Of course.” Hargreaves nodded, turning to speak to Lord Ashmore. “When did you become aware something was wrong?”
“At the same time as everybody else.” The man’s reply was terse.
“Who found the bodies, who reported it to you?” Hargreaves persisted.
Guillaume refused to be moved, intent on hearing Ashmore’s response.
“A fur trader on his way to the Hudson’s Bay store.” He glanced at Guillaume. “One of your people.”
“Who was it?” Mousseau demanded.
“How am I to know that? It was a fur trader, dirty and stinking. How am I to tell one from the other of you?”
Guillaume clenched his jaw. He would find out, someone at the store would know. The clerks loved gossip and surely this would be top of their minds this morning. First, he needed to take care of his sisters. “I need to find someone to help me move my sisters. Are you willing to have a few of your men stay here until I return with a cart and some help.”
Ashmore’s expression was undecided, glancing at the nearest men who were muttering among themselves, hunched against the cold.
“She is the mother of your sons, surely you can give her that much respect,” Guillaume insisted.
The Englishman nodded, signalling for three of the Company men to stay with the bodies and ordering the others to move the group of onlookers away.
“Let no one touch them,” Guillaume ordered the three men who met his words with blank faces. “No one.”
“See that no one interferes with anything,” Ashmore directed the men before marching off with the others trailing behind.
About the Author:
Nancy Marie Bell is a proud Albertan and Canadian. She lives near Balzac, Alberta with her husband and various critters. She is a member of The Writers Union of Canada and the Writers Guild of Alberta.
Nancy has numerous writing credits to her name, having three novels published and her work has been published in various magazines. She has also had her work recognized and honoured with various awards, and most recently, a silver medal in the Creative Writing category of the Alberta 55 Plus Summer Games in 2013.
Nancy has presented at the Surrey International Writers Conference in 2012 and 2013, and at the Writers Guild of Alberta Conference in 2014. She has publishing credits in poetry, fiction and non-fiction.
Nancy blogs on the first of each month at the Canadian Historical Brides Blog and on the 18th of every month at the Books We Love Insider Blog. Please drop by and say hi.
Q&A With the Author:
What was your inspiration for writing this book?
Along with my publisher, BWL Publishing Inc., I feel it’s important to tell the Canadian stories that so often get lost in the history books. In this case, the publisher is putting together a collection of Canadian Historical Mysteries with one set in each province and territory. It mirrors the earlier Canadian Historical Brides Collection in that respect. I was given Manitoba and I thought what better backdrop for my mystery than the Louis Riel Rebellion of 1869.It was a time of change and fraught with tension that set emotions running high. Rupert’s Land, which had up to this point, been under the control of the Hudson’s Bay Company was sold to Upper Canada. The people already living there took exception to the influx of immigrants who basically took their land from under them, and all with the blessing of the new government. This is what Riel and his followers were resisting, and I can’t say as I blame them. Colonization was brutal and unfair. The story revolves around two Metis women, one of which had been a common law wife of a British man. When society evolved and Winnipeg became more civilized, these common law wives were discarded in favour of more refined English women who were brought over from England. As you can imagine there was some acrimony between the two classes of women. A murder ensues and well, I’ll just leave it there.
What did you enjoy most about writing this book?
Honestly, learning more about the facts behind the information given to grade schoolers. It was fascinating to delve into the origins of Winnipeg and its environs. I recognized people’s names of places that still carry their name today. Grant’s Mill on Portage Avenue was owned by Cuthbert Grant, Kildonan, the legend of White Horse Plain, Bannatyne who was a founder of Harlequin publishing house.. It was also very interesting to look at historical documents and realize how the information in our school history books totally skewed the perspective. Riel is portrayed as a traitor and a villain. When in fact he was only trying to protect his people, the Metis, and ensure a fair and equable transition of power from the Hudson’s Bay Company to Canada.
Do you have any other books you are working on that you can tell us about?
Yes, I’m currently working on a YA, Laurel’s Choice. It is a stand alone which features the same characters from my two YA series, The Cornwall Adventures, and The Alberta Adventures. There are lots of horses in every book. Lauel’s Choice is set in southern Alberta and in Cornwall England. She’s a working student in a three day event barn. I love the cover for this one.
Can you tell us about what you have planned for the future?
I’m not sure what I’m going to be working on after the Laurel Book. I have a few ideas, but nothing concrete yet. I have another series set in Longview, Alberta which is contemporary romance. Again, horses and dogs and ranch life. There are a few secondary characters who want their stories told, so I imagine that’s where I’m headed. Kayla’s Cowboy, which released last year, is the first of those secondary character’s stories.
Anything more you would like to say to your readers and fans?
Thank you so much for taking the time to come and visit with me. I hope you enjoyed getting to know me a bit. Keep reading! As an author I love and appreciate all my readers and fans. Without you, there would be no books on the shelves and our words would sit on files on our computers. So here’s to readers and fan worldwide! “Cheers!”
You can find Nancy on Facebook at http://facebook.com/NancyMBell
Follow on twitter: @emilypikkasso
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