A Historical Mystery Based On The True Story of Marie-Joseph Angélique

This past holiday there was a special present under the tree – my new novel Conflagration! This is the seventh book in BWL Publishing’s Canadian Historical Mysteries series, and it takes us back almost three centuries to New France and an era when slavery was surprisingly and sadly commonplace. I’d like to share the opening pages with you.

Chapter 1 – Montréal
Friday, April 9, 1734

cover of book Conflagration! by donalee MoutonMud is everywhere. It defines Montréal in April. The snow continues its laborious melt, the ice in the St. Lawrence jostles the shoreline, the clouds hover relentlessly close to earth, and everywhere there is heavy, wet, sticky muck. It adheres to the sides of shoes, the bottoms of coats, and the brims of hats whipped to the ground by winds, there one minute, gone the next.

I look down. My boots are caked in grime, a primordial ooze from the earth, from under the sea, from crevices unknown. I will spend much of this evening cleaning heels, toe caps, and outsoles only to have more mud adhere tomorrow. These caked brown scars are visible reminders that I am not at home. Not at home in this town. Here I have no roots, no history.

Home is Acadie, another world away in another part of New France. My home, admittedly, has mud, but it is the mud pigs roll in to cool their skin, the mud farmers use to build dykes, the mud kids make patties with under the spring sun. Montréal mud is a nuisance, a bother, a reminder of life’s inconveniences.

I am feeling sorry for myself. I am missing my family. It happens. I accept the ache, acknowledge its origins, and move forward, literally through more mud. I remind myself of Madeleine, my wife. She makes life in here bearable. She makes life breathable.

The afternoon sun hides behind clouds. But even in disguise, its demise for the day is evident. Soon it will be dark. I need to push onward, deliver these papers, and make my way home before nightfall. Before the mud becomes invisible, and treacherous. The ground is still hard and much of it frozen; mud will not break a fall, but it will cause one. I need to be careful. For Madeleine.

* * *

map of Montreal 1734

Map of the St. Lawrence River, 1781 Joseph F.W. Des Barres, River of St. Lawrence, from Cock Cove near Point au Paire, up to River Chaudière Past Quebec, 1781. London: I.F.W. Des Barres. Bibliothèque et Archives nationales du Québec

A heavenly aroma greets me as a walk through the front door. We live several streets away from the merchants’ quarter, on rue Saint-Antoine, closer to where I work as a court clerk. Madeleine knows somehow today was a long day and a hot beverage will be welcome. The tea, a Bohea blend infused with orange peel, is a special treat. It helps to warm my chilled bones and reassure my feet they will work tomorrow. Madeleine places my boots at the front door. I will tackle them later.

Supper is hot and satisfying, smoked ham with potatoes, cabbage, and onion. More tea follows the meal. As does conversation. This is our time. Madeleine listens with her ears and her heart. This is my favorite time of day.

And I talk about mud. My wife knows I am not really talking about mud but about Montréal, this town that is my home and not my home. “There is mud in Acadie,” she says gently. She pats her stomach, almost absently, and reminds me that soon this town will also be the home of our first child.

“I’m sorry.” It’s the least I can say. What I can do is make our conversation what it should be and what it usually is: meaningful.

“I was in the lower town today.”

Madeleine smiles. “I bet it was muddy.”

“I saw a Panis slave. My guess, she is from the Fox Nation. Sold to someone here.”

“You see slaves every day. Yet you remember this one.”

“You are, as usual, right. I saw several slaves today on rue Saint-Paul alone. And a young servant girl. It all disconcerts me still.”

I am familiar with slaves. We have slaves in Acadie, but they work the farms, the field, the land as we all do. They seem part of the landscape. Perhaps they do not feel that way. I say this out loud to Madeleine. She does not dismiss the notion as odd as it may be in this town of 3,000 people that includes hundreds of slaves, maybe more.

“Do these slaves look differently to you? Do they act differently?”

They do not, and they do. “It is the vacant stares, the abbreviated eye contact. It does not sit well in my heart.”

“Another cup of tea will solve that.”

I will come to realize that what I see is the look of those imprisoned. It is the face of those who have no means of escape. Later I will associate it with the wall that surrounds Montréal.

I hate that wall. It closes me in. It is supposed to make me feel safe. It doesn’t.

Learn About The Author

Learn more about donalee on her author website: https://donaleemoulton.com/

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