Caroline Warfield Interviews Meggy Campeau from The Renegade WifeBytown, Upper Canada
We arrived by steamer at the mouth of the Rideau Canal two days ago to interview the heroine of The Renegade Wife. Our subject kindly agreed to meet her author here so we do not have to go through the locks and canals to get to the Tay, her house being far north from here.
After a pleasant interlude in which we spoke over tea on the riverside, this interview resulted.
CW: Can you tell my readers your full name?
MC: I am Marguerite Marie Campeau, but you may call me Meggy.
CW: That is your maiden name is it not? You married young, I believe.
Meggy looks down at her tea at that point, lost in thought, before murmuring quietly
MC: Too young. I do not use that man’s name. Besides. . .
CW: Have you married again?
She grins at that.
MC: That would be telling. My author, of all people, ought to know that.
CW: Very well. Tell my readers about your early life, your family, and so on before you enter the pages of the book.
MC: I was born near the Straights, what the English call Detroit, on the Upper Canada side of the water above Fort Malden. While my mother lived we all traveled together while my father engaged in trapping and trade. Sometimes we visited Grand-mère’s and her people.
CW: Who is that?
MC: My mother’s mother was Ojibwa; she lived in a village above Lake St. Claire.
CW: It sounds like a pleasant childhood.
MC: More than pleasant, constantly joyful. Friends and relatives visited often. Mama cooked and Papa played his fiddle. We children danced and sang. After Mama died, he became more somber, and our home no longer was a gathering place.
CW: You married young? Was that to get away?MC: To get away? No. Fergus began courting me when I was sixteen. He served at Fort Malden where Papa often had business. I know I wasn’t the first girl to be entranced by a red coat, but he was handsome and charming, at least until we married.
CW: Did your father approve?
MC: Not at all! He did everything he could to keep me away. He even forbad me to go to Fort Malden. But then he died suddenly, and Fergus came, all sympathetic and kind. I got pregnant with Drew and he married me.
CW: When did you realize you had made a mistake?
MC: Quickly. Within months he began to tell me how ugly I looked, great with child. He called me wicked names, and began to stay away and drink. He came back though and bragged about his son to all who would listen.
CW: Why did you stay?
MC: I had taken vows! At first it wasn’t so bad. More babies came. At times he left me alone.
CW: How many children did you have?
MC: Four. Two didn’t survive their first winter. After Lena was born he began to rage at me for having so many babies, but giving him so few sons.
CW: Is that when you left?
MC: Not at first. He started hitting me and it got worse. Then he threatened to hurt Lena. When Drew intervened, he broke my son’s arm. Vows or no vows, I had to get them out of there. I thought to hide with Grand-mère’s people, but the village was not where I remembered. I had word of a village further east, and we got lost trying to find it.
MC: I overheard travelers on the road. We had hidden in the brush to let them past and I heard two men on horseback say that “the Englishman” (that’s what they called him) had left on business and they thought he might be gone until spring. Lena had developed a fever, Drew’s arm had not healed and an empty house sounded like a God-send.
CW: You know you had no right to take a man’s children. That must have taken courage.
MC: I don’t know about courage, but a mother does what she must to protect her children. Any law that gives ownership of a woman’s children to a man who cares nothing for them is a stupid law. Authority may have been on his side, but I had to get them away. If he let me leave and refused me the children I don’t know what might have happened. I would have killed him first.
CW: So you moved into someone’s empty house. Do you think that was right?
MC: Of course not. I never intended to stay, but winter was coming on. I intended to get Lena free of fever and give Drew’s arm time to heal. We used as little as possible and mostly trapped our own food. I didn’t intend to steal—you must believe me.
CW: How were you caught?
MC: He came home of course. I had chosen the house of the one man who valued his solitude over everything. He didn’t care that I’d used his sheets, or firewood, or flour. He cared that I had destroyed his privacy.
CW: How did he react?
MC: Seriously? You’re asking me that, when you created him with a rage so great I thought he meant to shoot me or harm my children?
CW: He didn’t, though, did he?
MC: No, of course not. When he realized the children were in need he couldn’t be cruel. No. We stayed. At first I thought he was another terrible man, but then—
Well, that’s a story for another time.