A couple of weeks ago, I began a character interview which can be found here. During the interview, I described undergoing the withershins ritual, leaving the present time following my interview with my main character Michelle Langly and her daughter Kristen, and arriving back in January 1847, shortly after the end of my first story, ‘Withershins‘.
To set up this segment, Owl-Who-Sees-All has been accused of murdering Michelle when she left the Red River area in January, 1847. His grandson, Bear-With-Fire-Paw, asked me to speak to the Governor on Owl’s behalf, which I agreed to do, despite my reservation that I would be interfering with future events:
* * *
Bear accompanied me to the business office in the Big House. The clerk glanced up, pen in mid-air.
“How may I help you, Mr. Bear?” he asked.
“I beg an audience with the governor, if you please,” Bear replied. “This is Susan Rocan, a reporter covering the trial of my grandfather.”
“Miss Rocan,” the clerk nodded to me and held out his hand. “For which paper do you work?”
“I freelance, but have sold many articles to the Toronto Herald. I was staying at Upper Fort Garry and heard about the unusual circumstances of this trial. I wanted to get the details first-hand.”
“I will inform the governor of your request.” The clerk rose and headed for the door.
“Thank you, Michael,” Bear said.
The clerk paused, a hand on the doorframe, and nodded his acceptance of Bear’s appreciation before continuing to the governor’s quarters across the hall. A moment later, he returned with Governor George Simpson, a balding, slightly paunchy middle-aged man. His expression held a hint of reservation, despite his smile and warm handshake.
“My dear lady, Michael informs me that you request an interview,” the governor said.
“It’s less an interview and more of a gathering of information,” I replied. “It is my understanding that a young woman went missing from the community and you suspect Mr. Owl of harming her in some way. Is that correct?”
“One of our well-respected residents saw Mr. Owl leave with the woman, but he returned without her. It was very late on a bitterly cold night. Mrs. Wilson claims she saw Mr. Owl in possession of clothing that the young woman was wearing when she left. She suspects he killed her out on the prairie and disposed of the body.”
“Was there any blood evidence, any signs of a struggle, or indications of a burial anywhere?” I asked.
“Everyone in the area has searched their properties, the empty spaces and anywhere else we could think of to locate the woman,” the governor replied.
“What about the Upper Fort? I only heard rumours about the disappearance, but I don’t recall anyone from that area involved in the search. Is it not possible that she is somewhere at the Upper Fort?”
“I suppose it is possible, but when we circulated a sketch of the woman, no one claimed to have seen her.”
“May I see the sketch?”
Governor Simpson nodded to Michael who ruffled through some papers on his desk. He pulled out a piece of parchment with a rough charcoal drawing of a woman with long dark braids, dark eyes, a roundish face and full lips and handed it to me. It vaguely resembled the woman I knew as Michelle, but could easily be mistaken for someone else, if one did not know Michelle well.
“This is the woman you are looking for?” I asked, pretending to study the picture. “Could you tell me a little bit about her?”
“Miss Michelle Langly came to me last October after suffering an accident in which she lost her memory,” Governor Simpson revealed. “Doctor Buchannan, who came with the Sixth Regiment of Foot earlier in the season, examined her and suggested she not travel with her head wound. He requested that she stay here at the fort so she could recover. It was our hope that she would recover her memory and head off towards her home.”
“Is it possible that she suddenly remembered her home and headed off in that direction with Mr. Owl’s assistance?” I asked.
“Why would she remove the clothing she was wearing when it was so cold?”
“Perhaps her clothing got wet and she worried about freezing to death,” I suggested. “They might have brought clothes into which she could change. Is that not possible?”
“That was not evident and Mr. Owl has not said anything to that effect.”
“He may not be aware of all your suspicions, since he is unfamiliar with our language.”
“Mr. Bear has been acting as liaison and translator. I would have thought such questions would have been conveyed to him.” The governor glanced in Bear’s direction, as though accusing him of neglecting his duties.
“Perhaps we are hoping that my grandfather will be formally charged and real evidence presented, not detained and accused of murder with only speculation and innuendo as ‘evidence’,” Bear retorted. “You have completely dismissed the letter that the doctor discovered the morning after Miss Langly disappeared, a letter in Michelle’s hand telling him that she was going to try to go home. One would assume that if she was heading to the Dakotas, where she suspected her family was attacked, that she would have brought the appropriate supplies, including a change of clothing.”
I inwardly smirked at the reference to the story invented by Michelle and Duncan to explain how she happened to be found, injured, near St. Andrew’s Church late one night, something other than the fact that she performed the withershins ritual and travelled to the past. The made-up story was that she and her family had been attacked by bandits travelling to the Dakotas and she wandered, dazed, for miles until stumbling upon the Cochrane’s cottage.
I waved the sketch and frowned, as though I was remembering something.
“Is Michelle about this high,” I raised my hand above my head to about five feet six inches, “with a slim build, approximately 120 pounds?”
“Yes,” the governor responded. “Do you know her?”
“Not personally, but I did see a woman resembling this sketch at the Upper Fort a little less than a week ago. She didn’t appear to be any the worse for wear. As Bear said, if you have no real evidence that there was any foul play, how can you condemn a man simply because of a rumour?”
“Our, err, witness was very convincing,” the governor said rather sheepishly.
“You mentioned Mrs. Wilson. She is well-known for her dislike of the native population and anyone who is friendly with them. I can see her making up a story just to prove her opinion that the Indians in the area are evil. I also overheard her once, at the Upper Fort, telling someone how she disapproved of ‘country wives’ and insinuated that you, sir, had fallen victim to their magic. Is this really a woman you would trust not to bear false witness?”
“She is a God-fearing woman…” the governor began, his face flushed with embarrassment. I noticed he did not deny his involvement with his ‘country wives’.
I issued a snort of derision. “I have seen much cruelty presented at the hands of ‘God-fearing’ citizens. That doesn’t prove anything to me. Are you sure she is trustworthy?”
“Well, I, uh…” The governor cleared his throat. “Perhaps this matter requires further investigation.”
I glanced at Bear. He mouthed the words, ‘Thank you’ to me and I smiled.
“Sir, I am glad you are not prepared to condemn a man because of mere rumours,” I said. “You will feature favourably in my story.”
I reached out to shake his hand. He took it and lightly kissed the back of it.
“You are a gracious and intelligent woman. I look forward to reading your article. Do you know when it will be printed?”
“I will not submit my story until I am certain of Mr. Owl’s fate,” I said. “Do you have any idea when the Council of Assiniboia will be called in to consider the case?”
“It will not, in all likelihood, be decided for a couple of weeks. Since the nature of this case is so unusual, they have been uncomfortable about being asked to make deliberations and refuse to come to any conclusions until they have all the facts. I will mention that you may have seen her, that Miss Langly may still be alive, and that she may have travelled south of here.”
“Thank you for your cooperation, Governor Simpson. Please send a courier to the Upper Fort when deliberations have been completed and I will return for the verdict,” I said.
“I look forward to seeing you again,” the governor said – with a genuine smile, this time.
I returned his smile, happy that I had managed to alleviate his distrust of the media.
Bear and I left his office, at that point, returning to the turret prison to let Owl know what had transpired. Another man was speaking with him in a manner that suggested Owl was trying to teach him his language. When he heard our entrance, he stood and greeted us.
“You must be Susan Rocan,” the man said. “I am Doctor Buchanan, Charles Buchanan. Owl was just telling me you were here to help.”
“I am pleased to meet you, Doctor. Michelle told me all about you. She is very grateful for all you did for her, all you taught her.”
“Miss Langly was a very sweet young woman and reminded me so much of my own departed daughter. I was happy to help her in any way I could.”
* * *
Well, the interviews aren’t exactly typical, more anecdotal, but I hope you are able to glean a little about some of the characters from this little adventure. To learn more about the people mentioned in this ‘Unusual Sunday Interview’, click on the links, or pick up a copy of ‘Withershins’ in order to share the journey back to 1846/47 with Michelle. 🙂