The wives of famous men rarely get air time in history books. I found two mentions of Marguerite Monet dit Bellehumeur, one that described her thus: “Louis Riel married an illiterate, tubercular Métisse who worshipped the ground he trod on.”
And a poem that Louis himself wrote, portraying her as, “a tender creature, always attentive to her duty.”
This is the kind of girl who will secretly worry about you then later, when you most deserve it, royally kick your ass. Marguerite lived a short, tragic existence. In the world of Song of Batoche, she’s more than just a “meek wife.” Here’s an excerpt from her first point of view, where she reveals her private fears at coming to Batoche with Louis.
Marguerite lifted a hand to her hair. It was a tangled matt, much as it had been when Louis first saw her wrapped in a shawl, the sun’s rays directly upon her. He often said he knew then that he’d found his Virgin Mary, but she had lost her innocence on a buffalo hunt many years before and was prone to melancholy. She kept her secret well, modulating her voice to sweetness, pretending that she was above anger and opinions of her own.
The thought of going to the North-West terrified her, leaving family and the familiar, yet Louis did not ask her thoughts when making his decision. A good wife did not stand in the way of her husband’s wishes, but she had tried to convince him to stay, using his own words.
“You once told me,” she said, as Gabriel Dumont waited outside their house, “that it was best for your health not to be in the North-West, mixed up with the Métis politics.”
“Their sacred cause reclaims me,” he replied, “I cannot refuse them my life and my blood.”
Madame Dumont was suddenly there, unbuttoning Marguerite’s coat. Her face loomed, black hair parted low over her forehead, expression grim, a double-beaded rosary at her neck. Marguerite wanted to push her away, but let herself be undressed, like a child. She was in awe of those hands, the fingers swollen from years of hard work and large as a man’s.
“So much dust,” Madame Dumont said, getting her out of the coat. “I will wash it for you.”
As she started on the dress, Marguerite burned with shame that she would soon stand in her underthings before these strange women. Madame Dumont spoke with pride of her hand crank washing machine, the only one in the South Branch, and Josette stood in the corner, fidgeting. She and Madame Dumont exchanged a private glance, almost imperceptible. Marguerite had seen this look among the women in Sun River and imagined their whispers.
That dark one, too plain, she is not good enough for the great Riel.
“Where are the men?” Madame Dumont asked.
“In Gabriel’s saloon,” said Josette. “Drinking and talking politics.”
“Louis does not drink,” Marguerite said with a smile.
Josette gave a short laugh. “He does now.”
Marguerite’s smile faded. Josette came to the window and looked down from behind the curtain, as if searching for someone. Marguerite did not care for her blunt manner, but she sized up Josette as if seeing her through Louis’ eyes. The other Métis women she’d met downstairs wore their good black church dresses, but Josette’s was faded blue, the hem frayed and thick with dust, her apron stained. A pair of moccasins on her feet looked as if they’d been recently in water. Long strands of dark hair that had come loose from her bun almost hid eyes that were shrouded in an expression somewhere between sadness and hate. And yet her face was thin and beautiful.
Louis will notice this one, she thought, glancing toward the saloon. Louis, who had surprised her shortly after their marriage, with talk of the prophets Abraham and Moses, men whom God had granted many wives. Marguerite had listened, appalled, obsessed first with jealousy and fear, and then an answer that she could live with.
Her husband was too poor to support more than one wife.Share: