Sexual hypocrisy, religious prejudice, and ethnic discrimination make up the themes of Vandeleur, a Novel of Victorian Canada. Based on a true story, it tracks the course of a disgruntled newspaperman facing the realization that his biased reporting and low sense of self-worth may have contributed to a grave miscarriage of justice. It is set in Ontario, between 1884 and 1904.
Rosannah awoke in the dark, feeling edgy. Her headache was gone, replaced by a restlessness that brought on a first faint foreboding that something was wrong. At twenty-five, she’d known the pain of childbirth and the hurt of vanquished love, but this was different. She stirred uneasily, not wishing to disturb others asleep in the house.
It was a simple place, not much more than a shanty where Rosannah had been raised along with a dozen brothers and sisters. The one-room log house had been put up by her parents, James and Molly Leppard, from trees they’d felled and trimmed, using few tools and a lot of sweat. It clung to a hillside where her father held title to half a dozen acres of straggly farmland overlooking the Beaver River Valley, opposite the village of Vandeleur. The Leppards were one of the poorest families in the Queen’s Bush, the new territory below Georgian Bay where immigrant workers, sons of farmers, and failures from the cities – all seeking a second chance at life – were extending the frontier society of Ontario.
Rosannah knew every footpath within half a day walk of the house. It was an hour’s hike to The Gravel, the only decent road in this lonely countryside. She sometimes hitched a ride on a passing wagon for the journey to Munshaw’s Hotel, where she could usually find a willing man to buy her a glass of beer.
It was cold in the house on this last night of October 1883, and the fire in the stove had burned out. Now fully awake, Rosannah gathered her blanket around her. She wondered what life would hold for her two little girls sleeping below in the trundle bed they shared. My angels, she called them. The older one was four and the baby not quite two. How difficult it had been to care for them without a father. She couldn’t have done it without Mother, but it was clear her mother’s patience was running out.
Rosannah remembered the men she’d been with. First there’d been Father Quinn, the Catholic priest. She detested him for what he had done to her when she was twelve years old. He taught her she had something men wanted, and she resolved they would pay for it, in money or in other things. By the time she was fifteen, there’d been boys her own age and men she’d met at village socials or the blacksmith shop or general store. Later, there was David Rogers, to whom she’d been briefly married. And Leonard Babington, whom she had never married but had dearly loved.
Six weeks ago, Rosannah had defied her Catholic mother by marrying the Protestant, Cook Teets, in a Presbyterian church in Toronto. He was thirty years older than she, and she was still trying to get used to being Rosannah Teets. It was all going to be different married to Cook. He was the kind of man she had always wanted: aloof when he encountered coarseness, a spendthrift when he was caught in passion, compliant when he sought affection from her. They would have a home together as soon as he could find a place. It was too bad Mother wouldn’t let him stay here. Or that Cook’s mother wouldn’t permit her to set foot in the Teets house. Rosannah had learned long ago that most Catholics and Protestants couldn’t abide each other, and there was nothing she could do about that.
The small sounds of the night – the creaking of a timber or the distant yelp of a coyote – were upsetting to Rosannah. She believed she heard someone fiddling with the latch on the front door. When she lit a candle and went to investigate no one was there, just the dog lying at the doorstep.
The first light of dawn was showing itself through the thin blankets that hung around her bed. Rosannah had been thinking how worthwhile life was going to be when the tingling began. It started in her stomach. In a little while it brought on cramps, followed by spasms of pain that led to convulsions. She heaved and arched her back, seeking relief. Her chest grew tight. It was hard to breathe. Spittle ran down her chin and her muscles went rigid. She felt a hot wetness beneath her. She was losing control of her body. She flung out her arms and whispered, “Dear God, why are you punishing me?” In a moment, she began to scream.