Monday, May 30, 2016

Character Conversations: Elisabeth Beaumont, from Promised to the Crown by Aimie K. Runyan

I looked down at my phone to double check the address Aimie forwarded when she'd arranged my interview with Elisabeth. It wasn't much of an address really. Just a street name in Quebec's historic district with a noted instruction to follow my nose. 

I turned the last corner and looked up the street. The buildings had a charming old world feel to them, but I didn't see anything that looked like a colonial era bakery. Panic fluttered in my stomach, but just as I thought to text Aimie for help, I caught the scent of fresh baked bread. 

I spun round and just two doors down, perfectly conspicuous and yet inexplicably imperceptible to the passing pedestrians was the Beaumont's bakery. I grinned thinking the effect was similar to Rowling's descriptions of 12 Grimmauld Place, shoved my phone into my pack, and hurried inside.

It was warm and a variety of mouth-watering aromas hung heavy in the air. I looked over the displays and was making a mental note to buy something for the trip back to my hotel when a tall woman with blonde hair entered the room. If she was surprised by my clothes and appearance, she didn't let on. She simply smiled, introduced herself, and invited me to a table where she'd prepared coffee for our Q&A.

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Please forgive me if this is an impertinent question, but what possessed you to leave the safety and security of France for the wilds of Quebec? 
An arranged marriage to the most shiftless man in Paris, not to put too fine a point on it. My mother had grand ideas for my match, but I had other plans that had little to do with titles and prestige. I always dreamed of running a bakery as my father did, and his father before him. My mother meant well, or at least I hope she did in her heart, but I am Pierre Martin’s daughter through-and-through. I don’t think mother ever fully approved of either of us.

What was the crossing like? 
Dreadful. Three months on a rickety ship being tossed about like mice in the clutches of a sadistic cat. We had to bring on our own water or risk dying of thirst days or weeks away from the coast. Food could grow scarce. Disease could ravage the ship. We came closer to that than we cared to think about. Once I stepped foot on New France, I knew I never wanted to see the old one again. It wasn’t worth the return voyage.

Were you nervous about what’d be waiting for you when you arrived? 
We all were, though some worse than others. Nicole had quite a few worries as we arrived, but it shows how well loved she was at home. She was lucky in that regard. It was easier for those of us who didn’t leave behind much family. The future was ours to carve out of the ice, and I was more excited than nervous—most of the time.

What were your first impressions New France? 
It was as cold as they claimed, even in September when we first arrived. In Paris, the weather would have begun to turn for the worse, to be sure, but we didn’t have blankets of snow until December most years. All but the coldest days here are still better than the biting cold on the deck of the ship. That’s a cold that settles in your bones and refuses to leave. The people seemed friendly and very happy to see us when we first arrived, and for the most part, they stayed that way. In a small settlement like ours, it’s more useful to have friends than foes.

Did the ratio of men to women intimidate you at all? 
It made choosing a husband more of a chore in many ways, but it was wonderful to have a choice. Most of us would have been married off by fathers, brothers, or uncles to the man that best suited their needs, not ours. Here, we were only offered advice by the Ursuline Sisters, and then left to make the decision on our own. That aspect was intimidating, make no mistake. If we chose poorly, we had no one else to blame for it.

How did you feel being ‘put on display’ as a potential bride? 
It was a necessary evil. We needed to meet the gentlemen of the colony in one way or another, so the reception seemed the least degrading method of introduction. Some of the girls had heard that these meetings were more in line with cattle auction than a proper debut into New French society, but it was nothing so crass. I simply pretended to be charming customers at my father’s bakery, and the evening was as pleasant as one could hope for. 

There were obviously more men than women in the colonies. Did you feel pressured to choose a partner quickly? 
We knew we had a duty—to marry and bring forth children for the colony, and the whole of the settlement wanted to see us paired off. At the same time, the Sisters urged caution when choosing our husbands to ensure we wouldn’t select a man who was less than worthy or ill-prepared to take a wife. The wrong choice would be a mistake we’d have to live with for a lifetime. No one blamed us for taking a few months to know our minds.

What factors did you consider when evaluating your suitors? 
It came down to two suitors in the end. I asked myself which man my father would have chosen. Then my mother. I went with the man whom I thought would make me happy and whom I could best serve as a helpmeet. It wasn’t a hard decision once I thought of it like that. 

Did you find what you were looking for in New France? Is your life what you hoped it would be? 
It hasn’t been an easy path, my dear girl. I’ve the purest happiness of my life and the bitterest sorrow since I came here. But I have to say, I’ve done all I can do to honor my country, my king, and my husband. I live a life of value and purpose. No woman can ask for more. 

Do you think many ‘King’s Daughters” found happiness in Quebec? 
I don’t think any of us can ‘find’ happiness like one might stumble across a perfect meadow of wildflowers. You have to work for it, mold it, and craft your own. We’re the resourceful and resilient sort though, so I think most of us made our measure of happiness. I truly hope so.

Do you miss anything about France? Do you long for any conveniences that simply aren’t available on the edge of civilization? 
Chocolate. It was a delicacy in Paris that we could only get in fits and starts in the bakery, but it had a flavor like nothing I’ve ever tasted. My millefeuilles aren’t the same without it. And coffee. Oh how I miss the decadent brews my mother and I would share. Those were some of the few happy memories I have of her. 

I’ve got to get going or I’ll miss my bus, but I’m curious, if you had the chance, would you have done anything differently? 
What’s this ‘bus’ you speak of? A new-fangled carriage or wagon? Don’t tarry too long or your horses won’t be able to traverse the snow. 

I like to think I would have asked the friends who imparted the news of my departure to my mother to let her know I loved her and hope that we could make peace one day. She was neither loving nor kind, but she gave me life and deserved better from me. 

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Date of Birth: April 27, 1641

Physical Appearance: Tall, statuesque woman with long wheat-blonde hair and blue eyes. Not particularly feminine, but charming and sweet tempered.

Education and Job Skills: Cannot read or write before arriving in the colony at her mother’s insistence. Strong mind for figures. She is a skilled baker, particularly fond of crafting pastries. 

Favorite Food: Apple pastry with thick cream and a cup of coffee

Favorite Recipe: Millefeuilles. The dozens of layers and perfectly blended English cream always require perfect attention. One can’t be complacent with pastry, even after decades of experience.

Hobbies: Sewing, though never fancywork. If it doesn’t serve a purpose, she’s not interested. She also like cards, but Gilbert has little patience for games.

Most Cherished Possession: Her father’s rolling pin.

Immediate Family: Her husband, Gilbert, and two wards, Pascal and Gabrielle Giroux. 

Strengths: Loyalty, intelligence, and stamina.

Weaknesses: Temper, with an unfortunate inability to censor her tongue when provoked. 

Appearances: Chapter 2 of PROMISED TO THE CROWN and nearly every one after.

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Aimie K. Runyan, member of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and Women's Fiction Writers Association, has been an avid student of French and Francophone Studies for more than fifteen years. While working on her Master's thesis on the brave women who helped found French Canada, she was fortunate enough to win a generous grant from the Quebec government to study onsite for three months which enabled the detailed research necessary for her work. Aimie lives in Colorado with her husband and two children.

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