When I wrote Anotherlea I always had its sequel in mind. I began it because I wanted to see if I could take the characters and ending of Anne of Green Gables in another direction. In that story Josie creates AVIS, Diana goes to Queens, Marilla falls in love, and Anne gets lost in a snowstorm, loses her teaching job, hunts down a missing boy, and decides to become a journalist. There is also a lot of stuff about grief, duty, the ups and downs of sex, secrets, wisdom, fear, and love. In the end Gilbert leaves for Redmond to begin his B.A. and Anne goes to the Charlottetown to become a journalist.
Charlottetown picks up this story four years later. Gilbert is at medical school and Anne is a journalist in Regina, Saskatchewan, covering the North West Rebellion of 1885...
with love and gratitude to L.M.M. ~ everything is hers, only this idea is mine.
As I was walking by the clear spring
I found the water so lovely I had to bathe
Under the oak's leaves I lay and I dried
On the highest bough a nightengale sang
I have loved you for so long
I will never forget you...
I lost my love though I did not deserve it
Because of the rosebud I kept from him
I wish the rose was still on the bush
And my sweetheart loved me still
I have loved you for so long
I will never forget you...
French-Canadian folk song.
"God cannot create a tribe without locating it. We are not birds, we stand upon the ground."
Louis Riel, 1885
Before we begin
It isn't the light that wakes her, though it burns so bright through the canvas she has taken to wearing a blindfold. It isn't the wails of injured men or mules braying to be set free. It is the wind that pulls her from sleep. Its great gusting arms set the guy-lines to shrieking, and it beats on the tents like drums.
The short rest has left her thirsty. Her hand is on her flask before the dreams have left her head. It is filled with cold boiled water. Gilbert taught her to do that – and many things besides. She thinks of him as she runs her finger over her teeth and rinses with a precious mouthful. The women are forbidden to go to the lake for water. And the men? Well, the men have rum.
She winds her thick braids round her head and is hunting out a hairpin, when an older woman clad in black ducks her head into the tent.
'Yes, Mother – let me tie my boots,' she answers, then looks at her feet and remembers she slept in them.
Outside the wind does its best to throw her coat-tails over her head. Beneath the coat, Anne wears two thick sweaters and a pair of leather breeches. They are stiff from weeks of wear and surely smell, but the wind carries that away. Like a blade, it runs right through her, and she yanks her beret over her ears and buries her hands in her pockets.
The Mays she has known on the Island are nothing to this. Half the militia arrived in the west with frostbitten fingers or rattling coughs. It took less than two weeks to transport them from Ontario to Saskatchewan; the officers in saloon cars, their men like cattle in open wagons. Where the railway stopped they were marched through open country; some to battle Poundmaker, others to Big Bear, and the rest to take the traitor, Louis Riel. He was said to be a madman, a savage, a murderer, and is now holed up in the small town of Batoche. Word is, that those who fight with him have run out of bullets, and load their rifles with pebbles and nails.
'It won't be long now,' Mother Hannah says.
She sits at her desk made from crates and a wagon seat. It used to be covered with broadcloth but that was requisitioned or stolen. Hannah does not care to know. So long as no one touches her medicines or her girls, she is content.
The girl before her is neither nun nor nurse, but a reporter from the Regina Leader. Hannah doesn't think much of journalists but this one has proved useful. She threads her reedy fingers together and clears her wimpled throat.
'Sergeant Forge reports that a white flag has been sighted in Batoche.'
'You sound disappointed,' says Hannah, she purses her lips against a smile and strokes the cross at her breast.
'Of course not, no... ' Anne shrugs. 'Surprised perhaps. Some men say he is a prophet sent from God.'
The cross is abandoned as Hannah strikes her hand against the desk top. 'I forbade you to talk to the men, Anne. Your condition upon staying here was to assist myself and Sister Ruth.'
'I remember your condition, Mother.'
'I should hope you do. But as it looks like an accord is about to be reached, it falls upon me to inquire what you plan to do next.'
'Is Captain Peters returned?' Anne asks. She pulls off her beret and smooths down violent red hair. Sister Ruth once joked that Anne should keep her head covered lest someone mistake her for a fox and take a shot at her. 'I must see him – or his photographs at least. If he would agree to publishing them in The Leader –'
'You're leaving us then?'
Hannah purses her lips again. She does not believe Anne wants to go, only lacks is a reason to stay. She discovered Anne a month ago fleeing from Batoche. The first thing the girl did was fling her pack onto one of the wagons and ride ahead with the scouts. They were seeking out the best place for the aid station and wanted somewhere far from the scrub. The Cree hid there and could pick off ten men before anyone knew about it.
Anne stuck her oar in. They must have wood, she insisted, for there was little around on the wide open plains, which would leave them at risk of exposure. The prairies paid no heed to the seasons; the winds brought snow in June, and seared them away in January. The camp would need fuel to feed the fires and a reliable source of water. Not only for those who came back with bullet holes, but for the surgeon and nurses too.
After finding a suitable place to camp, Anne spent her first days making up drafts of yarrow and milkweed to soothe and clean the men's wounds. Later she found a stray boy to do the job instead. It is Anne's connection to this boy that Hannah appeals to now.
'Surely you won't leave Joe, that little boy depends on you?'
Anne shakes her head, a smile cracking her blistered lips. When she last saw Joe he was nursing a red ear after the quartermaster discovered he'd been finishing the rations of the men too ill to eat.
"Joe doesn't depend on me, he would live anywhere that had regular meals. Now if you'll excuse me, Mother, I must find Captain Peters.'
Anne discovers him a week later on a paddle steamer heading down river. She knew he would be one of the first to leave. He is a correspondent for the Quebec Chronicle and carries a camera Anne had never seen before. She burned with envy the first time she saw it. When she asked what it was, he had simply said, 'Truth.'
Captain Peters is sitting with the other officers in what used to be a ballroom. The Northcote was once a pleasure boat. Now it transports troops and munitions along the South Saskatchewan River, its fine metal railings plugged with sandbags and sacks.
In daylight hours the wounded are brought to the deck for the air, and at night they are returned to quarters. Excepting one poor soul whose wounds reek like spoiled meat.
Anne decides to sit with him. People ignore her if she keeps herself busy, but that's not the only reason she is remains above deck. Whenever she goes below, the sound of the paddles striking the water is drowned out by her thumping heart. Not for the first time she misses Joe, he would have got food to her when it was still warm. By the time Anne feeds Private Ferrar, her own meal is always congealed and cold.
'What are you thinking when you look up at the stars like that?' the young Private asks.
'Home,' Anne answers, then quickly shakes her head. 'I mean Regina.'
'Regina's not your home, then?'
'It isn't anybody's. Everyone in that town comes from some place else.' Anne does not stop looking at the stars as she says this, and mutters, almost to herself, 'Why is this boat so slow?'
'My father is a river pilot, he's gone to the Nile to save Gordon's men. When I was a lad I would always urge him faster and he would always say to me: there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, Johnny-cake, but there are no old bold pilots. A river needs reading, see. There's no hurrying its meaning. Unless you like getting sunk.'
Anne can hear the chink of glass from the ballroom above them; sees the light of the chandelier sway to and fro.
'That's why I love the stars, you know where you are with them.'
'Then you belong to the sea, Miss.'
'There are river people and there are sea people...'
'Let me tell you of my people,' Anne cuts in, she can tell he is tiring and wraps her coat around his own. Private Ferrar could pass for one of her brothers; he has Davy's blue eyes and Gilbert's curly hair. She clasps his trembling hand and wills herself to continue. 'They live by a brook that has its source in a spring. A secret cascade that dips and whirls among curled ferns and white violets, red rocks and silver birches, and swells the Lake of Shining Waters. By the time it reaches the main road, however, it is a well-conducted stream. It has to be if it wants to get by Mrs Lynde –'
'Who?' His word barely sounds on his breath.
Anne looks up at the stars again. She is not trying to hold her nose above the stench anymore, she is trying to hide her tears. Private Ferrar isn't tiring. He will never leave this steamer, Anne knows that now and determines to tell him such a story. One that will free him from his rotting body, and her aching one, and carry them like a wind to the sky.
'Yes, Johnny-cake. She was sitting and knitting and minding her own business when a man named Matthew Cuthbert drove his buggy to Bright River...'
She is describing how to make a house of snow when Captain Peters appears on deck. He leans against the sandbags and lights a half-smoked cigar.
'You know he's gone, don't you?' he says between sucks.
Anne nods. Though she is numb with cold and sorrow, her eyes still seek the camera that always hangs from the Captain's shoulder.
'It's locked away, young lady, and you will be too if you're looking to thieve.'
Anne tucks her coat over the Private's grey face and heads toward the prow of the steamer, motioning the Captain to follow. He is handsome in his way, but far too old for her. Still, there is something about his quiet eyes, the thick moustache hiding sensitive lips.
'I'm not a thief, Captain Peters, excepting good stories of course.'
'You're a writer?'
'A correspondent, like you.'
James Peters snorts. Anne expects this and brings out a piece of newsprint she keeps tucked inside the lining of her jacket.
'That's me,' she says, pointing to the byline.
'So ho! The infamous Claire Fontaine. Just like the song.'
'I thought the name rather apt since my editor has me singing for my supper.'
The Captain snorts a second time, this one in sympathy. He signals two men to deal with the corpse and relights his cigar. Anne looks up at the stars again, revealing the luminous skin at her throat. Captain Peters hasn't been this close to loveliness since he left his wife in Montreal. A moment later he bows and departs.
Anne doesn't tell her editor any of this when she returns to the newsroom some days later. Mr Davin is too full of his own news and, as usual, his own importance. The government wants the rebels tried in Regina; The Leader will have the ear of the nation!
Anne isn't as excited as she ought to be, in fact she had planned on resigning. While she missed her bed, her bath, and her books, after living in the wilds for two months, the small town feels like a cage.
It is a cage she walks into when she smuggles herself into Riel's cell that November. She is disguises herself as Mother Hannah, but the condemned man remembers Anne's face.
'I saw you at the trial and loved you,' he says, smiling as though she was his child.
Anne cannot smile back. Her French is not as good as it should be and she keeps her head low and carefully transcribes his every word. Later she types it out for the pressman, and a resignation letter to Davin, then throws her breeches into the furnace and steps into her favourite dress.
Her skirts fill out like the sails of a ship as she stands on the platform and waits for the train. There is no one there to see her go. So she holds out her arms above her bare head and embraces the great gushing air.
Scarlet clouds span the sky, as a mighty Snow Eater bears down. The north-west wind like a hand at her back, guiding her eastward and home.
I hope you missed my footnotes because I have a lot...
* the folk song A la claire fontaine (By the clear spring) has been beloved in the French Maritimes since the 17th century. There are many versions, I chose this one because it suits the story I am going to write. I got the idea of using it as a pen name when I was researching the famous stunt reporter, Elizabeth Cochran, who took her name, Nellie Bly, from a song.
* if you look up 'Victorian women in Pants, Breeches and Pantaloons' you will discover women have always worn the trousers!
* 'a well conducted stream' from chapter one, Anne of Green Gables
* 'I saw you at the trial...' from an article written by journalist Mary Mclean, who disguised herself as a priest in order to get Riel's last interview before he was executed.
* a snow eater is a foehn wind, you might remember me writing about it in The Windy Willows love letters. Gilbert called it a chinook.
* Louis Riel, Chief Poundmaker, Chief Big Bear, The Regina Leader, Captain James Peters, Mother Hannah Grier Coome, Nicholas Flood Davin, the Northcote, General Gordon at the Nile, and the North West rebellion (resistance) of 1885, are all based on fact, I just moved them around as required because this is fiction not a history lesson :o)
The music for this story (because every story starts with music) is The Shipping News by Christopher Young. That soaring penny whistle and the heart-beat of the bodhrán – ah!
Thank you all for reading!