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Annette, the Metis Spy: A Heroine of the N.W. Rebellion, страница 1


Annette, the Metis Spy: A Heroine of the N.W. Rebellion

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Annette, the Metis Spy: A Heroine of the N.W. Rebellion

  Produced by Avinash Kothare, Juliet Sutherland, CharlesFranks and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team.
































  The sun was hanging low in the clear blue over the prairie, as tworiders hurried their ponies along a blind trail toward a distantrange of purple hills that lay like sleepy watchers along the banksof the Red River.

  The beasts must have ridden far, for their flanks were white withfoam, and their riders were splashed with froth and mud.

  "The day is nearly done, mon ami," said one, stretching out his armand measuring the height of the sun from the horizon. "How red it is;and mark these blood-stains upon its face! It gives warning to thetyrants who oppress these fair plains; but they cannot read thesigns."

  There was not a motion anywhere in all the heavens, and the onlysound that broke the stillness was the dull trample of the ponies'hoofs upon the sod. On either side was the wide level prairie,covered with thick, tall grass, through which blazed the purple,crimson and garnet blooms, of vetch and wild pease. The tiger lily,too, rose here and there like a sturdy queen of beauty with its greatterra cotta petals, specked with umber-brown. Here and there, also,upon the mellow level, stood a clump of poplars or white oaks--primlike virgins without suitors, with their robes drawn close aboutthem; but when over the unmeasured plain the wind blew, they bowedtheir heads gracefully, as a company of eastern girls when the kingcommands.

  As the two horsemen rode silently around one of these clumps, theresuddenly came through the hush the sound of a girl's voice singing.The song was exquisitely worded and touching, and the singer's voicewas sweet and limpid as the notes of a bobolink. They marvelled muchwho the singer might be, and proposed that both should leave the pathand join the unknown fair one. Dismounting, they fastened theirhorses in the shelter of the poplars, and proceeded on foot towardthe point whence the singing came. A few minutes walk brought the twobeyond a small poplar grove, and there, upon a fallen tree-bole, inthe delicious cool of the afternoon, they saw the songstress sitting.She was a maiden of about eighteen years, and her soft, silky, darkhair was over her shoulders. In girlish fancy she had woven forherself a crown of flowers out of marigolds and daisies, and put itupon her head.

  She did not hear the footsteps of the men upon the soft prairie, andthey did not at once reveal themselves, but stood a little way backlistening to her. She had ceased her song, and was gazing beyondintently. On the naked limb of a desolate, thunder-riven tree thatstood apart from its lush, green-boughed neighbours, sat a thrush ina most melancholy attitude. Every few seconds he would utter a noteof song, sometimes low and sorrowful, then in a louder key, and moreplaintive, as if he were calling for some responsive voice from faraway over the prairie.

  "Dear bird, you have lost your mate, and are crying for her," thegirl said, stretching out her little brown hand compassionatelytoward the crouching songster. "Your companions have gone to theSouth, and you wait here, trusting that your mate will come back, andnot journey to summer lands without you. Is not that so, my poorbird? Ah, would that I could go with you where there are alwaysflowers, and ever can be heard the ripple of little brooks. Here theleaves will soon fall, ah, me! and the daisies wither; and, insteadof the delight of summer, we shall have only the cry of hungrywolves, and the bellowing of bitter winds above the lonesome plains.But could I go to the South, there is no one who would sing over myabsence one lamenting note, as you sing, my bird, for the mate withwhom you had so many hours of sweet love-making in these prairiethickets. Nobody loves me, woos me, cares for me, or sings about me.I am not even as the wild rose here, though it seems to be alone, andis forbidden to take its walk; for it holds up its bright face andcan see its lover; and he breathes back upon the kind, willing,breeze-puffs, through all the summer, sweet-scented love messages,tidings of a matrimony as delicious as that of the angels."

  She stood up, and raised her arms above her head yearningly. Theautumn wind was cooing in her hair, and softly swaying its silkenmeshes.

  "Farewell, my desolate one; may your poor little heart be gladdersoon. Could I but be a bird, and you would have me for a companion,your lamenting should not be for long. We should journey, loiteringand love-making all the long sweet way, from here to the South, andhave no repining."

  Turning around, she perceived two men standing close beside her. Shebecame very confused, and clutched for her robe to cover her face,but she had strayed away among the flowers without it. Very deeplyshe blushed that the strangers should have heard her; and she spakenot.

  "Bonjour, ma belle fille." It was the tall commanding one who hadaddressed her. He drew closer, and she, in a very low voice, herolive face stained with a faint flush of crimson, answered,

  "Bonjour, Monsieur."

  "Be not abashed. We heard what you were saying to the bird, and Ithink the sentiments were very pretty."

  This but confused the little prairie beauty all the more. But thegallant stranger took no heed of her embarrassment.

  "With part of your declaration I cannot agree. A maiden with suchcharms as yours is not left long to sigh for a lover. Believe me, Ishould like to be that bird, to whom you said you would, if youcould, offer love and companionship."

  The stranger made no disguise of his admiration for the beautifulgirl of the plains. He stepped up by her side, and was about to takeher hand after delivering himself of this gallant speech, but shequickly drew it away. Then, turning to his companion,

  "We must sup before leaving this settlement, and we shall accompanythis bonny maiden home. Go you and fetch the horses; Mademoiselle andmyself shall walk together." The other did as he was directed, andthe stranger and the songstress took their way along a little grassypath. The ravishing beauty of the girl was more than theamorously-disposed stranger could resist, and suddenly stretchingout his arms, he sought to kiss her. But the soft-eyed fawn of thedesert soon showed herself in the guise of a petit bete sauvage. Withan angry scream, she bounded away from his grasp.

  "How do you dare take this liberty with me, Monsieur," she said, hereyes kindled with anger and hurt pride. "You first meanly come andintrude upon my privacy; next you must turn what knowledge you gainby acting spy and eavesdropper, into a means of offering me insult.You have heard me say that I had no lover to sigh for me. I spoke thetruth: I _have_ no such lover. But you I will not accept as one." Andturning with flushed cheek and gleaming eyes, she entered a cosy,clean-kept cottage. But she soon reflected that she had been guilty ofan inhospitable act in not asking the strangers to enter. Suddenlyturning, she walked rapidly back, and ove
rtook the crest-fallen wooerand his companion, and said in a voice from which every trace of herlate anger had disappeared.

  "Entrez, Messieurs."

  The man's countenance speedily lost its gloom, and, respectfullytouching his hat, he said:

  "Oui, Mademoiselle, avec le plus grand plaisir." Tripping lightlyahead she announced the two strangers, and then returned, going tothe bars where the cows were lowing, waiting to be milked. Thepersistent stranger had not, by any means, made up his mind to desistin his wooing.

  "The colt shies," he murmured, "when she first sees the halter.Presently, she becomes tractable enough." Then, while he sat waitingfor the evening meal, blithely through the hush of the exquisiteevening came the voice of the girl. She was singing from _La ClaireFontaine_.

  "A la claire fontaine Je m'allais promener, J'ai trouve l'eau si belle Que je me suis baigne"

  Her song ended with her work, and as she passed the strangers withher two flowing pails of yellow milk, Riel whispered softly, as hetouched her sweet little hand:

  "Ah, ma petite amie!"

  The same flash came in her eyes, the same proud blood appeared redthrough the dusk of her cheek, but she restrained herself. He was aguest under her father's roof, and she would suffer the offence topass. The persistent gallant was more crest-fallen by this lastsilent rebuke than by the first with its angry words. The first, inhis vanity, he had deemed an outburst of petulance, instead of anexpression of personal dislike, especially as the girl had sosuddenly calmed herself, and extended hospitalities.

  He gnashed his teeth that a half-breed girl, in an obscure village,should resent his advances; he for whom, if his own understanding wasto be trusted, so many bright eyes were languishing. At the eveningmeal he received courteous, kindly attention from Annette; but thiswas all. He related with much eloquence all that he had seen in thebig world in the East, during his school days, and took good carethat his hosts should know how important a person he was in thecolony of Red River. To his mortification, he frequently observed inthe midst of one of his most self-glorifying speeches that the girl'seyes were abstracted. He was certain that she was not interested inhim, or in his exploits.

  "Can she have a lover?" he asked himself, a keen arrow of jealousyentering at his heart, and vibrating through his veins. "No, thiscannot be. She said in her musings on the prairie, that she hadnobody who would sing a sad song if she were to go to the South.Stop! She may love, and not find her passion requited. I shall stayhere until the morrow, and let the great cause wait. Through theevening I shall reveal who I am, and then see what is in the wind."

  During the course of the evening the audacious stranger was somewhatconfounded to learn that the father of his fair hostess was noneother than Colonel Marton, an ex-officer of the Hudson Bay Company, aman of wide influence among all the Metis people, and one of the moststurdy champions of the half-breed cause. Indeed he was aware thatColonel Marton was at this very time about preaching resistance tothe people, organising forces, and preparing to strike a blow at theauthority of the Government in the North-West.

  "It is discourteous, perhaps, Mademoiselle, that I should notdisclose to you who I am, even though the safety of my presentundertaking demands that I should remain unknown."

  "If Monsieur has good reasons, or any reasons, for withholding hisname, I pray that he will not consider himself under any obligationto reveal it."

  "It would be absurd to keep such a secret, Ma petite Brighteye, fromthe beautiful daughter of a man so prominent in our holy cause asColonel Marton. You this evening entertain, Mademoiselle, none otherthan Louis Riel, the Metis chief."

  "Monsieur Riel," exclaimed the girl in astonishment, and somewhat inawe. "Why, we thought that Monsieur was far beyond the prairie,providing ammunition for the troops."

  "I have been there Mademoiselle, and seen every trusty Metis armed,and ready to follow when the leaders cry Allons!"

  Paul, the girl's brother, believed that there had never lived a heroso brave and so mighty as the man now under his father's roof. As forpoor Annette, she bethought of her outburst of temper and lack ofrespect toward the chief; and she trembled to think that she mighthave given offense to a man so illustrious, and one who was the headof the sacred cause of her father and of her people.

  "But why should he address a poor simple girl like me?" she mused;and then as she reflected that the leader had a wife and children inMontana, and if report spoke true, a half-breed bride in a prairievillage besides, a round red spot came into each cheek and burnedthere like a little fire.

  The chief watched the changing colour in the maiden's face, and sawalso in the great dark, velvety eyes, the reflection of her thoughtsas they came and went, plainly as you may see the shadows upon anautumn day chase each other over the prairie meadows.

  Paul went out for a little; the chief's companion had retired to hiscouch; and Riel was left alone with the girl.

  "Mademoiselle must not shrink from me; she is too beautiful to beunkind. Ah ma petite Amie, those adorable lips of yours are made tokiss and kiss, not to pout and cry a lover nay. Through this wideland there is many a maid who would glory in the love, my beautifulgirl, that I offer you." He advanced towards the maid, trembling withhis passion, and dropped upon his knee.

  "You would not let me kiss your lovely lips; pray sweet lady of myheart, let me take your sweet little hand."

  The girl was trembling like a bird when the eagle's wings hover overits nest. "O, why does a great hero like Monsieur address such wordsto me? I am only a simple girl, living here upon the plains; besides,if I could give the brave leader my heart, it would be wrong to doso, for he is already wedded."

  "Do not speak of the ceremonies which men have muttered, binding manand woman, when the _heart_ cries out. Do not deny me your love my sweetgirl," and the villain once more seized the maiden's waist, and soughtto kiss her lips. But she screamed, and struggled from his embrace.

  "Paul, Paul, mon frere, come to me." Her cries speedily brought herbrother. But Monsieur Riel had taken his seat, and he lowered uponthe girl who sat like a frightened fawn upon her chair, her greateyes glimmering with starting tears.

  "What is wrong Annette?" the boy asked, leaning affectionately overhis sister.

  "She is not brave Paul. A shadow passed the window which was nothingmore than my own, and she believed it to be that of a hostile Indian."

  "What a silly girl you are, Annette," her brother said, softlysmiting her cheek with his finger-tips.

  The maiden did not make any explanation, but in a very wretched andembarrassed way arose and said, "Good night."

  Nothing was said about the matter in the morning, and as the girlpassed on her way to milk the cows Riel murmured,

  "Mademoiselle will not say anything of the cause of her out-cry lastnight?"

  "I will not Monsieur; if you will promise not to address any wordsof love-making to me again."

  "I promise nothing, foolish maiden; but I have to ask that you willnot make of Louis Riel an enemy."

  When breakfast was ended he perceived Annette rush to the window,and then hastily and with a dainty coyness withdraw her head from thepane; and at the same moment he heard a sprightly tune whistle'd.Looking down the meadow he saw a tall, well-formed young white man, agun on his back, and a dog at his heels, walking along the littlepath toward the cottage.

  "This is the lover," he muttered; "curses upon him." From thatmoment he hated with all the bitterness of his nature the man nowstriding carelessly up towards the cottage door.

  "Bonjour, mademoiselle et messieurs" the newcomer said in cheerytones, as he entered, making a low bow.

  "Bonjour, Monsieur Stephens, was the reply. Louis Riel, intentlywatching, saw the girl's colour come and go as she spoke to thevisitor. The young man stayed only for a few moments, and the chiefobserved that everybody in the house treated him as if in some way hehad been the benefactor of all. When he arose to go, Paul, who knewof every widgeon in the mere beyond the cottonwood grove, and wherethe
last flock of quail had been seen to alight, followed him out ofthe door, and very secretly communicated his knowledge. Annette hadseen a large flock of turkeys upon the prairie a few moments walksouth of the poplar grove, and perhaps they had not yet gone away.

  "When did you see them, ma chere demoiselle?" enquired Stephens. "Youknow turkeys do not settle down like immigrants on one spot, and waittill we inhabitants of the plains come out and shoot them. Was itlast week, or only the day before yesterday?" There was a very merrytwinkle in his eye as he went on with this banter. Annette affectedto pout, but she answered.

  "This morning, while the dew was shining upon the grass, and you, Idoubt not, were sleeping soundly, I was abroad on the plains for thecows. It was then I saw them. I am glad, however, that you havepointed out the difference between turkeys and immigrants. I did notknow it before." He handed her a sun-flower which he had plucked onthe way, saying,

  "There, for your valuable information, I give you that. Next time Icome, if you are able to tell me where I can find several flocks, Ishall bring you some coppers." With a world of mischief in his eyes,he disappeared, and Annette, in spite of herself, could not concealfrom everybody in the house a quick little sigh at his departure.

  "It seems to me this Monsieur Stephens is a great favourite withyou folk?" said M. Riel, when the young man had left the cottage."Now had I come for sport, no pretty eyes would have seen any flocksto reserve for me." And he gave a somewhat sneering glance at poorAnnette, who was pretending to be engaged in examining the petals ofthe sun-flower, although she was all the while thinking of themischievous, manly, sunny-hearted lad who had given it to her. M.Riel's words and the sneer were lost, so far as she was concerned.Her ears were where her heart was, out on the plain beyond thecottonwood, where she could see the tall, straight, lithe figure ofyoung Stephens, and his dog at his heels.

  "Oui, Monsieur," returned Paul, "Monsieur Stephens is a very greatfavourite with our family. We are under an obligation to him that itwill be difficult ever to repay."

  "Whence comes this benefactor," queried M. Riel, with an ugly sneer,"and how has he placed you under such an obligation?" Then,reflecting that he was showing a bitterness respecting the young manwhich he could neither explain nor justify, he said:

  '"Mais, pardonnez-moi. Think me not rude for asking these questions.When pretty eyes are employed to see, and pretty lips to tell of,game for one sportsman in preference to another, the neglected onemight be excused for seeking to know in what way fortune has beenkind with his rival."

  "Shall I tell the whole story, Annette" enquired Paul, "or will youdo so?"

  "O, I know that you will not leave anything out that can show thebravery of Mr. Stephens," replied the girl.

  "Well, last spring, Annette was spending some days with her aunt, afew miles up Red River. It was the flood time, and as you remember,the river was swollen to a point higher than it had ever reachedwithin the memory of any body in the settlement. Annette isventuresome, and since a child has shown a keen delight in going uponboats, or paddling a canoe; so, one day, during the visit which Ihave mentioned, she went into a birch that swung in a little pond,formed behind her uncle's premises by the over-flowing of thestream's channel. Untying the canoe, she seized the blade and beganto paddle about in the lazy water. Presently she reached the eddies,which, since a child, she has always called the 'rings of thewater-witches,' wherever she learned that term. Her cousin Violette wasstanding in the doorway as she saw Annette move off, and she criedout to her to beware of the eddies; but my sister, wayward andreckless as it is her habit to be in such matters, merely repliedwith a laugh; and then as the canoe began to turn round and round inthe gurgling circles she cried out.

  "I am in the rings of the water-witches. C'est bon! bon! C'estmagnifique! O I wish you were with me, Violette, ma chere. It is sodelightful to go round and round." A little way beyond, not more thantwice the canoe's length, rushed by roaring, the full tide of theriver.

  "Beware, Annette, beware, for the love of heaven, of the river. Ifyou get a little further out, and these eddies must drag you out, youwill be in the mad current, and no arm can paddle the canoe to landout of the flood. Then, dear, there is the fall below, and the fansof the mill. Come back, won't you! But my sister heeded not thewords. She only laughed, and began dipping water from the eddies withthe paddle-blade, as if it were a spoon she had in her hand. 'I amdipping water from the witches-rings,' she cried. 'How the dropssparkle! Every one is a glittering jewel. I wish you were here withme, Violette!' Suddenly and in an altered tone, she cried, 'Mon Dieu!My paddle is gone.' The paddle had no sooner glided out into therushing, turbulent waters than the canoe followed it, and Annette sawherself drifting on to her doom. Half a mile below was the fall, andat the side of the fall, went ever and ever around with tremendousviolence, the rending fans of the water-mill. Annette knew full wellthat any drift boat, or log, or raft, carried down the river atfreshet-flow, was always swept into the toils of the inexorablewheels. Yet, if she were reckless and without heed a few minutesbefore, I am told that now she was calm. Violette gave the alarm thatAnnette was adrift in the river without a paddle, and in a fewseconds every body living near had turned out, and was running downthe shore. Several brought paddies, but it took hard running to keepup with the canoe, for the flood was racing at a speed of eight milesan hour. When they did get up in line each one flung out a paddle.But one fell too far out, and another not far enough. About fifteenmen were along the banks in violent excitement, and every one of themsaw nothing but doom for Annette. As the canoe neared a point abouttwo hundred yards above the falls, a young white-man--all the restwere bois-brules--rushed out upon the bank, with a paddle in hishand, and without a word sprang into the mad waters. With a fewstrokes he was at the side of the canoe, and put the paddle intoAnnette's hand. 'Here;' he said, 'Keep away from the mill; that isyour only danger; and steer sheer over the falls, getting as close aspossible to the left bank.' The height of the fall, as you are aware,was not more than fifteen or eighteen feet, and there was plenty ofwater below, with not very much danger from rocks. 'Go you on shorenow and I will meet my doom, or achieve my safety,' my sister said;but the young man answered, 'Nay, I will go over the fall too: I canthen be of some service to you.' So he swam along by the canoe's sidedirecting my sister, and shaping the course of the prow on the verybrink of the fall. Then all shot over together. The canoe andAnnette, and the young man were buried far under the terrible mass ofwater, but they soon came to the surface again, when the heroicstranger seized my sister, and through the fury of the mad churningflood, landed her unhurt upon the bank. That young man was PhilipEdmund Stephens, whom you saw here this morning. Is it any wonder,think you, Monsieur, that when Annette sees wild turkeys upon theprairie, she keeps the knowledge of it to herself till she gets theear of her deliverer?

  "A very brave act, indeed, on the part of this young man," repliedthe swarthy M. Riel. "He has excellent judgment, I perceive, or hewould not so readily have calculated that no harm could come to anyone who could swim well, by being carried over the Falls."

  Annette's eyes flashed a little at this cold blooded discounting ofthe generous, uncalculating bravery of her young preserver; but shemade no reply.

  "This Monsieur Stephens is, if I mistake not, Mademoiselle, a veryzealous servant of Government, and his chief duty now is to keepwatch over the assemblies held by the Half-breed people. I cannotsuppose that Colonel Marton is aware of the intimacy between a deadlyenemy of our cause and the members of his household."

  "Indeed, Monsieur, there is no intimacy more than what you haveseen," the girl replied, the roses now out of her cheek. "Thrice,since rescuing me, Mr. Stephens has been at our home, and I believethat, henceforth, his duty will take him to a distant part of theterritory." As she said these words her eyes fell, and her bosomheaved a little.

  Riel was upon his feet. "If I find this young spy anywhere aboutthis settlement again, I shall see that he is cared for." Then asPaul and his companion went
out, he drew himself to his full heightand continued:

  "Annette, get your heart away from this young man; such love canonly bring you ruin. From me you shall hear again, and hear soon.Farewell." As the girl put out her hand, he drew her suddenly intohis arms, and before she could cry or struggle, kissed her upon themouth.

  Then he was gone.

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