“Poor Wolf!” she said. “I wish I had given you one of the bearskins!”
She threw back the tent-flap and entered. For the first time she saw her father’s face in the light—and outside, Kazan heard the terrible moaning cry that broke from her lips. No one could have looked at Pierre Radisson’s face once—and not have understood.
After that one agonizing cry, Joan flung herself upon her father’s breast, sobbing so softly that even Kazan’s sharp ears heard no sound. She remained there in her grief until every vital energy of womanhood and motherhood in her girlish body was roused to action by the wailing cry of baby Joan. Then she sprang to her feet and ran out through the tent opening. Kazan tugged at the end of his chain to meet her, but she saw nothing of him now. The terror of the wilderness is greater than that of death, and in an instant it had fallen upon Joan. It was not because of fear for herself. It was the baby. The wailing cries from the tent pierced her like knife-thrusts.
And then, all at once, there came to her what old Pierre had said the night before—his words about the river, the air-holes, the home forty miles away. “You couldn’t lose yourself, Joan” He had guessed what might happen.
She bundled the baby deep in the furs and returned to the fire-bed. Her one thought now was that they must have fire. She made a little pile of birch-bark, covered it with half-burned bits of wood, and went into the tent for the matches. Pierre Radisson carried them in a water-proof box in a pocket of his bearskin coat. She sobbed as she kneeled beside him again, and obtained the box. As the fire flared up she added other bits of wood, and then some of the larger pieces that Pierre had dragged into camp. The fire gave her courage. Forty miles—and the river led to their home! She must make that, with the baby and Wolf. For the first time she turned to him, and spoke his name as she put her hand on his head. After that she gave him a chunk of meat which she thawed out over the fire, and melted the snow for tea. She was not hungry, but she recalled how her father had made her eat four or five times a day, so she forced herself to make a breakfast of a biscuit, a shred of meat and as much hot tea as she could drink.
The terrible hour she dreaded followed that. She wrapped blankets closely about her father’s body, and tied them with babiche cord. After that she piled all the furs and blankets that remained on the sledge close to the fire, and snuggled baby Joan deep down in them. Pulling down the tent was a task. The ropes were stiff and frozen, and when she had finished, one of her hands was bleeding. She piled the tent on the sledge, and then, half, covering her face, turned and looked back.