“Good! good!” he said involuntarily.
“Bon! bon!” said the boy’s voice from the fur, in the language of his mother, who added a strain of Indian blood to her French ancestry.
The two sat there, the man half-kneeling on the low bed, and stroking the fur very gently. It could scarcely be thought that such pride should be spent on a little pelt, by a mere backwoodsman and his nine-year-old son. One has seen a woman fingering a splendid necklace, her eyes fascinated by the bunch of warm, deep jewels—a light not of mere vanity, or hunger, or avarice in her face—only the love of the beautiful thing. But this was an animal’s skin. Did they feel the animal underneath it yet, giving it beauty, life, glory?
The silver-fox skin is the prize of the north, and this one was of the boy’s own harvesting. While his father was away he saw the fox creeping by the hut. The joy of the hunter seized him, and guided his eye over the sights of his father’s rifle as he rested the barrel on the windowsill, and the animal was his! Now his finger ran into the hole made by the bullet, and he gave a little laugh of modest triumph. Minutes passed as they studied, felt, and admired the skin, the hunter proud of his son, the son alive with a primitive passion, which inflicts suffering to get the beautiful thing. Perhaps the tenderness as well as the wild passion of the animal gets into the hunter’s blood, and tips his fingers at times with an exquisite kindness—as one has noted in a lion fondling her young, or in tigers as they sport upon the sands of the desert. This boy had seen his father shoot a splendid moose, and, as it lay dying, drop down and kiss it in the neck for sheer love of its handsomeness. Death is no insult. It is the law of the primitive world—war, and love in war.
They sat there for a long time, not speaking, each busy in his own way: the boy full of imaginings, strange, half-heathen, half-angelic feelings; the man roaming in that savage, romantic, superstitious atmosphere which belongs to the north, and to the north alone. At last the boy lay back on his pillow, his finger still in the bullet-hole of the pelt. His eyes closed, and he seemed about to fall asleep, but presently looked up and whispered: “I haven’t said my prayers, have I?”
The father shook his head in a sort of rude confusion.
“I can pray out loud if I want to, can’t I?”
“Of course, Dominique.” The man shrank a little.
“I forget a good many times, but I know one all right, for I said it when the bird was singing. It isn’t one out of the book Father Corraine sent mother by Pretty Pierre; it’s one she taught me out of her own head. P’r’aps I’d better say it.”
“P’r’aps, if you want to.” The voice was husky.
The boy began:
“O Bon Jesu, who died to save us from our sins, and to lead us to Thy country, where there is no cold, nor hunger, nor thirst, and where no one is afraid, listen to Thy child.... When the great winds and rains come down from the hills, do not let the floods drown us, nor the woods cover us, nor the snow-slide bury us, and do not let the prairie-fires burn us. Keep wild beasts from killing us in our sleep, and give us good hearts that we may not kill them in anger.”