“A wide fox country,” said Mons Roule.
“And easy to travel,” murmured Valence in a voice that was almost like a woman’s.
The trap line of Pierre Eustach ran thirty miles straight west of Lac Bain. It was not as long a line as Pierrot’s had been, but it was like a main artery running through the heart of a rich fur country. It had belonged to Pierre Eustach’s father, and his grandfather, and his great-grandfather, and beyond that it reached, Pierre averred, back to the very pulse of the finest blood in France. The books at McTaggart’s Post went back only as far as the great-grandfather end of it, the older evidence of ownership being at Churchill. It was the finest game country between Reindeer Lake and the Barren Lands. It was in December that Baree came to it.
Again he was traveling southward in a slow and wandering fashion, seeking food in the deep snows. The Kistisew Kestin, or Great Storm, had come earlier than usual this winter, and for a week after it scarcely a hoof or claw was moving. Baree, unlike the other creatures, did not bury himself in the snow and wait for the skies to clear and crust to form. He was big, and powerful, and restless. Less than two years old, he weighed a good eighty pounds. His pads were broad and wolfish. His chest and shoulders were like a Malemute’s, heavy and yet muscled for speed. He was wider between the eyes than the wolf-breed husky, and his eyes were larger, and entirely clear of the Wuttooi, or blood film, that marks the wolf and also to an extent the husky. His jaws were like Kazan’s, perhaps even more powerful.
Through all that week of the Big Storm he traveled without food. There were four days of snow, with driving blizzards and fierce winds, and after that three days of intense cold in which every living creature kept to its warm dugout in the snow. Even the birds had burrowed themselves in. One might have walked on the backs of caribou and moose and not have guessed it. Baree sheltered himself during the worst of the storm but did not allow the snow to gather over him.
Every trapper from Hudson’s Bay to the country of the Athabasca knew that after the Big Storm the famished fur animals would be seeking food, and that traps and deadfalls properly set and baited stood the biggest chance of the year of being filled. Some of them set out over their trap lines on the sixth day; some on the seventh, and others on the eighth. It was on the seventh day that Bush McTaggart started over Pierre Eustach’s line, which was now his own for the season. It took him two days to uncover the traps, dig the snow from them, rebuild the fallen “trap houses,” and rearrange the baits. On the third day he was back at Lac Bain.
It was on this day that Baree came to the cabin at the far end of McTaggart’s line. McTaggart’s trail was fresh in the snow about the cabin, and the instant Baree sniffed of it every drop of blood in his body seemed to leap suddenly with a strange excitement. It took perhaps half a minute for the scent that filled his nostrils to associate itself with what had gone before, and at the end of that half-minute there rumbled in Baree’s chest a deep and sullen growl. For many minutes after that he stood like a black rock in the snow, watching the cabin.