– Freddy, my friend, you have the devil in your skin. You don’t want to hear anything, that’s fine, but if you had two ounces of common sense, you’d leave your rackets and your winchester there and sit by the fireside quietly.
“The blizzard has been blowing for a couple of hours and I pity those who have to keep the track. ”
As if to confirm what Sulpice La Berge said to me, the gust whistling through the pine forest. Broken wood cracks and falls.
The wind struggles with the trees. It takes off in the plain which it lashes out with thongs and, whirling and screaming, it rushes into the woods. He seizes the balsams, the liards, the spruce trees with full trunks, shakes them to remove them. The wind does not suffer from obstacles, it wants to be free to frolic or run. The forest humiliates him; for centuries he has fought with it. Under the high forests, vaulted like cathedrals, the north wind rushes in with the sound of an organ.
And the cabin, in the heart of the forest, listens to the raging wind, which weeps, which moans. He crawls, he humbles himself, he implores, but, as no one listens to him, he lifts himself up and, in a spiral, he twists a three-year-old tree which he bends and tears off.
Sulpice La Berge is in bed. He pulls his covers up to his chin, stretches his legs and says:
– I will not put my nose outside during the day, I swear …
– Do not swear at all, you could take a false oath.
– Freddy, as true as you are a friend from France, I assure you that I will not move from here.
– But our traps?
– With such weather, wolves, foxes or skunks are in their den, do like them; if you were reasonable, you would throw an armful of wood into the fire and go back to bed… That’s wisdom… In the meantime, pass me my joke and my pipe. Thank you.
I hesitate, racket in hand. He might be right, but maybe the forest also makes the storm sound bigger!
I open the door, my body receives a bundle of snow.
Sulpice La Berge mouths:
– The door, damn it, the door! After all, go to hell, if that’s your pleasure, but don’t freeze me.
And the trapper disappears under his covers. He sulks. If I stay, he won’t speak to me for the morning. I have known my La Berge for three months since we have lived together under the same roof, a hundred miles from the first human habitation and three hundred and thirty-three miles from the nearest parish.
Standing there watching the flame go round and bruising your heart with memories, no, thank you. The book is up to date.
All the skins are prepared; they hang from the ceiling in clusters and by species, speckled lynxes and tabby cats, wolves with soft coats, red, fawn, gray, blue or pink foxes, felted skunks, white lyre civets and leather wolverines hard, the bluish martens and the ivory-colored stoats, the fishermen, the minks and the raccoon which in France one baptizes marmot.
The whole range of beavers ranging from dead leaves to dark brown, then the rat army: muskrats who build houses of reeds, the… to hell! Sulpice La Berge and his ideas from the other world. Has anyone ever seen such an animal? I need free air and space. I want to go out… I’m looking for a reason, a serious pretext… I’ll go out, forgive me! because… Hey! because I want to… That’s all. I secure my snowshoes, pull up the strap of my rifle. On the way!
Immediately, the storm assails me. She turns around me like a beast.
I brave you, blizzard! I have known you for a long time; my otter hat has mumps, my beaver-lined leather collar is buttoned, my mittens go up to my elbows, my moccasins are elk skin stuffed with woolverine.
A lead opens up, I take it. My snowshoes, well insured, work wonders. Ah! it’s good to go like this, I get intoxicated with air, freedom and speed.
I turn around after half a mile.
Behind an undulation the hut disappears: only the smoke which twists indicates the presence of the men; but little by little it fades away.
Now the forest is thinning out to soon stop at Smith Bay , on the left bank of Great Bear Lake.
Thoughts? No, rather thought dust. A landscape, the shape of a branch, this dark green tone. Hey, a maple… the symbol of Canadian loyalty, the leaf that highlights the Quebec motto: “Je me souviens”. Quebec, the Saint-Laurent, the islands, the rapids, Cartier, Champlain, Frontenac… all those who came from France… names sing in my memory…
Philosophize? No time, no desire! It’s good to go like this, the lungs are playing healthy. Paris, what a funny idea! Paris! the civilization…
I laughed out loud, I said that word without paying attention.
Here, it is the primitive nature, the Eskimos who slap on a seal skin and who dance while moving their shoulders… there, refined joy, the bass drum, the jazz band , the shimmy…
I call myself:
– Hey, old man, the good colleagues who write adventure novels while grilling their paws in front of the salamander!
The wind whistles, its sharp moan continues … It is the voice of the poor buggers who snap their beaks in the City of Light because the gentle apostles are “comfortable”, of a slow but sure digestion.
Wow! Hou!… Hououhou… ouou… the wind howls.
Wind? Come on! The pack that shouts and that, unable to give a fang, drool …
Every morning, the horde gets up, the belly rings hollow, it’s the hunt… The hunter hunted… hunters, know how to hunt… My forked tongue; to ward off the unwelcome formula, I buzz with my closed lips a horn sound: tone, tone, and tontaine …
It’s an obsession, the song unfolds verse by verse… I get rid of it laughing and, sliding down the icy track, the rifle barring my back, I raise my arms like a primitive who has taken prey.
A frightened fox scampers ten meters in front of me. Here is the first trap. Warning. Nothing. He is buried under the snow. Sulpice La Berge was not wrong.
The animal! He’s warm in his blankets, he must be laughing… What if I come home empty-handed?
Self-love stings me… Eye, Freddy, my boy… uncle, uncle and uncle… ah! damn and damn! Hey, one wolf… two wolves… I see double, not possible, wolves do not go to discovery! By all the devils, I am not berlue!
I take off my mittens which remain suspended from the leather strap which surrounds my neck, I put on my skin gloves… I shoulder… I pull…
A pitiful bark tears the air. As the beast falls, the other then rushes in, furious, mouth open, fangs threatening and, before I have shot a second time, she is on me with a leap and knocks me down … My winchester flies at six steps, I don’t have a knife.
I feel a hot breath on my face. The dog gives me a hug. I sit down… No but I’m going crazy… it’s you, it’s you, old man…
And Tempest cheerfully pokes me.
I think I cried as I kissed her.
– What are you doing here? And your friend? Yeah, let’s go see … as long as I didn’t kill him.
A mad, hobbling paw, Hurricane-dog approaches, moaning. There is a trail of blood on the snow.
Tempest approaches him and sniffs the wound. The animal lies on its side. He looks at me with his good, pitiful eyes.
– Show me, my poor old man. Come on, I am fortunately a clumsy. Nothing broken… come here.
With my handkerchief, I bandage the wound, then I scratch his head gently. He is sensitive to the caress. Tempest is overjoyed; he runs in circles after his tail, stops, starts again, stops again. He jumps, finally he rubs his head against my thigh.
– Is that your brother, Tempest? Your son, maybe … He looks like you, you know. Does that make you happy? Parents are always happy to be told these things.
“But why are you walking around the Mackenzie Territory when you should be on the trails in the Yukon with Gregory?” ”
At this name, Tempest turns his head to the West and lets out a howl.
Oh! Oh! I know my dog too well not to understand. Bad luck has happened to my friend.
– It’s Gregory, isn’t it, who sent you?
– Oua, oua, oua.
The beast barks three times.
Taciturn, a thousand ideas flow to my brain, I take the way back. Tempest follows to my right, Hurricane, limping, is on my heels.
On the way, I ruminate:
– I’m sure bad luck happened to Gregory.
This thought twists my head and I repeat for the tenth time:
– I am sure. I am sure.
But where is he? What is he doing? Why didn’t he put a note on the beast’s necklace?
– Tempest, here.
The dog stops. I feel the hairs. I examine the necklace. No nothing. It’s going crazy. Let’s see, no runaway. Tempest came for assistance.
No, since Gregory ignores my presence and believes me four thousand leagues from here. It is help that he asks, from me or from another. Well! if Tempest has come, he will know how to leave again… I know my old wolf too well… My decision is made and it is almost joyful that I arrive at the cabin.
True to his oath, Sulpice La Berge snores. The noise I make when entering wakes him up. He growls.
– It’s you again.
Tempest shakes his hairs and itches. Hurricane moaned.
For once, Sulpice stands up, his eyes round.
– You … you chased the dog?
My face is serious. La Berge understands that I’m not in the mood for joking.
I simply tell him:
– This one is Tempest.
During the long nights, I had time to tell him many times about my adventures in the Yukon and I spoke to him – with what love! with what regret! – from Tempest, an Alaskan dog “who, by dint of attentive tenderness, made me forget human miseries”.
But the boy doesn’t understand anymore… Tempest, let’s see… Alaska…
– But… but what is he doing here?
I answer calmly:
– Look for me…
And I explain the probabilities on which I base my reasoning.
As I speak, I stack cans of canned goods: salmon, pemmican, California fruit, then a supply of corn and pulses. Let’s see my supply of bullets? Ah! on the bookshelf. Tea? Where do you put the tea, La Berge? On the fireplace! Good thanks…
La Berge is sitting on the bed, his arms tied at his shins, he watches me act dumbfounded.
– I entrust this one to you; he is injured, yes, it is I who did this beautiful blow.
– You …
Without waiting for his answer, I go out into the yard, I pull the light sled, whistle the dogs, splint them. I stack bundles and blankets, I strap them all with leather straps. Come on, am I not forgetting anything? Whiskey, I have a bottle… Ah! my case and my bandage box!…
Everything is ready. So on the way. Tempest, my old friend, you’re going to be leading the way, you’re leading us.
The beast, happy to have been understood, manifests its joy by jumping, then resolutely soars.
And this sacred Sulpice that I forgot! I come in and find him still seated, but his index finger scratches his head, a sign of obvious concern.
– La Berge, I’m going.
– La Berge, I’m telling you I’m leaving.
– La Berge, I’ll be away one day, two days, maybe a long time.
Not a word.
So, furious, I whisper under his nose:
As I arrive at the door, the reply arrives, very French, a single word in two syllables to which he adds:
– Go to hell, if you want …
I shrug my shoulders. The door is beating.
– Look for Tempest… seek, seek…
The beast, muzzle on the trail, leaves – and the pack follows.
Towards evening, as I am camping on the banks of the Hareskin River, I suddenly hear a sound that is familiar to me: the sluips, slips, slips made by snowshoes when sliding.
I raise my head and I see, coming towards me, Sulpice La Berge, followed at fifty meters by Hurricane-chien …
The trapper sits down. He takes off his shoes, sends his snowshoes away, swearing, then, stretching out his hands to the flame in the hearth, he grumbles:
– It was said that you would make me get up today… you are satisfied, eh?
– Yes, you can afford my trumpet as long as you want. You thought I was a muzzle, admit that you believed it… A muzzle! a muzzle! me, me, me… Hold on, your hand on your heart, you’re a hell of a pig if you’ve thought about it.
I stuff her ribs with my left fist, while my right hand slams her shoulder.
Sulpice La Berge knows I’m happy. He blinks his sparkling eye and growls incoherent words.
Tempest gave Hurricane his place in front of the fire. They also growl softly.
The two beasts, the trapper are happy. Why shouldn’t I be?