McGregor lifted his tired eyes toward the immense sky filled with gods, demons, and winds. In the distance, a flock of gray geese was about to be swallowed up by a huge black cloud. Loneliness had weighed on him with its full burden for some days, and he quickly shifted his gaze to the ground covered with a thick layer of powdery snow. His snowshoes of wood and caribou leather straps creaked in the frozen early morning air. His steps were long and slow, and his heart was heavy, heavier even than the weight of his bag and rifle on his back.
When he had finally crossed the long clearing, he entered the great spruce forest once more. Hunger had tormented him since the previous day. He had not been able to hunt due to the last snowfall, and the trading post, over there on the edge of the Hudson Bay, now seemed quite far away. He would try to eat only two biscuits a day. He touched the amulet at his neck that Gray Wolf, the Native American, had given him to bring him luck during his long journey toward the southern lands. It was the tooth of a wolverine, the animal he thought the most ferocious in the Great North, even more so than bears and wolves.
The Scotsman slowed his pace further. He was sad at the idea of leaving this country. He had felt quite sorrowful when, after having postponed his departure to the limit of what was reasonable regarding his provisions, he had closed the door of the log cabin that he had built with his own hands, and in which he had spent three long years. Three years to try to forget, three years to try to live again. The incredible forces of life emanating from the forests and the wild world had succeeded. In this way his heart had gradually started to beat once more in unison with that of nature. But loneliness had finally conquered him, conquered his great determination to stay up there, near the Arctic Circle, until the end of his days. He had lived there by hunting and gathering, trapping just the number of furs necessary to be able to obtain the rest of his food and a few small objects, books, ammunition, and clothing. He lived day by day, even and especially when the day was no longer anything but a long night abandoned to the guttural yelping of the white foxes and to the aurora borealis.
The young man looked like an old man when he finally arrived at the Hudson Bay Company trading post. It had taken him thirteen days instead of the usual ten. His blond beard was white with frost. In this early springtime, it was still minus 13 degrees. Would he return to Baltimore? He had not yet decided. As was his habit, he first went to drop off his load of sable and fox furs, before stopping by the store to buy provisions with some of the money he had earned during the winter. As soon as he saw him coming, old Donovan smiled, ran to a cupboard, and came back holding a letter.
"Hey, I have this for you, Lynx, it came a month ago. In fact, the Frenchman came by briefly yesterday and told me he was going to your place. You didn't run into him?"
McGregor looked at the letter with astonishment and smiled. He had inherited this nickname after fighting a lynx as he tried to free it from his trap, deciding that he already had enough furs that year. While some had laughed at him, given the price of a lynx fur, many others had become his friends since that day.
"No, Jack, I came through the forests."
He quickly opened the letter. His hands began to tremble when he recognized the delicate writing in blue ink.
Many things have changed since your departure. In the end, the major to whom Father had promised my hand rejected me at the last minute. I will tell you why later. I learned from Charlie where you had gone in your disappointment. Know that I have never stopped loving you and will love you always. Father died last year, and I inherited his estate. Therefore I am free to travel where I want and also to live now with whom I want. This summer I'll come find you. I will hire a guide for this.
We can still be happy, I'm sure of it.
Hoping with all my heart to see you soon, Nelly."
Robin McGregor brought his hand to his amulet and squeezed it tightly in his fist. He seemed frozen.
"Must be bad news?" Donovan ventured.
"No, wonderful news," exulted the man whom everyone here called only Lynx.
He ran his errands quickly, had something to eat, and immediately turned back, after having hesitated to continue his route toward the south. What did the Frenchman want with him?
After an eight-day forced march, he finally spotted his cabin. Smoke was coming from the chimney. The dogs of the Frenchman's team started barking with all their might when he approached. The door then slowly opened and Gérard Forestier came out waving to him. He moved away from the door and, as if in a dream, McGregor saw Nelly slowly come out in turn. She was tall and slim, with long blond hair, and wore pants of brown velvet and a thick sweater of blue wool. She held the hand of a small blond boy, who smiled with an embarrassed look. He was the very picture of Robin, except for the beard. Nelly smiled.
"This is Joe," she said. "The major didn't want to marry me when he saw that I was pregnant," she smiled. "I couldn't wait for the summer, you see…."
The Frenchman was smiling also, feeling moved.
"Happy for you, Lynx."
"Thanks for bringing her back to me, Gérard."
McGregor took Joe by the hand, and Nelly came and sought refuge pressed against him. In this way, they entered their home. The trapper grasped the amulet at his neck.
"I think this thing really brings me luck. One day, I'll give it to the little one."
Translated by Kate Deimling