They note eye color, and measure height and weight. They examine throats, inspect ears, check the state of teeth. They monitor heart beats, document genders, and write down ages. They record the... [+]
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McGregor lifted his tired eyes towards the vast horizon. In the distance, a flock of gray geese traced a large black cloud hanging low in the sky. Loneliness weighed down on him, and he felt helpless. He shifted his gaze to the thick layer of powdery snow covering the ground. 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.
When he had finally crossed the seemingly never-ending clearing, McGregor entered a dark pocket of forest. The limbs of the trees hung low, and he ducked his head to fit under them. His stomach twisted with hunger. He had not been able to hunt because of the heaviness of the last snowfall, and the trading post on the edge of the Hudson Bay seemed like a lifetime away. Looking down at the sack of biscuits he'd diligently been saving since he began his journey, he calculated the amount of food he could eat per day until he hopefully reached civilization. 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 thought to be the most ferocious in the Great North.
The Scotsman slowed his pace further. He didn't want to leave. After postponing his departure to the limit of what was reasonable for his provisions, McGregor had finally closed the door of the life of simplicity and survival he'd been building for the past three years. Three years of forgetting, three years of learning how to live again. The soothing rhythm and resilience of nature were healing to McMcGregor, and his heart began to beat again to the cadence of the forest surrounding him. He lived by hunting and gathering, trapping just the number of furs necessary to be able to obtain the rest of his food. He possessed only a few small objects: two books, some ammunition, and a few articles of clothing. Day after day, he lived happily and simply, even when the day was no longer anything but a long night abandoned to the guttural yelping of the white foxes. But though he was very happy and content, McGregor felt the constant gnawing of loneliness. He longed to share details of his life with another person. In the end, his loneliness conquered his desire to live near the arctic circle for the rest of his days.
McGregor looked like an old man the day he finally arrived at the Hudson Bay Company trading post. His blonde beard was white with snow, and his movements were slow and stiff. The journey had taken him thirteen days instead of the usual ten. Even though it was now early spring, it was still negative 13 degrees. It dawned on him when he reached the trading post that he'd given no thought of where he was going to go after he arrived. 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. Actually a 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. Please know that I have never stopped loving you and will love you always. Father died last year, and I inherited his estate. I am now free to travel where I want and live 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."