Day was breaking, and cold mist, less white than the virgin snow, hung over the land ; slowly it was lifting now that the long winter night was over.
Gullfoot came to the door of his cabin, fumbled a moment to release the wooden peg-latch, coughed heavily, and looked out in grave contemplation of the dreary scene while chill air searched like deadly serpent in through the open door. The clearing, the great expanse of frozen lake to North and South, the dark forest background : all wrere familiar and dear to his heart. But to-day he saw them not in appreciation, for his thoughts were with the weather and its overnight effect on his long trap-line.
A little fresh snow had fallen ; enough to spoil Fox-traps on the lakes if wind should arise and drift it: but, wind or not, other traps, set in the shelter of the forest for Marten, and Mink, and Wolverine were safe from being smothered, and the better disguised from human scent, now that they lay beneath this light, fresh covering of snow. . . . Hud! there was no need for anxiety this day : traps were not buried in two or three feet of fresh snow; and there was no indication of storm.
Gullfoot did not stand long at the door : a moment was enough to idle there in zero weather when warmth was within ; and enough time, too, for him to read the weather and make deductions. But even in those moments in the morning air that racking lung cough of his broke out again and shook the very foundation of his frame as he closed the door behind him. Alas! it was often so with him in those bleak winter mornings, for this strong, athletic figure of a man, whom you might think could not know sickness, was touched with the Indian plague and had in him the seeds of consumption, though no hectic flush could ever mantle his copper-bronzed face to betray in that its presence.
Gullfoot's winter cabin was of logs, built with care with the stunted scrub pine of the surrounding country. It was a small low building of sturdy appearance; the four corners were notched together with the accurate skill of a practised axeman; the walls were straight, and grey as stone with the clay*mud which filled the cracks between the timbers ; the roof, which was thickly thatched with marsh-hay, pitched steeply and threw deep shadows at the eaves-a simple, primitive dwelling, but true to its purpose to withstand the rigour of Arctic winter and afford full shelter for its inmates.
Indoors there was warmth and comfort, and pleasant scene of native homeliness. The low room, to which Gullfoot returned from his survey at the door, was dimly lit from a single small window opening in the south wall, across which was stretched a sheet of clear skin parchment to serve as "glass." The walls were ornamented with beadwork, some old bows and arrows, a powder-horn, and a muzzle-loading, lead-ball, flint-lock rifle hung from wooden pegs in rare disorder. The bed, which nestled close to one wall, was framed with boughs from the forest and filled in across with light branches to form the "spring," while, over this, laced hay-grass furnished a mattress : the whole was abundantly covered with thick warm Caribou rugs. A crude table and three chairs occupied the centre of the floor, articles hewn smooth with axe and knife, and much labour, from the woods of the forest, and grained naturally with constant use. In the far corner a log-fire blazed brightly in a hooded, stone-built fireplace, and threw its light in dancing wavelets along the darkly smoke-fumed timber of the rude-cut ceiling beams. A black iron pot hung over the fire, hooked to a rod ; a dwarf wooden stool was by the hearth. On the wall close to the fire, pots and pans filled a shelf close to the floor. Overhead a string of dry medicine roots and a fire-bag hung from a rafter.
At the fire an Indian woman was preparing food, and, as was her habit, she but glanced up as the man came in and continued her duties without a word. Her face was set and grave as became her age, for the countless withered wrinkles told that she was in the autumn of life Hers was a shrunken face rather than full, and the skin was bronzed as with a deep sunburn. In the profile lay character, for the outline was straight and refined, and firmly chiselled with the impression of endurance and patient strength. Enhanced by jet-black hair and deep dark eyes there lurked still in this face the shadow of bygone comeliness and of proud native womanhood. The figure, which was clothed in black European clothing, excepting the tanned moccas-ined feet, was tall and erect, unbent with the weight of years, and hers was a bearing that bespoke activity unusual to one of her years, even among the tribes of her own enduring people.
Her name was Nokum, the squaw of Gullfoot.
There were no children in the cabin. Two sons and a daughter there had been, who had married and gone to hunting-grounds of their own.
Gullfoot himself was a pure Chipewyan Indian : chief of hunting people in manhood, child all his life of the waste places near to the edge of the Barren Grounds where the Eskimo is neighbour over the marches to the north. He was a handsome man even at fifty; a very handsome man. He had beautiful, even features throughout: a broad forehead-typical of the Chipewyan race-high cheek-bones, a finely shaped nose, a strong, square chin and a firm, clear-lipped mouth. In stature he was tall for an Indian, being not much under six feet, perfectly set up, active in every movement; lean; an athlete, every inch of him; and at times this man's bearing and reserve was that of a monarch, a man whom you instinctively felt had pride of race, and on whom you could never look as an inferior. But he was no monarch, and made no pretence to be. The days of the Great Chiefs were over, though drops of their blood remained. Gullfoot was Indian, and therefore a hunter and wanderer by instinct, and to know him at heart you had to look in his eyes, eyes that were dark almost to blackness yet alive with light and activity; to know him still better you had to go with him out on the trail and marvel at the skill and resource of this primitive man, while realising how far his education and intelligence were ahead of your own in reading every mood of the wilderness-the elements and the creature things-on which the welfare of white man or red wholly depend if they are to exist in his country. . . .