About noon on the previous day I had landed at Gullfoot's cabin greeted by the fierce barking of his dozen sled-dogs, whose clamour he came out to quell while welcoming me in. It was then bitterly cold-zero weather, with a strong wind blowing from the north-west. Sun-dogs, or parhelion, a bright mark of short perpendicular lines of softly hazed, luminous rainbow tints of almost similar radiance to the sun, had been showing in the morning sky on either side of the low winter sun at wide but equal intervals from it; phenomenon peculiar to the dead of winter. And it was indeed that season-the Dead of Winter: Gullfoot, the following morning, quaintly showed me his record that it was so, in pointing to the rising sun where it struck through the window into the very corner in the north-east interior of his cabin. It was thus in his home that he measured the shortest days, and the longest days : in the height of summer, he told, " it reaches away to that axe-notch in the centre of the north wall."
Gullfoot made me welcome, and I was glad of the luxury of shelter of a house-roof, and to obtain food for my far-spent dogs. Do not ask me where I slept in this single-room cabin. I did not turn the good people from their couch, and I was comfortable nevertheless, and thought it considerable good fortune to be indoors.
In the meantime I had arranged that I would accompany Gullfoot on his next round on his trap-line.
He would go to-morrow, he told me on his return from his morning weather survey through the door, for he thought the wind would rise later in the day, and if so his traps on the lakes in exposed positions would require resetting. He had been out six days ago, to-morrow would be the seventh day, and the weather in the interval had been particularly good and promised some pelts.
So I had a day to wait at the cabin.
Gullfoot employed part of his time on the construction of a new sled-a sled with runners on either side of about a foot depth below the sled-board bottom ; not the flat-bottom, runner-less sled of the type common to the Indians a few degrees further south, where larger wood for broad boards is obtainable. The runners he made were peculiar, for they had no frame, no iron "keel"; just layer after layer of wet moss laid on and frozen stiff until the runners were fully formed and shaped, when they were then axe-pared, and planed to smoothness, and iced over by applications of coatings of water. They were, on completion, veritable planks of rigid ice, with stout adhesion, and latitude for expansion and contraction secured by the admixture of fibrous moss. A sled so made serves well; verily " necessity is the mother of invention."
While thus working, outside the cabin door Gullfoot's dogs, and my own, prowled about; but to those he paid no visible heed. An Indian has no warm affection for animals, and Gullfoot was no exception. However, in reply to my questions, he pointed out his best team, and named them in Chipewyan-which names were in English translation Day Star, Raven, Smoke, Evil Eye, Lynx!
Those dogs were typical of an Indian's team in the north, and therefore, perhaps, worth brief description : Raven : A very big husky, larger than the common, and with longer, almost shaggy hair. He was black in colour except for a fawn mark on the eyebrow over each eye. Gullfoot used him in his team as the sled-dog-the dog next to the prow of the sled-where his weight served well to steady the slew, or buffeting, of the sled when in motion.
Smoke : A dog of striking colour, and purity of breed. A splendid-looking husky in form; and white throughout with just a tinge of buff. He was such a dog as everyone in a city would turn to look at in admiration and wonder, did you transport him there. He was a good worker and well broken.
Evil Eye : This unfortunate dog was blind in the right eye, which shone glassy green. Otherwise he was without blemish and a fine, powerful, active-looking dog. He was grey-wolf colour except for an old white left-shoulder mark.
Gullfoot reports him bad to harness, being restless and excitable, and always twisting himself in the traces at a halt; but he was a good dog otherwise.
Lynx : A little short-limbed active dog, about the size of a highland collie, with a much-scarred nose and a reputation for fighting. He was a crossbred dog with drooping ears, and was chiefly black in colour, with brown belly and paws. A dog one would not look at twice, but worth his weight in gold. " My best dog," said Gullfoot ; " pulls hard, has a great heart for work, and doesn't know when to quit." He looked it: game through and through.
Day Star : Neither a husky nor a cross-bred sled-dog; just a mustard-yellow terrier-hound mongrel with scant, close-set coat of hair to withstand cold. She had a white star-mark on her forehead, but she was well named on a second score, for she it was who guided the team at Gull-foot's bidding. This was Gullfoot's leader ; an animal of wonderful intelligence, he told me, in following snow-covered trails, and with a memory almost more acute than that of a human being for places she has once passed. Gullfoot showed his appreciation of her in covering her short-haired body with a blanket-rug to help keep her warm when on the trail; a considerable, and rare, condescension on the part of an Indian toward a dog.
After discussing dogs, we talked foxes. Everyone in the North talked foxes in 1914. With the floating of Fox Farms in the Eastern Provinces the demand had gone up for live fox cubs of all kinds, and hunters were tremendously stimulated by the enormous prices given for silver or black cubs, which to the fortunate captors represented a veritable gold-mine.
In April and May, when the fox-dens are located and the cubs dug out, places such as Big River and Ile a la Crosse were " fox-crazy," and the whole territory within reach was being scoured for Reynard.
This wholesale capture of foxes serves the mood of the moment, but I fear there are yet to be many regrets when both trapper and fox-merchant come to realise that they have killed " the goose that laid the golden egg."