(c) Copyright Guy Herman 4/15/2003-2012
Illustrated by Karen Carey
All rights reserved
Sextant Pocket Press
‘Trace the history of seal hunting and the fur trade to determine the relationship, if any, to the slaughter of the Indian, Buffalo, and other Natives of the America’s.
Determine the extent to which the Canadian government, explicitly or otherwise, furthered such endeavor and the extent, there for to which they are responsible for reparations, if any, which may be due subject Native Americans.
In the cab to the center city, to an old walled fortress where Demian Desault had repaired, he struggled to recollect what was the true meaning of these words, what really was his assignment and the reason for his being here, half a continent away from home.
The formalities of checking in and registering complete, Desault allowed himself to wander into the main ballroom, the chandeliered hallways and around the great hotel to see what was the nature of this place.
In the enclosed courtyard of this elegant and cavernous castle, stood a sleek, perfectly apportioned, black obsidian bear.
Under glass, the animal and it’s recreation appeared as nearly a naturally formed jewel struck from the cauldron of the belly of the earth, as anything man had ever made.
“Forgive me, please,” Demian Desault said, moving towards a podium standing at the entrance to yet another hallway, “I know you may not speak English but I have never seen such an extraordinary place, so magnificent a creature, I mean the bear,” he stuttered, “ or a woman as beautiful as you.”
The young, lovely girl of another country, a beauty, stark and naturally elegant, looked seriously at the stranger.
Desault realized immediately the enormity of his malaproprism.
He backed away, smiling, apoplectic, unable even, to form the words for any credible apology.
Her bright eyes peered inquiringly, but with little clue as to the meaning of his words, his intent, or even a shred of any notion of the pure lust and emotion stirred in his heart.
Abashed now, witless, staring, a student gawking at his teacher, the young man put his hands in his pocket, turned his head back and forth, an inchoate, unspoken rectitude, signifying she should ignore and not mind his ill conceived words, and that he would go quietly, away.
With the same beguiling, beautiful and ingenuous smile which first struck him so, now, unfortunately, her smile signified, he thought, her absolute misunderstanding his profession of interest.
A moth in the torch light, Demian Desault felt his eyes squint, his head jerk and all of the sensibilities of his twenty seven years screech to hide out in shame.
With neither wit nor aplomb, he had gained the precious jewel of this lovely girl’s smile, not for who he was, rather for his mistaken and ill conceived determination to gain an intimacy with a beautiful girl whose culture and language was so foreign, she might only smile, he realized, self consciousness perhaps of her ineptness, exceeded only by his own immaturity.
Desault, shrewd, despite his youth could only shrink, recoil at his inappropriate manner, shake his head again in apology, mumbling, “I’m sorry. Sorry. Sorry. I am so sorry. Never mind,” he stammered, turning away, trying to disappear into the safety of the hotel lobby.
From his room at the Chateau, Desault tried to fathom how it was strangers met, how it was people from foreign cultures came together if they not only couldn’t speak but too, had no way to understand.
“Hello, my name is Demian Desault. Do you speak English,” he began. “I am in room two twelve and I am wondering how to ask a question of the young woman in an information booth in the lobby.”
“Certainly,” he answered, forcing himself to act naturally, affect the calm of one of the wealthy and registered guests who frequented this world, knew the expectations of old fashioned service, affluence and abject obsequies behavior.
“Well, yes, I understand, but I had thought to ask a question before I made any decision of how to spend my day.”
Desault pulled at the tip of what would have been a side burn had his short haircut grown out.
“I am to meet some friends from out of town, not guests of the hotel, you see, and I wanted some ideas of what to do.”
The pause on the other end of the line, the quiet in which Desault found himself waiting, hearing all the objections, delicately hoisted by the concierge were but steps in the dance to which he knew he must be appropriately responsive.
“Well certainly,” he replied, “but I don’t believe she speaks English and I am an American.”
He smiled, thinking now how ugly, impersonal, provincial and overbearing such a statement must sound.
“I mean,” he continued, speaking slowly, measuring his pace, trying to sound more worldly and knowledgeable than his scant twenty-seven years allowed, “ I guess I was wondering about the tourists. You know, if she had stuff for the tourists to do, things of interest, places to see.”
Desault shook his head.
His ill conceived plan had failed and he felt more than a little chagrined.
“Never mind,” he said, solicitously, recalling he had said the same words to the beautiful girl in the vast network of corridors, hallways and chandeliered great rooms in the lobby below.
“Thanks and never mind,” he concluded, dropping his voice appropriately, signifying the conversation was over and there was nothing else the concierge might do.
Demian Desault looked at the journal on the bed opposite. He studied his brief case and the few empty folders he had laid out upon the writing desk.
He took up the few type written sheets and read again a portion of the text he’d underlined, appointing him to the task at hand.
“Trace the history of seal hunting and the fur trade to determine the relationship, if any, to the slaughter of the Indian, Buffalo, and Natives of the America’s.
Determine the extent to which the Canadian government, explicitly or otherwise, furthered such endeavor and the extent, there for to which they are responsible for the reparations, if any, which may be due subject Native Americans.”
“Miss Davis,” he’d said, fiddling with the folders, rearranging the few papers in whose leaves they lay, “good morning. My name is Demian Desault. I work with Attorney Altshuller and was hoping to speak with him or Ms. Prescott if he’s busy.”
Desault held the phone away from his ear, trying to avoid the unpleasant capture of music from the office telephone.
A fan of Vivaldi and Bach, he had come to hate them both as his term at the firm and time spent on hold, grew. While waiting for one of the senior partners or a paralegal, his appreciation of the masters grew inversely, hearing sometimes in a day the same sonata or requiem three or four times.
“Ms. Prescott,” he replied, hearing her curt and often naturally unpleasant twang answer and identify her bosses turf as the only territory still currently under colonial rule.
“Ms. Prescott, this is Demian. I just wanted to let Attorney Altshuller know I was here, had begun work, and would fax or e-mail him any information relevant as soon as I had gained a foothold.”
Desault felt himself somewhat less than forthright as the notion of a foothold, less a beach head, in this dry and turgid matter of assigning blame and liability for events centuries old was at best an exercise in futility, at worst, further insult to the already injured Americans and their quiet and amicable neighbors, the Canadians.
“No,” he concluded, “there is no reason for you to interrupt him, I am simply following protocol and telling you and he, my whereabouts.”
“Thank-you, Ms. Prescott,” he began to conclude, “I will call back in a week.”
Desault tried to hurry the conclusion of their conversation, both for finding Ms. Prescott a bore and too for fearing she would put him back on hold and oblige him to listen again, to the music.
In the lobby, Desault thought to find the lounge and get something to eat. He knew he had to speak with the concierge to make arrangements to find transport and a guide, but thought first to go past the small booth where the lovely girl stood and see what was the nature of her being there, now.
“Monsieur,” he said, trying to be both polite and politic, “may I have a coffee and some peanuts.”
He watched the formally suited, black tied waiter disappear through the large arched portico and wondered if the girl might ever come into the lounge, or even leave her post to go anywhere in the hotel.
“Thank-you,” he nodded formally, setting down his silver inlaid tray, “thank-you. Would you mind if I asked you a question.”
“No, Monsieur, certainly not.”
“Can you tell me what the hotel does beside take care of it’s guests.”
The waiter looked somewhat perplexed.
“I am not sure I know what you mean,” he finally replied, a thick French accent lilting the perfectly enunciated English.
Desault laughed, self consciously, apologetically. At some level he intuited he may have said something to upset the rightfully proud waiter, proud of his service and country, off put, somehow with the ugly American.
“Certainly,” Desault assured him quickly. He spoke with a false confidence asserting he was neither a fool, nor meant offense.
The waiter immediately stepped back, noticeably, raising himself from the bent and formal discomfort of servitude to a more upright, forthright posture, one a defending Frenchman might employ.
“I only meant,” he continued, trying now to lower his voice, to recover some of the poise and acumen which a foreigner and visitor ought possess, “I only meant, there are people in the hotel lobby who don’t seem to have anything to do with the operations of the hotel. You know like the gift shop, maybe or some other people beside the receptionists and the bellboys or the concierge.”
The Frenchman peered at Desault peculiarly, raising his brow, speaking out his further confusion for not understanding even more than before what the foreigner was asking of him.
Desault wondered if his studied stupidity were so transparent, the Frenchman too was playing with him.
“I was thinking of the gift shop. You know. People who do stuff other than take care of guests.”
Desault paused, thinking to see if this didn’t allow a less harsh criticism or rebuke to result.
“I mean, I have to find a guide. Transportation to the country and I wondered if there were people here who did things like that.”
“Oh,” the bartender answered, engaged again by the ruse, seeming to understand and speaking again without offense or defensive retreat.
“Our concierge is most helpful and can do almost anything,” he allowed.
“What does Monsieur need,” he concluded, returning again to the proximity of Desault’s hearing and table.
“Well actually,” he answered, not discovering the answer he’d sought, thinking still to take advantage of the situation anyway,” I may need to arrange for a plane and a guide.”
The waiter stood now at attention. His gaze from the silver, brocade covered plate had risen to meet Desault’s eyes head on.
“I have no doubt our concierge can make such arrangements, Monsieur and I would be happy to call him if you so desire.”
Desault smiled. Getting what he needed, he’d not gotten what he wanted and smiled a thank-you, realizing he’d have to make arrangements sooner or later and might as well now be done with them.
“That would be great,” he answered. “Thank-you, that would be great.”
Before Demian Desault could replace the steaming coffee cup upon the century old breakfront imported from the continent, a great coated, red vested, formally attired livery man, approached.
“Monsieur, good morning. I understand you have need of some special transport and a guide. My name is Ferdinand and I am happy to help.”
Desault spoke, smiled, asked questions and concluded, thanking Ferdinand for his trouble. Handing him a tip of local currency, they agreed they would speak later in the day or in the morning as his plans became more clear.
“Thank-you Monsieur,” Ferdinand concluded, a slight formal half bow, graciously accepting both the tip and the thanks of the guest.
“Will there be anything else,” he asked, preparing dutifully to take his leave.
“Just one question,” Desault persisted, his hand studiously clasping the small bone china handle of the white porcelain coffee cup. “Do you know what other people do for work in the lobby. What other kind’s of things go on here.”
Ferdinand looked somewhat baffled.
“I mean are there other services in the hotel. Is there for example a gift shop, a dining hall, I don’t know. I was just wondering what else goes on here. Things I might do before I set off.”
“Certainly, Monsieur. Certainly. We have a very beautiful dining room. It overlooks the great river. We have a gift shop that is duty free. We have a whole Hudson Bay Trading Company store here in the hotel and we have an exhibition hall too.”
Ferdinand looked at Desault to see if this was the correct answer.
“We do have a place for petit dejeuner, a breakfast, you call it, and we do have an office for people who book travel through our ministry of tourism and travel.
“An exhibition,” Desault repeated, surprised at such a possibility, surprised the grand hotel, a Chateau once a fort, was so large, like other government institutions, it could house an exhibition hall.
“Oui,” Ferdinand began. “Yes Sir. We have here an exhibition of one of our countries most famous tribes.”
“Tribe, Ferdinand,“ Desault replied, surprised at such an answer, at the use of such language.
“Yes. Monsieur, we have on display the sculpture of the Inuit. We have some of the most beautiful carvings and sculpture in the world and they are made by our own people. The Inuit. They are the proudest of all our peoples.”
“And do you know any of those peoples. Are there any who live in this area of the country.”
Desault looked at the concierge and wondered if he could see through his slick city lawyer ways and recognize the hapless ploy of a young and interested suitor.
“Certainment. Certainly.” Ferdinand replied, but alas did not elaborate as Desault hoped, and shed no further light on the broad cheeked, black eyed beauty he saw first entering the grand hotel.
“Well then,” he concluded, holding out his hand, signifying there was nothing else up his sleeve, “I will speak with you later in the day. You will be around. You work all day.”
“Certainly,” he replied, stiffening again, ready now to leave.
“I’m sorry. I only meant would I be able to find you should I need to.”
“Certainly,” Ferdinand repeated, again a little perplexed, a little wondrous, uncertain if this guest was indeed finished with him, backing away and preparing to leave.
Desault raised his empty cup. Pretended to be engaged in tasting the sweet bitter of espresso, though he, and he suspected Ferdinand, knew it was empty, he wondered, even in this brief intercourse, how it was people from different languages spoke with one another.
“Listen carefullu, speak little,” was his father’s admonition.
He laughed quietly, imagining his father watching him now, trying to organize an escapade with a girl from a foreign tribe, an animal, perhaps, a wild Amazon from the far reaches of the north, another crazy and unholy escapade.
Desault wondered if he might get back to his suite, check his papers again to see if there was additional information he might use in preparation and, on the way, pass the Inuit girl, if that was her origin, or whoever was the black haired, wide eyed, broad cheeked beauty.
He thought to go to a library, a government museum to begin his study of this company spanning three continents, three centuries, and, through which by the hopes of his firm, some liability for the export of terror, inured.
“It was the Hudson Bay Company,” he read, “who taught the French, first slew the fur bearing animals of the great north and then, for meat, the sale of hides, a commodity to favor the Bay company, moved south and helped, in the wholesale slaughter of the buffalo. Their masters, the hunters who sought meat and hides as their only way of life, were so excited by the carnage, the slaughter a whole nation of Indian followed.”
The small red light upon the corner of the telephone blinked.
No fool of the province, no yodel just landed on the shore, Desault the product of a cosmopolitan environment, uncertain but wishing to appear at least intelligent picked the cradle out of the receiver and thought to ask the operator what was the message.
“Allo, Bonjour, May I help you,” The very proper, perfectly enunciated lilting English voice of the receptionist set Demian Desault immediately at ease.
“Monsieur Desault, good afternoon. I have a message for you.”
“Sure,” Desault answered, surprised to be called by name, still uncertain of his stature with the firm, in the eyes of the world, seen by others or strangers.
“From your office, Monsieur, a Mr. Jack Dempsey called. He asked me to say he and some of your team mates were to have a match at the Kings Dominion in Jamaica.”
“He said very specifically to tell you it was a partner’s meeting, that the firm was to pay, that though you had not earned your wings yet, you were invited, pro bono, and as he was certain you would be late, he would meet you at the nineteenth hole.”
The receptionist paused, out of breath, and waiting for some indication the message given was that received, that the listener heard, more or less, what the speaker intended.
Desault was quiet, chuckling to himself, wondering why Altshuller had sent him to this curious backwater of the world and why, if he had any brains, he wasn’t playing golf, this weekend, with his friends.
“Monsieur,” the receptionist inquired, her inflection indicating she too was uncertain what the guest in two twelve had heard, “is everything all right. Does that make sense.”
“Oh sure,” he answered, realizing through the fog, through his own self indulged absorption trying to formulate the image of Dempsey and the senior partners, the golf outing and the kudos Dempsey would manage to garner from the elder partners, how the receptionist too, sounded uncertain. And she also, as he had stuttered and struggled to speak to the beautiful girl in the lobby, had not the certainty of what she said or did, as he imagined everyone but himself possessed.
“Certainly,” he replied, emulating the vernacular of Ferdinand.
“Certainly,” he repeated, raising his inflection now, making certain his tone reflected the words, wanting to reassure her he understood the message, and her translation was appropriate and sound.
“Did Mr. Dempsey leave a message. I mean,” he stammered now, trying to formulate the translation from English to a language he scarcely knew, “did Mr. Dempsey leave a return phone number.”
“Certainly, Monsieur Desault,” the mellifluous receptionist replied, “Certainly.”
“Would you like me to composez, excuse me, would you like me to ring up Mr. Dempsey.”
For a brief second, Desault wondered if there was any credible reason to make an expensive long distance call. He wondered if the firm’s accountants actually looked at expense reports. He recalled stories by Dempsey himself of taking clients to dinner and clubs, spending outlandish sums, even for the pricey environs of New York, and having no ‘push back’, as he called it, no complaint ever, as long as he won the case, as long as his batting average remained above the magical sixty percent, no one ever asked anything but the size of the settlement or the amount of the award.
“Yes, please,” he finally answered, thinking he needed a minute to compose himself before his next foray into the lobby and a second attempted sighting of the beautiful tribal daughter.
“Please,” he repeated, realizing he also did not really want to go to a foreign government’s ministry to study two hundred year old documents about dead animals, French traders and wars from people whose real value to the world and his own limited environment was, at best, problematic.
“Jack Dempsey,” he heard suddenly the incredibly clear, bright and pugnacious voice of one of his peers and a sometimes friend.
“Jack,” Demian said, “You fuck. What are you doing.”
“What do you mean,” he replied, his voice sterner, chastising, sardonic.
“The question is, my friend what are you doing. I hear you are in the land of polar bears. What the fuck. You have some kind of animal rights streak of yellow down your back.”
Dempsey’s voice now was chiding and laughing at once.
“Is it true you are in the Artic and you would rather be snowshoeing than with us in the Caribbean playing golf.”
Before Desault could still his laughter Dempsey continued.
“Have you lost your marbles then. Should we be sending the men in white, notifying your next of kin.”
“You suck,” Desault replied, “you bastard, you’re just jealous ‘cuz you’re still on the paper shredders and you wish you could get out of the office and get some time away from the green-visored freaks.”
Desault’s parry had more than a little truth.
“Demian,” Dempsey continued, his voice more regular now, his words and tone more appropriate to peers speaking of business.
“You wouldn’t believe it. How long have you been gone.”
Desault was calculating the day he’d left, the Julian date and the exact number for feeling, as he now thought of it, realizing he was gone way longer than the four days the calendar signified.
“In the last three days, we’ve found another fifteen senior managers, c-level jockeys, higher ups. All of them knew of the shredding, all station or office managers, all with authority to stop, to report, to get to top brass and every one was out to lunch.”
“Are you bringing charges. Is the Fed going to take up the suit.”
“I don’t know, my boy. It’s all very political you know. I heard one of the Presidents men speaking this morning to Eldridge. He was prepping him and peppering him with questions as if he were the senior partner who had to represent the client and make a deal. It’s way over my pay grade, but you know what. I’ll be out on the links tomorrow while you’ll be mushing sled dogs, so who cares.”
Desault laughed. There was indeed more than a little truth in Dempsey’s notion that nothing happened in his practice that wasn’t ultimately subject to the judges, the politicians, the vested interests of all, including the lawyers who were used to buttress which ever political agenda was the most expedient or pressing at the moment.
“It’s not that I don’t believe you,” Desault replied, “but there’s billions of dollars at stake. There’s got to be five million share holders who all have standing. I can’t believe it’s all going to go away.”
“I’m going to go away,” Dempsey replied again. “Frankly I don’t care and I am gonna’ go to Jamaica and spend my weekend on the links.”
“Well good for you, old buddy. Let me just ask you one question before you go.”
Whatever Desault’s notion of Dempsey’s political will, evangelical interests or expediency, he knew Jack Dempsey to possess one of the finest legal minds of any peer and perhaps, with near photographic recall, as much empiric knowledge of American History as any lexicon, abridged or netted down might provide.
“I know you’re thinking of sugar plums and dancing elves, but just tell me, what really happened in these French Indian wars. I mean were the Indians in that war the same as the American Indian. Was that the same war as the Indian of Custer’s last stand and the buffalo Indians the same as the ones who fought here against the French and English.”
“Good God, man,” Dempsey replied, what the hell are you doing. How is any of that going to help you.”
Demian thought to answer but had an uncomfortable image of blank white artic ice mass. He struggled to listen, to hear what was otherwise meaningless blather, gratuitous words of sarcasm spoken by a friend who knew enough to know there was really little point in listening, less for speaking meaningfully.
“Listen old boy, I think you better do some homework. You know what they do to white men who fuck up.”
Demian felt a stab of sarcasm and left the moment of the conversation.
He didn’t think to answer but Dempsey didn’t care and carried on.
“They call it skinning, “he continued, “and I know you’re pretty particular about your head dress. A Mohawk, old boy. Look it up in your Funk and Wagnels. You’ll get it and do be careful,” he concluded, clicking down the receiver, summarily.
Desault placed the telephone back into the cradle. For the first time since leaving New York, he felt remote, awkward, and at a far remove.
Action and movement were the natural displacements for Demian Desault’s occasional bouts of disquiet.
He rose, thinking to look for any brochures left out for the tourists in the hotel room desk, a map that would orient him to the city and government agencies to help him place where to begin his research.
“Mohawk,” stuck in his head and as he entered the elevator, and derived the algorithm to pass the small festooned booth in the far corner of the Chateau, making certain to see the dark eyed beauty on his way out.
From the bank of elevators decanting into the grand hall, Desault turned right, away from the brass and dark mahogany doors leading the guests out to the liveried bell man, cobbled archway and street.
Rather, he turned right and moved slowly through the labyrinthine halls and porticos of the enormous Chateau.
Within minutes, against a stream of guests who were, by there sight and occasionally unintelligible utterances, from all over the world, he was within reach of the archway behind which was the small booth where he had seen the dark eyed, broad cheeked beauty.
Feeling his heart beating through the pulse of his clenched fists, he recognized the same anxiety, standing in front of a new judge, in a new case, and he smiled.
He turned the corner, expecting to catch sight of this most beautiful girl, but saw, to his dismay, an empty high stool, a desk with a small sign indicating the area of the store or museum was closed and securely gated doors behind where she had sat, underscored he was too late.
Desault stood dumbly, his expectations foiled, his thoughts and plans in disarray.
In truth he had no plans to do any research, visit any government ministries or even open a book until tomorrow.
Indeed, he was quite certain of meeting this black haired girl, carrying on the day with her in whatever dream his mind had spun.
With resignation and a thought to return to his room, sleep or call room service and be idle, he looked at the light of the secured glass doors, and moved to approach what he’d assumed to be a store, a duty free shop or some commercial undertaking.
In the muted display areas, now, he noticed there were artifacts of like quality and kind.
He moved to be closer and discovered them to be carvings, statues, reliefs of dark natural stone. He stepped next to the glass enclosed cases, walled enclosures and realized he was looking in at the sculptures and figures of a museum display.
He smiled realizing suddenly this was the museum of which Ferdinand had spoken and the girl, who had so attracted him, the lovely, foreign dark eyed broad cheeked girl was not only the museum keeper, but one of the sacred tribe, the Inuit of whom Ferdinand had spoken so proudly.
As if struck from behind, Desault stood in front of the glass and stared. Arms and hands limp by his side, his body overcome by the ineptitude of his mind, slowness of thought, the curious and near fantastic way he found himself in the midst of a reality which moments before seemed a dream, left him speechless.
Immature and careless, Desault, for the first time, found himself looking into the looking glass around which he had walked, and was astonished at what he saw.
Dark alabaster, sandstone, soapstone, basalt, figures of near mythic and ancient proportion stood or sat quietly in pools of light, magically. So powerful were the images, they seemed, he thought, to cast a light of their own.
Desault saw first a phoenix.
A bird of mythic proportion, a bird of unparalleled majesty, its head and eye bore the sentience of the most modern man, the knowing and power of all of human kind and absolute confidence of an animal who knew absolutely it’s place in the hierarchy and lived accordingly.
Desault felt his breath escape, unwittingly, deprived of oxygen for the length of time he’d staunched his lungs.
He stepped away from the glass, wondering if he had taken a drug, a magical potion in the water.
He thought of Dempsey playing golf on the partners weekend and felt suddenly as foreign to the undertaking, as far from the city of New York and the modern world as if he were a child watching the sculptor, the man whose weathered hands with tools of rock and stone, carved the majestic bird.
Desault stepped back to the glass again and now peered past the phoenix to another display, again sitting in its own pool of light, and even larger, more majestic, more incredible.
An enormous piece of solid white onyx or alabaster stood on a pedestal.
Nearly three feet high, the statue was the arctic polar bear. Raised upon his hind legs, forepaws outstretched, claws barred, he appeared….. interrupted.
Happened upon by an unwitting hunter, an intruder to his polar quiet, the Inuit version of the polar bear clearly indicated the animal’s absolute diffidence to any outside threat, any interference with its quotidian. Clear in the bears stance was the unspoken confidence of an animal as majestic as any, with no natural predators and an absolute notion of his royal and unquestioned place in the world he inhabited, and the natural hierarchy of life.
Desault stood for so long, transfixed. He turned carefully and peered behind him to see if anyone might be gawking at him for gawking at an animal unlike any he had ever seen.
Desault tried to turn away, to move off before he spent any more time standing, a fool in the looking glass of a museum but saw, from the corner of his eye, yet another exhibit which stopped him agok in his tracks.
Upon the diaz, was a collection of flat rectangular stones.
Miniature replicas of the monoliths of ancient Druggean temples, the stones, the largest of which was scarcely bigger than his hand, was washed and smoothed by the sea.
Dark basalt, carved itself by what must have been incessant pounding and eroding by the waters of a land whose proportion he could scarcely imagine, themselves each alone a work of the most extraordinary art, beauty, Demian Desault was dumstruck. Before him he saw the natural and striking majesty of an artifact made by the hand of a god he was disinclined to believe existed, serendipity or the chance occlusion of carbon extruded from a thousand degree pipe of volcanic lava, chance and coincidence birthing a diamond purely from the happenstance confluence of events.
Two to six inches each, rectangular and nearly symmetrical pieces of basalt and feldspar, the stones were laid horizontally one upon the other making the most extraordinary and simple rendition of ancient man.
Arms, the extension of the horizontal plane, legs, the accumulation of smaller and appropriately proportioned squares, the whole figure, with twenty stones of varying sizes was as striking a resemblance of both ancient and modern man as any he had ever seen.
Desault turned and moved quickly now from the glass walls of the museum to return to the safer and more predictable images of wainscoted lounges, brass edged lobbies and marble countered desks where uniformed and pleasant functionaries sat, attending to guests like himself and their every need or want, whimsical or reasoned.
“Monsieur. Ca va bien,” a uniformed concierge asked.
Seeing the look of confusion upon Desault’s face, and realizing he was speaking to a foreigner he immediately made the translation.
“Monsieur, is everything all right. Is there anything I might do to help you.”
Desault smiled, realizing immediately the hotels employee, a student himself in the study of human behavior had seen the confusion and uncertainty evident upon Desault’s face.
“No, thanks,” he stammered. “I was just looking at some of the art in the museum. I was wondering when it opens.”
“Oui. Yes Monsieur. It is very beautiful, is it not.”
He stood calmly, a curious posture for one whose job was to serve, while witnessing a volcano, lava spewing from a nearby mountain top or an eclipse. The waiter stood, silently.
Respectfully, he stood next to Desault as if suddenly, neither master nor slave; they were brothers with a common and reverential experience of extraordinary magnitude.
“We are very lucky, you and me,” he continued, nodding to the exhibit, nodding to themselves and winking a silent recognition of their persons distinct from all the rest of mankind.
“There are not many people who, in their lives get to see such things.”
Desault was so struck by the unexpected nature of the concierge’s fraternity, he stood motionlessly.
“Yes sir,” the red, waist coated, bow tied, normally attired batman continued, “ there are only a few people in the world these days who get to see that and you must consider yourself lucky to be one of them.”
Desault suddenly was uncertain he and the uniformed concierge were speaking of the same thing, however he moved along now, trying to get to the doors, the beautiful revolving mahogany and brass doors that would lead him into the courtyard of this fort, to the cobble stoned streets and hopefully to some ministry or museum where he could learn some facts to begin the undertaking that was his formal responsibility and charge.
On the Rue Saint Jacques, Desault found the first of the government ministries whose whereabouts he had seen roughly laid out on caricatured map of the old walled city.
“Bonjour,” Desault said speaking carefully to the curious old man at the turnstile.
“You’re English,” the gnomish civil servant replied.
He smiled at Desault evidencing a wide, ingenuous and toothless grin.
“Um,” Desault allowed, “I was just trying to follow the protocol. “Is it true you have a library here.”
“Truth is a curious thing, Monsieur,” the civil servant replied. His face changed reflecting the line and wisdom of a philosopher.
“Quite right,” Desault agreed, “indeed, that is exactly why I am here.”
The peculiar functionary peered at Desault waiting for him to conclude the direct reference to his preceding statement.
Desault stood quietly, wondering if this was a request to continue or an oblique insult.
“Well,” he repeated, ”you will have to tell me sooner or later. Why are you here,” the odd fellow mumbled again.
Each time he spoke, Desault thought, he appeared differently, someone with whom he had not previously spoken.
“I was hoping you would have some reference material here, some information on the old trading companies, the fur traders.”
The civil servant peered at Desault as if he had been the first visitor ever to present himself at these environs.
“Why would the old traders be of any interest these days,” the old man queried. “Why would anybody care.”
“You know,” Desault answered, regaining some of his poise, “I have asked the same question.”
The old man smiled, and too quickly Desault thought he had won his good favor.
“So, why haven’t you gotten an answer. Are you speaking with the wrong people.” The toothless old man smiled again and barred his gums.
“Eh,” he repeated, grinning, a curious guttural grunt shaking his slight belly.
“I mean what are you doing here, Monsieur,” he added at the end, seeming to speak a little French only to pique the visitor’s pride.
“I was hoping you’d ask,” Desault answered. “I am doing a research project on the Tribes of the Canadian north. I am trying to learn about who were the fur traders, how it was the Hudson Bay Company came to be, how it grew, what was the story of its origins.”
“That’s understandable,” the old man said again, “I can understand that. Are you a hunter. Are you a buyer of the precious white.”
“Whatever are you talking about,” Desault replied, put off a little, wondering who was this fellow, how he had such an odd collection of information and insult.
“Is it Ivory,” he continued, his face relaxing now into the lined and ancient lineament of a cragged old warrior himself, who spent too many, two hundred years too many, out on the artic flows.
“Whatever would I want with Ivory,” Desault answered, surprised again at the curious turn of the conversation between a grown man and a young man, in the middle of a great hall, beside a turnstile through which he had yet even to gain passage and speaking of Ivory to a man who may as easily been a lunatic from a local health care center as a civil servant finishing out his days.
The gatekeeper appeared suddenly wise and focused.
He held up a crooked forefinger and his face puckered again into one of timeless concern, wisdom, age and understanding.
“Listen sonny.” He resumed, “every one who comes here says the same thing. ‘Monsieur,’ they say, ‘have you any literature about the North, about the Inuit, about the Canadian North country.’”
He smiled but turned away and moved a step, back to the small box which was the receptacle for the tickets for those prepaid and deposited for entrance through the turn style.
“And Monsieur, it sounds great. I mean it sounds, like you, as if they are students, tourists, wanderers looking for the pearls and nuggets of jewel embedded in the old tomes here to enlighten the world and themselves how this great land was wrested from the wild native, turned to the strongest, most powerful, most beautiful land above the equator in all of the world.”
Desault was shocked at the literate and articulate manner of this man who still, for all he knew may be crazy, and whose buttons Desault, unwittingly pushed, getting him started.
“We are powerful, we have a large navy, we have more natural resources than any country including United States and we do not make war. We are not a vindictive people and we have no colonial interests. We do not covet our neighbor’s wealth. We have no aspirations of taking over the world and we are not preparing to become anything we are not now but to better feed, better heal and better care for our people.”
As the old man finished, his impassioned face suddenly returned to the toothless, witless visage of an uninformed senile civil servant.
Desault, knowing somehow he was in the right place but with little clue as what next to do, stood quietly, attentively, a school boy tolerating an appropriately gained chastisement for stealing hot buns from the school cafeteria before lunch.
“So if you think you will find our Ivory, or steal it, spirit it
from our national treasury in the far north, Monsieur, you are mistaken.”
Desault found himself recoiling from the stern rebuke.
Having never even spoken the word ivory, nor connecting the origin of the notion of color to the actual artifact of mammalian life and the tusks which all of Christendom and much of the world of infidels had coveted, he found himself feeling a sense of guilt, a socio archetypal notion of his own accomplice in the world of modern man who killed the tuskers, laid waste to some of the most beautiful of the species, left their carcass decapitated on the tundra taking only the coveted narwhal, the ivory bone and tusk to adorn the headdress of an impoverished mind in a middle class bourgeois sitting room somewhere in the lower forty eight.
“I am sorry,” he replied, regretfully, a powerful and abiding shame coloring the words and his posture.
A dog in retreat, caught stealing the bone of a families soup, he hunched his shoulders, retracted his head and apologized.
“I am sorry,” he repeated, “I am doing some research for an American law firm. I am, trying to understand exactly the same story but as regards the American buffalo. I am trying to understand who and how a species numbering millions were slaughtered.”
Desault was himself surprised at he words he spoke. Though he believed there was truth to what he said, that the facts were more or less as he had stated, he did not mention he was trying to diminish the liability for the American Government.
He did not say he was trying to find a tar baby to attach some of the liability that was truly the peoples of the Americas, those who survived, that is, and not the now decimated tribes of the buffalo’s keepers, the Native American Indian.
“Monsieur,” he began again, “I am sorry. “Truly. I understand some how the country has suffered but I am not a poacher. I am not searching the Ivory to sell or steal. I am a lawyer. I am only looking for truth and besides words and an understanding of history, there is nothing I will take that I will not return.”
The toothless servant studied Desault. He looked him up and down as if he were measuring the weight of a carcass of deer or caribou he’d just shot for winter provisions and was trying to establish, in his own mind it’s sufficiency for the season.
“All right, mon ami. All right, but make certain, Monsieur. Make certain you take care.”
Desault nodded, a dutiful school boy following the admonition of a study hall proctor, but was filled with awe and disbelief.
“Come this way, Monsieur,” the old man replied, a serious countenance now tightened his face, a voice which spoke with gravity not unlike the warrior king who spoke to the young prince to whom he had vouchsafed his eldest and most beautiful daughter.
Desault wondered where the civil servant might lead him.
He wondered suddenly how he got here, how it was of all the funny old stone government buildings and ministries he had chosen this one and if it were a mistake.
Desault moved through the turnstile set in the midst of an enormous marbled unpeopled hall built to accommodate hundreds if not thousands and wondered if he had stepped through the looking glass and into a prison, a sanctuary, the house of parliament or perhaps, an asylum where he was essentially committing himself voluntarily and once through the magic doors, it would be years, a life time before any would find or rescue him or before which he might negotiate an escape.
From the turnstile, they passed across the marbled floor, larger than any cathedral or court in which Desault had ever passed.
By the far end of the open high ceiling wainscoted, double glassed lead pained amphitheatre, they arrived at an enormous wall appearing to be the exterior and with no exit.
Desault felt his palms grow moist with apprehension. He felt his heart race and in the cavernous desolate building wondered if the old man was in disguise, a young scout from an army or government office who could hear his pulse beat wildly, erratic and out of control.
When they had run out of walking room, when there was no more cobbled and marbled floor along which to pass; the elder reached up his hand and grasped a brass handle recessed in the mahogany wall.
Desault felt momentarily, both relief and a new wave of anxiety.
The toothless civil servant turned, hand upon the just opened passageway door and took Desault’s gaze.
With such brute force and power, the eye of a falcon gazing at a small partridge about to become breakfast, he steadfastly held his gaze, stopped his forward movement with its clutch and whispered in a scarcely audible hiss,
“Do not forget your word, Monsieur. It is all you have of value, you have given it to me, and,” he concluded, holding up both hands, cupped before him as if holding an egg or the small chick of a new hatchling, “ I am taking it. You have given me a promise, Monsieur, and I am taking your word.”
Desault, chilled by the solemnity and sincerity of a man he thought unschooled and enfeebled nodded carefully, thoughtfully, acknowledging the gravity and seriousness of what the man held cupped before him.
The civil servant turned, clasped the handle and allowed Desault through a door scarcely wide enough to let him enter.
Inside, he blinked.
He felt his heart nearly stop, shocked by the wonder and unexpected nature of what he found.
The room was a chamber nearly as large as the hall through which they had just passed.
Standing guard over the entirety stood an enormous ivory white polar bear risen on his hind feet, soft white underbelly exposed, forepaws raised, claws extended, head upright appearing to snarl and growl at all of humankind.
Twice the height of Desault, the majestic animal was fearsome, awful and struck in the exact pose readying to eat or kill, snarl or bludgeon any who might pass.
In a glass case, hermetically sealed, the great white’s teeth and blood red tongue struck Desault with a quivering fright from which only slow and careful breathing could release him from the instinct to turn and run.
Behind the bear stood, geometrically arranged, three enormous globes, themselves as tall as any normal man, themselves, with relief and recess, ridges for mountains deep blue for ocean, pure white for ice mass, the focal point of which was the absolute true North Pole.
Desault struggled to quell his erratic breath, to still his wildly beating and erratic heart.
He gasped, a body thrown unexpectedly into cold water, and struggled to regain some poise, some equilibrium, some calm.
He moved behind the glass cased bear and next to the globes.
Now he saw clearly the walls of the great hall and they were, he realized, covered from floor to ceiling; books, and shelves, filled with ancient papers, parchment, scrolls of hide, books older than his father’s father’s father.
Desault clasped his hands and recalled he needed breath, to settle and quell his racing heart.
Slowly, careful not to make noise, to not awaken the great white who, so life like appeared able, on a moments notice to come alive and give chase to any who would pretend or attempt to pass, he struggled to calm himself.
Persuaded himself to turn and run, he was convinced only bad would come of his being near.
Determined to get away, the same instinct, fear before thunder on the plain, Desault turned to the brass hinged dark mahogany door.
From the corner of his eye, he glimpsed the far wall, the wall furthest from him, most distant from the enormous stuffed polar bear around whose twelve foot height he needed to circumnavigate.
In glass display, from waist high to what appeared shelves and display cases well above his line of sight, level to the height of the top of the glass house encasing the great white, were no less than forty or fifty smaller glass cubbies, cases, square clear paneled encasements in which he there were a like amount of the soapstone and dark basalt carvings, three of which he had seen in the little museum inside the great Chateau.
When Desault returned to his room, the small red light at the comer of his hand set, indicating the hotel operator had a message for him, blinked.
“Bonsoir Monsieur Desault,” the operator answered, “Good evening. How may I help you.”
Desault, still in the wild and untamed foreign land of make believe or disbelief from his sojourn, was again surprised at being distinguished in a country and land of such enormity.
“Thank-you,” he answered. “I am fine.” He paused now uncertain what next to say, whether to try his pathetic and rueful attempt at French or simply assume the operator knew most of the guests of the hotel were speech disabled and would therefore guide him, like a child, through the protocols.
“Your office has called again. Monsieur Dempsey, excuse me, Mr. Dempsey called and would like you to return his call at your earliest convenience.”
Desault surmised if he waited a moment the operator would ring off.
He checked his Christian Dior trying to remember what was the time in the lower forty eight, whether Dempsey was working late and what could be important enough for him to call a second time, but to give him a little more grief for not being able to join the partners for golf.
Before he concluded the thought, the operator continued, “and Monsieur, Monsieur Desault has asked me to remind you of his mobile cell phone. He asked me to give you his number and ask too if you could not reach him at the office to please ring the cell.”
Desault was surprised, took the number and chalked it up to Dempsey’s perseverant and remorseless sense of humor.
“Would you like me to connect you, Monsieur,” the mellifluous operator concluded.
“Oui, Yes, certainly, thank you,” Desault added imagining the body of the women attached to such a beautiful voice, whether or not she was married, if she’d made acquaintances by phone here in the old walled city, or if ethics and morality, job requirements and quality assurance, prohibited such fraternization.
Desault heard the telephone connection made, and the inbound line of the firm ringing.
“Go ahead, Monsieur,” the operator said, leaving Desault to the party whose transmission she had completed.
“Good evening,” he said as an unfamiliar receptionist answered and introduced the firm and herself by name, “may I speak with Jack Dempsey,” he asked, “this is Demian Desault.”
“Certainly,” she replied and rang though to Dempsey’s office.
Neither his secretary nor Jack answered and in less than a minute the phone bounced back to the switchboard.
“May I help you,” the operator asked again, speaking as if this were the first time the outbound call had arrived.
“No thanks, I think I will try the cell phone. But you might leave a message I called and I will try him again.”
“Jack,” Desault hailed him on his mobile phone, thinking he was in flight or already in Jamaica, on a beach, calling just to put more salt in the wound.
“Demian,” he answered, “hold on for just a second,” Dempsey asked, and his tone, suggesting the call originated from some source other than a practical joke gave Desault a moments pause.
“Demian,” Dempsey returned after a moment, “you probably thought I was calling from the Jamaica Hilton with two beautiful Jamaican ladies on either arm, eh,” but before Demian could formulate a response, Dempsey resumed, “Well I’m not god damn it and it’s partly your fault.”
“Whatever are you talking about,” Desault protested, but Dempsey rebutted him before he’d had time to hear.
“I guess it’s not really your fault old buddy, but the Justice department has gone off the deep end. There is apparently a mid term election in the senate, something to do with the guy that had a heart attack and died. His replacement is from the mid west and apparently has Indian roots. He has a lot of suck with some of the Judiciary committees and they’re all in a ruckus about the Indian reparations and they want their boy to win so, wouldn’t you know they pushed the judge and the judge called all the parties for a pre-trial eight months ahead of schedule to look good, and guess who’s been named with six others to get it done, ‘cause you’re too slow and they want their stuff, yesterday.”
“I take it you’re not in Jamaica, Jack?”
“Very funny, Demian. No I’m not in Jamaica and neither am I joking. In fact,” Dempsey continued, his voice calming now, his rhetoric easing, “I actually have a reservation for tomorrow mid day. I am to be your guest.”
Demian laughed. He felt relief, friends and country men coming to accompany him on this curious and foreign journey, a strange assignment in a strange land.
“You there,” Dempsey asked, recognizing the unexpected silence.
“Yes. No. I mean yes, I am fine. I am here.” Desault answered, “and this place is as big as Fort Knox. There’ll be no problem finding any rooms.”
As soon as Desault spoke he knew he regretted Dempsey’s arrival, others involvement and anything that would besmirch what had been thus far, a remarkable, if somewhat curious and nearly incomprehensible undertaking.
“We’ve already got reservations. We tried to get adjoining rooms and a conference suite but they said we were lucky to have any. I guess it’s a big time of year. Something about the solstice…..two months of summer and all the rest under ice.”
“Who’s we, Jack. Who’s we,”
“I told you,” Dempsey repeated. “There’s a whole clan. Senior partners want this handled. They want to see briefs before the end of the month. They want results, Demian, so their sending up the big guns.”
Desault heard the chuckle and sarcasm in his voice. The connection faded. Crackling filled the satellite connection, the cyberspace which made for the near magical transmission of a voice from one continental land mass, with no wires, to another.
Desault wondered what Marconi would have thought should he have been party to such intercourse.
“But wait,” he tried to say, knowing he should say nothing, knowing no matter how poorly he said it, there was no way to articulate his possesory and personal interest in these goings on and his absolute, if inarticulate disinterest in sharing anything with anybody, except the girl with dark eyes, broad cheeks and obsidian black hair.
“I can’t hear you. Loosing the connection, Demian. Do you want to make arrangements for dinner tomorrow night. We can have a beer, get up to speed and hit the ground running, next morning.”
“I can’t hear you, Demian, we’re breaking up. I’ll call you from the airport or when we land. See you later.”
Desault heard all of Dempsey’s final transmission, but thought, without speaking, there might be enough uncertainty he could beg off without having to be absurd or transparently duplicitous.
The calm Desault found leaving the enchanted marbled hall from earlier in the day, disappeared.
The curious almost dizzying sense of vertigo, the disequilibration felt at height, altitude, weakness of breath had dispersed.
As magically as Desault had forgotten the mission, the occasion of his visit to the foreign land, the facts of the case, the issues of reparations and slaughter of man and beast alike, vividly he recalled all of it now.
Old voices interrupted his quiet and he found himself drawn to the hotel lobby.
“Bonsoir Monsieur,” one of the doorman said, seeing him debarque from the elevator, looking out into the high ceilinged chandeliered hall, “may I help you.”
“Bonsoir,” Desault said, “Good evening, sure. Is the museum down that way.”
The bellman looked askance, wondering what the foreign English speaking tourist wanted with a museum and what was nature of the place where he sought to be.
“There is no museum here, Monsieur, perhaps you mean the library.”
Desault shook his head, no.
“Where the sculptures are,” he spoke and immediately the bellman understood.
“Monsieur, you mean the exhibition hall. Certainment. It is right this way,” he added, moving aside, allowing Desault to get in front of him and follow the directions he indicated with a wave of his hand.
Desault moved along the hallways with as uncertain a step as the day, he recalled, oddly, taking the bar.
Of two minds, he both wanted the trial over and hastened along, but too, knew, once through the door, once begun, his life would change irrevocably.
The hour was late.
Guests were already passing, arm in arm, dressed in black and formal attire for, Desault presumed, dinner in the hotel which, given what he’d seen, would certainly require black tie and tails.
He felt compelled to hurry, having little sense of time, and compelled to slow, as he did not want this day to end or the possibility of his disappointment to render invalid his quite complex and wondrous fantasy as it has grown thus far.
Couples nodded their good evenings as he passed. The more he saw, the more quickly he hastened. The greater his sense of the day dwindling, the less thought he gave to preserving whatever he thought may have given rise to his dizzying and curious state, rather now he had to force his legs to slow, and not break into a run to get him to the exhibition hall, to allow him to catch sight of the black haired native girl before she’d left.
Within sight of the great hall, he saw the lights had already been dimmed. The hall was closed, a small sign set in the center of the large isle way indicated further approach or entry was interdicted until some hour of the following day.
Desault felt the air escape his lungs, his disappointment so evident, so much a part of his expectation and hope, he wondered, though he couldn’t remember the last time he’d done so, what it would be like to cry.
‘Get hold of yourself man,’ he admonished himself and as he slowed, stopped his forward motion and drew back his breath, he looked toward the small circular, marbled, raised counter top behind which the dark haired beauty sat.
The lights in the hall were muted and pooled, small focused beams on some of the glassed carvings.
In the receptionist’s area, there was a back light which outlined the circular well of the reception, but left the innards of the space in silhouette.
Stopping his heart, his breath caught in the panic of cold water at night, deep forest in winter, the girl, Desault discovered, was there.
While in the day hours she stood and acknowledged visitors, was upright and available for those who would stop by or come to look at the sculpture of the Inuit, now she sat, well below the line of sight and at the desk, behind the high marble counter and attended to some form of paper and hand work.
Desault watched, a wild animal, a wolf readying to strike, a burglar worried for being caught.
He approached as quietly and slowly as he might and saw her turned to broad white paper on which she seemed to be sketching, drawing, making some kind of image or drawing which, for his distance and the counter top, was unrecognizable.
The open silver chain mesh gate alone kept him from the immediacy of his quarry.
He craned his neck, stretching on his toes to gain a better look.
He tried to peer through the links of the security gate, across the height of the half lit chamber, through the pools of dark and focused lights to see what was the nature of her undertaking, and he sneezed.
The black haired girl, drawing up sharply, ceased in her undertaking immediately. She peered through the light, easily seeing the form of Demian Desault in the lobby’s hallway.
She froze, a puma in the hunter’s torch. She was motionless and Desault blinked, wondering, for just a moment, if she were herself a statue, if he had mistaken, in his zeal, her person for one of the sculptures for whose care she was responsible.
Desault struggled to be quiet, to be still and not allow his racing heart to signal the tremble of his hand, a twitch to his head, a false start lurching his body toward the already sealed gate.
“Bonsoir,” he whispered, a voice not nearly audible. “Bonsoir.”
The woman at the desk remained motionless and he stopped.
“Good evening,” he said again, his voice a little louder, his assertion a little bolder.
She did not move.
A passer bye stopped and looking at Desault tried to see, an accident beside the road, why he peered into the darkness, what he saw, if it was something to interest a tourist bored and always seeking stimulation.
“Excuse me,” Desault said, turning to the tourist, turning away from the Inuit woman as if the passerby had trespassed, passed unwittingly a trap line and needed to be shoed away.
“Is there something going on,” the stranger inquired, peering into the exhibition hall, trying to see what had taken the man’s interest, trying to see what was the occasion of an adult male stalking or standing beside a locked gate.
“No,” Desault answered, “and it is none of your business anyway.”
The tourist was offended inordinately, proportionately to Desault’s outburst and pressed.
“If there is someone in trouble or breaking in, don’t you think we ought to call the management.”
“Do you have any idea what you’re talking about,” Desault replied, turning full face to the stranger, now raising his voice well more than he knew was appropriate.
Desault, seeing the look of surprise upon the American’s face, turned now to see what was the reaction of the Inuit, if she had been disturbed from her quiet, the solitude, as he imagined it allowing her to partake of her drawings, artwork, or whatever was the nature of her undertaking.
He blinked from the glare of the chandelier behind the tourists into the darkened pools of soft back lights and darkness within the exhibition halls.
He squinted, struggling to fight off the instinct to strike physically the interloper behind him and dash open the head of the impolitic ugly Americans interrupting his yet unsuccessful tryst.
“Get away you fool,” he said, turning back, angry for not seeing the black haired woman.
“Just mind you own business,” he nearly yelled, declarative, angry, outraged.
“Just mind your own business,” he said, his voice dropping, his body limp and turned back to sight the lovely Indian princess.
The tourists moved away, muttering, defiant, upset with the curious man’s behavior.
Desault looked back, his eyes adjusted now, his anger subsided.
He peered into the pooled darkness and saw she was gone.
Desault returned to his rooms. He struggled with his anger at the tourists, his frustration with sighting the black haired Inuit and wondered, if only for a second, if she were a phantasm, if he were imagining everything and she were a toothless old drunken Indian woman wrinkled, aged, and mute, but for his own imagination and heightened sense of stimulation brought on by this curious land of the midnight sun, the altitude, the latitude here so close to the artic and his now always, somewhat dizzied, never equilibrated, ever present sense of excitement.
He turned to his papers and thought to settle himself with his assignment. ‘Structure and discipline’ had always been the method by which he would alleviate the difficulties of theoretical wandering and focus himself upon some task at hand.
He pulled out his brief case, took open the folders containing the notes and instructions of his chores, re-read and re-organized their contents.
“Determine the effect of fur trading and its consequent behavior upon the northern plains Americans. Chart the influence of the French as it related to or was manifest in the treatment of the buffalo, the Indians and the ultimate effects and decline of each population.”
‘We are trying to lay our genocide, a colonial horror at the feet of the Canadians,’ he reminded himself.
‘We have grown fat as a culture, had to reckon with our past and would rather sue MacDonald’s for being overweight and a little dumb than admit our own lethargy, proclivity for grease and entropy as it applies to all life.’
‘We are slaves to a system that denies personal responsibility and allocates blame to others.’
Desault slept with visions of the Canadians running thousands of buffalo off cliffs, killing them in slaughter. He dreamt of Indians rising in anger and protest, running the American cavalry, bounty hunters, into boxed canyons where hundreds of thousands were slaughtered, skinned alive, hair, taken from their scalps and wrapped, the booty and treasure of the hunt, upon and around their spears.
“Bonjour Monsieur Desault, I am sorry to call you at such an hour, but I have a man, Monsieur Dempsey on the other line. He is calling from the United States and insists upon my reaching you and I apologize. Je suis desole, but their was no ‘do not disturb’ sign upon your phone.”
Desault grumbled, grunted, steeped in the horror of the white man and the red, the Indian and the American killing each other by the thousands. He was off put and relieved for the interruption, relieved this image was not one bearing any place at least in the reality of his life.
“Demian. Demian old boy is that you.”
Desault grunted affirmatively.
“Sorry to get you at an ungodly hour but the chief wanted us to go standby if we could, you know, ‘get to it boys,’ and all that crap. Well the airline called us at 3:00 am. and here we are about to board. I think I have to put my phone away. Its security you know, but I guess I’ll see you in a few hours. By this afternoon. We can have lunch,” he concluded hastily, trying to put his cell phone in his pocket before someone from security took it away.
Desault jumped out of bed. He ran across the room, stumbled into the shower, and prepared himself quickly cutting himself twice on the cheek, racing to get out of the shower and downstairs before Dempsey and his crew arrived.
“Bonjour, Monsieur,” the bellman at the bottom of the elevator called to him.
Desault was anxious enough to gain his objective he crossed the lobby and nearly sprinted down the long wainscoted and chandeliered hallway.
“Good morning,” he said abruptly, a disorganized, chaotic and unceremonious entry.
“I am sorry to barge in upon you like this but I must tell you some American Lawyers are coming here to ask you a thousand questions. You must find a way to hide, to get away, to make certain you don’t speak to them at all.”
The Inuit girl looked at Desault blankly.
Her eyes, focused and luminescent, and her smile, chagrined and playful indicated, as Desault watched her, caught his breath and tried to regain a modicum of composure, she didn’t have a clue what was the subject of the conversation, that she spoke no English, probably didn’t speak French and nothing he might say would give her the knowledge needed to get her away and out of the clutches of Jack the giant killer, man of the year, lawyer extraordinaire, ladies man, and generally an implacable senior partner destined to have his desk in the corner office.
He stepped backwards realizing his words and demeanor were way too harsh, that whatever she understood or not, his composure, the manner of his affect, the way he appeared was far to inappropriate for her and certainly not reflective of the man hunter he wanted her to see, be attracted by and know intimately.
“I’m sorry,” he began, stepping now so far away he could scarcely see the work behind the counter which had engaged her.
“I’m sorry,” he said again, trying to say with his hands, “please go back to what you were doing, ignore me; I am a stupid thick American.”
Some tourists approached. They spoke loudly, laughing, happy to be on vacation in this remote wonderland, themselves probably high or feeling the effects of the latitude or the altitude or whatever it was that made for the persistent feeling off being not quite right, a little drunk, tipsy, and not in the regular way, acclimatized.
The tourists approached.
Desault suddenly found his sixth sense working and dispatched from the present, dispassionate about events as they occurred, backed up yet another step and allowed an easy passageway for them.
He moved off far enough they were naturally drawn, chattering and unaware, mostly to the girl behind the marbled counter top, her beauty, her dark onyx black hair, her foreign and perhaps ancient and Indian lineage.
Desault watched the Americans approach. He saw the beautiful princess rise, and in one deft motion greet them eyes as luminescent and jeweled as any natural gem he had ever seen.
He saw her, deftly, take a pamphlet from a drawer below the line of his sight and hand it to the passers by at exactly the moment of their intersection with the front of the kiosk. As they approached with in an arms length, she both handed them what must have been a story of the exhibition, in English, and a colored brochure which clearly indicated where they were, what was the nature and occasion of the exhibit and how to get from one end of the enormous hall to the other.
They smiled their appreciation and thanks. She smiled her appreciation for their visit to the sculpture, works of art of the most extraordinary artifact of her whole culture, her peoples, perhaps her own family, and she had not spoken a word.
Desault stood slack jawed.
The tourists passed. They carried on along the first broad hallway of the exhibit and they were quite content with nothing but the papers in hand.
Desault wanted to ask them how it was they could be in such a place and not speak, not interview this citizen of a world where they had never been, would never go, and whose art and culture they were about to see.
He stepped along the hallway. He moved to follow them trying to formulate the words to inquire how this happened. How they might know so much without ever speaking or conversely, know so little, and not even care. How what they saw was simply stuff to fill time, between breakfast and lunch, a tour to check off the list of things done, a time to pass before the duty free store opened and they could do the really important work of shopping.
Desault opened his mouth to speak. He opened his mouth speeding his way along the hall to catch up, to ask, to inquire how it was the world worked but found he could not.
He turned back, realizing he was nervous, anxious to talk, communicate with the beautiful Inuit but had bungled it and knew not next what to say.
He moved quickly to return to her side, to get to the marble counter behind which she had worked.
Immediately, he saw she was gone.
On her desk, he saw now the sketch upon which she had been working but there was no trace of her.
He leaned over to look more closely and saw a small polar bear, a little bear, standing on it’s hind legs, seeming to move forward, guided by a light in its eye, a sight he beheld which made, Desault thought, if it were possible, the animal possessed a human countenance, exhibiting a smile.
The little bear was crossing glacial rock. Dark, basalt, ocean wet, fiord rocks and in its step, in its playful broad wide eyed countenance was the same high cheeked, open eyed, beautiful and ingenuous forthrightness Desault had seen in the girl.
“Little Bear,” he said, backing away, realizing he had peered at the very essence of her but too had taken a liberty perhaps not granted.
He moved away and found curiously he was happy to steal off and recede back into the many chambered halls of the Chateau before she returned and he had to confront her or be confronted without time to ponder.
“Monsieur,” the waiter smiled a silver serving plate and gleaming white napkin in his hand,
“May I get you some coffee.”
Desault nodded smiled a grateful thanks and struggled to understand how it was a woman so beautiful could live in a city where she spoke neither the language nor understood the customs of its inhabitants or passers by, yet still possess such beauty and poise.
He wondered about the little bear and saw suddenly the incredible similarities between the girl and the portrait, the self portrait she drew, purposefully or not.
“Please,” he answered. “Please, and may I have some meat too.”
The waiter nodded, a graceful and accommodating acknowledgement and silently slipped away.
Desault struggled to think how to isolate Dempsey, the New York legal establishment and the encroachment of man, but for himself, upon the space and place of little bear. He watched as the waiter, wittingly or not slipped away with the same quiet, nearly thoughtless grace and wile as little bear.
“I’m sorry,” he said, standing beside his table, waiting the waiters return to gracefully beg off. “I have to get back to my room. I have lost track of time and need to prepare for a meeting for which I must not be late.”
The waiter again nodded, graciously, put the silver tray of breakfast aside and from out of the folds of his apron took a check and smiling, with no hint of recrimination or distress, left it upon the table.
Desault nodded and hurried off.
Returning to his room he resolved what steps he must take to thwart the potential imposition of the white man and keep safe this treasure, these treasures of the
“Jack,” he replied taking an offensive and presumptive air to effect control.
“I thought maybe your plane crashed. You’re over half an hour late.”
“Very funny, nimrod,” Dempsey replied, an affectionate epithet to dispel Desault’s parry, to dispel any notion he was the junior for being subject to the vicissitudes of air travel and schedules out of his control.
“I suppose your still sleeping yourself,” Dempsey countered, trying in jest and fact to retake the offensive.
“No, my friend, on the contrary, I have planned our day. We are fast tracking the entire investigation and by the looks of this schedule and your decidedly late arrival, we may not even have time for lunch.”
“ How many of you are there,” he queried, again knowing how easily he could take control of Dempsey, how technically to manipulate his actions consistent with the long picture and Dempsey’s ultimate determination to impress his superiors in a timely fashion, more consequential than the facts or allegations of any act or omission or truth or inference.
“We are four, old buddy. There is James, Durand, Watkins and Pendergast, our paralegal.”
“Why don’t you have room service bring you a breakfast. It will only take ten or fifteen minutes. It is an arduous and quite serious undertaking in the hotel restaurant and I can meet you in the lobby in say twenty five minutes.”
Too much schedule and the hint of precise preparation easily deterred Dempsey from any other notions and he rang off, committed to get his troupe fed, watered and ready for action within the proscribed time frame as iterated by Desault, the advance man on the ground, plans and details of the next set of moves, arranged.
“Jack,” Desault nearly shouted across the lobby.
Though not his style and personally more comfortable allowing Jack and peers like him to call out his name, be the first, the jovial, outspoken party man. Desault breaking with his own proclivities met the enemy head on.
“Hey Jack,” he cajoled, coming now within sight as well as ear shot, “are you still struggling with the time change. It’s not like we’re on the West coast.”
Dempsey, a little uncertain of the remainder of his party, set now in the middle of a throng of day visitors and tourists from around the world, paused.
“Hi,” Desault continued, introducing himself around, recognizing the others by their suits, their attentiveness to Dempsey, the degree to which they appeared lost or struggling for a clue as what next to do.
“I am Demian Desault,” he said shaking the hand of Ms. Prendergast a lovely but very serious and quite stern professional brought along from the firm to annotate and organize their investigation.
‘Now Jack,” he resumed, turning back to Dempsey, treating him as the senior partner in a formal setting, knowing he would respond favorably to the obsequies behavior and everyone else would likely follow.
“I have first a provincial library, operated by the government and with documents running back to sixteen forty-five. That is very nearly the beginning of time, here, at least as far as the white man was concerned, so we can get some context and history and maybe break up or in a group, we can go the local university where there is not only a law library but a law school.
“I’ve got the front desk working on a contact for us and it seems there will be no problem and we’ll have access long before we’re ready.”
Dempsey, struck by the formality of his friend’s generally more lackadaisical arrangements was sufficiently impressed and wanting similarly to so impress his group he found himself nodding his head, agreeing, and readying, by posture and body language, to follow Desault virtually anywhere he might go.
“Sure, great. Let’s get to it,” he answered, responding to a moments pause and direct inquiry of the fast talking, now pressured speech and plans of Damien Desault.
Desault, a sheep dog, moved to shepard them all out of the great hall, away from the chandeliered, wainscoted and comfortable accommodations of the Chateau, out, onto the street.
“Are you asking a question or are we leaving right now.” Dempsey asked, joking somewhat at Desault’s serious and persevering determination.
Desault, recalling the image of the empty desk, the drawings and the Inuit whose vision he struggled to keep from the eye of his American friend answered, “No Jack, no not at all, but if we’re to get this thing done, we’d better get going.”
“You know,” Dempsey whispered to Desault, “this is a little like looking at the Japanese fleet before Pearl Harbor.” His voice was hushed. He spoke more with his eyes and the seriousness of his brow, the stern wide eyed countenance of one who’d found black powder and explosive caps in and amongst an adolescent’s playthings.
“I mean I knew there was some ugly business but this is like genocide.”
Desault, inclined to admit and take the perspective of one who would harbor no enemies looked askance.
“What did you expect Jack.”
He turned to see how the remainder of the group dispatched themselves.
“I’ve got James and Durand doing the French era and Watkins and Pendergast following up with the British. I’m focusing on the American from about eighteen twelve and after, but I have to tell you, it’s not a pretty picture.”
Desault said nothing but waited for Dempsey to offer a conclusion.
“I guess we’ll have to keep on.” He finally concluded finding no direction from his peer Demian Desault. “I guess we’ll just have to get this all together, put it in the best light and carry on.”
Desault watched Dempsey return to the stacks. He watched the white man, of whom, by birth he was one, move off and continue his inquiry into the slaughter of the buffalo, the Indian, an unholy undertaking of how to rewrite history giving America less of a role and outside forces, colonial forces of another country, imperialistic forces from France or Britain more of the liability so the American government might at best wash it’s hands and of course, at least, diminish the dollar cost of the settlement.
“Reparations,” Desault whispered to himself. “Why does anybody want to repair anything they did with purpose and abandon?”
Carefully, Desault moved from the stacks compiling the history of Canada, of the central government and the organization of the provinces into a federation, to the further recesses of the library where he could look after the Tribes.
He moved away from the center of the universe here, the organization of the Canadian government and to the furthest edges of the world where the tribes of the artic, the Norsemen, the indigenous tribes of the Northwest were recorded and their history and past were consigned.
“Inuit,” he read, “believed to be descended directly from the Athabascan, indigenous peoples of the Northwest first appeared, by verifiable record, about ten thousand years prior to the present.
“Nomadic peoples, arriving during an interglacial and from Asia, crossing the land bridge of the Aleutians, lived largely in the arctic and sub arctic tundra of the northern edges of the land mass of the Americas. They lived comfortably with the seal, bear, walrus and musk ox as the staple from which they drew food, clothing and ethnic spirit.
“They employed dog, coyote, and wolf for transport and seemed, for the last eight thousand years, to have been virtually unknown and unrecognized by any other ethnic group at least until the advent off the European explorer in search of the Northwest passage and in turn, the fur traders coming north from Canada, the residue of the French and British conquest in commerce, and the ensuing trade wars for fur, territory and dominion.”
In the pages of the text, Desault found many references to Inuit and Athabascans. Eskimo and Mongol, but could find little about their people, their tribes, how they lived, what they looked like, how their descent kept them from or insulated their lives against western man.
“Demian, some of us are hungry. They are going to want to go to lunch. You know this place. Is there some bistro or steak house nearby, some place you know where we can eat and not get poisoned.”
Desault felt himself bridle at the American’s tone.
He had worked with Jack for nearly three years, played racquet ball and sometimes went drinking, but never had he seen him in such a curious light.
“I don’t really know, Jack,” he answered, trying to finish the paragraph he was reading and simultaneously not swear oaths or epithets for his American friend’s interruption, the loud and obnoxious behavior.
“Hold on just minute,” he muttered, finishing the page he had begun, but so taken by the surge of anger and resentment, he was not reading the words but thinking how much he hated the man next to him, his peers, and their fat cat American, ‘noblesse oblige.’
“You know what,” he allowed, slowing his breath, regaining his composure, knowing beyond anything else, that whatever his infatuation with the black haired girl, the onyx statuesque of the Inuit, his dizzying, excited, disequilibrated buzzing excitement, he had to maintain peace in the family and there were many ways, beside war, to accommodate his job, his peers and the disparate and increasingly powerful feelings of separation and discomfort.
“There are hundreds of restaurants and bistros everywhere in the old city. If you walk out towards the center city, just following the walls of the fort, you’ll bump into ten of them.”
He put down the book uncomfortably, fiddling with it, trying, unconsciously to avoid eye contact which would betray his true feelings.
“I’m going to run back to my room and get some papers, but you’ll have no trouble finding a five star place and I ate this morning, one of those seven course breakfasts so I couldn’t eat now again if I tried.”
Dempsey looked around the stacks and large writing work tables searching out his fellow lawyers.
He seemed to have accepted Desault’s plan and was assessing the time appropriate for the break.
Demian put the book he was handling upon the table, holding its corners, turning it upside down and right side up, trying to appear engaged, to leave Dempsey the space to conclude his calculus, move off, assemble his group and set off for lunch.
With no action by his peer, Desault grew increasingly uncomfortable and placing the book upon the large wide grained heavily lacquered table, turned it over and let the picture on the back side set face up.
“Jesus,” he grunted aloud, and Dempsey, within immediate proximity, within the quiet of the government hall, turned sharply and focused directly on his friend.
“What’s wrong, Demian,” he asked, thinking he had forgotten something, had remembered he was supposed to call the office at a time certain, file a brief or conclude some responsibility the absence of which would surely cause him trouble..
“Nothing,” Demian answered, half heartedly, half seriously, himself still in the wash of his surprise.
“Nothing, really,” he repeated, studying the picture on the back of the book he had been reading, trying simultaneously to turn it back over, to hide the authors photograph from Dempsey’s inquiring eyes, trying still to absorb the image and reconcile the stunning likeness of the author to the girl to whom so piteously he had professed his admiration.
Demian Desault watched the assembled cohort leave the old marbled government building, heading off to lunch in the old city.
He struggled, waiting for them to be gone. Slow and taken up by the minutiae of their conversation, he thought they took nearly forever before they were out the door, before he dared look back again at the picture of the woman on the back of the book he had been reading on the peoples of the Arctic.
A school child, he turned over the book, slowly and with a certain timidity, fearful and wondrous all the while, his impression, he discovered was correct.
He looked up, looked away, looked everywhere but at the book in his hands readying himself for the possibility that the author, the photograph of the author was none other than that of the girl in the exhibit, the woman to whom he professed his bewilderment and attraction.
On the table the book lay, and again he turned its back cover, over to his now averted eyes. His head remained raised to the ceiling of this pantheon.
He saw gargoyles, stunning carvings and art work, a replica, in less form, but still in the style of the Cistine chapel.
“More proof of the French Catholic influence,” he thought, but knew he was delaying the moment when he would drop his gaze and reckon with the picture and it’s likeness.
Without any clear sense why or how he might next act, Demian Desault left the monolithic government building housing an enormous proportion of the provinces artifact and history much as he had arrived.
But for the slight bulge in the small of his back, his sense of excitement, a curious dizziness and heightened sense of smell, touch and a peculiar confusion, the odd notion of being under water or at high altitude persisting in following him, he was, more or less unchanged.
Unaware of the effects of arctic air, the change in latitude, he persevered. A salmon ready to spawn, he made his way back to the old Chateau, smiling now, appearing to any of the tourists an indigent, a little touched, smiling and grinning quietly, a man with a secret. He returned past the main foyer, the great hallway, the concierge to whom he nodded a formal and finally well enunciated,”Bonjour,” and paused at the edge of the great exhibition hall.
He watched people return from the exhibit. He watched any new arrivals head toward the small kiosk where the lovely Inuit girl sat and worked upon her sketches.
A foreign animal readying to pounce, a morsel of fine rabbit for the distended claws of a big mountain cat, he timed his movements with the stealth of a hunter moving carefully across the marble floor to stand in front of her.
She smiled, appearing not to recognizing him.
He smiled and stared, dumbfounded, grinning, a school boy, a young man beguiled and speechless.
Little Bear looked up and now made eye contact with Desault.
She left the contemplations of her sketch, it seemed to Demian, and for the first time joined him, was ready to be there and hear him, but for his inability to speak.
“Good afternoon,” Desault said. He spoke slowly now, but without the rote mechanistic tone that had characterized his earlier words.
“Good morning,” he repeated, again speaking softly, but talking more with his eyes than his mouth.
“I was at the library today, the provincial government building and was trying to find out some information about the Inuit, about the tribes of the North, about how it was, where you came from, where it is your people live.”
Little Bear stood all the while. Her face, a chiseled and poised beauty remained focused and to a stranger appeared in conversation, albeit a difficult one, an exchange between two peoples of differing descent, whose mother tongues were not the same, and there appeared, especially when Desault spoke the word, Inuit, a relationship of at least thoughtful and respectful deference.
“I have been trying to understand what language you speak. I have been trying to speak with you since the day I arrived and saw you first. I have wondered how it is you speak to foreigners, what you do here, how you help people get where they are going and seem to speak not a word of English.”
Desault smiled and the air expelled from his taught chest.
“I don’t know if you understand a word I say but somehow I think you do.”
He stepped back, a school boy having fessed up to the truth of his truancy, his harmless but factual trouble after school, waiting, as was the rule, for the consequences of his acts.
Little Bear smiled at him but still said not a word.
She looked at her sketch and returned her eyes to Desault, a sharp elfin grin, turning the corners of her mouth, trying, but for her self control, to keep her public smile, from laughter outright.
“What’s so funny,” Desault asked, smiling himself now, nearly laughing at the beauty of the girl, the manner of her poise, the small encouraging grin she too tried to mask, complex and extraordinary in this dizzying height and latitude in the belly of the far north.
Little Bear could not control the small laugh that pulled at her pursed lips and allowed the gleaming white of her smile to explode into the dimly lit interior.
Her eyes fell from Desault’s and took in the image upon thick paper on which she had sketched her drawing.
He could not see the picture, behind the risen counter as it sat.
Little bear looked up again, grinning now, and saw Desault’s request for permission to approach, to look, to see the object of her humor.
Clearly she understood.
With nothing but the movement of his eyes, the projection of where he was to the spot where the drawing sat, he accomplished the silent query and as easily as asked, she responded with the slightest but affirmative nod of her head.
He approached, leaned over the counter, peering at the upside down sketch and saw a polar landscape.
‘A likeness of the past,” Desault thought. He saw a panorama spanning an open lead of ice, stilled artic waters, a small settlement of Eskimo and Inuit and on the far horizon, the masts of an old wooden schooner, a foreign trading ship, an English man of war come to find the northwest passage, to trade goods, seek shelter and help for being beset in the ice, realizing the approach of winter and having no possible return but for dog sled, pirogue or snow shoe, for none of which were they properly provisioned.
Desault studied the sketch. He studied the likeness of the small village, houses of snow, seal hide, bone, an encampment made of the land and as quickly returned.
He saw the imposing masts on the horizon, the tangled rigging of enormous foreign wooden ships, strangers invading a land where they had no place and neither wanted to be.
He looked up and saw her smile, a soft and gentle grin, a countenance, different altogether than the manner of her earlier contact.
He watched her transfixed and she let her eyes fall again to the drawing.
She raised an arm. She raised a hand and finger and as Desault saw, she was pointing out one of the aspects of the drawing.
He smiled encouraging and grateful and she pointed to a small darkness.
Between the far horizon and the village, tiny and mingled in the open lead of water, between sheets of broken ice cracked and wedged, risen and crashed into each other, twisted statues as large as any habitation, as large, in proportion to the buildings here, in the province, there was a small sailing vessel.
Desault asked again seeking permission with his eyes if he might come even closer. He asked and was granted a closer look.
He leaned over the counter now and saw, where she pointed, a small wooden ship, a life boat filled with darkened forms of what might only have been the English or Frenchman.
With a small canvass sail, oars, ill clad for winter and scarcely visible amongst the enormous ice flows, Desault saw she pointed out the advent of the white man, and in a curious but notable way, looked at him, as he saw the reference, and with the open wide question of a raised brow, asked if he were not one of them.
Desault laughed aloud.
Understanding the extraordinary question, the subtleties, he stepped back, laughed quietly and smiled broadly, saying with out words, shaking his head back and forth, a sincere and heartfelt, ‘no’, he was not one of them.
He was not a conqueror.
He was Demian Desault, a young lawyer come to warn her of other conquerors, others who meant to once again invade and if need be pillage. He was simply a boy who was infatuated with the beautiful and extraordinary person of this ‘Little Bear’.
She smiled but a hint of uncertainty still creased her brow.
He smiled too and struggled to say the words, commit the act or persuade her he was all right, honorable, someone she might trust and with whom she might ultimately speak.
“I am just me,” he said, a little dumbfounded, chagrined at his inability to communicate, his movement awkward and uncertain.
He reached behind and pulled the book from the small of his back.
With the back cover up, upon the counter top and easily in her sight, he raised his head again and took her gaze.
She smiled and the flash of her gleaming teeth, the sun that lit her smile and brightened in what then appeared a chambered nautilus, told Desault something important had just occurred.
He struggled to control his grin.
He worried he had too much to say, too little time, and too quickly had to return to the others.
“I am afraid I am not free,” he said, knowing immediately it would be near impossible for her to understand the meaning of those words.
“I am sorry,” he repeated again, “but I am not free. I have to work. I am not them,” he continued, pointing to the foreigners in the pirogue, “but I have to get back to work.”
The beautiful Inuit girl smiled.
She may not have understood, he thought, but she smiled.
“I have to go,” he whispered, moving closer to the sketch. “I have to go,” he said again and pointed to the small craft, struggling through the waves, struggling to navigate it’s way through the ice flow.
“I have to go,” he repeated, and drew out his face, trying silently to enunciate his disappointment.
He raised his eyes trying to see what she understood. She moved away, and came out from behind her kiosk.
Smiling, and with a striking grace and poise, she moved across the marbled floor, into the broad hallway of the exhibition. Turning around to gain his attention, she moved to one of the soapstone sculptures set behind glass.
Desault watched as she led him to a statue of a bear.
She stood reverentially and let her eye cast it’s gaze upon the extended forearm, rising upward, rising to the sun, to the heavens, to some unseen sight above.
He studied the stone carving and saw the most extraordinary likeness he had ever seen. He watched the question her eyes asked him to answer, what was the subject of such rage, such furry, to make the king of all, the most powerful animal in the world, a beast to whom there were no other natural predators, afraid, screaming out, in the frozen tundra, “I will kill you.”
In the entrance to the great hall, there was commotion, noise, dissonant voices speaking uncomfortably, idly, without the reverence and quiet one expects in such a place of national honor and history. More tourists were coming to see the exhibit. Desault recalled his time was not his own, he was not master of his destiny this moment and though he had spent considerable time and emotional investment to effect exactly this outcome, to have gained somehow a moment with this beautiful Inuit woman, was more, in this moment, than he may have ever expected.
He turned and studied the people approaching. He turned and in that moment allowed the Inuit the knowledge that he was subordinate to the confusions of western man.
Immediately he returned his gaze and again, with startling speed saw the girl, Little Bear had fled. Like the men in the drawings they lad lost the compass of their peregrinations. Like the disciples of Christ, he had taken the eye of his intended, a free and unfettered spirit, and the moment he let his gaze turn, be encroached upon by the witless invasion of man, she disappeared.
“Jack,” Demian spoke, an unnatural discomfort in his voice, an unusual but noteworthy change in the comfort of his appellation, “how was lunch.”
Jack Dempsey looked at his cohorts. He studied, carelessly the face of his peers and announced, with a mixture of sarcasm and satisfaction, “that was, my friend about as good as it gets.”
“Now it’s true, David had squid and he thought it was lamb. Ms. Pendergast who is vegetarian had veal, a baby calf slaughtered while nursing, and she thought it was endives. Otherwise, the bread was hot, the wine excellent and the service five star.”
Dempsey smiled but Desault now could not tell if his grin was of sarcasm or satisfaction, and suddenly he knew he didn’t even want to know.
He recalled he image of the serpentine bear, an enormous powerful claw risen a height that would have been five feet over the head of this curious little man and he thought with some satisfaction that would be a fair way to end this wasted sojourn, rid the city of these cave dwellers and knuckle draggers, sending their remains packing, or packed, if they were so disposed, back to New York.
“So Demian, here is what we’re going to do.”
Dempsey straightened and sat up straight in the large couch set by the entrance for visitors to the provincial offices, waiting the arrival of a functionary, or, thought Demian, ‘so aghast by what they have learned, a place to rest and recover their equilibrium before returning to the modern world.’
“We thought we had better get some one who can testify and find some private pockets beside the Canadian Government. Durand and James say there are repeated references to the Hudson Bay Trading Company.”
As Dempsey talked he became increasingly louder, more forceful, more oriented to speaking in such a fashion that everyone might hear. He stood, moved in front of the small gathering. His eye turned now from one to another.
“We need a donkey,” he said, his voice a little shrill, filled with a big city tough guy cynicism, “we need a tail on which to pin this whole sordid affair.”
He turned back to Demian now but his voice was projected to everyone.
“I think,” he resumed, again his eyes returned to Desault but his voice speaking to all, “that we need to find complicity. We need an accomplice. We need a responsible party who had motive, interest proven by financial gain, and the wherewithal to produce the outcome.
“According to James and Durand, everyone was involved. Talk about pattern and practice,” Dempsey continued, moving now to the bench in front of Durand, seeking a willing listener as well as corroboration, at once, “everyone did it. Everyone was a trader, a hunter, everyone was involved. I mean Jesus, think of the Eskimo and snow. Everyone had something to do with the fur trade, everyone was some how or another connected to the slaughter and everyone who was involved, knew or was part of the colonial expansion that the French first took. They were kind of like the Spanish to the Inca’s. They were ousted by the British, warlords and feudal generals fighting over the spoils of a new continent, and then there were Americans, biggest bully of them all, and for now, anyway, the last to hold the prize, and the ones with the tar baby stuck all over their faces.”
“I mean Jesus, isn’t this what everybody does,” he concluded, his hands now in his pocket, his drawn clownish face looking for reinforcement and accolades.
“So you mean, when we get to the Gulf, when we’re in the Middle East and we want oil, it doesn’t really matter who lives there, how things are, we just do like the French, like the British did to them and in turn, as long as we are the last man standing”
Demian looked at his peers with diffidence. “We just have to be smart enough to find some one here before us to whom we can point a finger,” Desault concluded, his voice low, but clear, angry, insulting and defiant.
“I think you’ve got it, old boy,” Dempsey smiled. He moved back in front of the group and took his hand from his pockets.
“I think that’s exactly right. I mean, the bottom line is, we need to find culpability. We need a scapegoat and who better than the British, the French, and for them, a real and defined bogy monster, the Hudson Bay Company.”
Pendergast watched, keen to the curious if unethical statements of her colleagues, but Durand smiled and suddenly came alive.
“The issue, you know is not the buffalo. The real issue is the American Native. The Native Americans, I guess is the politically correct phrase, and if we are to credibly establish tort, we need an ox to gore.”
“Gentlemen,” Dempsey concluded, “I think we have a plan. We have our respective eras to brief and conclude, but we must do this in the context of the Trading Company.”
Dempsey smiled for just a moment, a grin of acknowledgement pasted upon his face and continued, “Now I have some preliminary information and I think if we run these arguments in parallel we will plant a tree that will bear fruit quickly.”
No one spoke but it was clear Dempsey was going to continue.
“The Hudson Bay Company is a national enterprise in Canada. It is the oldest, I think, and has to be one of the richest in the country. Most of the world, here,” Dempsey continued, “had some connection with Hudson Bay.”
“You see,” he kept on, making the more global arguments intellectually as he spoke aloud his contemporaneous theory; “if you were a trapper, an Indian or a Frenchman, you brought your furs to the company for sale. There’s was the only mechanism for the indigent to get money or any of the manufactured goods from Europe, matches, material, cutlery, knives, books, even tea. Imagine, the only connection from the outside world was this company and they alone brought the beginning pieces to civilization, to a land where fire was still a mystery, and people lived by the sun.”
“What’s your point.” Durand asked, trying to understand, behind the thickness of his heavy glasses, how this social theory of commerce was going to be a legal theory sufficient to allow for the attribution of liability.
“My point,” Dempsey continued, standing now, moving around the small group, increasingly excited, “is that Desault here is brilliant. He is right.”
Demian looked at Dempsey wondering how a man who purported to be a friend might so misconstrue his words. He didn’t speak but vowed he would never speak again, at least honestly, and if that were impossible, at least when Dempsey was around.
“The one quasi religious, political economic institution of the day was the Hudson Bay Company. They owned or controlled land as big as the whole of the United States, or damn near so, and they had virtually a monopoly on all trade and traffic that went into or out of the whole continent.”
“It had to be that it was the was the French who paid the Indians and the Indians, drunk or hungry slaughtered the beaver, the seal, the fox or whatever other animal walked the face of the earth.”
“I don’t understand where you’re going with this. The Indians knew how to hunt long before the French arrived, Jack and there’s no way you can hold the French accountable for what was a way of life here, since long before Christ was born and certainly long before they even arrived.”
“It’s a good point, my friend,” Dempsey allowed, and moved toward Durand as if they were in a court and he was on cross, “it is a good point but let me remind you of the case of the Saudi Tribes, the Palestinians and the Israeli’s, the Korea’s north and south, Mongolia and the Chinese, Japan and Indonesia, the United States and the Philippines. Man has always enjoyed the fruits of imperialism and sometimes, if it has suited our political will, we have had to pay the price for our zealotry.
“There have been hundreds of successful actions against the Feds by the American Native tribes and they were all essentially postulating, like Caesar, veni, vidi, vici.”
Pendergast paused in her note taking, looking up to Dempsey for further elaboration, a translation.
“We saw, we came and we took,” Desault translated. Dempsey smiled a peer acknowledging thanks for another’s correct if somewhat eclectic interpretation.
The small group was silent. Everyone listened now to see, if despite his buffoonery Dempsey had the basis of a legal theory which would pull the disparate pieces together, ease the intellectual burden they otherwise would have to carry and provide them with a construct which would allow them, individually and collectively the permission to return to work and prove a case, find support for a complex argument rather than to continue to engage, think, understand complicated and conflicted facts and try to reconcile truths which did not always fit, easily.
While Desault watched and listened, he suddenly recalled the odd and peculiar dizzying feeling of altitude or disequilibration he’d first felt so keenly when he had just arrived.
He watched a group of peers, intellectually and professionally capable people struggle for entropy, for answers when they had only just opened their eyes.
He saw smart and generally argumentative and capable people knuckle under, with little resistance or effort and begin to circle up and ready themselves to follow behind.
He imagined how it was the French followed Montcalm into battle, on the plains of Abraham. He wondered if they knew, in their heart of hearts that Wolf would circle, cut them off, rout their midst, take few prisoners and wreak havoc, eventually having to hand over the whole continent.
“You know Jack,” Desault replied, realizing suddenly he could as much profit from events, be the master of his own destiny as were the French, in a foreign land, colonizing the Indian, seizing the moment, wreaking their own selfish, materialistic or even religious and spiritual agenda upon the facts of the day.
“Think of it. There are hundreds of people alive, thousands maybe who have direct ancestral lineage. Imagine discovering hundreds of people whose familial roots, linked with this whole Hudson Bay operation, who are still alive.
“I mean as near as I can tell they maintained their field operations until the mid eighteen hundreds. They probably continued nationally until the turn of the century and even then, when they lost the European market for Beaver hats, they still traded on the continent. They still, though maybe to a lesser degree, traded for bear, wolf, mountain cat anything of value from hides to furs as they went west so there’s got to be old folk who still know the story.”
“What are you saying Demian,” Dempsey asked. “What exactly are you trying to say.”
“At the very least there have to be witnesses we can interview, who can corroborate the practice.”
“I mean, even after the big trade stopped, we all know they just bought and sold different merchandise. The buffalo was a northern plains animal and must have crossed the border in the summer.
“The Cree were there all the while and fought with the company. In the US they might have had the US infantry and general Custer, but you can bet your ass that up here, it was the Company. The Company had to be in a position to do their own policing, protection, and there are going to be witnesses who were part of it. There had to be a bunch who rode shot gun on the Hudson Bay stage and shot Indians, looters, traded alcohol, made law, set precedent. Get it.”
Dempsey shook his head.
The others looked at him and knew not what to think of this apparently dissident conversation or position of Desault and Dempsey’s interest.
“Don’t you get it, Jack,” Desault said, endearingly, speaking now as he saw the Inuit, with no words and using her face and eye, her body and hands to convey meaning,
“Don’t you see, you are right. There is colonialism everywhere. Forget the buffalo and the beaver; there will be a million incidents of the French and the British teaching bad manners, teaching arson, pillage, rape and internecine war.
“I am only saying, “ Desault continued, “ it doesn’t matter what we find to use as evidence of the Companies complicity, there will be thousands of incidents and thousands of people some way or another involved, even recently who will testify, whose story will corroborate the facts, whose testimony will show, way beyond any reasonable doubt the Hudson Bay Company was knowingly and purposely involved, first hand, in the transactions which began and encouraged the slaughter of the buffalo, included the determined and systematic expatriotization of the Indian and expropriation of Indian lands, with ultimately the direct responsibility for the slaughter, abuse and genocide of the Wocjamojie, the Cree, the Western Cherokee and on and on and on.”
Everyone in the small gathering was silent. They bent their heads, staring at their books, or looked to Dempsey to acknowledge the truth or dissuade them.
“I believe you old boy. I believe the theory.” His voice was nearly hoarse, less than broad and expansive. He spoke as if he too had witnessed for the first time or now understood that this country, the country of Canada, and by clear inference, the country of America had in fact been directly responsible for the genocide of enormous proportion which, by story book, legend, error or omission, he had studiously neglected acknowledging hereto for.
“But how does that impact us now. What are you suggesting.”
“I don’t think anyone here disagrees with your premise. I don’t think there is a court in the land that won’t connect the dots and see there is complicity and connection.”
“Truly, I think our job is to build the legal case, find the appropriate law and underpinning, find the prevailing tolerance and the countervailing theory as it supports the defendants, and corroborate the rest.”
“What are you suggesting, Demian. Are you saying we ought to call character witness for the defendant; that we ought to put some of the old folk on the stand.”
Though Dempsey spoke lightly, sarcastically, an unpleasant and sardonic humor in his tone, he realized, as soon as the words left his mouth, Desault had been proposing exactly that.
“My boy,” he gasped, truly surprised by the breadth and scope of Desault’s train of thought.
“I think you are plum crazy. I think you have been here too long and are teched by the altitude, or the latitude or something.”
Desault smiled but did not speak.
“You’re not suggesting someone go up there, up into the wilds, find the old folk, bring a translator, stenographer and do depositions.”
“Do you have any idea how difficult that would be. Do you think there is any among us who could get there, less get out. Are you crazy Demian, let’s be realistic.”
Dempsey stared at his friend and the others stared at them both.
The land grant, slaughter, genocide was far too inchoate and this small tug of war, this easily cognizable intercourse between the two spirited young Turk’s, far easier to understand and be party to, than the grand history and undertakings of the Hudson Bay Company, the whole of the country of Canada and how it affected the world, the northern hemisphere and all of the gun toting, hide stealing, Indian killing, scalp hunting, white men.
“Jack,” Demian continued, realizing, as he spoke the words, this was his QB3, that he had outwitted his opponent right here in the middle of his study group, in the midst of the finest young legal minds his firm could muster to send to the far north, to handle a complex and costly case worth millions in billing fees and likely an annuity for the ministerial and century long adjudicatory relief and oversight fund that would inevitably follow. Demian Desault had outwitted the best.
“You don’t have a lot of choices. We don’t have a lot of choices. The Feds are going to loose this one hands down. They may tag Canada and the Hudson Bay company a little, but do the math. There are billions of dollars here at stake. The Feds don’t have a prayer but to find a marriage partner.”
Dempsey was quiet. He was thoughtful, for a young and flippant barrister and he was sobered and quiet.
“You’re proposing someone do interviews and depositions, statements, affidavits, the whole drill.”
“Yes,” Demian said flatly, trying to hide his emotion, his excitement, his wild and near uncontrollable ebullience at the possibility of being able to carry out his wildest fantasy, and get paid for it.
“I take it you are willing to undertake the job. You are up for the undertaking.”
“Yes,” was again the single grunted, monosyllabic utterance Desault could make while trying to hide his enthusiasm, his broad, bubbling excitement and his wonder that he should actually be so incredibly fortunate or lucky or smart or even some combination so to get his big city firm to do and pay for the arduous and incredibly costly task of getting him to the circle, getting him to the actual Arctic, getting him to the land of Little Bear.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” the doorman greeted Desault as he moved across and up the broad steps marking the entrance to the Chateau and the old fort.
Though the others were somewhere behind, they were technically done with the day’s endeavor Though his own path would, from them, diverge significantly, he was formally free to carry on, have dinner, see to his personal affairs or do whatever it was traveling big city attorneys did at the end of their work day.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” Desault replied, “Vous pouvez m’aidez,” he asked, but thought immediately better of speaking or trying his bastardized French for such an important undertaking.
“Can you help me,” he repeated, trying to maintain the same stature and pride for being who he was and not humiliated or embarrassed for his incompetent language skills.
“Certainment, Monsieur,” the bellman answered, a dutiful and gracious reply allowing the recognition of the native language while still being appropriate for the speaker’s inability.
“How May I help you, Monsieur Desault.”
Demian was surprised he should have known his name but was focused mainly on the excitement which nearly made him tremble.
“Do you know the man named Ferdinand. He is a concierge, or maybe rather it is the concierge who introduced him to me. Perhaps he is a guide, a pilot. I guess I am not sure.”
“Certainly,” the bellman replied. “You are right. He is a guide for the north country. He is a pilot and he has many other skills.”
The bellman turned, with permission, indicating first his intention to move back to his little podium.
“If you can give me a minute, I think I can find him,” he left off, looking now in the papers and address book for a name, a location, perhaps a telephone number.
“Yes, Monsieur Desault. I have his number.”
Demian smiled for the very thick and pleasing accent coloring the bellman’s flawless English.
“Ferdinand Laloup. I have his number right here. He lives just a few blocks from here, He lives right near the old wall, I think and I can call him for you if you wish.”
“Would that be all right. Would you mind. Would it be okay to call him at this hour.”
“Certainly, Monsieur. I have spoken to him at three in the morning. He is a bush pilot and accustomed to very unusual hours. Here, Monsieur Desault, we are all subject to the weather.” The bellman concluded, picking up the phone and dialing the connection.
When the receiver was retrieved by the person on the other end, the bellman spoke in fast almost entirely unintelligible French. There were questions, some laughter, long pauses which seemed not to make sense given the apparent simplicity of the request.
‘Perhaps they are plotting a kidnapping,’ Desault thought, a rich fat tourist ready to go on a flight to nowhere, the quintessential fleecing in the north country.
“Monsieur Laloup is not home. They expect he will return in minutes and they will have him contact me.”
Desault was tickled, but wanted to ask what was all the conversation, jokes, laughter. What was so complex and funny about asking the whereabouts of a guide.
The bellman seemed to sense some of Desault’s wonderment.
“His wife is a cousin of my wife. I had heard he was making some flights to Hudson bay for equipment for the coast guard, some radar electronics, but I didn’t know. She said he had done this a few days ago and the remainder of his contract was not until the end of the summer. She is a nice woman,” he added, hoping Desault would not find fault with the brief interlude of a conversation including more than his responsibility to a guest.
“That’s cool,” Desault answered, relieved they were not plotting something nefarious, clandestine, a way to send him off the edge of the earth and leave him missing and for dead.
“His wife says he is do back quite soon, maybe just minutes, but that he has other business here, at the Chateau and he had mentioned he was to be here this evening.”
Desault nodded, not knowing where the conversation would end, trying to seem interested but not so excited as to predispose the bellman to warn the pilot of his naiveté and willingness or simplicity to be involved in anything compromising.
Desault picked up his brief case and said, “Why don’t you ask him to stop by the dining room and see me. Tell him I will be dining around seven thirty and perhaps he could find me. I will tell the maitre d’ I am expecting Monsieur Laloup and ask him to show him where I am seated.”
Desault was pleased with the mature manner in which he dispatched the bellman and the possibility that he could actually make such complex arrangements so easily.
In his suite, he changed clothes, looked over the pamphlets and brochures he’d found and tried to find any information about the northern lands, Hudson Bay, float plane travel or guides and recreation he could discover.
On the bed opposite were the papers from his assignment, the sheets of notes and documents from the office regarding the whole appointment, the undertaking, notes from Altshuller, Prescott and his own handwritten detail.
His eye fell again to one of the first pages of instruction, the internal office memo outlining his direct and specific responsibilities.
“Trace the history of seal hunting and the fur trade to determine the relationship, if any, to the slaughter of the Buffalo herd, and in turn the Native Americans. Determine the extent to which the Canadian government, explicitly or not furthered such endeavor and the extent, there for to which they are responsible for the reparations due native Americans.”
He read the words, ‘seal hunting’ again and paused, realizing, for the first time, this and the fur trade were not necessarily related.
He looked at the diary which should have been done daily, accounting for his time, ultimately the document he would have to hand in to Ms Prescott completely detailed and annotated down to the last tenth of an hour.
He looked at the blanks and smiled. He knew the protocol required his detailing every hour of increment of the day at a minimum once a day and in more complex environments, repeatedly and in real time, but in his journal, there were whole pages blank, empty and devoid of any entry but for the date and hour segments already printed by the publisher of the journal.
He laughed at his impolitic, sophomoric behavior. He smiled shamelessly for knowing his real and abiding interest had little to do with the Indian claims, the issue of reparations and only for the possibility for a lunatic and ill conceived plan to travel north, and in the company of the little bear.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” the Maitre D’ said, speaking with an eye contact and familiarity as if they had expected him, knew of his plans and were there to accommodate him in any possible way.
“I understand you wish dinner, which will be very fine, and too, I understand you may have a guest, Monsieur Laloup, and I assure you as soon as he arrives, I will show him to your table.
Desault, dumbstruck by the unexpected attentiveness, the near sentient knowledge of the Maitre D’ thought and wondered again if this were not an outcome of the altitude, the latitude, the degree north he was and some peculiar and unknown effect on the psyche for such proximity to the north pole, such distance from the equator, so much light in a land where the sun never seemed to set.
“Bonsoir Monsieur,” Ferdinand Laloup said, approaching Desault from behind, finding his way to the table as directed by the Maitre d”, “so you are ready to fly north,” he said, a broad toothless grin erupting from his cragged and weathered face.
“Ferdinand. I mean Monsieur Laloup, thanks for coming. I hope it was no trouble.”
Demian Desault stood and sat immediately as a waiter, appearing from nowhere arrived directly behind Laloup and pulled out a chair for him.
“Not at all, Monsieur, and you should call me Ferdinand. Or you can call me Loup. Some of my old friends do, but I am not Monsieur Laloup. That is not the way we are.”
Demian acknowledged the gentle rebuke and asked if he would join him for some dinner.
“Certainly,” Laloup replied. “In my business, one can never take a meal for granted. You must eat, like the wolf, every chance you get.”
Desault handed him his menu but Laloup waved it away.
“I know the fare,” he said, “I am all set. Thanks.”
Demian took back the menu, glanced quickly wanting not to be rude but knowing too he had not eaten, in the excitement, for more than a day.
“So you want to go North,” Ferdinand asked, taking a long draught of water and asking, if Desault minded if he had a drink.
“No. Certainly not. Definitely no,” he repeated, tickled to have such intimacy and ease already in this nascent relationship.
He raised his arm thinking to find a waiter but before his finger was extended, before he could look up to survey the landscape and see who might answer his call, a waiter arrived, silently behind and asked, “Monsieur, may I help you.”
“Please,” Demian answered, “Monsieur Laloup would like a drink,”
“Certainment,” the waiter answered and disappeared.
Desault turned wondering why the fellow didn’t take his order and looked at Ferdinand apologetically.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “he’ll be right back.”
“Now tell me,” he continued, “you want to go to the North Country. Tell me where are you going. What are you looking for.”
“Well, it’s kind of a funny story and I am not really sure where I am to go but I think it has to do with the Inuit and the fur traders. Somewhere around Hudson Bay,” Desault stammered, realizing suddenly how poor was his preparation and how poorly the bush pilot might receive this curious request.
“Well,” he began, smiling broadly, completely at ease, careless of the big smile displaying his complete and utter lack of tooth.
“That is no problem, Monsieur. That is no problem at all. I know the Bay better than most. I used to trap there myself as a boy and I know most of the land from being there as a boy. By foot,” he added, raising his head to something that caught his attention behind Desault. “Yes,” he continued, raising his hand and arm, towards the far side of the table.
In a fell swoop, he lofted the glass of whiskey from the small silver platter the waiter had carried, took the glass to his lips, quaffed its dusky fluid down in a gulp and returned the sparkling and now emptied cut glass container to the waiters plate in a single, graceful, near balletic movement.
“Another, Monsieur,” the waiter asked, looking first to the pilot, then to Desault, the Monseigneur of the dinner table.
Desault realized he was being asked, tacitly if it was all right for Ferdinand to have another.
He nodded assent, saying quickly, “Certainly, certainly,” and the waiter nodded appropriately and disappeared.
“What are you trying to find, Monsieur,” the pilot queried, wiping his lips on his sleeve, savoring the whiskey and taking a slow inhalation tasting the essence of the fiery blend on his palate.
“What are you trying to find,” he repeated, now taking full measure of Desault, trying in his own trappers, bush pilot head to take the measure of a man who would leave the comfort of a fine French fort, a five star Chateau for the wilds of an uninhabited, unchartered and wild land.
“There is no easy answer, Monsieur Laloup, but it has something to do with the truth.”
Desault found himself stuttering but was uncomfortable enough and uncertain of Laloup’s fidelities to say everything, despite his still only general knowledge.
“It does not matter to me, Monsieur. It does not matter at all.” He repeated, finishing off his second glass and holding the empty glass forward, asking again, without word if he might have another.
“Monsieur,” Desault spoke aloud, raising his hand, trying again to signal the waiter.
“You see, people go to the north land for a lot of reasons. Some for fishing, some for oil, some for gold. Few anymore go for the fur and few any more go to hunt, but it does not matter to me. I know the land. I know the ground and people will tell you, ‘Laloup, he will get you back from anywhere you want to go.’”
Ferdinand looked over Desault’s shoulder in a now familiar gaze. He turned slowly following the movement off the waiter and his drink’s approach.
“How many of there are you,” Laloup continued, this time taking the drink the waiter offered, holding it up to the chandeliered light, but turning a quick eye to watch the man across the table answer.
“I don’t know. Not for sure. I mean there will be me definitely, and I hope one other, but I am not sure.”
“Is the other a man or woman,” Laloup queried. “I mean it doesn’t matter. I can fly anyone. Anything. I have flown polar bears for the Society. I was just wondering.”
“I don’t know. Really,” Desault answered, authentic, wondering himself how much he might trust this curious fellow, how much he might confide.
“It does not cost any more or less, for that matter. Sometimes people need different things. You know it is different for some woman in the North Country. But it is very expensive you know. It is very expensive.”
He peered at Desault watching to see if perhaps this was a barrier to continuing.
To Laloup it made little difference, the meal would be excellent and the whiskey was always good.
Desault watched the man called Ferdinand Laloup down the next drink, brought, unnoticed by the waiter and wondered how it would be.
“Mostly it is the government. Oil companies. Mining companies who want to go, but,” Laloup added, “it doesn’t matter to me.”
“Monsieur,” the waiter said, standing in attendance now, awaiting their orders, attentive to the curious gentleman from the lower forty eight and the old bush pilot every one knew, as La Loup.
Desault nodded to Ferdinand and he spoke to the waiter.
In a tongue he couldn’t understand, he ordered and the waiter turned back to Desault.
“Who is the woman you are trying to persuade, Monsieur,”
“Well,” Desault confided, “in truth it is a woman who works here, in the Chateau.”
“Vraiment,” Laloup nodded, “Truly,” he corrected himself. “You have a bride here. You have brought a woman from below and want her to accompany you.”
His eyebrows rose, signifying, with one look the difficulty both of being there anyway, less being with someone who was not partial to such rigors.
“It is very nice, love,” he said, smiling, twirling the shot glass slowly, reflectively, “it’s very nice.”
He turned to the food the waiter had now set in front of him and began eating with a single minded purpose which surprised Desault.
“So who is the lady,” Laloup asked. “Is it a wife. Are you married.”
“No, Ferdinand. I am not married. You think I ought to be.”
Laloup laughed aloud.
Marriage here is a difficult undertaking. It is difficult. I have been married four times. One left me. One hated me, one couldn’t stand the worry of my flying and never knowing if or when I might return and one, for reasons I cannot yet figure out, is still with me.”
“Tell me about the woman you want to take. Is she from home. Have you made her promises of riches and good fortune.
“Is she a woman you plan to marry if you haven’t already.”
“May I tell you a secret, Mr. Laloup.”
“Yes, I think you can, but you will have to get my name right.”
“I am sorry Ferdinand, but the woman I am trying to persuade to accompany me is the curator at the museum.”
“I may have had too many drinks. I am sorry, mon ami, but I don’t know what that word curator means.”
“She is the girl who watches the exhibit of the sculpture, at the exhibition hall. She is the gatekeeper and when she is not taking people around or tending to other chores, she draws sketches and I think might make some of the sculptures in the exhibit.”
The guide signaled the waiter for another drink and allowed, nodding to Desault for approval and with his brow, his eye, the turn of his lips indicated that he knew the woman. He knew the exhibit. He knew much of what Desault struggled to say.
“Do you know I have flown many of those pieces here. They have flown in my plane and I have taken them, to the very exhibit of which you speak.
“Is she Inuit.”
“Certainly, Monsieur. A full blooded Inuit.”
“And does she speak English,” he continued.
Ferdinand shook his head, ‘no.’
“But I speak Inuit and I speak English. I could translate for you.”
“Would you consider asking her if she would want to come.”
Old Laloup laughed.
A broad friendly, ingenuous laugh, he chortled and grinned a simple pleasure for seeing the rut again, seeing the manner in which courtship and life had never really changed.
“Are you laughing at me,” Desault asked. He spoke seriously, asked a question to be answered but smiled for his obvious sincerity at such a delicate and tender affair of the heart.
“May I,” Laloup asked, raising his glass, indicating the direction off the waiter, seeking Desault’s affirmative nod to order another.
“Certainly,” he allowed and gazed seriously at Laloup trying to evince an answer as well as understand for himself if he were indeed too silly, too sophomoric, too far off the wall to think any girl in her right mind would fly with him to a foreign land, or at least such a harsh land when they were here in this city on the river, with all of the comforts modern man had to offer.
“I am laughing Monsieur Desault because I am a champion of love. I believe in the magic of souls united and I have seen much in my time that tells me you are not a fool.”
He handed his empty glass to the now hovering waiter.
“You may be crazy,” he added, watching the waiter go off and return as quickly, “but you are no fool.”
For some moments Laloup studied his glass, filled again with the amber fire water, and Desault studied Laloup.
“I know the girl, Monsieur of whom you speak.” Laloup raised his eyes and bore through Desault’s inquisitive and near wondrous gaze.
“I know the girl you speak of and I know her family.”
He paused allowing the drink to twirl gently in the manner of Coreolis and raised his eyes again to Desault. “I know the girl. She is beautiful and I have known her family for as long as the moon rose over the bay.”
Desault smiled broadly.
He grinned uncontrollably and believed for the first time he was not crazy and there might indeed be a way for him to meet Little Bear.
“What makes you think she will come,” Laloup asked. He smiled now as he spoke, signaling, between his toothless gums, he knew more than he let on, that he had reason to believe, somehow the undertaking was not lunatic, but he was a smart old wolverine and wanted to know what Desault knew before he would speak any more.
“I don’t know,” he stammered. “I don’t know. Whatever he protested he did not know, he did certainly know this answer was insufficient for old Ferdinand Laloup.
“I know she is beautiful. She is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life,” Desault answered. Ferdinand watched him speak and saw, like the fire in his belly, that the city boy in front of him spoke real words from a real heart.
He stood, wobbled for a moment, moved away without a word and spoke to the waiter, returned, clapped Desault upon the back and turned to leave, saying,” We’ll speak in the morning, my friend. We will speak after the sun passes the clock tower.”
Desault turned and tossed for so long he realized nothing but some engagement, some activity would assuage his restlessness.
He rose checking the time and wondered how he might do what days before had seemed impossible.
“Jack,” Desault whispered, speaking softly into the receiver thinking to mute his voice would mask his enthusiasm, hide his excitement to Dempsey or any other’s who might be listening.
“Jack,” Desault repeated, “I think I have arranged for a ride.”
“Demian, what the Christ are you doing. Do you have any idea what time it is.”
“Well yes,” he answered, a little more definitively, a little more determination displayed in his voice. “It’s probably twelve, maybe a little past.”
“You know,” Dempsey replied, yawning, irritable for being woken, surprised at the now bright and nearly chipper attitude of this once sullen peer, excited and wide awake in the middle of the night.
“There are no stripes for pulling an all nighter. This is not rocket science, my friend. All you need do is act like a regular Joe and everything will work out.”
“I know,” Desault answered, “I know, I just thought I would ask your thoughts on the billing ledger. You are the senior partner here and it is important stuff.”
Demian Desault spoke in the manner of an acolyte. He spoke with the enthusiasm of a young lawyer out on his first big Justice case, important, self absorbed, so taken with himself he neglected even a modicum of savoir faire.
“Tell me, Demian. Tell me,” Dempsey allowed, a resignation in his voice indicating he had performed the internal calculus weighing Desault’s tone of voice, his frame of mind, and the likely hood of a mistake, still coming to the conclusion that he could not hang up, that he must hear out his friend and come fully awake.
“What is it. What is on your mind.”
“I was just thinking about the billing records,“ Desault said. “I was just wondering, do I mark the whole day as billable or do I do the incremental six second jig.”
Dempsey was silent signifying Desault was on to something and there was an advantage to be sleuthed out.
“You’re serious,” was all Demian heard and there was a silence. He wondered if Dempsey had fallen back asleep.
“Demian, tell me, what’s on your mind. Have you thought twice of chasing wind-mills. Are you realizing now only a lunatic would undertake this mission. Demian,” Dempsey insisted now, knowing his work mate well enough to know he wouldn’t call in the middle of the night without at least some cause, however curious was his notion of importance or odd the construction.
“Jack,” he continued, “it’s true. I was just trying to put my affairs in order. I do have a ride. I have found someone to take me and I wanted to make sure I had a witness list, that I knew the appropriate way to do the billing and I thought I would ask you now since in the morning, you’ll be with the crew and I’ll be heading out.”
“Demian, there’s no way you’ll find someone that quickly to take you. There’s no way we could make a list of witness’s, when we don’t even know if you’re going to find people or just polar bears. And how ever are you going to bill in six minute increments when you’re driving around the ice cap on a dog sled.”
An uncomfortable silence filed the quiet between the two rooms. Desault thought of the picture of their accommodations, the view from above looking down on these two mortals, he and Dempsey, electrical wires connecting their separately walled rooms, buried deep in the bowels of a cement and stone fortress, set high on a cliff above a waterway slitting the whole of the northern hemisphere in two.
He smiled but didn’t speak. He grinned broadly now and had to control his laughter knowing intuitively if he allowed himself to chortle or laugh, share his view of the sometimes absurd undertakings and mannerisms of man, with Dempsey, Jack would think him drunk, or crazy or both and might sandbag the near preposterous but apparently factual undertaking upon which Desault was to embark.
“Jack,” Demian interjected, trying to sound sober, sound of mind and thoughtful.
“I have never done anything like this for the firm and I was just trying to make sure I didn’t do anything to turn Altshuller crossways, but I think I know the answers.”
“If I am traveling, I will bill the time as travel and entertainment. If I am in pursuit of a witness, an affidavit, a deposition, I will set it up as research and if I am with someone, in interview, deposition, interrogatory, I’ll do what I always do.”
There was again a silence, but this time, Demian thought he had rescued a potentially abortive mistake and set his own confusion and uncertainty to rights.
“What do you think, besides wanting to get back to sleep.”
“That’s it,” Dempsey allowed. “That’s it. I think you are crazy. I think you should get to sleep and I think there is nothing you’re talking about we can’t resolve on the phone.”
Desault smiled. Dempsey was right on all counts and unwittingly provided Desault with the imprimatur he sought.
They rang off and Desault smiled. He had, without plan gained a tacit approval of his team leader. If he disappeared in the morning, if, when the sun passed the clock tower and Dempsey was back at the provincial offices digging into the history of the tomes, and Desault was puttering overhead in Laloup’s floatplane, there would be no harm or foul.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” LaLoup exclaimed as he caught Desault’s attention in the grand foyer of the Chateau.
“The sun has passed the clock tower and I am ready to go.”
“What do you mean,” Demian gasped, only now realizing that his late night peregrinations were way more than simple fantasy.
“I have spoken with the girl and I have readied the aircraft.
“She is excited at the prospect of being able to visit her family. It is not something she could afford to do, but for maybe once in a life time.”
“What are you talking about,” Desault stammered, his brow and high voice underscoring his disbelief.
“Eh,” Laloup said, “What am I talking about. What are you talking about. Did you sit at the restaurant all night and get drunk,” he cajoled the unwitting New York lawyer.
“You said you wanted to travel to the North Country and you wanted the company of the princess. Well Monsieur, Laloup does always what he says. If I say I will pick you up in a month by this rock in the middle of nowhere, I will be there, eh and If I say I will arrange for you to travel with the korator, kerata,”
“Curator,” Desault corrected him,
“Curator,” Laloup continued, waving his hands, a magician making a rock disappear, “then so be it.”
“Well that’s cool,” Desault stammered, trying at once to understand the full text of Laloup’s words, the possibilities of a near death experience flying with a drunken Frenchman, and the possibility Little Bear would actually travel with him, on the words or representations of Ferdinand.
“What did you tell the curator, Monsieur Laloup,” Desault asked, his head turned up, his voice a little shrill, his tone, more the invasive demand of a courtroom inquisitor than a grateful passenger and would be traveling companion to one of the most beautiful woman in the world.
“Monsieur, I told her exactly what you said.” Laloup waved his hands indicating generally the place of the space in the formal dining room where they had met the night before.
“I told her I had a client who wished to go to the North Country. I told her I represented an American who wished to go North and had business to conduct.”
Laloup stared at Desault, a curious gaze leaving Desault to wonder if he was stark raving mad, or just a regular bush pilot doing what he had done every day of his professional life.
“I told her I was to fly to Hudson Bay, that her presence was humbly requested and that she would likely be able to visit with her parents as whatever it was you sought or was trying to find, eh, was not so important as being able to go with her.”
Desault struggled to fill his lungs with air.
“Are you serious,” he asked, his voice scarcely a whisper.
“Are you, mon ami,” the old Frenchman asked, his face turning into a wizard’s date palm, etched by lines and indecipherable wrinkles.
“Of course,” Desault answered a voice so soft, so wondrous and quiet he scarcely had the wherewithal to speak his affirmation aloud.
“Bon,” Laloup replied. He clapped him on the back and shoulders. “Good, we will leave in three hours forty minutes. I will meet you here,” he concluded and before Desault could answer, he turned and took his leave.
Desault watched speechlessly as the Frenchman left.
He turned around and watched him move off through the crowd into the grand foyer and disappear.
He stepped toward the bell captain’s desk, thinking this was all wrong. He gazed at one of the hotel bellman, dressed in the formal wear of high court from the days of the French and thought he was at the court of Louis Quatorze, transported to Paris and a refugee, so far from home, if he dared speak, he would not know what to say.
He ran, pushing through a small group of tourists to get to the front steps of the Chateau, to catch the Frenchman and ask him the hundred questions which exploded in his head, but could find now tourists debarking from their limousines, the livery’s horse drawn carriage there setting quietly but for an occasional neigh waiting for a fare or tourist to take through the old city, and other bell man dressed formally, all looking to him to offer help, seeing the evident panic in his eyes and movement, but unable for his near paralytic paroxysm of fear.
He stood in the middle of the old cobble stoned court. He saw the comings and goings of a regular hotel and peoples, a city awakening and wondered, the image of the unpeopled, desolate arctic crowding his head, what madness he had got himself into, what craziness he would now suffer for being so impetuous and so naïve.
Demian Desault returned to the front steps of the Chateau.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” one of the doorman said and greeted him knowing only he was a guest possibly, or from the clear appearance of being lost, a would be guest who was uncertain, having arrived, what next to do, how to check in, where next to go.
“Bonjour. Good morning,” Desault replied, walking through the doors, dazed and inattentive.
“May I help you,” the neatly dressed, waist coated man asked.
“No thanks,” Desault answered. “I am just lost, but I know where I’m going. Thanks.” and he disappeared through the luxurious revolving brass door.
“Miss Davis, Please,” Desault requested, holding the phone close to his ear, sorting half heartedly through his papers, trying in his own chaotic way to find some order to his thoughts, to his unexpected dissequilibration and uncertainty.
“Good morning, Miss Davis, My name is Demian Desault. I am one of the attorneys working for Attorney Altshuller on the Indian Affairs case.”
In her customary rudeness, she said nothing. Desault wondered if the smallest hello, or response, a ‘yes, I understand,’ was to intimate, to much of a giving in an environment where everyone need possess so much armor simply to get by.
He wanted to say, ‘good morning Ms Davis, this is Demian. Why don’t you pretend you are not dead and say, ‘oh hi, how are you. Aren’t you up somewhere in the arctic on an expedition and as far away from home as a boy can be.’
“I wanted to speak with Attorney Altshuller and advise him off my status and plans for the next period of time.”
“I’m sorry,” she said flatly, carelessly, a word spoken with so little affect and indeed, Desault thought, a smidgeon of meanness, he wondered if she even had a clue how it was real people spoke, sometimes without words, how they were intimate and vulnerable, how life was rich and she might want to resign or kill herself before the day was over, if this was as good as it got.
“Attorney Altshuller will be in court all day.”
But for the transcontinental static, there was a most unpleasant silence between them.
“Is there a way I might get the number for the lawyer’s conference room at court. Perhaps I might get him there and I think he would have me call as I will be out of phone contact for at least a week or two.
“I’m sorry,” she repeated, “but he is in a hearing at the Justice department. They allow, as you know, no cell phones, no beepers, and they surely have no conference room or facilities for the Attorneys.
Desault thought he heard a curious if perverted satisfaction in Miss Davis’ voice.
He marveled at the fact and nature of powerlessness when as an outcome the only pleasure in her life appeared to be the pathetic attempt to rob or thwart any satisfaction or pleasure in the life of those around her.
He imagined the French killing thousands of Indians. He had a vision of the French and Americans, desperate, cold, hungry and in a foreign land finding a curious and pathetic twisted satisfaction in the death and destruction of others.
“Miss Davis,” Desault said, a curious calm now overtaking him, his words, self possessed, carefully enunciated, forthright, factual bearing none of the verbal vituperation of which he had just been the recipient.
“Please tell Attorney Altshuller I am leaving the city of Quebec for Hudson Bay.”
“Tell him I will be gone for a few weeks, that I will be undertaking research on the Indian question. I will be taking affidavits, interviewing witness, setting up depositions, if possible and I will stay in contact, to the extent I can, with Jack Dempsey.”
“Will there be anything else,” Ms Davis, inquired, her tone curt, her demeanor bordering now on hostile as she was obliged to follow Desault’s instruction in a world where power and turf was defined in the nano second of sound bites and verbal thrusts and parries.
“No,” Desault answered, feeling immediately the absolute satisfaction and near prescient understanding that whatever confusion or uncertainty he had, was misplaced and inappropriate. He was indeed doing the right thing and the only issue before him now was to collect his belongings and make certain he was prepared and at the front foyer in the time agreed with Ferdinand Laloup.
“Hey, Monsieur, you are two and one half minutes late. eh”
The definitive reproach, articulated carefully, replete with idiom did nothing to dispel the wonder Desault had for the toothless old man even knowing what was the time, less the degree to the fact of his tardiness. In his heart of hearts, Desault was surprised for the old man appearing at all.
Whatever wonder and disbelief he gained, it was dispelled as quickly when he saw there was no one accompanying the old pilot.
“Where is the girl,” Desault cried, thinking himself duped, thinking the old man would lull him into paying over the tens of thousands for the journey leaving him, a silly tourist, high and dry.
He wondered again if the slight but ever present buzzing in his head, the effects of altitude, high latitude, had truly prejudiced his sound reasoning and he was a train, off its track and run amok.
“She is at the dock, mon ami. You need not worry, eh,” he replied taking the big suitcase from Desault’s hand, the small pack of other belongings he carried and placing them, along side the bulk of what must have been other supplies, nestled under a blue tarp, into the bed of the rusted old pick up he had parked in the drive.
“You know all this,” he said an accent and a critique, “will have to be repacked. We are not flying like this, Mon ami.”
“Where is the girl,” Desault repeated, looking around, behind the door, behind the nearby bus which may have inadvertently blocked his view.
“You know, Monsieur Laloup, I am not paying until I see the girl.”
“You sound like you are taking hostages,” the old bush pilot answered, laughing.
“The girl, your Little Bear comes by choice, eh, Monsieur. I am not a trafficker in slave. I have not forced her to go as a way to get there, to get you there. I have plenty of what I want and I don’t want anything I don’t earn.”
He moved to the other side of the truck and started to unpack Desault’s belongings.
“Hey what are you doing,” he cried, running back and packing the bags back in the bed as quickly as old Ferdinand took them out.
“Monsieur, if you don’t trust me now, you certainly shouldn’t trust me with your life. Anyway, you needn’t pay until we arrive. Until I let you out. That is, you know the time you most want to pay me. That is,” he snickered, “the time you most wish you had paid me before.”
Demian Desault froze, one bag in one hand, a pair of boots in the other. In the middle of the courtyard, he froze, imaging exactly what Ferdinand said, and what it truly meant.
“Monsieur, please. I beg you. I am sorry.” While Desault spoke, he replaced the bags in the pick up opposite where Ferdinand stood, a child’s strategy to make it more difficult for Laloup to reach the items, and jettison them, once again a calculated and desperate move to gain him some time to persuade Ferdinand of his mistake, his apology and time to get back to rights.
“Monsieur, please, look. Listen. I am a kid. You have lived here all you life. I am going to a country where it is completely foreign. I am afraid. I have never done anything in my life like this and I am following or pursuing a girl who doesn’t even speak English. I am in way over my head and you know that so relax, please. Be a little forgiving. I don’t mean to be mean, I am just afraid”
“Monsieur,” the old toothless pilot grinned. As he spoke he came around to the side of the truck where Demian guarded the luggage.
“I understand. It is not just you, eh. Everyone here is afraid off the North Country. If you weren’t, I wouldn’t take you. I would tell you I wouldn’t take you because unless you lived there, you would never come back.”
Desault struggled both not to laugh or choke with fear. Relief washed through him and suddenly, in the midst of a metropolitan old walled city he felt a curious and profound sense of relief, a new and in his recent lifetime, unaccustomed feeling.
“Monsieur, Laloup,” he said again, a small but clear and meaningful voice, “I am sorry. Truly. I am sorry.”
“Then,” Ferdinand replied, jumping around o the other side of the pick up, resecuring the luggage and trying to ready for their departure, “ we’d better get going, or we’ll miss our, how do you say… appointment. Eh”
Desault did not know, by the words what Laloup meant. He could not decipher the actual intent but somehow, by his body’s language, by his demeanor, by all of the clear but unpracticed unspoken stuff of talking, he took comfort and solace in his movement and knew, by the tones of voice they were all right. He would take him. He had put away any rancor for the insult and they were to head off, perhaps to the air field, perhaps to find Little Bear, perhaps down a one way street with no outlet or return.
In the traffic, Ferdinand Laloup throttled the pick up much, Desault imagined, as he would land his float plane. He acted largely as if there were no one else on the road and at break neck speeds, albeit slow by comparison in the small and twisted streets and alleyways of the ancient city, Laloup’s driving caused Desault, sometimes, to close his eyes for fear of the unintended consequences.
He struggled not to bid him be more careful, but feared recreating again the event of Laloup’s doubt of his own trust. He watched Laloup from the corner of his view, saw he seemed comfortable and reckoned that as he had probably done this all of his life there was more to worry about in the Arctic than here at the hands of a mad man in the necessarily slower traffic of a congested city perched on the northernmost edge of the continent.
In all the wild peregrinations of the traffic, the convoluted and twisted maze of walled streets, narrow passage ways and streets made clearly for horse and carriage, Desault had the clear impression they were descending.
A hundred times he wanted to ask, “ what is that,” on seeing a particular landmark, or ‘where are we’, sighting a view of the river, the continental cliffs rising from the river way or the enormous basin which held the breadth off the city below, but feared disrupting Laloup’s purpose and determination.
“You are wondering where we are going,” Ferdinand finally said. “Eh, mon ami. You are wondering where are we going and I will tell you.”
Immediately Desault, a child following the pied piper felt again a curious sense of relief, a sense with which he was unfamiliar but, to which he would grow increasingly accustomed, appreciative, aware.
“Most people think that the way to the North Country, begins with a trip to the high ground. Many of you countryman who come here fly in the big jets. They land at our great international airport and when we leave they are surprised to discover we are not beginning our journey there, from where they touched down.”
Desault nodded, having made the exact calculation and wondering why Ferdinand headed off, down from the high cliff of the fortress into the bowels of the city.
“Well my friend, you must ask yourself how are we going to land when we arrive.”
Demian smiled. He wanted to laugh and could scarcely prevent his belly from quaking, his smile from pulling wide his mouth and lips knowing he had no notion of the answer and as smart as he thought he was, he was a fool.”
“You were wrong, Monsieur Laloup. I am a fool. I have no idea. In fact though I knew what you mean I don’t really understand the question except to know I am completely in your mercy, completely in your hands and don’t really have a clue what next to do or how even we will do it.”
“Mon ami, that is an important lesson.” Laloup looked at Desault for so long, studying his face and eye, measuring the truth of his words, Demian thought he would run off the road.
“Here mon ami, that is the most important lesson of all. Where we are going you are not a master. There is no bell to ring, cab to call, or even Laloup to save you.”
“Here, when you are on your own, you are truly on your own and the first and most important lesson in understanding that is being able to say it.”
“Here, mon ami, there are airports from where we could take off, eh.”
He pulled at the steering wheel and swerved, missing an old lady in black walking carelessly in the middle of the small road.
“There are airports from where we can take off, but the question you must ask yourself is, where will we land.”
Demian turned from the incoming traffic, his navigators perseverating view and looked at Laloup, confusion and uncertainty underscoring his gaze.
“The question, if you can imagine how things will be, is where will we land, and there are not as many choices there as here.”
He turned again a sharp left to descend further into a small walled alleyway.
“There are choices, but different,” Laloup continued. “And none of them include the tar and pavement you find so easily up at the International.”
Desault smiled, beginning to understand now the issues, the fine points of Laloup’s confusing and meandering explanation of the differences in the environments.
“So there are no airports in the north country,” Desault replied, trying to sound intelligent, to be responsive in a conversation including him, but over his head.
“Oui.” Laloup answered definitively, smiling broadly proudly displaying his toothless gums. “Yes, there are no airports, my friend, and there are no air strips.”
Demian struggled to understand and through his grin, evaporating as the understanding dawned, he looked, with near horror at Laloup, his eyes and brow asking silently, “how then do we get where we go,”
“Don’t look at me, Mon Ami,” Laloup chastised his young friend. “If you’re in the clouds and flying blind, you need to keep some bearings.” He smiled again, a broad, elfish and generously warm smile.
“You need to get your head out of the clouds and find a landmark, mon ami. Look ahead. Look at the horizon, my friend, not at me.”
By rote, by the mechanical instruction a school child employs to learn the art of tying a shoelace, Desault turned away from Ferdinand and cast his eyes forward.
At nearly the same moment, the small truck swerved, turned a sharp descending corner and exited a narrow street opening onto a broad boulevard.
Immediately, Desault realized they were at the terminus of the rocky descent of the cliff. They were at the bottom of the cliffs where the river opened broadly, the old city and harbor were adjacent and all of the industry and transatlantic shipping, it’s life blood for the first few centuries of this cities youth, lived.
Immediately in front of Desault were the quays of the enormous harbor he had earlier seen from the height off the Chateau and from the view from his room.
To the quays were tied enormous freighters, oil tankers, warships of the Royal Canadian navy and ferries which plied the river and made connections for passengers and vehicles from one side to the other and back again.
Desault was awed but scarcely understood why they were here, unless to pick up their charge, Little Bear, but knew somewhere there was an object lesson to be understood.
They made their way along the quays and wharfs turning finally onto a smaller road which seemed to follow a river or inlet, a waterway which fed the large river or was discharged there.
They passed farmers markets, small craft of various size which must have been a small commercial fishing fleet, more industry, where houses accessible by tug and barge.
The small river opened and in almost the same thousand yards, the buildings disappeared, the water body grew to be a small inland lake and there was, at dock stretched along its shore, a multitude of small pleasure craft, sail boats, fancy blue water yachts flying flags of countries Desault had never seen, and an enormous floating dock, fifty yards off shore with fifteen or twenty float planes snugged to its breadth, piglets nursing, all on their mothers teat.
“Good god,” Desault said, realizing suddenly the enormity of the undertaking, the infinitely small nature of their transport and the frightening proportion of danger which would accompany him on this ill conceived journey.
He closed his eyes, squeezing out the now frightening reality before him. At the moment Desault realized his fantasy was perilous, his dreams of an unnatural nature for a city boy from the bowels of New York, he looked up, again, relaxed his brow, allowed his eyes to open and there, on the dock, past where Laloup had moved along, was Little Bear.
Desault smiled, nearly dropped his belongings and grinned so broadly he felt silly and thought to bring his hand to his mouth or his face might split apart.
The dark haired beautiful Inuit woman, the ‘korater’ as Laloup had promised, was there on the dock, a rucksack in one hand, her other holding a bright, red, freshly bitten apple.
“Voila,” Laloup said, turning around at the tie down of the skiff where he had dropped some of his own belongings, “You see, Monsieur, if Ferdinand makes a promise, you can depend upon it.”
Desault was stuck, grinning, a Cheshire cat, paralyzed by her beauty, the reality of their undertaking, the bright solstice sun, rippling, kaleidoscopic reflections from the water.
“Monsieur,” Laloup bellowed, his tone avuncular, but serious, needing help to load the skiff all the same.
“Monsieur, there will be plenty of time for that. We have many days travel ahead, Monsieur, but none will be pleasant if we do not load our provisions.”
The fair skinned black haired girl smiled at Desault. He struggled to disengage and only when Laloup again cried, “eh,” did he turn and allow his eyes to follow the pilot and see he was moving back across the dock, to the pick up from which he was taking provisions stored there under the blue tarp.
“In this country, Monsieur, we all work, but too, we are all respectful. If you would start, you will find our guest will lend a hand too.”
A child stepping off the porch at night, blind instruction issued by a trusted elder, Desault disengaged and moved toward Laloup.
In an unrecognizable tongue and with an unfamiliar gentleness, Laloup spoke with Little Bear.
The words, Desault realized sometime later were more the elements of inflections, sighs, gentle exhortations, allowances and acknowledgements of wind, weather, weight, activity, not as he had known language; the specifics of the word, a detailed iterated meaningful syllable.
“Here, Monsieur, here,” Laloup said, indicating the package or bag Desault should take.
“On the dock,” he said next. “Follow me,” and with no word but the instruction of their eyes, he spoke with the Inuit, detailed a set of instructions and the three moved along the small quay, in a group, and down to the dock.
“Leave it all here, Monsieur,” Ferdinand said, indicating the small pile already begun beside the cleat where the rope knotted, tying off the skiff.
He returned to the truck, saying, “we’ll pack the skiff when we are on board. She is a little light and we do not want to get wet between here and the plane.”
Desault wondered what Laloup meant. He thought but doubted ‘getting wet,’ might mean sinking for being overloaded, but followed his request, deposited the pack, and returned to the truck, trying all the while not to be to obvious or even rude in looking at Little Bear who was lithe, lovely and clad not as if they were heading to the polar wasteland but rather a destination of a tropical or beach front resort.
“Monsieur,” Laloup said, standing at the bed of the truck, waiting for the New York lawyer to arrive, watching him shuffle and shamble, entirely preoccupied with the sight of the girl just ahead.
“When you take these,” Laloup directed him carefully, his voice dropping low, underscoring the importance of what he was saying, “you must be extremely careful. They are filled,” he continued, speaking so slowly, pausing, waiting until Desault took his eyes from the beautiful woman and looked at him directly, “with aviation gas.”
Desault listened, thought Laloup was finished and struggled to not return his gaze to the more pleasing and lovely form off their guest.
“Monsieur,” Laloup continued, his voice a little more strident, his eyes focused and nearly fierce, “I understand you are accustomed to being boss. You are a business man and are accustomed to having your way. C’est d’accord. That is all right. I am not jealous. I am happy to have you as a client, but here, monsieur, I am the boss. I am the captain and you must listen. Our lives are at stake. You know the stake, where the Indians burned the outlaws, the infidels. We are at stake all the while when we are in the North Country so you must take care to do exactly as I tell you.”
Ferdinand handed a ten gallon jerry can, filled with gasoline to Desault. Desault took hold of it gingerly, appropriately, and awaited further instruction from Laloup.
“And, Monsieur, you are a lawyer so I am certain I am not telling you anything you don’t know, but when we are in the plane, I am the boss. I am as you say, the chief, cook and bottle washer, eh.”
Ferdinand smiled but realized immediately he had articulated the wrong idiom.
“I mean, Monsieur, I am the judge and the jury.”
Desault smiled, the fifty pound jerry can still mid-air, waiting instruction and understanding clearly the metaphor.
“So what happens if you don’t follow instruction,” Ferdinand continued, leaning over the rail of the pick up, taking out another can to hand to the Inuit, “I will ask you to get out.”
As he concluded his sentence, he gave over the second can, smiled at the girl and raised his brow, concluding, speaking, as it was, to both of them at once.
Desault smiled, acknowledging Laloup’s rank and command, a dog, recognizing the dominance of another, but not the extent of the meaning or consequences of the facts.
“And monsieur,” he concluded, “it is no fun getting out at ten thousand feet.”
On the tarmac the empty pick-up was all that remained from just moments before when it was surrounded by human activity.
On the dock, stood Ferdinand, checking over the packing and storage of equipment and supplies in the small skiff.
Beside him, Desault who, sobered from their last conversation and his first sense of the immensity of this undertaking, remained attentive, hoping to be of help or at least appear that way.
A few feet away, Little Bear sat on the corner of the dock, crouched by its edge, watching the small fish move around the piling to which the dock was attached.
“Nous sommes prettons,” the Frenchman said, speaking as much to himself as to any who might listen.
“Monsieur, we are ready.” He looked up as he spoke, taking hold of Demian Desault’s eye.
“Are you ready. Eh. Are you.”
Desault watched Laloup carefully, finally attentive in the extreme and but for his keen sense of the proximity of Little Bear, he took the words and question as seriously as he might.
“Yes.” He allowed. “I am,” he continued, “but can I ask you just one question.”
“Monsieur,” Laloup replied, “you can ask as many as you wish. I am at your disposal.”
“Are you sure this is safe,” he asked, a child’s winsome and plaintive cry. “I mean are you sure we can get there and back, do you ever get lost. What happens if you run out of gas.”
He laughed so hard, gums flapping, belly quaking Little Bear came over and watched him, herself infected and smiling at whatever was the cause of such good humor.
She raised her eyes and watched him, smiling as he shook and quaked with laughter.
She moved closer, a cat studying the movements of a foreign animal. She looked at his squinted eyes and tried to discern the occasion of such frivolity and pleasure.
“Anno mea inda ne quoy ma na,” he stammered.
“Anno mea inda ne quoy ma na,” he struggled to say again, repeating the curious, but apparently meaningful phrase.
Little Bear, apparently not entirely familiar with the words or meaning moved to be closer, to be in direct sight of his mouth and lips.
“Anaryo,” she said softly, moving her lips in sight of his eyes as much as speaking the words.
Desault watched and had the sense the expression, like sign was as important as the vocabulary but had no clue or sense of what they said.
Laloup turned now and gave his full attention to the girl.
She repeated her question and Laloup repeated his answer. He spoke more slowly, but with a forthright bearing, a slow and careful enunciation, she understood now and herself began laughing. She looked at Desault, smiled a warm and gracious grin, and looking back to Laloup smiled again.
“We are ready,” he repeated catching his breath, surveying the skiff one last time, readying the knot, tying the bow to the dock and indicating they should both approach as boarding was imminent.
He reached in under the gunwales and clasped hold of two long bladed, ivory handled, skin sheathed hunting knives.
“I want you to wear these at all times,” he said, giving one, carefully to Desault, and with his eyes signifying to Little Bear she too needed to come close, take one, and strap it to her waist.
Desault watched her, fastened the small rawhide belt around him and looked up to Laloup for further instructions.
He wondered, looking at Little Bear, a beautiful woman with a knife sufficiently sharp and dangerous to kill a pole cat, whether this was a tool required, a life vest of sorts for all passengers, or an artifact of what the foreigners got to make their experience in the north country, a ten gallon hat for those in the west going on a trail ride, the more authentic.
“We start to go,” he said to Desault, “you will need to sit low. These boats tip easily and the faster they go, the less stable are they in the water.”
“We’re not late,” Desault tried fruitlessly to persuade Laloup to go more slowly.
“You know we have plenty of time, Monsieur,” he hollered back from the prow, trying to get Laloup to slow, trying to get him to proceed more safely.
“You know, Monsieur, I have been doing this for twenty years. Eh. Everyone says, relax, don’t worry. Ca ne fait rien. You know what that means, Monsieur. It does not matter. Ca ne fait rien,” he repeated, pausing while he turned to set an adjustment on the engine.
“But you see the sun all day, eh. You think because we are in the land of the twenty four hour sun, the world is like this always. You have never seen the land of the twenty hour dark. You my friend have never seen the land where the sun doesn’t even rise until after noon and then sets an hour or two later.”
He turned the adjustment screw once again.
If you want to get to where I think you have in mind, it does matter, eh,” he said, water from a small bow wave splashing over the bow, soaking Desault’s light cotton shirt.
“If you think that is cold,” he continued, seeing Desault shrink from the surprise of the chill of the spray, it will be but a few months and we will need ski’s to get to the plane.”
Desault turned and took the measure of Laloup’s seriousness. He thought the sternness of his countenance of the small smile that often played at his lips would reflect the truth and his face and demeanor suggested he spoke emphatically, his words were no exaggeration.
Desault tried to imagine a land where the water upon which he sailed was frozen, where one might walk, or even ski across a lake now deep blue and thoroughly aqueous.
“Nano, iimani et,” he heard Desault say and immediately, Little Bear moved from the stern thwart, forward, past Desault and to the bow.
He watched her, lithe, light footed, quick and nimble.
He saw her reach for a line tucked into the small covered berth in the bow, take it’s end, lean over the prow to fasten it to a cleat or tie and ready it for use.
As she leaned over he glimpsed the length of her body, supine across the bow, her buttocks and thigh, placed to hold her balance allowing her arms and upper body free to secure the line and prepare for what must be their immanent landing.
He caught his breath.
She was as nimble and well formed, as beautiful and near feral in her supple muscled litheness as any animal or woman he had ever seen.
“Monsieur,” Laloup hollered, his voice loud enough to be easily heard over the whine of the outboard.
Desault jumped, so taken and transported by the sight of the woman before him, he lost his bearings and thought Laloup would be angry for his looking so lasciviously at a woman somehow related or friend of his family, or for leaving the immediacy of the here and now, being inattentive to the exigencies of the little craft, the captain and facing the possibility of being asked to leave, ejected, once again upbraided for being less than helpful when the captains expectations were otherwise.
“You will have to move, monsieur.” Behind him, at the tiller of the outboard, Laloup saw the same sight of Little Bear as did Desault.
“I am sorry to ruin the scenery, eh,” he said, his voice loud, sarcastic, serious, “but we are going to dock in a moment and you will need to take a line or get out of the way.”
Desault looked forward, surveying the pleasing topography of Little Bears back side and saw indeed their immanent approach to the float plane dock. He moved suddenly raising himself to accommodate the captain.
The skiff tipped precipitously, bearing under the unexpected change in ballast and weight.
“Oh merde,” Laloup cried, “Sit down, Monsieur, Carefully. Slowly.” he cautioned him. “Do not move quickly or we will tip over.”
Laloup’s voice was sufficiently stern to warn Desault to do exactly as he bid.
Immediately he sat, carefully, slowly, no further consequence to the small ship and in a moment, as quickly as he dared turn around and resume his view of the bow, Little Bear and whatever else lay ahead, he felt the boat slow, the engine throttled down and the noise of their forward movement diminish.
He turned again slowly asking Laloup if he should do anything to help.
“Stay as you are, Monsieur. Stay exactly as you are and we will be tied up in a moment.”
With no further word or command from Laloup, Little Bear leaned all the way forward, balancing her body with strong legs and feet struck under the forward seat to hold her from falling.
Extended out over the front of the boat, she caught the leading edge of the dock, tied a line through the cleat and allowed the skiff now to drift forward as far as Laloup wished, bringing the beam next to the dock and allowing the transshipment of their goods and supplies, an easy chore.
Desault marveled at the ease and comfort of her knowing, the calm with which Laloup accepted her help and the suddenness of their docking, tied, stilled and secure.
“Let’s get the equipment into the plane. You will need to place it exactly as I tell you. We have an envelope for weight and balance monsieur and this one has little tolerance for mistake.”
Desault looked at Laloup, waiting for a command. By force of the strangeness of the environment, being upon the water, being tied to a floating dock, being in a small skiff which though tied seemed less safe, by magnitudes than the land from which they had come, Desault suddenly felt again a wave of infantile paralysis overwhelm him.
“Monsieur,” Desault whispered, too frightened, too awed to speak aloud.
Laloup’s voice and eyes, more his hands and eyes, Desault realized, explained to Little Bear where to move the equipment, where to decant the small skiff and where on the dock to put all the gear which they simultaneously off loaded.
Desault stood, but as quickly, a stern gaze of admonition from Laloup, moved him to squat.
“How may I help,” he asked, again a quiet wondering, a child’s voice, seeking permission to move, to act, to join the big kids.
“Why don’t you take those, Monsieur and put them carefully over by the fuselage of the craft.
Desault did as he was bid, first removing the eight or ten jerry cans from the boat, lining them up on the dock and then removing himself to stand and place them where Laloup had directed him.
“There Monsieur,” the pilot instructed him. He had pointed to a small door, opening to the aft most section of the fuselage behind even where the passengers sat.
“You want me to put gasoline into the plane,” he asked and the look of utter disdain from Laloup’s face indicated clearly he was supposed to do, without comment, exactly as he was told.
On setting the fourth, he found Little Bear had stepped in front of him and climbed into the little cabin.
She had over her shoulder a large duffle bag with stenciled letters reading, RCPPQ, which seemed odd, but not nearly so as the size of the bag and the paucity of weight it appeared to possess.
Hunched over and squatting for its smallness, he saw suddenly she wore moccasins instead of shoes, a fawn colored wrap, not unlike a soft chamois skirt slung from her waist and a colorful top shirt which to appeared to be made of animal skin, fur, or something hand made, of natural origin and quite lovely.
He stood, a deer in the headlight of a hunters torch wondering if she had been dressed this way before they had left the Chateau, if she had changed on the dock beside the pick up, of if again this was an instance of the altitude and climate, the solstice sun and the latitude wreaking havoc with the dumbed down senses that had been satisfactory in the city but here were, not honed, insensitive, underutilized and less than competent.
“Monsieur,” Laloup spoke his displeasure, “ the gasoline,” he said, a low hissing whisper, a comment that the chores had to be done, that Desault could not spend his work time daydreaming and that his outright gawking childish school boy stare at Little Bear, who was, by any accounts lovely, was unacceptable.
Desault returned to his undertaking.
One at a time he moved the cans carefully. Across the dock, he hefted one of the fifty pound cans, and tried, as best he knew to secure them in the fuselage in a manner that would keep them upright and the occupants safe from leakage or explosion.
At the moment his task was complete, he turned and saw both Laloup and Little Bear standing by the cabin door, watching him.
Each of their expressions spoke eloquently included in which was Laloup’s obvious interest in hastening their departure.
“Monsieur,” he said, this time the inflection of his voice indicating his appellation was more a question than an answer, a wonderment seeking approval than a command with some expectation.
“Yes,” Desault replied, wondering what next, what the old codger wanted, what unexpected surprise lay hidden in the float plane protocols.
“Nous somme prettes,” he said, the words more a reflection of the dissipation of the lines of his face, the tiny ligature and muscles surrounding his mouth and lips relaxed and past the moments before of action required, movement and direction necessary or organization and plan needing execution.
“Monsieur, upon your word, eh, we are ready.”
Desault looked at Laloup and didn’t understand. He stole a sideways glance at the beautiful Inuit princess Little Bear and was further confused,
In her soft doe skin cloths, black hair cascading from the point of a single alpine flower struck in the for-peak of her brow, she watched him, a child too, wondering what next they all were to do.
Desault realized Laloup was asking him, boss, alpha male on the land, if they were ready to leave, to commence their odyssey, and he, Desault, young buck New York Lawyer was ready to hand over control of their ship and destiny to the toothless, quixotic and curious pilot who upon boarding would become their chief.
He stared at Laloup. He saw a supremely confident and naturally competent man ready to do his work.
He looked again at Little Bear and saw a young and beautiful virgin, a girl who knew nothing of the white man, nothing of the city or the world as modern man had built it, but for the curious and often dissonant pictures from her desk at the exhibit, from her scant images of Desault and hundreds of people like him who had little relationship to the reality of the land, the family of origin, the ice and weather or any of the real elemental stuff that comprised her universe.
In the pit of his belly he felt a powerful surge of excitement. A surge of adrenalin clearly articulating the facts as they appeared, he was about to begin the most extraordinary adventure of his life and one, of such proportion, he knew in his heart of hearts, he was entirely unprepared.
He tried to recall the expression Laloup had used to say ‘we are ready.’
He moved to the cockpit door, placed his hand upon the small latch, as if to open or ready it for a guest to enter and smiling broadly, said, “Oui, nous sommes prettes,”
He waved his hand, a courteous bellman’s bow indicating the guests in front of him should proceed, through the open door, through the passage way of their destiny, first for graciousness, back to the world as it was.
“Monsieur,” Laloup spoke, halting his wily hilly loading the cock pit, “You know about the envelope.”
Desault looked behind, knowing Laloup was about to tell him of something he had or might do wrong, but he didn’t know.
He shook his head, but didn’t turn. He thought perhaps Little Bear didn’t understand English and wanted to appear no more inept than she already thought.
“Monsieur,” Laloup resumed, “Since I am to fly, I must be the first one in. I will be in the ‘left seat,’ as we say, eh. Kind of like the way you Americans say ‘driver’ seat’, here,” he paused, moving himself to the head of the cue, “I must ask you step aside.”
Desault smiled, realizing there was of course order to how these things worked, and it was alright he was not familiar with the protocols of small craft flight.
Watching Laloup settle himself in the pilot seat, he moved to pull up the remaining forward seat, so he and Little Bear might then board in the rear.
Laloup continued fiddling with the dials, his seat belt, gauges, switches, meaningless to Desault during which time, Little Bear stepped onto the rim of the door frame, and alighted to the furthest corner of the rear seat, directly behind Laloup.
Desault clasped the handle over the forward seat and raised himself similarly to the door frame readying to set himself next to Little Bear.
Laloup threw back an arm, took the forward leaning seat, across which Desault was to pass and cast it backward, standing it upright.
“Je suis desole, Monsieur. I am so sorry, but here you must seat with me.”
Desault looked bewildered, never thinking he would not get to be next to the lovely Indian princess, but the stern countenance of Laloup’s eye spoke clearly.
“It is the envelope, eh. We are full. Rempliz, we say here, and if we do not sit properly, you know,” he continued holding out his hands, making the form of a craft even in mid air or tilted and readying to crash, “we cannot fly.”
He raised his hands to yet another dial, a radio switch, a radar dial and looked at Desault, frozen in his tracks.
“Eh, Monsieur, what do you not comprehendez. Monsieur, do you understand. You will have plenty of time to speak with your quest but now, in flight you need to sit here or we will not get off the ground.”
Again, Desault realized, the now familiar seriousness and force of eye with which Laloup spoke with the determination and knowledge of one who had done this a thousand times.
“Now monsieur,” Laloup continued, reaching across Desault’s chest, taking hold of the door and pulling it closed, “this is the handle which has to be locked like this,” and he pulled closed the door, fastened the handle and undid it for Desault to try.
Demian fumbled with the small aluminum latch and couldn’t get the rounded handle to turn and catch.
“No Monsieur, that is not the way but that is alright. Now get out,”
Desault felt his heart seize, his stomach turned in his mouth and he wondered how, for this, the tiniest infraction of rule, for not being able to properly operate the door handle he was yet again being asked to leave. Again, he wondered if Laloup, this French Canadian lunatic was not meant to be his pilot.
Laloup opened the door, and by force turned Desault’s shoulders facing the wing, helping him, ejecting him, preparing him to debark with determined certainty.
Desault turned to look at Laloup, incredulous of the miniscule confusion, the fickleness of his mood, the near impossibility of getting it all right.
“Monsieur,” the grizzled toothless bush pilot spoke, “You will need to untie the lines from the pontoons to the dock or we will never get off the ground.”
Desault looked wide eyed and uncomprehending. “We need to untie, Monsieur. We are secured to the dock with lines. We are ready to go. Onus somas protons,” he said, smiling now, clapping him on the thigh. “We are ready, but I cannot get out and untie the lines without you moving. There is only one door, here, eh.”
Desault understood, realized his assumption was faulty and did as he was instructed.
The noise of the propeller, wound up and powered to a revolution so fast Desault thought the engine would certainly explode, deafened any possibility of speech.
A child’s toy, they pulled away from the dock and began traveling across open water.
Laloup continued fiddling with the dials and gauges. He appeared more serious now than Desault had ever witnessed.
He watched their forward motion and saw over the horizon, a distant outline of land, and open water.
For a length of time longer than Desault would have imagined reasonable they continued, moving, as a small skiff, but an aircraft, without the benefits of flight.
The high pitched scream of the engine changed suddenly and Desault became aware instantly of a change in the planes direction.
Out the side window, he could see they were turning in a large arc. There was both a change in the view of the distant shore and the gyroscopic disequilibration of his inner ear.
“Monsieur,” Laloup said, tugging at the seat belt and harness setting on Desault’s lap, “you will need to secure yourself. We are ready.”
In the same moment, he took Desault’s hand, placed it on the rudder indicating he should hold it exactly as it was, and turning backwards, mumbled words unintelligible and inaudible in the roar of the propeller and engine, tugged at Little Bears belt, similarly, and certain she was secured appropriately, turned back to the instrument panel and rudder.
He took Desault’s frozen limb and returned it to his lap. He nodded, placed his hand on the protruding red knob and with a quick wink, a recognizable grin saying, ‘ready,’ pulled the small shaft toward him, extending it six or seven inches.
Immediately the engine roared a deafening throttling scream. Desault wondered if the old man actually knew what he was doing and if this old rat trap plane could withstand yet another flight.
He felt the small craft ambling now across the little water body. He felt the tail raise and the nose level. The change in the craft’s attitude, now, allowed him a view of what was before him.
The fear of the craft and the craziness of the noise suddenly dissipated as Desault saw what lay ahead.
In the minutes of their amphibious travel they had been moving across the small water body and away from the dock.
For reasons Desault could not possibly understand, now they were headed back exactly to where they had initially departed.
Before Desault, clearly visible now with the front windows of the plane offering a perfect view of the lake, the dock before them, the land from which they had come, he saw even the pick up truck parked upon the small incline and realized, his stomach in his mouth, they were headed for it directly.
Involuntarily he raised his hand and pointed, as if Laloup may have been preoccupied and not seen the oncoming land.
Desault looked to Laloup trying to see if he were readying to kill them or lost consciousness and saw he was indeed looking exactly at the docks and other float planes, congregated piglets suckling all, before them.
“Monsieur,” he yelped, now truly terrified they were seconds from crashing, a fiery, explosive drowning death.
Laloup looked ahead, his hands suddenly claws clasping the yoke with a determination Desault had never seen.
“Excuse me Monsieur but are we not going to crash.”
Laloup allowed Desault one fraction of a second of eye contact, no word or color to the gaze, but a recognition he was in control, that he had heard Desault and that everything would be all right.
Before Desault could protest again, Laloup took hold of the yoke now with both hands and peering at the oncoming dock, the assemblage of planes, he pulled backwards, a movement which seemed supreme in the effort it required and Desault, to his wonder felt the craft shudder, and seem to lift.
The rumbling from the pontoons dimmed. The noise of the engine’s whine increased and was deafening beyond measure.
The attitude of the craft altered and again Desault, for being pointed skyward, lost sight of the horizon and could see nothing but blue sky, white cloud and space.
He struggled to keep his hands from clasping the rudder which Laloup worked so feverously.
He saw the most extraordinary grin spread across Laloup’s face. He turned sideways, peering out the small window in the door beside him; he saw the dock and planes behind, passing scarcely under the tail, and directly before him. He sighted what appeared only yards away, Laloup’s old pick up.
Desault looked at Laloup wondering too if he saw this, if he knew he was so close to crashing into land, Desault could make out the digits on the license plate, but the plane continued to rise.
Laloup continued to grin and before there was time to be more frightened than he was already, the craft began to turn again.
Desault felt his stomach turn, opposite the direction of the craft and in a manner presaging the sickening expulsion of vomit.
He tried to focus on keeping its innards within, while looking below. In the instinct of fear, he saw they had turned mid air and were now, at some altitude turning back over the float plane dock and headed back out over open water.
Laloup spoke to someone on the microphone attached to his head set but Desault could not tell what he said.
There was an odd crackle, an occasional whirr but any words on the speaker over head were unintelligible and any words Laloup spoke were so soft, spoken directly in to the mouth piece and inaudible with the interference of the engine and cockpit noise.
“Who are you speaking to,” Desault asked.
Laloup looked at him but with the circumspectness of one still speaking and engaged in another conversation.
Desault smiled, seeing Ferdinand look at him but being captured by the conversation, a moth struck by the pith of a collectors pin.
Desault waited, but watched the master all the while.
He appeared to stop and his gaze left off of Desault and turned to the windscreen.
“Who were you speaking to,” Demian asked again, wondering even if there was someone there on the other end of the line, if there was someone who cared enough to listen.
“Yes,” Laloup allowed, and nodded acknowledging he was speaking.
“Who,” Desault asked again, raising his hands palms upwards, open to the sky, to question and wonder.
“Flight plan.” He began and again his eyes, while remaining focused, glazed as he appeared to be listening to a voice which came back through the head set.
He spoke, but Desault saw only his lips move, and concluding, pulled off the set, scratched his head and hung the earphones by the corner of the dash panel.
“We file a flight pan. It doesn’t mean much, I guess. I mean if you go down, there is really no way anyone can find you, but it is the law and it is the custom and so we do it, eh.”
Ferdinand smiled his curious inscrutable grin.
Demian Desault struggled to take a breath. He watched as Laloup placed his hand from it’s reptilian grasp of the rudder to the red knobbed throttle. He heard a diminution of the whine of the engine and realized their take off may indeed have been successful. He felt the plane’s attitude alter again and before him, as the nose dropped, he saw a horizon and landscape other than the cockpit of the craft.
In Laloup’s demeanor, there appeared too a relaxation and change which signaled they had passed what may have been a critical point and were ready to begin the more even keeled passage of regular flight.
Laloup let his hand drop now from the red knobbed throttle and replace its pudgy arthropodic fingers to the dials and buttons of the dash board.
Desault, trying to understand what any of the instruments did, or how they may have signaled their safety or potential harm, watched.
From a speaker above his head an entirely unintelligible voice crackled and boomed.
Laloup appeared to be speaking too, his lips moving but no noise was evident as the microphone by his lips, attached to the headphones he wore, was close enough and the noise of the engine so loud, there was not sufficient volume to distinguish any human sounds.
Laloup spoke to someone on the microphone attached to his head set but Desault could not tell what he said.
There was an odd crackle, an occasional whirr but any instruction on the speaker over head was unintelligible and any words Laloup spoke were so soft, spoken directly in to the mouth piece and inaudible with the interference of the engine and cockpit noise.
“Who are you speaking to,” Desault asked.
Laloup looked at him but with the circumspectness of one still speaking and engaged in another conversation.
Desault smiled, seeing Ferdinand look at him but being captured by the conversation, a moth struck by the pith of a collectors pin.
Desault waited, but watched the master all the while.
He appeared to stop and his gaze left off of Desault and turned to the windscreen.
“Who were you speaking to,” Demian asked again, wondering even of there was someone there on the other end of the line, if there was someone who cared enough to listen.
“Yes,” Laloup allowed, and nodded acknowledging he was speaking.
“Who,” Desault asked again, raising his hands palms upwards, open to the sky, to question and wonder.
“Flight plan.” He began and again hi eyes, while remaining focused glazed as he appeared to be listening to a voice which came back through the head set.
He spoke, but Desault saw only his lips move, and concluding, pulled off the set, scratched his head and hung the earphones by the corner of the dash panel.
“We file a flight pan. It doesn’t mean much, I guess. I mean if you go down, there is really no way anyone can find you, but it is the law and it is the custom and so we do it, eh.”
Ferdinand smiled his curious inscrutable grin.
Again the radio speaker above, mounted in the ceiling of the cockpit blared and Laloup, appearing to expect the exchange, reset his headset, moved his lips again, set a dial, apparently in response, and taking off his head phones, smiled at Desault and looked ahead, scanning the horizon.
“What’s happening,” Desault inquired.
Laloup touched his ear signifying he could not hear or understand his query.
“What is the noise in the speaker,” Desault repeated, raising his voice, pointing to the speaker above, raising his eyebrows to underscore the query was a question.
“It is the control tower,” Laloup answered. “It is our last contact for a while,” he concluded smiling. “They are just verifying our course and telling us of any weather or other aircraft to watch out for.
Desault peered out, scanning the horizon, realizing for the first time there were others who used this space and despite his worry over the craft’s airworthiness and a subsequent crash, there was also and always the unexpected worry of another airborne lunatic crashing into them.
“Don’t worry, mon ami, There is no one but a transatlantic west bound and they are at thirty thousand feet, we are,” he allowed pointing to the altimeter, “only eight.”
“What if they get off course,” Desault asked, craning his neck to see up above the plane of the horizon, to the point where he imagined thirty thousand feet began.”
“No matter.” Laloup replied, fiddling again with one of the dials. “Ca ne fait rien.”
He placed the headphones back upon his head, appeared to speak again, his lips moving but no sound emitting, and smiled, removing them and placing them back upon his lap.
“There is nothing to worry about, mon ami. I have just made radio contact with the heavy bound for the continent. They already have us on their radar and they are not worried so you and I don’t have to be.”
Desault peered up again wondering at the curious construct of safety organized on the principal that if someone else was worrying about the risks of life and death, the natural though unintended consequences of chaos, then he, or the someone else was, in a way, free not to worry.
He turned realizing all the while Little Bear had been here with them, silent, and maybe herself, as terrified and worried as he had been.
Her head was tilted back and to the side, leaned against the bulkhead wall. Her eyes were closed, her lips gently pursed and she appeared, to his surprise, to sleep.
“Is she all right,” Desault asked, pointing to Little Bear as he spoke into Laloup’s ear.”
Laloup turned, glanced at her briefly and turned back to the dash board.
“She, mon ami, is better than you and me.”
Laloup smiled but Desault didn’t understand.
“If you could sleep, eh,” he continued, checking gauges, setting dials, “if you were sleeping like that, do you think you would be worrying like this,” he concluded, a deep and quiet chuckle shaking his belly, quaking his ponderous head as it sat slumped upon its shouldered pier.
“What does she think,” he asked looking again at her, watching her sleep, seeing indeed she was as peaceful a passenger as any might be.
“That, mon ami, is a good question. Eh. That is a question any man who ever saw her would want to answer.”
Desault smiled, self consciously and with a measure of awe wondering if this curious elfish, toothless gnome, wiley and possessing aplomb sufficient to raise this clattering craft up off the water and into flight also understood, as much as he appeared, about the woman in Little Bear and the little boy in Desault.
“It is not science,” Laloup continued, “and it probably isn’t very different from yourself, or me, or any of us.” He concluded raising his hand again to alter the settings on one of the dials, tapping at another that appeared to not be working and which may have responded to the gentle nudge from a pudgy finger.
They were silent and each, with different views, looked out over the edge of the horizon which came increasingly to change from land, bordered by small water bodies, to vast and apparently limitless expanse of ocean.
“Is that the Atlantic ocean,” Desault asked.
Laloup laughed, and clapped his co-pilot on the knee.
“The Atlantic, my friend is five hundred miles that way.” He raised his hand and pointed a pudgy thumb across the front of Desault’s face and to the right, due east of their northward headed direction.
“But what is that,” he asked, doubting any water as expansive and large, but for the Pacific or Arctic might have taken the whole of their horizon.
“Hudson Bay, Mon ami. Isn’t that what you came to see.”
Desault turned and looked at Little Bear. He was surprised to find she was awake, looking at him, watchful of all in which he and Laloup had been engaged and smiling gently; seeing too they were aloft, safe and her benefactor, Desault, smiling too.
He nodded and mumbled good morning.
“Hey, How do you say good morning,” he asked Laloup.
The old pilot smiled.
“In aquey,” he said, his grin, laughter almost at the thought of the white man trying to speak Inuit a humorous notion.
“In a quey,” Desault said, turning back to Little Bear, smiling broadly, self consciously, but struck again, as he was the first time, by her astonishing and simple beauty.
“In a quey,” he said again, a smaller voice, one that spoke more of his wishing her ‘hello,’ and less the accidental tourist trying to act as they expected the natives expected them.
Little bear smiled.
“Na ano que enuo ngoa,” she asked, the question evident by the rise in the inflection in her voice, the question evident by her open mouth, passing the words gently forward, handing a gift of an eagle’s feather to the grizzled old Frenchman.
Desault looked at Laloup for a translation. He smiled realizing too he could not understand a word and he needed to be the interlocutor.
“She says why are you afraid. She asks what frightens you.”
Desault looked at her directly, a face taught and wondrous for her keen and precise comprehension.
“How does she know I am afraid,” he asked, speaking in an unnatural voice employed to mask affect, portraying poise, without even the trace of the smile that played at his lips, tugged at the corners of his mouth.
“Na que enuo ngoa aynoui, Setti,” and before he had a chance to finish, the beautiful Indian princess blushed, her perfectly white chiseled skin, struck against the shock of straight black hair counter pointed the red risen to her cheek.
“She is embarrassed for taking something from you, you had not given.”
Desault looked down at his hands and studied the lines of his fingers as they meshed together.
“How did she think she took anything. It was I who asked. She only saw and answered your question.”
“Mon ami, have you ever heard an Inuit say their name.”
Desault looked dumbfounded.
“Have you ever heard an Inuit, or any Indian speak their name in public.”
“Monsieur, I have never heard an Indian or an Inuit speak. I am an American and have never been here before. I don’t have a clue about anything but I have said something perhaps which has embarrassed the princess.”
“No, monsieur. It is actually her. She is embarrassed for having spoken an intimacy of you, taken a feeling or picture, a thought or intuition and said it aloud.”
Laloup looked at a dial, set a small thumb screw which turned one of the plates and settings within and continued.
“Anyway, she wasn’t asking so much if you were afraid, but trying to say, ‘don’t be’. She was trying to reassure you, not prying into your state.”
Laloup glanced backwards and turned again to Laloup. “It is my fault. I speak the language but not every day. I do not have it all exactly, eh.”
He studied Desault to see if he understood and saw, by his confusion and uncertainty he did not.
“You don’t get it but you can’t. Not yet, monsieur. In this country, the way a person feels is part of who the person is. One cannot take the persons feeling without permission and speak of it, turn it out to public, make it the object of attention unless it is the person himself who gives themselves over or brings up the subject.
“Space here,” Laloup continued, “is a curious thing. There are no borders, no boundaries on the land.” He waved his hand forward indicating the vast and but for blue water, nearly featureless expanse of the horizon. “The way one is with another has enormous and life-long implications.”
Desault looked at Laloup carefully. He peered at the old man and saw his toothless and somewhat feckless smile transform suddenly to another face of human kin, a timeless wrinkled elder who spoke words he knew, in the abstract but whose intuitive, historical affective meaning he could not quite grasp.
“Are you a Frenchman or an Indian,” Desault asked, wanting to look backwards at Little Bear, wanting to feast his eyes on her loveliness but fearful now if acting inappropriately, altogether.
”You may be slow, mon ami, but don’t let your friends ever say you are stupid.”
Desault laughed too, but was uncertain what was the answer and what was the moment of Laloup’s pleasure
Desault watched the horizon and saw the distant edge of the shore, the edge of Hudson Bay near to being close to definable, nearly comprehensible as a land form rather than a blur taking indistinguishably the distance and masking horizon of land and sky in a blur.
“In a way,” Laloup smiled, “I am both. I am not unlike that,” he said, pointing to the very spot of nexus, the near indistinguishable distant horizon where the curve of the earth was evident and the line separating the sky from the land was not absolute.
“In my past there were French. My parents came from the North Country. Their parents came from the river. Their parents were trappers and some of those parents came from the old country.”
“Men took squaws. Children had more babies, life went on. We are all a product of everything, you and I, eh. Most of us. There are a few, though, like the princess who is pure, but most of us are some of everything.”
“The noise of the engine shook Desault’s innards. He was suddenly tired and could not tell if he wouldn’t fall asleep if he closed his eyes.
“Can I speak to the girl without saying the wrong thing.”
“What do you mean,” Laloup asked, smiling, grinning, again a toothless old wizard.
“I mean I don’t know her customs, her culture. I don’t know anything and I don’t want to say the wrong thing.”
“Monsieur, if you speak from the heart, one can never say the wrong thing, eh. I mean we never know what someone else expects. You don’t know what kind of pilot I am, where I will fly, if I will open the door and drop you into the bay. You only know what you see and make a judgment from that.”
Laloup again turned his attention to the dials and throttle to make a small adjustment.
“The words don’t really mean much, eh. I mean you don’t even speak any of her words and you are both man and woman, boy and girl.”
He made a last adjustment to the transponder and turned to Desault. “There is nothing you can say to her that I don’t have to say for you, or, there is nothing you can say that means any more or less than the person you are, what your own face and eyes speak, eh, so you don’t have to worry.”
Desault turned and stole a glance at Little Bear. She smiled and he turned quickly back to Laloup.
“Things are different here, mon ami. You don’t have to worry. We all want to get there and back. This is not like your country perhaps where people say one thing and mean something different altogether. We are, mostly what you see.”
He shifted his weight and turning backwards said “ainyqui anan manoui nuk,” and looked at Desault, “and we are mostly what you see, and very little what you don’t.”
Desault smiled, first at Laloup, at Little Bear and back again to Laloup.
The drone of the little craft filled the space of their words and thoughts.
“What did you say,” he asked Laloup.
The pilot turned, studied Desault for a moment and repeated his earlier statement.
“I said, there’s nothing to worry about. We are what you see. We are just regular people like you,” he concluded, a small gentle and satiric smile playing at the corners of his lips.
“No,” Desault replied, “I meant to the girl. What did you say to the girl.”
“I said you were not offended by her statement. That you were afraid, that you thought she was beautiful and nothing she could do or say would change the way you felt.”
“Jesus,” Desault gasped, both wonder and worry spilling from his exhalation.
“I didn’t want you to embarrass her.” He said, thinking now how she might have felt, wondering suddenly if she was so naïve to think or believe anything differently than what the pilot just said.
“It is you who may be embarrassed, monsieur, but don’t worry, there is nothing about anything I have said or you have shown her that makes her feel that way. She is a woman, Little Bear, eh. Maybe a full grown one and maybe beautiful, but we are all boys and girls, eh, monsieur. We are all animals and there is nothing wrong about being attracted to a beautiful mate.”
Desault said nothing. He listened to Laloup and watched the horizon. He watched the old and toothless wizard manipulate the dials and gentle the craft to respond to his internal gyroscope.
He seemed at once, to both watch the dials and gauges and to mark their passage by the landscape, dead reckoning, seeing his way across the now expansive and nearly blue landscape dotted here and there by an occasional border or island, but largely blue, broken from the sky only by the near indistinguishable haze directly before them where, by intuition, Desault knew the sky and earth would meet.
“Is there ever a time when I get to sit in the back,” Desault asked. He heard the plaintive and childish tone in the question.
Laloup smiled broadly, looked at his co-pilot for a brief moment, shook his head, no, and turned back.
“When will we first land,” he asked next, and Laloup looked at some dials, checked some gauges turned his wrist upwards to see the dial and time and raised his right hand with the middle three fingers extended, thumb and pinky clasped to the palm.
“We are going to fly in this for three more hours,” he asked, incredulous of the time, the length of the journey, perhaps the time before he might be in a more comfortable surrounding with Little Bear.
“You’re serious,” Desault replied and Laloup’s upraised brow spoke eloquently of his certainty.
Again the noise and harmonic whine of the engine filled the craft.
Desault wondered, looking out, how Laloup occupied his thoughts and senses in the duration of such a flight. He wondered then about Little Bear and if she saw images of her home, her family which filled her with such excitement no time or travail was too arduous to get there.
Desault wondered how Little Bear might get home a hundred years before, before the advent of the plane. He wondered how anyone could move across such vast and unpopulated places but realized probably no one did.
‘In the old days,’ he thought, ’Little Bear would not be in a metropolitan city a thousand miles from home, rather at home having no clue or sense of what lay a thousand miles to the south.’
“How did people get to the cities before the snow machine, before there were planes,” Desault asked Laloup.
The old pilot smiled. His belly seemed to quake and he began to laugh. “Monsieur, how long have you been here. Tell me Monsieur, tell me what are you trying to discover. What is the purpose of your journey.”
“What has that got to do with how people traveled. I mean how is there any relationship and what business is it of yours. I was just wondering how people got from where we were to a place like the Arctic before you had these fancy planes.”
“In which season, monsieur. When in the year are you thinking.
“Anytime. I just meant how did someone get across this land without any boats or planes.”
Desault realized he may have spoken defensively. He may have bristled at the Frenchman’s tone and he did not want to create any animosity with a man in whose hands he had placed his fate.
“I am sorry, monsieur. I just don’t know much. As you said, I am some what foolish and this is all new to me.”
Laloup smiled and seemed to soften. “In the winter, Monsieur, this is all frozen. The old timers, trappers, Inuit, even the English, sometimes, could easily cross, on foot, by sled, dogs, ski, snow shoe. And in the summer, after the break up, eh, one can cross by boat. Canoe, pirogue, skiff. There are many ways to navigate these waters and many did.”
“You mean to say there were people who would harness up dogs and sled from there.” Desault pointed to the northern horizon, “to there,” he concluded pointing backward with his thumb, pointing to the city from which they had most recently departed.
“Certainly, Monsieur. How else would they get to the market. How else would they sell their furs, trade goods, get bullets for their rifles.
Desault looked below and surveyed the expanse.
“How far is it. How many miles would a person go.”
“A thousand kilometers,” Laloup said, “More sometimes.”
“On a dog sled,” he repeated, his voice raised in disbelief.
“Monsieur, before you were born, I have done that journey way more than once. I have done it in a pirogue sailing promontory to promontory all the way. We do with what we have, so you see, it is all right to be who you are. There is little room here for pretend, eh.”
Desault nodded and turned, emboldened, to regard Little Bear.
Asleep, he returned to Laloup and resumed his errant wonderings.
“Have you ever trapped furs,” he asked, a school boy inquiring of a soldier if he had ever killed an enemy.
“Certainment, monsieur. There is no other way to get clothing and food here. There are no stores where we are going.”
“Have you ever killed a buffalo,” Desault blurted out.
“You think there are buffalo, here, Monsieur.”
“I don’t know. I told you I don’t really know much.”
They watched the horizon and inland sea. Before their eyes it seemed to change. By the light, the solstice sun, the color of lake bottom, the blue of the water, the belly of this Hudson Bay seemed to transform before their eyes and turn from sky blue to crystalline, from a pastel to the manifold richness of emerald.
“What kind of animals are there here. It seems too cold, to harsh for anything, Monsieur.”
“We have a very rich land. We have elk, moose, fisher cat bear, wolf, beaver, crow, raven, possum, wolverine, musk-ox, rabbit, deer, porcupine sometimes and always humans.”
“Did you ever trap or kill any of them,” Desault continued.
The Frenchman looked at him briefly. He turned back to his dials, looked back sideways to the New York city lawyer again and burst into a deep and quaking laughter.
Desault thought something had happened with the guts or mechanics of the plane. He thought the pilot had seen something go awry and as they were about to crash and he was, at heart a lunatic, he was laughing at the coincidence of a fate ready to meet it’s end.
“What’s wrong,” he asked, his hands and knuckles knotted tightly, his mouth and body tense and anxious.
“You are such a funny man,” Laloup replied, struggling not to laugh, to control the ripples of his belly and body so to be able to answer the cowboy from the city, intelligently.
“We are all hunters, Monsieur.” He gasped to catch his breath.
“I hunt everything I can and always, eh. I hunt the beaver and the coyote. I hunt the bear and the salmon. I hunt everything including rich tourists just like you monsieur.” And as he concluded he nodded backwards indicating Little Bear and Desault’s interest in her despite everything else of fact or fiction that brought him to the north.
Desault smiled self consciously. He laughed but his laughter could not be heard over the noise of the craft.
“What do you do with the animals. What do you do with what you catch.”
“Monsieur,” the Frenchman smiled, “what do you do when you go to the market. Do you buy groceries and supplies to eat and keep you warm or do you just go to watch the sport.”
“I go to eat. And I understand,” Desault added, speaking seriously but not yet convinced. “It’s just hard to imagine you shooting anything, skinning a beaver, wearing a felt hat.”
“We both have much to learn, Monsieur, eh, but that is why life is so rich.”
Desault let his head fall back against the cloth covered rest. He felt suddenly weary, tired as if he had undergone enormous physical exertion. He felt curiously spent as if he had employed his own wings to raise their tiny crafty aloft.
He wondered what effort the stress of flight took upon the uninitiated. What was the cost in calories and British thermal units to get five thousand pounds away from earth and five thousand feet against the pull of gravity.
He tried to steal a glance behind and see the profile of Little Bear but did not want to be caught by Laloup’s ever vigilant eye.
His felt the full weight of his head press into the hard worn extension of his seat and struggled to keep himself wake.
The engine, a cranky winsome loud and noxious affair suddenly seemed to be soothing. In it’s cacaughonous exhortations, there was curiously a rhythm, a soothing harmonic that coddled his jarred brain and seemed, extraordinarily, to sooth him and set him, a soporific, to sleep.
Desault felt his stomach struggle to hold it’s scant remains intact.
He thought he was adrift, alone, lost on a peninsula in the frozen north and his stomach hurt for not having eaten in days, months, as long as it had been since he was set off, alone on an island by the crazy Frenchman, Laloup, and left to die.
He heard himself snore and jolted from his somnolence, awake.
He opened his eyes and saw, to his enormous relief Laloup, hands upon the rudder, eyes upon the dash, their real life, in the midst of flight, intact and a far friendlier reality than the landscape of his dream.
He smiled broadly, self-consciously, but ever so happy to be with Laloup than abandoned by him.
He stared at him for a moment and in his glazed over relief saw the landscape from the cockpit, the view from the pilot’s seat had changed.
In his somnolence, he could not figure out what was different, why the blue- white of the horizon had become deep green, a blue unlike any color he could recall, and the force of gravity felt different altogether than his recollection from take off.
His head snapped forward and his eyes opened wide.
In the space of a mote, a fraction of a wakening second, he realized something significant was different, the attitude of the plane, the effects of gravity, the pressure in his ear were all changed from the last moments of recollection before sleep stole his consciousness.
“Monsieur Laloup,” he croaked, “what’s wrong.”
The Frenchman looked at him and smiled. The cagey, wiley smile of the wolverine brought Desault to a full and alert measure of consciousness.
“Wrong, Monsieur, there is nothing wrong. We are going down,” he added, grinning, “but just for a moment.”
Desault looked ahead now and saw clearly that indeed the craft was headed to the water. It’s attitude was one of descent and the line of it’s flight path took it ultimately back down, to the blue green sea from which, some time ago, they had struggled to escape.
“Why, Monsieur Laloup. Is there something wrong. Are we crashing.”
“No mon ami,” he answered smiling now, but focused on the controls, the rudder, the dials and gauges.
“Certainment, no,” he repeated, a definitive tone reassuring now to Desault.
“But why are we going down. You said it would be three hours,” Desault pressed. His ears had not equilibrated and unpopped he could scarcely hear a thing.
“We can’t be there already, are we,” he repeated, trying to keep the fear of falling at bay, trying to appear calm but wanting still to have some empiric knowledge of their condition, the cause of their unexpected descent.
“Regardez,” Laloup said, but still preoccupied paused for a moment while he set a lever between the seats.
“Look, Monsieur, look there.”
At once, Desault both felt the small craft jar and looking ahead as he was bid, saw a trail of small white and green islands of an indistinguishable form.”
“What are they,” he asked. “What is that and what’s wrong with the plane.”
Laloup smiled and pointed to the lever between them. In a deft motion he raised his hand between them, and made his palm a horizontal representation of the plane.
“Flaps,” he answered. “They are flaps and we use them to get us down.”
“Why do we want to get down,” he replied. “What’s wrong. Why do we want to get down.”
Laloup grinned and pointed touching the plastic of the windshield to point out to Desault the string of what appeared small white islands, in the middle of the expanse of bay or sea.
“The glaciers have calved. The ice sheet from the winter is all broken up. There are some small sections thicker maybe and leftover from the early spring. Look and you will see how life here is.”
Comforted they were not to crash; Desault turned and looked at Little Bear.
Her head was still leaned against the fuselage and her eyes remained shut.
He looked forward to the small outlines of form to which Laloup had pointed and realized suddenly they were indeed small icebergs, the remains of an ice pack, formations of ice, floating, free and in a train of some sort for the wind or tide.
“Seatbelts,” Laloup spoke aloud. A guttural and unexpected command, his tone was harsh, but calm and definitive.
Desault checked his belt and found, to his awe, he had never unhooked the clasp. He wondered if this was what happened in a crash during which the harness would be of benefit, but let go the thought as it triggered a question, images of planes turning upside down, crashing headfirst into the water and others which were not, in Laloup’s current focus, appropriate to further explore.
As he looked up to affirm to Laloup his belt was fastened, he saw the Frenchman turn and speak in tongue to the Inuit.
Incomprehensible, he imagined he said, “good morning, you have been asleep and since we are about to land, you must check your belt.”
Whatever the meaning of the words, Little Bear smiled as she awoke, pressed her hand to her chest and lap, checking the security of her equipment and smiled.
Old Laloup had already turned back attending to the crafts equipment and Desault caught her eyes forward to assure Laloup she was all set.
He smiled at her, and she, in a gentle manner returned his gaze.
Desault felt trapped, hypnotically, stuck, turned backwards, watching Little Bear, a sun rise exploding in color and light before him.
“Hey,” Laloup grunted, shocking Desault from his reverie, obliging him to turn back and attend to whatever was this first officer’s wish or whim, “ano nek, anno. Aiyanqui niapp maggey dethan aenouip ting.”
Desault studied his face and eye, but had no clue as to the meaning of the unintelligible syllables. He raised his eyebrows, a response to the noise of the engines heightened revolutions and asked silently what he meant. He studied Laloups face, focused and faced to the sea train of small white and ever looming ice flows and saw behind him, Little Bear stirred.
He turned to see behind Laloup, whose attention was fixed and not to be disturbed and saw Little Bear unhook her lap belt and place her shoulder harness on the edge of the fuselage.
She turned, showing Desault again the loveliness of her form and setting upon her knees, her backside facing the front seat of her captain’s chair, she leaned over the top and rummaged in the rear cargo section of the fuselage where they had stowed much of the fuel, gear and supplies.
Desault wondered if they were running out of fuel.
He wondered how, if they needed fuel, they would fill the tank during flight.
Little bear continued in her search and looked for a period longer than the requisite half minute required to sight and try to heft one of the gas cans.
Desault looked again at Laloup. His face and eye were as focused as any hunter or pilot and woodsman or litigator Desault had ever seen.
He turned back to Little Bear and saw suddenly she was nearly supine, spread over the top of her seat, reaching for something she must have sighted at the rear of the compartment.
‘Perhaps there is something wrong with the craft,’ Desault thought and wondered if she were trying, or now sighted a tool for which Laloup had need.
Desault looked again at the windshield and saw the chain of ice flow was enormous. What had appeared a few remnants was a gam of islands, moved in an orderly procession, floating in a troupe, but plentiful and numbered in the tens or perhaps hundreds.
Behind him was movement now and he saw Little Bear return from her search pulling the object of her inquiry behind.
With her arm extended backwards, Desault first saw only her face. Again she smiled broadly, teeth gleaming, eyes glinting, and had discovered, a hunter, the object of her search and was speaking to Laloup.
“In eyou yassi, devanoui,” he thought he heard her say, and saw immediately Laloup grin, set back, think for the slightest piece of a second and answer, “nanno, nequi, nanno ngi.”
Whatever the meaning of the commands, Little Bear seemed satisfied and from behind the seat, she pulled forward a long steel tube and appeared ready to resettle herself.
Desault watched again the flow, scarcely a thousand feet below. He was surprised at the number and definition of these platelets of water, geometric organizations of crystal and water, fire and ice all arrayed in the most complex, all be it random order one might imagine.
He turned to see Little Bear, to see if she saw the same majestic and extraordinary beauty as did he and saw upon her lap, a long barrel carbine, a rifle with a scope, a broad barrel and a clip for what seemed, to his unschooled eye, a fair number of rounds of munitions.
“What’s that,” he garbled to Laloup.
The Frenchman focused on four or five gauges, one hand on the rudder yoke, one on the lever for the flaps continued his approach undaunted by the errant and nearly petulant question of his right seat guest.
“What’s wrong,” Desault repeated, his voice louder. More determined, struggling to hold back his primitive reactive fear.
Laloup remained steady. Desault thought from his knarled and wrinkled face he could glean the slightest trace of a grin, but otherwise could effect no response.
He turned to Little bear thinking she would certainly provide some clue.
She sat, returned to her original position, belted and harnessed, comfortable and smiling broadly, the carbine settled across her lap, her beautiful ivory hands holding it carefully, but snugly and with no uncertainty.
“What’s that for,” Desault asked, trying to speak with meaningless words but evidence of the questions intent in the raise of his brow, the furrow of his gaze, the wonder and worry in his eye.
Little Bear, cognizant of his question, recognized the anxiety and uncertainty evident upon his face.
She pointed to the tip of the rifle, and again to an unrecognizable space through the windscreen, out somewhere upon the water or ice of the Arctic flow.
Desault studied the seascape below. He turned fully engaged and focused upon the water and ice into which they descended.
He turned back searching her eyes for a clue and again, with a delicate finger and hand, with a sincere and settling eye, she focused his attention upon some indistinguishable place below.
“Bear,” Laloup grunted and Desault felt the stab of a chill of fear.
“Bear,” Laloup grunted again, only this time he raised his head slightly, and turning to Desault, grinned.
Desault, thinking their arrival was to be marked by attack, wondered why this would elicit a smile rather than a face of alarum.
He struggled to make out the surface white and blue, from it distinguish what clearly Little Bear and Laloup had already seen and discover why the Frenchman wasn’t worried.
“Aianqui,” Laloup grunted. “Heads up, mon ami, Nous some prêtte.”
Desault didn’t understand the words, but knew from the Frenchman’s vernacular something was about to happen.
He turned back to the windshield and at once felt both the change in the crafts attitude and saw the seascape of islands in the train, chunks of ice flow running in length spread by wind and current, a constellation of the new moon sky, disappear.
He felt his stomach flip and turn, arising to his mouth, he struggled to keep from the nausea which suddenly gripped his belly.
At the moment he felt closest to throwing up, his horizon was gone, vanished from sight and replaced now with only the endless and featureless expanse of white, pale blue, sky and formless cloud.
“Ecoutez,” the Frenchman grunted, his hands pulling back the yoke, one going momentarily to pull the red knobbed throttle lever out, raising immediately the screaming pitch of the engine, deafening any further chance of question or command.
Desault gripped the edge of his seat.
Laloup touched his finger to his ear, signifying Desault should listen, the meaning of his last exhortation.
Demian struggled to focus on the near blank and unbordered vision through the screen and momentarily saw a horizon appear to rise through the bottom of his sight, from the bottom edge of the windshield.
As loud as was the noise, Desault tried to understand what was the meaning of Laloup’s peroration.
He glanced back at Little Bear, saw an equanimity on her face leaving him to think there was nothing he should be worrying about, and looking forward again, saw the seascape of ice flow, platelets and small islands, many bigger than the plane and the wharf from which they first departed, littering the quickly approaching, upraising surface.
Desault looked again at the Frenchman and saw again he pointed to his ear as before. This time too, his wrinkled and enigmatic face turned to a broad grin, a slow and decipherable metamorphosis.
Desault thought his pleasure was for a successful landing despite the trouble which they had encountered or Laloup anticipated.
Immediately, Desault felt the fuselage quake, a shattering noise of small chunks of ice and crests of water hurtled against the aluminum pontoons, while simultaneously Laloup pulled hard upon the lever for the flaps and the turbulence from the wind and over sped propeller was deafening.
Once landed and the tail settled, the attitude of the plane was still angled such that they were peering up to the sky. Through the plastic window in the door, Desault could see they were in a nearly frozen sea. Chunks of ice floated with the surface water. The blue of the crystalline pure melt reflected in the ice and he saw a jeweled landscape as he had only imagined existed.
In the distance, he saw four or five sections of flow, some carved by water, some risen up, riding upon one another, animals in the rut, ice tossed and thrown wily nilly by forces of wind and tide far more powerful than the sheer weight of these simple monoliths of frozen water, the smallest of which was five or ten times the size of the plane.
“Allez, allez,” the Frenchman said, the words swallowed by the propeller’s rotation, “Allez,” he repeated again and as he spoke, he pressed the red knobbed throttle all the way into the dash board. The engine screamed loudly racing, sputtered, shook the plane in the death rattle of an enormous cicada landing, and died.
The plane, as suddenly as they were airborne, was now enveloped in an environment different altogether.
Where the wind had before been the essence of sound, the counterpoint against which all else lived or passed, the only sounds now were the lap off water, scrapings of ice passing or through which the pontoons passed. Desault thought he could hear the normal sounds of breathing, the grunts and exhalations of Laloup turning off switches, setting gauges, undoing all of the preparations of dials and gear for flight.
Clearly whatever was next to happen, appeared to be the sentient undertaking of a captain who may have been inscrutable but similarly was not necessarily a lunatic.
“Monsieur,” the pilot said to Laloup, speaking for the first time in a small and regular voice.
“Monsieur, all things in time, eh. A time for all seasons.”
As Laloup was unstrapping his harness, speaking enigmatically, smiling at Desault, he turned toward him and concluded, “now is your chance to sit in back.”
He reached across Desault’s lap and unfastened the seat belt.
“Now my friend, you may ride in back next to your princess.”
Desault’s perplexion was evident and the Frenchman helped him by putting aside the belt and sweeping a make believe passageway for his client between the pilots seat and where Desault now sat.
“Are you serious,” Desault inquired, but before he had the words out, the question put, Laloup had hunched into his corner, pressed himself against the door and began to forcefully pull Desault to turn around and squeeze through the scant opening between seats getting himself, by whatever means, into the back, next to Little Bear, and away from the pilot’s only exit.
“Hold on,” Desault protested, “Wait a minute,” he repeated Laloup hastening his departure to the rear off the bus.
“Come on, Monsieur, you will see in a few hours why we need hurry and you, monsieur, more than most will be happy, eh.”
As unorderly and discommodious was Desault’s departure, his feet and arms in turn crashing into the smiling Little Bear, Laloup was at the cockpit door and it was opened.
Through it’s breach he clamored and upon the footstep of the wing, he stood, before Desault had even righted himself and gotten his arms, feet and legs to where they appropriately belonged.
“Ainiwai qui,” the captain shouted, out of the craft altogether, leaning over some, speaking into the cabin from which he had just exited.
“Ainiwai qui,” he repeated and immediately Little Bear handed him the rifle she had held so comfortably upon her lap.
Desault watched, looked at the girl asking with his eyes and face what was happening, but before she could answer, the captain issued another command.
“Surshe loonla gli gnespla.”
Desault watched and saw, whatever the words meant, Little Bear turned from her seat, reached behind and from the small cargo space drew out a yellow nylon line attached to a small anchor rigged with a harpoon tip.
She handed the pile to Desault, peering to Laloup, to whom he in turn passed the pieces, as ordered.
Desault heard an incredible clattering upon the wing and fuselage of the plane.
“Monsieur,” the pilot called, “when you have a moment, come out and you can give me a hand.”
Desault looked at Little Bear and back to the roof of the small tail section of the plane where they sat.
He pointed to the rounded roof and raised his finger pointing, his eye brows askance, wondering what the old Frenchman wanted, why he asked Desault for help.
“Do you know what he wants,” he asked the smiling young woman.
She turned from her scroutinous study of the ice flow and looked directly ay Desault.
“Ne ane aqqeu,” she replied her voice a whisper, her slender and well formed arm rising to point out the window to the ice flow.
Desault tried to say the words, to understand the tongue, to see from her view of the window what she meant but could gain little.
“Monsieur,” he heard again the voice of the Frenchman, but this time it seemed to come from a spot directly above.
Desault felt himself shudder, wondering how someone might be sitting upon the craft which had only just borne them through flight.
“Hey Monsieur Captain,” Desault said, his head turned, his voice trying to project around to the front seat, out of the cockpit door and to the body whose weight lay straddled apparently directly overhead.
“Monsieur,” he repeated, “what does, ‘Ne ane aqqeu’ mean.”
He looked at Little Bear watching him. He saw a look of wonderment appear as she recognized the words but not the context in which he spoke.
She smiled for reasons he could not fathom, perhaps for his ignorance or stupidity and he smiled at her loveliness and his own ineptitude.
“Captain can you hear me,” Desault repeated and heard in the sarcastic grunt the captain heard and may simply have been preoccupied.
“Monsieur,” he said again, trying to raise himself out of the cockpit door, gain a sight of the man sitting atop the fuselage and ask directly what the beautiful princess had said to him.
“Monsieur tell me. I will come out to help but tell me.”
As he spoke, hanging onto to the top of the door way, a hand upon the large strut assembly holding the wings straight and the pontoons secure beneath, he realized he was nearly out himself hanging over open water.
He tensed, in sight of the captain, panicked, and clear to the seasoned man above, far from the comfort of his natural element, he froze.
“Monsieur, “the Captain said. Sitting astraddle of the fuselage, riding the tail section like an enormous bull, his rifle set comfortably between his arms, his ear piece turned up and entirely in his element.
“Monsieur, you need to relax. You need to get hold of yourself, eh. This is a very lucky moment. You need to get hold of yourself man and get back inside. You don’t want to swim here as it is very cold. Eh”
As he spoke Desault regained control and with some faltering but successful maneuvers returned to the cabin.
“The girl says, ‘we are lucky. We see bear.’ Laloup continued and when you are ready, get yourself together and you can give me a hand.
“What prey am I to give you a hand doing,” Desault asked.
“We have the chance to capture a great white.
Desault felt himself shudder. He thought the Frenchman might be crazy and suddenly now, his stomach and throat filled with the nausea of adrenalin, knowing all the while the choices to undertake this escapade was poor.
“You are crazy, Monsieur. Please come back here. I will buy you steak or meat or whatever you want at the next outpost but you can’t jeopardize all of us just because you are crazy.”
There was no response. The Inuit knowing from the look upon Desault’s face and the tone of this voice understood he was in distress.
Despite her understanding of his anxiety, she too was excited, visibly by the opportunity which had so taken the Frenchman.
She turned from her study of the flow, a cat awaiting the chance to catch the movement of a mouse and looked to Desault. Her young and beautiful face expressed the most empathic concern, the most expressive understanding which seemed, to Desault’s amazement, to suggest she both understood his worry and too, the Frenchman’s excitement.
Desault peered, helpless and hungry for sympathy, understanding, into the large luminescent black pools of her eyes.
He smiled, despite his near paralytic fear and was transfixed, hypnotized by her sight.
“Hey, Monsieur,” the Frenchman said, frightening Desault, hanging upside down from the outside of the fuselage, his head, a caricature of a lunatic, “ if you are done with, how do you say,” and he paused, the plane rocking, a sickening grinding creasing screech, ice scraping along the aluminum skin of the pontoons, ”small talk,” he resumed, flipping over now in a near balletic movement, standing upright upon the pontoon strut, rifle in hand, cloths and hair awry, “ we have big fish to fry. Allons nous,” he concluded.
Desault, awed and dumb struck by the entire affair sat, motionless and stupefied.
“Monsieur,” he resumed, leaning now into the cockpit. “We have work to do and if you would be so kind, I might use your help.”
“Nar onui que,” he muttered backing out of the craft and directly behind him, climbing over the stiffened and timid body of the host, Little Bear followed the captain and in moments they were each out, Laloup upon the top of the fuselage, Little Bear straddled between the pontoon superstructure and the wing.
Again the ice flow and it’s frightening noises were the only sounds filling the otherwise silent cockpit. Desault looked out, collected himself, remembered why he had begun such a journey and decanted from the small craft.
“There,” he heard the Frenchman say, a whisper scarcely audible above the racket of the ice, but loud enough, with the signal of his upraised and pointed hand to signify the object of their predation was in his sight.
Little Bear rose from her crouched position, holding now the sharp tip of the harpoon, the bright yellow line coiled and slung across her other arm.
“Denal gnou ainyqui,” he said aloud and at the same instant he spoke, Desault heard the report of the carbine.
Loud and sharp, it was not a thundering explosion as he had imagined, but in the moment of it’s firing, Little Bear jumped to the other side of the craft, stood atop the fuselage, rose her arm and hurled the harpoon and line over the wing to a destination he could not spy.
“Monsieur,” Laloup said, a tone and command Desault had never heard.
“Get up here and give a hand. Get the line and move quickly.”
Desault had no picture or understanding of what it was the Frenchman expected but raised himself from the structure of the pontoon, arose to the height of the fuselage where he saw both Little Bear, crouched, the line from her other arm, extended, and at the distant end of it’s reach, an enormous white polar bear, tumbling and careening around upon the ice, struck, he now realized, by the bullet from the Frenchman’s carbine.
“Allons nous,” he screamed, again a harsh, uncharacteristic command.
“Let’s go,” he repeated and jumped from his squat, setting astride the tail section of the fuselage to the pontoon. He waved his hand for Desault to follow and as quickly grabbed hold of the line strung from Little Bear to the big white.
“”Venez, venez,” he screamed now, pulling at the line, clearly struggling not to be yanked from his precarious position upon the pontoon into the icy midst of the bay.
“Come on, help me. Com’n,” he yelled, all trace of his accent vanished, the words and tone an utterance of man about to drown.
Desault leaped across the top of the fuselage, slid down the outer skin of the craft and landed himself next to Laloup, upon the inner edge of the pontoon.
He grabbed the line, and seemed for the moment, despite his wonder, to at least steady it and keep the captain from falling in.
“You are a lunatic,” Desault screamed, the words from the fear throttled in his mouth. “How do you mean to stop that thing,” he protested and saw Laloup struggle to get the line low enough and steady, simultaneously to get a knot tied to the leading edge of the pontoon.
“Damn you Hoover,” Desault heard the Frenchman yell, cursing and grunting, the monologue of a lunatic as he tried to maneuver the line to the tip of the pontoon and have the aircraft take the weight and strength of the big bear’s dance of St. Vitus.
“Help me,” he screamed at Desault, looking on helplessly fascinated in the incredible dance of the little Frenchman trying to over come the most magnificent beast of them all and the bear, trying himself to overcome the most unexpected.
Desault crouched, moved alongside Laloup, grabbed hold of the line and together allowed Laloup enough slack so to fasten it to the steel structure and leave the pull and weight off the careening behemoth to bear against the weight of the whole of the craft and its passengers.
Laloup smiled the moment the knot was secure. He stood upright, clapped Desault on the shoulder and uttered a heartfelt, ‘bon.’ He clamored up on the fuselage and set astride and in front of the smiling and incredibly beautiful Little Bear.
To Desault, confused, uncertain, anxious in the extreme, the old Frenchman appeared to set upon the top of the craft as a bull rider might the crazy big horn before the whistle blew and the competition began.
“Hold on, Monsieur,” the Frenchman said, seeing Desault gaze, dumbstruck, wondering and awed at the same time.
“If you think we have been for a ride today, Monsieur, wait just a moment.”
Desault held fast to the airframe, his feet planted on the pontoon, his hands clasping the superstructure.
He did not understand the words, but knew by Laloup’s tone something more was about to happen.
“When I tell you, Monsieur, it will be very important for you to change places with me.”
Desault looked at the captain, and tried to imagine how in the middle of Hudson Bay they might orchestrate such an undertaking with neither falling into the icy water.
“I am sure, since you have paid a lot of money, eh, that we get this craft turned around and keep our heading. We are, you know, going south.”
Desault watched Laloup turn his head to the sun, make some unfathomable calculation but neither understood the joke he was articulating nor the truth underlying the words.
“When he is ready, we will go on a ride unlike any other, eh, so I need to be back at the yoke and you need to be here, as far aft as possible.”
The yellow line suddenly twanged, running taught.
“See, monsieur, see. When he gets ready we are going for a ride and if we’re not ready he will take our little ship and ,” Laloup paused, struggling for a word, struggling to raise himself and see the bear out over the collected ice of the flow, “He will pull us into the sea.”
As he spoke, he rose his hands and made a sign of one palm turning over, imitating the plane, imitating the outcome of the bear running wild, trying to free himself of the harpoon, trying to free himself of his captors and by purpose or consequence, loosing the plane which pulled at his body corporate.
The line sagged and the forward motion of the plane stopped.
“You will need to get up here. We need the weight and ballast. You know,” Laloup smiled, “the envelope,” and I will need to get inside and back to the yoke.”
Desault looked at Little bear setting behind the Frenchman apparently calm, listening and appearing to understand everything, poised and attentive to all that transpired, balanced and seemingly readied for any outcome.
“Are you ready,” the Frenchman asked. When he spoke he smiled, a satiric curious grin, at once infuriating Desault and causing him to wonder apprehensively for what he obviously did not know.
The Frenchman took Desault’s silence for consent.
“Let’s go,” he yelled, startling Desault, jumping from the top if the fuselage to the other side of the craft and landing on the pontoon opposite.
“Allons nous,” he repeated, clasping the door handle, readying his re-entry to the craft, gazing at Desault with a commanding and stern eye, obliging him to pull himself up the small step and set upon the rear off the fuselage as had Laloup immediately before.
Desault struggled, mis-stepped, grabbed hold of the radio antennae for balance, snapped the line, recovered his footing and landed, exactly where his pilot had directed him, sitting astride the top of the craft and directly in front of Little Bear.
“Bon,” the Frenchman said. “Good. Now hold on and whatever happens, until you see me again, do not move.”
Desault looked at the face of the Frenchman disappearing into the cockpit and wondered what next might happen. He turned and looked at Little Bear, immediately behind him, pressed to his back side smiling and as calm as before a spring picnic.
His querying eye evinced no response but for her obvious pleasure and excitement.
“What’s happening,” he asked, his face and her eyes, scarcely a foot part.
“What is this crazy man doing,” he repeated, signing first to his head, to the cabin where the captain now resumed his seat and to the ice flow in front of them where all order and sense appeared ready to melt into chaos and craziness.
Little Bear smiled broadly. She grinned and pointed to the distant trail of the yellow line disappearing behind a twisted and risen section of ice, ridged, crashed and steeped upon itself in sections fifteen or twenty feet high.
He peered intently first to the ice, to its raised and fractured form, and back to Little Bear. He tried to follow the line from the pontoon to what he suddenly remembered was a harpoon embedded in the belly of the great white and he understood this was the ride upon which they were to undertake.
“Do you mean that beast is going to try to escape,” Desault asked, gasping for the fear and sudden fright of the image of their symbiotic persuit.
“This is crazy,” he said realizing, a modern day Moby Dick, he was to rewrite history, again and at a peril he never contemplated.
He turned again to see Little Bear, to see if he were crazy himself or if indeed this was the course of history and he was to be an actor in a comedy of insanity.
Little bear, so close behind Desault smiled and, Desault thought, even laughed.
‘So close was she,’ he thought, ‘he could smell her breath and for a moment lost the thread of the imminence of their predicament. He imagined himself rolled into large hides, comforted on land, snugged together, warmed by fire and their bodies sweet aromas, deep fires warming them from within.
The yellow line snapped and twanged, exploding the brief fantasy and thrusting him into the moment.
At once he felt the craft lurch. He felt his legs, riding the tin bull tighten. He felt Little Bears arms come forward clasping him, a second rider on a motor cycle and he heard the most terrible and frightening roar as the great white emerged from behind the ice castles and stood his height of fifteen feet.
Panic seized him and the air in his lungs froze.
The bear stood motionlessly, staring directly at the refugees setting atop the small craft, seeming to say in his defiance and yet another pained and terrifying roar, “I will kill you.”
Desault felt Little Bear’s arms tighten.
He heard a popping sound as the craft turned suddenly pulled by the hand of a gargantuan monster, themselves Lilliputions, tiny and in a world of far larger consequence.
The pontoons crashed through the ice flows, sounding themselves as they would rip and tear from the very craft upon which they huddled and tried to stay atop.
The bear, disappeared now, upon all fours began to run and the craft, pinioned to his fate, rose up upon the flow, pulled willy nilly and followed, the yellow line, a tie to the death, for one, the other or both.
Desault heard the most unholy screech and roar again from the wounded bear, now racing, a trot, despite the weight of the plane in tow.
He screamed, a guttural cry of panic and fecal fear, believing any moment they would all fall, head long into the freezing waters of the ice laden bay.
A moraine of ice, risen, crumpled, crashed together, lay before them.
A lead of open water, suddenly deep blue and precipitously close lay between them and the small mountain of twisted flow.
Desault screamed again, to get the attention of Laloup, for fear, a wounded animals death throw. He tried to compose himself to say intelligently to the captain whose sight, from the level of the cockpit may not have seen the water trap before them, to be aware.
He screamed meaningless garble, words twisted and chaotic like the ice sheet before him.
He watched helplessly as they approached, pulled implacably by the great white and closed his eyes waiting for the frigid, frightening, acquaeous death.
Desault squeezed the hands and arms of Little Bear whose paws clasped around his waist.
He held his breath waiting to plunge and heard a pop, a guttural, mechanical explosion of sorts, pop, and repeat again, another gun or pistol or flare perhaps Laloup had tried to discharge.
He opened his eyes, saw the deep blue lead before him, felt the sting of smoke in his eyes and heard again, but now in the staccato from machine gun, the rapid fire popping of what he realized was the engine of the small craft.
As quickly as the comprehension dawned, the propeller raced, invisible in its rotation and the puff of belching, blinding black smoke, emitted, disappeared.
Laloup had started the engine, raced the propeller to a speed sufficient to lift the craft off the ice flow, and at the moment which the pontoons touched the water, the moment when inertia and the drag from the bear would have pulled the craft to its drowning deep, Laloup raced the engine, levered the flaps, and the craft was airborne.
As quickly as the engine blared into life, it stopped. The plane ground to a halt settling upon a flat topped plateau of ice. Desault, numbed from the cold wind was paralyzed with fright.
He felt the comfort of Little Bear’s arms but was unable to speak, grateful for not having fallen and carried them both to their watery grave.
The door to the craft open and he heard Laloup bellow.
“Get in,” he screamed, his voice, in the sudden quiet clear and unequivocal in it’s command.
Despite his fear, in an act he would remember as having been borne of instinct entirely, he turned, took Little Bears arms, helped her forward of him, balanced her as she made her descent and followed her, with astonishing grace, onto the superstructure, into the cabin and resuming their paces in a deft and seemingly practiced move.
Careening up and down, a porpoise in flight, tethered all the while to the raging and stumbling crazed, bear, they fled across the ice sheet, across opens leads of artic water. With extraordinary skill and violent manipulation of the throttle and controls the Frenchman managed to keep the craft aloft.
“Come on you son of a bitch, you’re not going to beat the Frenchman,” he yelled. His eyes were wide, his forehead tensed, wrinkled and furrowed beyond belief.
For all the upset and disequilibration of their flight, despite all of the crazy and erratic motion of the plane, the sickening rise and diving falls, the sight of Laloup, in mortal combat with this bear frightened Desault more than anything he had seen ever.
“Monsieur,” Desault pleaded, “you’re going to kill us. You’re going to crash. We’re going to crash.”
The Frenchman looked at Desault with such disdain, such utter contempt and disgust, he thought he had seen a man over the edge, a man so possessed by a psychotic lapse they were certain to perish.
“Please my Captain, Please. We do not need to go there. We can turn around. I will pay you for the whole trip but we must stop now.”
Laloup looked again as if suddenly it were Desault who was the lunatic, as if it were Desault who had flipped his gourd and for being so far out of balance and off the wall needed himself to get help, be hospitalized, go back to land.
“He says, never mind, Ca ne fait rien,” he screamed to Little Bear, speaking above the raging scream of the engine.
“He wants to come to the north country, learn about the Indians, the Inuit and he says lets turn back, it doesn’t matter that we arrive at Little Bears home with gifts proper for any suitor, proper even for a visitor looking for shelter and wanting to be a gracious guest.”
The plane snapped as the bear jumped from a crusted ridge, ten to twelve feet risen above the water to an open lead and into the water, again.
Instinctively, the bear knew it’s only escape was under water, at depth, at a place where its captor could not follow, but with a wounded hind quarter and the strength of the propeller racing to lift the small craft as if taking off, the great white had not sufficient power to submerge.
One hundred and fifty yards of yellow taut boat line held fast to the bear as he dove beneath the surface and continued his frenetic pace.
Laloup struggled to maintain the airworthiness and flight of the craft with out stalling or loosing his lift.
“That son of a bitch wants to quit,” he screamed. Desault thought he was speaking of the bear and thought perhaps this was a signal for the end off the chase.
“Aniaqui ne ano, ne mgono,” he spat the words, his head scarcely turned, his eyes and hands all the while focused on the near impossible task of maintaining their craft aloft.
“What did he say,” Desault asked, turning to little bear, trying in the noise and confusion to learn what was the intent of this crazy captain.
“What does he say,” he asked again trying to sign the meaning of the words and elicit from Little Bear some sign or response indicating his intent.
“I said,” the Frenchman interrupted, his blood red eyes clasping Desault for a second long enough to make him shrink and wish he’d never asked the question, never begun this crazy escapade, never left New York or the safety off his west side apartment.
“You are a chicken and only a mouse runs before it tries to hide.”
“What do you mean,” Desault asked, struck by the meanness of the epithet, struck by the unfair characterization by the captain.
“What are you talking about,” he persisted insulted, angry, embarrassed, but before he could finish his words, the captain pulled at the red knobbed throttle, raising the revolutions per minute to such a height Desault thought the engine would explode or the craft burst into flames.
“He’s out,” the Frenchman said, “ Look, pussy cat, he is out,” and before Desault could remove the anger and upset from his face, the stern and emboldened puff from his chest, he looked through the front windscreen and saw the ice flow had resumed below, the bear was indeed out of the water and racing ahead and below the craft.
“Regardez,” Laloup pointed sternly to Desault,
“Look,” he said again, recalling his client did not speak the language.
The great white was out upon a long stretch of flat ice and bleeding profusely.
“Be patient, mon vieux. He is ours for the waiting” The moment he completed his words, a churlish wizard’s grin emboldening his face, the bear stumbled and the tethered line slacked.
Without the force of the weight upon the craft, it rose immediately, fleeing the bounds of gravity, and lifting skywards, in doing so, dislodged the harpoon from the bear’s thigh.
“Mon Dieu,” Laloup said, forcing the yoke forward to reduce their lift, forcing the red buttoned throttle in to reduce the engines revolutions and slow the craft.
“My god,” he said audible for it’s near prayerful exhortation.
Desault felt relief for being free of the bear but saw in Laloup a disappointment and worry that he had not witnessed.
“This was for you, jack ass. I should have had you in the back seat. I should have not paid such attention to you monsieur and paid more to the bear. If we loose this white, we should be ashamed of ourselves and their will be nothing but disappointment in the house of Little Bear.
Desault looked at the Frenchman. He tried with all his wit to understand what was the connection, but could not fathom the relationship. He saw Laloup man handle the yoke, and turn the craft back, circling to the point where they had lost their symbiotic and near deadly connection to the bear.
Laloup smiled, suddenly and relaxed.
Desault watched his line off sight, his stomach in his mouth for the suddenness of the turn, the tightness of the arch and saw, struggling not to throw up, the bear was still down.
The ice was deep red, near where he had rolled trying to get his mouth to the wound crippling his hind quarters and bite out the animal or foreign body which had come from nowhere and struck down the majestic beast.
“Nanno, nequi, nanno ngi,” the captain said to Little Bear. Though his voice seemed harsh, she turned immediately set to whatever was the task he ordered and within seconds and again found the carbine, loaded it with new shot and handed to forward to Laloup.
“Good God,” Desault gasped, “You’re not going to get out again are you.”
For the first time in what seemed hours, the captain looked directly at Desault and smiled. He clapped him on the back and laughed.
“No monsieur, it is for you.”
The look of horror in Demian Desault’s face was more than even the witty Frenchman could bear.
“It is not for you, Mon ami, it is for the bear.”
Desault gained little by Laloup’s further declaration.
“But I have never shot a gun in my life,” he protested.
Laloup pulled at the yoke, throttling the engine appropriately and smiled.
“C’est d’accord. Mon ami. It is all right. I will show you how. And anyway, even if you miss, Little Bear will not know whose bullet struck him. You can be the hero. I will not tell the story and I will certainly tell her parents.”
Laloup straightened the craft and turned back to Desault.
“You’re serious,” the New York lawyer said.
Laloup, who had set the carbine Little Bear had handed him upon Desault’s lap nodded silently but affirmatively.
He retrieved the rifle, pulled it by his side, opened the small window set within his side door and began speaking.
“I am going to set us on a course straight beside the bear. We will be fifteen feet or so over the ice. We will be straight and true. All you need to do, when I tell you, eh, is hold the yoke, just like this.”
He took one of Desault’s hands, placed it upon the rudder and forced his fingers to close upon the shaft as he had instructed.
“Now when I say, I am going to let go you only have to hold this exactly as I set it. You don’t have to pull up, monsieur, you don’t have to pull down, eh,”
Laloup looked to see if his words were making sense to his client.
“All you have to do is hold it steady and we’ll be fine.”
The captain looked out the wind screen, sighting the wounded bear, aligning the craft with the trajectory which would put them in proper position.
“Are you sure you understand. This is easy, Monsieur. This is, as we say, tres facile.”
The small mechanized craft, winged, fueled by hydrocarbons, sophisticated petro-chemicals sliced through the air and set upon its prey.
The machine of man, so sophisticated, so agile, so fast and maneuverable set upon the task of finishing off this most incredibly beautiful beast, this undisputed king of the north land, only now, hearing the small pop of the carbine, did Desault realize the animal in jeopardy was never himself or Little Bear, rather the great white, who had from the beginning been the object of man’s mortal and he thought immoral predation.
Laloup passed the rifle back through the cabin space to Little Bear.
Desault saw the face of a wild man turn suddenly and unexpectedly into one entirely uncharacteristic with the facts of their misadventure.
He saw Laloup smile and relax. He saw Laloup with the face and demeanor of a man whose daughter had just bore him a grandson, whose crippled child had just, for the first time, walked, who learned his long lost mate, missing for a dozen years, had been found, alive and happy.
Laloup clapped him on the shoulders. “Well done, mon ami,” he grunted, taking the yoke, setting the dials, turning the craft around and preparing to return to the sight of the slaying.
“Indique aiyanque annutuk, “ Laloup said, his face and eyes focused on the controls, his mouth and lips turned to speak to Little Bear, behind.
“Monsieur,” the Frenchman said now, the calm returned to his voice, the level control, to the plane, the reason and sensibility, to all things human, “you must refasten your seatbelt. Tell Little Bear. We are about to land.”
Desault did as he was told. He struggled with the notion of his killing, his predation, his participation in the slaughter.
“What are you doing Monsieur,” he asked. His voice displaying the defeat and guilt he felt.
“Why are we landing.”
“Your seat belt, Monsieur,” Laloup reminded him and over his shoulder, he spoke softy to Little Bear instructing her similarly.
“Monsieur, tell me, why are we doing this. What are you looking for. Why are we acting like barbarians.”
Laloup, struck by the last word spun towards his client.
The face of disgust and anger startled Desault.
He returned to the task of landing the plane. He set the flaps, checked his dials, accounted for the change in fuel and air mixture with the throttle and settled himself for the down wind leg and final approach.
“What did you tell the girl,” Desault asked, resignation in his voice, throttled anger and self reproach, evident.
Laloup glanced at him, a curious and scrutinous gaze, seeming to understand who was the man of this young foreigner from the big city, so strange and hostile, so inappropriately critical, acting, Laloup thought, a religious fanatic, a zealot trying to persuade people not to eat meat.
Laloup wondered at the peculiar nature of man. He knew the excitement in his heart, the pride he would share with Little Bear and her family when they landed but he could not fathom the odd ways of this white man, the elements of his clock, how or why he would even venture to the north country for gold or oil or mineral riches when he was here in the richest undertaking of them all and was ready to criticize, and turn away from the guests who had brought him.
Laloup throttled the engine. He raised the flaps. He pressed in upon the yoke bringing the attitude of the craft down and in the moment of its hastened descent, Desault saw before them, both the ice flow which would make their landing strip, and passing just under the nose of the plane, the carcass of the dead bear.
Laloup pulled out the throttle, racing the engine. He pulled out the yoke tipping the craft upwards, gaining lift and lofting on the high pressure of descent.
Desault peering behind, saw, from the corner of his eye, the Frenchman pulling hard upon the flaps. Almost immediately thereafter he felt the crash and heard the scraping of the skis, welded to the lowest section of the pontoon. Raw emotions, they screeched meeting the uprising ice.
They were down and coasting.
Laloup feathered the propeller, replaced the flaps, slowed the engine and within moments, they had skidded to a halt.
“Indique aiyanque annutuk,” the Frenchman said over his shoulder to Little Bear.
“What does that mean,” Desault asked realizing these were the same words the Frenchman had spoken before.
Laloup studied the face of his guest. He seemed to be trying to understand or calculate the efficacy of his explanation, the manner in which he spoke to one so foreign and unaccustomed to their life.
“Monsieur,” the Frenchman began, “tell me again why you are here.”
Desault was struck by the sudden change of the demeanor of the pilots conversation, his worldly and unexpected query into a motive far away and spoken of obliquely, and long ago.
“I am here, Monsieur to understand the Indian. To see how it was the French and the American hunted the beaver, wolf, raccoon, and fox. I am here,” he said stuttering a little in trying to recall exactly what was the occasion of his presence, “to see how it was Americans learned to hunt. To understand why it was the buffalo was slaughtered. I’m here because after the buffalo, the Indians were slaughtered too and there is much missing in the history books to explain that.”
“And Little Bear”, the Frenchman persisted boring suddenly upon Desault’s eyes, as the bullet from the carbine had bored through the beautiful hide of the great white, struck life from the heart of the beast.
“Little Bear,” Desault stammered, “she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in my life.”
“If you’re serious, monsieur, you will get everything you have come for. If you are a liar,” he paused, taking a long thin canvass scabbard from little bear, “it won’t matter.”
Desault was puzzled.
He knew from the manner of Laloup’s forthrightness he was speaking heartfelt words of truth. He did not understand the complexities and insinuations of the words but knew from his tone he spoke a truth, al be it one he might yet not comprehend.
As suddenly as the engine fired and roared into life, it stopped.
Laloup pushed the throttle to it’s innermost position, turned a magneto and the engine sputtered and stopped.
Silence overtook the small craft and Laloup gazed at Desault waiting for an answer, a reaction, a word as to his intent or understanding.
“If you have nothing to say, monsieur, that is all right and you can stay here, but Little Bear and I have some work to do. You will,” he smiled, “need to get out at least so we can.”
Desault realized he was again blocking the exit.
He unbelted himself, opened the door, stood out onto the pontoon and made way for the others.
In the moment of his uprightedness, he saw the great white bloodied, crumpled and scarcely fifteen feet from the captain’s wing.
As they exited and clamored down, standing now in the ice, Desault watched the Frenchman carefully unwrap the canvass scabbard. To his horror, he saw it contained two enormous glinting, razor sharp cleavers.
“What are you doing,” he screamed, looking across the small chasm of space, separating him and modern morality from the barbarous slaughter he witnessed.
The Frenchman and Little Bear leaned over the carcass. Butchers in the devils workshop, they worked quickly to slit the neck of the great white.
To Desault they seemed to position his head so the enormous pool of blood, already seeping upon the ice would find no difficulty in emptying the reservoir which undoubtedly must have resided within.
With his head propped upon the forepaw, the bright red viscous fluid was already making a circle twice as large as the radius of the area in which they worked.
“Hey,” Desault screamed. “What the hell are you doing. This is crazy and we are supposed to be flying north.”
As he spoke he hung on to the strut of the pontoon, a schoolyard boy wanting to go forward, peer into the unholy midst but stuck for the fear of betraying an old catechism.
“Hey,” he repeated, “what are you doing.” His voice was less strident, winsome, querulous.
“What are you doing,” the Frenchman asked. His voice was broken. His breathing labored as he worked to slit the belly of the bear, eviscerate the guts, prepare the carcass for whatever he and Little Bear intended.
“Eh, mon vieux.”
Steam rose from the heat of the now spilled intestines spreading over the ice, a mess of carnage and bloody organs.
“Eh, my friend, what are you doing,” the Frenchman continued, moving the heavy body, trying, with Little Bear to flip aside one of the hind quarters so to complete the opening, and gut the great beast.
“You think you want to learn about the Indians, about the slaughters and the North Country. You think you like Little Bear ‘cause she’s beautiful, eh and you haven’t the belly to come here and help her and me, eh. This is the most precious gift any one can give or get beside a child, American, and you are squeamish about being here, helping, and think you will take your Inuit bride back to New York city.”
“Eh. non,” the Frenchman concluded, spitting his disgust on the snow, with his mouth and pursed lips, ridding himself of the taste of condescending, convoluted, immoral, vitriolics.
The captain and the princess continued. Their breath steamed. Their clothes now were lathered in blood. They worked hard, with focus, a quick and facile unspoken determination, and they smiled.
Desault let go the umbilical cord of his grasp upon the pontoon strut and advanced a step toward the carnage.
“You are pathetic, my friend,” the Frenchman said, cleaving now the section of hide wrapped around one of the polar bears hind quarters.
“You are pathetic but ca ne fait rien. It does not matter, monsieur. We will take care of Little Bears family. We will deliver her to her parents, eh, and we will be on our way.”
Desault wanted to move across the bloodied ice and grab Laloup by the neck. He wanted to say he was an arrogant and rude curmudgeon and had no place holding himself out as guide or host for a foreigner so far from home and dependent, but saw Little Bear, squatting, holding the other rear paw and touching, with reverence as he had never witnessed, the claw she extended by pressing it from it’s retracted state.
’Good god,’ Desault thought and moved to be closer to her.
She felt the four inch claw and touched its sharpened point with a near prayerful clasp.
She looked at the claw, bowed her head and seemed to inaudibly utter some prayer.
She stood, Desault beside her and smiled broadly.
She smiled in a manner displaying such respect and ingenuous gratefulness Desault was ashamed.
“May I help you,” he said, lost for the wonder of such beauty regarding such beauty, himself a clumsy and inept foreigner.
Little Bear smiled again, opening her hands palms facing skyward indicating she was happy he was here with her.
“May I help you,” he asked again, this time signaling with his hands his willingness to cut or carve, take waste or prepare the skin or hide or whatever it was she had planed to do.
“Monsieur,” the Frenchman said, “asking if you can bail water from a sinking canoe, or change a babies diaper when he is soiled is not part of the custom here, eh.”
Laloup turned back to his work laughing aloud. Speaking aloud but to himself, to the bear, to any who might listen.
“He is here to study the land and people but does not want to eat.”
“Monsieur,” Laloup continued, “don’t ask a princess if you can be a man. Don’t you get it, monsieur. This is life. You are whatever you do, Words don’t mean much here, eh.”
Laloup recommenced his task.
Desault watched Little Bear who too seemed to watch both the pilot and the stranger knowing somehow the subject of their conversation was her, the bear, the time and the undertaking.
She leaned back to take hold of the cleaver and recommence her chore.
She knelt by the side of the carcass, struggling some to hold the enormous hind quarter aloft and cut cleanly the hide upon it.
She looked up again to Desault, smiling broadly, gleaming, her eyes flashing her excitement and pride despite the difficulty of the task and she set to work.
Desault stepped across the last feet separating them and clasped the giant white paw.
Little Bear smiled and accepting the help, began neatly to separate the fur from the paw and take hold of the pelt with her tiny, beautiful and dexterous hand.
The Frenchman paused looking to witness the progress of the white man, the student of modernity learning, or coming to learn the truth of the ways of the life of the north country.
Holding the bloodied paw, his hands now smudged and bright red, he saw and kept the gaze of little bear.
Clasping the paw, helping the princess, engaged in an undertaking he could only imagine acts of a crazed and drunken Indian, he smiled, saw himself in her eyes and laughed.
In moments the hind quarter hide was slit. In seconds more, the Frenchman had completed his own.
In the next moment, the three, a princess, a pilot and a twentieth century man took hold of the hide, leaned into the weight of the body, became themselves covered in the blood and mess within, pulled and grunted, struggled and labored to separate the trophy and prepare the carcass for butcher.
“You are a lunatic, Mon Ami,” Desault said. The plane had been turned and they tried to run the length of the ice, gaining sufficient lift before the ocean and open lead of water might swallow them.
“You think I am a lunatic,” the Frenchman said. “Lunacy, mon ami, is trying to go north when you belong in the south.”
He worked the controls much, Desault thought as a cowboy from the old west might ride a bull, force it into submission by the not so subtle language of his hands upon the halter, rope, saddle and ties.
“This land is not for you,” the Frenchman concluded, “ eh,’ he allowed and turned his focus to the throttle, the flaps and the possibility of getting aloft, overloaded as they were, before the flow ran out and the plane careened into the open bay.
“Lunacy, My friend is trying to get eight hundred pounds of meat in a craft meant for two.”
Desault watched the icy tarmac recede slowly below. He thought he felt the plane struggle and shudder, but he recognized the very unique sense of the change in equilibrium, the diminution in noise.
He turned to see Little Bear and saw her too staring out the window. He saw how truly beautiful a woman she was and noticed too, her cloths were saturated and stained red.
He caught his breath, turned back to see from his own porthole and realized he too was more bloodied than not, more stained from the escapade and slaughter than not, covered by more of the bears essence, fecund with the bears blood and scent than his own, and not sickened.
He turned back to Little Bear and saw she was smiling at him.
He turned away, though taken by the infection of her gleam and himself smiled broadly.
Desault turned back, saw again the open and blue water of the bay below them and allowed his eyes to study the focused and apparently content form of Laloup, flying now, quiet, automated, nearly in the small and quite routine adjustments to their slow but steady flight Westward, directly into the setting sun.
They were airborne and there was blue below them now where there had been only the remaining shards of the flow, moments before.
Laloup worked the controls, fiddled with the throttle, set the trim tabs for the flaps, now fully retracted but seemed returned to the more normal course of flying an airborne craft. They seemed, he thought past the more life threatening questions of whether or not they might shed their earthly bonds.
He turned back pulled irresistibly taking in the face of the woman who regarded him as no other woman had.
He saw Little Bear see him, Demian Desault, and in her face, in the smile and open ingenuous willing gratitude, he felt he reflected a man possessing pride.
Desault turned back, saw again the open and blue water of the bay below. He turned allowing his eyes to study the focused and apparently content form of Laloup, flying now, quiet, automated nearly, in the small and quite routine adjustments to their slow but steady flight Westward, directly into the setting sun.
“We have changed course, Monsieur,” Desault asked, his tone a question, but cognizant of the sun.
“Oui Monsieur, oui.”
“But why. I thought our compass was to take us north. I thought we were headed to the north country”
“We were Monsieur, but we cannot take this load all the way.”
The Frenchman seemed to be occupied with a guage and the reading he saw and whose veracity he apparently doubted.
“We will have to make landfall and cache some of our cargo. We can take the hide, monsieur, it is the greatest gift of all, but we must cache most of the meat. Our envelope will not allow us to run between fueling stations with so much weight.”
Desault listened carefully and thought he understood.
“What does that mean, to cache the meat,” he asked.
“To put it away until the elders can get it in the winter. We can bury it in ice, freeze it where it won’t thaw until they come by sled this winter and nothing will be wasted, nothing will rot.”
Desault thought for a minute and pressed ahead. “How will you do that. Is there a town. How will you find a place to freeze so much meat.”
“This is the north country, monsieur. There are always places, where the snow will not melt, where there is ice year round.”
“I get it,” Desault allowed. “we’ll bury it in the ground. In the ice,” he corrected himself, “and you’ll take coordinates and tell Little Bears parents where you have hidden the stores.”
“Oui monsieur, exactament.”
The craft, the pilot and city boy, Little Bear and the big white, flew on.
Desault watched the Frenchman and sensed a curious reticence, a change in his demeanor and an unnatural quiet.
“Monsieur,” Desault continued, “what will happen after you cache the meat.”
Laloup looked at Desault, himself studying his passenger, watching and surveying the face of he man for whom he had contracted and undertaken this journey.
“I think we must sleep. There is no point to hurrying, monsieur. We should not be fooled by the sun so we should sleep, some, eh.”
He paused but clearly his sentence was incomplete.
Desault watched him indicating with his focus and quiet he wanted to hear what else Laloup had to say, what ever else was stuck in his craw.
“After that, I think we should return you to the city. Get you back to civilization. Get you safely home and then Little Bear and I will carry on.”
“You’re wrong, Monsieur. You are mistaken and you’re wrong.”
Laloup was struck by the sudden force and conviction of Desault’s response.
They were quiet for a moment and though Desault wanted to turn and see Little Bear, catch the beauty and reassurance of her smile, he steadied his gaze and unflinchingly stared at Laloup.
“I don’t think this country is for you,” Laloup said, “I think you would do better in the libraries and perhaps in court, I don’t know what happens there but this is a harsh country. Look at yourself monsieur,” he continued, nodding with his head, nodding to the bloodstained clothing and by inference the harsh and unnatural way of life for a man like Desault.
“I am sorry, Monsieur, but I am not leaving. I am not going back. I am not getting out.”
Desault turned away and fixed his gaze upon the endless blue before them.
“You can use the rifle if you want, Monsieur, but you agreed to take me to the north country and it is there we will go.”
Laloup smiled, made a slight adjustment to the yoke, the throttle and settled in for the slow and ponderous flight of their small and overburdened seabird to the shores of the Hudson Bay.
“Tell me, Monsieur,” the Frenchman said, words from a dream, words arising after almost an hour of steady, droning, unremarkable flight.
“Why are you really here. What are you doing. What do you want, eh.”
Desault smiled. He nearly laughed both for the tacit acknowledgement of his continuation as a member of the journey and for the insightfulness and character of Laloup.
“Monsieur,” Desault began, a most respectful and appropriate tone, “I am here to understand how it was the fur trade came about. What happened when the French first came to this country to hunt and trap. I want to know about the English and their Hudson Bay Company. I want to learn about seal and ivory traders. Whether or not one influenced the other, how it all happened. And in the end, I want to know how it was the Americans slaughtered their own, the buffalo, the Indians, foreigners of any sort.”
Desault paused. He watched Laloup listen, take in everything he said, and turn finally puckering his lips and exhaling through them, a sign reflecting the magnitude and complexity of the undertaking.
They flew on, Laloup now moving only occasionally, slight adjustments to the trim or the ailerons.
“You’re serious, mon ami,” the Frenchman asked. He didn’t move or take his eyes from the horizon but spoke to the windshield.
Desault studied the inscrutable face of this curious man. He wondered if he knew as much as he seemed, despite the carefully poised marker implicating a petulant indifference.
“Yes,” Desault answered, “I am. That is my job, and I have become ensnared in a way I had never anticipated.”
He turned himself to the wind screen and peered at the endless pale blue.
“Yes,” he reaffirmed, “I am. Look at me. I am interested because it’s my job and I am interested because I want to be with Little Bear.”
“Tell me again, Monsieur, what is it you really want,” the old Frenchman asked again. This time he looked at Desault and his eyes bore through him saying, ‘tell me the truth or do not speak.’
“In the United States, some people believe the American Indians were killed by Americans, colonialists, armies trying to settle land and keep peace.
“Some people believe they were killed because man is wicked, vile, heinous and likes to kill and take land and woman and gold just as did the French when they came to trap, just as the Englishman did when they built the Bay Company.”
The Frenchman glanced at Desault indicating, with the slightest nod he understood what Desault said, that the facts he alluded to thus far were cognizable but he had not yet explained to the Frenchman why he was here.
“Some people believe the fur traders, the trappers, the French and Indians who exploited the land taught the Americans, brought the practice to the lower forty eight and are responsible in part for the slaughter of our own.”
Laloup adjusted the yoke and throttle in a fashion which seemed to quiet the engine noticeably.
“Some people believe the way the French Canadians, the English and the Indians from your country hunted and trapped, they were the teachers of the Americans. They think it was the traders and their scouts, the Canadians and their practices who taught the Americans the value of buffalo hides, fur, wealth and ultimately the reasons to kill and slaughter for trade.”
Laloup said nothing but his continuing attentiveness and interest was apparent.
“Sixty million buffalo were killed. Sixty million is a pretty big number,” Desault repeated, looking as much at himself in the reflection of the windscreen as the image of the history of the Americas where such atrocities occurred.
Laloup raised his hand to scratch his stubbled face. Desault felt himself recoil, feeling vulnerable, the words of his American complicity there in space before them.
“The buffalo lived with the Indian nations. They lived maybe as does Little Bear with the great white. I don’t know, Monsieur, but history says there were nearly as many Indians as there were buffalo. There were millions, tens of millions of Indians who lived in the plains, along the Appalachians, through the western Rockies and all the way to Canada forever”
The old Frenchman peered at Desault momentarily but with a sobriety and seriousness Desault had not hitherto seen.
“This land,” Desault resumed, “that land, was, before you and me, a land full of a whole culture of people and animals living together, in harmony, the way it was and in a way it may have gone on forever.”
He brought his hands to his face feeling the words alone, floating in the small cabin space, unintelligible to Little Bear, less inaudible, were of such a terrible truth, an admission of such vile and horrific behavior, no matter how she may have regarded him on the ice flow, if she understood the truth of his forbears, she could never allow him the intimacy her eyes had seemed to contemplate.
“So there are people now who know Americans of all kinds killed the buffalo. And there are Americans of all kinds who know those who killed the buffalo are responsible in large part for killing the Indians, Native Americans.”
Laloup looked at Desault and suddenly understood exactly the inference, the logic train and the argument he was articulating.
“If the terror and genocide of the American to the land, the buffalo, the Indian nation was a way of life exported from Canada, like Al-Quieda and the Kurds, Palestine and Hamas, China and Vietnam, a terror from the anti-Americans against us, then we Americans can see someone beside ourselves when we look in the mirror.”
“And everything about the Indians is a large historical and national humiliation. What happened to them and how their land and resources were stolen and plundered, how we treat them even today.” Desault paused and took a small breath.
“It is truly a daily and national disgrace.”
Laloup turned back to the sky. He made some further adjustments to the throttle, the trim and the yoke. The change in the speed and revolution of the engine, the change in the attitude of the craft was clear in it’s preparation for descent.
“Few people can deal with their shortcomings well. I am a good example. America needs a scapegoat. Their behavior was and is still today reprehensible and if there is any way to pin or share the blame with anybody else,… well that is my interest.”
For some moments they flew on, taken by the regularity of their own thinking, the slow and easy descent of the craft, the gentle change of the horizon from blue to an admixture of blue and white, blue and grey, blue and the uprising landmass of the horizon that seemed to end now as the plane pointed increasingly to earth and its destination now included the land, the curve of the planet, the fact of real stuff other than the endless and indefinable blue.
“I guess it is not my interest,” Desault added, speaking so low now, in nearly the tone one would employ in an old bar sharing intimacies with a friend, speaking as much by word and noun as with tone and body.
“I mean you know interest is a funny thing. I mean it is my job,” he continued, looking occasionally at Laloup, looking at his hand and trying to scrape the crusted blood from beneath his fingernails.
“And I kind of like my job.”
He paused again, seeing yet another change in the landscape, seeing the outline of the edge of the enormous bay, stretching well beyond his sight, into the edge of the horizon, indistinguishably.
“I don’t know really,” he confessed. I mean I have learned to like it. In United States, it is a cool job. I get to do fun stuff, sometimes. I am good at what I do. I get to see a lot and I learn a lot, but it’s different. I mean,” he continued, thinking and looking at Little Bear, and in turn at Laloup, “it’s pretty good, but it’s nothing like this.”
Laloup glanced towards Desault but did not speak. His eyes spoke his understanding but too said he ought continue, get further along in his understanding, further tease out the threads of what clearly he was just beginning to articulate.
“I have never done anything like this,” and as he spoke he raised his blood stained hands to indicate the undertaking with the great white.
“I have never in my life killed anything, Monsieur and if you had asked me two weeks ago, I would have sworn a blood oath, nothing you or anything anybody ever did could get me to.”
“But,” he admitted, “I have never felt the way I did when Little Bear looked at me and in her own way said, ‘thanks, you are a worthy man.’”
He paused again studying Laloup to see if he understood, if he got the incredible irony of Desault’s life, the paradox that turned his whole life up on end.
“So the answer to your question has something to do with my job and something to do with stuff I have never even thought about in my life. I live in the largest city in the world. I see more woman in the course of a day than most people do in a lifetime. Beautiful woman hunt me down, are available everywhere. They are like cereal at the grocery store. Where I live, you can pick one, try her out for a night, another the next night and so and so on. But it is different.”
Desault noticed now the smallest but recognizable smile turning the corner of the Frenchman’s lip.
“It is different here and I am different. I have never seen a woman so beautiful as Little Bear. I have never been so drawn to a woman to even contemplate changing my day or my schedule much less trying to figure out how to change my life.”
Laloup’s face broke out into a wide and uncontrolled grin.
“C’est difficile, Monsieur, “he replied, struggling to not laugh outright.
“It is difficult.” He translated and turned to Desault allowing him the full glinting light of his smiling and wide grinning eyes.
“It is difficult, Monsieur, but in the end, it will all work out, eh,” he concluded his customary appeal to his guests understanding.
The craft turned and began it’s descent.
“Make certain her seat belt is fastened,” Laloup said, his voice an unusually gentle and nearly intimate assertion.
Desault turned, saw Little Bear, her head leaned against the fuselage, her eyes closed apparently asleep.
He reached back, carefully, tying not to disturb her and felt for the hasp off the belt’s lock. He tried to make certain it was latched and secure.
The slightest movement, a touch to the fabric of her knee awoke her and she opened her eyes, seeing Desault, watching him secure her belt and smiled.
A moth in the light, he froze, smiling himself taken entirely by the beauty and gentleness of her eye.
She watched him pull at either end of the belt, watched him check the latch set upon her lap and watched the bloodstained hands try to learn by touch the condition of her safety.
She smiled again and with one finger rose her hand and arm, tracing, upon his hand the outline of a still dark, now dried, stain of the great white’s blood.
She smiled again, clear in her representation of it’s meaning, clear in the esteem she allowed this city boy from another land.
“It is not what you think, Monsieur,” Laloup said, turning the plane now with a force which, without word would have interrupted the brief tryst anyway, “it is not as you think.”
Desault turned and resumed his gaze of Laloup. He tried to understand of what he spoke, what was the reference, and how Little Bear and his hands, her eyes and smile, had anything to do with anything of which Laloup might speak.
“The buffalo, mon ami were killed by the white man. The Indians were killed by the white man.”
He tugged at the flaps and the small craft began a noticeable descent.
“There is nothing for the trapper in the slaughter of an animal but the hide, the fur, the meat if he is hungry.”
“The buffalo were slaughtered just as were the Indians. They were part of the landscape the white man found and the conquerors plundered anything that moved, anything they could kill, anything to make dominion, further their conquest, satisfy their bloodlust. The English, the white man would no more allow the Frenchman to have the land, exert control than the Indian to remain. It has been this way forever,” Laloup said, pulling back upon the yoke, making more frequent alterations to the crafts attitude, and preparing it for a final descent, “and it will be forever thus.”
Desault watched out his plastic window. He saw the land, the outline of the bay, the edge of safety and the release from the waters which, without floats and pontoons were a dangerous void.
He saw Laloup line the edge of the land and make his internal mark for where he might set down and where not.
He realized the Great White, living in a land where borders and landfall may mean danger did likely the opposite, provided more danger than less, more opportunity for trouble than protection of solitude and safety.
Desault imagined the Great White as an island population. He saw how the infringement of man, without regard for the strength of the herd was the death sentence of the great beast, the proudest animal of the hemisphere with no natural predator but man.
“You know monsieur,” Laloup said, speaking aloud, but through his focused and pursed lips, through the face of a man speaking his thought aloud but whose actions and eyes were focused entirely upon the occasion and requirements of setting down his craft and passengers, safely.
“In our land, in our world, we grow up learning how you Americans celebrate the wicked, eh. We hear and know you have national holidays celebrating some of the worst humankind has ever known. Devil worshipers.”
He was silent for a moment and worked the controls and adjustments to the trim.’
“We hear and know from the time we are little you celebrate people like Chrstopher Colombus and have a national holiday to celebrate his killing twenty five million inhabitants from Hispanola. Thomas Jefferson who owned slaves, sanctioned that way of life.
“We see you celebrating the devil and you wonder how it is the French may have taught the English the ways of genocide.”
“Plunder and torture, rape and inquisitions came from the old country. From Portugal, from England, from the Turks and Ottomans, mon ami, but the French, the Canadiens, we have never made war, we have never sought land or conquest, we are the richest country in the world, eh.
“We are traders mon ami, furriers, eh, but we do not take the scalps of white man or Indian We have never killed to kill for the pleasure of the blood. We have always found a way to live with our land and make peace in the world.”
“You are right.” Laloup concluded and set himself to the task of setting down the craft safely. “You have to look in the mirror.”
“You wait here, Monsieur,” Laloup said after they had landed, after the engine had come to a halt, the magnetos stopped and the only sounds on earth were the wind coming off the bay, their dancing expectations, their racing and excited hearts.
“There is a perfect spot over that small hummock,” he said. He spoke across a distance racing back toward them on small snow shoes, loping a hare across the white tundra.
”Over there,” he waved his arms as he approached, “there is a small ravine filled with ice. It has a northern exposure and will be perfect for a year round freezer.”
Before he concluded his determination, he seemed headed to the small cargo door, and readying the transfer, an unseen agenda, a hidden clock suddenly moving him quickly, hastening him to bury the riches, resume their travel.
Desault moved from his lew’ard side of the cockpit to meet Laloup. He set to with him, trying as best he could intuit, to aid in the undertaking.
“How do you want to do this, Monsieur. Are we to carry it by hand.”
“Take this tarp,” Laloup instructed, “and lay it out on the ground.” He had climbed inside and was arranging the goods to decant and refit for transport.
“And take this line. We’ll make a small sledge and drag it up over the ridge.”
Desault, unable to get the picture stood, head cocked, struggling to get instructions.
“Don’t worry mon ami, just do as I tell you and you’ll see. It will work. We’ll be off before the next hour strikes, eh.”
Desault took the tarp proffered and the rope and line passed along behind.
“Lay open the tarp, monsieur,” Laloup instructed him again, “and take this meat as I pass it along.”
Little Bear had come from the other side of the craft now and stood close to the small cargo bay door.
“Anuk ni aiynnano eere allonez,” he said, turned over his shoulder, speaking to the girl he knew was somewhere behind him.
She stepped between Desault, who had begun to lay out the tarp, open upon the ground, and to the door behind the Frenchman.
He handed her a large chunk of bright red, congealed meat which she promptly took and placed in the rear center of the tarp.
“Anki, ya” Desault heard her say and taking another piece of meat, an indistinguishable body part nearly as big as her head, Laloup grunted and she repeated the same leaving it next to the first piece, set carefully upon the tarp, returning immediately for another.
Desault saw the pattern, recognized mostly what they were doing and stepped over himself to the cargo door available now to off load the precious cargo following the manner in which Little Bear moved.
Within minutes, they had piled high the tarp with cargo. Laloup backed out of the small cargo door, stood upright surveying their efforts, and smiled.
“If you practice this for a while you may do all right,” he allowed Desault and smiling, set himself immediately to the task of folding the tarp over carefully upon itself and the meat, from side to side so in moments, the whole of it was wrapped, securely covered, appearing a stiffened body and readied to transport.
“Let us secure this with the line, monsieur,” he said now, looking at Little Bear, mumbling something unintelligible. He handed her an end of the nylon line that Desault had seen used for a tie down when they had first left the pontoon dock, what seemed suddenly, weeks before.
“An ia nuk yo ne,” he said and Little Bear took the line he’d offered, passed it under the tarped carcass and began to wrap it, round and around, a spider spinning a cocoon for the winter.
Little Bear took the line each turn and passed it to Laloup. Deftly they turned the tarp and its carcass into something resembling more a salami, a processed meat than a ground cloth and the bloodied remnant of the great white bear.
As quickly as they had begun, the preparation was complete.
“Monsieur,” Laloup said, “if you want you can wait here or not, eh. There are only one set of shoes,” he concluded, alluding to the broad footed, gut and ash snowshoes upon the ground.
“She is light enough to travel without breaking through, but you are not so, lucky,” he said. His face and eyes twinkled and the smile reflected clearly a note of affection and friendship.
“You can come as far as you wish monsieur, but we can handle it and we’ll only be a few minutes.”
As he spoke, he pulled the excess line out from the tarp and set it on the ground, traces for a sled team, despite the obvious absence of dogs.
Little Bear had been inside the rear seat and returned now with wide leather and fur moccasins reaching up to her calves, muklucks which, Desault realized, were superior for tracking through deep snow, would keep her warm and be less likely to break through.
“Stay away from the water crossings, monsieur,” Laloup said, tying himself and in turn Little Bear into the harness, fixing the lines as traces for the transit of the sled made of tarp and the valuable remains of the great white.
“If you break through into the water, you’ll be dead in two minutes, eh,” he concluded setting off briskly now, and headed directly for the hillock marking the edge of the bay and the beginning of land.
Demian Desault considered following, helping, but saw there were but two spots for a person to pull, a two dog sled, Laloup had constructed, and leaning against the fuselage of the craft, he suddenly felt the warmth, despite the ice and cold water all around, of the summer sun, warm on his cheek, despite the hour and proximity to the north pole.
Desault returned to the other side of the craft, took the small pocket book he had carried with him, set facing the sun upon the pontoon and read.
Familiar with the general geographic contours of the great Hudson Bay, now airborne, the coast line appeared recognizable to Desault.
While Laloup fiddled with the controls, checked dials, gauges and settings, Demian watched the shore land mass take shape.
While on the earth, he realized, he knew only water, land, ice or flow, here, with the perspective of nearly five thousand feet, he saw borders, boundaries, shapes and recognizable form.
He wondered it this weren’t what perspective was about, whether distance and view were the essential elements of truth, not so much, isolated facts.
The Western border of the bay stretched north and south. To the East lay an indistinguishable and unbordered stretch of water, ice, inland bay.
He wondered how a man, a hunter, a trapper might traverse such an expanse in winter, how it was the elders of the family of Little Bear might in fact retrieve the meat, but he had already been surprised more than once by the old wily Frenchman and without understanding, had no doubt of the veracity of his claim.
He turned to see how was the Little Bear, to catch sight of her, see if she was still smiling and happy, but already her head was set gently against the bulkhead, and with her eyes closed she seemed tranquil and asleep.
He smiled, awed with the richness of life, even here, in this tiny craft. He reached for his book wondering what kind of peace, what nature of man or woman could find such harmony as to sleep, within seconds, of available respite and be readied, immediately, for the hunt, effort, or an undertaking of any sort.
Demian Desault slept.
Lulled by the harmonics of the engine, the rocking near fetal sensations of floating, the warmth now replacing the arctic cold masked by the brightness of the solstice sun, he was overcome with sleep.
In dream he imagined himself leaning against the plastic window of the door, much as he had seen Little Bear, in real life. He imagined he sat next to her, in the adjacent seat struggling with the sleep, overcoming him and his wanting to speak.
He imagined he knew the language. He imagined he was as fluent in Inuit as was the Frenchman, as was Little Bear but sleep swelled his tongue, parched his throat and paralyzed his natural ability to speak.
‘Dreams,’ Desault said to himself, thinking clearly in the dream, ‘the struggles and resolutions of emotion.’
As he spoke he turned to see Little Bear who looked back at him.
Set gently against the edge of the fuselage, set comfortably against the headrest, she gazed at him waiting for him to speak. She smiled and sat quietly, her beautiful chiseled lips apart, eyes wide, body open, vulnerable, waiting, speaking soundlessly. He thought she wanted him to take her hand, her gaze, to speak or smile, hold her close, press his nose to the nape of her neck, into the folds of her charcoal black hair or the smooth and seductive amplitude of her breast.
Desault could neither move nor speak. He could not smile, nor make any recognizable sign with even his mouth or eyes, his lips or hands.
Sleep and the suddenness of Little Bears proximity, her availability frightened him and he was powerless to respond.
In sleep Desault struggled to awaken. He struggled through the folds of consciousness to arise and come awake, to move, speak, acknowledge his affection, attraction, interest and desire for this beautiful if enigmatic woman. From the hand crafted majestic marble halls of the Chateau to the wild barrens of this remote Hudson he had chased and courted this inscrutable Inuit princess and as likely as not, would follow her to the end of the earth.
Laloup clasped the red knobbed throttle and pressed its shaft into the closed position.
He turned the yoke simultaneously, flexing the ailerons and obliged the small craft to turn right and begin it’s descent.
Desault felt the change in revolutions immediately and came awoke.
“What’s happening,” he sputtered, thinking from sleep that something was wrong, the plane about to crash.
“We are almost there,” the Frenchman answered, “look.”
He pointed a thumb out the window and Desault turned to see.
Below he recognized they had indeed come to a new land mass. They were above a ragged and in some places barren set of islands. The broad unbounded bay had disappeared and beneath was a carved, rock strewn, fiord riddled set of islands.
“Where are we,” he asked, turning back to Laloup, his eyes and words asking their whereabouts, his expression indicating he was unfamiliar altogether with what he saw.
“We are, mon ami, nearly there,” the Frenchman repeated, smiling, fiddling with the controls, waiting for a response in his scrutinous curiosity of Desault.
“Yes, yes,” he repeated, “but where is there.”
“Monsieur, don’t worry. We are going to Little Bears home. We will share our gifts and be gone.”
Desault looked behind and saw Little Bear still slept. Her lips scarcely parted seemed to shimmer and resonate with each breath passing.
He marveled at her beauty and wondered again if ever there would be a moment he might be alone with her.
He looked to Laloup, his head and body speaking faster than the thoughts translated.
“Don’t worry, Monsieur, don’t worry.”
Desault studied Laloup’s face. He wondered of this crazy old Frenchman could read his mind, or if his face was so easily read, his actions so transparent he was, here in the great north, here, with none of the trappings of his suit, office, or job, and so naïve and ingenuous, Laloup could tell his thought, read his mind, see the words of his wonderings with no speech, utterance, signal or sign.
“What will we do,” he asked, realizing immediately the question was as silly as that of a child wondering about the dark, the bogeyman, the full moon, the shapes of things to come.
“Monsieur,” Laloup began, smiling broadly, clasping the yoke now with a firmness more closely resembling the manner one might wrestle a bear, another man, an animal whose act or movement was important in the struggle for definition, direction, life and death.
“We are going to find Little Bear’s family. We are going to deliver her and our gifts and we can be off.”
Desault smiled, but his eyes averted any direct contact with Laloup. He grinned, a school boy on the verge of an expedition, but the internal image of wonder, worry, anticipation and uncertainty forced his eyes to keep turned inward.
Desault peered out the plastic window. He saw land masses now as he had never witnessed in his life. Barren, rock strewn islands with no hint of life but for an occasional patch of grasses, sedge, lichens on south facing sides of boulders, rock terraces, ravines and watercourses.
They approached, their descent rapidly allowing the craft to follow the more natural effects of entropy.
Slowing, the engine recognizably decelerated and the craft, as Desault had now remembered in his dream, tried to find it’s natural connection and closeness with the land, much, he realized, as he had tried to find with Little bear.
Desault watched the islands of the Beaufort sea arise and come closer. In their own extraordinary and wondrous way, they were, for their very raw barrenness, as beautiful as Little Bear, an image and landscape unlike any he had ever seen.
“Your seat belt, Monsieur,” the Frenchman said.
Desault took the unfastened latch and struck it into the receptacle. He looked to Laloup for approval and further direction as the protocol would suggest, asking, with his gaze, if he should check Little Bears belt too, with permission, and see her, touch her, make contact, all be it minimal and refasten or check her connection to the craft.
Laloup pulled at the yoke, turning the craft in the beginning of a preparation, Desault thought, for landing.
He looked out the window, momentarily distracted from Little Bear and saw, at the edge of a small and protected inlet, what might only have been real signs of habitation in an otherwise barren land.
There were small stone structures covered with an indistinguishable form of human or animal material. Large stone structure lay near each other covered by moss, lichens, accumulations of what little soil or sand was available.
There were collections of crafts, sleds, carts, wagon like structures with skis or smooth bottoms.
There were organized patterns of smoothed stone in circular fashion as if they were the borders for little gardens, fields, places of human habitation, and there were two or three with small hand built walls where there were cairns, evenly separated outcrops of unnaturally organized rock signifying some form of human undertaking.
Desault pointed, asking with out words what was the purpose, the structure, the nature of what they saw but Laloup, as was his custom, was fully engaged now in the process and procedures of landing the small craft.
While the pontoons and wing prevented Desault from seeing all that lay below, he thought they were near a village or tiny settlement.
When they landed, there were forty or fifty men woman and children, smiling, applauding, awaiting their arrival as if they were visiting dignitary from another world. He saw Laloup smile and Little Bear excited in a manner he had not seen before,
“Allez, allez, “ Laloup spoke, excitedly. He reached across Desault’s lap, unlatched the door and repeated, looking now to him directly and pressing him to hurry.
“Let’s go, Monsieur, let’s go.”
Outside the small craft now, were what seemed most of the town folk.
Desault slid from his seat, stepped out on the wing and down to the ground. Small children, ten or twenty suddenly came and surrounded him.
Dressed in mostly hand made cloths, hides, furs, finely sewn pelts, they had faces and eyes resembling Little Bear.
Dark black eyes, obsidian hair, high cheek, teeth gleaming and jeweled in their brightness, he saw in their faces a simple joy and excitement as he now recognized in Little Bear.
They circled about him, smiled, reached out to touch his hands and clothes and smiled, giggling, speaking unrecognizably but tickled by the fact of the plane, the excitement for having visitors and their obvious knowledge one of their own was about to debark.
“Come over here,” the Frenchman said, stepping down himself now, “and give me a hand.”
While they moved around the tail to the cargo door on the opposite side of the craft, Little Bear stepped out.
Behind him, now he heard gasps, laughter, applause, pleasure of the most profound and simplest kind.
“She is home, eh,” Laloup said, opening the cargo door, moving aside the fuel and other gear to gain access to the enormous hide within.
“Come on, Monsieur, this is a custom older than time. If you want to be welcome, you need to bring a gift of thanks. You know, Monsieur.”
As he spoke he pulled at the tarp in whose midst was the great whites beautiful hide.
Desault leaned too and together they pulled out the enormous and heavily laden weight.
While most of the families stood on the other side of the craft, smiling, cheering, welcoming home one of their favorites, some of the children followed the grizzled Frenchman and Desault.
“Eanuk, nganou, Eanuk eanuk,” they screamed, feeling the weight of the tarp, smelling the congealed blood, knowing from the heft and weight, the shape and manner in which the pilot and the foreign man struggled to carry the load, what contents it bore.
“Ume ianik sefna,” Laloup commanded the children tugging at the canvass tarp. Racing around his feet, trying themselves, a pack of playful wolves, to get at the prize and uncover it’s secrets.
“Ume ianik sefna,” Laloup repeated chasing them away, speaking in a voice of chastening gentility, a voice Desault had never heard.
“What are you telling them,” he asked, seeing that as he spoke the cherubic children looked at him, smiled broadly but continued to try to uncover the treasure.
“I told them to go away before they got into trouble for spoiling a surprise,” the Frenchman said.
Desault smiled. He laughed aloud. He leaned into the weight of the cloth, struck the bulk of his half upon his shoulder and followed the Frenchman around the tail section to the center of the crowd where the elders, children relatives and village people stood, circled around Little Bear, talking, gesticulating, welcoming home this most special girl borne from their midst, a shining star returned to lighten the already bright solstice sky.
As the town folk saw Laloup approach, enter the circle, their voices dropped. They saw he and the foreign man carried something of obvious consequence.
The elder, a wrinkled man and his wife came from the edge of the gathering and stood quietly.
“Deneique nanumi anuk ia ne,” he asked, again his voice reflecting a gentleness and demeanor Desault had not previously heard.
The elders came to him, took his hands, said what Desault thought an incantation, a prayerful reply of gratitude and knelt beside the sodden heavy tarp.
He knelt and seemed to say, in quiet too, a prayer of gratitude, a silent word of thanks, a reflection of the bounty bestowed on this nomadic tiny tribe of distant peoples from a land so foreign and harsh Desault could not believe their simple and apparently ingenuous gratitude.
They rose, smiled, began to laugh, excited and anxious for the Frenchman to open the gift, give over the wealth in the fashion of their way, to wait to be given the riches, not, in any manner to take, the truest of Indian giving.
“Anniuoka,” Laloup said, and ceremoniously removed the top fold of the tarp.
Immediately the children, crowded at their elder’s feet saw the gleaming white of the hide.
They reached out to touch the fur, feel the unearthly richness of the great hide.
The elders chased them away speaking abruptly, with a playful but determined harshness which told them emphatically to move away, be patient, and not disturb or harm the gift, the old Frenchman and Little Bear had brought.
Slowly, carefully, with the near reverential care of children unwrapping a gift from the magi, the elders pulled apart the cover of the tarp.
With the whole of the hide exposed, they took the edges and laid it out, opening the folds with the respect of a man undressing his bride, taking down the straps of her gown, seeing her for the first time when they were, for themselves, to take the nuptials and give themselves over to the pleasures of their lust, love, affection and flesh.
The hide spread across the snow and rock. The elders now allowed some of the youngers to help with the weight of it. They opened the fur and saw, in its breadth the back of the great white, before them, a beautiful and bountiful harvest.
Desault watched and felt suddenly a little hand tug at the back of his coat.
He turned and saw Little Bear, her face beaming, her eyes bright and dancing, her brow raised and speaking silently.
She meant to leave the gathering, to take him somewhere and by the turn of her head, the open watchfulness of her eye, he saw she meant him to follow.
Through the crowd, focused on the elders and their preparation and receipt of the fur, they moved to the back of the group, behind the floatplane and in its lee, ran off across the bare rock.
“Wait,” Desault yelled, seeing the dancing fleet footed Little Bear racing ahead.
She turned, looked back, smiled at Desault and ran ahead.
Past a hillock of stone work, she ran ahead and disappeared out of sight.
Desault followed, rose to the top of the small man made hummock and saw again a fleeting view of Little Bear racing through what were entrances and passageways of rock laid foundations, openings to underground cellars, refuge from the arctic wind, homes to seek comfort from the brutal arctic night.
“Wait, wait up,” he hollered, realizing Little Bear was not only teasing him but had some purpose to this chase.
“Wait,” he cried again and in the space of a moment, saw she had disappeared.
Desault walked quietly, circling around between raised hummocks of stone, dugout foundations, stone cairns and the landscape of a town completely foreign.
“Hey,” he said softly, the only other noise, wind rustling now from the north, all people from these habitations, removed to the excitement adjacent to, and as a result of the airplanes arrival.
Desault heard nothing but the sound of his own voice.
He stopped, listening now to the pounding of his heart.
He took a step thinking himself to be by the entrance to a large stone building. Peeking around the corner, peering into the dark of its near underground midst, he jumped and cried out when he felt a hand and heard a whisper suddenly from behind.
He turned, startled, shaken, uncertain if it was Little Bear or a big one, what sort of creatures lived in this foreign land and what animals of the night might snare his unwitting and unwary boy.
He turned, saw the laughing bright eyed Little Bear smiling, aware of the trick she had played, happy for the chance to have caught the foreigner unaware.
She spoke some unintelligible words, looked to a direction opposite of the innards of the stone cairn and moved off again.
Desault followed, smiling, happy for the chase, excited for the possibility that this beautiful woman was teasing him with affection and not disdain.
They passed around what seemed the backside of the underground bunker and slipped through a small passageway opening into another and unexpected space.
When Desault’s eyes became accustomed to the dim light, accustomed to sight in an underground removed completely from the bright solstice sun, he saw first Little Bear smiling and then a work shop of unimaginable proportion and beauty.
The walls around were lined, of perfectly symmetrical and smoothed ocean stone.
In the center was an enormous hearth whose pipe vented to the sky. Around the perfectly circled, geometric, opening were hides and skins, translucent, while stretched, keeping the space warm and dry.
Desault thought himself in a private house, perhaps the communal dining hall, a structure too large, here and too complex for the sleeping quarters of a family.
Little Bear moved to be beside him. She took his hand and guided him to the edge of the compound. He stood before a low table of sorts and as his eyes grew increasing accustomed, he saw the table was of flat stone. Upon it lay carvings, sculptures, pieces of hand picked rock, some rough, from their original resting place, some smoothed by months of work in preparation, organized and carved by reverential and skilled hands.
“Good lord,” he said, seeing here, he had been allowed by this most lovely woman into the heart of her families treasure, into the most sacred and personal world where reality and dream, history and the future met.
He stood quietly seeing sculpture of the same style, the same origin as what he had seen, what now seemed months ago, in the museum.
He leaned forward and saw statue and carving of the most extraordinary beauty, in its womb, before birth.
Little Bear watched him as a falcon, would its next meal. She watched and saw, to her understanding Desault, her unexpected suitor, recognized the beauty and sacred nature of the secret she shared.
Desault peered up at her, trying to say thank-you, trying to express his gratitude. Before he could adjust to the light, before he could gain contact with her eyes, she stood her full height, giggled, laughed aloud and disappeared, leaving the way she came.
“Hey, wait,” he yelled, but knew already she would not and his only hope was to follow quickly.
He ran through the narrow passageway and up to the small risen height of land. He saw, fifteen yards away already the fleet footed, dark haired beauty racing back to the direction from which they had come.
“Wait up. Com’n please wait,” he yelled, scrabbling up over the rock and stone, hurrying to make his way and get alongside of her.
By the time he turned from the last of the basements and small stone huts, he saw Little Bear returning to the crowd and the airplane.
In the brief time they were gone, the crowd had carried the fur to a pit where they had built a small fire and systematically stretched the fur, allowing it to heat and dry and time for the more skilled elders to clean the skin and prepare the fur for another life.
Little Bear stood beside others watching now the near ceremonious preparations of the fur.
“Hey,” the Frenchman said, seeing Desault return, “go back to the cargo bay and you’ll find one last canvass tarp. It’s about as big as your head, eh and if you bring it here, you’ll be a hero for the rest of your life.”
Desault did as he was told.
He moved away from Little Bear and the assemblage, returning to the craft. He peered into the cargo bay thinking there was fuel and some scant supplies, but as the Frenchman had said, there was a large blood stained canvass set in the rear most section of the aluminum fuselage.
“Here,” he said, giving the heavy, damp and bloodied carcass to the Frenchman.
“Non, mon ami, this is for you to do.”
The old pilot searched the crowd and his eyes finally lighted on an older man, whose height and demeanor suggested he was a venerable member here but not the elder, as the ones to whom Laloup had first directed his attention.
“There,” he pointed. “There, mon ami. You want to give that to him.”
Desault followed Laloup’s eyes and beheld the sight of the man in question.
He recognized something about his demeanor, something about the shape and form of his face but from the distance across the work pit, he could not distinguish exactly.
“You’re sure,” he asked, uncertain, not wanting, amongst such a small and closely bound tribe, to act inappropriately.
“Monsieur,” the Frenchman said, his face again taking on a regard all together different than the old pilot whose furrowed brow studied the controls, the coastline, the gauges, to get them carefully and safely for the journey where they were going.
“Monsieur,” the Frenchman said again, smiling, nearly winking, displaying a curious affection Desault had not hitherto seen, “ if you really want to be with Little Bear, trust me, mon ami, eh. You can see I know my way around some.”
He looked across the fire pit, back once again to Laloup and seeing no hesitation, stepped around the circle, carcass in hand and made his way to his destiny.
“This is for you,” he said, knowing the man would likely not speak English, but reasonably sure he would see the gift offered and respond appropriately.
The black haired, black eyed man turned and faced Desault squarely.
With no other movement, he took and studied Desault’s eye. He scrutinized his gaze, his person, his manhood and in a moment as Desault could not remember, seemed to reach into his soul, taking out the elements of fire and ice, blood and soul, holding them to the solstice sun to study.
“You have come to be with my daughter,” he said, a beautiful lilting English.
He reached up, took the bundle of canvass covered meat and smiled.
As soon as he spoke, the moment he allowed his scrutiny to include some picture of himself, Desault knew, and was struck powerfully by the obvious and striking relationship this man bore to Little Bear.
“I didn’t realize you spoke English,” Desault stammered.
Taking the meat, and with a reverential bow, he said, “I didn’t realize you were a hunter.”
There was a party which lasted for a night possessing no dark, a day with neither beginning nor end.
Desault watched Little Bear celebrated by her family, her homecoming as significant a holiday as any in the Inuit calendar.
“What do you think,” the Frenchman said. He sat on a small stone wall, a pile of flat sea stones wrested from the tidal bay and placed, a marker of man, a simple and gentle replacement of the natural order of things, suiting the needs of these gentle and harmonious people.
“I think I have never seen anything like this. I think I am high on something in the air.”
The Frenchman laughed.
“Mon ami, tell me really. What are you doing here. Are you a collector. Are you thinking there is gold here. What are you doing, eh. There is no one here but you and me. You don’t have to fear telling me, you know. There is no secret I won’t keep.”
Desault, struck forcibly by the sharp reminder he had a purpose, his time possessed an agenda, that indeed he had been here to work, flinched.
Laloup, student of humankind as he was, noticed, and moved to be closer, to regard Desault face to face. He rose from the lethargy of laying in the sun. He rose from his rest, settled upon the flat, warm rock, a bed risen from the bottom of the sea and set here in the midst of the Inuit’s land.
“What’s wrong, Monsieur, eh. You look like you have seen a ghost.”
Desault smiled but his face reflected the truth of the ghost he had seen.
“You’re right, monsieur. I have to return. I have responsibilities.”
The Frenchman sat back upon the flat basalt stone. He sucked on a piece of sea grass, a sedge growing naturally and abundantly in the brief and hectic arctic summer.
“Monsieur, tell me,” the Frenchman repeated, a gentle and friendly form of inquiry.
“Tell me. What are you doing. What are you wanting here, eh.”
“These are peaceful people. They have accepted you as you are. You will do then harm, Monsieur. They have been through much and they harm no one.”
Desault was surprised at the Frenchman’s apparent and possessory interest.
“How do you know these people so well, monsieur. How is it you know how to fly a plane, hunt the great white bear, speak the language, be accepted here. What are you doing here, monsieur, eh,” Desault added, teasing now Laloup, making fun of the skilled and wily old Frenchman who had taken him on a journey he had never contemplated.
“I will tell you some, monsieur, but you must also.”
Desault turned, kneeled down to be face to face with this most curious fellow and regarded him thoughtfully, carefully, with a sincerity he had never employed except in picking jurors, trying a case, trying to understand a witness, a client, a person on whose word his own place in the world hung in some balance.
“What do you want to know,” Desault replied, smiling, feeling himself the warm lugubrious soporific of the sun, healing, life affirming qualities of the land, the light and the almost inconceivable notion one human, one animal from a tribe or herd, would harm another.
“Why, monsieur don’t you tell me why you are here.”
Desault smiled broadly and finally doubled over in laughter.
“I guess it must seem silly,” he spluttered, “but I am here to prove the ways of the Indian, these peaceful and beautiful people were the cause of the slaughter of the Native American and the American buffalo. I am here monsieur to prove that the genocide that crushed the Indians of the south, of the Americas started here, imported from the warriors, fur traders, the capitalists and colonial imperialists who conquered this land and set out to take America next.”
He laughed, turned over, scratched his belly and farted.
“You think that’s funny,” Desault asked, surprised at the sudden change in the Frenchman’s demeanor.
“Monsieur, are you serious. Are you thinking I might believe the white man learned the ways of the devil here, on the edge of the arctic, in the middle of nowhere and the furthest reaches of civilization on the whole planet.”
Desault stood and leaned against the cairn.
He shook his head, no, but had nothing intelligent to say.
“Monsieur,” Laloup continued, “You are serious, n’est-ce pa. You believe there is something here that begat the seed of destruction which ravaged your country.”
“I am sorry, Monsieur. I don’t know what I thought. It doesn’t matter. My job was to find out who and why. To see if it was your country who taught the Americans the ways of savagery, pillage, rape and plunder.”
Laloup laughed again and turned back facing the sun, allowing his whole body to be taken by the warmth, an animal just out from a season of hibernation.
“You know, monsieur, we were trying to find space and freedom from the British. We were just a people seeking a land without religious intolerance, with none of the aristocratic law and intolerance that the old country had. I think we were like these people. We wanted peace, a quiet land, a place to raise children in peace and freedom.”
In the near fully risen sun they were quiet. A family of partridge quaked, rustled and scrambled by.
Over head, the northern snow goose flew, honking, forming and reforming in the currents, exalting the air, their migration, the space of their flight, their collective journey and the individuals turn at the front of their mile wide formation.
“You see, monsieur,” Laloup languished, “here, there is little reason to do anything but find peace. There are none of the trappings of your culture, you’re world where people are bored, lack the connection to life so the fur on their head, the fox on their shoulders is nothing more than a marker of their manhood, their place in the world, their status as big chiefs or little.”
Again they were quiet.
Desault watched the sun and could now see how while it would arc in the sky, it would never set. He saw, though had yet to experience, how life here may well be turned on it’s end. There were no markers but warmth and safety, succor and warmth, hunger or plenty.
“How do you know so much,” he asked.
“It is you turn, Monsieur. You must tell me now. How do you know so much.”
“What are you saying, how do I know how to hunt, how do I know how to fly a plane, how do I know you are a crazy American lost in a world into which you were dropped like an egg from the stork, eh.”
Laloup sat up. He looked at Desault now smiling and with an affection of genuine origin and regard.
“What are you asking me, Monsieur. I am no different than any here. I know no more or less. We are all the same, even you and me.”
They were silent and watched the light change, a cloud, a wisp of moisture crossing the infinite space between the sun and their outpost on earth.
“Some of us are babies, some adults. And all of us are on the journey in between.”
Laloup lay back down, luxuriating upon the flat stone, in the embrace of the natural comfort of earth, rock, fire and flat.
“I am, monsieur one of them. We are the same, they and me. I am no different than you, yet, and I came from here.”
Desault felt the words strike him forcefully.
“And you know monsieur,” he continued, his voice soft, his eyes closed, his consciousness nearly given over to sleep, “from where I come, you can go.”
In some hours they rose, and each knew the time had arrived for them to prepare to leave.
The Frenchman struggled to raise himself from the torpor of warmth, a belly full of the succor of the sun and the intimacy of his ancient familial roots.
Demian wrestled with the notion of abandoning his life, New York, the whole of everything he had ever learned but could not make the picture come clean. He struggled with the thought of leaving Little Bear, but heard laughter from the village, laughter from the children and knew, beyond doubt he must go, this was not his home, and he must carry on.
“Where are we to go,” Ferdinand asked. “You have said you want to study history, learn the ways of the white man, the Indian.
“Where are we to go.”
“First, Monsieur,” Desault said, “we must go to the Hudson Bay Company. You know, we must find people who have worked for the company.”
“That is West, mon ami. That is due West”
Laloup looked at the sun and seemed, to Demian suddenly to survey the horizon assuming the role of pilot.
With scarcely a thought, no recognizable change, the old Frenchman turned on an elbow, studied the sky, the horizon and seemed preparing himself for flight.
“When we get to the edge of the bay, we will check our headings, check in with the tower in Churchill and we’ll be off.”
“How long will it take, “ Desault asked, speaking only to maintain the connection of the conversation, speaking to ward off the sadness for leaving Little Bear and setting out into what now seemed truly the unknown.
“Five hours, monsieur, maybe six.”
“Will we have enough fuel. Can we make it that far without running out of fuel,” Desault knew enough now to realize the stretch across the bay was no small feat. That their craft required fuel and they had consumed much already in making this sojourn, caching the meat, and bringing Little Bear home.
“You are right, Monsieur. You have, as they say in the city, raison. We do not have enough, but alas, our friends here do. There are some of the elders who make the trek in the early winter. When the ground is frozen and the ice covers the bay, they bring their furs, their carvings, hand made arts and crafts by sled to trade in the city. They return with fuel and food supplies, oil for their lamps, metals, tea, some foods they have grown to enjoy but which they cannot grow and they know there will be fat cats, like us, who want or need fuel.”
“Can we leave now,” Desault asked, looking to the village, to the sky, appearing to Laloup, a man in turmoil, needful of a speedy and decisive departure.”
Above the bay, in the base leg of their take off, Desault looked carefully at the land below. He saw the outline of what he thought was the little village but was fooled by the distance, his unfamiliarity with the terrain.
Laloup watched him, while handling the controls, turning back, for the quickly disappearing picture, struggling to get a last view, the picture of a man leaving home thinking he would never return.
“There,” Laloup said, pointing with his thumb, pointing to a spot under the port side pontoon different completely than the direction in which Desault had trained his gaze.
Desault smiled his gratefulness, acknowledged his ineptitude and studied the landscape as it disappeared below.
He saw now the tiny village of stone houses, the small collection of sea craft, sleds, kyaks, canoes, pirogues. He saw the assemblage of the miniature outpost of human habitation, the worn path of street that from this height may as easily been the migratory path of caribou as the feet of an eon of Inuit.
“West,” he said, speaking to Laloup, speaking out loud the words he had heard him say before, speaking the word as an incantation to ward off his sorrow, his solitude, his heartbreak.
Laloup nodded. He pointed to the red ball of midnight sun. He nodded again, repeating the incantation, “West,” and clasping the yoke, adjusted the trim, the ailerons and the controls for what now would be a long and silent leave taking.
Demian Desault slept.
He fell into the droning soporific of the engines regular whine, the fatigue of his emotional tearing and the hour near midnight, despite the still risen sun.
“Bravo whiskey Charlie seven two three zero, bravo whiskey Charlie seven two three zero, this is Churchill, will you ident.”
Desault snapped his head, wakefulness yanking his clamoring unconscious to the reality he was not with Little Bear, nor on the ground, nor in the lodge of her fathers house.
“Bravo whiskey Charlie seven, you’re thirty nine miles east of the tower and headed two six seven, roger.”
Desault turned and saw Laloup, his eyes half closed, his mouth twitching, speaking into the microphone, inaudibly, his hands at the controls.
“Bravo whiskey,” the speaker squawked, “you are free to approach. Traffic is clear, pattern is empty, winds are ten to fifteen aloft and altimeter is two one zero.”
Desault came fully awake, looked over the windscreen and saw, with relief and surprise the unending horizon of blue, sky and water had a clear and recognizable border running north and south, the edge of land, the continent of Canada signaling their flight over the bay was nearly complete and the safety of land was soon theirs.
“Bonjour Monsieur,” Laloup said, pulling the flaps, pressing the yoke away, turning the red knobbed throttle into the dash, “we are going to land.”
He made another adjustment to one of the radio dials, adjusted the flaps again, slowing the plane dramatically, and allowed the nose to drop precipitously.
“Regardez,” the Frenchman began. He pointed to the runway lights and even now the tower whose universally green beacon was recognizable.
“Look,” he repeated, knowing unconsciously he had to speak in a language Desault understood.
“We will land, check our flight plan, fuel, use the facilities and we’ll be off.”
Demian saw the approaching lights and wondered how many times Laloup had executed this flight. He wondered how it was he was afraid of what he didn’t know, feared the unknown while, the old Frenchman, familiar with every rock, shore, peninsula and lake was at home, comforted by the same elements which frightened the city boy.
He saw the lights of the runway approach and though once familiar and reassuring, elements of civilization which should have brought him succor, he realized now, it was further proof not only of man, another outpost of safety, but of distance, separation and the boundless space between himself and his Little Bear.
“Allons, Monsieur,” Laloup said, unlatching the door of the cabin, reaching across the Desault’s lap, unfastening the door so each might exit.
“Let’s go, now, we are ready,” and as he spoke, pressing the door to open to it’s full length, he pushed Desault and turned his shoulders to suggest he get out.
Their engine stopped. Set off from the runway, nestled on land, they drifted near the float dock. Lights created the same visual effect as a conventional landing strip.
Here, Desault noticed, there was no dock anchored in the middle of the lake, rather their tie down was, at the end of the water strip, a wooden dock attached directly to the shore.
There were fifty or sixty planes, Desault saw, and from the vantage of the shore, the tower seemed enormous.
“Don’t be fooled, monsieur, this is still the back country.”
Desault wondered how Laloup might read his mind, but pressed from behind. Following his admonitions of which way to go and how, they moved quickly up the dock and across the dirt paths to the tower.
“Allo bonjour,” one of the operators said, “qu’est-ce qu’ arrive.”
They seemed genuinely pleased to see the Frenchman and Desault again had the impression that strange to him, foreign and unknown, was the land, people and places, understandings with which Laloup was familiar.
They spoke, laughed, joked for a minute and seemed then to settle down to some of the business of flying, weather, directions, plans.
Though all of the words were unintelligible, their movements seemed more recognizable.
On one of the walls opposite the morass of wires, radios, switches and electrical gear was an enormous relief map of the whole of the provinces of Canada.
There were geometric patterns, lines intersecting what appeared cities, in some instances, and as often, places on the continent with no hint of habitation or civilization.
Desault listened to the conversation, the curious accents, the dipthong and dialect, hearing at once both information being transacted and jokes, familiarities, elements of their respective knowing and experience or history being exchanged.
He saw the enormous blue of the great Hudson Bay.
He saw the small town of Churchill where they were now apparently, but this too was only a guess.
It appeared on the western coast of the bay, centrally located on the north south axis and reasonably the place they would have got after crossing from the land of Little Bear’s family.
Desault looked westward, through the million lakes and kettles, across what must have been the vast central plains of Canada. He saw lands which appeared to have no borders, no landmarks, no mountains, towns, roads, or marks of civilization of any sort.
There was laughter, and more serious talk.
There was a moment of pause when apparently a question was asked, Laloup sighed, began an unintelligible response, stopped, laughed, and said, in a different voice altogether, something different again.
The tower operators laughed and chuckled.
They turned to look at Desault, no malice or meanness, but a glance of wonderment, a scrutiny trying to understand, what was the nature of this foreigner’s presence, a man whose interest, even his pilot could not apparently explain.
Desault turned back to the wall map.
He saw now, on the far western boundary of the great plains, the nearly vertical rise of the Canadian Rockies.
He saw the resolution of the whole continent by their majestic and implacable reach from the southern border of the United States clear to the Alaskan state, to the Yukon, and unhindered to the edge of the Arctic circle, the edge of the universe.
He wondered how far it was from where they stood to the edge of such an imposing and apparently menacing land.
He wondered where in fact they would go, where was the Hudson Bay Company, where even they might find people with whom to speak, interview, depose, but supposed Laloup knew someone everywhere between where they stood and where they were going.
He wondered why he was even bothering with all this craziness, and how he would ever get back to Little Bear when Laloup called his name.
“Monsieur Desault.” He spoke respectfully, and with a curious deference now markedly different than the manner of their first intercourse.
“Monsieur, there is a message here for you.”
Desault thought Laloup was joking.
He thought he was making a joke for his old comrades, Desault the target, but likely harmless and of no consequence as they were all, in the end, fine fellows, respectful and competent in their own right.
Desault smiled but continued studying the map. He tried to find the legend which would tell him how many miles, the ruler on the bottom would allow him to calculate so to compute how far west to their destination, how far back to reunite with Little Bear.
“Monsieur,” the old Frenchman continued, “Je suis serious. I am serious,” he repeated.
“It’s true. There is a message by telex here for you.”
Desault thinking still this was a joke thought not to struggle but rather to humor and indulge Laloup and the others.
He moved to be closer and walked to the edge of the counter.
“Here monsieur,” one of the radio operators said, “there is a message for you.”
Desault looked at the man uncertain he was speaking to himself. Uncertain he was speaking a language like English which he had both understood and assumed he did not possess.
“There is a message for you.” He repeated and smiled, a warm and ingenuous grin.
Desault looked up, returning his infectious warmth and took the piece of paper proffered.
“Call home e.t. call home j.d,” was the extent of the note and Desault read it two or three times before he even understood it was both serious and for him.
“Is it possible,” Desault asked, staring at the note, the curious manner his hand held the paper, the man who handed it to him and the small crowd of smiling curious well wishers, foreigners, pilots and radio men standing all around.
“Oui, Monsieur,” one answered quite seriously.
“Certainment,” another nodded, allowing though unusual, this sort of thing did happen and it was easily within the realm of worldly happenings to have a message from the lower forty eight.
“But how does one answer,” he asked, smiling sheepishly for his naivete, for being entirely out of his element and dependent completely on others for help.
“La,” monsieur,” one of the radio operators said, pointing to a radio telephone,
“Really,” Desault answered, his surprise so unmistakable those around watched and laughed, good nature the base of their humor.
Desault looked at the contraption, and his expression was sufficient to indicate his need of help and direction.
He moved to the electronic affair, asked without speaking how to operate the machine, followed the pointed instructions and in moments, through crackling static and delay found he had made connection with the number he had given the operator to connect.
“Ms. Prescott,” he began, raising his voice, the noise and interference such that he imagined it was the power alone of his voice, the mechanism which transported the sounds.
“Ms. Prescott,” he screamed, “can you hear me,”
“Mr. Desault,” she said, a caustic and peremptory reply, “I can hear you. You needn’t raise your voice.”
“I am sorry Ms. Prescott, I hadn’t realized you were able to hear. This is Demian Desault, Ms. Prescott. Can you hear me.”
The answer and the obvious rebuke showed in his face.
“Ms. Prescott. I am sorry to bother you I have a message to call Jack Dempsey. Can you help me track him down.”
“Mr. Desault, I don’t know if you think this is funny or you and Mr. Dempsey are playing one of you’re humorless jokes, but he is here on the other line again. He has spoken to me three times already this morning.”
Desault laughed aloud. The radio operator wondered what was the cause of such curious behavior.
“Is it possible for someone to call here,” he asked. “I mean, is there a number like a telephone which I might give to one of my colleagues to call me here, right off.”
“Certainment,” the operator obliged him and smiling broadly wrote a number on a slip of paper he passed to him directly.
“Ms. Prescott. I am sorry. I am sorry for the trouble,” he repeated uncertain she could hear for all the static he had on his own receiver.
“Would you kindly give this number to Mr. Dempsey.”
There was a moment of silence while Ms. Prescott waited for Desault to speak and he thought she went to get a pencil or, doing something else, and had not agreed, in the affirmative to do as he bid her.
“Ms. Prescott,” he said a little more tentatively, a little more uncertain and not wanting her upset to allow her, in anger or distress to ring off.
“Ms. Prescott,” he asked again, his voice deeper, more determined, more forceful.
“I am waiting for the number, Mr. Desault. I am waiting,” she repeated, already flustered, vitriolic and upset.
They concluded the exchange.
The others watched him as he tried to say thank-you and good bye, but clearly, by the tentative and uncertain manner in which he returned the receiver to its cradle, the person on the other end had rung off fairly peremptorily and there was little time or inclination for small talk.
He set the equipment straight, returned to the corner of the tower room beside the map, smiled at the others whose faces reflected the curious nature of the flatlanders, city folk, knuckle dragging fancy dressing, rude and unpleasant personages, and they resumed their earlier attenuated unintelligible conversation.
Desault turned and studied the map.
He wondered why Dempsey wanted him and looked to see where he and the Frenchman would next go.
With his eye, he measured the distance from the old fort city where the chateau sat upon the river slicing the two continents in half separating himself and Dempsey.
He tried to estimate the miles, wondering suddenly if their seven degrees of separation was sufficient.
He looked again for the rule or legend to articulate mileage and realized his eye continued to take him to the center of the continent, to the north central reaches of the belly of the continent for which he not only was searching the outpost that, through history became the Hudson Bay Trading Company, but now, allowed distance, space, and, he realized, safety between himself and Dempsey’s team.
‘I am an animal,’ he thought, feeling himself retracting from the thought of being what even now felt like a thousand miles distance from the others.
His peregrinations ceased when his body recoiled from the loud and unpleasant cry of a klaxon blaring loudly both upon the wall and outside, apparently into the open vast of the northland.
The operators, controllers, and the Frenchman all looked at Desault.
In their mind, they knew immediately the occasion of the noise and it’s intended recipient.
“C’est pour toi,” one said.
Desault stared blankly, trying to regain some measure of equanimity, lower his heartbeat and understand what the controller meant in his words spoken clearly to him.
“It is for you, monsieur. We never get calls,” he added, “but across the two way,” he concluded pointing to the wall of radio gear used to communicate with planes, passers by, regular folk of this land who had neither telephones nor office buildings.
Desault listened to the klaxon blare. He watched the faces of the five men watch him. He hesitated knowing the call must be his comrade and he was, by all evidence and his own admission, afraid.
“Hello,” he said, picking up the receiver. “Hello.”
The flight controllers and the Frenchman saw Desault visibly recoil from the words and voice apparently received from the other end.
“Jack,” Desault repeated, his voice more the word of a child chastised for having a hand seen stealing a cookie from the jar.
”Yes Jack, It’s me, Demian.”
The others, first speaking softly to allow Desault the chance to hear if the connection were bad, now stopped entirely, clearly amused or interested in the conversation, the change in the demeanor of the American, the possible outcomes or words which occasioned such curious behavior.
“Yes,” he continued again, “yes. I suppose, but I am not certain that is a good idea.”
“Why don’t you let me look on a map. Hang on a second and I will ask one of the pilots.”
Desault put the receiver down gently and with a clear and unmistakable look of guilt and anxiety, he turned to the Frenchman.
“Is there a landing field where we are going where some of my colleagues can meet us.”
The Frenchman laughed and standing straight, walking over to Desault clapped him on the shoulder and said, “where are we going , mon ami.”
Desault smiled, but his mouth and lips appeared more the grimace of one about to be sick than the face of a man enjoying the uncertainty and wonder of life.
Desault looked at the map. He tried to fathom it’s legend and meaning and shaking his head, speaking more a question than a statement said, “the Hudson Bay Company.”
“Monsieur, there are landing fields there. Do you mean Calgary. The city of Calgary. Winnipeg?”
He paused allowing Desault to look again at the map, think for a moment and answer affirmatively.
“Certainly mon ami. There are landing strips in Calgary. There is an international airport. Buildings, hotels, everything you’re friends might want.”
“Jack,” Desault resumed, picking up the receiver and continuing where he had left off, “we are going to land in Calgary.”
“How long,” he asked the Frenchman, again the face and eye of a young boy, a boy about to get into trouble for not doing his chores, staying out late, hanging out with girls when he should have been attending to school.
“How quickly, Monsieur. How soon do you want to get there.”
The clear and obvious answer from his face, from the sudden relaxation of the lines of worry and concern was, he did not. He did not want to get to Calgary ever and certainly only sometime after that did he want to meet up with his friends.
The Frenchman raised a hand and finger. He waited to gain eye contact with Desault. He saw he had gained his attention and whispered, ‘weather.’
“You know Jack, there is the weather. We are flying in a tiny plane and I guess our arrival is somewhat dependent on weather.
There was a silence. Desault waited to hear an answer from his old racquetball partner.
“I don’t really know,” he explained, “but I am certain we are stopping fairly often and I don’t think I really know,
There was more mumbled but too coherent conversation on the other end.
For Desault, there was more information than he wanted.
He struggled not to hang up on Jack Dempsey. He felt the most powerful and nearly overwhelming instinct to clank down the receiver and leave off altogether.
“Jack,” he replied, holding the phone away, acting as if the very touch of it furthered the outbreak and receipt of a contagious disease.
“Jack, I can’t say when this will all work out. I have at least fifty interviews to do, depositions to complete, it could be weeks before we get there.
Desault stiffened listening to the response.
“We have to get this thing done now,” Dempsey was insisting, and even through the crackle and fog of intercontinental connection there was little doubt about the exigencies of time.
“Jack,” Desault repeated again, trying with the physical separation of the phone to set himself apart and end the conversation which had no articulable conclusion, “I’ll call you in a week. I’ll call you as soon as we get there. Go back to New York and I’ll finish up.”
The voice on the other end grew harsh, commanding, desultory and strident.
“We’ll meet in three days, Demian. We’ll be there in three days. At the Hudson Bay company. We’ll be staying at the Queens Palace, Ms. Armstrong says. Don’t be late Demian,” he concluded. “The old boys want this done and it has to be done right. There’s more money in this than we’ll see in our lifetimes so don’t fuck up.”
Demian Desault, nearly paralyzed in uncertainty struggled to ask, “Calgary or Winnipeg?” but by the time he got the throttled words out, by the recoil of his head and neck it was clear the other party had already rung off.
To the Frenchman and others, to those who worked here regularly and maintained a close and nearly familial relationship with everyone they knew, the look on Desault’s face, the manner in which he carefully set the receiver back on its cradle, stepped away gingerly, looked somewhat ashen seemed uncommon at best and extraordinary anyway for it’s uncommonness.
“Monsieur,” the Frenchman said, watching Demian retreat, muddlement and confusion apparent in his movements, upon his face.
“Yes,” he nodded, speechless, eyes turned inward, wrestling with more than one demon, struggling with the very essence of his person. He looked at the Frenchman and appeared lost entirely.
“What do you mean to do,” Laloup asked. His voice was suddenly gentle, soft, nearly paternal.
“I think we had better start. I guess we don’t have much time,” he allowed.
“Do you have a destination, Monsieur? Laloup asked.
Desault, already walking back to the edge of the water was so preoccupied and disequilibrated he’d scarcely heard and by the internal focus of with whatever he struggled, it was clear to Monsieur Lapoup there was likely no answer, yet.
In flight, Desault noticed immediately the landscape, so unlike Hudson Bay, now, was land.
From their altitude the land appeared infinitely flat, featureless but for the incredible complex of lakes, pools, water bodies and ponds as much the organizing principle of the topography as the land itself.
“How do people get around,” Desault asked Laloup, pointing to the incredible and quite formidable array of lake and water bodies.
“Small water craft, Monsieur. Pirogues in the old days. Canoes, float planes if one is lucky.”
“How did the trappers get furs to the Bay Company,” Desault asked, peering at a landscape that seemed almost impassable, unnavigable for the complex and endless array of water bodies.
“With some difficulty,” the Frenchman answered, “but the old trappers, they knew the land like the back of their hands. They were skilled hunters. They knew the tracks of animals, their own trap lines, the paths of others who left markings.”
“So Monsieur,” Laloup asked, once well airborne, heading west again, heading in the sun they seemed to chase forever,
“What will we do. Qu’est-ce que tu veux, What do you want.”
Desault had taken a note pad from his rucksack and was reading the notes and plans he had written in what seemed a life time ago at the chateau.
“Monsieur, we need to find some people who are old, related to the trappers, bloodline of peoples whose ancestors lived here in the eighteen hundreds and who can tell the story of what really happened.”
“What do you mean happened, Monsieur,” Laloup asked, setting the controls, looking forward but focused clearly on the conversation and meaning of Desault’s words.
“I mean,” Desault answered, realizing now he had never shared this with Laloup before, that he had never really confessed the meaning or intent of his voyage north.
“I mean, my job includes finding people who knew about the old fur traders. I need to find people, whose grandparents were traders, hunters, trappers. I need to know what happened to them.”
“Forgive me, Monsieur, but I think I can tell you the answer to that.” Laloup smiled but looked forward, through the windscreen and set his eyes back upon he controls.
“How do you mean,” Desault asked. “Tell me what you mean. What happened.”
“Well monsieur, vraiment. Truly,” he asked and again, Desault noticed how, despite the noise of the little craft, the enormous and ubiquitous scream of the engine lofting and propelling their craft westward, he noticed a small diminution in the tone, a softening of the voice as given over in word to Desault.
“They have died monsieur. They have all died.”
Desault looked shocked. He appeared struck by the backhand of the Frenchman in the small space of the cockpit.
“I mean, monsieur, there are none of the old trappers left. That was over a hundred years ago. They have all died.”
“I know, monsieur, I know that but there must be some relatives, children, family members who know the practice of their elders, children like Little Bear who carry on the tradition.”
“Oui monsieur. That is true. There are children of the old folk who still live in the country.”
“Monsieur,” Desault said, turning to engage him, taking his eyes suddenly with a force and seriousness unmistakable, “those are the people we need to find. I need to speak with some of the old folk whose elders were the trappers. Who might have worked for the Bay Company, sold their furs, sold the winters harvest. That is what I need to do.”
“You are certain monsieur”
“And you know most of them will not speak English,”
“But you do, eh,” Desault answered smiling for the first time in a while, smiling as he employed some of the Frenchman’s idiom and in turn spunk.
“Oui, monsieur,” Laloup said. “I do and that will work.”
Desault looked at his papers and seemed to the Frenchman to somehow, in those first minutes of planning, to gain some resolve, some direction which not only allowed the small craft in which they traveled to have a direction more specific than West, but too afforded his mind and body, his whole demeanor a direction he had, until this moment, lacked.
“Then monsieur, that is exactly what we will do. We are in your hands, and you know the mission. I need to talk,” and he paused, “we need to speak,” he corrected himself, “to some of the children of the old folk. You know where they live. You probably know them by name, eh,” he chided the old Frenchman who suddenly seemed an old friend, a comrade himself, more his colleague than those would be partners who thought to meet him, prove the complicity of a gentle and generous people and cut him off at the pass in Winnipeg.
“Monsieur,” Laloup turned, his fingers delicately holding the now steady yoke of the small craft’s rudder.
“You have not yet said where you had thought to go…where you are to meet your friends and all I heard was ‘Calgary and Winnipeg but neither is in the direction of the old folks and the elders whose elders were the trappers and hunters for the Hudson Bay Company.”
Desault stared at Laloup and realized he also actually didn’t know where they were supposed to go.
“You know, I asked,” he recollected now a small elfish grin taking his otherwise thoughtful demeanor, “but they never answered.”
Laloup nodded aware of the issue the moment Desault had hung up.
“Which way are we going?”
In the course of their travels Demian Desault, always a student of change, patterns, human behavior, learned, almost unwittingly how some of the gauges and dials on the dashboard worked.
From the natural fear accompanying first time flyers, from the natural inquisitiveness of any body who considers the improbability of a canvass and aluminum fuselage with floats lofting it’s weight and cargo of humans into flight and over distances not easily navigable even by bipedal man, Desault had, more than once, watched the gauges change as the attitude or elevation of the plane altered. He watched as man tried to understand what appeared chaotic and unreasoned. He watched as a child touches with finger and mouth all of the world, sensors alone, the only mechanism to learn reason, if any, and essence in what otherwise seemed chaotic, unpredictable and often dangerous.
The altimeter and compass, two such gauges, were both of immediate consequence and amenable to Desault’s rudimentary understanding of the world.
Immediately following their last intercourse, Desault heard a differential in the sound of the engine. Watching the dashboard and its assorted dials, he noticed too the compass had swung around some and now, rather than the two hundred and sixty degrees to which it seemed always to point, the needle bounced around and wobbled passed three hundred and sometimes, though for only a moment, it hovered around the letter designation of due north.
He tried to see, in Laloup’s face, the meaning of their change in course. He tried to read the occasion of the alteration but could extract nothing from the face and demeanor of the Frenchman.
“We are changing course,” Desault said, peering purposefully at the sun, now over Laloup’s shoulder , while all the journey thus far it had been directly in their faces.
“That is good, Monsieur. You are learning to read.”
Laloup fiddled with some of the controls, adjusted the trim and turned now directly to Desault.
“We call it dead reckoning, Monsieur,” and he smiled, some small joke embedded in the words, the idiom, in his thought which he had yet to share with Desault.
“We call it dead reckoning, mon ami because one does it without the advantage of the gauges, with out real tools of navigation, like the old timers did, eh.”
He paused, waiting for Desault to understand and take in the words he’s said thus far, “and if you’re off in your reckoning, you know the outcome,” he concluded, though his voice rose, a question being asked, no statement or fact offered.
Desault shook his head, no.
“If your reckoning is off here, monsieur, you run out of fuel. If you run out of fuel, and you cannot land or hunt or figure a way to get back, at least to somewhere; so you’re dead.”
Laloup smiled as he spoke and Desault felt suddenly a school child again. He felt Laloup was neither malicious nor ill mannered but realized again, and forcefully, the entirety of his fate, his life in fact was in this man’s hands and he had never quite reckoned the all of it when he had first made plans to travel to the north country.
“Tell my why we are going north,” he said, struggling to quell the rising nausea and fear, settled just below the lip of his belly, controlled barely though his knuckles were white and his head was clouded, dizzied again by the disequilibration he had experienced so often back at the Chateau.
“You said you wanted to find the old folk. The ones who hadn’t died, eh.”
He looked at Desault for a moment verifying to see this was indeed his client’s determination.
“They don’t live here, Monsieur. They live north.”
The craft now headed clearly more northerly than west.
The sun was hidden sometimes by the port wing and the sense and ill ease of heading to the polar ice cap, to the Arctic sea, to a land from which their might be no return seized the calm Desault struggled to maintain.
“How will we get back, Monsieur Laloup. How will we get fuel to return. There are no cities up there, are there.”
The Frenchman laughed.
“You know Monsieur, the truth of the old people is they want no more to do with you or me than you or me with them. They don’t like the Americans, they have no patience for the British. They keep to themselves and would rather hang out with the wild things than be with the white man who defiles everything, kills, wastes, wreaks the very balance of life.”
Again he waited for Desault to speak.
“They are never near a city. They rarely are near each other. They live quietly, by themselves. And as far away from civilization as they can get.”
Laloup turned to see if the face of his client displayed any more fear or understanding. He watched, a wily and wild animal, to see if Desault was one of them or, he secretly hoped, one more like himself.
“You see, monsieur, the old people live with the land. They see the moon and sun, they live with the animals at peace, but the white man doesn’t and the only thing they get for being near, is trouble.”
“There are some outposts in the north, monsieur. There are places where the old folk, and some of the few who stay on, the young bucks have a place to trade. There will be a place where we can get gas and in the back, I have something for them.”
As Laloup spoke he pointed over his shoulder. Desault didn’t get the reference but resumed his alternating gaze of the horizon and the heading displayed on the compass.
He looked behind where Little Bear had sat and wondered if he would indeed get to return, to see her. He saw Laloup make small changes to the gauges again, but kept his eyes upon the seat behind wondering if she were a fantasm, if he were a lunatic, if he had imagined completely all of this and apart from his job in New York city and his assignment, the altitude had indeed gotten the better of him, and he was sick with the change and in the midst of a psychotic lapse.
He looked forward and as close to Laloup as he sat caught his gaze as he turned his eyes forward.
No words spoken Desault was sure the Frenchman knew the nature of his thoughts. He wondered, a child in the hands and at the mercy of an adult, if he didn’t know the answers, already.
Laloup pressed his hand to the red buttoned throttle. He pressed it in to the dash, it’s retreated position, Desault knew now, demanding less of the engine and allowing it to slow.
Immediately, he heard a diminution in the revolutions of the propeller and a lessening of noise.
He sat forward and looked over the nose seeing too the attitude of the craft had changed. While before the only sight forward was he endless blue white sky, now he could see, as they began their decent, the horizon, land mass, water bodies again and increasingly the outlines of geography which gave him an unexpected relief, a curious ebullience feeling suddenly some assurance they were going to live and that a crash nor a lunatic pilot flying them off the edge of the universe was not to be the outcome as he had feared.
“Your seatbelt, monsieur,” Laloup said, placing his hands, almost predictably to the lever that controlled the flaps and seemed to be the element of control signaling their determined and more dramatic descent.
“Monsieur, may I ask you a small favor,” Desault queried Laloup, still looking forward intently and watching the land rise up before them.
“Certainly,” Laloup was quick to answer, though he too kept his eyes straight and his gaze fixed on an indiscernible feature on the horizon before them.
“Can you use your radio to call the airport tower we just left.”
As Desault spoke he struggled to reach into his pocket and extract something under the clasp of the now secure seatbelt.
“Certainment” Laloup replied.
“Would you ask them,” he began, “to call this number, ask for Jack Dempsey and tell him we will be late as we have had to turn North owing to the weather.”
Laloup smiled, took the paper, put on his headset and forwarded the message, unintelligible in the racket to Desault, but quite satisfactory for discharging the imminent responsibility for meeting his colleagues.
Laloup turned to Desault, smiled, nodded a single and defining, ‘done’ and resumed his sight on their upcoming approach.
Desault watched the horizon. He saw the outlines of a small pond, grasses and sedge growing from its midst, enormous moose and antlered animals looking up from their ruminations, watching as this ungainly and uncommonly loud beast made its preparation for landing and descent.
“Will they hurt us,” he asked.
Laloup smiled but did not speak. In his customary manner, on approach or departure, his focus was single minded and all else, like the eastern horizon, disappeared.
The nose of the craft appeared to head directly for the water. Desault thought he could see the ruffs on the neck of the great elk or caribou and their eyes peering at them, fearless, wondering for the noise but neither trepidation nor distress apparent, the only change evident in their behavior, the pause in the near circular chew of their enormous horse like mouths.
In the moment when the plane turned sharply, heading back into the wind and just before it touched down, Demian thought he saw a small craft, a human artifact propelled across the lake and headed directly into the path of their landing.
He pointed and Laloup, though his eyes remained fixed, hands steady, looked for a second, acknowledged the approach, smiled and returned immediately to the task of getting them down, safely.
“Kim nannu, autek nan aiyenqui”
Desault listened as the young hunter, a boy, a young man as old as himself paddled his dugout canoe up to the slowly drifting plane, latched on to the pontoon, stepped up onto its back and at eye level with the occupants smiled, eyes gleaming and spoke.
Laloup waved from inside concluding his efforts for securing the controls, shutting down the magnito’s and gears.
“He is happy to see us,” Laloup said, “ and you’d better open that door and get out or he will try to get in, eh,” As he spoke he leaned across Desault again unfastened the door and pushed it open for the city boy to exit.
Desault climbed out onto the pontoon, big enough to set the craft down onto water, scarcely big enough to hold two full grown men side by each.
The young man standing smiling, white teeth gleaming was as close to Desault as was Laloup inside the cockpit.
Tall, dark haired, high cheeked, slight, bare chested and lithe, the young man appeared Indian and not entirely without some of the heritage and countenance possessed by Little Bear.
“Hey,” Desault said striking out his hand to shake, having no clue of custom or way.
The Indian smiled again, but drew back, leaning out over the edge of the water, one toe holding the edge of the pirogue, an arm balancing his cantilevered weight.
“They are a friendly tribe,” Laloup said. “They are peaceful and friendly, but to give a hand to a stranger is sort of like letting you put your head inside the mouth of a mountain lion.”
Desault withdrew his hand and tried to back up away from the arrival allowing him room and space so not to be threatened.
“You just need to be slow, announce yourself, allow them a chance to smell you, knowing though you are a foreigner, you are not a ‘white man’.”
Desault shrank at the reference but continued to back away and smile. He realized suddenly he was a foreigner, an intruder, an interloper in someone else’s space.
“I am sorry,” he stammered, “tell him I am sorry.” he repeated to the Frenchman.
“There is no need,” he answered, climbing out of the cockpit, standing the full length of his height, taking the measure of the visitor and allowing him, a strange dog, to sniff, take space, reckon with the advent of arrivals and grant them an allowance to stay.
“You don’t know him,” Desault whispered, speaking to Laloup in front of him, speaking softly enough while smiling he would not inappropriately offend the young buck.
“I have known him since he was a very young boy.”
“Anni oie anyque, ah an ii nou,” Laloup said, giving his eyes and face to the watchful young man, but allowing still a measure of distance, as much as was available on the now crowded pontoon.
‘Somehow,’ Desault understood, Laloup knew a proper way to be until a formal invitation was offered.
“But in the last few years, when I have been here, he had been in the high country on the hunt, following the herd, or camped above waiting for the passing of the big ones.”
“Na ni ou loup,” the young dark haired, black eyed hunter asked of the Frenchman.
Laloup smiled. Looked at Desault signifying they were about to be accepted and turning back to the young man nodded and said, “Ian ney, ai Laloup.”
The boy smiled.
He extended his arm, a curious but clear form of welcome.
“He asks if I am the wolf. Laloup,” Laloup said to Desault.
“He knows the story of my comings but has not seen me for many years.
“Ni aienyou, que mianu,” the fierce young man said smiling.
Desault felt himself recoil for the strength and simple conviction of his word.
“He is only saying,” Laloup added, turning to the pirogue, indicating to the young man they too wanted a lift to the shore, “we are welcome. We are friends of his family and we are welcome.”
The black eyed hunter motioned for Laloup to set himself into the dugout.
Nimbly, he moved forward, tripped lightly across the front prow of the pontoon and set himself, standing balanced, in the rear, readied with the small craft to take Laloup to shore.
Desault watched, realizing how curious there were always pilots everywhere.
For Laloup to allow the young man to transport him as Desault had Laloup, in the craft with wings, seemed an irony which made him smile at first, and as the pirogue deposited it’s cargo on shore and turned to fetch him; he laughed.
“Hey,” Laloup yelled from the shore, a voice echoing in the suddenly silent reaches of an eternal vastness, a quiet, Desault realized immediately he had never in is life experienced.
“The big canvass in the back, monsieur, the one marked RCP. Bring it in the canoe.”
Desault saw there were easily some minutes before the young hunter returned.
He didn’t know exactly of what the Frenchman spoke but knew enough to trust what ever he thought would be there, clearly, upon his search, he would find.
As the pirogue approached, Desault scrambled to get what his pilot commanded. Rummaging between their supplies, jerry cans with fuel and their personal belongings, he found the large canvass sack he now vaguely recalled loading from the skiff and into the cargo deck of the small craft.
On the shore, Laloup and the Indian warrior sat, facing each other cross legged, and speaking with animation. As Desault approached, Laloup reached out for the RCP bag, with the same deftness with which he’d slit open the belly of a rabbit.
The eyes of the warrior never left off contact with Laloup.
The old Frenchman, half Indian, half modern, grunted and smiled.
“Zut,” he grunted opening the bag, speaking partly aloud, to his arthritic hands struggling with the knot and to the warrior beseeching his forbearance.
Speaking slowly now, he waved his hands at the mountains, and took something small, a paper, an envelope from the bag.
Turning his eye and pointing to the opposite shore of the lake, he asked questions and spoke. The young man, the warrior, animated and excited, took the proffered gifts, answering with long detailed and thoughtful replies.
Desault watched the pilot remove little trinkets from the bag. He watched the eyes of the hunter and realized, despite his interest in the contents, he was equally interested in the giving and telling Laloup the answers to the questions he had asked.
Desault watched the young hunter open a small package and peered, with the focus of a child, at it’s contents. Holding the small gift in his hands, his stern face became soft, open and vulnerable. While he held the small gift he spoke eloquently the facts of their clans history to Laloup.
“He says his parents have been ill.”
“He thinks they caught the spirit of the white man when they were helping some census takers last autumn.”
“He says they coughed and smoked, snored and smelled but they said they worked for the government and we had to help them.”
“He says his father nearly died but his mother made him take the cold brook and after being unconscious for two weeks, he opened his eyes and even today he is still getting better.
“He says his father told him this happened to his father and half his tribe was killed by the white man, though never a carbine smoked.”
Desault turned to the hunter and saw him take from a small leather pouch a stone amulet drilled through with a silver chain.
For all of the small envelopes and packages on the ground, this one appeared most to please the young man. He looked to Laloup for permission.
Seeing an affirmative nod and an accompanying grunt, he took the amulet and chain, hung it around his neck, stood as nimbly as any mountain lion rose to a tree, and danced a small but comely and grateful step of excitement and thanks.
The hunter sat, peering into the eyes of Laloup.
He spoke some, a recognizable rise in the tone and inflection of his voice.
“He wants to know if we will eat. Or will we share a rabbit.”
Laloup smiled broadly but Desault, for his evident squeamishness, hesitated at the thought of such a repast.
“It is the second highest honor a man can bestow,” Laloup said.
Desault looked at the expectant and wide eyed hunter trying to say thank you as was his custom, pleased as he was by Laloup’s arrival. With his diligence done, and his knowledge certain of the origins of the strangers from the air, certain in the nature of their friendship, he too wanted to reacquaint them with his parents, his family, his friends.
Laloup rose, the acknowledgement of his appreciation and acceptance. Desault followed, a foreigner, the best he could do, he thought, acting as his mentor and teacher, the Frenchman would have instructed him.
“We’ll go, eat,” he confided softly to Desault, following the sprightly track of the younger, and we’ll get to meet his parents.
“They are,” he said smiling now, looking backwards to Desault, underscoring the importance of his words with the cast of his gaze, “some of the old folk you want to meet.”
They threaded their way through the swamp at the end of the small muskeg, through the edge of the beaver dam, and across a small lagoon marking the outer boundary of the water course and finally onto high ground.
Laloup turned to see if his charge was all right and still in toe.
“Ca va,” he inquired. “Are you all right monsieur,” he asked, smiling but happy himself to be with this youngest child of old, old friends.
“Yes,” Desault replied, puffing some, for the extent of their exertion, “certainly,” he added, not wanting to change anything and believing they were on the verge of something seminal.
“What is the first,” he asked,” catching up now with Laloup, getting close enough to be by his side.
“What is the first,” he repeated, but the Frenchman didn’t, by the look of his bewilderment, understand his question.
“What is the highest honor a man can bestow,” Desault asked.
Laloup smiled, a deep rumbling erupting from his belly and he laughed.
“Ah, monsieur, that is a good question. Oui. That is a good question. If you follow the Frenchman and do as I say, you will see. With luck and good fortune, we will both see.”
Following the hunter, as he followed his prey was no mean feat.
The Frenchman, for his age and wiliness kept up, though his step was not as careful, his movement not so lithe and his approach, easily heard by any animal not already dead.
Desault followed struggling to keep up but realized too this was exactly the manner in which the old Frenchman caught their prey, trapped their furs, found success in the back country and brought their harvest to the towns or the company to trade.
“Monsieur,” Laloup said, pausing now, slowing as the boy in front disappeared into the belly of a small village.
In its sight, Laloup, with no loss of pride could slow and take his breath.
“The custom here is to allow the elder to see you. To be quiet, and not to speak until you, or we are invited.”
He moved a few steps and spied the habitation of what he thought was the elder.
“The chief, they call the elders here, old ones, they have earned, by their time and wisdom, a respect you have not seen down below. Here everything turns around the elders and whatever they say, or even think, is or has to be understood by the young bucks.
“Part of their coming of age is to know what the elder thinks even at a distance, kind of mental telepathy, I think you call it, so if they get lost, if they are with a great white and don’t know what to do, in danger or needing help on a hunt, they think, and fast until they can see the images of the old ones, or hear their voices speak.”
“In the other lands, some peoples have paper, they call it books, and bibles. Here there is none. There never was, eh,” the Frenchman continued, watching all the while for the movements of the chief, watching all the while for anything of significance, spoken or not, from the lands upon which they stood.
“You’ll see,’ Laloup continued, “only follow me. These people are as true as any you will ever meet. The old chief is a friend and we have known each other for years.”
Desault moved to be next to the Frenchman, to appear dutiful, respectful, standing quietly and attentively as he imagined the custom bid a junior.
“He knows what happened in the old times. He was the eldest son of a chief too, so he knows. His job was to tell the young bucks these stories so they in turn could learn and make the rites of passage.”
The young hunter came out of the small village and walked slowly, respectfully towards the Frenchman and his guest.
“Ainyque ne anou,” he said and as quickly turned and waited, moving to lead the outsiders somewhere, not immediately apparent to Desault.
“What does he say,” Desault asked, following closely behind, whispering in his ear.
“He says anyone who asks questions in the sacred tribal grounds is generally cut to pieces, stewed and served to the sled dogs.”
Desault smiled but spoke no more and followed quietly behind.
In moments there were some light skinned dark eyed children standing by the dirt way leading between the eight or ten small habitations of the tiny settlement.
They smiled, whispering to each other, yet none said anything aloud.
The young hunter disappeared under a hide forming the door for the opening of a small stone and mud lodge.
“Shall we follow,” Desault asked. “What shall we do.”
Laloup turned briefly, his finger to his mouth admonishing his guest, again, to be quiet.
Desault thought this was more bunk and tom foolery than protocol or custom but did as he was bid, stepped under the great hide and found himself inside a small hut and inside the hut of the great one.
They sat cross legged before a fire.
When the boy sat beside the chief and pointed to the old pilot, the elder raised his head, regarded Laloup, said nothing, smiled and returned to the quiet and pause in which he seemed engaged.
For some minutes, they were all silent. There was an old toothless woman, wizened, wrinkled beyond recognition and white haired who seemed, to Desault, older than any person he’d ever seen.
The old chief looked slowly at Laloup and smiled. With his eyes he motioned for him to sit.
On cue behind him sat Desault who was now party to the undertaking and like Laloup waiting for some signal from the chief, some word or deed which allowed them to speak and which indicated they would not be imposing their white man’s agenda or time on the carefully lived and methodical life of these northern tribesmen.
“Ni aqu ne,” the old chief said.
He seemed to whisper but the silence and reverence was palpable and beside the sometimes labored breathing of the old woman everyone heard these words and sounds, clearly.
“Ni aqu ne, miano nuquat inuoay,” he repeated, this time turning to the Frenchman and allowing his wrinkled eyes, to open wide and display the full breadth of emotion he felt.
Desault opened his mouth to inquire what it was he meant but stopped short of speaking remembering the admonition not to invade.
“Ni aqu ne miano nuquat inuoay anyianqui anyioiau.”
He rose, standing straight from his squatted kneeling and moving to the Frenchman, put his hand upon his shoulder.
“Noyinumi,” he said, a small smile turning the corners of his ancient and lined face, “noyinumio.”
He patted the old Frenchman again on the back, and moved to let himself out of the hide skinned door.
Laloup followed, looked at Desault, nodding, indicating he too should follow and as suddenly as they were set in the confines of the quiet and dark, they were again out in the light, out in the bright mid night sun, free of whatever had obliged them to meditate so.
The elder now moved away from the innepee and was taken by his arm, gratefully accepting support of the young hunter.
Ambling across the dirt way, they made their way amongst the children, the other hovels and off toward the edge of the settlement where the land appeared to meet the water and rushes and sedges grew in abundance.
“What did he say,” Desault asked, standing now next to the Frenchman, watching the young hunter escort the eldest in what appeared some form of ritual.
Laloup turned and smiled broadly. Displaying the lack of tooth and wrinkles from years of sun shining brightly on unaided eye, he grinned.
“He said to the old woman, you have three years before the fox comes back from the edge of the land. You have three years before the caribou will see the fox and three years before the fox will see the wolf.”
“I don’t understand,” Desault said and peered after the elder.
“He says,” Laloup continued, smiling now, an elfish grin, “you cannot leave here, mother because there will be some years before the caribou return. You cannot leave here until the animals are back and the migration is over. You cannot leave here until we are safe. We owe that to the children.”
“Where does she want to go,” Desault asked, unclear how such a woman of such age and infirmity could make any journey in this country, anyhow.
“She wants to pass with the sun,” he said, pointing with his upraised chin and eye to the low arcing sun which struggled to rest but, for it’s magnanimity and responsibility to the land, the grasses, the animals and the children stayed all the summer, never leaving nor resting until after its birth-long effort, the fruit of its energy, succored and absorbed.”
Desault stood dumbfounded and agok.
“How do you know this,” he asked, his voice nearly whispered, struck by the truth and reverence of the moment, struck by the power of the statues and figures he had seen in the museum and the allowance that somehow, Little Bear knew of or possessed the same truths.
“I am the Frenchman,” Laloup said.
“These are my people. They raised me. They taught me. They speak without word and everything they say, if you listen carefully, is true, anyway, eh.”
Desault laughed aloud. He covered his mouth for thinking he had betrayed a code of silence, a propriety, but he laughed aloud and struggled to catch his breath.
“Do you think,” he finally said, somewhat abashed, somewhat chagrined, honored and awed at once, “I might get to speak with him.”
Laloup laughed, threw back his head, a young wild filly and nodded.
“Yes, mon ami, oui, but you must be careful to listen and don’t talk or interrupt when he is speaking.
Desault nodded, and dutifully followed the Frenchman who in turn followed the old chief as he moved to the edge of the settlement and to what appeared the edge of a small water body, a swamp, perhaps another muskeg.
The chief, accompanied by the young hunter moved along the washed gravel of what must have been a water course, a stream or spillway in the spring.
There was gravel and stone sorted and deposited with an eye to its size as if a great machine had been set here and sorted through tons of debris setting the pea stone with all the like sized pebbles, sand with its mate and all other shapes sorted similarly and set into various layers of the bank, a cake made with human prescience and with the greatest care and effort imaginable.
On a large flat granite boulder he sat. Beside him stood the young hunter, quiet, respectful, apparently proud, even to the somewhat distant view of the foreigners, a chosen son allowed to accompany the village elder, the most honored and wise among them to the corner of their settlement, to the shrine where he communed with the great ones.
Laloup circled around so as they approached they would gain sight of the chief and their presence would be greeted or with an appropriate sign, denied.
The young hunter watched a flight of geese, well above, five hundred strong, and headed, with some commotion to the Northeast, an annual migration begun millennia ago, their insistent and raucous passing, likely to outlive them all.
They nodded as the guests approached. Though the chief had seen them first, he moved aside to allow at least the Frenchman room to set upon the flat rock where he rested; the young hunter noted the approach and seeing his elders approval, smiled.
“Aiynayiu nanque,” Laloup said turning his eyes to the flock, acknowledging, with his eyes and the tone of his voice, something about the notable passing.
The chief grunted and keeping his eyes skyward, moved his head back and forth, rocking in a manner that imitated something characteristic of the birds, their flight, their migration.
He stopped suddenly in his trance and turning to the Frenchman took his eye. With an uncommon force of his gaze, he directed him to look down, away from the flock and out to the furthest part of the swamp, the most distant line of the muskeg where sight was difficult but, for the slightly inclined position, they could see the demarcation of the horizon, the land and the sky.
Laloup watched and noted the stillness of the chief. He clasped the knee of the American standing beside him and drew his attention, his eyes indicating the same spot, with a similar focus and instruction.
In moments, there was a cry, a curious honking cry which the hunter heard, and acknowledged with a smile.
The chief raised his arm, and a single bony arthritic finger pointing to the origin of the noise.
The Frenchman and the American watched.
From the distant ground, suddenly there were hundreds, thousands of cries, grunts, honks and calls of the wild.
Before them, five hundred geese, white, struggling to raise, screaming their attention and demands to the others to wait, rose from the tundra.
None from the flock over head slowed or turned, changed their course or made any visible allowance for those who were soon to join, and the reunion, but for the determination, already ongoing of who was to lead and who to follow, was without moment.
“Ungiyea ayiano,” the old chief said. Though he spoke softly and to any who might hear, there seemed a word or meaning especially for the Frenchman.
Laloup smiled and answered him back. Nearly unintelligible, he spoke, was answered and spoke again.
The flock now was a single animal form. There was no difference between those who just joined and those who came from the south, heading to the edge of the tundra where the land and boreal forests met the Arctic sea.
“What does he say,” Desault asked.
His whisper underscored how even he recognized the fortune they shared, the serendipity for being with the chief and his forbearance of their being with him.
“He says we are lucky to have such a rich life. We are lucky to live with the great ones as they are, despite our being here, despite the noise and commotion we sometimes make, despite our sometimes taking one for food and fur.”
“He said all of that,” Desault asked wide eyed, wondrous, surprised.
“He says we are lucky, borne with great fortune. We are lucky to have the great ones in our lives for they show us the truth of harmony, balance and peace.”
Desault watched the young hunter leave the side of his elder and move toward the edge of the sedges. He squatted, studying the circling formation of geese, seeing how it was they accepted their guests, how it was they lived in such harmony and prepared, all the while for their journey north.
“What else does he say,” Desault asked. “What else does he say,” he whispered, thinking himself now so close to the truth, to the essence of life, he was within sight of a journey he hadn’t realized he’d begun, but by the luck of fate, found himself in the midst of it’s passing.
Laloup rose, placed his hand respectfully upon the shoulder of the chief and stood to his full height, eye to eye now with the American.
“He says, to those who would listen, asking too many questions is proof they are not.”
Desault peered at Laloup, a distance and time from comprehending the simplicity of his host’s statement.
From the flock erupted an enormous seeming singular voice, it’s collective determination to form up and carry on.
They all looked up.
They watched the lead goose turn, arc north from the sun, head determinedly north and behind, queued up and following the entirety of the flock, falling into a massive and near perfect geometric formation.
Laloup watched the American who, by the sight of his attention had never seen such a sight.
He watched the young hunter who for his youth maintained a vigilance no different than that employed to shoot an animal to feed the families when all supplies were exhausted, their lives dependent upon his success.
He saw the chief rise with his strength, and silently, reverentially, but no less a part of the formation than the land over which they flew, retreat and disappear back to the village he thought, likely to the side of his grey haired matriarch.
From nowhere the American could see, the hunter took a bow. He pulled an arrow from the hide quiver set in the small of his back and silently, with the stealth and agility of a great cat, moved quickly across the open stretch of tundra and in the direction of the tail of the flock.
Desault opened his mouth to speak, to ask what was the nature of his undertaking, but the Frenchman silenced him.
Desault watched as the young hunter moved and carefully took aim at what seemed the very end of the near mile long train of bird and feather.
With unfathomable acuity, he drew the bow and struck one bird, separated by distance, separated by effort, age, infirmity, a bird at the back, unable to keep up and likely one ready to fall behind.
“You see,” Laloup said, “this is the way of the Indian.”
Desault knew he had seen something of note but couldn’t make the calculus to a universal understanding.
“I see,” he allowed, but clearly didn’t see it all.
“Be patient mon ami, and you will get it. That is the story you came here to understand.”
The American turned and peered at Laloup.
“Will I be able to speak with the chief.” His sincerity left no doubt he had not understood the Frenchman’s words.
Laloup smiled and turned to follow the path back to the village.
“But monsieur, you said we could talk to the old people; that we could speak with the elders. We can’t leave here now and not take a minute.”
The Frenchman seemed to step out more quickly. His pace seemed to quicken and his determination, the kind Desault had witnessed when they were preparing for flight, only stiffened.
“Monsieur,” he cried, hastening to catch up, his voice rising in disbelief, his wonderment articulated in his confusion,
“You said we could speak with the elders. I have to have these interviews before I get to Winnipeg. I don’t think you understand.”
Laloup stopped and glowered at Desault.
“It is you who are not listening, mon ami. It is you mon ami who does not understand. You asked if we could speak with the chief. If you might talk with the elders. Oui.”
Desault nodded his head vigorously, thinking finally Laloup understood.
“We have, mon ami, but you don’t understand. We have but you were not listening.”
Laloup let his head fall, uncharacteristically. His body displayed a resignation Desault had never seen.
“You wanted to learn the story of the old people, of the buffalo, of the atrocities.”
He paused and raised his head looking Desault squarely in the eyes, chilling Demian with the power, anger, white heat of his suddenly virulent gaze.
“This is the story, mon vieux. This is all of it right before your eyes, eh, but you are like the white man. You see what you want and not what you don’t. You wanted to understand the story of the elders and the world as it is here in the high country but you are not listening. Your eyes are closed and your blinders are still keeping you in the dark. You want the story, the truth, mon ami, but you need to listen. We have been told everything,” he concluded, “but you just haven’t gotten it, yet,” he added, his anger subsiding, his voice regaining some composure, his tone allowing Desault was young and had much to learn.
Airborne, Desault felt the tear of two minds in conflict. He felt the inescapable uncertainty for thinking himself smart, worldly, studied and yet, here in the most remote backwater of the continent, where the sun never set and people spoke with sign and ritual, he was dumb.
“Monsieur,” Laloup spoke, their course set, their heading fixed, the nose of the plane once again turning to the sun which, like the truth Desault struggled to acknowledge, was here all the while, no respite, no refuge, no relief from the simple and inescapable fact of its determination.
“Qu’est-ce que tu veux,” he asked and when he spoke Desault noted, for the first time a color and tone in his voice, in the inflection, in something of the manner which characterized the question.
“Monsieur,” he repeated, translating, saying again the question, a mechanism to persuade himself of the efficacy of this undertaking. “Where do you want, now, to go. What do you want.”
Desault turned and tried to see the look, to understand what was in the eye of the man who had thus far unflinchingly accompanied him, pandered to his wish, his unschooled attempt to make sense of the apparent, to understand what was likely right before his nose.
“I am sorry, Monsieur. I apologize. I can see you are tired of my stupidity, but I need to carry on. I still need to find some people with whom I can speak. I need to conclude a formal legal deposition. I need something tangible to bring back or I will loose my job.”
“There is little you will learn you have not seen already, Monsieur,” Laloup said. His voice softened suddenly and he seemed once again the gentle amicable patriarch.
“That may be, but I am not smart. I can not hunt. I cannot fly a plane. I can’t shoot or track so you know, I have to do the best I can, and whatever else, at least now, I am not ready to be fired.”
“Where do you want to go, Monsieur. You tell me. What do you want.”
Desault sat back and thought. For the first time in a time he sat back, allowed the drone of the propeller, the whistle of the wind and all the sensation of airborne movement to overtake his senses.
“May I ask, monsieur, what are you trying to figure out, eh. Tell me straight. As if our lives depended on it. Speak to me as if there was fuel enough left, to do one thing, in our time remaining.”
A spate of time lapsed and the drone of the propeller and engine invaded and filled the uncertain space between them.
“Well, Monsieur,” Demian answered, his pause reflective of his thoughtful and uncertain answer, “I need to discover who killed the buffalo, who killed the Indians, who taught the white man to do what he did.”
“Monsieur,” Laloup continued, “let me show you how it is the Indian live. Let me show you how it is the people of the north live in the north. It is tres simple. Very simple,” he corrected himself, “and you are right. You are a little dumb but that is all right. It is not your fault. You have grown up without a chief. You couldn’t possibly know and oui, you might be dumb but monsieur but,” he concluded looking directly at Desault, peering straight into the heart of his soul, “you are not stupid.”
Desault listened. He smiled and nearly laughed. He felt the truth of Laloup’s words, the sting of their probity, and the affection with which he spoke.
“We will fly to Arrapahoe. I am going to show you, Monsieur, how it is the Indians teach their young to hunt. What the white man learns and you can see, eh. You can see for yourself.”
For the first time since Desault met Little Bear, he felt himself truly lost.
Out of his comfort, struggling with the pictures and obvious statements they elicited indelibly, his intuition and intellect rioted as his body had done when he first left the ground.
“You tell me,” he said at last. “You are so God dammed smart, why don’t you just tell me. Is this a game. Do I have to act stupid in public for you to know, I know I don’t understand.”
Laloup worked the controls. He set the tabs, adjusted the trim. He looked at Desault occasionally but spent the bulk of his time watching the featureless horizon, watching the gauges which by themselves seemed never to change and occasionally, turned to Desault to watch him and see his face and eyes.
“Pardonez moi, Monsieur, but this is no game. There is life and then all the rest. Here there is everything to do with life, and sometimes, when you have to go to the city, when you have to do something you don’t like, that may be all the rest, but alas, for these people, there is just life.”
He returned his gaze to the instrument cluster.
“Only life, eh”
“I don’t understand,” Desault said. “I know the words you speak but I just don’t understand.”
The old Frenchman smiled. He looked to Desault, turned to his instruments, looked back again and laughed so loud and raucously, Demian thought he could feel the plane shake.
“Why are you laughing at me,” Desault asked. He worried that he had said something to compromise himself, display his true feelings about Little Bear, Indians, white men, or the complexity and his complicity in the all of it.
Laloup wiped his stubbled six day, grey mottled beard. He stroked and rubbed his face as if he had been asleep and was only now just waking.
“The way of the Indian, “ he began, speaking to the windscreen, to the horizon, to someone who might as easily have been himself and any notion of a soul he carried or possessed, “is the way of the animal. The ways of the animal are simple, mon ami. They only kill what they eat, what they can use. Slaughter is not a word they understand. It is something contrary to all the ways of the world. It is not a word they understand except as it describes the incomprehensible horror that happens to them”
Laloup turned the yoke trying to see something, a landmark under the wing, a featureless part of the tundra which gave him some sense or intuition of distance, direction, course.
“Watch the animals here and you will see there is no waste. Nobody but the white man kills for pleasure.”
“No one here, in the north country even knows the word slaughter. Il n’existe pas. It does not exist.”
Desault felt the strength of his bodies recoil sufficient to be visible to even the apparently preoccupied Laloup.
“Nobody but the white man kills for his uncertainty. For fear of the natural order of things. Here,” he said turning again to his passenger, “killing, life and death are just more of everything else. Eh. There is no difference. Here is no reason to kill but for good reason, like the reason to breathe when you need oxygen. It is not a moral or ethical act. It is not something we do, thinking about the consequences because, like breathing, there is nothing else. There is nothing wrong with it.”
Desault watched Laloup and struggled with the words. He knew the truth of the meaning but struggled to fit such oblique notions in his head.
The old Frenchman started to laugh. His belly quaked and again Desault thought he could feel the plane shake.
“Have you ever thought there was someone who took too many breaths, inhaled too much air. When we work hard, monsieur, we breathe a lot. You know, like eating food when your belly hollers.”
He turned to see if his companion from the lower forty eight understood anything he said.
“When we hunt we eat more than when we sleep but we never do what is not natural.”
“White man kills because they are bored. They are scared. They are confused. They are twisted and sick”
Laloup looked again across the wing and back to Demian.
“They are prevented from seeing truth by your morality or religion, your god or your culture. They live so separately from the earth, so distant from the animals, their way of life chokes and defiles them. Don’t you see, monsieur killing is a perversion they learned from their parents. It is a way of life they have been taught, and like any child, they imitate what they cannot control or understand.”
Laloup looked at Desault now for so long, Demian was afraid he would loose control of the craft.
“You have never had children, monsieur, but the white man is no different. Bullies and children who are afraid, they are all the same. They try to imitate what they fear and they learn by infinite repetitions. Over and over again, man will do this, at least, mon ami, until they learn to live like the Indian”
“But what are you saying,” he repeated, struggling to understand, seeming by the near involuntary raise of his brow, the twist and contortions of his face, to be recoiling from a physical blow unleashed by the back of Laloup’s hand. “But what are you saying,” he repeated, struggling to understand, seeming by the near involuntary raise of his brow, the twist and contortions of his face, to be recoiling from a physical blow unleashed by the back of Laloup’s hand.
“There are only two reasons anybody, any animal ever kills another.”
Desault was quiet knowing the manner of the Frenchman’s lessons, the way he spun truth from the fabric of life.
“For food, or for safety. There are no other reasons no matter where you look in all the world”
“But that’s not always true,” Demian protested “Not always.”
“Tell me an instance where it is otherwise”
Desault thought but could come up with no salient example, readily.
“Some are threatened. Some think they are threatened. A man thinks another wants his woman. A country thinks another wants their gold, but territory, a woman, a child, a border, or food, it is really all there is, mon ami. Eh.”
They were each silent for some minutes.
“Was it the white man who killed the buffalo, for money, yes.” The odd Frenchman nodded, “but it was pleasure, too, satisfaction, immorality, fear of death, solitude in the great plains, smallness in the great and uncivilized universe of the north country, the new west, the unpeopled stretches of the Americas that drew him, a vampire bat to blood.”
“And the white man killed the Indian for pleasure too, or out of fear,” he concluded forcing the plane into a steep bank, “but not us.”
Desault recoiled and felt himself chastened and rebuked, despite Laloup’s apparent affection, a genuine smile during his dispositive dissertation.
Once again he saw the sun appear to move, knowing it was the bearing of the craft and wondered if the Frenchman was so upset, so put off by his insistent and more than a little fraudulent agenda, he was headed home, headed to any place he might discharge this unwitting white boy.
He remembered the compass and despite his disequilibration with the sun, noted the heading numbers, green and luminescent on the dials of the gauges on the dash.
He saw the hash marks, quarter sections and did the arithmetic which gave him a sum of three hundred forty five degrees.
“Where are we going,” he asked Laloup. His voice, for his uncertainty, scarcely loud enough to be heard over the whine and combustion of the engine.
“Monsieur, I have counted and the compass says we are headed almost north, as you say, ‘due north.’
He waited to see if Laloup was angry or simply inattentive.
“Where are we going, Monsieur.”
“The Arrapahoe were a tribe, mon ami which spread all across this land. They had summer lands in the north, by the circle. They lived on the land and lived here, with the Northern Musk-ox. They were a peaceful people and were killed. White man, alcohol, brutality, they are gone. The only ones who live are rabid, retarded inbred lunatics.
The Cree took their place. They are warlike. A strong people who also live with the musk-ox. When the white man finally left they had slaughtered the Arrapahoe and they slaughtered most of the musk-ox.”
“You will see mon ami, you will see.
Lulled by the engine Desault fell asleep. He dreampt again of Little Bear, but this time of her standing between herself and the invading white man, tying to protect the elders from attack.
Desault felt himself tipping from his perch, from the stone cairn on whose top he had climbed to see the outcome, to be ready to race after the marauders, run to keep Little Bear from harm and hold her threatened quivering body in safety and the comfort to his own.
He struggled to keep his eyes upon her. He struggled to maintain his balance and, opening his eyes realized the small craft had changed its attitude again and was now pitched steeply to the ground.
“What’s wrong,” he asked Laloup.
The Frenchman shook his head.. He maintained his vigilance upon the controls, his sight upon the gauges and the uprising land. Saying nothing, his lips pursed, nodding forward, indicating with the tilt of his head Desault should look forward and see what the Frenchman spied.
The ground below now was a mixture of grass, lichen and gravel. There was no shrub or vegetation higher than a man’s knee.
The short stubble, a balding pate was alpine, lush, but shrunken and perhaps, Desault realized, underlain by permafrost.
“Did I sleep a long time,” he asked, Laloup whose smile indicated the affirmative.
Desault looked off from the uprising ground and in the distance, a horizon of seventy or a hundred miles, perhaps, thought he could see the pale green or whitish blue of water.
He pointed, his finger expressing the question as to the nature of the horizon and the Frenchman said, monosyllabically, “Arctic,”
“That is the Arctic ocean,” he repeated, and the Frenchman, a father chiding an errant son, daydreaming in the midst of a school field day, grunted.
“I must have slept a day,” Desault repeated, realizing now the extent of their journey during a time he was dozing or dreaming idly of Little Bear.
He recalled the curious sensation for being at altitude, disequilibrated, out of his element and uncertain where the boundaries of dream and wakefulness began or ended.
“Regardez,” Laloup said, the nose of the craft pointed dangerously down, their speed increasing as if they were to dive head first into the land becoming another indistinguishable disintegrated pile of rubble set upon the frozen Arctic waste.
Desault did as he was bid and saw, increasingly small hummocks of a bleached white and sometimes curiously symmetrical deposit of material.
‘A branch or limbs of fossil trees,’ he thought or an unnatural accumulation of a foreign substance that had apparently been there for some time but came from another environment, another geologic time.
He looked again to Laloup seeking some form of instruction, tutelage from his master, but the Frenchman continued to drive the plane closer and closer to the ground. Desault increasingly aware of the curious hummocks to which they pointed was now more afraid the Frenchman had gone mad and was to crash their craft, or emergency land, fearing they had run out of fuel and had now no other place to go.
“Are we alright,” he asked openly anxious now, scared, feeling his heart rising to his throat and wondering of this weren’t one of the times he had read of someone going off the deep end, disappearing into thin air and never returning to the lower forty eight.
“Monsieur,” Laloup said, his teeth gritted, his hands clutching the yoke, his eyes narrowed and focused forward, “look.”
Again Desault did as he was bid. He saw now the small hummocks, hundreds in number, and actually everywhere his eye could travel, were little raised islands like mangrove swamps of bones.
There were hundreds of piles of bleached bones piled with some incomprehensible but recognizable order.
Overcoming the horror, holding back his instinct to throw up, he feared he was being shown mass graves.
There was a pattern, he realized, in their laying on the near frozen tundra and there was a shocking and undoubtedly organic similarity in their composition.
“Are they people,” he asked, struggling to get the words out, wondering if Laloup had gone mad, if he meant to fly them into the ground and kill them as a way to atone for the mishandling of Indian affairs by the white man, the genocide that must have festered in the heart of every one who knew anything about any of the atrocities of the conquest of North America.
The Frenchman didn’t speak but as the ground rose before them, Desault saw to his horror and relief, the skeletons were too large for humans, and the Frenchman was pulling them back from the precipice. He had clasped the yoke, halted their descent and, pulling back, was leveling of the craft, stable now and a few hundred feet off the ground.
“Are you trying to kill us,” Desault asked, scared, angry, frightened, relieved.
The Frenchman looked at him suddenly with an eye of such contempt and disdain, Desault felt physically struck, slapped in the face and struck forcibly by the Frenchman as if he, Demian Desault had hurt one of his children, killed one of his pet goats, said something terrible and inhumane about his mother.
“Why are you mad at me, Monsieur. What have I done.”
“Je suis drole.” He muttered and turning behind him, peering out the window, he seemed, Desault thought, to looking for a bearing or landmark. As suddenly now he began again to turn the craft.
“I am sorry monsieur, vraiment. I am sorry. It is not your fault, but when I see this I get so angry I could kill anyone who is even remotely white.”
He looked back, put on his headphones, flicked a switch in the radio panel, appearing to hear nothing, removed them again.
“Even if it is just by birth, monsieur and it’s not your fault, I can’t help myself. Americans have no idea and au contraire, on the contrary,” he continued, his voice more normal, his anger subsided, “they think someone else has done all this.”
“But what is it,” Desault persisted. “What is all that.” he asked again, pointing his thumb over his shoulder to the mass graves, the burial sites over which they had just flown.
“That, mon ami, is the worst of mankind. That is the leftovers of the white mans quest for ivory.”
“That, mon ami is what the white man did to the musk-ox for his tusks and it is unfortunately no different than what he did to the buffalo and that, mon ami, is no different than what he did to the Indian.”
Laloup pulled hard on the controls. He yanked the yoke and seemed to wrestle with the craft forcing it to turn against the otherwise demanding forces of inertia and gravity.
“That is not true,” he corrected himself. “It is not true.”
Desault watched the Frenchman take hold of the flaps and pulling them up, knew they were to begin their hastened descent, landing imminently.
“The musk-ox, if they were shot, died pretty quickly. And most of them were. They are slow, have no natural enemies and someone could walk up to them, shoot them point blank, cut the ivory from the dead animal with no risk to themselves and no further pain to the beast.”
Laloup pulled the flaps out fully, clasped his hand upon the red knobbed throttle and raced the engine, readying for a slow set down while maintaining sufficient airspeed to not stall.
“But the Indians, mon ami, that was different. Slavery and torture is forever. That is a very different death than the simple single crash of a bullet to the head.”
Laloup pulled hard on the yoke, the throttle and flaps almost simultaneously.
Desault knew now exactly what next would happen but was so moved, shaken by what he saw, he remained transfixed and in some state of shock.
From it’s accelerated descent the plane leveled. The nose came up, leaving the view from the windscreen one of white, pale blue, the summer sky with no reference or hint of land or bottom.
Laloup held the yoke and eased back until his ears and stomach, a hunter of a more modern sort heard the upraising closeness of the water, the slowing of the plane and the proximity of the lake upon which they would almost instantaneously touchdown.
Before, he knew safety, each time Desault would stiffen, wait upon landing for a crash and tense his body in the normal expectation of enormous impending physical assault.
Desault seemed quiet and stilled. He seemed to the Frenchman so struck, preoccupied internally he scarcely recognized their state of life, from avian to acqueous, was about to change again in the most profound manner.
The trailing edge of the pontoon touched the flat water of the nearly still surface of lake.
The noise, at first, the paddle of a canoe dragged behind a moving vessel, grown enormous and exponentially loud as the huge tin float at nearly forty miles an hour, settled into the lake surface, bearing the weight of the whole of the down bearing craft, was terrific.
With eyes closed the crush of water, bubbling, concussion sounded, a large cargo vessel crashing upon the rocks, in storm, a ship breaking into pieces and readying to sink.
Desault stared out the side window and remained unmoved. He watched something in his heart though his eyes unfocused took in the facts of their touchdown, their heavy, ungainly but successful water landing.
Laloup feathered the propeller.
The sudden vestibular change, the propeller’s turn from an aggressive predator taking air to propel behind to a fair weather, tame and curious metal concoction, occasioned such a change in the noise of the craft and the wind rushing by the fuselage, Desault could not help but look up, recognize his surroundings and in the process make eye contact with the Frenchman.
“”Qu-est-ce qu’ arrive, monsieur,” the Frenchman asked. “What is wrong my friend,” he repeated translating, setting the dials of the dash, turning off the radios and preparing to shut down the electronics.
He hung his earphones back upon their hook, feathered the propeller, pushed the red throttle to its complete close and the engine and simultaneously all noise, but for the lap of water by the pontoons, ceased.
“What is wrong, mon ami. You appear to have seen a ghost, eh.”
Laloup smiled but knew his teasing was gentle and his rebuke, harmless. His affection for the American was evident in nearly everything he now did or said.
Desault looked at him and smiled. A curious, wry and sad smile, his face suddenly appearing ten years older than the young tourist who came to the north country, arrived at the Chateau and sought adventure with the pilot, introduced by the old concierge, Ferdinand.
“I would like to see Little Bear,” he confessed. Desault spoke now, a son to a father, a child to a man. His eyes reckoned the horror of his nascent understanding of man’s inhumanity to the world, to animals, to each other.
As a boy, a hunter, a man, he felt keenly the absence of Little Bear and clearly evident on his face was his interest to be in the company or the arms of a beautiful woman whose sight and smell would rid his brain of the evil images of his own kind.
The only sounds now were the slightest breeze across the water, the lap of rippling waves upon the pontoons.
The Frenchman allowed his gaze to remain with Desault but with no expectation of his speaking or doing anything.
Demian could not rid himself of the images of the fields of dead, in Flanders, millions shrunken and devastated by disease in Zimbabwe, the Jews of Hitler’s holocaust.
“I am sorry,” he said, as much for himself, his naiveté, his reckoning the harshness of man, his stubbornness with the Frenchman as for his not being, this moment, buried into the arms and black hair of the Little Bear.
“C’est d’accord, mon ami. It is all right”
He turned to unfasten his seatbelt, returned to Demian’s gaze and repeated, clapping him gently on the shoulder.
“It is all right, mon ami. Let me show you one more picture and I think you will have everything you need for your trip to Winnipeg.”
Desault followed Laloup, preoccupied in the extreme.
They debarked to the pontoons, taking small folding paddles from the storage lazerette.
“You need to stand over there, Monsieur, like this,” he said, waving his hands over to the other side of the craft, signifying the pontoon under the opposite wing.
Desault followed the instruction and found himself, paddle in hand, standing alone now on the other side of the craft.
“Paddle, Monsieur. You know,” Laloup screamed, making certain Desault could hear his voice despite being out of sight.
“Like the slavers made the black man, put your oar in the water, man, and paddle.”
Desault woke to the command and realized he had been less than attentive to their undertaking.
He dipped the oar in the water and pulled but the force of Laloup’s stroke was enough to begin spinning the craft in circles.
“Stroke, stroke,” the Frenchman yelled.
“You’d better get your ass behind that oar and stroke you son of a bitch or we’ll never get to shore and we can not fly to Winnipeg on empty.”
Desault, properly chastised, realized this was indeed a group sport.
Pulling hard now, the float plane straightened.
“Oui monsieur, comme ca. Yes, you have it now, eh.” He concluded, his breath going to the task of pulling himself, making certain the craft headed toward and made landfall upon the shore and was not driven by the wind out into the middle of the lake.
In a time seeming hours, but not clearly cognizable by the high circling, solstice sun, Desault pulled and oared, recalling how little he had worked in this journey, how satisfying strenuous effort might be in assuaging emotional turmoil and the extraordinary satisfaction of success seeing, before his eyes, land.
“We will live, monsieur.” Laloup called from the other side of the float plane.
“Viva La Province, we will live.”
As he spoke he crawled across the superstructure, leapt over onto the same pontoon on which Desault stood and summarily jumped off, on to the edge of a small makeshift log dock Desault had not realized set there, as they had approached.
“We are here, mon ami. We have arrived,” he repeated, pulling the tip of the wing gently, swinging around the float plane so it’s tail was nearest land and a small line used for a tie down on land could fix the little clasp on the tail dragger to the dock, safe from the wind.
“Allons nous,” Laloup said, rising from the log, taking Desault’s eye. “Come along, monsieur and we will begin the end of your journey.”
Desault jumped from the aft section of the pontoon. He wondered how it was the old Frenchman knew enough to even contemplate speaking about beginnings or endings, less what was the nature of this undertaking so incomplete, and opposite in the outcomes he had sought, he could characterize it at all.
“Allez, allez,” he chastised Desault, too slow for the Frenchman who now curiously too had an agenda of his own.
Demian noticed fuel tanks, old army drums set in a log cross hatch by the edge of the lake.
“What makes you think you know what it is I am supposed to be doing anyway,” Desault whined, “ and what makes you so smart, you know when we’re done. “
He tripped along the rocky promontory and struggled to keep up with Laloup.
“I don’t even think I have begun,” he muttered, thinking aloud as much as speaking the part, addressing his most intimate concerns.
“Don’t worry, mon ami, the Frenchman always brings back his guests. We will not loose our way, mon vieux. Don’t worry.”
They traveled on silently and but for the noise of an occasional foot or boot sticking in the mud, the sucking and squishing noise made for the wetness of their environs, there was no further talk for some minutes.
“In your country you have heard of the whisperers, monsieur,” Laloup asked.
Desault shook his head but realized, eyes to the ground, trying to maintain balance, the Frenchman could not see him.
“No,” he answered aloud. “No, I don’t know what you mean.”
“The whisperers,” Laloup continued turning every few steps to engage Desault.
“The people who are able to speak with the animals, idiot savants, maybe they call them, autistics. Like horse whisperers. You know, clairvoyants. People who can tell the future, read facts of the past from the way tea leaves sit in a jug, tell the weather by the height of the wasps nest over the lowest bough of the aspens”
Again they were silent for some time. The ground began to rise and there was suddenly a view of the tundra before them.
Though they traveled to the south, there was a hummock which in its rise allowed a sight of a small encampment, a narrow nesting of brush, elders and huckleberry which had grown up over a million years and provided some shelter in an environment otherwise flat and subject to the cruelest weather on earth. Musk-ox congregated by the vegetation, back to the wind, heads close together and pointed to the ground.
“It’s going to rain, monsieur,“ Laloup said. “We should be gone before the sun arcs. Get over the tops of the clouds. Do you think you can be done by then.”
“Monsieur, I don’t even know what the hell you are talking about. I don’t know why you are toying with me. And how do you know it is going to rain.”
“I am no whisperer, Monsieur. I have not the skills of the Indian, but I am no dummy. I can read,” he concluded looking at the great animals and indicating, contemptuously, that anybody with eyes at least ought to know the weather from an animal’s recline, the way they sat, lay on the ground, huddled together.
The ground firmed now and the Frenchman moved off, a jack rabbit in a pace with which Desault struggled to maintain.
They passed a small rise appearing to be lined with feldspar and other flat stones risen from the ground, released by the sun from the frost.
Desault noted some form of stone work, an old foundation, he thought, but continued, leaving its contemplation for not wanting to loose sight of Laloup.
“I mean monsieur, your interviews, your work. There should be time to conclude your affairs, eh, I think that’s the way they say it in the city, before too long.” he sniggered with good nature, chuckled and continued.
“Monsieur, I don’t even see anybody. I don’t know what’s in your head. I‘ve told you, I need to talk to the old people. I need to take statements, gather some facts, find out how it was their forbears taught the white man.”
“Do you have any clue what I am talking about,” Desault asked. His voice plaintive, a child’s cry, but Laloup persevered and did not take the bait.
“Monsieur,” Desault spoke again, his body splattered in mud, his boots wet, his spirits low, “please tell me, what are we doing. I confess. I am lost.”
“Be patient mon ami, be patient for just a few minutes.”
Desault did as he was told. He looked up, determined if nothing else this difficult walking though eons of frozen mud and permafrost would at least be concluded and they would go somewhere, get to someplace and be warm, safe and dry.
On the small knoll, they were suddenly, within yards of the great wooly bison.
“Is that a buffalo,” Desault asked, whispering, gawking, stepping slowly so not to disturb the beast or endanger himself.
“Monsieur,” Desault repeated his gaze fixed on the blood red eye of the enormous, tusked and menacing looking creature.
“Is that the buffalo,” he whispered again, thinking suddenly the crazy old Frenchman was not so crazy at all and he was going to find people who lived with these mythical creatures, people who would, finally, tell him the story.
“It is a musk-ox,“ Laloup said. ”These are the musk-ox,” he repeated, himself keeping his distance but studying the enormous and magnificent beast.
Desault watched, perplexed.
‘Why,’ he wondered, ‘had his guide taken him from one lunacy to another. Why, here in the middle of nowhere, had he taken him to the edge of the earth for some fancy that had little to do with the occasion of his employment.’
He looked carefully at the beast, and tried to assess his chance for living, surviving an attack, returning with the Frenchman to the city, to anywhere he could escape this craziness and get back to a more normal life.
Three young boys suddenly appeared at the far edge of the rise.
They were barefoot, scantily clad, and without weapon or artifact of any kind.
Desault was surprised. He felt himself startle. He struggled not to scream, to throttle the natural cry that would emanate from the sighting of any body in a vast wilderness while thinking, but for the Frenchman, he was alone.
Laloup moved off quietly towards them. Desault thought the old Frenchman’s movement was so calculated and calm, he had prior knowledge of their rendezvous.
Demian watched Laloup walk around the hummock, brush and beasts, to a point where the young men stood.
He wondered if somehow they had radios and it was to these people Laloup had spoken when in the midst of the last flight he had raised his headphones to his ears and seemed to be speaking to someone.
In moments they congregated. Their unspoken words seemed to suggest they had knowledge of each other. They were not strangers.
Desault watched assuming they were familiar, but they were too, subdued, their motions slow, harnessed, restrained as if they had an agenda which neither Laloup nor Desault could fathom.
Desault found an edge of flat rock extruded through the frost, dried and warm in the solstice sun.
He sat and watched, thinking to turn and see the plane, to find some bearing but again and not surprisingly, he saw nothing but an endless stretch of tundra, small vegetation and then the occasional depression of a muskeg or the rise of a collection of brush as the one by whose side he now sat.
Two of the three boys set off from Laloup and walked slowly back into the herd of musk ox. They stepped with the same care as if not to wake a sleeping elder, with the same respect as if their loved one or young bride, great with child and sleeping before labor was nearby and needing not to be disturbed.
In minutes they were among the great beasts.
Occasionally one would raise the massif of their heads, eyeing the boys with the laconic blood red eyes of history, solitude and the certain though perhaps now historical knowledge of human savagery.
Desault wondered what was the nature of the boys undertaking. He rose carefully to see better and to witness what was, obviously now, especially as he saw the usually excited and loquacious Frenchman, silenced, watchful of the purposeful acts of these young Indian boys, the shapes of things to come.
They were now in and around the herd of twenty or twenty five oxen.
They moved quietly, carefully, standing next to one and then another. They stood by their nose and head, allowing the animal to sniff them, to gain some knowledge of their person and then moved slowly backwards along the mane and withers to where they stood beside the shoulders and great body of the massive critter.
The musk-ox continued to chew, occasionally turning their head, seeming less concerned with any additional knowledge of the strangers than the effort required to upraise their attention from the serious and contemplative undertaking of regurgitating and savoring the fresh summer lichens upon which they ruminated.
For some time the boys moved amongst the great ones. Each time they began at their head. Neighbors at a town dance, formally introducing themselves and by their care and slow movement, extended their hand in salutation, their scent in greeting, knowledge of each other to introduce or reintroduce themselves to the assemblage.
Desault wanted to move to Laloup and ask what was the nature of their undertaking. He wanted to shout across the land but saw there was such a focus and silence, such communication and intercourse he would be heathen in the extreme to invade or intrude upon their space.
The young Cree hunters began to move slowly toward the front of the herd. They performed the same balletic movements, with a care and equanimity which struck even Desault.
They moved back along the path from which Desault and Laloup had first come.
They moved, gentling the herd to follow to the stone foundation Desault recalled they passed on their way in from the lake.
Across the basalt and feldspar wall of the earthworks was a plank nearly the thickness of Desault’s body.
Out onto it’s midst the youngest walked.
Beneath, embedded into the permafrost and recessed six or eight feet in the foundation below ground were twenty five or thirty sharpened spears of alder and pincherry.
Their lethal shafts pointed skyward were clearly meant to kill any prey falling into their midst.
Desault saw the complex artifact and understood the boy was to lead the great beasts across the plank, readying to slaughter them all.
He jumped up and waved at Laloup wanting, despite his status as foreigner, to stop the proceedings.
Desault waved and caught Laloup’s attention who in response held both palms up mid-air to his American friend admonishing him sternly not to move, not to speak, not to interfere in any manner.
Desault turned back to watch the horror and saw the plank, a collection of vine and root, stunted tree and limb wound and bound by bits of rope and vine, split halfway across the abyss.
Again, and from the distance of fifty feet, Desault tried to get Laloup’s attention and intervention.
The old Frenchman saw him immediately and raising a forefinger to his lips commanded him again to be silent and leave the boys be.
The young Cree led one and then another of the majestic musk-ox across the foot bridge.
Astonished, Desault saw first one and then the next pass the moat arriving on the far side where they resumed their peaceful and idyllic ruminations.
He moved to be closer.
He tried with all his wile to be quiet and unnoticed.
He watched as another mighty beast, so large the timber creaked and groaned ready to snap, crossed.
Whispered and led, cajoled and beguiled, the great ivory tusked musk-ox followed less easily than those before.
At the split in the plank, while the young hunter easily navigated the crossing, the great ox miss-stepped.
With a piercing groan, a shattering bellow, the great woolly beast fell, killed instantly by the upraised spears the hunters had long ago placed.
Demian Desault ran to the old Frenchman. He thought to strike him, to physically punish him for bringing him to witness another in the endless array of man’s inhumanity.
“You son of a bitch,” he screamed raising his fist running headlong into the man who alone, amongst them could get him home.
“You perverted bastard,” he yelled as the old Frenchman clasped his hands midair, stilled the flailing American, holding him as would a father an upset, petulant and uncontrolled child.
“You bastard,” he screamed again dropping to his knees, overcome with the emotion of a life and all it’s learnings turned suddenly, upside down.
“Mon ami,” Laloup said, speaking gently, softly, scarcely audibly in the soft solstice arctic summer’s breeze.
Desault sniffled, caught his breath, composed himself and rose.
“I’m sorry, monsieur,” he said now, standing, shaking off his weakness, dusting off the mud on his clothes, the shamefulness of his frailty and sudden reckoning of his nascent humaneness, “truly,” he repeated, taking hold of the Frenchman’s eye, holding out his hand to shake, to proffer, to say physically he was regretful for his errant and inappropriate behavior.
The old Frenchman took his hand. He shook it firmly and clasped him again by the shoulders.
“You see, mon ami, it is all right. It is fine. It is great mon ami eh, for now you have everything for which you came, eh, everything that brought you to the North Country.”
Desault smiled, his cheeks red, his eyes tearful, he smiled through the wonder of the extraordinary nature of life, the unexpected and unintended outcome of things.
“I told you,” the Frenchman,” he growled, a friendly joking reminder of his masculinity, “the Frenchman always brings his guests home.”
“But what about them,” Desault asked. “What are they doing.”
“They are hunting, mon ami. They are hunters and they are gathering their stores for the winter.”
“But they are barbaric. Did you see how they killed that buffalo,”
“It is a musk-ox, mon ami, and yes. The question is, did you see, and I think the answer is no.”
Desault looked befuddled and perplexed. He was bedraggled and lost and as he opened his mouth to protest again, to demand of Laloup the morality of the behavior of the Cree, his own countrymen or whoever they were, the sky opened.
“If you want to get to Winnipeg, monsieur,” Laloup said, turning already and moving back, toward the lake and in the direction from which they came.
“If you want to meet your friends, we had better get going. We need fuel and it is difficult to lift off when it rains heavily.”
Laloup took off again, a jack rabbit across meadow and glen. Recognizing the ultimate efficacy of getting to Winnepeg and realizing, in his heart, how unpleasant it would be to spend yet another night in the bush, in the rain, in a small and uncomfortable tent or cockpit, Desault withheld any further protest and followed.
“I think you are crazy,” Desault said. “I think you have lived in the wilderness too long and cannot see reason for insanity.”
The old Frenchman smiled and laughed aloud.
“Moi, monsieur, you think I cannot tell right from wrong. Is that what you say.”
Desault nodded slowly, thinking and uncertain.
“Perhaps not exactly but you know what, those boys are no different than wild things. They are animals. They are wild animals and you think showing me that will help me in Winnipeg.
“I think monsieur, “ Laloup answered slowly, setting the throttle, setting the trim, adjusting his seat to get comfortable for this the last leg of their flight, “that you are staring truth in the face and like most of the white men on earth, you don’t have a clue, eh. You don’t have a clue.”
Desault was struck and somewhat hurt by the strength of Laloup’s words.
“You didn’t see, monsieur. You saw but your eyes were blind.”
“What are you talking about. What the Christ are you saying. They drove the buffalo into the pit. They speared him like a wild beast, and you think I don’t understand,”
“What about the ones they didn’t kill monsieur. Eh, What about the twenty-five they let pass.”
Desault was silent. He looked at Laloup but didn’t speak.
“You know it was the old one they killed. They do have to eat. They don’t have any stores there. And they do respect the musk-ox monsieur, musk–ox, not buffalo” he repeated, “enough to take care of the herd, employ good husbandry and only take the elders, the sick, the blind or the ones who can not winter over anyway.”
Desault stared dumbly at Laloup.
“You don’t get it do you,” he said again, an unmistakable exasperation in his voice, a palpable anger rising in the small space between them.
Desault shook his head, no. He shook his head allowing by the cast of his down-turned eye he didn’t get it and the words Laloup said were meaningless.
“You son of a bitch,” Laloup exploded. He reached to the control panel and pressed the red buttoned throttle into it’s recess, feathering the propeller and shutting down the engine as quickly as it had, moments earlier, sprung into life.
“We’re not leaving,” the old Frenchman said.” We are not leaving here until you can tell me, with a straight face you understand.”
Laloup began the ritual of turning off the gauges, dials, electronic elements of the aircraft, obviously readying it for sleep and themselves for something other than flight.
Desault appeared ashen, surprised, befuddled.
“Don’t be angry at me,” he pleaded. “I am trying,” he continued, his eyes still downcast, his countenance one of a wayward son.
“I am trying but you’ve got to give me a chance,” he replied again, seeing now that Laloup was staring at him with the determined and silent gaze indicating he was not going to speak further and, Desault needed open the door to the craft and allow the Frenchman egress.
Silently and with a curious shame, Desault removed himself from the craft, stepped forward on the pontoon and allowed Laloup his space and a way back to the makeshift dock.
The old Frenchman, with neither sign nor hesitation struck off across the grass and sedge of the lake side and moved off back along their original route.
Desault watched as he disappeared, and only after a few minutes, leaning out over the water, listening to the quiet, did he realize old Laloup meant not to return.
He stepped upon his toes, craning his neck, peering into the offing but saw now no sign of his pilot.
“Sweet Jesus,” he swore, muttering, stuttering, realizing he had yet again crossed an imaginary boundary and violated something in the Frenchman’s nearly inscrutable pride.
“Wait. Hey, wait up. I’m sorry,” he yelled, jumping now from the float to the land, falling some into the waters edge, stumbling, swearing, trying to gain the attention of the now disappeared pilot.
“Wait,” he yelled again, cupping his hands, trying, a child in the dark, to throw his voice and interdict the further departure of the pilot.
Desault moved more quickly now than he thought possible. He sweated profusely and wiping the dampness from his brow, realized he was not only hurrying but too, somewhat afraid.
He saw steps, footprints which curiously calmed him.
He hastened and wondered at the curious notion of being soothed, reassured by a footprint etched distinctly in mud and the exponential difference between such veridical evidence and the type of anecdotal data he sought to impugn the integrity of the entire Canadian nation.
“Monsieur Laloup,” he yelled again, trying to throw his voice into the wild, into the vastness of the Arctic tundra.
“Monsieur, I know your there. I can see your track. I am no dummy,” he protested, stumbling now on a marker and falling unexpectedly upon the ground.
Desault stood, straightened himself and set off, opening his mouth to scream, seeing, from the corner of his eye he was not on the track which had been familiar and was not the one previously traveled. He turned to check his bearings and in that instant fell again, now crashing through dried grass, a false ground, and into a pit covered with grass, woven by hand and thatch, made so well it might have fooled the wild beasts of the land and certainly, Desault realized, in free fall, terror clutching his heart, waiting for the sharp puncture of the upright barbs, it had fooled him.
“Aiyanou inaaque, Aiyanou, aiya,” the young hunter said. His voice was soft, his almond eyes gentle. His voice, a question and statement knew the fear of the white man but too wondered for the extraordinary events landing this unearthly fellow into a trap made for an occasional bear when the season was ripe, a caribou if they crossed the trap-line, and a place to stay dry when the rains warranted.
“I, I, I am sorry,” Demian stammered. He had, he realized, been here for a while, and had, beside the confusion of these hunters staring at him, a terrific pain where the side of his head had struck a rock or stone in the pit.
“Anasoouui, Loup,” one of the boys said. They had taken their spears, leaned them against the earthen wall and kneeling by the side of the white man spoke with a gentleness Desault had heard reserved only for lovers, mothers and their children, young folk and their elders, those accompanying those readying to die.
“Anasoouui Loup,” the youngest said again, coming closer to the fallen white man, kneeling over, holding something in his hand, a small twig or leaf.
Desault struggled to regain his consciousness, to see or understand if he were here, in the belly of the earth or if this were a dream, if he were aloft, headed somewhere with Laloup and he was wandering in the soporific drone of flight and unable to wake.
Possessed by a devil, by the fear he had fallen off the earth, was himself the wildebeest about to be disemboweled, he screamed.
He tried to rise himself, but was frozen in panic and fear.
He startled and studied the face of the young hunter whose unintelligible words seemed soothing nonetheless.
The wrinkle on his brow indicated his countenance was that of a young man watching the unexpected death of another, the unnecessary but not unfamiliar death of one not entirely dissimilar to himself.
“Imou ani,” the young one said again, holding now the small piece of grass next to Desault’s nose.
“Imou,” he repeated, his voice so soft, his tone so reverential, he was, Desault realized asking if he were all right, if he were going to die and with the blade of grass checked to see if air still exhausted from his apparently somnolent, if not mortified body.
“I am fine,” he whispered, and saw immediately a smile and relief overspread the face of the young man leaned over him.
“Yes,” he repeated, seeing there was no harm or further danger, that he was not in a dream, that the young hunter’s interest was no more than the uncertainty of his own safety and well being.
A foreigner invading a foreign land, while he should have been met with the sharp barb of the spear, he was greeted with a smile.
“Yes,” he repeated, “I am fine. I am fine now and thank-you,” he concluded, raising himself, smiling broadly, realizing finally the truth of the North Country and the gentleness of these young hunters spirit.
They smiled, gleaming white teeth, warm friendly if uncomprehending grins and led him through a small passageway and out into the open.
“Sweet Jesus,” Desault whispered, feeling himself exhale with relief. Awake, alive, he thought himself Gulliver landed on the shores of the Lilliputions.
He began to laugh, uncontrollably. He laughed the quaking relief gained from fear and it’s surcease. He caught his breath, wiped the tears from his eyes, and saw next the young Indian hunters wonder, curiosity and a gawking awe at the white mans odd behavior.
“I’m sorry,” he averred.
“Truly, I am sorry.” He spoke knowing full well they understood nothing of what he said, but believed anyway, someway, by the tone of his voice, by the face of his silliness, his embarrassment, his chagrin, they would know he was just a simple fuck, and a more than a little dumb, white man.
“I am sorry,” he said again, his face now, as he had seen from the old Inuit elder, speaking more eloquently than the word, turned down, vulnerable, allowing of his frail and human naiveté, all at once.
Realizing the fool he must have appeared, what a fool was his undertaking and he, the accomplice of idiocy, he laughed at himself and again so hard and with such relief, his eyes teared and his vision blurred.
When finally he stood and straightened himself, in front of the young hunters, agok at the sight before them, he saw, immediately behind, watching with neither word nor comment, Ferdinand Laloup.
“Demian,” Dempsey said, “good god man look at you.”
Dempsey had seen Desault and Laloup landing at the broad flat private landing strip immediately adjacent to the commercial jet way.
In city clothes, suits, sunglasses and all the trappings of another world, Dempsey, Pendergast and the rest stood aghast watching the old Frenchman and Demian Desault enter.
”Good god man, where have you been. Did your plane crash. You look like you’ve been in a wreck.”
Demian let his eyes fall noticing too how the others looked at him.
His clothes were caked with mud and dried tundra sod. His face was unshaven now for well more than a week and there were stains of grease, blood and, he realized, a distinct and gamy scent to himself and his pilot, Monsieur Laloup.
“Yes, Jack,” Demian answered sarcastically, “Yes. In fact, I am but a skeleton of my former self.”
Dempsey felt chagrined at the harshness of his jousting rebuke.
“Why don’t we go inside, get some food, a drink,” he continued, “there is a restaurant upstairs and we can have a beer.”
“That would be bon, Monsieur,” the Frenchman said. “It has been a long trip and that would be tres bon.”
“You are Mr. Loup,” Dempsey asked, extending his hand for Laloup to shake.
“I am the Frenchman,” Laloup said, “I am the wolf and I always bring my guests home.
“Well that is a good thing, Sir,” Jack answered somewhat uncomfortably “so let us go inside and have something to drink.”
Before the waitress had them seated Dempsey assaulted Demian Desault with questions.
“What happened, Demian. You look terrible,” he said realizing as soon as the words dropped off his tongue, he was speaking of his friends garb and had not thought to take care for the public, albeit, unintended insult.
He sat himself, folded his sunglasses, took off his fancy camo-jacket and looked at his old friend squarely in the eye.
“I didn’t mean that,” he allowed, “I mean you look terrible, Demian, but I don’t mean you look terrible,” he concluded placing special emphasis on the last ‘you’ as distinguished from the first.
“You weren’t really in an accident were you Demian,” Watkins asked. He leaned forward underscoring his focus and intent by turning an ear toward the person to whom he spoke.
“That is just Jack,” Demian laughed, “you know what a terrible sense of humor he has.”
A waitress appeared and they all ordered drinks.
“So Demian, have you spoken with Altshuller. Do you know anything.”
He smiled, realizing again he was speaking his public barrister talk, not the words he would use in private to speak with his old racquetball partner, Demian Desault.
“I mean have you heard anything about how this thing has gone ballistic.”
Desault shook his head, ’no,’ and the waitress appeared with the first round of drinks.
Desault noticed the old Frenchman had ordered two, and watched through the edge of his beer glass all the eyes in front of him were still gawking, staring at him as if he were an animal, a two headed hydra.
“Demian, I think this is a lucky break for all of us. I think,” he added, “if we play our cards right, we can all retire and those of us who want to work can take a judgeship for any federal district in the lower forty-eight.”
Demian looked at Laloup who did not seem, uncomprehending the language and vernacular, fully cognizant of the meaning of the bravado.
Desault looked at Pendergast who studied him as he might have looked at a pole cat, a mountain lion, fascinated by the rough incendiary power, frightened of the unpredictability.
“How did the depositions go. Do you have any affidavit’s. Did you get to find any witnesses,” James asked.
“I did,” Desault answered. “I did.”
Dempsey looked at Desault and saw suddenly a light, a sparkle in his eye he had not earlier noticed.
He listened to Durand and Watkins question him on the merits of the witnesses, their heritage, the credibility and he realized he was not saying anything as one might have expected, rather he was, in a curious manner, abiding them all, patronizing them in the most subtle fashion, tolerating them, but clearly not in the same space, with the same purpose, on the same team.
“Demian,” Jack asked, his voice a note more serious and with out the spirited if unnatural camaraderie the others displayed.
“Demian, are you all right.”
“Well sure,” Desault answered, “do I look that bad.”
Jack smiled, an open and ingenuous grin.
“No,” he answered, thoughtfully. “No. No. I mean no, not at all. In fact for someone who came from the other fucking side of the world, you look positively good.”
There was a notable silence at their table.
Demian smiled and Jack continued.
“I mean, if I didn’t know better, the more I look at you, the more I wonder what was in the water or if you have been smokin’ some of that funky stuff.”
There was general laughter at the table but it was more pleasant than genuine and everybody but Laloup, Dempsey and Desault were recognizably uncomfortable.
“Tell us,” Desault, James asked, his head turned characteristically, Demian noted, sideways as an eel, “what is the bottom line. What have you got we can use.”
Dempsey watched him and waited. Before he could even speak, he said, “Demian you old devil, you’re not playing anymore are you.”
“What are you talking about,” Durand mumbled.
“Jack,” James repeated, sliding his head in Dempsey’s direction. “Jack, what are you talking about.”
Dempsey gazed steadfastly at Demian and did not speak.
“Demian,” Watkins asked, his voice now without the bubble of high spirited machismo, “is that true. Are you out. Did something happen.”
Desault smiled. He grinned not knowing what he was or what actually happened but so struck by this gathering was he, so common had become his solitude on the tundra and his time with Laloup, he was himself dumbstruck by the questions and certainly, he thought, without any of answers.
“I didn’t see any buffalo,” he allowed, ignoring Watkins question, speaking directly to Dempsey, “but I did see some musk-ox.”
“What’s that,” James asked, but Desault continued to return Dempsey’s gaze across the table.
Laloup rose his hand, gaining the attention of the waitress.
“Anybody else,” the young woman asked.
Desault held up his glass for beer.
“I’d like a whiskey,” Dempsey said, his eyes never leaving Desault’s gaze.
The others ordered and Dempsey resumed.
“Isn’t that one of those woolly mammoths, up on the Arctic circle. Kind of like a wildebeest.”
Again Dempsey saw that curious emerald blue glint in his eye and wondered what in fact Demian had seen, what was the myth or miracle into which his small craft crashed.
“Monsieur,” Desault said, deferring to Laloup across the table.
“Well, the musk-ox,” the old Frenchman began, “it is an extraordinary beast.”
As he spoke he threw back the small glass of whiskey the waitress had just served and before she had finished handing off the remainder of the drinks to the others assembled, he held up his empty for her to refill.
“Ovibos Machatos,” he began, “no,” he corrected himself carefully, enunciating the words with a most uncommon and precise formality. Ovibos Mochatos.” He repeated, “sometimes my French gets in the way.”
He smiled ingenuously, a boyish grin and continued.
“It is an animal most like the bison of the great plains. It possesses wool and not hair, and it is suitable for survival in the northern trans-arctic regions where it lived in abundance.”
“The musk-ox,” Laloup continued, “lived throughout all of Neolithic times and, like the bison was hunted, but more recently,” he paused taking up his empty whiskey glass, twirling it in the light, “it was hunted and slaughtered nearly to extinction.”
All about the table were spellbound at the Frenchman’s pronouncements of the Musk Ox.”
“Some say the musk-ox is vraiment, truly,” he corrected and translated for himself, “the Great One for the Northern Inuit, Cree, Eskimo and Athabascan.”
He leaned backwards, threw back the last drink the waitress had just returned and as before, had her attention and instructed her to bring refills before she had an opportunity to leave.
He leaned forward and studied carefully and methodically the eye and demeanor of each. He peered into the soul of everyone and they each felt a certain discomfort having no sense as to this man’s knowledge, purpose, sentience or awareness of their own vulnerabilities.
“The Musk Ox has no natural predators but man” he continued, “and the only other mammal to hinder is one, like us, who can live in harmony and promote good husbandry or not. It is a choice given to most of the creatures of the world, eh.”
Laloup downed the last glass the waitress handed to him. She looked to the others, speechless now and asked, without interrupting if any wanted any more drinks. Two nodded pointing to their empty glasses, Laloup and another handed her back the empties signifying they too wanted more.
The table was silent and everyone looked from Laloup to Desault to Dempsey and back again.
As unexpected was the vision of Desault, the New York city boy gone feral, so was the picture of this crazy Frenchman speaking the king’s English, expounding on the history and habit of the Musk Ox.
“The justice department, the Bureau of Indian affairs, the United States Congress and every other motherfucker who has ever had their hand in this cookie jar want to make a deal.” Dempsey said.
His voice was so low and without affect it was difficult to know if he was speaking a collection of unrelated and meaningless fact or stating aspects of a case and personal undertaking that was, in its collective form, of great personal importance.
“I get the impression, Demian something here has changed. I get the distinct sense you are not quite with us and more, that something has happened, that you’ve lost your ambition or your enthusiasm, that perhaps you have seen god and you are going to undertake a mission to teach the Eskimo how to read English and take Christ into their souls.”
Demian smiled, but did not laugh. He grinned self consciously for the insightfulness of Dempsey’s acuity but did not speak as he knew not what to say.
“Do you remember the stories of the forty-niners,” Jack asked Desault. Despite the curious nature of his query, he still spoke in a gentle and near private tone.
Watkins and Durand were involved in a discussion now of their own, and the Frenchman was completely involved, al be it silently in the conversations, public and private, spoken and telepathic between the old friends, sometimes comrades, sometimes adversaries.
“I remember reading stories of the old explorers, the ones who went off to see the west, find gold, find the Northwest Passage. I was,” Dempsey continued, more animated and speaking now in a more intimate and personal manner, “always wondering how it happened. I mean there were some who died, some who found gold and returned, some who found nothing and every imaginable possibility in between.”
He paused, listened to Watkins and Durand, saw they were sufficiently engaged to carry on without him and studied Laloup.
The old Frenchman, having Dempsey in his gaze, having watched him carefully, all the while trying naturally, a self appointed patriarch to young Demian, studied, scribed and investigated Dempsey in the most meticulous fashion his trapper’s hunter brain could employ.
“But you now Demian, I was always fascinated by the stories I didn’t read but sort of knew existed. I was always wondering about the one who went, somehow found something there they never had in the lower forty eight, a kind of peace or nirvana, something in the way of life, in the water, something in the land and the way others lived which struck them and captured them and saved them and in the end swallowed them into the folds of history.”
“I mean,” he spoke slowly now, ingenuous and forthright, “I had a sense there was something there way beyond the gold that they found. I had the sense, and I was just a kid, that though they went to look for gold they found something way more valuable but no one even knew the words or had the time or could find the people to ask or understand what it was that had happened.”
Laloup smiled, and Demian watched, a hawk studying her prey, the face of Jack Dempsey.
“But they did. They left and never returned. And I think there was more to finding gold or not, finding a way of life or not. I don’t know Demian, but the older I get, the more forty-niners I see. Some try new inventions, some get married over and over again, some drive fancy new race cars and I have seen a bunch give up their law practice, renounce all earthly bounds and join the peace corps or lock themselves in a monastery.”
Dempsey studied Desault to see if he had any sense or insight into the direction he was trying to have his friend explore.
“I think riches, Demian are elusive. And often, when we are frustrated, or loose sight of the important things, then we get to thinking about everything we are not. I really think that is a pathology that manifests itself as something we think we want, something from space, or the rain forests in Borneo, but it is just an escape. It is, my friend, a way to act, without allowing the truth, in a way that denies the reality of the world, and makes a whole new one in which one can hide.
“It appears and sometimes sounds rational, but in truth it is the first manifestation of a pathology that ends in isolation, lunacy and a reclusive psychotic withdrawal from the real world.”
“It’s not a good place to be,” Dempsey concluded, “It is insidious and dangerous. There is all the promise of a new life, another way, salvation from the stresses and rigors of a normal life, but you know what, Demian, it is just an escape. It is a poor and too often failed way to reckon with elements of your life that you have otherwise shoved under the rug.”
“You know Monsieur, I think I understand what your friend here has tried to do.”
“Tell me Monsieur Loup,” Jack replied sincerely speaking his name incorrectly but his tone and manner straight and serious.
“In my country, Monsieur, I am called the wolf. There is a reason for that,” he continued, raising his hand to the passing waitress, signifying again he wished another drink.
“I am called the wolf because I live like a wolf and it is, Je pense,” he paused, “wolves are, monsieur, I think animals about which you probably know little, eh”
Dempsey smiled, nodded agreeably and waited for Laloup to continue.
“I believe you are smart, and I am sure you do very well at your job, but monsieur, if you have never seen or spent time with the wolves, you could never know really how they are.”
Jack nodded and without a word remained attentive.
“In the north country, Monsieur, the wolf is a solitary animal. They do not pack regularly, though some believe they do, and they do not terrorize or kill wantonly. They only band together to mate and to feed themselves if the winter is harsh. They only kill what they eat and never more. They bother no one and but for the white man, no one bothers them.”
“That makes sense,” Jack Dempsey said. “That makes sense.”
“I am called Laloup, Monsieur, not Loup, because the wolves in the North Country are proud. They know they are their own boss. They work for no one. They are the top of the food chain. They are the king of the beasts. They have no natural predators and they have no fear, but that which maybe you or your ancestors, the white man, brought.”
“I am Laloup,” the Frenchman continued, “because I am just one of the breed. I am one of many. I do not need to be a king or boss, a captain. I don’t need a name or rank. I don’t even need be called Sir, monsieur and Loup, wolf, is exactly that.”
“I am sorry, monsieur Laloup. I understand and I stand corrected.”
“Oui, Monsieur. I accept. But the issue really is, what happened to your friend.”
Dempsey’s eyes opened wide and the general conversation at the table suddenly hushed.
“I think, Monsieur, your friend has seen there is another way of life here that doesn’t need winners and losers. There is room for everyone, as long as they are respectful of each other.”
“I am sorry, Monsieur Laloup, but I don’t understand.”
“The buffalo were the corn on which the Indian lived. For as long as this continent has been here, the Indian lived with the buffalo. They prayed to them, they worshiped and lived by them. They ate them. Used their bone and hide for their life, and they all lived in harmony.”
Dempsey was speechless and no one else at the table uttered a word.
“The Indian, Monsieur were like the wolf. They needed the buffalo. The buffalo needed them. The wolf kept the herd strong, killed the sick, blind, took the old and the decrepit. They needed each other as much as any of the other creatures. As much,” he allowed, turning his eyes for the first time to Desault, “as the Cree need the Musk Ox.”
There was silence and disrepair.
No one spoke. There seemed little now to speak of, rather the opportunity to listen and understand all that the Frenchman had just said.
“Are you saying, monsieur,” Dempsey asked respectfully, “that the Indian did not teach the white man to kill.”
“Are you suggesting the white man came to that himself,”
“And,” Dempsey continued his voice without affect or innuendo, “that the world thinks backwards.”
“Are you suggesting Monsieur Laloup it was the white man who slaughtered the buffalo and the Indian and anything else he could get his hands upon.”
The old Frenchman smiled.
He snapped the edge of his empty whiskey glass upon the table, twice, a cacaughanous, definitive, conclusive period to their pejorative philippic.
Dempsey rose his hand and ordered another drink.
“Demian,” he allowed after he’d had five minutes to listen to the general noise of the restaurant, the words both spoken and inferred by Laloup,
“Demian,” he resumed, “I have listened carefully. I have come a thousand miles but you have not said a word.”
“I have come a thousand miles and you have not moved an inch.”
“Will you tell me. Tell me something,” Jack pleaded, an almost plaintive, anguished plea begging Desault to help.
“I am not certain Jack what to say” He rose his glass of beer, twirled it as if the feeling of smooth glass were something remarkable for an outlander, and he smiled.
“I never would have guessed, Jack, but there is much truth to what Monsieur Laloup says.”
“Do you have any affidavits?” Dempsey asked, knowing before he finished the inquiry the answer would be in the negative.
Desault shook his head, no.
“Depositions,” he asked, his voice softer, scarcely audible, knowing or at least fearing the answer, and by his quiet trying to diminish the power of Desault’s additional declination.
Desault again shook his head, no.
“Circumstantial evidence,” Dempsey concluded, himself shaking his head as he spoke, saying in advance, as if to inoculate himself against the answer, what he fully knew the answer would be..
“Demian,” Dempsey resumed, again his voice was gentle, fraternal, respectful.
“Will you come back. Will you help us finish the case. What are you going to do.”
Demian smiled again.
He grinned at Dempsey a curious, inscrutable smile more reflective of his uncertainty than he realized.
“I could try,” he allowed, “but I’m not sure what I can say.”
“Tell me more, Demian. Tell me specifically. Tell me as it related to the Indian question. Forget the buffalo.”
“I’m not sure I understand the difference, Jack,” he answered, his brow furrowed, his attempt to understand, serious.
“I am asking, Demian if you can draw any meaningful distinctions between the buffalo and the Canadians or the Indian. If you can see any way in which the central government fostered the behavior of the white man. If there is any complicity or liability for which they are responsible or can be tagged.
Desault shook his head uncertainly.
“Demian,” Dempsey continued, “we have a flight leaving in an hour for New York.”
There was silence.
“I think you need to think about what you are going to do.”
Dempsey stared steadfastly at Desault.
“Your coming with us will have a big impact on this case.
“Most of this will be circumstantial, admittedly, but that doesn’t matter.”
Desault watched, a young chick, uncertain, unfledged, but aware, somehow of the moment of history, the confluence of events.
“Demian, this is serious. You are in the middle of the largest case of your life. You are in a case for which every lawyer after law school and most for the rest of their lives wish they had a chance to be even tangentially related.”
Demian smiled again. His eyes were gentle and his smile without disposition, simply a young man over his head.
“You know Demian, I can assure you, after this case, you will be given a partners option. Your status will change and you’ll become one of the youngest partners, ever. Altshuller will no longer be your boss.
“You and I,” he continued, seeming increasingly desperate, “we will be the ones to vacation in the Caribbean.”
Laloup raised his hand and ordered another drink. The remainder of the party rose.
“We’re going to the men’s room. We‘ve got to get some relief,” Watkins said, referring both to his frustration with Desault and his need for the facilities.
“What matters is that we have a credible first party witness to articulate the humanity of the country. We need,” Dempsey spoke softly now, whispering and trying, in his most intimate voice to enjoin Desault for his ingenuousness and thoughtful demeanor, “the possibility of showing how the disease spread, the probability that the patterns of practice represented substantially similar practices as those in which the indigenous or transplanted émigrés of Canadian re-patriots, and Indians, participated.”
“I don’t know, Jack,” Desault confided.
“I am not certain even what to say. I would have to make it up. I didn’t see any evidence of anything even remotely close to the facts, alleged by the plaintiffs. I mean I do understand, I do and I know it is just political and in the end doesn‘t even matter. The government is going to pay or give away money anyway and I think there is no one better than the Indians, decimated as they are, to get it, but I don’t see how you can make the case that we, the white man didn’t bring with us everything we had. We didn’t need to learn how to be cruel, we didn’t need to learn how to be perverse. We have done it for centuries, eons. I think man has always been like that and curiously, this might be one of the few places in the world where there is a harmony and balance in the world.”
Dempsey listened carefully. A good litigator, he listened knowing these first words of the witness, his partner were probably more significant than any and this was the first time Desault had actually spoken.
“Demian, if you don’t stay on the case, I don’t think Altshuller is going to let you stay on.”
Desault nodded but said nothing.
“And what about the rest of your career. You’re with one of the best most prestigious law firms in the country. Even if you hated this case, when it’s over the partnership and funding from distribution will be enough money for you to live comfortably the rest of you life.”
Demian seemed yet unconvinced.
“You know Monsieur, your friend,” Laloup offered,
“is only suggesting you go home. Finish this job. Then do whatever you wish.”
Demian looked at the old Frenchman and laughed.
“You’re joking mon ami are you not. You must be joking.”
“Demian,” Dempsey replied, defending Laloup, “he is just speaking as a friend. Look at the big picture. There is a lot riding on this decision and you don’t have to do very much to get back to even, take a payout for your law school and an early retirement and all you have to do, you could do in your sleep.”
Watkins and Durand returned and appeared impatient.
“We are going to have to board soon,” one said, looking at his watch, making the sign of their being late or time sensitive or at least stating, without speaking they had better be mindful of the time or they would stay in this backwater for ever.
“You know monsieur,” Laloup continued, speaking now with some slur from the whiskey, but coherent and as persuasively as any barrister in any court in which Dempsey had practiced or studied,
“Monsieur,” he began, slowly, his thoughts and the thinking process almost visible to the careful watcher, “there are two issues here and you must consider them both, eh.”
Dempsey watched and thought if he had an advocate here, Laloup was the closest to Desault and the most influential.
“You have to decide where is you’re fail safe. You know, the point after which there is no return, no way back until you make the next fuel depot or crash, the line in your head and in the world where if you can’t run fast enough to kill, to get your next meal, you will starve to death.”
He quaffed his last drink.
“That is always the quandary of the hunter. When to move, to track, to spend calories; and how best to maintain equilibrium.”
He paused and looked long and hard at Dempsey and then his friend Desault.
“It is, monsieur about balance. The envelope. You need to balance your fuel, your weight and capacity with your flight plan, your destination and the way points along the route.”
Dempsey listened carefully but could not tell which way the old Frenchman was to suggest Desault move, whether to follow his peers and conclude the case or run crazy in the backwaters of the north woods.
From their view in the restaurant they looked upon the runway where the east west traffic queued up and readied for take off.
Watkins moved to the window, looked at his watch again, made signs to catch Dempsey’s attention, signaled the regard of his wrist, a universal notion for time, and the cast of his eye, looking out upon the plane to carry them home, clearly inferring they were nearly out of it.
“I am going to get my plane, Monsieur,” Laloup said. “I think the answer is clear. I have come to like you as a young man and think you had better take care of your affairs and can some day return. You need not throw away your investment. Remember when the great hunters kill, they use every single part of the animal. This is your prey. You are a predator and have taken all your professional time to learn this game, acquire this quarry. Hunt this prey. If you leave now you will leave many pounds of meat, waste the heart and organs, and leave yourself having to scrabble for food for the winter, eh. This is,” the Frenchman concluded, “too important for you to turn your back.”
As suddenly and gratuitously as he had begun, he stopped. He rose, struck out his hand to Demian, took it to shake and hugged him, a genuine spontaneous recognition their ways were parting and he was a young man for whom the wolf, old Laloup had grown quite fond.
Desault looked dumbstruck, uncertain, confused.
The others stood, paying the waitress, settling their bills, readying to depart through the jet-way from which they had all arrived.
On the tarmac, sat two birds from two civilizations; an accipiter and a pterodactyl, side by each.
The float plane, ungainly, small, awkward appeared the representative of all the curious and backwater notions of these wild parts and people of the north country.
The accipiter, like the falcon, bred down from its origin, sleek, silver, low, aerodynamic, was clearly capable of speeds well in excess of anything ancient man might even comprehend.
The curious gathering of homo-sapien, some dressed in tribal form, others in suits and cloths from another world, stood upon the tarmac near the gate.
From their assemblage, from the manner in which the hostess and captain at the beginning of the stairs watched them, there appeared a large gathering, a party of five or six about to board, and the not uncommon sight of an outlander, a bush pilot, likely having brought the city folk from their vacation in the north country near, readying himself to take off and return.
Some of the party, heading for some metropolitan environment, boarded. They rose past the welcome of the suited and white capped flight deck officer, leaving three late passengers on the ground.
Dempsey waited, sensitive to the moment and the decision his peer Desault needed to make, to board first.
Laloup moved away and headed off to the little float plane, readying himself to depart.
Desault paused and watched his friend and now mentor disappear.
He turned and gazed at Dempsey.
He looked back to Laloup and hollered above the general din of the turbines.
“Are you going to Quebec, monsieur,”
Laloup turned back and paused. He waited, thinking, hesitating, uncertain what to say, how best to speak to a boy for whom he had become both affectionate and respectful.
“I am, yes.” He stammered some and Desault thought first it was the enormous quantity of whisky debilitating his speech.
“Oui, I am going to Quebec, monsieur, and,” he added, “on the way I will stop and fetch Little Bear.”
Before Laloup finished the sentence, Desault had turned to Dempsey.
“Jack, I can’t. Not now. Not yet. I am going to marry.
I have to find my bride. I will meet you”
Dempsey’s jaw hung slack.
“But I can’t say when.”
Having no clue of any consideration of a woman, a bride, or anything but Desault’s willingness to return and fabricate a duplicity to engender success, or not, he watched, stunned as Demian turned abruptly, took his hand, shook it warmly and summarily stepped away. He smiled broadly following Laloup to the door of the small float plane, there on the tarmac, a hundred yards away.
In the wash of the turbines from the big jet, Laloup was comfortable to sit and watch, a watershed moment of a life unfolding, the birth of a star, the southern and sudden turn of a flock of Canadian geese, the sometimes absolute but often inchoate harbinger of the shapes of things to come.
The little craft shook and vibrated, itself a foreshadowing of the fractal of change, the difficulty of separation, the complex repercussions of chaos and entropy.
Demian watched trying to make out the faces of the fellows from his firm.
The distance and size of the small portholes made identification impossible and, Desault realized, a relief. He was as grateful not to have to see the look of disappointment or upset on Jack Dempsey’s face.
“Monsieur,” Demian turned to speak with Laloup, “let us go. Let’s be on our way. We have a long trip, do we not eh.
“Aye,” he grunted, an old sea captain reckoning, how long before the next storm, how big the seas, how demanding the undertaking.
“Oui monsieur, c’est vrai.”
Laloup turned to setting the controls, starting the engine, readying the craft for flight.
Desault watched as the big silver airliner taxied now along the tarmac and readied itself to take off, to return to the metropolis in which, curiously, he had for so long found safety, familiarity and, in a dream, a place he knew intimately, called home.
“How long, monsieur,” he asked, recalling now the most unpleasant manner in which Watkins turned his wrist and eyed his watch signifying the importance of time, schedule, arbitrary agendas.
“Is it days or weeks to get back,” he said light heartedly, knowing at the very least the journey was long, that it would be days, but in the end he would get to set eyes again on Little Bear.
“How do you want to go, monsieur,” Laloup asked. He paused in his study of the dials and gauges. “Do you want to go as the crow. Do you want to skip all civilization and go straight or back the way we came.”
“Monsieur,” Desault said, turning to the Frenchman, eyes wide, vulnerable, open in the absolute and simple cause of his interest.
“I would like to be there, now,” and as he finished, he snapped his fingers, smiled and began to laugh outright.
“Right now,” he repeated, snapping his fingers again, making the movements of a magician who, by virtue of black magic could have them transported and, in the blink of an eye, return Laloup and himself back to the eastern shore, back to Hudson’s Bay.
“Your seat belt, Monsieur,” Laloup said, pulling at the red buttoned throttle, tugging hard at the controls, the levers, making the craft respond more as if it were an animal, the plane a horse responsive to the strength of his silent commands, mindful of the determination or seriousness of his expectations by the strength or power of a chuckle, a gee or haw, an exhortation or command to move along, slow down, turn right or left.
“Monsieur, to fly directly we will have to stop in Standpipe.”
Desault watched Laloup waiting to hear the story he knew would follow inevitably.
“There is a chance we will find no one there. It is an abandoned military base. I have been there sometimes and found some locals, hunters, tribes men, old trappers who carry fuel on the back of an old trailer from the fifties, when there was a strategic air command base here. You remember those, monsieur,” he said, speaking aloud, working the controls, pressing the small craft now to hasten along the runway and gain enough speed and elevation to clear the tree line and get safely airborne.
“Your country used to call them SAC bases. You thought, some years ago, the Russians would bomb the Americas with atomic weapons, you know the kind you used in Japan.”
Desault smiled, knowing, from an American lineage what all the teachings of history were, and how, now it was curious and nearly humorous to be a foreigner in a foreign land and hear how the real world, how the rest of the world interpreted the facts he had been given for dogma as a child.
“You thought the Russians were going to take over the world, like Monsieur Hitler and Columbus. You thought your country was at risk, like Little Foot at the Bighorn, and so you made treaties and alliances with odd bed fellows.”
Laloup retracted the flaps, set the throttle back to its regular estoppel, preparing the craft for a regular and dead on flight.
“Back then, mon ami, you needed the Canadians as an ally. You paid my country to allow you to build bases and supply remote areas with equipment so your bombers could fly the Arctic regions, and you thought this protected your country from a threat that never existed.”
“How do you know it ever existed,” Desault asked. “How did anyone know then it was not real.”
“You mean mon ami, how did we know the Russians were not going to colonize the Americas as the white man colonized the lower forty eight.”
Desault nodded and smiled.
“You mean how did we know the Russians would commit here the same genocide as the white man did to the Natives of the continent.”
Desault smiled, realizing the extraordinary paradox and grim reality of human history, human undertaking, human nature.
“The Americans may have been stupid, mon ami. You may still be, but you knew what alcohol was. You had television and teachers. You knew the ways of white man and had seen what the Spaniards did to the Incas, the Germans to the Jews. You may have been stupid and ruthless but you were not naïve, innocent, unaware of history, not knowing or unaware of the venom from the bite of the snake.”
In silence they flew.
Desault studied the land below.
He saw the great plains extend eastward, from where they had come, filled increasingly with small bodies of water. He saw the manner in which the belly of the continent became the water shed for the whole of the Americas, the breeding ground for winter, water, snows and the passage of herds which by the millions could summer, feed, rut and make their way south to gentler climates when harsh winds and blinding snow warranted.
“Monsieur, was this the land the buffalo crossed. Was this all filled with animals a thousand years ago.”
Laloup laughed. He smiled, and looking at Desault laughed and clapped him on the back.
“Wetland, mon ami is for an animal like the moose, the caribou, the herbivore and ruminants.
“The buffalo came to the north country in the summer to feed, to migrate and herd, to raise their young and breed, but they feed on the grasses of the prairies, of the high plateaus, land where horse and crow live and die.”
“Did you really think there were thousands of white men here before there were Indians,”
Desault turned to look at Laloup and see if his eyes and lips were teasing, his question sarcastic, or not.
“I never thought about it,” Desault confided. “I assumed there were Canadians forever. You know, just because.”
“Because what,” Laloup asked, studying a dial, setting the small thumb screw to adjust for direction of altitude.
“Because I am a dummy, I don’t know,” Demian confessed.
“Because when Americans are taught, we are generally given information that reflects the interests of the story teller. There is no reason for someone to really figure it out and get the facts.”
They were silent some and each allowed their thoughts to be subsumed by the sounds of the craft.
“I always assumed Canada was settled by Canadians. That they, like the Americans, were the rightful owners or at least settlers of lands that were vacant.” Demian’s voice fell below the decibel level of the engine and was inaudible.
“I kind of assumed settlers meant the land they came upon belonged to no one. They took it for their own, but not from someone, only for themselves.”
“You know, mon ami, in the north country, nobody takes land. Nobody owns it. Nobody can.”
Desault looked at the old Frenchman knowing he was articulating a truth so simple it had evaded him thus far, all of his life and even now.
“Can you imagine saying this air is yours, or mine, or any bodies. The ice where the great one hunts, the water that flows from the Islands of the far north, to the flat lands of Churchill, do you think it can belong to one province or another, one tribe or another, one man of one color, or another man not.”
He looked below at the blistered, shot riddled topography, filled with a million waterways, rivers, swamps, muskeg and ponds.
He imagined the difficulty of passage, by foot, canoe, on snow shoe or ski and knew, unequivocally, the land was too big, too grand, too great to be a possession by any of those who trod it’s midst.
“Where is Standpipe,” Desault asked, hoping to get some sense of the distance, the time, the extent of their journey.
He watched Laloup pull an old greasy, too often folded chart from the visor above the windscreen.
With surprising agility, he pulled it open, folded and refolded the large parchment paper and in moments had it to the size of a small book, with the space immediately visible, the section of land over which they now flew.
“Ici,” he grunted, “here, monsieur, is where we are.”
He pointed to the compass, showed Demian the heading number of one hundred five degrees and pointed back to the map.
“See,” he continued, holding the yoke with his knee, opening the map and unfolding it to follow along eastward as their journey would take them.
“If you follow from here,” he resumed, pointing again their spot on the chart, “and we fly in the direction of one hundred and five degrees east,” he continued, taking now his outstretched palm and laying it upon the compass rose, “ then,” he concluded, removing his hand, maintaining the same angle of the compass heading they sought, and replacing his hand upon the chart, covering the distance from where they were to the imaginary place he thought Standpipe to be, “chart the angle to here, and this will be our route.”
He looked to Desault to see if he understood this primary lesson in navigation.
“If you estimate our airspeed,” he continued, pointing now to a separate dial that began at zero, ended at two hundred fifty and designating kilometers as the convention of speech, it’s needle pointing to one hundred fifty eight, “then you can do the math, calculate the time and you will have an answer.”
Desault tried to make the calculation, do the math as Laloup had suggested, and see where they were and where they would go, but his head was light, he was dizzied by the thought of all that had happened, the prospects of Little Bear and the portent of what might be.
“Monsieur,” Laloup said, nudging gently the American who had fallen to sleep next to him in the little craft.
“Monsieur,” he said again, his voice gruff from not speaking for so long, but gentle and warm.
“Standpipe. The settlement is here. You can see, if you open your eyes, monsieur to where it is we have been traveling. Where it is we will land.”
Desault arose, blinked, leaned forward, to the side and peered over Laloup’s shoulder but could distinguish nothing.
“I don’t see anything,” he answered, cautiously, and questioning, knowing well, if the Frenchman said there was a town and airstrip below then most certainly there was.
“You see, Monsieur. La. There,” he corrected himself. “There,” he repeated, dropping one wing and making the point below more readily visible.
Desault struggled to see, studied the land, punctuated with waterways, rivers, lakes and swamp, but saw nothing resembling a town.
“Attendez, monsieur, Wait a moment,” Laloup said.
Immediately he pulled hard at the yoke. With his right hand, he pulled up on the lever between them controlling the flaps.
The plane began to descend, and he adjusted the red knobbed throttle.
“Tu vois, Monsieur, you see.”
Desault looked ahead and did indeed see a long narrow strip of sand, a stretch of land appearing more the deposit of a spring river, runoff from some alluvial source, but as they neared, descended further in altitude, he realized there was the form of a rudimentary macadam strip, or perhaps an old one decomposing back to the form of the land, reclaimed by inattention and the ravages of neglect.
There were old rusted steel and metal buildings of the sort he had seem at military outposts in foreign countries, in Antarctica, the Philippines, places he had never been but of which he had seen pictures in movies, history books, postcards and the general images which, together, made for the collective imagination and estimation of the past.
In moments they were within sight of the edge of the field beside which Desault saw now there was a small waterway.
He saw Laloup pulling hard upon the yoke and saw his feet working the tail rudder. He recognized this as the maneuver completed immediately prior to landing and understood, from the look upon his face, the seriousness of his brow, his utter and absolute focus, he was about to set down the craft and was himself, this moment, an animal of another sort, an animal whose whole instinct and biological imperative had but one purpose directing its every effort.
On the ground, Desault and Laloup found remnants, as the old Frenchman had predicted, of old buildings, curious aluminum and tin shacks used for storage, half circular huts.
“Quonset”, Laloup spoke the word to Desault, for housing people, bigger ones for housing airplanes, bombers, the enormous and almost unimaginably large pterodactyl.
There was nobody about and the vacated settlement had the feeling of history, the ancient artifact of man, built long before they lived and left, a civilization ago, deserted for reasons beyond their comprehension.
In one small wooden structure there appeared a cook stove and kitchen with places set, tins, left readied to prepare, pots and pans upon the counter and placed for use, but abandoned as if the air raid horn sounded and the town evacuated, it’s inhabitants dispersed to the four winds, its life extinguished, a night light turned, suddenly and inexplicably, off.
Damien sensed he was walking through a sepulcher of some sort. He moved quietly, carefully, mindful of the old souls who had lived here, his being an uninvited guest, wanting to be as unobtrusive as possible.
Laloup moved more swiftly, but too seemed strangely quiet.
He walked with a determination and speed, appearing to have been here before, to have some familiarity with the surroundings, but too, uncertain where exactly was the object of his quarry and, a scout, moving as silently and carefully as the circumstances and his hesitance dictated.
“Ici, Monsieur,” he whispered, turning sharply from the rear, peeking in a hanger door, an empty building utilized for an aircraft but empty of human habitation. He moved to enter a shed attached from behind where, Demian thought, he expected to find fuel.
“Rien,” he muttered under his breath. “It is nothing,” he repeated, but as he turned and left, the door ajar already in the wind, he moved onto another structure exactly as the first, a place contemplated for the land borne craft who in times of aggression or attack would carry bombs for the nuclear winter,
“Peut-etre,” he whispered again, and his step seemed to hasten. Desault wondered about the enormity of this complex, how so much built by man may have been vacuous of his person, the artifact only, the footprint, the geological imprint, a fossil proving his presence the closest attribute of man, in the enormous and unbounded wilds of nature.
“Let’s try here,” Laloup said. “Perhaps here,” he repeated and tried the creaking door of another hanger easily large enough to house ten or fifteen of the craft the size of which brought them, but it, too, was empty.
In the rear of the hanger were tools, benches, a collection of artifacts in which Laloup hoped there were fuel drums.
He raised his hand signaling Desault to slow, to come back but move, behind him, in the style of an Indian hunter, Desault thought, one at a time, cautious, ears and senses open to attack, change or unintended outcomes.
They crossed the rough dirt and macadam floor of the large half moon structure.
Increasingly they saw elements which supported the notion there were people, some form of life, some activity more recent than what ever here, fifty years before, had populated these environs and made community where now there was none.
The old Frenchman stepped slowly. He approached as if some one were sleeping, a wild animal past whom he wanted to get without waking the beast, causing unnecessary attack.
There was some sound in the distant corner of the Quonset. There was chirping, barking, a gentle gaggle which may have been the infant children of an Inuit, perhaps the chuckling mumbles of a drunken philandering old scout, a hunter who took off the day and was, now, in a corner, talking to himself.
Laloup paused and listened.
He rose a finger in the air catching Defaults attention, Slowly, within sight of Damien all the while, he moved his finger to his lips signifying he must be quiet as they moved along.
Laloup continued and the chirping, whining snippets became louder, more insistent, more like the demands of hungry child.
Laloup moved around the corner of some fifty-five gallon drums, the object of his search and at once found both the quarry he had sought and the source of the indistinguishable chatter.
Coyote pups lay in the corner between two drums, an old table, and some straw or sedge a mother had dragged in for a den.
The moment they saw him, their chatter rose to a welter of screaming, gurgling cries and other enunciations of their hunger, surprise and absolute disinclination to wait any longer for their mother to return with food.
Laloup stiffened and to Damien’s surprise rose from the contemplation of life in this otherwise barren land and looked around.
The seriousness of his brow, his focus on everything but the cubs signified there was something more than the acquisition of fuel that deterred his interest.
Laloup moved a step away and Desault moved closer.
Laloup cocked his head, listening to the wind.
Desault, struck by the chatter of the hungry pups moved closer. He wondered what harm might come of picking one up. He wondered if stories of wild animals abandoned, once touched by humans, were true.
He leaned to peer more closely and watch.
Laloup stepped away, searching now, Desault thought, for fuel, for a mechanism to unload and carry it to the plane, all problems he must have reckoned with in the past.
In the distance where Laloup passed he heard a wild shrieking screech.
He rose, bent from studying the pups and looked back toward the hanger.
Laloup had moved and behind him he saw a blur.
“Your knife,” Laloup yelled, a piercing command, as shocking as the high pitched scream.
Desault reached for the hunting knife he’d carried since the old Frenchman had made he and Little Bear strap them on after loading the seaplane.
He reached for his ankle and saw hurtling toward him the blurred form of what might only have been a full grown coyote.
From the pit of his bowel, from a place he had not known existed erupted a powerful, crazed, wild and unnatural scream.
Raising his hands, he struck wildly at the barred claws and teeth, launched and airborne, aimed directly at his throat.
When he slashed at the oncoming beast, he turned, trying, as instinct bid him, to protect his head and neck.
“The neck,” he heard Laloup scream, “stab him in the neck,” he yelled, scrambling toward him, racing to ward off the beast, to strike him from behind or tear him from Desault’s fallen body.
In an inexplicable moment of lucidity, Damien realized if the coyote landed upon him, tore at the flesh of his bearded face, his bare and exposed neck, no matter how quickly Laloup arrived, eventually he would bleed to death.
Beside the small den the mother had made for the cubs was a wooden worktable onto which the animal, airborne, and Demian, wrapped in struggle, tumbled.
‘Is it my turn,’ Demian asked himself, sucking air into to his starving lungs, trying at once to feed his body, energize his paralyzed brain, steel himself for what now he realized was no simple story, not just adventure from which the city boy might simply watch and return, an accidental tourist, rather, a full and blooded version life, for keeps.
“The neck,” Laloup screamed again, “get the neck,” he yelled but now, tripping, tumbling, wrapped in a crazed, snarling, growling mass, they twisted around locked in a lethal embrace and fell.
Desault lost hearing and sight.
He thought only of the coy dog tearing into his neck, gleaming teeth setting their bite into his soft flesh, bleeding to death here, without Little Bear, in the north country.
He slashed and struck at the beast, wildly.
He closed his eyes and struck at anything near or close to his face and head.
They fell upon the table, teeth of the crazed animal snatching closed upon his other hand.
An unholy inhuman scream bellowed from his gut.
He rose the knife and stabbed the mass of fur and head, teeth and paw that tried, this instant to sever his hand.
The animal stopped.
Laloup was beside him. The animal wriggled and screeched, yelped and gurgled, hissing the most ungodly cry.
Locked in this dance of death, Desault was pinned by the beast, and the beast, by some force unseen, was unable to bite again.
Frozen in time, frozen like the spears pointing skyward from the tundra pit, animal and man were suddenly part of history, part of the past, no longer a phantasm of the shapes of things to come, but the past, an element of the way the earth had been.
Unable to extricate themselves from the tangle, unable, but for the aid off Laloup, Desault with the only strength remaining, released the animal from his chest and freed himself to stand.
Desault was covered with blood. On his clothes where the coyote had snarled and caught his hand, on the ground where he had made his escape, and on the knife Desault had held so fast and struck into the face and body of the beast, there was blood everywhere.
Laloup picked him up, his gaze studying his face, hands, body and eyes.
He smiled, slowly and held him by his shoulders.
He steadied his guest to stand, surveyed his body again, assayed the damage, and smiled.
There was, but for the shuffling scuffle of the retreating animal, a curious silence.
The pups, sentient, knowing somehow of the affair were quiet, their yipping for food, stilled.
Laloup, holding Demian by the shoulders, steadying his near feinted and shaken guest, looked around and with his own knife drawn, pointed to the table into which Desault had thrust his own.
Struck into the wood was the bloodied, gleaming shaft of Desault’s hunting knife.
Struck between its shaft, upon the wooden table was the bloodied claw, a piece of paw that tried to hold Desault, to slash and bite, tear him open and kill.
“Mon Dieu,” Laloup grunted, letting Demian go, but being certain he was steady enough to stand.
He moved to the table, pulled the knife from the wooden top and saw the furry, blooded remains of paw.
Stabbed and torn, one claw of the coyote who attacked and, was overpowered, remained.
“You have earned your stripes,” the old Frenchman said, holding the knife in one hand, the bloodied claw in the other.
He smiled broadly, holding back a deep and quaking laugh pressing, from his belly, to issue forth.
“Regardez, mon ami, look.” He spoke and smiled as he took a step toward Desault.
“You are a hunter mon ami.” He repeated handing the bloodied fragment to his guest.
“You have earned your life and now, can make another.”
He smiled, clapped the stunned and stilled American on the shoulder and moved to the pups to peek, to see their condition, to carry on with life as it had now changed and would ever after, thus.
“They will be fine,” he allowed, “they are big enough, like you, mon ami, and they will be fine. They are old enough to feed for themselves, if they have to, and it might even toughen them up some, but they will be fine.”
He turned away, another direction, another thought already filling his head.
“You and I monsieur,” he said, straightening up, looking Desault in the eye. “you and I, we are not so lucky. We need fuel. We are not so lucky as these little ones. We can not feed our craft with our good looks eh, so let’s get working or we will never make it out of here.”
Though the sun never set in this land of twenty four hour light, they found their larder, filled their tanks and resumed their journey.
“This is good luck,” Laloup said, smiling at Demian, smiling in a manner that, for the first time, openly displayed Laloup’s relief, allowed the possibility of his anxiety, worry for their future, their fate, unmitigated acknowledgment they too were just passing through, that they were there but for the grace of wind and tide, a creature, like all others, whose fortunes changed, mercurial and fickle as the west winds of time.
Desault watched, a newly appreciative fascination as Laloup went through the now familiar but still incredible array of checks and changes to prepare the craft and get them airborne.
He watched awed and wondrous but detached, in a way, for his exhaustion, for the wonder of his close encounter with death, his nascent understanding of the events in the hanger, the profound impact upon his otherwise tame and quite regular life.
He struggled to keep open his eyes and watch Desault. He struggled to watch preparations and undertaking thinking superstitiously, if he had to grab the controls, he could remind Laloup to pull the flaps, disengage the throttle or do anything the old bush pilot needed to ensure the success of their lift off.
He fought to ward of the inexorable fatigue which pressed, with the full weight of gravity, to stay alert. He worked to maintain wakefulness, to be attentive and ready.
The ponderous weight of lids pressed closed his eyes. He fought sleep, but for the adrenalin, the hour and the events, was overcome, almost immediately.
Desault dreamed of the coyote.
He saw now the image horrifying and real of the knarled teeth, oversized in the dream, but no less real and terrifying, flying toward him, airborne, readying to snatch his jugular, snap his neck.
He woke sweating, his heart racing, forehead throbbing and with a startle, a recoiling jump of such power, his body stiffened and his head snapped into consciousness. His hand twitched and smashed the side of the door, he now, fully awake, shaking and next to the inquiring eyes of Ferdinand Laloup.
“Ca va, Monsieur. Are you all right,” he asked, smiling, knowing whatever his dream, he was indeed, here with the Frenchman, aloft and all right.
A crowd of children approached the small craft as it circled in the water and made it’s way to land.
Desault felt the beat of his heart racing, pounding, and wondered if Laloup could hear it as well.
On the dock, the children crowded around the craft.
Again Desault knew there was some lore, some knowledge, some history with Laloup and these black eyed little ones.
They looked at him and smiled, raced to take his hand and stand beside him, a legend, as a child from the lower forty eight would, discovering the real Santa had come to visit.
Desault moved through the gamut of cherubs and off towards the village.
He looked for Little Bear but could not find her anywhere in his sight.
He moved past one of the small stone enclosures and felt the presence of a body, of human eyes, of warm and attentive contact, beside him.
“Oh god,” he mumbled, startled, surprised, unable, entirely, to keep the enormous grin from spreading across his face, pulling open his mouth and lips to the corners of his ears.
He rose a hand and waved a tiny, hello.
He stood smiling, paralyzed, grinning, waving, a child biding good bye or smiling hello to a stranger with whom they could not speak but to whom they felt, clearly, a great and abiding attraction.
Little Bear smiled, a gentle, ingenuous and collected warmth overspread her eyes and mouth.
“Hello,” Desault stammered. “I am sorry not to know your language, but hello. I was hoping to find you.”
Little Bear looked at Desault, watching the tiny movement and lineament of every muscle in his face and lip, every turn and focus of his eye, an animal reading the behavior as clearly as Laloup, airborne, read the mackerel sky, knew the weather now and for days to come by all the sign, words unspoken, events, present for the knowing, affording the way to decipher and learn the shapes of things to come.
“I mean,” he repeated, a stronger more assertive smile overtaking the uncertainty displayed in his mouth and eye, “I am not sorry. I am so excited,” he continued, “to find you. Your country is amazing. I have learned so much. I want to be here with you and you probably don’t understand a word I am saying, but that is all right. You are beautiful,” he said grinning now a school boy, “and I want to marry you.”
Demian Desault saw Little Bear blush.
He wondered if he had spoken too much, said or broken with word a boundary he should not have crossed.
“Look,” he continued, his voice soft, gentle, trying to repair any unintended damage he may have created,” I brought you something.”
As he spoke, never taking his eyes from hers, he dug in his pocket until he had retrieved the token of his affection.
“I got this for you,” he said smiling handing her the claw of the coyote, “and I will take care of you as I have finally begun to learn to take care of me.”
He stood silently, his hand touching hers, his paw placing the sharp matured claw of the coy dog that nearly killed him, into the delicate palm of Little Bear.
She smiled and taking her forefinger to her lips, much, Desault realized, as had Laloup, she bid him first, to be silent, still, and then, opening her palm, disengaging, holding it up to him, open and interdicting his further movement, she bid him to wait as she moved off to do or get something else.
Transfixed with her beauty, the moment, her apparent understanding of his most intimate confessions, he stood still, attentive, immobile.
In moments Little Bear returned. Under her arm she had a small bundle, a soft, white hide wrapped and tucked neatly under her armpit.
She returned to the exact same spot from where she had left.
She stood exactly in front of him and reached out her empty hand to the place, in front of him where he had just moments before attempted to give her the claw of the coyote.
She reached out her palm, open and faced to the sky, a clear signal she wanted to accept the gift.
Desault struck by her presence, by her beauty, by her empathic action returned his fingers to her palm and into it’s warm and soft belly placed the claw.
She smiled and handed him the white rolled fur she held tucked in the pit of her shoulder.
Desault smiled, kneeled down and on a spot of lichen and stubbed green, rolled open the hide.
From it’s folds, he found heavy parchment, paper thick with industry and work.
He unfolded the roll and saw, sketched beautifully and in charcoal, images from the museum, the carvings, images of the Great One, stone renderings of Inuit man, the hawk, the land and most extraordinarily, the girl herself.
Air expelled from his lungs.
“Oh God,” he whispered, astonished at the beauty and, he realized, the connection, to the artifact of the Inuit he saw first at the museum.
“Oh God,” he whispered again, looking now at Little Bear, seeing that these were the blueprints and sketches for works, yet to be, carvings wrought from minds of man, images that would inure her culture and people to eternity.
“These are for you,” Little Bear said, softly, a tongue so gentle and intimate Desault did not believe his ears.
He turned to look at her, away from the drawings and sketches, seeking her gaze in disbelief.
They sat for some length of time, focused and speaking, a silent language of eye and soul, heart and mind.
She nodded again seeing the furrow in his brow, the question of whether he had made up such a statement or if indeed Little Bear had spoken to him, not a fantasm of his over excited brain.
“Yes,” she said, nodding slowly, smiling broadly, persuasive now, unequivocal, attesting she had spoken, that her words were the same as he had, for his twenty six years, employed, and that she meant what he had thought he had imagined her to say.
“These are for you.”
Desault was stunned.
“I thought you didn’t speak,” he stammered.
“I mean,” he continued, scarcely able to speak himself for the wide and face splitting grin, “I thought you didn’t speak English.”
She smiled holding up the claw.
“I did not think you were a man.” She paused and watched him again, reading every one of the tiny ligaments and muscle of his brow, lips, cheek and eye.
“My father, he says all bad came from the white man. Theirs is a tongue to know, but not to be spoken. It is profane, an oath, a violation of our own.”
Desault smiled but was in far over his head.
“I have never spoken, but I am my father’s daughter.”
Little Bear smiled now broadly as she spoke, her words, indelibly riddled with laughter.
“He says ‘if you are a real hunter, you cannot be a bad man.’”
Demian suddenly remembered Laloup’s affirmation, sharing the rabbit with the young hunter, ‘It is the second greatest honor a man can bestow.’
Desault smiled, grinned and laughed aloud.
Now suddenly, he understood, with a clarity he had not ever known, what might be the first.
“My father says, if you are a hunter, and you are not a bad man…” but Demian Desault could not hear the remainder of her words, taken up by the small rift of wind and the tintinnabulation of her merriment and glee.
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Guy Herman (Author)