Chapter One: Le Loup

Le Loup arrived in town late in the day and brought the snow and howling wind with him. He was covered in buckskin and fur from head to toe and as usual dragged a large sled behind him, loaded with pelts. His black eyes and black beard made the huge trapper appear wild and fierce. No one ever approached him, it seemed, especially with the musket slung over his back and the mongrel dog ever at his side. Horse-drawn sleighs slid past him as he trudged through the snow of the square. People were beginning to abandon their tasks to seek shelter and shops began to close.

Most of the structures in Donkin were made of wood, a few made of brick. It was in the alley between two of these brick buildings that Le Loup noticed some children, two girls and a boy, huddled together, shivering. The younger girl, who could have been no more than ten, came running towards him. What a wretched sight she was: the filthy tatters of cloth that hung from her limbs were little more than rags, and more such material was wrapped around the damsel's feet.

When she got too close, the dog turned and barked, growling viciously. “Coal!” snapped Le Loup, and the dog held back.

The girl came no closer, but held out her hands, one cupped in the other, in a posture of begging, but said nothing. Her eyes were black pools that bore into the man's soul, telling of the world's cruelty, and her gaze held him in thrall – momentarily, at least. But Le Loup's grim heart was unassailable, and he shouted, “Be gone!”

He carried on, drawing his sled. The girl chased after him, but only for a few steps: the frightful dog turned and the pitiful child stopped in her tracks.

The trapper made his way to the fur dealer. He threw a small mountain of pelts on his shoulder with one tremendous heave, and strode arrogantly through the door. He dumped his merchandise on top of a crate and demanded to see the proprietor, Mr. Crawford. The lad behind the counter went and fetched his employer.

Crawford came from the back, adjusting his spectacles. “Le Loup! A pleasure to see you, sir.”

“I have some pelts for you, my friend,” said Le Loup, and the dealer came round to inspect them. England was always in need of fur, and here Le Loup had much to offer. Mostly it was parchment beaver, which needed to be worked, but the pile also contained fancier pelts: mink, otter and fox, for which he'd get a pretty penny, and Crawford even took the rabbit pelts. However, he had no interest in the bear skin and deer hide the trapper had left outside.

Le Loup received his pay, a fair amount, and made his way to a hotel. The manager of this particular establishment preferred the more genteel clientele, but dared not refuse the rugged brutes from the woods that occasionally barged in. He was given a room on the third floor, overlooking the square, but his dog and sled would have to be kept in the stable round back. He asked for dinner to be brought from a tavern: some beef, bread and beer. The manager said it would be “two and six” including tip, and had the meal sent for immediately.

Le Loup threw his weary bones on the bed. His dinner arrived, and he ate voraciously, tearing great chunks of meat from the bone and washing it down with ale. He ordered more beer through a chambermaid, who regarded him with trepidation. And no wonder: women were hard to come by in the woods, and the 29-year old trapper toyed with the young lady like a cat with a mouse. He wasn't a bad-looking lout, she thought, but she was repulsed by his ill manner and the wild aspect about him.

Le Loup sat in the armchair and drank his ale into the evening, brooding as he watched the candle flicker and shadows dance on the wallpaper. Outside the storm continued. He went and stood at the window, where snow was piling up in each frame. He was guzzling his beer when an elderly man passed in front of the tavern. Clearly a man of means, the old fellow was dressed in an overcoat with a velvet collar and a top hat tilted over his brow. The orphan boy from the alley came running up to him begging on his bare knees and pulling at the man's coattails. He scolded the whelp and began beating him viciously about the head and shoulders with his walking stick. The lad cried out. Le Loup tried to push open his window to call for an end to the violent thrashing, but it was jammed. By the time he had forced it open, the man was gone and the boy was writhing in the snow.

The girls came to his aid, and Le Loup called out, “You there! Is the boy all right?” They did not answer, but helped the youngster to his feet and practically dragged him off into the alley. Bah! What did Le Loup care? Head reeling, he finished his drink and fell on the bed.

He woke up late in the morning, unusual for the trapper. The storm had subsided and Le Loup checked on his dog, then took his sled and went round the building to the square. There was some sort of commotion coming from in front of the alley where the ragamuffins took shelter. Usually the affairs of the townsfolk were none of his concern. It was enough that he drank and wenched at their saloons and brawled with the other drunks. But something compelled him to join the small crowd and see what was the matter.

Two men were carrying the boy from out the alley. He was clearly dead, perhaps as much from cold and hunger as the brutal beating he'd suffered the night before. Women turned their heads from the awful sight, and a gentleman crossed himself.

But there was more: another small crowd was gathered next to this one, a more tumultuous scene. An irate man had the elder of the orphan girls in his grasp and refused to let her go. Apparently he was a farmer and this girl his niece, who had run away from the farm weeks ago, a good twenty miles away. The farmer had lost all hope of finding her, but was in town for supplies when she came running out from the alley, begging for someone to check on her friend's condition, for he seemed deathly still.

“Where is the other one?” he kept hollering in the poor girl's face. She would not answer.

Le Loup lost interest and headed towards the market. He saw the little waif again, her dark eyes peering out from an alley across the wide street, observing the proceedings from afar. She looked at the trapper, shivering in her rags, with snow covering her hair and the shred of cloth she used as a shawl. He walked towards her and, despite his grim visage, she didn't flee. As he approached, her eyes moved upward until he seemed to loom over her. He placed a penny in her hand. “Get yourself a hot cross bun,” he said, then left.

From there he went to a general merchant where he bought a pound of shot and a pound of powder for his gun, flints, nails, fish hooks, a hatchet, an awl, a skein of twine, blankets, cloth and a couple pairs of knitted socks. Something lying on a pile of linen caught his attention: a book, Robinson Crusoe. It was in terrible shape, but it seemed to be intact, so he purchased that too.

He went and picked up more supplies and provisions elsewhere: a sack of flour, baking soda, soap, huge slabs of cheese and butter, a side of bacon, sugar, salt, eggs, orange marmalade, all the fine things he could not himself produce, or couldn't be bothered to. He also grabbed a gallon of gin and a gallon of rum, and loaded up his sled.

Le Loup returned to the hotel and settled his bill. He collected his belongings and the dog and was on his way. “You're always welcome here, sir,” said the manager.

At the edge of town, Le Loup strapped snow-shoes to his moccasin boots, then trudged on, sled in tow. What would have been a dim trail in the summer was completely obliterated by the winter's heavy snowfall. The evergreen branches bent beneath the weight. Away from town it was eerily silent in the woods.

He had travelled some miles when it started to snow. By late afternoon it was becoming a storm. He carried on, hoping to make a few more miles. He came to a bit of a clearing that went on for a good stretch, but kept close to the trees.

Coal was trotting just ahead of Le Loup, sometimes looking back at his master as if to spur him onward. The dog stopped. He was gazing at something afar, behind Le Loup. The trapper turned: visibility was poor in that raging storm, but he could make out a tiny figure in the distance following desperately in his tracks, pushing valiantly through the deep snow. But who?

He waited and watched as the figure approached, faltering, falling, then struggling to rise. The dog grunted. The figure staggered nearer, and Le Loup could see that it was the little beggar girl. For some unfathomable reason she'd followed him all this way from Donkin, defying the elements. It was an incredible feat of endurance, a supreme effort of will! But now, only a short distance away, she collapsed to her bare hands and knees, exhausted and nearly frozen.

Le Loup went to her. He scolded her: “Why did you follow me? Are you mad, child?” She gave no answer. She looked at him with those powerful eyes that defied misfortune and misery. She would not plead. Le Loup swept her up in his arms and carried her to the sled. He wrapped her in a blanket.

“We'll have to camp here tonight,” he said. She remained sitting on the sled and observed as the woodsman took one of his snowshoes and quickly shovelled the snow into a large mound four feet high. With a hatchet he cut away some evergreen branches and laid them on top, then heaped another foot of snow onto the mound. Next, he tunnelled into the mound, digging out the inside all the way to the branches. It took a short while, but he'd built them a shelter for the night.

He dragged the bear skin inside and laid it on the ground for the girl to sit on. He built a small fire using twigs, and poked a hole in the roof for a chimney. The snow house warmed up, but it was some time before the girl would stop shivering. She had been frozen to the marrow.

It was dark now, and Le Loup had dragged several items into the shelter. He sliced off a wedge of cheddar and gave it to the girl. She held it, but would only look at the trapper. “Well? Eat it, girl. You're dreadfully thin.” She untied a little knot in her rags and took something out. It was a penny – the penny he had given her – and she held it out to him. “What? No,” he said. “That's your penny. Keep it.”

She withdrew it, and nibbled away at her cheese. The girl could have bought a hot cross bun or two with the penny. Why hadn't she? Le Loup cursed himself silently for being a fool. Those callous bastards in town would have chased her out of their shops, penny or no penny. Better he had bought the bun for her.

He carved off a strip of bacon and roasted it over the fire. The fat dripped into the flames. When the strip was cooked, he bade the girl eat. She ate ravenously. Le Loup cooked a piece for himself, and he threw the dog some pemmican.

Le Loup removed the ragged cloths from the girl's feet. He went to the sled and fetched the woolen socks he'd bought. He warmed them over the fire and gave them to her. She pulled them onto her feet and for the first time her face betrayed a hint of delight. Soon she was yawning.

“Go to sleep,” said Le Loup. “We have a long way to go tomorrow, and I want to make it before nightfall.” The waif curled up on the bear skin, wrapped in a blanket, and quickly fell asleep.

Le Loup stayed up for a while, staring into the flames, occasionally glancing at the innocent face of this unfortunate creature as she slept. Had the dog not noticed her, had the trapper not looked back, she had surely been doomed.

In the morning they ate again. The sky was grey, but the weather was far more agreeable now. Le Loup had the girl sit on the sled wrapped in her blanket and they set off on the next stretch of their journey.

The trapper, a former voyageur, pushed on stubbornly throughout the day, regardless of the burning in his thighs. Sometimes he would stop for a minute and tell the girl this and that about their surroundings. She never replied, and he would carry on.

Dusk had just fallen when they reached Le Loup's home, a log cabin with a stone chimney at one side. Le Loup cleared the doorway of snow and went inside while the girl surveyed the surroundings: a woodshed was built onto the side of the cabin; there was a rain barrel, and an outhouse at some distance. Certainly, the trees that had been cleared away were used as timber for the building.

The girl helped Le Loup carry the supplies inside. Illumined by a single lamp, she saw it was a one-room shack, the walls chinked with mud and straw, with a split log floor and a large fireplace. A rude table was covered in tin plates and homemade wooden bowls and utensils. There was a bench and a stool. The bed was nothing more than a cot, the frame lashed together by rawhide thongs, with a deer-hide stretched over it.

“I'll make a fire,” said Le Loup.

The fireplace was large and made of stone and mortar, as was the hearth, around which were crowded heavy pots and pans, a kettle, a wrought iron toaster, and a dutch oven. Suspended from the mantelpiece were an assortment of ladles, spoons and other instruments unfamiliar to the girl. Above it Le Loup rested his musket to prevent rusting.

Soon there was a good fire crackling away, and the girl sat on the bearskin in front of the hearth to stare into the flames with a profound reverence, as can be expected of one who has known only the cold and snow for so long.

Le Loup flipped a door open in the floor and went down into the root cellar, returning with an armful of potatoes, carrots and onions, which he dumped on the table.

“Let's make some stew, shall we?” said Le Loup, and the girl's eyes lit up with interest. “Come!” he bade her. “You can cut up the vegetables.”

She knelt on the bench and did her task as best she could. Across the table sat Le Loup. He lit an oil lamp, which threw a good light, and cut venison into cubes, giving the scraps to the dog.

This new light afforded a good look at the utensils cluttering the table: a meat tenderizer, a meat grinder, a rolling pin, a churn, a mortar and pestle, a mill, and a tea kettle.

“What is your name, child?” the trapper asked, but he got no reply. The girl simply stopped working and looked at him without expression, then slowly resumed her chore. “Well then, if you won't tell me your name, I'll call you Penny. Pretty Penny!” He was hoping she'd object and tell him her name, but she remained silent. “And you can call me Le Loup.”

They deposited their ingredients into a cast iron pot, along with dried spices, and filled it with water. This Le Loup hung on a crane in the fireplace, where it stewed.

“Are you hungry? We'll eat soon enough. But look at you! I can barely see you beneath all that dirt. And those rags! I'll have to make you something to wear tomorrow.”

He drew a bath, pouring bucket after bucket of heated water into a round wooden washtub in the corner. The big man could only wash himself standing up, but it was the perfect size for Penny to immerse her entire body in. He poured in soap flakes and stirred up a lather; then he strung up a sheet to give the girl privacy.

She went to the tub hesitantly, as every kindness tendered seemed to take her aback. Clearly she had known only rejection and abuse, cold and hunger.

Penny was in the tub covered in suds, washing her arms, when Le Loup brought another bucket of hot water.

“Enjoy yourself, little Penny.” He noticed the scars on her arms, her shoulders, her back, but said nothing.

He took an old shirt and sheared off part of the sleeves for Penny to wear. On the little girl it hung down like a night gown. They ate, and Le Loup wondered how so much food could fit into such a small belly. It almost pained the grim woodsman's heart to know that this neglected creature had probably never eaten but the tiniest scraps needed to sustain her woeful existence.

“Look at that mess,” said Le Loup of Penny's hair. He gave her a wooden comb, and she struggled through some of the more troublesome knots. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave,” he quoted. That was all the Shakespeare he knew, but it seemed relevant.

It had grown late, and Penny, looking quite exhausted, went and lay down on the bearskin, the firelight reflecting in her wistful eyes as she stared at the mesmerising flames. Le Loup threw more wood on the fire, and then covered the girl in blankets and furs. Coal curled up beside her, and she fell asleep.

Le Loup watched her for a while, contemplating what to do. He couldn't keep her. That was one burden a trapper didn't need. He'd have to take her back to Donkin the next time he went there to do his business. But take her back to what? Surely there must be an orphan asylum she could be sent to. Suddenly he felt trapped, like an animal.

In the morning he made an omelette with cheese and bacon, something Penny had never seen before. She devoured every last morsel and all but licked the plate.

“I'll have to check my traps,” said Le Loup. He threw on his coat and grabbed his musket and a sack. Penny followed him to the door. “You stay with Coal,” he said.

Le Loup made his rounds in the forest, but he hadn't caught anything. He did notice some fresh rabbit prints in the snow, and so set up some snares. He returned to the cabin empty-handed.

“Nothing today,” he sighed. He sat down on his stool and drank rum.

Penny was sweeping the floor with a straw broom when Le Loup called her over. She came, and he took an old wool blanket, wrapped it round her waist and made a few mental notes. She had no idea what this meant, but stood still during the process.

Sometime later he had fashioned a skirt for the girl. Le Loup was used to making his own clothing from rawhide or fur, and this hasty experiment fit the little damsel well. Penny seemed delighted, though only the hint of a smile gave her away.

He showed her how to bake bread in a Dutch oven. This they ate for lunch with cheese. Afterward, he pulled one of the books from a shelf and asked her if she could read. Penny gave a barely discernible nod, which Le Loup took to mean “a little”. He handed her a tiny book, The Adventures of Captain Gulliver. She sat on the rug in front of the fireplace and opened it up to the first page. She was oblivious to all else as she struggled through the text. She wasn't reading aloud, but Le Loup could see her mouthing the words as though pronouncing them with great difficulty.

The next day he got to work on a pair of moccasin boots and a vest made from a variety of furs so that Penny wouldn't be stuck in the cabin all the time. The girl proved to be a quick study and helped with the stitching. It was tedious work, but it had to be done.

For supper the resourceful Le Loup made shepherd's pie. Penny ate ravenously, gobbling up her food in little time. Afterwards she cleaned the dishes, and Le Loup drank gin.

“We should work some more on your clothing,” he suggested, “so I can bring you back to town next week.”


That single syllable was uttered with fear and desperation. Le Loup and the girl stared at each other from across the table.

“Please, Le Loup.”

This she added piteously, and even the grim trapper was moved. He gazed at her in silence, finished his cup of gin in a gulp, and went outside to split wood.

He chopped and pondered. He was in a bind. He felt that he was somehow betraying the child. How could he think of leaving the girl at the mercy of the townsfolk? They'd already left her to starve and freeze. The least he could do was keep her until spring, and then it would be easier to have her sent to an orphan asylum.

He came back inside with a load of wood. Penny was still sewing, as if resigned to her fate. He sat across from her, drinking his gin and watching her try her best to stitch the furs together. She was obviously perturbed and wouldn't look up. Finally she did look up, and Le Loup, who could boast of having stared down a grizzly once in his travels out west, averted his eyes by looking up at the rafters where he stored a lot of things. Penny's dark eyes were rending his soul, something he never knew he had, and he wanted her to close them.

“It's getting late, girl,” said he. “You should go to bed.”

She did as she was told, curling up on the rug and pulling the blankets over herself. Coal lay beside her, keeping vigil over the girl. Pretty Penny. Was her only ally in this world a dog? Le Loup drank until his face hit the table.

When he awoke in the morning he was lying on the floor covered in blankets – the girl's doing, presumably – and Penny was kneading dough, the first time she'd gone ahead and attempted to make something without being asked. It must have been sunny, for a good light streamed in through the oiled-paper panes of the window. Le Loup threw water on his face from a bucket. He gave Penny a hand, and they had bread and cheese for breakfast. Afterwards, he went to check on his traps.

He returned with only one catch, a fox, but a large one with a thick winter coat. They whiled away their time, Penny working on the vest and Le Loup on the moccasins, which he lined with fur.

That night Penny pulled a book down from the shelf, a book by Charles Perrault. There were charming illustrations, so she asked Le Loup if she could look at it.

“I think you'll like that one,” Le Loup replied.

The girl lay by the hearth and bundled up in her blankets. She looked at the pictures by the firelight, staring at each one for a long time as if making up her own stories to go with them. Le Loup could see that she was using her imagination as any child might; but she was also imagining that she had a home and someone to care for her. She lay there, wistful, yearning for something she couldn't have.

Le Loup went and sat on the floor beside her, and turned to a certain page. Penny looked at the picture while Le Loup told her the story of Cinderella. The girl was so immersed in the tale that the trapper wondered if she'd ever had the luxury of a bedtime story.

When he finished Le Loup took the book from her and gently closed it.

“Why did you follow me from town that day?” he asked.

The girl looked at him and said, “You were kind to me.”

Le Loup looked down. What a cruel, miserable life this waif must have known, that a cold, drunken beast like himself should seem kind in any way. Why did she have to say that?

“Please don't send me away, Le Loup,” she whispered in a frightened and pitiful tone.

If a little girl could live in fear every day and rise to the challenge against hopeless odds, Le Loup must do the same, and so he said with some trepidation: “No one is sending you away, girl.” He tucked her in. “Now go to sleep, little Penny.”

In the morning they finished the moccasin boots and the fur vest, and Penny tried them on. Le Loup even gave her one of his fur toques to cover her head. She looked no less the ragamuffin than before with the patchwork of furs and the old blanket skirt, but it was warm. Penny grinned and did a pirouette to show off her new winter clothes.

“What a wild little trapper you look!” laughed Le Loup.

Penny was able to accompany Le Loup on his errands, now, and he showed the girl how to set up rabbit snares and dead-fall traps. It was crucial that she know the locations of all the traps, especially the steel trap, lest she step in one herself. He even showed her how to load and shoot a flintlock musket. He began teaching her basic survival skills, and insisted that she always carry a tinderbox when she went out, in case she got lost. He lent her one of his knives, and a beaded Indian scabbard to sheathe it.

During this time Penny continued to say very little, but she was an enthusiastic learner. Still, she and Le Loup remained somewhat aloof. The trapper had always been a grim man, a brute with a violent past, who felt some misgivings about the spark of tenderness he was feeling for the little orphan. As for Penny, she'd never known tenderness, only cruelty, and couldn't even imagine what it might be like to be cared for or wanted. The poor girl feared that this time of food and shelter would end at any moment.

That situation changed slightly on Penny's eighth night at the cabin, when Le Loup earned a small measure of her trust. He informed her that they'd be going to Donkin in the morning. He had a load of hides that weren't yet ready for the previous trip, and he needed a few things, anyway.

This was it, thought Penny. A black cloud of despair loomed over her, and when she went to bed she stared at the fire as though she'd never know warmth again. To Le Loup, her despondency was almost palpable, and he went and sat beside her.

“You think I'm going to leave you in Donkin, don't you?” he said softly. “I won't leave you there. You have my word as a gentleman.”

She turned to look at him. “You promise?”

“Le Loup doesn't lie.”

He reached over and grabbed the Perrault book from the bench. He opened it to a certain page and handed it to Penny so she could look at the illustration.

“Have you ever heard the story of Puss in Boots?” he asked. She hadn't, and so he told her the tale in his own marvellous way, and she was delighted. Afterwards, he told her it was time to sleep. Just then Penny rose to her knees and threw her arms around Le Loup's neck in a quick hug, then laid back down and closed her eyes, half expecting admonishment for being so rash. Le Loup was reeling from the girl's sudden display of affection, and sat staring at the flames for a while.

In the morning they set off for Donkin, Le Loup pulling a sled full of hides, mostly beaver pelts. As he only had one set of snowshoes, he allowed Penny to ride the sled, though she was happy to walk in areas where the snow wasn't so deep. The weather was good and they made it to town early in the evening.

Le Loup checked in at the same hotel as before, and as the manager was used to seeing his face by now, was given the same room on the third floor. The manager noticed the young girl in her fur and toque and rags, looking just as wild and barbaric as Le Loup.

“Ah, this must be your daughter, sir!” he exclaimed, clasping his hands together.

“Have a cot brought to my room,” Le Loup replied. He was famished from the journey and ordered a meal to be brought from a tavern: broiled chicken and potatoes, bread and butter, milk and a slice of apple pie for the girl, a pint of Scotch ale for himself.

After bringing Coal and the sled to the stable round back, they had their supper, which they tore at like wolves. Penny burped, which made Le Loup laugh. She had such an appetite! Now she had room for the slice of pie, which she enjoyed tremendously. She had never had apple pie before, she admitted, or any sort of dessert. Le Loup silently considered this an outrage. To be sure, the girl had suffered much worse deprivations before, but did she have to be denied such a small and simple pleasure?

In the morning Le Loup and Penny went to Crawford, the fur dealer. He bought the entire lot, but could only pay half, and gave the trapper a promisory note for the rest. They took the empty sled and headed for the hardware store. As they were crossing the street Penny suddenly grabbed Le Loup's arm and hid behind him, clearly distressed.

“What is it, child?” he wanted to know.

She said nothing, so Le Loup looked ahead and saw a familiar man loading equipment onto a horse-drawn sleigh in front of the hardware store. It was the farmer who had raised a ruckus in the street two weeks earlier, who had dragged away the other girl.

“Stay behind me,” said Le Loup; and when the farmer got in his sleigh and drove away, he told the girl to go back to the hotel and stay there.

Le Loup purchased a few things at the store, and under some pretext asked about the farmer. He learned only that his name was Jowett, and that during winters he came to town infrequently.

There was another mouth to feed, so Le Loup had to buy extra provisions, including a gallon of milk, then stopped off at a clothing merchant. He had been hoping to go to the barber where he could relax in a bathtub, and carouse at a saloon later, but felt it was best for Penny not to be in town while this Jowett fellow was about. He paid his bill at the hotel (“You and the child are always welcome here, Mr. Le Loup!” said the manager), and they left for the cabin while it was still morning.

The journey went well. It was cold but windless, and the sky cleared up so that they arrived home on a starry night. It was very late, though, and Le Loup was too tired to cook anything but a few strips of bacon. They also had cheese, and Penny washed her victuals down with milk, Le Loup with gin.

The next day while Penny was engaged in her chores, Le Loup sat on his stool and called her to him.

“I have something for you,” he said, and presented her with a plain cotton dress. “I'm not going to sew another thing, if I can help it!” Penny was dumfounded, and seemed paralyzed until Le Loup pushed the dress into her hands. “Go ahead, try it on.”

She went behind the curtain in the corner and changed, emerging in some merriment.

“Now you'll have something to wear when you wash your other clothes.”

That night after supper they sat before the fire, and Le Loup asked about the farmer. Penny refused to answer. Then he asked Penny who she was, where she came from. She buried her head in her hands, but with some coaxing from Le Loup she finally related her dreadful tale.

(End Chapter 1)

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