Snow began to fall. Bridget kept well back, avoiding the wider, easier path, crouching and working her way through the thick brush. All that mattered was Jake knowing she was there, and he did. He was smarter than the men. The two of them were best friends, and friends stayed with friends even when staying right there was the only help they could give.
Men recovered traps and the iron hit the sled with loud clangs. The bodies of mink, beaver, and even a frozen wolverine landed with duller sounds. The smell of animals, blood, and death—kept low by the cold air—rose from the sled. Bridget looked away from the carcasses and promised herself Jake was doing fine. Today there wasn’t going to be any trouble.
At the next stop, Bear-man climbed off and kicked at one of his traps. He bent and lifted the gruesome stump of a fox’s foot. He hurled it into the river. “That goddamn varmint stole my pelt.”
Bridget shivered. She thought of the pair of small foxes with their black-tipped ears and white muzzles that lived in the trees. She’d seen them darting, one on the red tail of the other. How many hours had it taken the snared fox to eat off its own foot? And how much pain?
“Next time,” Bear-man growled, “I’ll kill the sonabitch.”
That day, Bridget knew, would never come. The fox was already dead. Or would be soon. A three-legged fox—even if it hadn’t bled to death—wouldn’t survive in the wild.
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