The young man paused for a minute, looking up at the sky. It was lead gray and gave off little light and promised even more snow. It was a lonely looking place where they were wintered, the small wooden-walled enclosure they called a fort standing alone, and beyond it, gray shrouded mountains barely visible in the distance because of the weather, a line of cottonwoods reaching up their naked arms down by the river, and not much else. Everything else was blanketed in snow. Except for the fort and its cabin and outbuildings, there was no other sign of mankind; even the tracks around the cabin, outside of the ones he had just made, were mostly covered up by the fresh snowfall.
He pushed the cabin door open and walked in, closing it with a kick, dropping his load in the wood box. Inside were three men, all older than he was. The oldest was sitting on a log stool next to the fireplace, keeping an eye on the stew pot hanging over the flames. Giving the pot a final stir, he pulled out the long spoon and looked up at the younger man.
“What’s it like outside, Josh?” he asked.
“Cold,” Josh said, pulling off his mittens. “Least it ain’t snowing.” He hung them up on a peg to dry out. He didn’t take off his capote.
“Ought to go hunting,” said another of the group. He was a redheaded man sitting against the wall. “Buffalo’s gonna get too thin to bother with soon if we don’t.”
“You can go if you want, Red,” Josh said, moving near the fireplace. “Too cold for me today.”
The third man stood up from where he was sitting on his bed. He was tall, lean, and sun-weathered. His dark hair fell around his face in long, thin locks, and the marks on his face from an attack of the pox once upon a time gave him a hard, unpleasant look. He grabbed his coat. “Be a good day for it. Easy to spot’em on a day like today. What about you, Gib?”
The cook looked at his pot. “I’m happy right where I’m at. I’ll think I’ll let you and Red have the fun today, Will.”
Will nodded, and put on his hat. “Coming, Red?”
Red grabbed his coat and gun, and headed out. “Southern boys,” he muttered as he followed Will out.
Josh stared at the door as Red closed it.
“Don’t mind him too much,” Gib said. He put the lid on his stew pot, stirred the fire until it was just the way he wanted under the bottom of it, then pulled a book out of his pocket. “He’s been cooped up too long. Red gets that way.” Opening his book, he began to read.
“If you say so.” The younger man walked over to the table, fished in his pocket for a journal and a stub of pencil he kept there. Opening up the little notebook, he carefully wrote February 5 on the top of a page. He looked up at the older man. “Gib, how long you think we’re gonna be snowed in here?”
“Not sure.” Gib put his book down. “Seems to me we were trapping again sometime by Easter or thereabouts. End of March, maybe. Mighty cold at first, though.”
“That long, huh?” Josh looked back at his journal, and began writing. For a little while, there was no sound but the scratching of his pencil and the rustle of pages as Gib continued to read.
“Gib, promise me,” Josh said at last, breaking the silence.
“Promise you what, son?” Gib didn’t lift his eyes off the page.
“If anything happens to me, make sure my mama gets my journal. I wrote the address in the front.” He closed the notebook, and put it back in his pocket.
“I’ll try,” the older man agreed, looking up. “But what’s gonna happen to you?”
“Who knows? The Blackfeet. Falling through the ice. Living here six or eight more weeks with Red telling me everything wrong with North Carolina.”
“Homesick?” Gib asked.
“Maybe,” Josh admitted.
“It’ll be spring before you know it, son.” Gib picked up his book again. “I’m surprised you didn’t add eating my cooking to your list of what might kill you.”
Josh coughed. He had been thinking just that.
Gib laughed, and went back to his reading.