Attean comes back to see Matt one more time before his tribe leaves. He brings gifts—a finely wrought pair of snowshoes from his grandfather, and a small basket of maple syrup from his grandmother. Matt says that he will help Attean's grandmother gather more sap when they return in the spring, but the Indian boy says gravely that his people will not be coming back.
Attean himself has a gift for Matt—the scruffy dog that he loves so much. Matt knows that he must give something to Attean in return, but he has only one possession of real value. Though he fears that his father will never understand, he gives his friend the watch that had belonged to his family for generations, and Attean instinctively appreciates that it is a thing of great importance. Awkwardly, the boys shake hands. Attean then commands the dog to stay with Matt and walks away for the last time.
Now that Matt is truly alone, he fills his days with work, gathering and storing food for the winter, for himself and for his family. Game grows scarce as winter comes, and though the fish in the creek keep them from starving, he and the dog are often hungry. To protect himself from the cold, Matt fashions a crude pair of breeches from one of his blankets and a hat from the skin of an animal he manages to catch in a trap. Thoughts of his family fill his head, and he makes them gifts—a set of wooden dishes for his mother, a cradle for the baby, and a cornhusk doll for his sister Sarah.
Matt had always thought of his sister as a "pesky child," but in remembering her now, he recalls her spunky nature with thoughtful regard. He reflects that Sarah is much like Attean's sister Marie; he wishes they could be acquainted with each other, but knows they never will.
Matt is not sure anymore exactly how much time has passed since his father's departure, but he recognizes that it is almost Christmas. Late one afternoon, snow begins to fall, and the next morning, he is able to use the snowshoes given to him by Saknis. Once he gets the knack of using the skillfully honed implements, Matt experiences a feeling of utter freedom. As he surveys the area surrounding the cabin, he realizes that he is no longer afraid of the winter ahead and that he is genuinely happy.
Matt is gathering firewood a few days later, when he hears the dog barking frantically. Unable to believe his eyes, he sees a man approaching, dragging a sled: it is his father, with his mother and sister following...
(The entire section contains 698 words.)
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