Esther Birdsall Darling.

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when the wiry little Scotchman, cool and determined, had faced the huge
brute whose nature, harking back to the wild, threw off the shackles of
generations of suppression and training, and rose to meet his hereditary
enemy - opposing fierce resentment to all efforts of control.

For an instant the man and dog had paused, each seeming to gauge the
strength of the other - then the instinct to kill, that heritage from the
past, when the timber wolf gave no quarter, rose supreme; and the dog
sprang forward, the wide open jaws revealing his sharp, white teeth and
cruelly broken tusks. Suddenly the weight of Allan's body was hurled
against him; strong supple fingers closed upon his neck, and with an
unexpected wrench Jack McMillan's head was buried in a drift of soft,
deep snow. He struggled violently to wrest himself from the iron grasp;
madly he fought for freedom; but always there was that slow, deadly
tightening at the throat. Panting and choking, he had made one last
desperate attempt to break the grip that pinned him down; and then lay
spent and inert except for an occasional hoarse gasp, or convulsive
movement of his massive frame.

At length the man had risen, and the dog, feeling himself loosed, and
able to get his breath, staggered uncertainly to his feet, turned, and
stood bravely facing his foe. There was, for a brief period, the
suggestion of a renewed conflict in the dog's attitude. With the foam
dripping from his mouth, quivering in every muscle; but still erect,
exhausted but not cowed, he waited for the next move - and when it came
McMillan had met his master. Not because of the force in the vise-like
fingers, not because of the dominating mind that controlled them, but
because of the generous spirit that treats a conquered enemy - even a
dog - as an honorable antagonist, not an abject slave.

There had seemed to be a sudden comprehension on the part of the dog,
like the clearing of a distorting mist. He realized in the tone of the
man's voice the recognition and appreciation of qualities which stand
not alone for unquenchable hatred, but for undying fidelity as well; and
when "Scotty's" hand fell upon his head, and gently stroked the soft
sable muzzle, Jack McMillan had not only met a master, but he had made a
friend.

"But Fisher is quite different from Jack. There was never anything petty
about him. Even his hatred had something impressive about it, for he
fought to kill, and was never snarling and underhanded. You always knew
where you stood with him. While Fisher is not at all dangerous, he has
many undesirable traits that are difficult to overcome. He shirked all
the way up from town. That may have been the fault of his training, or
possibly he is naturally lazy; that is what I want to find out. At any
rate nagging does not seem to worry him in the least."

The Woman came out of the house pulling on her fur gloves. "What do you
say," she asked Allan, "to a spin over to Mary's Igloo? Father Bernard
has all sorts of native curios there that I should like to see, and the
day is right for a drive."

"Fine idea," agreed the Big Man. "And Ben and I will follow with as many
of Pete's huskies as we think we can manage without being slated for the
hospital. We might try the Yellow Peril in the lead."

"In that case," the Woman responded rather grimly, "you will probably be
slated for the cemetery instead. Why don't you get a couple of reindeer
from the camp just below? They may not be so fast, but they are surely
safe, and one feels so picturesque behind them, with all their gay felt
collars and trappings."

"Scotty" whistled for the dogs, but Fisher was not to be seen. He had
gone back into the stable to doze on the hay, his favorite pastime.
Again and again the whistle failed to gain any response. The other dogs
had all stepped into place before the sled; when at last Fisher,
reluctant in coming, meditated a moment, and then, in open rebellion,
darted down the steep banks into the overflow of the Springs. The water,
a strange freak of nature in the Arctic, was very warm, and deep enough
so that he had to swim; and he felt that he had selected an ideal place
for his Declaration of Independence.

But "Scotty," shouting directions to have the other dogs unhitched,
immediately started in pursuit of the rebel.

Fisher left the hard, well-beaten track, and struck out for some small
willows and alders where the snow had drifted in feathery masses. He
broke through the crust frequently, but knew that a man would have more
difficulty still in making any headway. Finally Allan turned back to the
house, and Fisher sat down to think over his little victory. He was
tired and panting, but he felt he had scored a point; when to his
amazement he saw the man coming toward him, and now on snow-shoes. He
plunged forward, and relentlessly "Scotty" followed. Hour after hour
the chase continued, until Fisher realized, at length, the futility of
it all; and thoroughly exhausted, crouched shivering in the snow,
waiting for the punishment that lay in the coils of the long black whip
in the man's hand.

When some little distance from him, Allan paused and called to Fisher.

The dog listened. There was something compelling in the tone, something
he could not resist; and so in spite of the temptation to make one more
wild dash for liberty, the dog crawled to "Scotty's" feet in fear and
trembling. And instead of the sting of the lash he had expected, a
kindly touch fell upon him, and a friendly voice said, "It's a good
thing, old fellow, you decided to come to me of your own free will.

"It means a bone instead of a beating - remember that always," and a
delicious greasy bone was taken from a capacious pocket and given him.

So Fisher went back to the stable with "Scotty "; where Jack McMillan
and other ex-rebels, but now loyal subjects, ignored, with a politeness
born of similar experiences, the little episode that taught Fisher once
for all that respect for authority eliminates the necessity for a
whipping. Which is, perhaps, the canine version of Virtue being its own
Reward.

The drive back to town was pleasant but uneventful. Ben, perfectly well
again, was eager to begin his school work and lay a foundation for the
wonderful education that Moose Jones had in mind for him, while Baldy
was glad to be at home once more where he could settle down to his
regular duties. It was with a contentment quite new to him, for in
"Scotty" Allan there was evident a growing recognition of his earnest
desire to be of real use. And with that certainty he ceased to worry
over the short-sightedness of a world which, till now, had appeared to
him unable to grasp the idea that while beauty is only fur deep, ability
goes to the bone.

Tom, Dick and Harry might attract the notice of strangers by their
persuasive ways; Jack McMillan compel admiration by his magnificence;
Irish and Rover win caresses by their affectionate demonstrations. But
after all, in storm and stress, with perhaps a life at stake, it was to
him, to Baldy the obscure, to Baldy "formerly of Golconda, now of
Nome," that his master had turned in his hour of greatest need.

[Illustration:]




IX

With the Flight of Time

[Illustration:]




[Illustration]

CHAPTER IX

WITH THE FLIGHT OF TIME


The town of Nome, extending along the shore of Bering Sea for nearly two
miles, is not built back to any extent on the tundra, which stretches
away, a bog in summer, to the low-lying hills in the distance. In winter
this is, however, a wide sweep of spotless snow crossed by well-defined
trails - and it was here that the dogs were given their exercise.

There were many pleasant diversions in this daily training; visits to
the outlying camps, where they were lauded and petted by the miners, and
surreptitiously banqueted by the camp cooks.

Then there were impromptu races into town if by chance they encountered
other teams coming back after the day's work; when the leaders, eying
one another critically, even scornfully, would, without so much as a
bark by way of discussion, start headlong for Nome, which was visible in
the shadowy gray twilight only by its curling smoke and twinkling
lights.

On they would come, over the Bridge, and up the steep banks of Dry
Creek, turning into Front Street, and dashing down that main
thoroughfare at a pace that took little heed of city speed limits.

It was an hour when baby-sleds and small children were not in evidence;
and so they were always urged on to a spirited finish by the eager
voices of bystanders, to whom sport is more important than home and
dinner.

The unmarked days have slipped into the fast-flying weeks, and they into
the months; till, suddenly, as from a lethargy, the North arouses itself
to greet the first unfailing herald of spring - the Dog Races of Nome.
And about the second week in February the serious work that is the
forerunner of these spring races is begun; and Baldy found his time full
to overflowing with the duties that had long since become joys.

Many luxuries were added to their usual comforts, and all sorts of
improvements made in equipment. There were beautiful patent leather
collars stuffed with caribou hair and faced with rattan, so there should
be no chafing of the neck; they were as "fine and becoming," the Woman
said, "as feather boas." All extra weight was eliminated. The harness
was of thin linen webbing; snaps and buckles gave place to ivory
toggles; wooden whiffletrees were replaced by those made of aluminum,
and the tow-line, light and flexible, and of incredible strength, was of
walrus hide.

Most wonderful of all, it seemed to Ben, George and Dan, was the racing
sled, built on delicate lines, but of tough, almost unbreakable hickory,
and lashed with reindeer sinew. It weighed but little more than thirty
pounds - "as trim a bark as ever sailed the uncharted trails," according
to Pete Bernard; and surely a sight to gladden the eyes of a Dog Musher
of the North.

To the front of this was attached a delicately adjusted combination of
scales and springs, by which Allan could tell when the draft of the team
equaled a pound to the dog; and if more was indicated he was always
behind pushing and adding all of the strength he possessed to that of
those steel-muscled animals each of whom can start, on runners, several
hundred pounds on level snow.

The Kennel was at all times delightful and spotless from its frequent
coats of whitewash. It was airy in summer, and protected in winter; and
the mangers used for beds and stuffed with clean, dry straw, were far
enough off the floor so that there could be no dampness. Electric lights
in the long dark months made it possible to keep the place easily in
perfect order; but with increased activity came increased conveniences
such as hooks in the stalls to hold each dog's harness, which was marked
with the wearer's name, and many other trouble-saving devices that would
prevent confusion when they were preparing for their frequent runs.

Of course the Allan and Darling dogs were all docked. That it was
correct, and gave them a trim appearance, would not have impressed Baldy
in the least; but that it kept their tails from freezing when going
through overflows in icy streams, which causes much personal agony, and
injury to the eyes of the dog in the rear, was a matter of signal
importance.

Always well-groomed, the care of the Kennel inmates now became the sole
task of Matt, who examined them thoroughly twice a day; cutting and
filing their nails when necessary, that they might not split, and
currying and brushing their hair till the Big Man observed that these
elaborate preparations suggested a beauty contest rather than a dog
race.

Ben Edwards was about constantly, when not in school, to assist Matt;
and under his unremitting attention Baldy was fast becoming, if not
handsome, at least far from unsightly.

Then, too, Ben would often help "Scotty" by taking Baldy and several of
the steady dogs out, to give the former as much experience in the wheel
as possible; for Baldy was being seriously considered as a permanent
wheeler in the Racing Team. His qualifications were not brilliant, but
he had proved in the Juvenile Race that he possessed the power to
enforce his authority on flighty and reckless dogs; and on the trip to
the Hot Springs that his courage was equal to his energy.

Many of the dogs had been in several of the Sweepstakes teams and they
realized that these short, snappy spins were for speed and not
endurance, which is the main feature of the great race.

Baldy watched with much anxiety the lack of intelligent interest on the
part of a few of the recruits, and tried to infuse the proper zest into
them by the force of a good example. That not proving entirely
satisfactory, he had been known, when really necessary, to use the
prerogative of a loose leader, and bite the dog in front of him when he
wished to suggest more readiness, or a closer attention to business. But
that was contrary to Baldy's peace policy, and was always a last resort.

The old guard were naturally the mentors, and it was a pleasure to watch
the skill with which they performed their tasks. It was a stupid or
unwilling dog indeed who could not learn much from the agile Tolmans, or
the gentle Irish Setters, in whom the fierce strong blood of some huskie
grandparent would never be suspected except for a certain toughness that
manifested itself in trail work alone.

As for Kid, capable from the first, he was fast developing a justifiable
confidence in himself, and a perfect control over the rest of the team,
and "Scotty" was jubilant over such a leader.

"We have a good team," he said to the Woman as they stood watching the
dogs at play out in the corral with Ben, George and Dan. "And we need
it. Matt tells me that Seward Peninsula has been scoured quietly, from
one end to the other, to add finer dogs to last year's seasoned entries.
And all of the drivers will be men who know the game." Which meant a
severe struggle; for strength and speed in the dogs, and real
generalship and a masterly comprehension of all phases of the trail, in
the driver, are the chief requisites in this wonderful contest.

"They're in great form," observed the Woman with pride and admiration.
"I don't think I have ever seen them looking better."

"True," agreed "Scotty." "But don't count too much on that, for the year
we had that strange epidemic in the Kennel, something like distemper,
they seemed perfectly well till almost the day of the race. And that was
the race," grimly, "when the dear little Fuzzy-wuzzy Lap Dogs, as you
call them, made the record time, and we came in third."

"Well," ruefully, "they had a true Siberian trail all the way; it was
clear and cold, and there was not a single blizzard. And the whole North
knows that our rangy half-breeds are at their best when there are
storms, and the route is rough and broken. The luck of the trail,"
sighing, "but at that, they were marvels."

Without cavil, and with due praise from friend and antagonist alike, the
success of the Siberians that year had been phenomenal and well
deserved. And so, when the "Iron Man" John Johnson, driving a team
entered by Colonel Charles Ramsay of London, and Fox Ramsay driving his
own team of the same type, were first and second, the Ramsay Tartan
fluttered beside the flag of Finland in triumph. It made no difference
that one driver was the son of a Scotch Earl and one of a Scandinavian
Peasant - they were both men in the eyes of all Alaska; and they were
both, with their sturdy dogs, saluted as victors in this classic of the
snows. And John Johnson's record of four hundred and eight miles in
seventy-four hours, fourteen minutes, and twenty-two seconds had made
history in the North.

[Illustration: The Ramsay Siberians]

"I did not feel half so bad, did you, 'Scotty,' when Fay Dalzene beat us
with that great team of his and Russ Bowen's? For after all they were
our type of dog, and justified our faith in the Alaskans."


But no one year's result, nor the accumulated result of several years,
could settle the question of supremacy between the two breeds; and so
the smouldering rivalry continued and was fanned into a hot flame each
season just before the Solomon Derby.

"You'll have a lot of able rivals, if the immense number of speedy teams
I see in the streets means anything," was the Big Man's comment one
evening when the Woman, after a fast drive, was boasting of the marked
improvement in the team work of their entry.

"'Scotty' says he's glad of it; the more teams that go into racing the
higher the standard in Nome. There has never been a time since the camp
started when there have been so many efficient dogs as now; and it's
just because the people are learning that the only way you can have good
dogs is to give them good care. When an Eskimo gets together a racing
team, and an excellent one at that, it begins to look like a general
reform. Don't you remember when practically all of the natives used to
force puppies, who were far too young to be driven at all, to draw the
entire family in a sled that was already overflowing with household
goods?"

"Yes, at one time you could certainly tell an Eskimo team as far as you
could see it by the gait of the wretched, mangy beasts, that always
appeared to be in the last stages of exhaustion."

"And there's really a vast improvement in the freighting teams as well;
for so many dogs that do not quite make the racing teams become
freighters and show the results of their breeding and training there. In
fact," enthusiastically, "I am sure that dog racing has been an enormous
benefit to Nome in every way. Stefansson told me himself that never in
his experience, and it has been wide, had he found such dogs as those
'Scotty' bought for their Canadian Arctic Expedition. And I believe,"
with conviction, "it is because Nome dogs, through the races, are
acknowledged to be the best in all the North - for both sport and work."

The Big Man smiled, and suggested, banteringly, that she embody those
views into form for the benefit of Congress.

The Woman looked rather puzzled. "Congress?" she demanded; "and why
Congress?"

"Because," he continued with some amusement, "there are people who
venture to differ with you materially in your view-point. I understand
that very recently the Kennel Club has received communications from
various high officials of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to
Animals, threatening to place the matter of dog racing in Nome before
Congress, with the hope of having these cruel racing contests stopped.

"That is, of course, if those concerned cannot be made to see the error
of their ways by some less drastic method."

For a moment the Woman was quite speechless with surprise and dismay.

"Well," she finally exclaimed, "if that isn't human nature for
you - beams and motes and all that sort of thing.

"Good people with the very best intentions in the world, trying to
interfere in affairs about which they know nothing, thousands of miles
away; when probably around the very next corner are things about which
they should know everything, needing their attention constantly."

"They say, in one letter, that there are many Alaskans, as well as
Outsiders, who have made these complaints."

"Oh, I dare say," scornfully, "even in Alaska there are persons whose
only idea of a dog is that of a fat, wheezy house-dog who crunches bones
under the dining table, and sleeps on a crocheted shawl in a Morris
chair. But _real_ Alaskans know that pity for the dogs of the North
should be felt, not for the Racers, but for the poor work dogs who haul
their burdens of lumber and machinery and all kinds of supplies out to
the distant mines.

"And that, too, over rough and splintered ties in the glare of the
fierce summer sun that shines for nearly twenty-four hours at a stretch.
I'll wager," defiantly, "that if Alaska dogs have one supreme ambition,
like that of every loyal small American boy to become President of the
United States, it is to become a member of a racing team."

"Undoubtedly," agreed the Big Man soothingly. "But Congress, I believe,
is ignorant of such ambitions as yet."

"Congress is ignorant of a good many things concerning Alaska and the
Alaskans," contemptuously.

"It was because for years Congress imposed a prohibitive tax on
railways through this wilderness, a tax only just now removed, that
innumerable freighters, day after day, have crawled into town unnoticed,
with feet cut and bruised and bleeding, and with no one to herald their
suffering to a sympathetic world. It's because their labors were not
spectacular, and the dogs were too obscure to attract more than a
passing pity - never national interest, or interference."

"But they assert, if I may go on," ventured the Big Man with an
assumption of fear, "that the condition of the dogs, at the finish of
these four hundred and eight mile races, is deplorable."

"They're tired; naturally very tired; though the necessity of fairly
forcing their steps through the crushing, cheering, frantic mob often
gives them an effect of utter exhaustion that belies their actual
condition.

"You know how often we have gone down to the Kennel within an hour or so
after their arrival, and have found them comfortably resting and showing
little, if any, signs of the ordeal. Many and many a prospector's team
is in far worse condition after a severe winter's trip, made just for
ordinary business purposes, while all of the Kennel Club's rules for
racing are aimed against cruelty.

"Why, you know that the very first one says you must bring back every
dog with which you started, dead or alive, and - "

The Big Man laughed heartily. "Dare I mention that the 'Dead or Alive'
rule is the one that seems to have caused the most unfavorable comment
Outside.

"They seem to think it has rather a desperate 'win at any hazard' sound
that needs toning down a bit."

"It means," remarked the Woman severely, "that even if a dog becomes
lame or useless, and a detriment to the rest, he must not be abandoned,
but brought back just the same. And as a team is only as strong as its
weakest member, surely they can realize that it is a matter of policy,
even if not prompted by his love for them, for every driver to keep his
dogs in the best possible condition - that he may not be forced to carry
one that is disabled upon his sled. That would seriously handicap any
team."

"Of course, my dear, all will admit, even Congress, that this is no
country for weaklings - men or dogs - and that is no contest for those who
cannot brave the elements and survive the dangers of a desperately hard
trail.

"And I will maintain, freely, that no athletes in the Olympic Games of
Greece, nor college men in training for the field, are more carefully
and considerately treated than are the dogs in the All Alaska
Sweepstakes. But, you see, these Outsiders don't know that."

"I only wish," said the Woman earnestly, "that the Officers of the
Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Congress, and
everybody, might hear the way Dalzene, Holmsen, Hegness, Fred Ayers, and
the Johnsons speak of their dogs, just as one speaks of cherished
friends, not dumb brutes. If they had seen the 'Iron Man' with the tears
rolling down his furrowed cheeks as he tenderly caressed the dead body
of one of his little Siberians; or had watched 'Scotty' Allan breast the
icy waters of a surging flood the night of the great storm, to save an
injured dog not even his own, I am sure there would be no further talk
of cruelty amongst dog racers. And to think," she concluded
indignantly, "that these protests come from congested centers in
civilized communities, where pampered poodles die from lack of exercise
and over-feeding, and little children from overwork and starvation!"

"There is no occasion for immediate worry," was the Big Man's
consolation. "I rather think Congress has troubles enough of its own
just at present, without mixing up in dog racing in Nome. There won't be
much excitement about it in Washington this session."

Early in the day before the coming event, the Woman sauntered down
toward the Kennel slowly, her mind filled with agreeable memories and
happy anticipations.

At this last try-out the team had shown more speed than ever, and a
certain delight in their work that spoke well for the final selection
that had been made; while Kid, as a leader, had been manifesting such
extraordinary talent that even Allan had been loud in his praise. Which
was rare, for his approval of his dogs was more often expressed in deeds


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Online LibraryEsther Birdsall DarlingBaldy of Nome → online text (page 8 of 12)