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“Well, if Tom wouldn’t do, there’s no use talkin’ ’bout Dick and Harry; fer Tom is the smartest o’ that bunch. But he ain’t popular with the rest o’ the team, like Kid was. Them Tolmans has a high-handed way to ’em that some won’t stand fer,” remarked Matt as he began to remove the racing harness from the hooks and place it on the floor beside the tow-line, which was stretched out in the middle of the Kennel.

Dan, Ben and George had been considering the predicament gravely as George bestowed even more than his usual attention upon Spot’s appearance.

“Spot,” he observed with repressed pride, “ain’t had much ‘sperience, but he won a great race just the same. Don’t forget that, Dad.”

“He’s a trifle young,” replied “Scotty,” “and besides,” slyly, “we might meet an Eskimo hunter somewhere on the way.”

Dan claimed recognition for the Mego “houn'” pups, especially Judge, and the Woman, with some hesitation, spoke of McMillan; but Allan gave valid reasons why they were not eligible.

“Not much time left,” announced the Big Man as he, with the Peril, paced restlessly up and down in front of the Kennel.

“Scotty” pondered anxiously, for his decision must be made immediately. He walked over to Rex, regarding him intently.

“Do you believe,” said a low, faltering voice beside him, “that–that Baldy could lead? Him and Kid took us safe over the Golden Gate Divide in that terrible blizzard, an’ mebbe he learnt somethin’ about leadin’ from Kid that night. He’s mighty willin’ an’ strong, an’–“

“True, Ben; that idea had just come to me, too. I am absolutely sure I can depend upon him to do his level best. Whether he is fast enough is the question.” With a sigh he added, “Well, fast or slow, there’s not much choice. I’ll have to fall back upon Baldy to-day. Matt,” he called, “you may put Baldy in the lead.”

“Baldy in the lead!” exclaimed Matt in astonishment. “Why, except fer a time or so that we’ve drove him that way t’kinda fill out, he’s never been in the lead since we got him. If we’re as shy on leaders as all that, I’d hook up Mego; she’s still good, if she is old. But Baldy!”

“Surely, surely, ‘Scotty,'” pleaded the Woman, “you’ll not use an untried dog to-day of all days. Baldy has never shown anything more than just ordinary speed, and you know a leader has to set the pace for them all. If he hasn’t the pride in his work, the spirit, he’s a failure; and Baldy,” desperately, “is just a plodder.”

But “Scotty” was firm. “He’s more than that; you couldn’t see what he did in the storm on the Hot Springs Trail. He’s our best chance.” Then, “Baldy in the lead, Matt, and be quick; we’re almost due now at the post.” And so it was Baldy who led the Allan and Darling entry in the Solomon Derby.

It took the strongest self-control and the keenest desire not to shake “Scotty’s” faith in him, to keep Baldy from bolting when he moved through those throngs whose nearness roused in him such unaccountable fear.

Most of the dogs, now more or less accustomed to these gatherings, stood quietly indifferent to the clamor and confusion.

Jack McMillan was distinctly annoyed by it all; he did not wish to have strangers pushing against him, stroking his back, and even taking liberties with his velvety ears. What was the use of a Black Past, if it did not protect one from such unwelcome familiarities?

Tom, Dick and Harry, as usual, were charmed with the situation; for they dearly loved any sort of a demonstration in which they could figure conspicuously. Tom, ever anxious to be in the public eye, glanced about and, seeing the United States Marshal, who was known to be an ardent admirer of the Allan and Darling team, jumped upon him, demanding recognition, which was cordially granted.

Baldy, to whom the whole episode was trying in the extreme, did not even resent this little play for favor in official circles, so anxious was he to be over the ordeal, and out in the open speeding away toward the dark and frowning cliffs of Cape Nome, in the dim distance.

Two teams at intervals of ten minutes had started before them, and there were three others to follow.

As it was only sixty-five miles to Solomon and back, Allan decided to try to pass the teams in front, even if he acted as trail-breaker and pace-maker; for there was no necessity in so short a race for generalship in the matter of feeding and resting.

Shortly after they left Fort Davis, four miles down the coast, they could see John Johnson ahead, and still beyond him a rapidly moving dot which Allan knew to be Fred Ayer with his “Ayeroplanes,” as the Woman had dubbed them; facetiously, but with a certain trepidation. For that splendid team had been successful in many of the shorter races, and bade fair to develop into dangerous antagonists in the longer ones.

But the Allan and Darling dogs, urged on constantly by “Scotty,” went forward at an even gait that soon lessened the space between themselves and the Siberians; when, having passed them, they gained perceptibly upon the others.

The “Ayeroplanes” seemed almost to float along the surface of the snow, so light and smooth was their pace, so harmonious their team action.

But as if impelled by a hidden force he had never felt before, Baldy sturdily forged on and on, till they, too, were left behind. A new fervor thrilled him as he determined to show that he was more than “just dog.” No understudy on the stage, given an unexpected opportunity, ever desired more ardently to eclipse the star than did Baldy to fill poor Kid’s place.

How they flew over the ground; how exhilarating the air; how light the sled. And then it suddenly dawned upon Baldy that the sled was too light. When Allan was not running behind with a tight grasp on the handle-bars, he was usually perched at the back on the projecting runners; and for some time the dog had not noticed this additional weight. Then, too, he was beginning to miss his master’s voice–“Hi, there, Tom, Dick, Harry, snowbirds in sight; rabbits, Spot; road house, Barney.” Of course all of the dogs knew perfectly well that it was only a joke; that snowbirds, rabbits and road houses are things that do not concern you at all when you are being driven in a race. But they enjoyed the little pleasantry, nevertheless, and it gave them delightful subjects to think about that might become possibilities when they were not in harness.

If “Scotty” was not addressing them personally, he was often singing bits of Scotch ballads, or whistling scraps of rag-time, which was wonderfully cheering, and gave them a sense of companionship with him.

At last the instinct that all was not right was too strong for Baldy. Stopping suddenly, he looked back and discovered that they were driverless.

He realized that such halts were most unwise; but the team without Allan was as a ship without a Captain and to Baldy there was but one thing to do–to find “Scotty” at all hazards.

For an instant there was danger of a mutiny amongst the dogs. Tom, Dick and Harry tacitly agreed that it was a marvelous chance to make that snowbird joke a charming reality; there was a stirring of McMillan’s fiery blood, for he still admitted but one source of control; a plump fluffy hare, scurrying by within range of Spot’s young eyes inspired him with a desire to give chase, as once again he quite forgot the grave importance of filling a position in a racing team.

But Baldy, knowing that the time for action had come, that his supremacy as a leader must be acknowledged, and at once, firmly held his ground. Turning, he faced them fearlessly. There was a low ominous growl, a smouldering light in his strange, somber eyes, a baring of his sharp white fangs. Yet it was something else, a something in the very nature of the dog, in his steadfast spirit, his indomitable will, that made the others feel in some subtle, final way that they must obey him. So when he swung round they followed him as unswervingly as they would have followed Kid.

Far away in the whiteness, Baldy saw a black spot toward which he sped with mad impatience. It grew more and more distinct, till, beside it, he saw that it was his master, lying pale, motionless and blood-stained in the trail. From a deep gash on his head a crimson stream oozed and froze, matting his hair and the fur on his parka.

Baldy stopped short, quivering with an unknown dread. There was something terrifying in the tense body, so still, so mute. He licked the pallid face, the cold hands, and placed a gentle paw upon the man’s breast, scratching softly to see if he could not gain some response. There was no answer to his loving appeal; and throwing back his head, there broke from him the weird, wild wail of the Malamute, his inheritance from some wolf ancestor. The other dogs joined the mournful chorus, and then, as it died away, he tried again and again to rouse his silent master.

Moment after moment passed, the time seemed endless; but finally the warm tongue and the insistent paw did their work; for there was a slight movement, a flicker of the eyelids, and then “Scotty” lifted himself upon his elbow and spoke to them.

He was hopelessly confused. What was he doing in the snow, in the bitter cold, soaked in blood, and with his team beside him? Where was Kid?

Then it all came back to him; he remembered he was in a race–the Solomon Derby, and Kid was dead. That with Baldy in the lead they had gone ahead of the other teams at a terrific speed, when he heard something snap. Thinking it might be a runner, he had leaned over the side of the sled to look; there was a crushing blow, and he recalled no more until he felt Baldy’s hot breath, and an agonizing pain in his temple.

Gazing about, he saw the cause of the mishap–an iron trail stake half concealed by a drift, now red with his blood. All around, as far as the eye could reach, stretched the vast snowy plains that merged into the purple shadows of the distant mountains, outlined in dazzling beauty against the azure sky. There was no sign of the other teams. He could not tell how long he had been unconscious–whether minutes or hours; he only realized that he had never entered Solomon.

Weakly he stumbled to his feet and fell helplessly into the sled. At a word Baldy darted ahead, and Allan, wiping the blood from his eyes, saw they were traveling in the wrong direction, toward the wireless tower at Port Safety. In some way he dimly realized that the dogs had turned on the trail. Given the order, Baldy wheeled instantly, and dashed forward with no slackening of his former speed, though “Scotty” was lying inert and useless, an unusual and unexpected burden.

But, wounded and shaken, “Scotty’s” spirit was still undaunted; and uncertain of anything save that you are never beaten till the race is over, Allan inspired Baldy to do his willing best.

The bitter disappointment of Kid’s death was fast yielding to amazement at Baldy’s unsuspected fleetness. Trustworthy he had always been, and obedient and faithful–but his pace now was a revelation. There was yet a chance.

“On, Baldy; on boys.” And away they flew till the roofs of Solomon loomed on the horizon, directly ahead.

Solomon at last. At the end of the one short street was a group of Kennel Club officials, and the entire population of the place, ready to welcome the coming and speed the parting racers.

To his intense surprise Allan learned that his was the first team in, his delay having evidently been but a brief one. He resisted all entreaties that he should have medical attention. “There’s no trouble at all,” he maintained stoutly, “so long as my cap is frozen to the wound. Of course I am a little faint, and dizzy, but that will pass in the fresh air. Just water the dogs and see that they’re all right, will you?” And resting only the five minutes that are obligatory for the signing of papers, he was again on his way, as Fred Ayer came into view, closely followed by Johnson.

Returning, it seemed as if Kid himself could not have excelled Baldy in the management of the team–all of his latent powers developing to meet the great demands made upon him. He was proving himself indeed a leader.

The news of the mishap had been telephoned to Nome; and the usual enthusiasm over the first arrival was turned into an ovation for the plucky and popular little Scotchman.

With the loss of the best dog in the Kennel, on the eve of the race, and an obscure, untried dog in the lead; with a stunning blow that had left him alone and senseless on the trail he was still victorious, to the admiration of all Nome.

The excitement was intense as the cheering throngs closed in upon the dogs and their driver, ready and eager to give their hearty greetings and unstinted applause.

[Illustration: AN OVATION FOR THE PLUCKY LITTLE SCOTCHMAN]

Moose Jones and Ben hurried toward the winners, both overjoyed at the success of Allan and their favorite, Baldy.

“Some dog, Baldy o’ Golconda, ain’t he, Mart?” was Jones’s exultant comment as they passed Barclay, who stood regarding the heroes with ill-concealed contempt.

“Some accident!” retorted Mart. “There’ll be a fine day,” belligerently, “when ‘Scotty’ Allan’ll find out that there dog’s a fake, a reg’lar quitter. Jest now he’s bluffed you all inter thinkin’ him a wonder; but you wait an’ he’ll give himself away yet. He was ornery as a pup, an’ he’s ornery as a dog. You can’t make a silk purse outen a sow’s ear, an’ I tell you straight you can’t make a Sweepstakes Winner out o’ Baldy o’ Golconda, no matter what he done in this here measly Solomon hike.”

“Well, we’ll see, Mart.”

“You’ve won a great race,” exclaimed the Woman as she came forward with the Big Man, and grasped “Scotty’s” hand warmly; “a great race, and against heavy odds.”

But “Scotty,” looking down on Baldy with gratitude and pride, replied simply:

“No, the credit all belongs to good old Baldy here; it is his race, not mine.”

Then the Woman, kneeling in the snow beside the leader, with her arms about him, said softly, “It was wonderful, Baldy, simply wonderful, the way you saved the day.”

And so the Solomon Derby was over, and Baldy had made good.

[Illustration]

XI

One Summer

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

CHAPTER XI

ONE SUMMER

The winning of the Solomon Derby marked a new era in Baldy’s life. His home-coming had been made both joyous and miserable by the various attentions he had received. With his sensitive, shrinking nature, it was a sore trial to be the center of attraction, and the object of constant discussion. “Scotty” had warmly commended his record to Ben Edwards, which was compensation even for the Woman’s newly awakened and frankly expressed admiration. She had almost wept on his neck, which was embarrassing for an undemonstrative dog, and said he deserved a Carnegie Medal–whatever that was–though she suggested, practically, a large juicy beefsteak as an immediate compromise.

The neighbors conceded generously that it was more than they had expected of an “old grouch.” George Allan and Danny Kelly, from out their superior wisdom in dog affairs, agreed that while improbable, it had never been impossible for a freighter to develop into a racer under favorable conditions. While most gratifying of all, Dubby came in to express, with strenuous waggings of his stubby but eloquent tail, his surprise and satisfaction that a member of a purely sporting fraternity had distinguished himself so highly; had acted, in fact, in a manner worthy of a dependable huskie. And Baldy, knowing that Dubby had himself and his unblemished career in mind, felt that this was indeed the climax of approval.

Gradually he was coming to realize that through his unremitting efforts to be of service, and because of real worth, there was an attitude of kindly interest manifested toward him that had taken the place of the covert criticism and careless indifference that had once caused him so much sorrow.

“Now that he’s led once,” confided Ben to George and Dan, “I don’t believe Baldy’ll ever be satisfied again t’ stay in the wheel. It seems t’ me that every minute he’s awake he’s tryin’ t’ do better in his work. That race kinda roused him in every way.”

“He’ll never have to stay in the wheel,” observed “Scotty.” “The Derby was a revelation to me in regard to Baldy. I confess frankly I didn’t think he was capable of the ability he showed that day and,” with a smiling glance toward the Woman, “there were those of less faith than mine who were completely won over.”

“If you mean me,” she rejoined, “you are quite right. I’ve apologized to Ben and Baldy every day since the Derby. I have even admitted that Baldy’s legs are as good as Jack McMillan’s, if not better. Could humility go further in making amends?”

And Baldy, who now saw the world through different and more friendly eyes, learned that even the Woman was not wholly lacking in a certain sense of discrimination as she had proved when she had felt the muscles of his sturdy body and spanned the width of his broad chest with unqualified approval.

After a complete rest of a week or more, the training began again; for there was yet to be held the most important event of the year–the All Alaska Sweepstakes, which takes place early in April.

The runs were much longer and harder than the preliminary dashes for the Solomon Race; and sometimes they went back even to the Mountains which rose, rugged and majestic, from the endless white wastes to a sky brilliantly blue in the dazzling Arctic sunshine, or sodden and gray in a storm.

Totally different in temperament and methods from Kid and Dubby, Baldy manifested, nevertheless, many of the fundamental qualities that had so distinguished those wonderful leaders. And in communion with “Scotty” in their long hours of exercise, he not only began to understand the speech and the touch of his hand, but also his unexpressed moods. He knew when Allan was care-free, and satisfied with the team, or was discouraged by some unexpected act of stupidity or disobedience, though no syllable was spoken.

Not long before the Big Race, several unfortunate things happened in the Kennel to make Allan believe it was, as the “Wonder Workers” solemnly declared it, a “Hoodoo” year for the dogs. Rover wrenched his shoulder in a friendly tussle with one of the Mego pups, Tom cut his foot badly on a bit of broken glass, and Baldy developed a severe cold that made him feverish and short of breath.

It seemed at first as if they might not be able to enter a team at all, so many accidents combined against them; but the lure of the contest was too much for “Scotty.” “We’ll do our best. Lots of teams go in that are no stronger than ours at its weakest, and every entry that drops out makes it less interesting. Then don’t forget the luck of the trail, in which you believe so thoroughly. Remember the Solomon Derby.”

“I don’t believe in working luck over time,” she answered. “However, if you really think it would make any difference in the sport, of course we’ll go in. I know you can do better,” confidently, “with a poor team than most men with a good one.”

But “Scotty” shook his head decidedly. “Don’t think it. Our antagonists are all that they should be–men and dogs–and the most careful driving will not always overcome the weakness of the team.”

Since the driver may use his own discretion as to the length and frequency of the stops to be made, he must have the ability to realize exactly how much rest he may take himself and give his dogs without the unnecessary loss of a moment. He must know what the other teams have done, and are capable of doing; he must drive his own race, and he must know how the other men are driving theirs. He must decide wisely how many dogs it is well to use–that matter also being optional with him. For it is an important point to select enough dogs to keep up to the required standard, yet not too many for good team work, in which individual peculiarities have been merged in general harmony of action.

No precaution is neglected to insure the comfort of the contestants. Commissary teams sent out by the Kennel Club leave supplies at all of the Road Houses and camps that are to be used as rest stations–drugs for emergencies, and all sorts of luxuries that would be too bulky to be carried in the racing sleds, but which are shared impartially at the different stops.

Each man must be certain of the best food for his dogs, and the length of time it takes to digest it. The usual diet of the Allan and Darling Racers, rolled oats, dried salmon, and the oily nutritious flesh of the white whale, with a proper amount of bone, now was changed to chopped beef and mutton, cooked with eggs. This was put up in hermetically sealed tins, with enough in each for a feeding; and every dog’s allowance wrapped separately in muslin so that there might be no loss of time in dividing it into portions.

And in all of these things “Scotty” Allan was a past master. Yet in spite of his efforts and skill, they came in not first, but second; which was, according to George and Dan, “not so worse for a scrub team,” and according to Ben, “mighty good considerin’ they didn’t have Baldy.”

These days of ceaseless striving and untiring patience had been of great benefit to Baldy. He no longer experienced despair over such a Kennel misfortune; but cheerfully resolved that each failure must be a stepping-stone, not a stumbling-block, in the march toward success.

There was one real sorrow that came to him that spring–a sorrow shared by many–which swept away the passing regret for the lost race. Dubby, full of years and honors, was dead, mourned by all. His obituary in the newspapers not only testified that he was generally beloved, but was one that many a man might be proud to deserve. “Alaska’s Most Famous Leader Passes Away.” What untold stories of marvelous intelligence, of unfaltering allegiance, of loving service lay in those simple words.

Baldy missed Dubby sorely, for there had grown a firm bond of sympathy between them. The old huskie had learned that a character may dignify a calling, and that a true heart often beats beneath a racing harness; while Baldy had long since discovered that Dubby’s aloofness was but the inevitable loneliness of a Dog that has had his Day.

To divert his mind from sad memories, Baldy would go to look at Mego’s twelve, beautiful, fat new puppies, and then would dream of a comfortable serene old age when he would be given the tutoring of such promising youngsters, and help to make them winners of future All Alaska Sweepstakes.

Then came the summer, and with it the play-time for the Kennel; a summer filled with ever changing interests and pleasures.

“I’ll be glad, ‘Scotty,'” said Moose Jones, “t’ keep till fall as many dogs as you don’t want in Nome. It’s kinda hard t’ have ’em tied up in the fine weather, an’ dogs like yours can’t run ’round the streets loose. Ben an’ me’s goin’ t’ be out t’ Golconda, where I’ve got a crew o’ men at work. You may ‘a’ heerd I bought Golconda a few weeks ago, an’ I’m goin’ t’ mine there this season. Sold my ground over t’ Marshall t’ a New York Syndicate that was nosin’ round pretty sharp before I left; and it’s give me money enough t’ take up this here property. Then I leased my Dime Creek holdin’s on royalties, an’ that’ll put me on my feet even ef this Golconda claim ain’t all I think. But I done a lot o’ prospectin’ there once, an’ it sure looks promisin’; an’ besides it’s right next t’ the Midas, an’ fer the last couple years or more Barclay has been takin’ out wonderful pay there.”

“I’d be glad to have you keep Baldy, Irish and Rover for us if you will,” replied Allan cordially. “George and Spot are inseparable in vacation times, and McMillan,” with a nod toward the Woman’s house, “seems to be under the impression, now that he is not in training, that he is a lap dog, and rarely comes to the Kennel at all. Matt will take the rest of them up to his cabin on Penny River, where they will have all the exercise they want, and great fun hunting. You know I never have a moment for them in summer, as it is our busy season in the office,” and Allan, who was Secretary in the Big Man’s Company, gave a sigh as he realized that not until autumn would come again the happy Dog Days.

To Baldy it was a period of perfect joy–to be with Ben Edwards and Moose Jones in the glorious freedom of the open country in the far hills. Here the dogs did what their fancies dictated. They swam, unmolested, in the ditch; ran for miles with their chum, the dappled gray horse; gave chase to saucy, chattering squirrels, and even fished so successfully that they were the admiration of all the camps about.

Irish and Baldy would stand in the riffles of a stream, and Rover, leaping into the pools and quiet waters, would drive the fish up into the shallows, where they were seized by his two companions, taken ashore and dropped on the bank. Then they returned for more, keeping up the sport till a bird in flight or some other fascinating moving creature lured them away in a spirited pursuit through thick willows and across green marsh-lands.

At night they slept, if they chose, in the Bunk House; and ate without restriction such mysterious delicacies as cake and pastries.

No longer was Baldy ignored by the men, nor did it now take the threats of Moose Jones to prevent the petty annoyances to which he had been subjected formerly; for in winning the Solomon Derby he had proved his worth and they were glad to give him well-earned praise.

Occasionally there would be a dissenter from the general admiration of the dog. Black Mart, who sometimes came over from the Midas, never failed to belittle the record he had made. “It’s no test, that short mush t’ Solomon, an’ it don’t prove nothin’. Why, I’ve seen teams that could do wonders in that there run that couldn’t git as fur as Council in the Big Race without goin’ t’ pieces. It takes somethin’ more’n a slinkin’ half-breed like him t’ lead a winnin’ team in the Sweepstakes.”

And Moose would retort sarcastically, “Mart, ef you was as good a judge o’ dogs as dogs is o’ you–stop growlin’ at him, Baldy–you’d have a winnin’ team in yourself, instead o’ just jawin’ about it.”

One man’s enmity mattered but little, however, in the general friendliness Baldy experienced; and there were so many glorious things to offset those infrequent encounters with the one person he instinctively regarded with aversion.

Encouraging news had come from Dime Creek, and Golconda was proving rich beyond the highest expectations of Jones; and many happy hours did he and Ben spend in plans for the boy’s future; a future that now seemed near and bright.

“Even without Golconda, Ben,” Moose would exclaim confidently, “I’ve got enough salted away from them other deals to put you through all the book learnin’ you’ll need t’ make a reg’lar spell-bindin’ lawyer o’ you like Fink, er a way up Judge, mebbe in Washington. An’ with Golconda,–well, Sonny, that there Arabian Nights chap that she was tellin’ you about wouldn’t have nothin’ on us fer adventure, an’ doin’ good turns to folks unbeknownst, an’ all that kind o’ stuff,” and Moose Jones would pat the boy’s shoulder affectionately.

Every week or so Baldy, with Irish and Rover and some of the Wild Goose dogs from the Grand Central Ditch House near, would be hitched to a flat car belonging to the place, and would have a trip into town with Moose to take the gold dust from the “clean-ups” to the bank.

The car coasted down all the hills, for there was a strong brake to keep it safe. And the dogs were either invited to ride with Jones, or were permitted to get to the bottom as best pleased them with Ben, which meant a scamper through fields of blue forget-me-nots and purple lupine, over damp and mossy dells, and along the slopes where tiny birds were hidden in cozy nests about which the frightened parents fluttered divertingly.

[Illustration: THE CAR COASTED DOWN ALL THE HILLS]

It was indeed a treat; for always at the end of the jaunt there was an interview with “Scotty” Allan, who was sure to look Baldy over carefully and say fondly, “Well, how’s my Derby hero to-day?” and give the expected hearty greetings to Irish and Rover. Or possibly there would be a brief visit to the Woman, who, whatever her faults, never failed to produce a tid-bit of some sort for her canine callers.

She and Ben would dwell with keen delight upon his prospects of attaining his ambitions. “And besides all Moose will do for you,” she announced one day, “Mr. Daly tells me he will be only too glad to be of any assistance possible. He thinks a boy with your ideal–Lincoln–should have all the help it is in his power to give.”

Of course, surfeited at last with luxury and idleness, the dogs would finally be eager to return to the duties of the winter; glad of the season that brings the cheery sound of bells, the joyous barks of recognition from passing friends, the snarl of challenge from passing enemies, and all of the wholesome pleasures that belong to a busy, useful life. But now they were quite care-free, and content, and the responsibilities of the winter seemed far away indeed.

But the most treasured moments of all to Baldy were those spent with Ben when, waiting for Moose to finish his evening’s tasks, he and the boy wandered along the winding banks of the ditch. Far away across the sedgy tundra lay the sea, a line of molten gold in the last rays of the belated June sunset. Behind them rose the snow-crested peaks of the Sawtooth Mountains, like frosted spires against an amber sky. Soon the amber would change to amethyst and deepen to purple–fading at last to a shadowy gray; and all the world seemed steeped in the mystic calm of those twilight hours before the early Northern dawn.

And in those hours the brooding stillness of nature was broken only by the voice of man; for it was then, in that vast solitude, that from the lips of Ben Edwards came ringing words, sonorous sentences, impassioned appeals.

Baldy did not know it, but he was at such times a learned Judge moved strangely by unexpected eloquence; a jury melted to tears by a touching plea for clemency; a Populace swayed to great deeds by a silver-tongued Orator. Even, on rare occasions, he was the Loyal Throng that stood, silent and uncovered, before the White House steps, thrilled by the fiery patriotism of Mr. Edwards, the President of the United States of America.

Then, he was just Baldy, a faithful loving dog that trotted happily at the heels of the ragged little boy whose unselfishness had given him the great chance of his life.

There was no faltering in the devotion of boy or dog. They believed in each other.

[Illustration]

XII

The Great Race

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

CHAPTER XII

THE GREAT RACE

Another winter had come and gone, and again it was the day of the Great Race.

Never had the time passed so quickly to Baldy, for he had now become a distinguished member of The Team, for whom every one, even the Woman, entertained a real respect, and to whom all of the dogs turned readily as to their acknowledged leader.

The Allan and Darling Racers were ready for the event.

There was an early stir in the Kennel, and all was hurry and bustle. The Woman came in with the Big Man, the Allan girls, and Ben Edwards, who helped her tie knots of white and gold on the front of the sled, on the collars of the racing dogs, and on other members of the family, about forty in all, who were old enough to appreciate the attention. Even the Yellow Peril apparently considered it an honor, for which he waited with unaccustomed patience.

The preparations were almost complete; and “Scotty” was everywhere, superintending the minute details, upon the completeness of which so much might depend.

Birdie was, in the confusion, about to borrow Mego’s puppies and take them out for an airing. Fisher, delighted that he was not of the elect, basked in a warm and secluded corner; while Jemima, frantic to be a part of the team, was restrained forcibly by Matt, and placed in solitary confinement.

Even Texas, for whom the Kennel had lost its charm–and safety–since the death of old Dubby, followed the Allan girls, and was treated to a becoming bow of the racing colors.

Matt brought out the long tow-line, and placed it carefully on the floor.

“Rex and McMillan in the wheel, like we’ve been usin’ ’em, I suppose?” and at a nod he released them.

“Wheel, Jack; wheel, Rex,” and they took their accustomed places next the sled, and remained motionless, yet keenly alert. “Tom and Dick, Harry and Tracy, Irish and Rover”–name after name was called, and each dog stepped into position with joyful alacrity. They were, one and all, sturdy, intelligent, and spirited; with the stamina of their wild forebears, and the devoted nature of those dogs who have for generations been trained to willing service and have been faithful friends to their masters.

“Scotty’s” eyes rested upon them with justifiable pride. “I think,” he announced happily, “that in all my years of racing I have never had so fine a team; so many dogs I can count upon in every way.” And then came the expected order, “Baldy in the lead, Matt.”

There was an imperceptible pause— just long enough for him to brush softly against Ben Edwards, and look up lovingly into a beaming face–and then Baldy stood at the head of the Allan and Darling Racing Team, a “likely Sweepstakes Winner,” as the Daily Dog News had once ironically predicted.

Baldy felt that now, if ever, had come his Day; the Day of which he had dreamed in his despised puppy-hood; the Day in which he could prove that the great dog man’s confidence was not misplaced, and that the boy’s belief was well founded.

At last they stood, every detail of equipment perfect, while “Scotty” glanced once more over his small kit in the sled; green veils for the dog’s eyes should the glare of the sun prove too troublesome, little blankets, canton flannel moccasins for their feet in case of sharp ice, and extra bits of harness–all stowed safely away, including his own fur parka and water-tight boots.

Matt regarded the team critically, and while filled with a sober satisfaction, was much relieved to hear that it had the unqualified approval of the experts, George and Dan. “Of course Spot ‘ud make a classier leader, Dan, but I’m the only one that can really handle him yet, so I guess Baldy’s best for Dad.”

The Woman waited to give each dog a parting caress and a word of encouragement. “Tom, Dick and Harry, remember you’re the Veterans, and have an honorable record to maintain; Irish and Rover, never forget that you _are_ Irish, and live up to all that it means; McMillan, it’s your chance to wipe out the past; and Baldy–well, Baldy, ‘Scotty,’ we all, trust you.” And then she turned and pinned the last knot of white and gold on Allan’s breast, and her voice trembled as she said, “Success to our colors.”

Through the narrow streets, gay with the fluttering streamers of the Kennel Club gold and green, they went. Banners and pennants shone resplendent under the cloudless blue of the April sky; and the crowds in high spirits and gala attire, eager and laughing, closed in upon them till Baldy longed to howl in sheer fright, though howling in harness is strictly forbidden by “Scotty,” and would have been quite out of keeping with the august dignity of his position. He was appalled by such a solid mass of human beings–for of course the courts, schools, and business houses were all closed in honor of this important occasion; and probably the only people in all of Nome not bending their steps toward the starting place were those unavoidably detained in the hospital or jail.

Women who would not have been out of place on Fifth Avenue or Bond Street, women to whom even the French Poodle would have given his approval; men of the West in flannel shirts and cowboy hats; miners from the Creeks, gathered from all corners of the Earth; Eskimos in their furs with tiny babies strapped on their backs; rosy-cheeked children–all hurried to the point where the long journey was to begin.

Nomie was everywhere, barking delightedly, and giving each team an impartial greeting.

Oolik Lomen with his latest doll, acquired that very morning from some careless mother more intent upon sporting affairs than domestic duties, paraded superciliously up and down, plainly bored by the proceedings; but attending because it was the correct thing to do.

What a relief it was to reach the open space on the ice of Bering Sea, in front of the town, where the fast gathering multitudes were being held back by ropes, and kept in line by Marshals in trappings of the club colors.

Presently the merry jingle of bells, and loud shouts, announced the approach of the Royal Sled. Covered with magnificent wolf robes, and drawn by twelve young men, fur-clad from head to foot–her “human huskies”–the Queen of the North dashed up to the Royal Box, where, surrounded by her ten pretty maids of honor, like her clad in rare furs of Arctic design and fashioning, she was given an imposing reception by the judges and directors of the Kennel Club.

In one hand the Queen carried a quaintly carved scepter of ivory, made from a huge walrus tusk, and in the other the American Flag at whose dip would begin once more the struggle for the supremacy of the trail. A supremacy which is not merely the winning of the purse and cup, but is the conquering of the obstacles and terrors that beset the trackless wastes–a defiance of the elements, a triumph of human nature over nature.

There was the sound of many voices; small boys, scarcely out of pinafores, discussed with a surprising amount of knowledge the merits of the individual dogs and the capabilities of their drivers; little girls donned ribbons with a sportsman-like disregard of their “becomingness” to show a preference which might be based either on a personal fondness for a driver or owner, or a loving interest in some particular dog. While men and women, who on the Outside would be regarded as far beyond an age when such an event would have an intense interest for them, here manifest an allegiance so loyal that at times it threatens to disrupt friendships, if not families.

The babble increased in volume, for the first team had drawn up between the stands to wait for the final moment, and Charles Johnson stood ready, with his noted Siberians, to begin the contest. They made a charming appearance, and their admirers were many and enthusiastic.

“Ten seconds,” was called; unconsciously all voices were hushed. “Five seconds!” The silence was broken only by the restless moving of the people and the barking of the excited dogs.

Then the clock struck ten, and simultaneously the stirring strains of the trumpet ended the spell that held the crowd in breathless attention. The men released the dogs, the flag in the hand of the Queen fluttered, then fell, and the first team in the greatest race in the world had “hit the Trail for Candle,” while cheer after cheer followed its swift flight between the long lines of eager faces and waving colors.

In the pause that ensued an impatient voice rose in insistent demand. “What are you waiting for? Bring on your Fidos,” and then as “Scotty” Allan appeared and stood with difficulty holding the spirited Allan and Darling dogs, the same voice asked in tones of utter disdain, “Whose mangy Fidos are these?” He was evidently a stranger, and in favor of the trim Siberians, scorning the rangy “Lop-ears,” as they are sometimes called in derision.

[Illustration: SCOTTY ALLAN ON THE TRAIL]

But whatever type may please their fancy, the faithfulness of all, and the skill of each driver appeals to these Northerners, most of whom know well the hardships of this ultimate frontier. So that their wild enthusiasm seems not so much a question of personality as a spontaneous tribute to the energy and courage of the men, and the patient willingness of the dogs.

Allan’s selection of dogs had caused much adverse criticism, but Matt warmly defended his choice. “You can’t tell me that Tom, Dick and Harry’s stale from too much trainin’ an’ bein’ in too many races. I know better; an’ you can be certain that ‘Scotty’ wouldn’t have taken ’em if they was goin’ t’ be a drag on such wonders as Irish, Rover and Spot. Take my word for it, them old Pioneers is goin’ t’ be the back-bone o’ the hull team when the youngsters has wore themselves out.”

A few who did not believe in the sincerity or stability of Jack McMillan’s reformation predicted trouble because of his presence. As a leader he had twice utterly demoralized teams in previous races, and it was “not unlikely,” declared the prophets of evil, “that he would blow up on the Trail out of pure cussedness.”

“Well, it ain’t McMillan, ner Tom, Dick ner Harry that’s goin’ t’ lose this here race fer the Allan an’ Darling team,” exclaimed Mart Barclay with vicious conviction. “It’s that there cur leader they got–Baldy. There’s enough Scotch stubbornness in Allan t’ try to make a leader outen a cur jest becus folks said he couldn’t. Up in Dawson I heered once he trained a timber wolf t’ lead a team o’ McKenzie huskies; but he’d find that a heap easier ‘n puttin’ the racin’ sperit inter that low-down Golconda hound; an’ I’ll bet he’ll git all that’s comin’ t’ him this time fer his pains.”

“Ef you’re bettin’ on that, Mart,” quickly interposed Moose Jones, “I’ve got some dust from my Golconda claim that’s lyin’ round loose at the Miners and Merchants Bank, an’ five hundred of it says that you’re–well, seem’ as there’s ladies present, it says you’re _mistaken_ about Baldy’s sperit. You see my friend, Ben Edwards here, is kinda figgerin’ on college some day after a while, an’ a little loose change wouldn’t hurt none. It might come in right handy fer all the extry things boys wants, like fancy clothes an’ flat-faced bulldogs. I guess Ben wouldn’t want one o’ them, though, after he’s owned a dog like Baldy. But he could use a thousand in lots o’ ways easy–my money an’ yourn.”

“Double it,” sneered Mart.

“Done,” and those surrounding them witnessed the wager with much applause; while the boy, clinging to the rough hand of his companion, whispered tremulously, “Oh, Moose, I won’t want any extras when I go to college. It’s enough to just go. But I do want Baldy t’ win, though.”

“Ten seconds; five seconds.” The dogs were mad to be off, but Allan’s warning command, “Steady, boys, steady,” kept them quiet, though they were quivering with eagerness; all except Baldy, who again seemed plainly panic-stricken, and wildly glanced from side to side as if searching for some loophole of escape.

Five minutes past ten. Once more the flag dipped, the signal for them to start was given, and “Scotty’s”

“All right, boys, go,” was music to their listening ears; as leaping forward with one accord, amidst renewed cries of encouragement and admiration, the defenders of the White and Gold sped far out over the frozen sea, where they, too, were headed for the Arctic.

[Illustration]

XIII

For the Supremacy of the Trail

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIII

FOR THE SUPREMACY OF THE TRAIL

Slowly the people returned to town after every team had received an ovation; for none was too partisan to give a hearty “God Speed” to all of the men and all of the dogs in the race–and favorites were, for the moment, forgotten.

Each day had brought word from the Outside that the Great Race was not forgotten by the Alaskans in sunnier lands; and because of this the excitement, as well as the purse, had grown apace.

No one, of course, settled down to anything serious, for business is practically suspended during the entire progress of the event, and a spirit of revelry is abroad. Formal and informal gatherings serve to pass the hours, while telephone reports from each village and road house are announced in all public places, and bulletins are posted at convenient points for men, women and children, who await the news with keen expectation. The messages come continuously, keeping up the intense excitement from start to finish.

Soon on the Official Bulletin Board at the corner of Lane’s way appeared the first, telling that all of the teams had arrived in Solomon, practically together, and had left shortly in the bitter wind that blows in fierce gusts across the icy lagoons and sleet-swept beach.

Then in the low foot-hills had come milder weather; and the route was fairly good, though it lay buried under freshly fallen snow through which Baldy led, picking his way with unerring precision across the trackless tundra. Now that he was in the open, away from noise and people, he had settled down to a steady gait that promised much for his endurance.

Sometimes in the glory of the April sunshine they passed other teams, or other teams passed them; and sometimes there were hours when two teams and possibly more met at the same relay camp.

There was never a hint here that the men were pitted against one another in the fiercest rivalry of the North; for they were ever ready to help their opponents to patch a broken harness, mend a sled, or care for the dogs–just as, on the way, they give fair warning of overflows or other obstacles. It is no race for those of weak bodies, mean minds or small souls.

The dogs, however, carried the idea of rivalry to the point of personal enmity, and watched ceaselessly for the opportunity to engage in a diverting row. A row in which they might leave as many wounded on the scene as would be caninely possible before human intervention. But this was a vain aspiration; for every precaution was taken to guard against fighting, and every leader slept with his driver to insure safety. Dogs, like Death, love a shining mark, and the leaders are usually the real victims of the fray.

Then came Candle, the end of the first half of the race, where the dogs, after being cordially welcomed by the whole town, were checked off by the appointed Judges, and their identification papers signed.

“Open those tins of dog feed, will you, Rydeen? This is to be their first big banquet, where they get as much as they can eat,” said “Scotty” to one of the friends in the group about him. “Then if Humber and some of the rest will help me, we’ll give them a fine alcohol rub in no time.”

“You’d better do some resting yourself, ‘Scotty,'” they urged, but he would not consider that till he had thoroughly examined the team.

Then, “McMillan’s feet are bruised,” he exclaimed ruefully. There were many offers of assistance in caring for the dog, which, however, Allan gratefully declined. “He doesn’t like having strangers work over him; and when he’s nervous he becomes headstrong; so I’d better attend to him myself.”

From Candle came the news–“All teams have left on return trip except Allan and Darling.” And as hour after hour passed and “Scotty” had not yet started, there was exasperation in the hearts of his backers in Nome. Exasperation, but not despair; for all remembered when Allan had driven Berger’s Brutes to success after a wait so long that all of Nome was in a ferment over the fact that “Scotty” had “slept the race away.” But he had planned that campaign well; he had figured the possibilities of his rivals, and knew that they had exhausted their strength too early in the game. And so he had come in first with every other team at least six hours behind; and the cry “‘Scotty’s’ sleeping the race away at Candle” became the derisive slogan of the Allan clan.

“Jack McMillan’s feet are giving trouble,” was the response of “Central” to the frantic inquiries over the long distance telephone as to the delay, “and ‘Scotty’s’ massaging them with menthalatum.”

To the repeated request, and then the demand, that McMillan be put back into the wheel to get along as best he could, there was a moment’s hesitation and a sweet, but firm, feminine voice replied, “‘Scotty’ says”–a gasp and a pause–“he says he’ll not ruin a faithful dog if every man, woman and child in all Alaska has bet on him. And I think he’s just right, too; Jack is a perfect dear,” and the receiver was hung up with a click that admitted of no further argument.

At last they were off again, five hours behind the others; but when they did leave, the North knew that the sport was on in earnest–for Allan’s policy had ever been to do his real driving on the “home stretch.”

Soon the languor from the rest, and the heaviness from the food were forgotten; and there existed but one dominating, resistless impulse in dog and man–the impulse to win.

Even the least responsive dog must then have felt the thrill of the famous race, for never a whip–hardly a word–was necessary to spur them on.

Frequently the trails were sodden, and often obliterated; soft snow piling up like drifts of feathers into fleecy barriers through which the dogs, with the aid and encouragement of their Master, fought their way, inch by inch. Beyond them lay Death Valley, a dread waste where the dead silence is broken only by the wailing and shrieking of the wind as it sweeps down in sudden fury from the sentinel peaks that guard it. Across this Baldy led unswervingly, never hesitating, and hardly relaxing his steady pace, though the sudden gusts from the mountainside often curved the team into a half circle; and he was forced to keep his nose well into the air and brace himself firmly to keep from being carried off his feet.

Further on came the Glacier Grade, on either side of which rose overhanging cliffs. Here the bitter wind of Death Valley became a veritable hurricane. Time and again the dogs tried to climb the icy slopes and time and again they were hurled back by the fearful buffeting of the elements.

“Scotty” finally halted them, and with the greatest difficulty succeeded in fastening spiked “creepers” to his mukluks. Then he tied Baldy to the back of his belt by a strong leash. “Baldy, it’s up to us now to get this team through safely–and quickly–” and bowing his head to the storm he toiled step by step, slipping and sliding, up the perilous heights, ten miles to the summit of the range, with the dogs following and aiding where they could.

Then came the descent, fraught with more danger still; for the gale bore down upon them so relentlessly that all resistance was useless, and the dogs lay flat and were swept along with the sled; while “Scotty” stood clinging to the brake, and dragging one spiked foot behind in the desperate attempt to act as a human anchor.

And at the bottom, quite without warning, they found themselves breaking through the snow into an overflow of a stream, where the water had just come through cracks in the ice to the surface. As they landed on it with great force it sprayed over them like a fountain; and almost instantly was frozen by the chill of the air.

Allan unhooked them. “Now, boys, roll and get rid of that ice you’ve been making. You’re racing dogs, not ice plants.” They pawed the ice from their eyes, and thawed it out from between their toes with their warm tongues. And “Scotty,” too, was obliged to remove the ice from his lashes before he could be sure of his bearings.

“Now then,” as they had divested themselves of their glistening coats, “the worst is over, and off we go.”

At times the hard smooth trail wound like a silver ribbon under the pale glow of the Aurora. Then, with flying feet, they sped along the edge of deep gorges, up steep slopes, and over the glare ice of rivers and lakes.

But the distance between them and the other teams was now gradually lessening, and at Timber Road House they had made up half of the time lost in Candle. Here they had the next “big sleep,” lying on clean straw on the floor beside Allan, whose closeness calmed their nerves. It was a great comfort to be able to place a paw on him, or sociably lick his hand–for they felt that all was well if they were but within reach of their master’s touch.

They awoke full of renewed energy. “Scotty” was harnessing them for the last long run, with the help of his brother Bill, and Paul Kegsted, who had charge of that relay station for the Kennel Club.

“Boys,” he gasped in amazement, “Baldy’s gone lame. He’s so stiff he can scarcely move. I can’t understand it, for he was all right when I turned in.” At the slightest touch the dog winced, and Allan was appalled at the situation.

He had trained nearly all of the dogs so that they could lead under most circumstances; but this final struggle would require far more than ordinary ability.

Wise old Tom, Dick and Harry, reluctant in the start, had saved themselves until they were most needed; and were now steady and reliable, as had been predicted–but they were not leaders for such a trial as this. Irish and Rover were too inexperienced for so much responsibility, Spot was too young, and McMillan too headstrong.

“Scotty” was without a leader.

Allan’s consternation was echoed in Nome when the report of the mishap was given out–“Allan practically no hope. Baldy down and out; no other leader available. All other teams well ahead in good condition.”

There was much diverse, and some heated, comment on the situation. But above the general clamor rose the strident tones of Black Mart, alluding with manifest satisfaction to the fact that Baldy was certainly proving himself a “quitter” now.

“Baldy may be lame, but he is not a quitter,” denied the Woman wrathfully. “Besides, this race is never won–nor lost–till the first team is in,” and she turned to comfort Ben Edwards.

He had been suddenly roused from happy thoughts by this disconcerting news. From his eyes there faded the glorious vision of the great University beside the Golden Gate; of the rose-covered cottage where his mother would have only pleasant things to do; of Moose Jones in a shiny hat and tailed coat receiving the plaudits of a whole State for his princely gifts to its chosen seat of learning–the vision of his own success laid upon the altar of love and gratitude. And instead he saw only the distant cabin at Timber, with poor Baldy crippled and suffering, bringing bitter disappointment to his friends; and his heart was filled with grief and longing for the dog.

Black Mart edged through the throng toward Jones. “I told you how it ‘ud be, Moose; that pet o’ yourn ain’t comin’ through as good as you thought he would when you was so willin’ an’ anxious t’ bet your hard-earned dust on him. An’ I reckon ‘Scotty’ Allan ain’t so pleased with himself fer goin’ agin what most ev’rybody said about his usin’ that cur fer a leader.”

“Speakin’ o’ bets, _an’ curs_, Mart, ef you want t’ do any more bettin’, I’m willin’t’ accommodate you. I’m ready t’ back my opinion that ‘Scotty’ kin come in first, without a leader, ef you think any ways diffr’ent.”

Black Mart glanced again at the Bulletin and read slowly–“Rubbing tried without success. Baldy on sled. Irish and Rover probably in lead. McMillan’s feet still tender. Another storm coming up. Outlook bad.”

“Seems kinda onsportsman like, like bettin’ on a sure thing; but ef you really insist, Moose, in the face o’ this yere message, why you kin go as fur’s you like. Mebbe a dollar ‘ud suit you better, the way things is goin’ now, than a thousand;” and the people laughed at the covert allusion to their previous wager. Moose Jones whitened visibly under his thick coat of tan at the insulting manner of his enemy. All of his hatred culminated in his desire to show his contempt for Mart and his predictions.

“Well then, let’s make it somethin’ worth while this time. Let’s say your claim agin mine–the Midas agin the Golconda–that the Allan an’ Darlin’ dogs win the race.”

A thrill of wild excitement ran through the crowd–two of the richest claims in the whole of Alaska staked on the success or failure of one dog team, and the leader of that “down and out” at Timber.

“Oh, Moose, if our team don’t come in you’ll lose a terrible lot, an’ you’ve worked so hard t’ git it.”

“Even losin’ Golconda won’t break me now, Sonny; not by a long shot. An’ even ef it did, I got what I allers did have left; two hands t’ work with, the hull country t’ work in, an’ a kid that likes me,” with an affectionate glance at the boy, “t’ work fer. With all that, an’ a good dog er two, I wouldn’t call a Queen my aunt. An’ ef we should win, Ben,–well, it’s porterhouse fer Baldy the rest of his life at Mart Barclay’s expense.”

At Timber the time was passing with discouraging rapidity. Nothing they could do seemed to have any beneficial effect on Baldy’s legs–the legs that had been such a matter of pride to the boy in the old Golconda days.

In the races it is the custom to carry, at intervals, any dogs who need to recuperate, but Baldy had always manifested a certain scorn of these “passengers”; and “Scotty” knew that it would only be by force that he could be kept off his feet.

“Bill, you hold the dog; and Paul, if you’ll keep the mouth of the sleeping bag open, I’ll try to get Baldy into it.”

Poor Baldy resisted, but he was in the hands of his friends, so that his resistance was of necessity less violent than he could have wished; and in spite of his opposition he was tied in the bag, and gently lifted upon the sled.

After thoughtful consideration, “Scotty” placed Irish and Rover at the head of the team. “They’re good dogs; mighty good dogs, but they’re not used to the grind like Baldy.”

He took his place at the handle-bars. “I’ll try my hardest, boys, but every chance is against me now.”

Before he could give the word to the new leaders, there was the sound of gnawing, and the quick rending of cloth. He turned to see Baldy’s head emerge from the bag, his eyes blazing with determination and his sharp fangs tearing the fastenings apart, and the hide to shreds.

“Baldy,” he called; but Baldy threw himself from the sled with evident pain, but in a frenzy of haste.

With intense amazement they watched him drag himself, with the utmost difficulty, out of the sled, and up to the front of the team.

He paused a moment, and then by a supreme effort started off, expecting the others to follow. There was no response to his desperate appeal–for they were not used to Baldy as a loose leader. Again he came back, and again endeavored to induce his team-mates to go with him down the trail, but in vain; they waited a word from their master.

The men stood speechless; and the dog, whimpering pitifully, crept close to Allan and looking up into his face reproachfully seemed to beg to be restored to his rightful place, and tried to show him that just so long as there was life in Baldy’s body, “Scotty” would have a leader.

Paul Kegsted and Bill Allan hastily disappeared around opposite corners of the building to meet on the other side with eyes suspiciously wet.

“Bill, did you ever see anything like that,” demanded Kegsted tremulously, “for grit and spirit and–“

“And brave and loving service,” added Bill, swallowing hard.

While “Scotty’s” voice broke as, leaning down to stroke the dog tenderly, he said, “I know you’re game, Baldy, game to the end; but it can’t be done, and I’ll hook you up to prove it.”

To his astonishment Baldy moved forward; very, very slowly at first, then slightly faster and with less and less stiffness, until in an hour or so of moderate speed he was himself once more.

The exercise had done more than the liniment, and finally he was swinging along at a rate that showed no sign of his recent incapacity. They were off again in their usual form, and Nome waited impatiently for word of the belated team.

In the next few hours the messages that reached the expectant city were full of thrills–of hopes and fears. Groups of excited people met to discuss again all phases of the contest; the freshness of the dogs, the stamina of the men, the possibility of accidents; for a broken harness, a refractory leader, an error in judgment, may mean overwhelming defeat at the eleventh hour.

Never in the annals of the Sweepstakes had the result been so doubtful, the chances so even. The two Johnsons, Holmsen, Dalzene, Allan–all men noted for their ability and fortitude–men who would be picked out of the whole North to represent the best type of trailsmen, were nearly neck and neck, less than fifty miles from Nome, ready for the final dash. And what a dash it was!

[Illustration: AN ALAKAN SWEEPSTAKES TEAM

Fay Dalzene, Driver]

Like phantom teams they silently sped far out over the frozen waters of Bering Sea, threading their way between huge ice hummocks that rose, grotesque and ghostly, in the misty grayness of the Arctic twilight. Through the chill dusk they toiled up the steep slopes of Topkok Hill, through treacherous defiles, over perilous hidden glaciers, toward Solomon and safety.

It was any one’s race.

The telephone brought news that varied from moment to moment. John Johnson was steady as to pace, and slightly in the lead; later Holmsen had passed him, then Dalzene. Allan had dropped behind. The excitement grew more intense each instant. Side by side drove Dalzene and Charlie Johnson, with Holmsen at their heels–dogs and men on their mettle, magnificent in endurance and spirit; but closing in upon them was “Finn John” with his Blue Eyed Leader, and Nome well knew what they could do, and had done twice.

Then, too, there was always “Scotty” to be feared; always his marvelous generalship to be reckoned with; his perfect mastery of the dogs, and their devotion to him to be considered.

“Seals on the ice ahead, Spot,” had been a suggestion that had fired not only Spot, but Tom, Dick and Harry also with a new interest that almost banished fatigue.

Then at intervals there were broken bars, alternately whistled and sung, of Home Sweet Home; and the dogs knew, someway, that this strange noise always signified that their journey was nearly at an end. And once, in readjusting his harness, “Scotty” had caressed Baldy so affectionately that the dog forgot the struggle he had passed through, remembering the happy fact that he had not failed in his trust.

All of this encouragement resulted in an increased activity that began to tell in the fast decreasing distance between their team and the others.

“On, Baldy; on, boys,” and on they came out of the long reaches of utter desolation, of dreary monotony, of lifeless calm, with a rush that soon brought Johnson in view. “Gee”–they whirled to the right and by him with unexpected ease; then on and on still, till they could see the others. Baldy, spurred by that to yet stronger efforts, plunged forward with renewed vigor until he seemed, with his team-mates, to touch the drifted snows as lightly as a gull skims the crested waves.

When nearly abreast of those who had been setting so fast a pace, Allan, in a low voice, tense with the excitement of the moment, called again to the dogs. “Speed up, Baldy; speed up, boys. Don’t let the Siberian Fuzzy-Wuzzies beat you again. Show them what your long legs are good for–Alaskans to the front,” and Baldy, with an almost incredible burst of speed, shot past them, and was at last in the lead in that mad, headlong drive for Nome.

There was no hint of the laggard now in Tom, Dick and Harry–no suspicion of “staleness” in their keen pride in their work; Irish and Rover, ever fleet and responsive, needed no urging; Jack McMillan gave his stupendous energy, his superb intelligence with loyal abandon; and Baldy, as well as “Scotty,” felt that each dog in the entire team had proved the wisdom of his choice by a willing service now to the driver he loved.

Fort Davis! The thunderous boom of the guns heralded the approach of the first team. Nome, up the coast, was in a furor. Once more the people gathered quickly in the streets, and hurried toward the gaily illuminated stands to witness the finish of the great event.

Though it was ten o’clock at night, the full moon and the radiance of the snow made everything shimmer and glitter with wonderful brilliancy. High above the lights of the little town, which seemed but a continuation of the stars, flamed the Way-Farer’s Cross on the spire of St. Joseph’s; huge bonfires cast a flickering crimson glow upon the frosted pinnacles of ice, and rockets rose and fell like sparkling jewels in the clear sky.

Overhead fluttered a silken purse and the Trophy Cup, suspended by the Kennel Club colors from a wire that marked the end of the longest and most picturesque course in the racing world.

The wild wailing of many wolf dogs, shrill whistles, the merry peal of bells, added to the deafening clamor–as far away over the frozen sea a dim black shadow came–a swiftly moving shadow that soon was engulfed in the swaying mob that surged to meet it.

The Woman leaned from out the Judges’ Stand, waving streamers of White and Gold in joyous welcome.

Ben Edwards, thrilling with pride and happiness, slipped through the jostling crowd, and saw coming to him, down the Silver Trail, an ugly, rough-coated, faithful dog–bringing in his triumph, a justification of the boy’s unshaken faith, a reward for his unfaltering affection.

Again and again there were the stirring notes of the bugle, shouts of good will and praise, wild, incessant cheers, as the Allan and Darling Team, with every dog in harness, and “Scotty” Allan at the handle-bars, swept over the line–winners of the most hotly contested race the North has ever known, and led to victory by Baldy of Nome.

[Illustration]

XIV

Immortals of the Trail

[Illustration]

[Illustration]

CHAPTER XIV

IMMORTALS OF THE TRAIL

The brief summer was over. The flowers that had blossomed so freely and so brightly under fair skies and in ceaseless sunshine were gone; and in the air was the chill of the early Arctic winter.

The Woman shivered slightly in spite of her furs. There was excitement in the air.

Beside her, erect and soldierly, walked Captain Rene’ Haas of the French Army, with a firm elastic tread that spoke of many marches.

He was talking earnestly with an enthusiasm that lighted up his keen dark eyes as with an inner fire.

“You see, there were many places last winter on the battle-front where horses, mules or motors could not be used; for the snow was too soft and deep, and the crust too thin. Many places where they needed just such a method of transportation as we of the North know so well,–dogs. I tried,” modestly, “to show them a little of all that could be done, with a few that I trained casually. But I spoke much of the marvelous dogs of Alaska that I have learned to know and love so well in the past few years; of their intelligence, their endurance, and their almost incredible speed in the big races. My Government listened; and so I was sent to take back with me the pick of the whole North, though there will be many more from parts of Canada and Labrador.”

“But not like ours of Nome,” proudly replied the Woman.

“No, not like yours of Nome. That is why I am here. A hundred or more trained by Allan and other racing men will be worth a thousand ordinary recruits. Since he received my cable message telling my plans, ‘Scotty’ has assembled a splendid lot of team dogs for me, with a full equipment of sleds and harness; and even the dog salmon for the ‘Commissary Department.’

“There is indeed but little left for me to do, as the outfit will be perfect now, with a few more experienced leaders.”

“And you think,” questioned the Woman with lips that quivered and eyes that were dim, “that they will be treated well, that–” Her voice was unsteady and she hesitated.

The young Captain seemed to divine all the unspoken fears.

“There is very little danger in the work,” he assured her readily. “They will probably be used entirely in courier and carrier service in the passes of the French Alps.

“I belong to an Alpine Corps myself, and they will be under my direct supervision, so far as possible. Really,” with honest conviction, “they will be far better off than if you sold them to freighters or prospectors for a life of toil, possibly of neglect even. All soldiers, irrespective of nationality, are good to the animals in their charge.”

“I suppose it’s true,” sighed the Woman, “that we cannot go on accumulating dogs indefinitely; that some of them must be sold from time to time. And I, too, would rather see them go like this than to feel they might suffer worse hardships and abuses on the Trail.”

“Scotty” met them at the door of the Kennel. “Come in, and we’ll all go over the place together. It will not take long now to make up the rest of the required number,” and he skimmed quickly over the paper in his hand.

Matt, hovering near, doing unnecessary things for the dogs, was plainly much disturbed. George and Dan, full of a war atmosphere produced by the French officer, and a kennel and corral guarded night and day, conversed eagerly of the important affairs that were happening about them; while Ben, listening apparently to their serious discussions of the European situation, as likely to be affected by this purchase, was in reality beset with a dread that drove all else from his mind.

“It’s going to be a hard choice,” the Woman mused as she glanced down the long line of stalls on either side, and one end, of the roomy stable.

“Scotty” paused before the Mego dogs that had fought so valiantly for first honors in the Juvenile Race.

[Illustration: CAPTAIN HAAS OF THE FRENCH ARMY, AND HIS ALASKAN SLEDGES]

“Excellent,” observed Captain Haas, as he looked them over carefully. “Strong, intelligent, fleet,” and “Scotty” wrote the names of Judge, Jimmie and Pete.

“I knew I was a pretty good judge o’ dogs,” announced Dan with pleased conviction; “but there’s some class t’ bein’ a judge backed up by the French Government,” and he regarded his former team with mingled feelings of regret and satisfaction.

On they went, adding name after name to the fast growing list.

“Not Tom, Dick and Harry,” the Woman exclaimed as they came to the Tolmans. “These Veterans have served us too long and too loyally.” And “Scotty” nodded silently.

“Irish and Rover?”

But before the question could be answered, the gentle Irish Setters gazed into her eyes beseechingly, and nosed her sleeve, confident of a caress.

“Impossible,” she murmured hastily; “they are our dear comrades. And Spot,” with an emphatic shake of the head, “belongs to George.”

Finally they paused at the last two stalls and looked from Jack McMillan to Baldy. McMillan tugged violently at his chain, striving to reach the Woman; while Baldy, as though he understood it all, crept close to “Scotty’s” side.

Captain Haas knew both of the dogs well. He had seen Jack turned from a career of rebellion and unrest to one of willing patient service; and Baldy, plodding, obscure, hard working Baldy, become the boast of the whole North.

“Here are the two,” admiringly, “that please me most of all. McMillan’s strength is superb–Baldy’s endurance unparalleled. What War Dogs they would make! One I must have; it matters little which. The price–” he gave an eloquent gesture of complete indifference.

The Woman stroked Jack’s sable muzzle gently. She thought of the old days when his name was once a symbol of all that was fierce and wolf-like and wicked in the annals of Nome; and then of his unbroken spirit and steadfast allegiance to her. “McMillan of the Broken Tusks,” she said softly, “has no price.”

Then, eagerly, “Baldy?”

“I cannot give Baldy up,” was the firm reply. “He has led the team in three great victories; and he did not desert me when I lay freezing and helpless, alone in the snow.” “Scotty’s” hand rested lovingly on the ugly dark head pressed so tightly, so trustfully against him. “He’s a wonderful leader and my faithful friend.”

“I understand,” the Captain said, and turned away. “The list is now complete.”

And in the dusk of the Kennel, as once on the Golconda Trail, the boy’s wet cheek was laid tenderly against the dog’s rough coat; but the tears that fell now were tears of joy. “Oh, Baldy,” he whispered happily, “some day you’ll be with me Outside. We’ll do things there some day.”

[Illustration: BALDY OF NOME]

Then came the day, filled with excitement and thrills, when on a tow-line three hundred and fifty feet long, one hundred and six famous dogs passed through the streets of the far-away Arctic town, on their way to the battle-fields of France.

At their head was Spot, with George Allan trudging proudly by his side.

“I’ll lend you Spot to get them down to the dock,” was his offer to Captain Haas. “You know he is fine in a crowd,” and the officer smilingly accepted the services of Spot.

And crowds there were, too, to go through; for as on the Sweepstakes Days all of Nome had gathered to bid a final God Speed to the greatest dogs of Alaska–a Foreign Legion indeed–bound for the front.

With no confusion, under the direction of Captain Haas and “Scotty” Allan, who was to go with them as far as Quebec, they had been placed on board the “Senator” lying out in the roadstead.

A silent little group stood on the dreary beach watching the twinkling lights of the distant ship as she sailed, phantom-like, out into the misty grayness of Bering Sea.

Only the dull pounding of the surf and the weird cry of the wolf dogs broke the stillness.

At last the Woman turned from the Big Man at her side toward the boy and Moose Jones.

“Some time, perhaps,” she said half sadly, yet with pride, “the Captain may have great tales for us of the War Dogs of the North. But never, never, Ben, will there be greater tales than we can tell of the Old Guard, Baldy of Nome and the others–our Immortals of the Trail.”

[Illustration]