When George felt that he should give Spot special training to fit him for his new position as leader, or took Queen out under the strict discipline he knew would be necessary to prepare her for the ordeal, he would ask Ben to hitch Baldy to one of the small sleds and give him a run.
Baldy’s nature had always expressed itself best in action, and Ben was delighted with the ease with which he adjusted himself to serious sled work. There were no more romps, no more games, but his pace became even and steady, and he required no threats and no inducements to make him do his best.
“There’s one thing about Baldy,” admitted George freely, “you don’t have t’ jolly him along all the time. Why, even with Spot I have to say ‘Snowbirds’ an’ ‘Rabbits’ every little while when I want him to go faster, an’ then you should see him mush. You know that’s what Father says t’ Tom, Dick ‘an’ Harry, an’ Rover an’ Irish. It’s fine with any of ‘em that’s got bird-dog blood, an’ you know Spot’s part pointer. O’ course they don’t have t’ really see snowbirds an’ rabbits, but they just love t’ hear about ’em, an’ begin t’ look ahead right away. An’ if they do happen t’ see ’em, they pretty nearly jump out o’ their harness, they’re so crazy for ’em.”
“Baldy’s part bird-dog, too,” said Ben, “but I been watchin’ him close, an’ it ain’t anythin’ outside that makes him want t’ go; it’s more like he feels a sort o’ duty about doin’ the very best he kin fer any one that’s usin’ him. He’s allers willin’ t’ do more’n his share; an’ he’s lots happier when he’s workin’ hard than when he’s just lyin’ idle in the stable, or bein’ trotted out by Matt fer a walk.”
“I wisht I was like that,” muttered Danny gloomily. “That bein’ happiest when you’re workin’ hard must be great; but I guess it’s only dogs an’ mebbe some men that’s like that. I don’t know o’ any boys that’s got such feelin’s.”
[Illustration: Nome, Alaska, from Bering sea]
When the day of the Boys’ Race arrived, a day clear, and beautiful, and only a degree or two below zero, it seemed as if all of Nome had decided to celebrate the momentous occasion; going in crowds to the starting place, which was a broad, open thoroughfare on the outskirts of town. Those especially interested in the individual teams gathered at the various kennels to see the dogs harnessed and the young drivers prepared for their test as trailsmen in the coming struggle.
It was Saturday, and a general holiday, and Ben’s mother had given him permission to go to the Kennel early; so that when George and Dan arrived they found their dogs smooth and shining from the energetic grooming that Ben had given them.
“It’s awful good of you, Ben,” said George appreciatively. “Danny an’ me came in plenty o’ time t’ do it ourselves, an’ Matt said he’d help us too; an’ now you’ve got ’em lookin’ finer’n silk. I’ll bet even Father’ll say they’re as fine as a Sweepstakes Team, an’ he’s mighty partic’lar, I can tell you. But I don’t see how you got Queen t’ stand for it.”