It seemed ages before “Scotty” returned to report that there was no sign of a trail. “I used to know this country fairly well, and I think I’d better go on before the team for a while to try to keep at least in the right direction. But I’ll have to put another dog in the lead with Kid. It’s almost impossible to make any headway, and two of the strongest dogs will barely be able to hold up against this blow.”
He thought deeply for a moment. Life or death might hinge upon his selection of dogs that would follow him through danger and disaster unfalteringly, unflinchingly. And, too, he must decide at once.
As in a flash there came to him the memory of Baldy’s steadfast strength in the boys’ race, his calm determination; and after an instant’s hesitation he hooked Baldy up beside Kid. With a few words of direction to Ben, “Scotty” turned once more into the teeth of the gale; and at his heels, patient and obedient, came his stanch team with Kid and Baldy in the lead.
Ben felt, even in the midst of the distress and danger, a thrill of joy; while Baldy was filled with pride. He had supposed that Tom, Dick, Harry or McMillan would share that honor and responsibility with Kid, and now, unexpectedly, it had come to him. “Scotty” was trusting him; safety for them all might rest on his strength and faithfulness, and he was grateful indeed for this opportunity to prove that he was both strong and faithful.
He did not care though the glittering frost whitened his short hair, and pierced his sinewy flanks like a knife thrust; he hardly realized that the driving snow froze his eyelids together, and caked between his toes, making his feet so tender that they bled. Straining and breathless he plunged forward, knowing only that behind him was his friend the boy, with a helpless human being; and that somewhere beyond was his master, calling to them from out the cold and the dark. So, blindly, willingly, they followed the intrepid man who staggered on, and on, till at last the fury of the storm was over. Then the chill mist seemed to rise, as a curtain, and the peaceful Valley of the Kruzgamapa lay before them, bathed in the glow of the early winter sunset.
Far across the white plains, surrounded by willows and alders, leafless and outlined skeleton-like against the rosy sky, lay the Hot Springs Road House. Its shining windows and smoking chimney brought hopeful interest and renewed courage, even to those already “perfectly comfortable”; and gave to the dogs that zest and eagerness that marks the sighted end of a hard day’s run.
In another half hour they had arrived at their destination, and were all warmly housed. Jemima, stiff, and a bit inclined to be sulky, had been lifted out of the sled and was now resting cozily on some furs in the corner. The Woman, almost rigid, had also been lifted out, and after thawing a little, was busily engaged in applying soothing remedies to a badly scarred cheek and chin; for the Big Man was due at any moment, and his facetious comments on the unpleasant results of her “pleasure trips” had become time-honored, if unwelcome, family jokes.