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.