“Yes, once or twice lately to rest Kid, and,” ruefully, “the result was not one that fills me with any confidence in him for a really important event like this. The Tolmans, you know, never fall below the necessary standard in anything, neither do they ever rise above it. They are all right in the rank and file where their thinking is done for them; but as for leading—” the man shrugged his shoulders expressively.
“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.”