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.