There was never a hint here that the men were pitted against one another in the fiercest rivalry of the North; for they were ever ready to help their opponents to patch a broken harness, mend a sled, or care for the dogs—just as, on the way, they give fair warning of overflows or other obstacles. It is no race for those of weak bodies, mean minds or small souls.
The dogs, however, carried the idea of rivalry to the point of personal enmity, and watched ceaselessly for the opportunity to engage in a diverting row. A row in which they might leave as many wounded on the scene as would be caninely possible before human intervention. But this was a vain aspiration; for every precaution was taken to guard against fighting, and every leader slept with his driver to insure safety. Dogs, like Death, love a shining mark, and the leaders are usually the real victims of the fray.
Then came Candle, the end of the first half of the race, where the dogs, after being cordially welcomed by the whole town, were checked off by the appointed Judges, and their identification papers signed.
“Open those tins of dog feed, will you, Rydeen? This is to be their first big banquet, where they get as much as they can eat,” said “Scotty” to one of the friends in the group about him. “Then if Humber and some of the rest will help me, we’ll give them a fine alcohol rub in no time.”
“You’d better do some resting yourself, ‘Scotty,’” they urged, but he would not consider that till he had thoroughly examined the team.
Then, “McMillan’s feet are bruised,” he exclaimed ruefully. There were many offers of assistance in caring for the dog, which, however, Allan gratefully declined. “He doesn’t like having strangers work over him; and when he’s nervous he becomes headstrong; so I’d better attend to him myself.”
From Candle came the news—“All teams have left on return trip except Allan and Darling.” And as hour after hour passed and “Scotty” had not yet started, there was exasperation in the hearts of his backers in Nome. Exasperation, but not despair; for all remembered when Allan had driven Berger’s Brutes to success after a wait so long that all of Nome was in a ferment over the fact that “Scotty” had “slept the race away.” But he had planned that campaign well; he had figured the possibilities of his rivals, and knew that they had exhausted their strength too early in the game. And so he had come in first with every other team at least six hours behind; and the cry “‘Scotty’s’ sleeping the race away at Candle” became the derisive slogan of the Allan clan.
“Jack McMillan’s feet are giving trouble,” was the response of “Central” to the frantic inquiries over the long distance telephone as to the delay, “and ‘Scotty’s’ massaging them with menthalatum.”
To the repeated request, and then the demand, that McMillan be put back into the wheel to get along as best he could, there was a moment’s hesitation and a sweet, but firm, feminine voice replied, “‘Scotty’ says”—a gasp and a pause—“he says he’ll not ruin a faithful dog if every man, woman and child in all Alaska has bet on him. And I think he’s just right, too; Jack is a perfect dear,” and the receiver was hung up with a click that admitted of no further argument.