[Illustration: AN ALAKAN SWEEPSTAKES TEAM
Fay Dalzene, Driver]
Like phantom teams they silently sped far out over the frozen waters of Bering Sea, threading their way between huge ice hummocks that rose, grotesque and ghostly, in the misty grayness of the Arctic twilight. Through the chill dusk they toiled up the steep slopes of Topkok Hill, through treacherous defiles, over perilous hidden glaciers, toward Solomon and safety.
It was any one’s race.
The telephone brought news that varied from moment to moment. John Johnson was steady as to pace, and slightly in the lead; later Holmsen had passed him, then Dalzene. Allan had dropped behind. The excitement grew more intense each instant. Side by side drove Dalzene and Charlie Johnson, with Holmsen at their heels—dogs and men on their mettle, magnificent in endurance and spirit; but closing in upon them was “Finn John” with his Blue Eyed Leader, and Nome well knew what they could do, and had done twice.
Then, too, there was always “Scotty” to be feared; always his marvelous generalship to be reckoned with; his perfect mastery of the dogs, and their devotion to him to be considered.
“Seals on the ice ahead, Spot,” had been a suggestion that had fired not only Spot, but Tom, Dick and Harry also with a new interest that almost banished fatigue.
Then at intervals there were broken bars, alternately whistled and sung, of Home Sweet Home; and the dogs knew, someway, that this strange noise always signified that their journey was nearly at an end. And once, in readjusting his harness, “Scotty” had caressed Baldy so affectionately that the dog forgot the struggle he had passed through, remembering the happy fact that he had not failed in his trust.
All of this encouragement resulted in an increased activity that began to tell in the fast decreasing distance between their team and the others.
“On, Baldy; on, boys,” and on they came out of the long reaches of utter desolation, of dreary monotony, of lifeless calm, with a rush that soon brought Johnson in view. “Gee”—they whirled to the right and by him with unexpected ease; then on and on still, till they could see the others. Baldy, spurred by that to yet stronger efforts, plunged forward with renewed vigor until he seemed, with his team-mates, to touch the drifted snows as lightly as a gull skims the crested waves.
When nearly abreast of those who had been setting so fast a pace, Allan, in a low voice, tense with the excitement of the moment, called again to the dogs. “Speed up, Baldy; speed up, boys. Don’t let the Siberian Fuzzy-Wuzzies beat you again. Show them what your long legs are good for—Alaskans to the front,” and Baldy, with an almost incredible burst of speed, shot past them, and was at last in the lead in that mad, headlong drive for Nome.
There was no hint of the laggard now in Tom, Dick and Harry—no suspicion of “staleness” in their keen pride in their work; Irish and Rover, ever fleet and responsive, needed no urging; Jack McMillan gave his stupendous energy, his superb intelligence with loyal abandon; and Baldy, as well as “Scotty,” felt that each dog in the entire team had proved the wisdom of his choice by a willing service now to the driver he loved.