“You see, there were many places last winter on the battle-front where horses, mules or motors could not be used; for the snow was too soft and deep, and the crust too thin. Many places where they needed just such a method of transportation as we of the North know so well,—dogs. I tried,” modestly, “to show them a little of all that could be done, with a few that I trained casually. But I spoke much of the marvelous dogs of Alaska that I have learned to know and love so well in the past few years; of their intelligence, their endurance, and their almost incredible speed in the big races. My Government listened; and so I was sent to take back with me the pick of the whole North, though there will be many more from parts of Canada and Labrador.”
“But not like ours of Nome,” proudly replied the Woman.
“No, not like yours of Nome. That is why I am here. A hundred or more trained by Allan and other racing men will be worth a thousand ordinary recruits. Since he received my cable message telling my plans, ‘Scotty’ has assembled a splendid lot of team dogs for me, with a full equipment of sleds and harness; and even the dog salmon for the ’Commissary Department.’
“There is indeed but little left for me to do, as the outfit will be perfect now, with a few more experienced leaders.”
“And you think,” questioned the Woman with lips that quivered and eyes that were dim, “that they will be treated well, that—” Her voice was unsteady and she hesitated.
The young Captain seemed to divine all the unspoken fears.
“There is very little danger in the work,” he assured her readily. “They will probably be used entirely in courier and carrier service in the passes of the French Alps.
“I belong to an Alpine Corps myself, and they will be under my direct supervision, so far as possible. Really,” with honest conviction, “they will be far better off than if you sold them to freighters or prospectors for a life of toil, possibly of neglect even. All soldiers, irrespective of nationality, are good to the animals in their charge.”
“I suppose it’s true,” sighed the Woman, “that we cannot go on accumulating dogs indefinitely; that some of them must be sold from time to time. And I, too, would rather see them go like this than to feel they might suffer worse hardships and abuses on the Trail.”
“Scotty” met them at the door of the Kennel. “Come in, and we’ll all go over the place together. It will not take long now to make up the rest of the required number,” and he skimmed quickly over the paper in his hand.
Matt, hovering near, doing unnecessary things for the dogs, was plainly much disturbed. George and Dan, full of a war atmosphere produced by the French officer, and a kennel and corral guarded night and day, conversed eagerly of the important affairs that were happening about them; while Ben, listening apparently to their serious discussions of the European situation, as likely to be affected by this purchase, was in reality beset with a dread that drove all else from his mind.