So, by Jean’s simple commercial method, the big hound’s wounds and the previous night’s great fight were best summed up by reckoning that they added two hundred dollars to Jan’s market price. And, all things considered, he was very likely right; for there could be no sort of doubt about it, the episode had taught Jan lessons he never would forget; it had advanced his education hugely and added a big slice to the sum of his knowledge of the wild northland life. Therefore it had made him the more fit to survive in the north; and hence it must have added to his value.
Dogs may not do much talking one with another, as humans understand talk; but their methods of intercourse suffice them. Just as Jean saw no need to hunt for the missing Bill, once he had looked over Jan’s wounds, so every dog in the team knew perfectly well why Bill was not of their number that morning. They asked no questions; but they knew. The thing was indelibly recorded in their minds. Bill, who had mastered them, had disputed Jan’s mastery. And now Bill was no more. They would not forget.
But all the same, their deductive powers were far from perfect. They saw in Jan a leader who could not hide the soreness and stiffness caused by his many wounds. They, for their part, were feeling rather like indiscreet workmen after a public holiday that has been too recklessly enjoyed. They had no headache, but were feeling fat and lazy; and, noting the stiffness of Jan’s movements, they slouched and shirked, and caused delays over the making of a start that morning.
“H’m! Too much moose-meat. Thees will be a short day,” growled Jean, as he reached out for his whip before proceeding farther with the harnessing. Only the stiff-legged leader was in his place; the rest lay dotted about with lolling tongues, bent on loafing.
Jan saw Jean go for his whip. But it was no fear of the lash that moved him to action. He had been desperately conscious for a good many hours of his stiffness and weariness, and had hoped his services as policeman of the team would not have been needed that morning. Now, in a flash, he comprehended the true position. And he knew the sled was now twice its previous weight. He looked across at Jean, and gave a short, low bark, which meant:
“Don’t you trouble about your whip. This is my job. Don’t suppose I’ve forgotten it, or that this team is going to be any the weaker for Bill’s loss. Devil a bit of it.”
And with that Jan tossed aside his stiffness and flew around among his six team-mates, the very incarnation of masterful leadership. Not one dog, not even old Blackfoot, escaped him; and if their leader began the day’s work as a sorely wounded dog, it was certain that each dog behind him began it with one sore spot to occupy his mind withal. Inside of one minute he had the six of them standing alertly to attention in their respective places, waiting for their harness and itching to be off; not by reason of any sudden access of virtue or industry in them, but because the leader they had thought too sore and stiff to accomplish much that day was pacing sternly up and down their rank, with fangs bared, and the hint of a snarl in every breath he drew; ready, and apparently rather anxious, to visit condign punishment upon the first dog who should stir one paw a single inch from its proper place.