“Five hunderd!” shouted Jean, with his broad, cheery grin. “By gar! tha’ Jan hee’s worth ten hunderd of any man’s money for team-leadin’. Yes, sir; an’ you can say I said so. I don’t care where the nex’ come from; tha’ Jan, hee’s masterpiece.”
Jake readily admitted, when, over their pipes that night, he and Jean came to review the day’s run, that the team had worked better this day than on any previous day in the past month.
“With double load, an’ one dog short,” Jean reminded him.
“That’s so,” said Jake. “I guess that moose-meat’s put good heart into them.”
“Ah! moose-meat, hee’s all right; good tack, for sure,” said Jean. “But tha’s not moose-meat mushed them dogs on so fast an’ trim to-day. No, sir. Tha’s Jan—bes’ dog-musher in ‘Merica to-day, now I’m tellin’ you. He don’ got Beel to upset things to-day, and, by gar! you see how he make them other dogs mush. You don’t need no wheep, don’t need no musher, so’s you got Jan a-leadin’, now I’m tellin’ you.”
Jan imbued each of the other dogs with a portion of his own inexhaustible pride in the team’s perfect working. Ready to start in the morning he would stand in the lead, pawing eagerly at the snow, his head turning swiftly from side to side as he looked round to make sure his followers were in order, and in his anxiety to catch the first breath of the command to “Mush on there!”
And when the word came, with what a will those seven dogs bowed to their work! How furiously their hard pads scrabbled at the trail, to overcome the first inertia of the laden sled, before it gained the gliding momentum which they would never allow it to lose for an instant until the order came to halt! If any dog put one ounce less than the pressure he was capable of exerting into his breast-band, Jan knew it that instant, more surely than the watching man behind; and would let out a sharp, low-sounding bark. And very well each dog in the team knew what that bark meant. They feared it more than Jean’s thong. For Jan had taught them to know that this bark gave warning of a shrewder blow to come than any whip could give; and a blow from which there would be no possible escape. Men-folk might sometimes forget a promised cuff. Jan was never known to forget a promised bite; and if twelve hours should elapse between promise and payment, so much the worse for the payee; for Jan had a system of his own for the reckoning of compound interest, the efficacy of which, at one time or another, each dog in the team had tested, and found deadly.
Yes, in the fortnight that followed the shooting of the moose and the disappearance of Bill the sled-team driven by Jean and Jake was perhaps the finest and the most efficient in all that white world of hard-bitten, hard-trained, hard-working men and dogs. And, by that token, there was no happier team living, and none in better condition. There are not many teams, of course, whose members eat moose-flesh every day. But quite apart from the substantial addition to their dietary which Jean’s lucky moose-shot brought, his sled-team was superbly fit and efficient, because it was perfectly led and perfectly disciplined.