Then—unheard-of profligacy—came another equally casual distribution at night; and yet another, it might be, in the morning—in the morning, with the trail before them!
It resolved itself into this: there were no dog-meals on that journey; but only daily dog-fights—snarling, scrapping, blood and hatred-letting scrimmages for grub; disgraceful episodes, in themselves sufficient to shut out any hope of discipline in the team.
The quite inevitable shock came on the evening of the twelfth day. (With his costly team, Beeching had gaily figured on fifteen days for the entire trip, in place of the thirty-five days which it actually occupied.) The only good thing that memorable twelfth day brought was the end of Beeching’s whisky-supply. Incidentally it marked, too, the end of his easy-going good temper. And to the consternation of an already thoroughly demoralized team, it brought also the serving out, in a heap as before—this cruel and messy trick, more perhaps than any other one thing, marked the men’s wretched slackness and incompetence; qualities generally more cruel in their effects than any harshness or over-severity—of fish representing in the aggregate rather less than half a day’s ration for each dog in the team.
The next day, and the next, and the next brought a similar dispensation to the dogs; no more. By this time the nightly feeding had become a horrid and bloody battle.
“Nasty savage brutes!” said sponging Harry.
“Blood does tell,” observed the oracular Beeching, himself by repute a man of family. “They’re every one of ’em mongrels.”
The son of lordly Finn and queenly Desdemona attached no meaning to these words, of course; but were it not for the discipline, the generations of discipline in his blood, he could have strangled these two muddlers for the tragic folly of their incompetence, the gross exhibition of their slackness.
As the men themselves began to feel the belly-pinch, they brought up no reserves of manhood, but, on the contrary, they took to cruelly beating their now weakened team, when the dogs were safely tethered in the traces, and to cowardly avoidance of the poor brutes at all other times. Harry was quite unashamedly afraid to throw the dogs their beggarly half or quarter ration; and but for Beeching, it may be the dogs had starved while food still remained on the sled.
Maybe the fact that Beeching, with all his faults, had never reached Harry’s depths as a sponger, preserved him from this particular crime. But he had small ground in that for self-gratulation, since it is a fact remembered in the country that when he did eventually stagger down to salt water with his sadly reduced team, the dogs had positively not had their harness off for a week. Mr. Beeching and his precious partner had been afraid to let their dogs out of the traces and the safe reach of their whips!