The fatally unwise Gutty was the first to succumb. Fish downed him for a morsel of food he had grabbed; and when the team had been over the spot on which he fell, there simply was no Gutty left. Poll, the slighter of the two bitches, died under Harry’s whip—the haft of it—or she, like Jinny, would have seen salt water, because their sex was their protection—from their fellow-dogs, though not from the now starving and insensate clowns who drove them.
Everything but the scant remains of the men’s food had, of course, been jettisoned before this. The dogs made a meal of the smart water-proof sheets, and Jan ate Beeching’s show pair of moccasins. The whole business forms a wretched and shameful record that need not be prolonged.
To be quite just, one should mention that Beeching was afoot (hammering Jan’s protruding haunches) when they staggered into the township on the evening of the thirty-fifth day. Harry lay groaning on the sled, and had been there, too lame to walk, he said, too despicable, perhaps, for Death’s consideration, for three days and more. The ten-dog team of prime-conditioned animals of five weeks before consisted now of seven gaunt, staggering creatures, each a bony framework, masked in dried blood and bruises; each suffering jarring agony from every tremulous step taken, and all together (as the market went) worth, it might be—to a very speculative dog-doctor—say, ten dollars. The team had cost the deplorable Beeching about three thousand.
But, as a matter of fact, Pad died in the moment of stoppage, and two of his mates got their release while yet in the traces. Jan, Jinny, and two others survived still at the bitter end of what was perhaps the most wretchedly bungled trip ever made over that famous trail.
JAN OBEYS ORDERS AT THE GREAT DIVIDE
Experienced observers contended that the most truly remarkable thing about Chechaquo Beeching was not, after all, his super-slackness or his criminal stupidity, but his invincible luck.
Where many good men and true, infinitely capable and knowledgeable, had starved, or failed to make a scavenger’s wage, Beeching had tumbled into possession of a couple of hundred thousand dollars, and, after having sampled most methods of “burning” money known to the northland, still had fully half this sum to his credit.
That was one astounding proof of his tenderfoot’s luck. But more remarkable evidence of it was found, by those who understood, in his memorable journey to salt water.
By all the rules of the game, men said, Beeching and his hanger-on should have been starved, frozen, and eaten by their outraged dogs a week or more before the end of their trip. And failing that, some old-timers pointed out, they should have been publicly lynched on arrival at salt water.
Instead, they fell into the hands of roughly good-natured men, who not only gave them food and drink and helped them down to the wharf, but actually set them up with a traveling-kit of new clothing.