Then, again, consider the really astounding fact that a steamer should have been waiting to cast off at the moment these two men arrived, and that her skipper held his ship up for half an hour to suit the convenience of the precious pair, and finally carried them on in his best two cabins!
“But what about the sled and the team?” whined Harry, as he and Beeching hobbled up the gangway of the waiting steamer, bound for luxury and civilization. It may be Harry had thought of these as one of his hard-earned perquisites.
“Oh, to blazes with the sled and dogs!” cried Chechaquo Beeching. “The town’s welcome to ’em, for all I care.”
Generous man! And at that precise moment, his tough life starved and hammered out of his hardy body, the exhausted Fish was breathing his last—still in the traces; and Jan, in whom the fires of life, though better laid than those of ninety-nine dogs in a hundred, were burning very low just now—barely flickering, indeed—was concentrating such energies as remained in him upon gnawing feebly at his traces, for the double purpose of extracting some nutriment from them, if that might be, and freeing himself from their control.
The first of these aims was a tolerably hopeless one, since Jan could not just now swallow any hard thing. But in the second he achieved success, just as the steamer’s gangway was hauled up and the population of the town was engaged in waving farewell to the craft that connected with the big outside world, where sentimentality and dollars rule, just as in the northland muscle, grit, endurance—and dollars rule. Yes, even there money does play one of the chief ruling parts. But, as a general thing, sentimentality does not.
The remaining wrecks of the team, two dead, one dying, and three too far gone in the same direction to be capable of any effort, lay where they had fallen at the moment when willing hands had come to help their masters to the steamer.
It may be that Jan had bigger physical reserves to draw upon than his mates had. It is more likely, however, that the powers which kept him striving still to live, after the others had given up effort, were factors on the mental side of his composition. His memories were stronger and more vivid, his imagination a thing far more complex, than that of any husky. Also his faith in men and his desire for their help and companionship—even after five weeks with Beeching and Harry—were greatly stronger than the same factors were in any of his team-mates. The culminative influences of hundreds of generations of civilization spoke in him here.
And so, trailing beside him the gnawed-off ends of his traces, Jan dragged his emaciated frame along in jerks over the hard-trodden snow while the folk of the town cheered the departing steamer. In a little while Jan came to a small tent, the flap of which hung loose and open. At the entrance Jan smelt the fresh trail of a man; from within came—to nostrils cunning as Jan’s—the odor of foodstuffs. Jan propped and jerked himself feebly into the tent, though for months now he had known that it was forbidden to enter the habitations of men-folk.