“No use for a whip with that chap in the lead,” he told an inquirer. “If you hit Jan, I reckon he’d bust the traces; and he don’t give you a chance to find fault with the huskies. I reckon he’d eat ’em before he’d let ’em really need a whip. I haven’t carried mine these three weeks now.”
“You don’t say,” commented a bystander. Jim nodded to show he did “say.”
“I tell ye that dog he don’t just do what you tell him; he finds out what you want before you know it, and blame well does it before you can open your mouth. An’ he makes the huskies do it, too, on schedule, I can tell you, or he’ll know the reason why. Yes, sir. I take no credit for his training. I guess he was kinder born to the job, an’ knows it better ’n what I do. I don’t know who did train him, if anybody ever did; but as a leadin’ sled-dog he’s got all the Yukon whipped to a standstill. He’s the limit. Now you watch!”
Of set purpose, Willis spoke with elaborate carelessness.
“Just mush on a yard or two, not far, Jan.”
His tone was conversational. Jan gave a short, low bark; and in the same moment the five huskies flung themselves into their collars behind him. The sled—its runners already tight frozen—creaked, jerked, and slid forward just eight feet. Jan let out a low, warning growl. The team stood still without a word from its owner.
“Say, does he talk?” asked a bystander. And then, with a chuckle: “Use a knife an’ fork to his grub, Jim?”
“Oh, as to that,” said Willis, “he don’t need to do no talkin’. He can make any husky understand without talk; an’ when that husky understands, if he won’t do as Jan says, Jan’ll smother him, quick an’ lively.”
As Jan stood now at the head of his team, awaiting final orders, he formed a picture of perfect canine health and fitness. He represented most of a northlander’s ideals and dreams of what a sled-dog should be, plus certain other qualities that came to him from his breeding, and that no dog-musher would have even hoped for in a sled-dog: his immense size, for example, and his wonderful dignity and grace of form and action.
Jan never had been so superlatively fit; so instinct in every least hair of his coat, in every littlest vein of his body, with tingling life and pulsing energy. His coat crackled if a man’s hand was passed along his black saddle.
Despite the lissom grace of all his motions, Jan moved every limb with a kind of exuberant snap, as though his strength spilled over from its superabundance, and had to be expended at every opportunity to avoid surcharge. His movements formed his safety-valve, you fancied. Robbed of these, his abounding vitality would surely burst through the cage of his great body in some way, and destroy him. He walked as though the forces of gravitation were but barely sufficient to tether him down to mother earth.
“And I reckon he weighs near a hundred and sixty,” said Willis; a guess the store scales proved good that night, when Jan registered exactly one hundred and fifty-seven pounds, though he carried no fat, nor an ounce of any kind of waste material.