His beard was evidence of a longish spell on the trail; and the weakness that permitted of his catching his breath in a childlike sob—that was due, perhaps, to solitude and the peculiar strain of his present business on the trail, as well as to the great love he felt for the hound he had thought lost to him for ever.
“How d’ye do, Devil! How d’ye do! We were just hurryin’ on for your place. Will ye take a drop o’ rye? I’m boss here. That’s only my chore-boy you’re slobberin’ over, Mister Devil. Eh, but it’s hunky down to Coney Island, ain’t it?”
These remarks came in a jerky sort of torrent from the second man, one of whose peculiarities was that his arms above the elbow were lashed with leather thongs to his body. There were leather hobbles about his ankles, and on the ground near by him lay a pair of unlocked handcuffs, carefully swathed in soft-tanned deerskin.
Sergeant Dick Vaughan’s companion may possibly have accentuated the solitude in which he traveled; such a companion could hardly have mitigated it as a source of nervous strain, for he was mad as a March hare. But there was nothing else harelike about him, for he was homicidally mad, and had killed two men and half killed a third before Sergeant Vaughan laid hands upon him. And his was not the only madness the sergeant had had to contend with on this particular trip.
A strong and overtried man’s weakness is not a thing that any one cares to enlarge upon, but without offense it may perhaps be stated that tears fell on the iron-gray hair of Jan’s muzzle as he stood there with his soft flews pressed hard against Dick Vaughan’s thigh. It seemed he wanted to bore right into the person of his sovereign lord; he who had never asked for any man’s caress through all the long months of wandering, toil, and hardship that divided him from the Regina barracks. His nose burrowed lovingly under Dick’s coat with never a thought of fear or of a trap, although, for many months now, his first instinct had been to keep his head free, vision clear, and feet to the ground, whatever befell.
“My old Jan! My dear old Jan!”
Dick Vaughan paid no sort of heed to the jerky maunderings of his poor demented charge. But Jan did. Without stirring his head, Jan edged his body away at right angles from the madman, and the hair bristled over his shoulder-blades when the man spoke.
Jan did not know much about human ailments, perhaps, but he had seen a husky go mad, and had narrowly escaped being bitten by the beast before Jim Willis had shot it. He did not think it out in any way, but he was intuitively conscious that this man was abnormal, irresponsible, unlike other men. The homicidal devil was the force uppermost in this particular man, and that naturally left no room for emanations of the milk of human kindness and goodness. Jan was instantly aware of the lack. In effect he knew this man was killing-mad.
But remarkable, nay unique, in his experience as the contact was, Jan spared no thought for it. His hackles rose a little and he edged away from the madman, because instinct in him enforced so much. For his mind and his heart they were filled to overflowing; they were afloat on the flood-tide of his consciousness of his sovereign’s physical presence, the touch of his body.