Naturally enough, Dick thought he waited as the result of his own reflections, to see what things the trail Jan had traveled by would bring forth. But, all the same, he would not have waited but for Jan’s artful insistence on it. Sometimes, but not very often, a dog acquires such guile in the world of civilization. In the wild it comes easily and naturally, even to animals having but a tithe of Jan’s exceptional intelligence and wealth of imagination.
Dick Vaughan had not waited long there beside the trail when his ears and Jan’s caught the sound of Jim Willis’s voice and the singing of his whip. Evidently, in the absence of their leader, Jan’s team-mates had not settled down very well to the day’s work. In the distance, away back on the trail, could be heard now and again the howl of a wolf.
Jim Willis showed no surprise when, in response to a wave of Dick’s hand, he drew up his team alongside a R.N.W.M.P. man and his own missing team-leader. Jim was not much given to showing surprise in the presence of other men. He nodded his comprehension, as Dick told the story of Jan’s appearance on the previous evening, and of his disappearance, many months before, from Lambert’s Siding in Saskatchewan.
“It’s a bit of a miracle that I should find him again—or he find me, rather—away up here, isn’t it?” said Dick.
“Ah! Pretty ’cute sort of a dog, Jan,” said the laconic Jim.
He was noting—one cannot tell with what queer twinges, with what stirrings of the still deeps of his nature—the fact that, while Jan lolled a friendly tongue at him and waved his stern when Jim spoke, he yet remained, as though tied, with his head at Sergeant Vaughan’s knee.
The two men leaned against Jim’s sled and exchanged samples of tobacco while Dick briefly told the tale of his travels, with his mad charge, from a lonely silver-mining camp near the Great Slave Lake. It seemed Dick had had some ground for fearing that he had stumbled upon some horrible kind of epidemic of madness in the lone land he had been traversing. At all events, one of the team of seven huskies with which he started had developed raging madness within a day or so of the beginning of his journey, and had had to be shot.
“I couldn’t find that the brute had bitten any of the others, but next day two of ’em suddenly went clean off, and they certainly did bite another pair before I shot them. Next day I had to kill the other pair, and was expecting every minute to see the bitch, the only one left, break out. However, she seems to have escaped it.”
Dick said nothing of the weary subsequent days in which he himself had toiled hour after hour in the traces, ahead of his one dog, with a maniac wrapped in rugs and lashed on the sled-pack. But Jim Willis needed no telling. He saw the trace-marks all across the chest and shoulders of Dick’s coat, and he knew without any telling all about the corresponding mark that must be showing on Dick’s own skin.