“I guess Sourdough’ll call himself off when he’s good an’ ready,” replied the sergeant; and himself strode on across the yard.
Once more Jan had to submit to the bitter ordeal of being slashed at by Sourdough’s teeth, as the big husky snarlingly passed him in the sergeant’s wake. It was little Jan cared for the bite, shrewd as that was. His coat was dense. But again, and with a visible gulp of pain, he was compelled to swallow the humiliation of lowering his muzzle in answer to his lord’s—
“Keep in, there! Steady! Keep in, Jan!”
It was a tough morsel to swallow. But the disciplined Jan swallowed it, in full view of several lesser dogs and of half a dozen of Dick’s comrades. With it, however, came a natural swelling of the antipathy which his first glimpse of Sourdough had implanted in the big hound, and it may be, all things considered, that it would have been better for both of them if Dick Vaughan had allowed the dogs to settle matters in their own fashion. But he had Jan’s future position in the barracks to think of, and wished to consult Captain Arnutt before permitting any open breach of the peace. Meantime, Jan’s prestige had been lowered in the eyes of half a dozen other dogs, each one of whom would certainly presume upon the unresented affront they had seen put upon him by their common enemy.
Captain Arnutt’s advice was to let the dogs take their chances.
“Every one knows Sourdough is a morose old devil,” he said, “and every one has seen now that Jan is not a quarrelsome dog. If there’s trouble, they won’t blame Jan, and Master Sourdough will have to take his gruel. You don’t think he’d seriously damage Jan, do you?”
“Well, he’s got a deal more of ring-craft, sir, of course,” said Dick, with a smile. “Jan has had very little fighting experience, but he’s immensely strong and fit, and—No, I don’t much think Sourdough could do him any permanent harm; but one can’t be certain. Sourdough is practically a wolf, so far as fighting goes. He and his forebears have fought ever since their eyes were opened. Whereas, I suppose there’s hardly been a fighter in a hundred generations of Jan’s ancestors.”
Dick Vaughan was probably thinking of the Lady Desdemona when he said this. And, of course, it was true that, even on Finn’s side, Jan had had no fighting ancestors for very many generations. But Finn had been a mighty fighter, and in the wild at that. And Jan had been born in a cave and in his first weeks had tasted the wild life. Also he had fought Grip, who fought like a wolf. Also he had learned many things from Finn on the Sussex Downs; he did not know the meaning of fear, and his hundred and sixty-four pounds of perfect development consisted almost entirely of fighting material. There was no waste matter in Jan. Still, Sourdough was a veritable wolf in combat, and for so long as he could prevent a breach of the peace Dick decided he would do so. Accordingly, while in barracks, Jan was kept pretty closely to sentinel duty in Paddy’s stall.