Jean flogged Bill pretty severely; and in the interval he said:
“Tha’s all right, Bill. Jan ’ll lick all thees outer you, bimeby.”
And that was where Jean’s mistake lay. Jan could safely be trusted to lick pretty well anything into, or out of, the rest of the team; but there was that in Bill, the ex-leader, which no power on earth would lick out of him. He knew it; and Jan knew it. And that was where, in this one matter, they both saw a little farther than the astute Jean. The thing of it was that what they saw did not trouble either of them. They were content to bide the issue. But had he known of it, Jean would not have been at all content with anything of the sort. Far from it.
In any event, the issue involved loss for Jean, since, as both dogs well knew, it meant death for Jan or for Bill. They were quite content in their knowledge. But Jean could not conceivably have found content in any prospect involving himself in monetary loss; for that would have been contrary to the only guiding principles he knew. Pride in his own unfailing knowledge of dogs and life in the north helped to make Jean establish Jan as leader of the team. But if he could have foreseen monetary loss in the arrangement, his pride had assuredly been called down and Bill re-established in the lead.
Jean saw that Jan made an exceptionally fine leader. There was no sort of doubt about it. He set a tremendously high working standard, and hustled the team into accepting it by the exercise of an almost uncannily far-seeing severity. Nothing escaped him, least of all a hint of any kind of shirking. He was quicker than Jean’s whip, more sure, and more compelling. But while Jean saw all this, and more, with genuine admiration for Jan, and for his own astuteness in foretelling this exceptional capacity and acquiring ownership of the hound, he also saw, with angry puzzlement, that his team was falling off in condition and in efficiency as a unit.
It was not that the leader lacked either justice or discretion in his fiery severity. Jan displayed both to a miracle. But the team had to live between his severity while at work, and Bill’s bitter and tireless persecution and crafty incendiarism outside the traces. Over all, for their consolation, were the whips of the masters. But so infernally crafty was Bill, that he never once allowed the masters to detect the real wickedness of the part he played. They could see poor Blackfoot’s bleeding hocks: “We got to call heem Redleg soon. Damn that Beel!”—but they could not see Bill’s continuous crafty incitements to mutiny, or the hundred and one ways in which he strove, when out of harness, to work up hatred of Jan among his mates, or when in harness to play subtle tricks which should produce an effect discreditable to the new leader.