According to custom the leader was the first dog loosed. Jan made a bee-line for the skeleton. Within a few seconds six other dogs were streaking across the intervening stretch of soft snow between the camp and the belt of timber in which the moose had fallen. But the seventh dog, Bill—though his jaws had been dripping eagerness like all the rest of them—walked slowly in the same direction as though food were a matter of indifference to him.
“What in hell’s the matter with that Bill?” said Jake. “Seems like as if he’s full, but he can’t be.”
“Beel, hee’s an angry dog for sure,” said Jean, with a grin.
“Looks ’most as if he’s sick,” said Jake.
“H’m! Hate-seeck, mebbe,” replied Jean, as the two turned to the task of preparing their own supper.
As a fact no dog was ever more fit or more perfectly self-controlled than Bill was at that moment. In his own good time and with a most singular deliberateness he did set his teeth in fresh moose. But he did it much as house-dogs in the world of civilization put their noses into their well-filled dinner-dishes, with a deliberate absence of gusto which would have simply astounded any understanding observer who could have seen it. The other seven dogs were blissfully unconscious of anything under heaven outside their own ravening lust of flesh. In a temperature well below zero, the lure of fresh-killed meat at the end of fourteen hundred miles of solid pulling, and five or six weeks of fish rations, is a force the strength of which cannot easily be conceived by livers of the sheltered life. It is the pull of an overwhelming strong passion.
And Bill, the deposed leader of the team, just nosed and tasted with the calm indifferent temperateness of an English house-dog; while every organ of his supremely healthy body ached with a veritable neuralgia of longing for red meat.
The rest of the team, including Jan, fed like wolves; indeed, some of them were literally but one or two removes from the wolf, and all of them had of late lived a life which brings any dog very close to the wolf in his habits and instincts. It is a life which, so far as his instincts are concerned, carries a dog back and back through innumerable generations till his contact with his primeval ancestors is very close and real.
They fed like hungry wolves, and their feeding was not a pretty sight. When in his ravenous guzzling one dog’s nose chanced to be thrust at all nearly to another’s, there would arise a horrid sound of half-choked snarling; the fierce hissing rattle of snarls which came from flesh and blood-glutted jaws. Obeying instincts to the full as strong as any human passion which has ever gone to the making of tragedy, these working-dogs made a wild orgy of their feast. They wantoned and they wallowed in their perfectly natural gluttony. Having fed full and overfull, they desired more by reason of their long hunger for meat and the hard vigor of their lives. The last remains of flesh exhausted, they gnawed and tugged at bones, each snarling still, though half exhausted, whenever other fangs than his own touched a chosen bone.