Read CHAPTER VI - TO VISIT THOSE IN AFFLICTION of Baldy of Nome, free online book, by Esther Birdsall Darling, on ReadCentral.com.

“We got t’ change these rules someway, George. There ain’t a thing in ’em ‘bout visitin’ the sick an’ dyin’. There’s somethin’ ‘bout not usin’ sick dogs, I remember, but that’s all there is ’bout sickness; and that won’t hardly do.”

George considered the matter carefully as he read over the “Rules and Regerlations of the Anshent and Honroble Order of Bow-Wow Wonder Workers” in his hand. They were rather blotted, and decidedly grimy; but it was perfectly clear, as Dan had announced, there was nothing in them that suggested the duty of ministering to those in distress.

The Order had met that afternoon to decide upon the proper thing to be done in the case of Ben Edwards, who had been ill for two days with a severe cold, and absent from school.

With a sincere desire to emulate other Orders more Ancient than theirs, if not more Honorable, they felt that a fraternal call upon their suffering member was necessary.

“We ought t’ take him somethin’ to eat an’ read,” remarked George; “like Dad always does when he goes t’ the Hospital t’ see Masons, or Elks, or any of ’em that’s broke their legs or arms in shafts, or fallin’ off dredges an’ things.”

“It’s all right t’ take him eatables; but don’t let’s take him any stuff to read. It might make him worse. It’s bad enough bein’ sick, without havin’ some readin’ shoved onto you, too.”

Dan, who was the Treasurer of the Wonder Workers, as well as holding other important offices, brought forth a can from under the hay in the corner of Spot’s stall.

“We better see how much money we got before we talk ’bout what we’ll take him.”

“If there’s enough, Dan, don’t you think an ice-cream cone ’ud be fine; or do you think he’d ruther have some peanuts an’ pop-corn?”

“Peanuts an’ pop-corn’s all right, or maybe some candy an’ gum. You see if he can’t eat the ice-cream it ‘ud melt right away an’ wouldn’t be any good t’ anybody. But the other stuff ‘ud last, an’ if he’s too bad t’ eat it, he could always give it to his mother, or some of his friends.”

They carefully counted the thirty-five cents in the Treasury, and were deep in a financial debate when the Woman’s voice broke in upon their important discussion.

“Hello, boys, where are you?”

“We never seem to be able to get any place that some one don’t butt in on us,” groaned Dan. “I’ll bet if we went out on an ice hummock on Bering Sea that some Eskimo tom-cod fisher ‘ud show up beside us t’ fish through a hole in the ice. What do you s’pose she wants now?”

“I don’t know, Dan. But let’s tell her about Ben, and maybe she’ll want t’ take him the things t’ eat, an’ we can keep the thirty-five cents till he’s well an’ can help spend it some way he’d like better. P’raps on somethin’ for the dogs.”

“I was just coming to ask for him,” she said when informed of Ben’s illness. “I have missed him the last day or so, and wondered what was the matter.”

Then, “Let’s give him a party,” she exclaimed quickly. “A cold isn’t serious, and a party would cheer him up. Besides, I have been wanting to see Mrs. Edwards for a long time, and this is a good chance for a chat about the boy. And we’ll invite Baldy too.” She took some money out of her purse, and handed it to George. “You can both run downtown and get whatever boys like, and I’ll go for a cake I have at home, and meet you here in fifteen minutes.”

When they at last started for the Edwards house the boys felt that their modest mission of mercy had developed into quite a festive occasion. Their purchases ranged from dill pickles through ginger snaps to chocolate creams; while the Woman carried jellies and preserves and all sorts of dainties that inspired Dan with a sudden belief, confided to George, that invalidism, unmixed with literature, was not so much to be dreaded as he had always fancied.

“Depends on whether you get castor-oil or cake,” was the pessimistic reply of one who had gone through bitter experiences along those lines. “This just shows what belongin’ t’ orders does for you, Dan. If Ben wasn’t a member o’ the Bow Wows, I’ll bet he could ‘a’ died an’ hardly any one would ‘a’ known it but his mother. An’ now he’s havin’ a party give to him ‘cause our Society kinda hinted to her what we was plannin’ when she showed up.” And for once an approving glance was cast toward the Woman.

“When I’m old enough,” decided Dan, “I’m goin’ t’ belong t’ everything. You can wear feathers an’ gold braid in processions, an’ have stuff like this when you’re sick, an’ bully funerals with brass bands when you’re dead.”

“Me too,” agreed George heartily.

As they turned the corner into Second Avenue, a short distance from the Edwards cabin, an adventure befell them which was fully covered by Rule Seven of the “Rules and Regerlations” of their Order: “To help thoes in Trubble.” It came at the very end, just next the important one which forbade any hint of sharp practice in dog trading; and had been added after they had listened to the Woman’s story about King Arthur and his Knights.

“Just ‘cause it’s a dog man’s order we needn’t stop tryin’ t’ do things for people,” George had announced when Rule Seven was being considered. And the others had felt, too, that their association with good dogs should make them more tolerant of human weakness and imperfection.

Down the street came a tiny Mother with a cherished doll-baby in its go-cart, out for an airing; and down the street, too, came Oolik Lomen, who had wandered away from his rug on the porch in search of diversion. He had mislaid his rubber doll, there was nothing to play with, and he was decidedly bored; when his covetous eyes fell upon the golden-haired infant, whose waxen beauty was most tempting.

The piratical instinct that was, perhaps, an inheritance, took possession of him completely; and with a rush he overturned the carriage, grabbing its occupant, and dashing away full speed toward the Lomen home.

The shocked parent, seeing her child snatched from her loving care so ruthlessly, broke into cries of distress. And the Wonder Workers, who were so solemnly pledged “To help thoes in Trubble,” unceremoniously bestowed their various bundles upon the Woman, and started in pursuit.

Baldy, who had been quietly following, also joined in the chase for he had watched the entire proceeding with disapproving eyes, and was only waiting for a little encouragement to help administer the punishment that Oolik so richly merited.

But that proud descendant of Viking Dogs, once behind his own fence, ostentatiously dragged the stolen one by a leg into a corner; and, seated in front of his victim, growled defiance in the very faces of the brave Knights who were attempting the rescue.

“George, you take the doll when I sic Baldy onto Oolik, and give it to the kid, an’ come back quick. Believe me, it’s goin’ t’ be a scrap worth seem’ when those two dogs really get woke up to’ it. I’ll bet Baldy is pretty keen in a row if he thinks he’s right; an’ even if Oolik is too good lookin’, you know Amundsen said his mother was the best dog he ever had, an’ that’s goin’ some for a man like him.”

Before the plans for the combat could be completed, however, Helen Lomen came out, overcome with regret for the tragedy, to lead Oolik into the house in disgrace. She was anxious to make restitution for any damage; but a close examination revealed the fact that there was no wound that a bit of glue would not easily cure, and the only real hurt was that given to the feelings of insulted motherhood.

The Woman was visibly relieved at the turn affairs had taken; for she had a purely feminine dread of dog fights, and had frequently stopped some that would have been of most thrilling interest in deciding certain important questions.

In an undertone the boys spoke of the vagaries of the gentler sex, and frankly admitted “they were sure hard t’ understand,” while the Woman tried unsuccessfully to make Baldy carry a small package.

“Do you think she’ll ever learn,” asked George rather hopelessly, “that a sled dog’s got no use for little stunts like that? His mind’s got t’ be on bigger things.”

“Here we are,” called Dan, as they stopped before a tiny cabin almost snowed in, with a deep cut leading up to the front door.

A thin, pale-faced woman, with a pleasant manner, answered the knock.

“Mrs. Edwards, we’ve come to surprise Ben. May we see him?”

Ben’s mother ushered them all, Baldy included, into a room plainly furnished, but neat and home-like.

“This must be Ben’s day for surprises, for this morning Mr. Jones arrived from St. Michael.”

“Here’s Moose, that I’ve bin tellin’ you about so much,” and Ben, from a couch, nodded happily toward the large man who rose from a chair beside the boy, and shook hands cordially with them all.

“Yes, I come over by dog team. I leased my ground up at Marshall, an’ thought I’d drop into Nome t’ see if my friend Ben here was still aimin’ t’ be a lawyer, an’ the very first thing I hear is that he’s gone inter dog racin’ with you an’ ‘Scotty’ Allan. That is, that Baldy’s in the racin’ stable, which is pretty near the same thing.”

“Oh, I haven’t give up the idea of bein’ a lawyer, Moose. She,” nodding toward the Woman, “talks to me about it all the time; and ‘Scotty’s’ goin’ t’ speak t’ Mr. Fink the very next time they meet. ‘Scotty’ says he thinks Mr. Fink’ll listen, ’cause he was so interested in Baldy after the boys’ race, an’ asked all about him. He said,” in a tone in which triumph was plainly noticeable, “that he didn’t know when he’d seen a dog with legs an’ a chest like Baldy.”

“I know a good dog is about the best introduction you can have to Mr. Fink; but if for any reason that fails, I’ll have a talk with Mr. Daly and tell him that you want to be another Lincoln, as nearly as possible, and that will appeal to him,” confidently remarked the Woman.

“You got the right system in this here case,” chuckled Moose Jones. “Ef you was t’ tell one o’ them lawyers that you jest couldn’t git the other one interested in the boy, it’s a dead cinch he’d git inter one office or t’other; an’ it don’t make much difference which. They’re both mighty smart men, even ef they don’t go at things the same way. Well, anyway, Ben, I’m glad I kin depend on retainin’ you when my claims begin t’ show up rich, as I kinda think some of ’em’s bound t’ do, one place or another. On my way back t’ Nome, I stopped at them new diggin’s at Dime Creek, an’ staked some ground; an’ it’s a likely lookin’ country, I kin tell you.”

From the first instant he had heard the sound of the man’s voice, Baldy had remained motionless, but intent, trying to recall their past association; then with a bark he rushed up to Moose Jones, showing every possible sign of recognition and joy.

“Well, well,” exclaimed Moose, “ef this ain’t Baldy o’ Golconda! Why, I didn’t know him right away, he’s so sorta perky an’ high-toned; all along of gettin’ in with a speedy bunch, I expect,” and the man stroked the dog affectionately.

“Isn’t he fine?” cried Ben eagerly. “I just wish you could ‘a’ seen him the day o’ the race; but George’ll tell you all about it how he wouldn’t let Spot an’ Queen bolt, an’ how willin’ he was an’ all.”

“Yes, indeed, the boys must tell you all about that famous event, Mr. Jones, while I talk to Mrs. Edwards about something else.”

Before going into the details of the race, which never palled upon Ben, they described with much gusto the defeat of Oolik Lomen in the first Great Adventure the Wonder Workers had undertaken; and Ben bitterly regretted that he could not also have been one of the brave knights who had so valorously risen in defense of the weak and distressed against the strong and unprincipled.

But Dan consoled him somewhat by the information that the incident had been almost spoiled by interference; and that the next time they performed deeds of chivalry he hoped it would be when no female was about, unless, indeed, it might be a victim to be rescued from a terrible plight.

In the brief chat the Woman had with Mrs. Edwards she learned a little of the hardships that had fallen to the lot of the boy and his mother, and realized in spite of their courage and reticence that they had endured a hard struggle for almost a mere existence.

“Don’t you think it would be easier for you outside, where there are not so many physical discomforts to be considered?”

“Perhaps. But my husband left a little mining ground that may, in time, prove worth while if developed; and I have remained where I could look after it, and see that the assessment work was properly done. As it is, a man named Barclay Black Mart Barclay, they call him jumped the claim next to his, and if it had not been for Mr. Jones I should have lost it. He loaned me the money to take the matter into the courts, where I won out.”

“And the boy?”

“He is my one thought,” responded Mrs. Edwards. “As a young child he was rather delicate, and we could not send him to school because of the distance. Since then his association with the men at Golconda has done much to offset what I have tried to do for him. Before my marriage I taught school in a village in New Hampshire, though you would hardly suspect it to hear Ben speak. I wanted to get a position in the school here; but nowadays there is so much special training required that I found I was not fitted for the work; and I have just had to take what I could get from time to time. At any rate,” with a cheerful smile, “we are still alive and have kept our property.”

“It was brave,” murmured the Woman, whose eyes were misty; “very brave.”

“Now that Ben is going to school regularly,” the other continued, “he will, I think, soon lose this roughness of speech; and you can see that he is anxious to learn, and is ambitious.”

“Yes, indeed; I have found him really unusual.”

“Mr. Jones told us this morning that if his mining ventures turn out well, and they certainly look as if they might, that he will send Ben to college. He was my husband’s partner at one time, and has always taken a great interest in the boy.”

“I am so glad,” was the response. “I have felt all along that some way should be found to make such a thing possible. The child deserves it. Some day soon, if you will let me come again, we will make some wonderful plans for his future. But I came to-day to ask you if you will let Ben go on a trip to the Hot Springs with us next week? I am sure it would do him a lot of good to be in the open air, and perhaps he would enjoy the outing.”

“I should be glad to have him go; as to his enjoyment just see what he says.”

Ben listened breathlessly while the Woman told of the prospective outing. “I am to go with ‘Scotty’ and nine or ten of the racing dogs, and Pete Bernard, with twelve big huskies, is to take my husband. As Pete will have a sled load of freight for Shelton and the Springs, we thought you had better go with ‘Scotty’ and me; that is, of course, if you would like to make the trip. I believe that ‘Scotty’ intends driving Baldy, if that is any inducement.”

Ben could hardly reply for excitement and happiness.

“Well then,” and the Woman rose, “it is quite decided that you are to go. I dare say George and Dan and Baldy will want to remain a while. We have talked so much and so fast that I had really forgotten the ‘party’ we came to give you, and it is time for me to leave if I keep another engagement. If you are able to get out to-morrow, Ben, bring your mother and Mr. Jones over to the Kennel, and we will introduce them to some of our distinguished dog friends.”

Mrs. Edwards and Moose Jones followed her to the door. The former, with a warm hand-clasp, faltered a few words of thanks; and Moose, with some embarrassment, said in an undertone, “I’m much obliged, ma’am, fer what you and ‘Scotty’’s done fer the kid an’ the dog. Ben used t’ come t’ my cabin when I was kinda lonely an’ discouraged at Golconda; an’ havin’ him ‘round learnt me that you got t’ have some one that you love, t’ work fer, if you want t’ git the best out o’ things an’ people. Now Mrs. Edwards says I kin give Ben his eddication, which’ll pay back somethin’ o’ what his father done fer me once when I was considerable down on my luck. And,” with enthusiasm, “believe me, you kin bet it’ll be some eddication, ef I have my way, an’ them claims pan out the way they look now.”

So potent a cure was the delight of the coming excursion that Ben was over not only the next day with Moose Jones, but every day after, until the time for the departure arrived; for there were many interesting matters to be settled. The most absorbing was, naturally, the selection of dogs for the journey; and there were long discussions by all concerned before the team was finally chosen.

The Woman’s suggestions were, as usual, well meant; but were almost invariably influenced by personal preferences rather than sound judgment. And “Scotty” had to firmly repress her desire to thrust the greatness of a Trail Career upon some of those for whom he had other achievements in mind.

Eric Johnson, U. S. Mail Carrier on the Nome-Unalakleet Route]

“I do wish you would take Mego,” she urged. “The dear old thing simply loves sled work, and you never give her anything to do nowadays but bring up families.”

“And why not?” demanded “Scotty.” “There is not another dog-mother in all Nome who can so intelligently care for a family.” Which was true; for added to her natural fondness for those dependent upon her, she had wide experience in the ways of dogs and people, and was thoroughly familiar with the dangers that beset the path of puppy-hood.

When young she had been a member of one of the Mail Teams and had worked hard for her living. The run of over two hundred and thirty miles between Nome and Unalakleet was covered many times during the winter; and the Mail Carrier, who has the chance to observe carefully the individual behavior of the dogs he uses, was much attracted to Mego. Her patient industry was a happy contrast to the actions of some of the others, who were unruly and quarrelsome, or disinclined to do their share of the necessary labor; and it was with such a high recommendation that “Scotty” had bought her.

“If she only had to care for her own puppies it would not be so bad,” the Woman complained; “but every once in a while some light-minded gad-about roams around at will, or runs away, and leaves her offspring for Mego to raise. Why, sometimes you would think she was the matron of a Puppies’ Day Home.”

To her credit it may be said that whether the puppies were hers or another’s, Mego was untiring in her gentle supervision of their minds and manners. She taught them to be respectful and wag their tails prettily when addressed; not to jump and place muddy paws on those who came to see them, and not to wander away alone, nor associate with strangers. And the task was often difficult, for there were many alluring temptations and many bad examples.

“But she positively enjoys it,” insisted “Scotty.” “When her own little ones outgrow her care, she is always watching for a chance to annex at least one member of any new litter in her neighborhood. Only last week she heard the faint squeaks and squeals of Nellie Silk’s malamute pups, and I caught her tunneling under the manger to try to get to them. Mego’s kidnapping is the one scandal in the Kennel.”

“I suppose they were siren calls, not to be resisted. And anyway, that is the only blot on her otherwise spotless character. She possibly does it for the excitement; and if you will let her go in the Hot Springs team she will have something else to think about. If you don’t give her a new interest,” was the sinister and gloomy prophecy, “stealing puppies will very likely become an obsession with her.”

But Allan was not to be persuaded. “She gets all of the exercise and pleasure that she needs here about the place. If she went away only think of the things that might happen to her youngest family. You know how careless Birdie is with them.”

“That’s so,” with a sigh. “I had quite forgotten Birdie,” and she recalled with regret the habit of that half grown stag-hound of dropping bits of food into the corral, between the wires, to make friends of the little ones; and then after working at the fastening of the gate till it could be opened, enticing them out for a frolic.

Mego knew, as well as did the Woman and “Scotty,” that Birdie meant no harm. On the contrary, she had excellent qualities, and deserved much credit for the valuable assistance she rendered as a self-constituted Secret Service Agent, and an ardent Advocate of Universal Peace.

When there was a quarrel in the Nursery, and the puppies became violent, she gently separated them and gave the defeated one a cherished if somewhat ancient bone that she had buried for such occasions; occasions when material consolation is needed to forget material ills.

In case of serious trouble she would rush for help, whining anxiously, and frequently her prompt action in bringing Matt prevented fatal terminations to neighborhood feuds, race riots, or affairs of honor between dogs with irreconcilable differences of opinion on important subjects.

But when Birdie was not doing detective work, or holding Peace Conferences, she was lonely and craved the companionship of the frisky pups. And while Mego was certain that her character was above reproach, as well as her motives, she realized also that the stag-hound was heedless. And the wise mother had always in mind the perils that lurk in the hoofs of horses, the wheels of wagons, and the hovering Pound-man; and never relaxed her vigilance in guarding her family against such dangers.

“Well then, leaving out Mego, what dogs shall you use besides Kid, Tom, Dick, Harry, Spot, and McMillan? I told Ben that you would take Baldy.”

“Yes, Baldy, and probably Rex. I have been considering Fisher and Wolf, too. Fisher has been rather indolent and indifferent, and I have never given Wolf a good run since I bought him of that native boy, Illayuk.”

“Why not Jemima? You have never given her a really good run either, and she is no more inexperienced for the trip than is Wolf. As a matter of fact, I have been training her quite a bit myself lately, and I find that she is enthusiastic and good-tempered.”

“Scotty” repressed a smile with difficulty. “Of course if you’ve been training her that’s different.”

He had seen her several times trying to make Jemima jump over a stick, beg for a bone, and stand on her hind legs quite useless accomplishments, as George and Dan had agreed, for a sled dog. And he had also heard her words of advice to the progressive little dog, who did indeed seem to be anxious to create a place for herself amongst the best in the Kennel.

“Jemima,” the Woman would warn her solemnly, “there are lots of things the Females of the Species have to learn early, if they would avoid trouble in this world. The very first of all is to let yourself be well groomed, make the most of the gay pompoms on your harness, and cultivate tact above all things. Never make a public nuisance of yourself. Be steadfast, but not militant; and do not snarl and snap, tear children’s clothing, nor upset the puppies’ food dish, even though you are dissatisfied with existing conditions. But instead, never forget there are wonderful opportunities even in a dog’s life, and be ever ready and waiting to use them when they come. Now shake hands.”

As a concession to the Woman’s fondness for Jemima, rather than to her training, “Scotty” decided to let her go with them; and to her great delight, and to Baldy’s unbarkable dismay, for Baldy had but little regard for ambitious females, she was placed in the wheel with him.

And so, with Kid in the lead, Baldy and Jemima in the wheel, Tom, Dick, Harry and the others arranged to the best advantage; with the Woman covered to the eyes in furs, and surrounded by bags, rugs, and carriage heaters, and Ben comfortably tucked away in the midst; and with “Scotty” Allan at the handle-bars, they were finally ready for the start to the Springs.

Mrs. Edwards and Moose Jones had joined the Allan girls, George, Dan and Matt at the Kennel, to wish the travelers a pleasant journey; and as he waved a last farewell to them before the team dropped over the brow of the hill, Ben observed gaily, “Well, I guess Ben Hur and all o’ them old chariot racers didn’t have nothing much on Alaska racin’ dog teams when it comes t’ style an’ speed an’ excitement.”