Three men from a neighboring tent came out and looked on, grinning and winking at one another.
Youve got a right smart load as it is, said one of them; and its not me should tell you your business, but I wouldnt tote that tent along if I was you.
Undreamed of! cried Mercedes, throwing up her hands in dainty dismay. However in the world could I manage without a tent?
Its springtime, and you wont get any more cold weather, the man replied.
She shook her head decidedly, and Charles and Hal put the last odds and ends on top the mountainous load.
Think itll ride? one of the men asked.
Why shouldnt it? Charles demanded rather shortly.
Oh, thats all right, thats all right, the man hastened meekly to say. I was just a-wonderin, that is all. It seemed a mite top-heavy.
Charles turned his back and drew the lashings down as well as he could, which was not in the least well.
An of course the dogs can hike along all day with that contraption behind them, affirmed a second of the men.
Certainly, said Hal, with freezing politeness, taking hold of the gee-pole with one hand and swinging his whip from the other. Mush! he shouted. Mush on there!
The dogs sprang against the breastbands, strained hard for a few moments, then relaxed. They were unable to move the sled.
The lazy brutes, Ill show them, he cried, preparing to lash out at them with the whip.
But Mercedes interfered, crying, Oh, Hal, you mustnt, as she caught hold of the whip and wrenched it from him. The poor dears! Now you must promise you wont be harsh with them for the rest of the trip, or I wont go a step.
Precious lot you know about dogs, her brother sneered; and I wish youd leave me alone. Theyre lazy, I tell you, and youve got to whip them to get anything out of them. Thats their way. You ask any one. Ask one of those men.
Mercedes looked at them imploringly, untold repugnance at sight of pain written in her pretty face.
Theyre weak as water, if you want to know, came the reply from one of the men. Plumb tuckered out, thats whats the matter. They need a rest.
Rest be blanked, said Hal, with his beardless lips; and Mercedes said, Oh! in pain and sorrow at the oath.
But she was a clannish creature, and rushed at once to the defence of her brother. Never mind that man, she said pointedly. Youre driving our dogs and you do what you think best with them.
Again Hals whip fell upon the dogs. They threw themselves against the breastbands, dug their feet into the packed snow, got down low to it, and put forth all their strength. The sled held as though it were an anchor. After two efforts, they stood still, panting. The whip was whistling savagely, when once more
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