Versione ebook di Readme.it powered by Softwarehouse.it
The Call of the Wild
by Jack London
I Into the Primitive
II The Law of Club and Fang
III The Dominant Primordial Beast
IV Who Has Won to Mastership
V The Toil of Trace and Tail
VI For the Love of a Man
VII The Sounding of the Call
Into the Primitive
Old longings nomadic leap,
Chafing at custom's chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain.
Buck did not read the newspapersor he would have known that
trouble was brewingnot alone for himselfbut for every tidewater
dogstrong of muscle and with warmlong hairfrom Puget
Sound to San Diego. Because mengroping in the Arctic darkness
had found a yellow metaland because steamship and transportation
companies were booming the findthousands of men were rushing
into the Northland. These men wanted dogsand the dogs they
wanted were heavy dogswith strong muscles by which to toiland
furry coats to protect them from the frost.
Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley.
Judge Miller's placeit was called. It stood back from the road
half hidden among the treesthrough which glimpses could be
caught of the wide cool veranda that ran around its four sides.
The house was approached by gravelled driveways which wound about
through wide-spreading lawns and under the interlacing boughs of
tall poplars. At the rear things were on even a more spacious
scale than at the front. There were great stableswhere a dozen
grooms and boys held forthrows of vine-clad servants' cottages
an endless and orderly array of outhouseslong grape arbors
green pasturesorchardsand berry patches. Then there was the
pumping plant for the artesian welland the big cement tank where
Judge Miller's boys took their morning plunge and kept cool in the
And over this great demesne Buck ruled. Here he was bornand
here he had lived the four years of his life. It was truethere
were other dogsThere could not but be other dogs on so vast a
placebut they did not count. They came and wentresided in the
populous kennelsor lived obscurely in the recesses of the house
after the fashion of Tootsthe Japanese pugor Ysabelthe
Mexican hairless--strange creatures that rarely put nose out of
doors or set foot to ground. On the other handthere were the fox
terriersa score of them at leastwho yelped fearful promises at
Toots and Ysabel looking out of the windows at them and protected
by a legion of housemaids armed with brooms and mops.
But Buck was neither house-dog nor kennel-dog. The whole realm
was his. He plunged into the swimming tank or went hunting with
the Judge's sons; he escorted Mollie and Alicethe Judge's
daughterson long twilight or early morning rambles; on wintry
nights he lay at the Judge's feet before the roaring library fire;
he carried the Judge's grandsons on his backor rolled them in
the grassand guarded their footsteps through wild adventures
down to the fountain in the stable yardand even beyondwhere
the paddocks wereand the berry patches. Among the terriers he
stalked imperiouslyand Toots and Ysabel he utterly ignoredfor
he was king--king over all creepingcrawlingflying things of
Judge Miller's placehumans included.
His fatherElmoa huge St. Bernardhad been the Judge's
inseparable companionand Buck bid fair to follow in the way of
his father. He was not so large--he weighed only one hundred and
forty pounds--for his motherShephad been a Scotch shepherd
dog. Neverthelessone hundred and forty poundsto which was
added the dignity that comes of good living and universal respect
enabled him to carry himself in right royal fashion. During the
four years since his puppyhood he had lived the life of a sated
aristocrat; he had a fine pride in himselfwas even a trifle
egotisticalas country gentlemen sometimes become because of
their insular situation. But he had saved himself by not becoming
a mere pampered house-dog. Hunting and kindred outdoor delights
had kept down the fat and hardened his muscles; and to himas to
the cold-tubbing racesthe love of water had been a tonic and a
And this was the manner of dog Buck was in the fall of 1897when
the Klondike strike dragged men from all the world into the frozen
North. But Buck did not read the newspapersand he did not know
that Manuelone of the gardener's helperswas an undesirable
acquaintance. Manuel had one besetting sin. He loved to play
Chinese lottery. Alsoin his gamblinghe had one besetting
weakness--faith in a system; and this made his damnation certain.
For to play a system requires moneywhile the wages of a
gardener's helper do not lap over the needs of a wife and numerous
The Judge was at a meeting of the Raisin Growers' Associationand
the boys were busy organizing an athletic clubon the memorable
night of Manuel's treachery. No one saw him and Buck go off
through the orchard on what Buck imagined was merely a stroll.
And with the exception of a solitary manno one saw them arrive
at the little flag station known as College Park. This man talked
with Manueland money chinked between them.
You might wrap up the goods before you deliver 'm,the stranger
said grufflyand Manuel doubled a piece of stout rope around
Buck's neck under the collar.
Twist it, an' you'll choke 'm plentee,said Manueland the
stranger grunted a ready affirmative.
Buck had accepted the rope with quiet dignity. To be sureit was
an unwonted performance: but he had learned to trust in men he
knewand to give them credit for a wisdom that outreached his
own. But when the ends of the rope were placed in the stranger's
handshe growled menacingly. He had merely intimated his
displeasurein his pride believing that to intimate was to
command. But to his surprise the rope tightened around his neck
shutting off his breath. In quick rage he sprang at the manwho
met him halfwaygrappled him close by the throatand with a deft
twist threw him over on his back. Then the rope tightened
mercilesslywhile Buck struggled in a furyhis tongue lolling
out of his mouth and his great chest panting futilely. Never in
all his life had he been so vilely treatedand never in all his
life had he been so angry. But his strength ebbedhis eyes
glazedand he knew nothing when the train was flagged and the two
men threw him into the baggage car.
The next he knewhe was dimly aware that his tongue was hurting
and that he was being jolted along in some kind of a conveyance.
The hoarse shriek of a locomotive whistling a crossing told him
where he was. He had travelled too often with the Judge not to
know the sensation of riding in a baggage car. He opened his
eyesand into them came the unbridled anger of a kidnapped king.
The man sprang for his throatbut Buck was too quick for him.
His jaws closed on the handnor did they relax till his senses
were choked out of him once more.
Yep, has fits,the man saidhiding his mangled hand from the
baggagemanwho had been attracted by the sounds of struggle.
I'm takin' 'm up for the boss to 'Frisco. A crack dog-doctor
there thinks that he can cure 'm.
Concerning that night's ridethe man spoke most eloquently for
himselfin a little shed back of a saloon on the San Francisco
All I get is fifty for it,he grumbled; "an' I wouldn't do it
over for a thousandcold cash."
His hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchiefand the right
trouser leg was ripped from knee to ankle.
How much did the other mug get?the saloon-keeper demanded.
A hundred,was the reply. "Wouldn't take a sou lessso help
That makes a hundred and fifty,the saloon-keeper calculated;
and he's worth it, or I'm a squarehead.
The kidnapper undid the bloody wrappings and looked at his
lacerated hand. "If I don't get the hydrophoby--"
It'll be because you was born to hang,laughed the saloonkeeper.
Here, lend me a hand before you pull your freight,he
Dazedsuffering intolerable pain from throat and tonguewith the
life half throttled out of himBuck attempted to face his
tormentors. But he was thrown down and choked repeatedlytill
they succeeded in filing the heavy brass collar from off his neck.
Then the rope was removedand he was flung into a cagelike crate.
There he lay for the remainder of the weary nightnursing his
wrath and wounded pride. He could not understand what it all
meant. What did they want with himthese strange men? Why were
they keeping him pent up in this narrow crate? He did not know
whybut he felt oppressed by the vague sense of impending
calamity. Several times during the night he sprang to his feet
when the shed door rattled openexpecting to see the Judgeor
the boys at least. But each time it was the bulging face of the
saloon-keeper that peered in at him by the sickly light of a
tallow candle. And each time the joyful bark that trembled in
Buck's throat was twisted into a savage growl.
But the saloon-keeper let him aloneand in the morning four men
entered and picked up the crate. More tormentorsBuck decided
for they were evil-looking creaturesragged and unkempt; and he
stormed and raged at them through the bars. They only laughed and
poked sticks at himwhich he promptly assailed with his teeth
till he realized that that was what they wanted. Whereupon he lay
down sullenly and allowed the crate to be lifted into a wagon.
Then heand the crate in which he was imprisonedbegan a passage
through many hands. Clerks in the express office took charge of
him; he was carted about in another wagon; a truck carried him
with an assortment of boxes and parcelsupon a ferry steamer; he
was trucked off the steamer into a great railway depotand
finally he was deposited in an express car.
For two days and nights this express car was dragged along at the
tail of shrieking locomotives; and for two days and nights Buck
neither ate nor drank. In his anger he had met the first advances
of the express messengers with growlsand they had retaliated by
teasing him. When he flung himself against the barsquivering
and frothingthey laughed at him and taunted him. They growled
and barked like detestable dogsmewedand flapped their arms and
crowed. It was all very sillyhe knew; but therefore the more
outrage to his dignityand his anger waxed and waxed. He did not
mind the hunger so muchbut the lack of water caused him severe
suffering and fanned his wrath to fever-pitch. For that matter
high-strung and finely sensitivethe ill treatment had flung him
into a feverwhich was fed by the inflammation of his parched and
swollen throat and tongue.
He was glad for one thing: the rope was off his neck. That had
given them an unfair advantage; but now that it was offhe would
show them. They would never get another rope around his neck.
Upon that he was resolved. For two days and nights he neither ate
nor drankand during those two days and nights of tormenthe
accumulated a fund of wrath that boded ill for whoever first fell
foul of him. His eyes turned blood-shotand he was metamorphosed
into a raging fiend. So changed was he that the Judge himself
would not have recognized him; and the express messengers breathed
with relief when they bundled him off the train at Seattle.
Four men gingerly carried the crate from the wagon into a small
high-walled back yard. A stout manwith a red sweater that
sagged generously at the neckcame out and signed the book for
the driver. That was the manBuck divinedthe next tormentor
and he hurled himself savagely against the bars. The man smiled
grimlyand brought a hatchet and a club.
You ain't going to take him out now?the driver asked.
Sure,the man replieddriving the hatchet into the crate for a
There was an instantaneous scattering of the four men who had
carried it inand from safe perches on top the wall they prepared
to watch the performance.
Buck rushed at the splintering woodsinking his teeth into it
surging and wrestling with it. Wherever the hatchet fell on the
outsidehe was there on the insidesnarling and growlingas
furiously anxious to get out as the man in the red sweater was
calmly intent on getting him out.
Now, you red-eyed devil,he saidwhen he had made an opening
sufficient for the passage of Buck's body. At the same time he
dropped the hatchet and shifted the club to his right hand.
And Buck was truly a red-eyed devilas he drew himself together
for the springhair bristlingmouth foaminga mad glitter in
his blood-shot eyes. Straight at the man he launched his one
hundred and forty pounds of furysurcharged with the pent passion
of two days and nights. In mid airjust as his jaws were about
to close on the manhe received a shock that checked his body and
brought his teeth together with an agonizing clip. He whirled
overfetching the ground on his back and side. He had never been
struck by a club in his lifeand did not understand. With a
snarl that was part bark and more scream he was again on his feet
and launched into the air. And again the shock came and he was
brought crushingly to the ground. This time he was aware that it
was the clubbut his madness knew no caution. A dozen times he
chargedand as often the club broke the charge and smashed him
After a particularly fierce blowhe crawled to his feettoo
dazed to rush. He staggered limply aboutthe blood flowing from
nose and mouth and earshis beautiful coat sprayed and flecked
with bloody slaver. Then the man advanced and deliberately dealt
him a frightful blow on the nose. All the pain he had endured was
as nothing compared with the exquisite agony of this. With a roar
that was almost lionlike in its ferocityhe again hurled himself
at the man. But the manshifting the club from right to left
coolly caught him by the under jawat the same time wrenching
downward and backward. Buck described a complete circle in the
airand half of anotherthen crashed to the ground on his head
For the last time he rushed. The man struck the shrewd blow he
had purposely withheld for so longand Buck crumpled up and went
downknocked utterly senseless.
He's no slouch at dog-breakin', that's wot I say,one of the men
on the wall cried enthusiastically.
Druther break cayuses any day, and twice on Sundays,was the
reply of the driveras he climbed on the wagon and started the
Buck's senses came back to himbut not his strength. He lay
where he had fallenand from there he watched the man in the red
'Answers to the name of Buck,' the man soliloquizedquoting
from the saloon-keeper's letter which had announced the
consignment of the crate and contents. "WellBuckmy boy he
went on in a genial voice, we've had our little ructionand the
best thing we can do is to let it go at that. You've learned your
placeand I know mine. Be a good dog and all 'll go well and the
goose hang high. Be a bad dogand I'll whale the stuffin' outa
As he spoke he fearlessly patted the head he had so mercilessly
poundedand though Buck's hair involuntarily bristled at touch of
the handhe endured it without protest. When the man brought him
water he drank eagerlyand later bolted a generous meal of raw
meatchunk by chunkfrom the man's hand.
He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He sawonce
for allthat he stood no chance against a man with a club. He
had learned the lessonand in all his after life he never forgot
it. That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the
reign of primitive lawand he met the introduction halfway. The
facts of life took on a fiercer aspect; and while he faced that
aspect uncowedhe faced it with all the latent cunning of his
nature aroused. As the days went byother dogs camein crates
and at the ends of ropessome docilelyand some raging and
roaring as he had come; andone and allhe watched them pass
under the dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again and
againas he looked at each brutal performancethe lesson was
driven home to Buck: a man with a club was a lawgivera master to
be obeyedthough not necessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck
was never guiltythough he did see beaten dogs that fawned upon
the manand wagged their tailsand licked his hand. Also he saw
one dogthat would neither conciliate nor obeyfinally killed in
the struggle for mastery.
Now and again men camestrangerswho talked excitedly
wheedlinglyand in all kinds of fashions to the man in the red
sweater. And at such times that money passed between them the
strangers took one or more of the dogs away with them. Buck
wondered where they wentfor they never came back; but the fear
of the future was strong upon himand he was glad each time when
he was not selected.
Yet his time camein the endin the form of a little weazened
man who spat broken English and many strange and uncouth
exclamations which Buck could not understand.
Sacredam!he criedwhen his eyes lit upon Buck. "Dat one dam
bully dog! Eh? How moch?"
Three hundred, and a present at that,was the prompt reply of
the man in the red sweater. "And seem' it's government moneyyou
ain't got no kick comingehPerrault?"
Perrault grinned. Considering that the price of dogs had been
boomed skyward by the unwonted demandit was not an unfair sum
for so fine an animal. The Canadian Government would be no loser
nor would its despatches travel the slower. Perrault knew dogs
and when he looked at Buck he knew that he was one in a thousand-"
One in ten t'ousand he commented mentally.
Buck saw money pass between them, and was not surprised when
Curly, a good-natured Newfoundland, and he were led away by the
little weazened man. That was the last he saw of the man in the
red sweater, and as Curly and he looked at receding Seattle from
the deck of the Narwhal, it was the last he saw of the warm
Southland. Curly and he were taken below by Perrault and turned
over to a black-faced giant called Francois. Perrault was a
French-Canadian, and swarthy; but Francois was a French-Canadian
half-breed, and twice as swarthy. They were a new kind of men to
Buck (of which he was destined to see many more), and while he
developed no affection for them, he none the less grew honestly to
respect them. He speedily learned that Perrault and Francois were
fair men, calm and impartial in administering justice, and too
wise in the way of dogs to be fooled by dogs.
In the 'tween-decks of the Narwhal, Buck and Curly joined two
other dogs. One of them was a big, snow-white fellow from
Spitzbergen who had been brought away by a whaling captain, and
who had later accompanied a Geological Survey into the Barrens.
He was friendly, in a treacherous sort of way, smiling into one's
face the while he meditated some underhand trick, as, for
instance, when he stole from Buck's food at the first meal. As
Buck sprang to punish him, the lash of Francois's whip sang
through the air, reaching the culprit first; and nothing remained
to Buck but to recover the bone. That was fair of Francois, he
decided, and the half-breed began his rise in Buck's estimation.
The other dog made no advances, nor received any; also, he did not
attempt to steal from the newcomers. He was a gloomy, morose
fellow, and he showed Curly plainly that all he desired was to be
left alone, and further, that there would be trouble if he were
not left alone. Dave" he was calledand he ate and sleptor
yawned between timesand took interest in nothingnot even when
the Narwhal crossed Queen Charlotte Sound and rolled and pitched
and bucked like a thing possessed. When Buck and Curly grew
excitedhalf wild with fearhe raised his head as though
annoyedfavored them with an incurious glanceyawnedand went
to sleep again.
Day and night the ship throbbed to the tireless pulse of the
propellerand though one day was very like anotherit was
apparent to Buck that the weather was steadily growing colder. At
lastone morningthe propeller was quietand the Narwhal was
pervaded with an atmosphere of excitement. He felt itas did the
other dogsand knew that a change was at hand. Francois leashed
them and brought them on deck. At the first step upon the cold
surfaceBuck's feet sank into a white mushy something very like
mud. He sprang back with a snort. More of this white stuff was
falling through the air. He shook himselfbut more of it fell
upon him. He sniffed it curiouslythen licked some up on his
tongue. It bit like fireand the next instant was gone. This
puzzled him. He tried it againwith the same result. The
onlookers laughed uproariouslyand he felt ashamedhe knew not
whyfor it was his first snow.
The Law of Club and Fang
Buck's first day on the Dyea beach was like a nightmare. Every
hour was filled with shock and surprise. He had been suddenly
jerked from the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of
things primordial. No lazysun-kissed life was thiswith
nothing to do but loaf and be bored. Here was neither peacenor
restnor a moment's safety. All was confusion and actionand
every moment life and limb were in peril. There was imperative
need to be constantly alert; for these dogs and men were not town
dogs and men. They were savagesall of themwho knew no law but
the law of club and fang.
He had never seen dogs fight as these wolfish creatures fought
and his first experience taught him an unforgetable lesson. It is
trueit was a vicarious experienceelse he would not have lived
to profit by it. Curly was the victim. They were camped near the
log storewhere shein her friendly waymade advances to a
husky dog the size of a full-grown wolfthough not half so large
as she. There was no warningonly a leap in like a flasha
metallic clip of teetha leap out equally swiftand Curly's face
was ripped open from eye to jaw.
It was the wolf manner of fightingto strike and leap away; but
there was more to it than this. Thirty or forty huskies ran to
the spot and surrounded the combatants in an intent and silent
circle. Buck did not comprehend that silent intentnessnor the
eager way with which they were licking their chops. Curly rushed
her antagonistwho struck again and leaped aside. He met her
next rush with his chestin a peculiar fashion that tumbled her
off her feet. She never regained themThis was what the
onlooking huskies had waited for. They closed in upon her
snarling and yelpingand she was buriedscreaming with agony
beneath the bristling mass of bodies.
So sudden was itand so unexpectedthat Buck was taken aback.
He saw Spitz run out his scarlet tongue in a way he had of
laughing; and he saw Francoisswinging an axespring into the
mess of dogs. Three men with clubs were helping him to scatter
them. It did not take long. Two minutes from the time Curly went
downthe last of her assailants were clubbed off. But she lay
there limp and lifeless in the bloodytrampled snowalmost
literally torn to piecesthe swart half-breed standing over her
and cursing horribly. The scene often came back to Buck to
trouble him in his sleep. So that was the way. No fair play.
Once downthat was the end of you. Wellhe would see to it that
he never went down. Spitz ran out his tongue and laughed again
and from that moment Buck hated him with a bitter and deathless
Before he had recovered from the shock caused by the tragic
passing of Curlyhe received another shock. Francois fastened
upon him an arrangement of straps and buckles. It was a harness
such as he had seen the grooms put on the horses at home. And as
he had seen horses workso he was set to workhauling Francois
on a sled to the forest that fringed the valleyand returning
with a load of firewood. Though his dignity was sorely hurt by
thus being made a draught animalhe was too wise to rebel. He
buckled down with a will and did his bestthough it was all new
and strange. Francois was sterndemanding instant obedienceand
by virtue of his whip receiving instant obedience; while Davewho
was an experienced wheelernipped Buck's hind quarters whenever
he was in error. Spitz was the leaderlikewise experiencedand
while he could not always get at Buckhe growled sharp reproof
now and againor cunningly threw his weight in the traces to jerk
Buck into the way he should go. Buck learned easilyand under
the combined tuition of his two mates and Francois made remarkable
progress. Ere they returned to camp he knew enough to stop at
ho,to go ahead at "mush to swing wide on the bends, and to
keep clear of the wheeler when the loaded sled shot downhill at
T'ree vair' good dogs Francois told Perrault. Dat Buckheem
pool lak hell. I tich heem queek as anyt'ing."
By afternoonPerraultwho was in a hurry to be on the trail with
his despatchesreturned with two more dogs. "Billee" and "Joe"
he called themtwo brothersand true huskies both. Sons of the
one mother though they werethey were as different as day and
night. Billee's one fault was his excessive good naturewhile
Joe was the very oppositesour and introspectivewith a
perpetual snarl and a malignant eye. Buck received them in
comradely fashionDave ignored themwhile Spitz proceeded to
thrash first one and then the other. Billee wagged his tail
appeasinglyturned to run when he saw that appeasement was of no
availand cried (still appeasingly) when Spitz's sharp teeth
scored his flank. But no matter how Spitz circledJoe whirled
around on his heels to face himmane bristlingears laid back
lips writhing and snarlingjaws clipping together as fast as he
could snapand eyes diabolically gleaming--the incarnation of
belligerent fear. So terrible was his appearance that Spitz was
forced to forego disciplining him; but to cover his own
discomfiture he turned upon the inoffensive and wailing Billee and
drove him to the confines of the camp.
By evening Perrault secured another dogan old huskylong and
lean and gauntwith a battle-scarred face and a single eye which
flashed a warning of prowess that commanded respect. He was
called Sol-lekswhich means the Angry One. Like Davehe asked
nothinggave nothingexpected nothing; and when he marched
slowly and deliberately into their midsteven Spitz left him
alone. He had one peculiarity which Buck was unlucky enough to
discover. He did not like to be approached on his blind side. Of
this offence Buck was unwittingly guiltyand the first knowledge
he had of his indiscretion was when Sol-leks whirled upon him and
slashed his shoulder to the bone for three inches up and down.
Forever after Buck avoided his blind sideand to the last of
their comradeship had no more trouble. His only apparent
ambitionlike Dave'swas to be left alone; thoughas Buck was
afterward to learneach of them possessed one other and even more
That night Buck faced the great problem of sleeping. The tent
illumined by a candleglowed warmly in the midst of the white
plain; and when heas a matter of courseentered itboth
Perrault and Francois bombarded him with curses and cooking
utensilstill he recovered from his consternation and fled
ignominiously into the outer cold. A chill wind was blowing that
nipped him sharply and bit with especial venom into his wounded
shoulder. He lay down on the snow and attempted to sleepbut the
frost soon drove him shivering to his feet. Miserable and
disconsolatehe wandered about among the many tentsonly to find
that one place was as cold as another. Here and there savage dogs
rushed upon himbut he bristled his neck-hair and snarled (for he
was learning fast)and they let him go his way unmolested.
Finally an idea came to him. He would return and see how his own
team-mates were making out. To his astonishmentthey had
disappeared. Again he wandered about through the great camp
looking for themand again he returned. Were they in the tent?
Nothat could not beelse he would not have been driven out.
Then where could they possibly be? With drooping tail and
shivering bodyvery forlorn indeedhe aimlessly circled the
tent. Suddenly the snow gave way beneath his fore legs and he
sank down. Something wriggled under his feet. He sprang back
bristling and snarlingfearful of the unseen and unknown. But a
friendly little yelp reassured himand he went back to
investigate. A whiff of warm air ascended to his nostrilsand
therecurled up under the snow in a snug balllay Billee. He
whined placatinglysquirmed and wriggled to show his good will
and intentionsand even venturedas a bribe for peaceto lick
Buck's face with his warm wet tongue.
Another lesson. So that was the way they did iteh? Buck
confidently selected a spotand with much fuss and waste effort
proceeded to dig a hole for himself. In a trice the heat from his
body filled the confined space and he was asleep. The day had
been long and arduousand he slept soundly and comfortably
though he growled and barked and wrestled with bad dreams.
Nor did he open his eyes till roused by the noises of the waking
camp. At first he did not know where he was. It had snowed
during the night and he was completely buried. The snow walls
pressed him on every sideand a great surge of fear swept through
him--the fear of the wild thing for the trap. It was a token that
he was harking back through his own life to the lives of his
forebears; for he was a civilized dogan unduly civilized dog
and of his own experience knew no trap and so could not of himself
fear it. The muscles of his whole body contracted spasmodically
and instinctivelythe hair on his neck and shoulders stood on
endand with a ferocious snarl he bounded straight up into the
blinding daythe snow flying about him in a flashing cloud. Ere
he landed on his feethe saw the white camp spread out before him
and knew where he was and remembered all that had passed from the
time he went for a stroll with Manuel to the hole he had dug for
himself the night before.
A shout from Francois hailed his appearance. "Wot I say?" the
dog-driver cried to Perrault. "Dat Buck for sure learn queek as
Perrault nodded gravely. As courier for the Canadian Government
bearing important despatcheshe was anxious to secure the best
dogsand he was particularly gladdened by the possession of Buck.
Three more huskies were added to the team inside an hourmaking a
total of nineand before another quarter of an hour had passed
they were in harness and swinging up the trail toward the Dyea
Canon. Buck was glad to be goneand though the work was hard he
found he did not particularly despise it. He was surprised at the
eagerness which animated the whole team and which was communicated
to him; but still more surprising was the change wrought in Dave
and Sol-leks. They were new dogsutterly transformed by the
harness. All passiveness and unconcern had dropped from them.
They were alert and activeanxious that the work should go well
and fiercely irritable with whateverby delay or confusion
retarded that work. The toil of the traces seemed the supreme
expression of their beingand all that they lived for and the
only thing in which they took delight.
Dave was wheeler or sled dogpulling in front of him was Buck
then came Sol-leks; the rest of the team was strung out ahead
single fileto the leaderwhich position was filled by Spitz.
Buck had been purposely placed between Dave and Sol-leks so that
he might receive instruction. Apt scholar that he wasthey were
equally apt teachersnever allowing him to linger long in error
and enforcing their teaching with their sharp teeth. Dave was
fair and very wise. He never nipped Buck without causeand he
never failed to nip him when he stood in need of it. As
Francois's whip backed him upBuck found it to be cheaper to mend
his ways than to retaliate. Onceduring a brief haltwhen he got
tangled in the traces and delayed the startboth Dave and Solleks
flew at him and administered a sound trouncing. The
resulting tangle was even worsebut Buck took good care to keep
the traces clear thereafter; and ere the day was doneso well had
he mastered his workhis mates about ceased nagging him.
Francois's whip snapped less frequentlyand Perrault even honored
Buck by lifting up his feet and carefully examining them.
It was a hard day's runup the Canonthrough Sheep Camppast
the Scales and the timber lineacross glaciers and snowdrifts
hundreds of feet deepand over the great Chilcoot Dividewhich
stands between the salt water and the fresh and guards
forbiddingly the sad and lonely North. They made good time down
the chain of lakes which fills the craters of extinct volcanoes
and late that night pulled into the huge camp at the head of Lake
Bennettwhere thousands of goldseekers were building boats
against the break-up of the ice in the spring. Buck made his hole
in the snow and slept the sleep of the exhausted justbut all too
early was routed out in the cold darkness and harnessed with his
mates to the sled.
That day they made forty milesthe trail being packed; but the
next dayand for many days to followthey broke their own trail
worked harderand made poorer time. As a rulePerrault
travelled ahead of the teampacking the snow with webbed shoes to
make it easier for them. Francoisguiding the sled at the geepole
sometimes exchanged places with himbut not often.
Perrault was in a hurryand he prided himself on his knowledge of
icewhich knowledge was indispensablefor the fall ice was very
thinand where there was swift waterthere was no ice at all.
Day after dayfor days unendingBuck toiled in the traces.
Alwaysthey broke camp in the darkand the first gray of dawn
found them hitting the trail with fresh miles reeled off behind
them. And always they pitched camp after darkeating their bit
of fishand crawling to sleep into the snow. Buck was ravenous.
The pound and a half of sun-dried salmonwhich was his ration for
each dayseemed to go nowhere. He never had enoughand suffered
from perpetual hunger pangs. Yet the other dogsbecause they
weighed less and were born to the lifereceived a pound only of
the fish and managed to keep in good condition.
He swiftly lost the fastidiousness which had characterized his old
life. A dainty eaterhe found that his matesfinishing first
robbed him of his unfinished ration. There was no defending it.
While he was fighting off two or threeit was disappearing down
the throats of the others. To remedy thishe ate as fast as
they; andso greatly did hunger compel himhe was not above
taking what did not belong to him. He watched and learned. When
he saw Pikeone of the new dogsa clever malingerer and thief
slyly steal a slice of bacon when Perrault's back was turnedhe
duplicated the performance the following daygetting away with
the whole chunk. A great uproar was raisedbut he was
unsuspected; while Duban awkward blunderer who was always
getting caughtwas punished for Buck's misdeed.
This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile
Northland environment. It marked his adaptabilityhis capacity
to adjust himself to changing conditionsthe lack of which would
have meant swift and terrible death. It markedfurtherthe
decay or going to pieces of his moral naturea vain thing and a
handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence. It was all well
enough in the Southlandunder the law of love and fellowshipto
respect private property and personal feelings; but in the
Northlandunder the law of club and fangwhoso took such things
into account was a fooland in so far as he observed them he
would fail to prosper.
Not that Buck reasoned it out. He was fitthat was alland
unconsciously he accommodated himself to the new mode of life.
All his daysno matter what the oddshe had never run from a
fight. But the club of the man in the red sweater had beaten into
him a more fundamental and primitive code. Civilizedhe could
have died for a moral considerationsay the defence of Judge
Miller's riding-whip; but the completeness of his decivilization
was now evidenced by his ability to flee from the defence of a
moral consideration and so save his hide. He did not steal for
joy of itbut because of the clamor of his stomach. He did not
rob openlybut stole secretly and cunninglyout of respect for
club and fang. In shortthe things he did were done because it
was easier to do them than not to do them.
His development (or retrogression) was rapid. His muscles became
hard as ironand he grew callous to all ordinary pain. He
achieved an internal as well as external economy. He could eat
anythingno matter how loathsome or indigestible; andonce
eatenthe juices of his stomach extracted the last least particle
of nutriment; and his blood carried it to the farthest reaches of
his bodybuilding it into the toughest and stoutest of tissues.
Sight and scent became remarkably keenwhile his hearing
developed such acuteness that in his sleep he heard the faintest
sound and knew whether it heralded peace or peril. He learned to
bite the ice out with his teeth when it collected between his
toes; and when he was thirsty and there was a thick scum of ice
over the water holehe would break it by rearing and striking it
with stiff fore legs. His most conspicuous trait was an ability to
scent the wind and forecast it a night in advance. No matter how
breathless the air when he dug his nest by tree or bankthe wind
that later blew inevitably found him to leewardsheltered and
And not only did he learn by experiencebut instincts long dead
became alive again. The domesticated generations fell from him.
In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breedto the
time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval forest and
killed their meat as they ran it down. It was no task for him to
learn to fight with cut and slash and the quick wolf snap. In
this manner had fought forgotten ancestors. They quickened the
old life within himand the old tricks which they had stamped
into the heredity of the breed were his tricks. They came to him
without effort or discoveryas though they had been his always.
And whenon the still cold nightshe pointed his nose at a star
and howled long and wolflikeit was his ancestorsdead and dust
pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and
through him. And his cadences were their cadencesthe cadences
which voiced their woe and what to them was the meaning of the
stiffnessand the coldand dark.
Thusas token of what a puppet thing life isthe ancient song
surged through him and he came into his own again; and he came
because men had found a yellow metal in the Northand because
Manuel was a gardener's helper whose wages did not lap over the
needs of his wife and divers small copies of himself.
The Dominant Primordial Beast
The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buckand under the
fierce conditions of trail life it grew and grew. Yet it was a
secret growth. His newborn cunning gave him poise and control.
He was too busy adjusting himself to the new life to feel at ease
and not only did he not pick fightsbut he avoided them whenever
possible. A certain deliberateness characterized his attitude.
He was not prone to rashness and precipitate action; and in the
bitter hatred between him and Spitz he betrayed no impatience
shunned all offensive acts.
On the other handpossibly because he divined in Buck a dangerous
rivalSpitz never lost an opportunity of showing his teeth. He
even went out of his way to bully Buckstriving constantly to
start the fight which could end only in the death of one or the
other. Early in the trip this might have taken place had it not
been for an unwonted accident. At the end of this day they made a
bleak and miserable camp on the shore of Lake Le Barge. Driving
snowa wind that cut like a white-hot knifeand darkness had
forced them to grope for a camping place. They could hardly have
fared worse. At their backs rose a perpendicular wall of rock
and Perrault and Francois were compelled to make their fire and
spread their sleeping robes on the ice of the lake itself. The
tent they had discarded at Dyea in order to travel light. A few
sticks of driftwood furnished them with a fire that thawed down
through the ice and left them to eat supper in the dark.
Close in under the sheltering rock Buck made his nest. So snug
and warm was itthat he was loath to leave it when Francois
distributed the fish which he had first thawed over the fire. But
when Buck finished his ration and returnedhe found his nest
occupied. A warning snarl told him that the trespasser was Spitz.
Till now Buck had avoided trouble with his enemybut this was too
much. The beast in him roared. He sprang upon Spitz with a fury
which surprised them bothand Spitz particularlyfor his whole
experience with Buck had gone to teach him that his rival was an
unusually timid dogwho managed to hold his own only because of
his great weight and size.
Francois was surprisedtoowhen they shot out in a tangle from
the disrupted nest and he divined the cause of the trouble. "A-aah!"
he cried to Buck. "Gif it to heemby Gar! Gif it to heem
the dirty t'eef!"
Spitz was equally willing. He was crying with sheer rage and
eagerness as he circled back and forth for a chance to spring in.
Buck was no less eagerand no less cautiousas he likewise
circled back and forth for the advantage. But it was then that
the unexpected happenedthe thing which projected their struggle
for supremacy far into the futurepast many a weary mile of trail
An oath from Perraultthe resounding impact of a club upon a bony
frameand a shrill yelp of painheralded the breaking forth of
pandemonium. The camp was suddenly discovered to be alive with
skulking furry forms--starving huskiesfour or five score of
themwho had scented the camp from some Indian village. They had
crept in while Buck and Spitz were fightingand when the two men
sprang among them with stout clubs they showed their teeth and
fought back. They were crazed by the smell of the food. Perrault
found one with head buried in the grub-box. His club landed
heavily on the gaunt ribsand the grub-box was capsized on the
ground. On the instant a score of the famished brutes were
scrambling for the bread and bacon. The clubs fell upon them
unheeded. They yelped and howled under the rain of blowsbut
struggled none the less madly till the last crumb had been
In the meantime the astonished team-dogs had burst out of their
nests only to be set upon by the fierce invaders. Never had Buck
seen such dogs. it seemed as though their bones would burst
through their skins. They were mere skeletonsdraped loosely in
draggled hideswith blazing eyes and slavered fangs. But the
hunger-madness made them terrifyingirresistible. There was no
opposing them. The team-dogs were swept back against the cliff at
the first onset. Buck was beset by three huskiesand in a trice
his head and shoulders were ripped and slashed. The din was
frightful. Billee was crying as usual. Dave and Sol-leks
dripping blood from a score of woundswere fighting bravely side
by side. Joe was snapping like a demon. Oncehis teeth closed
on the fore leg of a huskyand he crunched down through the bone.
Pikethe malingererleaped upon the crippled animalbreaking
its neck with a quick flash of teeth and a jerkBuck got a
frothing adversary by the throatand was sprayed with blood when
his teeth sank through the jugular. The warm taste of it in his
mouth goaded him to greater fierceness. He flung himself upon
anotherand at the same time felt teeth sink into his own throat.
It was Spitztreacherously attacking from the side.
Perrault and Francoishaving cleaned out their part of the camp
hurried to save their sled-dogs. The wild wave of famished beasts
rolled back before themand Buck shook himself free. But it was
only for a moment. The two men were compelled to run back to save
the grubupon which the huskies returned to the attack on the
team. Billeeterrified into braverysprang through the savage
circle and fled away over the ice. Pike and Dub followed on his
heelswith the rest of the team behind. As Buck drew himself
together to spring after themout of the tail of his eye he saw
Spitz rush upon him with the evident intention of overthrowing
him. Once off his feet and under that mass of huskiesthere was
no hope for him. But he braced himself to the shock of Spitz's
chargethen joined the flight out on the lake.
Laterthe nine team-dogs gathered together and sought shelter in
the forest. Though unpursuedthey were in a sorry plight. There
was not one who was not wounded in four or five placeswhile some
were wounded grievously. Dub was badly injured in a hind leg;
Dollythe last husky added to the team at Dyeahad a badly torn
throat; Joe had lost an eye; while Billeethe good-naturedwith
an ear chewed and rent to ribbonscried and whimpered throughout
the night. At daybreak they limped warily back to campto find
the marauders gone and the two men in bad tempers. Fully half
their grub supply was gone. The huskies had chewed through the
sled lashings and canvas coverings. In factnothingno matter
how remotely eatablehad escaped them. They had eaten a pair of
Perrault's moose-hide moccasinschunks out of the leather traces
and even two feet of lash from the end of Francois's whip. He
broke from a mournful contemplation of it to look over his wounded
Ah, my frien's,he said softlymebbe it mek you mad dog, dose
many bites. Mebbe all mad dog, sacredam! Wot you t'ink, eh,
The courier shook his head dubiously. With four hundred miles of
trail still between him and Dawsonhe could ill afford to have
madness break out among his dogs. Two hours of cursing and
exertion got the harnesses into shapeand the wound-stiffened
team was under waystruggling painfully over the hardest part of
the trail they had yet encounteredand for that matterthe
hardest between them and Dawson.
The Thirty Mile River was wide open. Its wild water defied the
frostand it was in the eddies only and in the quiet places that
the ice held at all. Six days of exhausting toil were required to
cover those thirty terrible miles. And terrible they werefor
every foot of them was accomplished at the risk of life to dog and
man. A dozen timesPerraultnosing the way broke through the
ice bridgesbeing saved by the long pole he carriedwhich he so
held that it fell each time across the hole made by his body. But
a cold snap was onthe thermometer registering fifty below zero
and each time he broke through he was compelled for very life to
build a fire and dry his garments.
Nothing daunted him. It was because nothing daunted him that he
had been chosen for government courier. He took all manner of
risksresolutely thrusting his little weazened face into the
frost and struggling on from dim dawn to dark. He skirted the
frowning shores on rim ice that bent and crackled under foot and
upon which they dared not halt. Oncethe sled broke through
with Dave and Buckand they were half-frozen and all but drowned
by the time they were dragged out. The usual fire was necessary
to save them. They were coated solidly with iceand the two men
kept them on the run around the firesweating and thawingso
close that they were singed by the flames.
At another time Spitz went throughdragging the whole team after
him up to Buckwho strained backward with all his strengthhis
fore paws on the slippery edge and the ice quivering and snapping
all around. But behind him was Davelikewise straining backward
and behind the sled was Francoispulling till his tendons
Againthe rim ice broke away before and behindand there was no
escape except up the cliff. Perrault scaled it by a miracle
while Francois prayed for just that miracle; and with every thong
and sled lashing and the last bit of harness rove into a long
ropethe dogs were hoistedone by oneto the cliff crest.
Francois came up lastafter the sled and load. Then came the
search for a place to descendwhich descent was ultimately made
by the aid of the ropeand night found them back on the river
with a quarter of a mile to the day's credit.
By the time they made the Hootalinqua and good iceBuck was
played out. The rest of the dogs were in like condition; but
Perraultto make up lost timepushed them late and early. The
first day they covered thirty-five miles to the Big Salmon; the
next day thirty-five more to the Little Salmon; the third day
forty mileswhich brought them well up toward the Five Fingers.
Buck's feet were not so compact and hard as the feet of the
huskies. His had softened during the many generations since the
day his last wild ancestor was tamed by a cave-dweller or river
man. All day long he limped in agonyand camp once madelay down
like a dead dog. Hungry as he washe would not move to receive
his ration of fishwhich Francois had to bring to him. Alsothe
dog-driver rubbed Buck's feet for half an hour each night after
supperand sacrificed the tops of his own moccasins to make four
moccasins for Buck. This was a great reliefand Buck caused even
the weazened face of Perrault to twist itself into a grin one
morningwhen Francois forgot the moccasins and Buck lay on his
backhis four feet waving appealingly in the airand refused to
budge without them. Later his feet grew hard to the trailand
the worn-out foot-gear was thrown away.
At the Pelly one morningas they were harnessing upDollywho
had never been conspicuous for anythingwent suddenly mad. She
announced her condition by a longheartbreaking wolf howl that
sent every dog bristling with fearthen sprang straight for Buck.
He had never seen a dog go madnor did he have any reason to fear
madness; yet he knew that here was horrorand fled away from it
in a panic. Straight away he racedwith Dollypanting and
frothingone leap behind; nor could she gain on himso great was
his terrornor could he leave herso great was her madness. He
plunged through the wooded breast of the islandflew down to the
lower endcrossed a back channel filled with rough ice to another
islandgained a third islandcurved back to the main riverand
in desperation started to cross it. And all the timethough he
did not lookhe could hear her snarling just one leap behind.
Francois called to him a quarter of a mile away and he doubled
backstill one leap aheadgasping painfully for air and putting
all his faith in that Francois would save him. The dog-driver
held the axe poised in his handand as Buck shot past him the axe
crashed down upon mad Dolly's head.
Buck staggered over against the sledexhaustedsobbing for
breathhelpless. This was Spitz's opportunity. He sprang upon
Buckand twice his teeth sank into his unresisting foe and ripped
and tore the flesh to the bone. Then Francois's lash descended
and Buck had the satisfaction of watching Spitz receive the worst
whipping as yet administered to any of the teams.
One devil, dat Spitz,remarked Perrault. "Some dam day heem
keel dat Buck."
Dat Buck two devils,was Francois's rejoinder. "All de tam I
watch dat Buck I know for sure. Lissen: some dam fine day heem
get mad lak hell an' den heem chew dat Spitz all up an) spit heem
out on de snow. Sure. I know."
From then on it was war between them. Spitzas lead-dog and
acknowledged master of the teamfelt his supremacy threatened by
this strange Southland dog. And strange Buck was to himfor of
the many Southland dogs he had knownnot one had shown up
worthily in camp and on trail. They were all too softdying
under the toilthe frostand starvation. Buck was the
exception. He alone endured and prosperedmatching the husky in
strengthsavageryand cunning. Then he was a masterful dogand
what made him dangerous was the fact that the club of the man in
the red sweater had knocked all blind pluck and rashness out of
his desire for mastery. He was preeminently cunningand could
bide his time with a patience that was nothing less than
It was inevitable that the clash for leadership should come. Buck
wanted it. He wanted it because it was his naturebecause he had
been gripped tight by that namelessincomprehensible pride of the
trail and trace--that pride which holds dogs in the toil to the
last gaspwhich lures them to die joyfully in the harnessand
breaks their hearts if they are cut out of the harness. This was
the pride of Dave as wheel-dogof Sol-leks as he pulled with all
his strength; the pride that laid hold of them at break of camp
transforming them from sour and sullen brutes into straining
eagerambitious creatures; the pride that spurred them on all day
and dropped them at pitch of camp at nightletting them fall back
into gloomy unrest and uncontent. This was the pride that bore up
Spitz and made him thrash the sled-dogs who blundered and shirked
in the traces or hid away at harness-up time in the morning.
Likewise it was this pride that made him fear Buck as a possible
lead-dog. And this was Buck's pridetoo.
He openly threatened the other's leadership. He came between him
and the shirks he should have punished. And he did it
deliberately. One night there was a heavy snowfalland in the
morning Pikethe malingererdid not appear. He was securely
hidden in his nest under a foot of snow. Francois called him and
sought him in vain. Spitz was wild with wrath. He raged through
the campsmelling and digging in every likely placesnarling so
frightfully that Pike heard and shivered in his hiding-place.
But when he was at last unearthedand Spitz flew at him to punish
himBuck flewwith equal ragein between. So unexpected was
itand so shrewdly managedthat Spitz was hurled backward and
off his feet. Pikewho had been trembling abjectlytook heart
at this open mutinyand sprang upon his overthrown leader. Buck
to whom fair play was a forgotten codelikewise sprang upon
Spitz. But Francoischuckling at the incident while unswerving
in the administration of justicebrought his lash down upon Buck
with all his might. This failed to drive Buck from his prostrate
rivaland the butt of the whip was brought into play. Halfstunned
by the blowBuck was knocked backward and the lash laid
upon him again and againwhile Spitz soundly punished the many
times offending Pike.
In the days that followedas Dawson grew closer and closerBuck
still continued to interfere between Spitz and the culprits; but
he did it craftilywhen Francois was not aroundWith the covert
mutiny of Bucka general insubordination sprang up and increased.
Dave and Sol-leks were unaffectedbut the rest of the team went
from bad to worse. Things no longer went right. There was
continual bickering and jangling. Trouble was always afootand
at the bottom of it was Buck. He kept Francois busyfor the dog-
driver was in constant apprehension of the life-and-death struggle
between the two which he knew must take place sooner or later; and
on more than one night the sounds of quarrelling and strife among
the other dogs turned him out of his sleeping robefearful that
Buck and Spitz were at it.
But the opportunity did not present itselfand they pulled into
Dawson one dreary afternoon with the great fight still to come.
Here were many menand countless dogsand Buck found them all at
work. It seemed the ordained order of things that dogs should
work. All day they swung up and down the main street in long
teamsand in the night their jingling bells still went by. They
hauled cabin logs and firewoodfreighted up to the minesand did
all manner of work that horses did in the Santa Clara Valley.
Here and there Buck met Southland dogsbut in the main they were
the wild wolf husky breed. Every nightregularlyat nineat
twelveat threethey lifted a nocturnal songa weird and eerie
chantin which it was Buck's delight to join.
With the aurora borealis flaming coldly overheador the stars
leaping in the frost danceand the land numb and frozen under its
pall of snowthis song of the huskies might have been the
defiance of lifeonly it was pitched in minor keywith longdrawn
wailings and half-sobsand was more the pleading of life
the articulate travail of existence. It was an old songold as
the breed itself--one of the first songs of the younger world in a
day when songs were sad. It was invested with the woe of
unnumbered generationsthis plaint by which Buck was so strangely
stirred. When he moaned and sobbedit was with the pain of
living that was of old the pain of his wild fathersand the fear
and mystery of the cold and dark that was to them fear and
mystery. And that he should be stirred by it marked the
completeness with which he harked back through the ages of fire
and roof to the raw beginnings of life in the howling ages.
Seven days from the time they pulled into Dawsonthey dropped
down the steep bank by the Barracks to the Yukon Trailand pulled
for Dyea and Salt Water. Perrault was carrying despatches if
anything more urgent than those he had brought in; alsothe
travel pride had gripped himand he purposed to make the record
trip of the year. Several things favored him in this. The week's
rest had recuperated the dogs and put them in thorough trim. The
trail they had broken into the country was packed hard by later
journeyers. And furtherthe police had arranged in two or three
places deposits of grub for dog and manand he was travelling
They made Sixty Milewhich is a fifty-mile runon the first day;
and the second day saw them booming up the Yukon well on their way
to Pelly. But such splendid running was achieved not without
great trouble and vexation on the part of Francois. The insidious
revolt led by Buck had destroyed the solidarity of the team. It
no longer was as one dog leaping in the traces. The encouragement
Buck gave the rebels led them into all kinds of petty
misdemeanors. No more was Spitz a leader greatly to be feared.
The old awe departedand they grew equal to challenging his
authority. Pike robbed him of half a fish one nightand gulped
it down under the protection of Buck. Another night Dub and Joe
fought Spitz and made him forego the punishment they deserved.
And even Billeethe good-naturedwas less good-naturedand
whined not half so placatingly as in former days. Buck never came
near Spitz without snarling and bristling menacingly. In fact
his conduct approached that of a bullyand he was given to
swaggering up and down before Spitz's very nose.
The breaking down of discipline likewise affected the dogs in
their relations with one another. They quarrelled and bickered
more than ever among themselvestill at times the camp was a
howling bedlam. Dave and Sol-leks alone were unalteredthough
they were made irritable by the unending squabbling. Francois
swore strange barbarous oathsand stamped the snow in futile
rageand tore his hair. His lash was always singing among the
dogsbut it was of small avail. Directly his back was turned they
were at it again. He backed up Spitz with his whipwhile Buck
backed up the remainder of the team. Francois knew he was behind
all the troubleand Buck knew he knew; but Buck was too clever
ever again to be caught red-handed. He worked faithfully in the
harnessfor the toil had become a delight to him; yet it was a
greater delight slyly to precipitate a fight amongst his mates and
tangle the traces.
At the mouth of the Tahkeenaone night after supperDub turned
up a snowshoe rabbitblundered itand missed. In a second the
whole team was in full cry. A hundred yards away was a camp of
the Northwest Policewith fifty dogshuskies allwho joined the
chase. The rabbit sped down the riverturned off into a small
creekup the frozen bed of which it held steadily. It ran
lightly on the surface of the snowwhile the dogs ploughed
through by main strength. Buck led the packsixty strongaround
bend after bendbut he could not gain. He lay down low to the
racewhining eagerlyhis splendid body flashing forwardleap by
leapin the wan white moonlight. And leap by leaplike some
pale frost wraiththe snowshoe rabbit flashed on ahead.
All that stirring of old instincts which at stated periods drives
men out from the sounding cities to forest and plain to kill
things by chemically propelled leaden pelletsthe blood lustthe
joy to kill--all this was Buck'sonly it was infinitely more
intimate. He was ranging at the head of the packrunning the
wild thing downthe living meatto kill with his own teeth and
wash his muzzle to the eyes in warm blood.
There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of lifeand beyond
which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of livingthis
ecstasy comes when one is most aliveand it comes as a complete
forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasythis forgetfulness
of livingcomes to the artistcaught up and out of himself in a
sheet of flame; it comes to the soldierwar-mad on a stricken
field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buckleading the pack
sounding the old wolf-crystraining after the food that was alive
and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was
sounding the deeps of his natureand of the parts of his nature
that were deeper than hegoing back into the womb of Time. He
was mastered by the sheer surging of lifethe tidal wave of
beingthe perfect joy of each separate musclejointand sinew
in that it was everything that was not deaththat it was aglow
and rampantexpressing itself in movementflying exultantly
under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not
But Spitzcold and calculating even in his supreme moodsleft
the pack and cut across a narrow neck of land where the creek made
a long bend around. Buck did not know of thisand as he rounded
the bendthe frost wraith of a rabbit still flitting before him
he saw another and larger frost wraith leap from the overhanging
bank into the immediate path of the rabbit. It was Spitz. The
rabbit could not turnand as the white teeth broke its back in
mid air it shrieked as loudly as a stricken man may shriek. At
sound of thisthe cry of Life plunging down from Life's apex in
the grip of Deaththe fall pack at Buck's heels raised a hell's
chorus of delight.
Buck did not cry out. He did not check himselfbut drove in upon
Spitzshoulder to shoulderso hard that he missed the throat.
They rolled over and over in the powdery snow. Spitz gained his
feet almost as though he had not been overthrownslashing Buck
down the shoulder and leaping clear. Twice his teeth clipped
togetherlike the steel jaws of a trapas he backed away for
better footingwith lean and lifting lips that writhed and
In a flash Buck knew it. The time had come. It was to the death.
As they circled aboutsnarlingears laid backkeenly watchful
for the advantagethe scene came to Buck with a sense of
familiarity. He seemed to remember it all--the white woodsand
earthand moonlightand the thrill of battle. Over the
whiteness and silence brooded a ghostly calm. There was not the
faintest whisper of air--nothing movednot a leaf quiveredthe
visible breaths of the dogs rising slowly and lingering in the
frosty air. They had made short work of the snowshoe rabbit
these dogs that were ill-tamed wolves; and they were now drawn up
in an expectant circle. Theytoowere silenttheir eyes only
gleaming and their breaths drifting slowly upward. To Buck it was
nothing new or strangethis scene of old time. It was as though
it had always beenthe wonted way of things.
Spitz was a practised fighter. From Spitzbergen through the
Arcticand across Canada and the Barrenshe had held his own
with all manner of dogs and achieved to mastery over them. Bitter
rage was hisbut never blind rage. In passion to rend and
destroyhe never forgot that his enemy was in like passion to
rend and destroy. He never rushed till he was prepared to receive
a rush; never attacked till he had first defended that attack.
In vain Buck strove to sink his teeth in the neck of the big white
dog. Wherever his fangs struck for the softer fleshthey were
countered by the fangs of Spitz. Fang clashed fangand lips were
cut and bleedingbut Buck could not penetrate his enemy's guard.
Then he warmed up and enveloped Spitz in a whirlwind of rushes.
Time and time again he tried for the snow-white throatwhere life
bubbled near to the surfaceand each time and every time Spitz
slashed him and got away. Then Buck took to rushingas though for
the throatwhensuddenly drawing back his head and curving in
from the sidehe would drive his shoulder at the shoulder of
Spitzas a ram by which to overthrow him. But insteadBuck's
shoulder was slashed down each time as Spitz leaped lightly away.
Spitz was untouchedwhile Buck was streaming with blood and
panting hard. The fight was growing desperate. And all the while
the silent and wolfish circle waited to finish off whichever dog
went down. As Buck grew windedSpitz took to rushingand he
kept him staggering for footing. Once Buck went overand the
whole circle of sixty dogs started up; but he recovered himself
almost in mid airand the circle sank down again and waited.
But Buck possessed a quality that made for greatness--
imagination. He fought by instinctbut he could fight by head as
well. He rushedas though attempting the old shoulder trickbut
at the last instant swept low to the snow and in. His teeth
closed on Spitz's left fore leg. There was a crunch of breaking
boneand the white dog faced him on three legs. Thrice he tried
to knock him overthen repeated the trick and broke the right
fore leg. Despite the pain and helplessnessSpitz struggled
madly to keep up. He saw the silent circlewith gleaming eyes
lolling tonguesand silvery breaths drifting upwardclosing in
upon him as he had seen similar circles close in upon beaten
antagonists in the past. Only this time he was the one who was
There was no hope for him. Buck was inexorable. Mercy was a
thing reserved for gender climes. He manoeuvred for the final
rush. The circle had tightened till he could feel the breaths of
the huskies on his flanks. He could see thembeyond Spitz and to
either sidehalf crouching for the springtheir eyes fixed upon
him. A pause seemed to fall. Every animal was motionless as
though turned to stone. Only Spitz quivered and bristled as he
staggered back and forthsnarling with horrible menaceas though
to frighten off impending death. Then Buck sprang in and out; but
while he was inshoulder had at last squarely met shoulder. The
dark circle became a dot on the moon-flooded snow as Spitz
disappeared from view. Buck stood and looked onthe successful
championthe dominant primordial beast who had made his kill and
found it good.
Who Has Won to Mastership
Eh? Wot I say? I spik true w'en I say dat Buck two devils.
This was Francois's speech next morning when he discovered Spitz
missing and Buck covered with wounds. He drew him to the fire and
by its light pointed them out.
Dat Spitz fight lak hell,said Perraultas he surveyed the
gaping rips and cuts.
An' dat Buck fight lak two hells,was Francois's answer. "An'
now we make good time. No more Spitzno more troublesure."
While Perrault packed the camp outfit and loaded the sledthe
dog-driver proceeded to harness the dogs. Buck trotted up to the
place Spitz would have occupied as leader; but Francoisnot
noticing himbrought Sol-leks to the coveted position. In his
judgmentSol-leks was the best lead-dog left. Buck sprang upon
Sol-leks in a furydriving him back and standing in his place.
Eh? eh?Francois criedslapping his thighs gleefully. "Look at
dat Buck. Heem keel dat Spitzheem t'ink to take de job."
Go 'way, Chook!he criedbut Buck refused to budge.
He took Buck by the scruff of the neckand though the dog growled
threateninglydragged him to one side and replaced Sol-leks. The
old dog did not like itand showed plainly that he was afraid of
Buck. Francois was obduratebut when he turned his back Buck
again displaced Sol-lekswho was not at all unwilling to go.
Francois was angry. "Nowby GarI feex you!" he criedcoming
back with a heavy club in his hand.
Buck remembered the man in the red sweaterand retreated slowly;
nor did he attempt to charge in when Sol-leks was once more
brought forward. But he circled just beyond the range of the
clubsnarling with bitterness and rage; and while he circled he
watched the club so as to dodge it if thrown by Francoisfor he
was become wise in the way of clubs. The driver went about his
workand he called to Buck when he was ready to put him in his
old place in front of Dave. Buck retreated two or three steps.
Francois followed him upwhereupon he again retreated. After
some time of thisFrancois threw down the clubthinking that
Buck feared a thrashing. But Buck was in open revolt. He wanted
not to escape a clubbingbut to have the leadership. It was his
by right. He had earned itand he would not be content with
Perrault took a hand. Between them they ran him about for the
better part of an hour. They threw clubs at him. He dodged.
They cursed himand his fathers and mothers before himand all
his seed to come after him down to the remotest generationand
every hair on his body and drop of blood in his veins; and he
answered curse with snarl and kept out of their reach. He did not
try to run awaybut retreated around and around the camp
advertising plainly that when his desire was methe would come in
and be good.
Francois sat down and scratched his head. Perrault looked at his
watch and swore. Time was flyingand they should have been on
the trail an hour gone. Francois scratched his head again. He
shook it and grinned sheepishly at the courierwho shrugged his
shoulders in sign that they were beaten. Then Francois went up to
where Sol-leks stood and called to Buck. Buck laughedas dogs
laughyet kept his distance. Francois unfastened Sol-leks's
traces and put him back in his old place. The team stood
harnessed to the sled in an unbroken lineready for the trail.
There was no place for Buck save at the front. Once more Francois
calledand once more Buck laughed and kept away.
T'row down de club,Perrault commanded.
Francois compliedwhereupon Buck trotted inlaughing
triumphantlyand swung around into position at the head of the
team. His traces were fastenedthe sled broken outand with
both men running they dashed out on to the river trail.
Highly as the dog-driver had forevalued Buckwith his two devils
he foundwhile the day was yet youngthat he had undervalued.
At a bound Buck took up the duties of leadership; and where
judgment was requiredand quick thinking and quick actinghe
showed himself the superior even of Spitzof whom Francois had
never seen an equal.
But it was in giving the law and making his mates live up to it
that Buck excelled. Dave and Sol-leks did not mind the change in
leadership. It was none of their business. Their business was to
toiland toil mightilyin the traces. So long as that were not
interfered withthey did not care what happened. Billeethe
good-naturedcould lead for all they caredso long as he kept
order. The rest of the teamhoweverhad grown unruly during the
last days of Spitzand their surprise was great now that Buck
proceeded to lick them into shape.
Pikewho pulled at Buck's heelsand who never put an ounce more
of his weight against the breast-band than he was compelled to do
was swiftly and repeatedly shaken for loafing; and ere the first
day was done he was pulling more than ever before in his life.
The first night in campJoethe sour onewas punished roundly-a
thing that Spitz had never succeeded in doing. Buck simply
smothered him by virtue of superior weightand cut him up till he
ceased snapping and began to whine for mercy.
The general tone of the team picked up immediately. It recovered
its old-time solidarityand once more the dogs leaped as one dog
in the traces. At the Rink Rapids two native huskiesTeek and
Koonawere added; and the celerity with which Buck broke them in
took away Francois's breath.
Nevaire such a dog as dat Buck!he cried. "Nonevaire! Heem
worth one t'ousan' dollairby Gar! Eh? Wot you sayPerrault?"
And Perrault nodded. He was ahead of the record thenand gaining
day by day. The trail was in excellent conditionwell packed and
hardand there was no new-fallen snow with which to contend. It
was not too cold. The temperature dropped to fifty below zero and
remained there the whole trip. The men rode and ran by turnand
the dogs were kept on the jumpwith but infrequent stoppages.
The Thirty Mile River was comparatively coated with iceand they
covered in one day going out what had taken them ten days coming
in. In one run they made a sixty-mile dash from the foot of Lake
Le Barge to the White Horse Rapids. Across MarshTagishand
Bennett (seventy miles of lakes)they flew so fast that the man
whose turn it was to run towed behind the sled at the end of a
rope. And on the last night of the second week they topped White
Pass and dropped down the sea slope with the lights of Skaguay and
of the shipping at their feet.
It was a record run. Each day for fourteen days they had averaged
forty miles. For three days Perrault and Francois threw chests up
and down the main street of Skaguay and were deluged with
invitations to drinkwhile the team was the constant centre of a
worshipful crowd of dog-busters and mushers. Then three or four
western bad men aspired to clean out the townwere riddled like
pepper-boxes for their painsand public interest turned to other
idols. Next came official orders. Francois called Buck to him
threw his arms around himwept over him. And that was the last
of Francois and Perrault. Like other menthey passed out of
Buck's life for good.
A Scotch half-breed took charge of him and his matesand in
company with a dozen other dog-teams he started back over the
weary trail to Dawson. It was no light running nownor record
timebut heavy toil each daywith a heavy load behind; for this
was the mail traincarrying word from the world to the men who
sought gold under the shadow of the Pole.
Buck did not like itbut he bore up well to the worktaking
pride in it after the manner of Dave and Sol-leksand seeing that
his mateswhether they prided in it or notdid their fair share.
It was a monotonous lifeoperating with machine-like regularity.
One day was very like another. At a certain time each morning the
cooks turned outfires were builtand breakfast was eaten.
Thenwhile some broke campothers harnessed the dogsand they
were under way an hour or so before the darkness fell which gave
warning of dawn. At nightcamp was made. Some pitched the
fliesothers cut firewood and pine boughs for the bedsand still
others carried water or ice for the cooks. Alsothe dogs were
fed. To themthis was the one feature of the daythough it was
good to loaf aroundafter the fish was eatenfor an hour or so
with the other dogsof which there were fivescore and odd. There
were fierce fighters among thembut three battles with the
fiercest brought Buck to masteryso that when he bristled and
showed his teeth they got out of his way.
Best of allperhapshe loved to lie near the firehind legs
crouched under himfore legs stretched out in fronthead raised
and eyes blinking dreamily at the flames. Sometimes he thought of
Judge Miller's big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valleyand
of the cement swimming-tankand Ysabelthe Mexican hairlessand
Tootsthe Japanese pug; but oftener he remembered the man in the
red sweaterthe death of Curlythe great fight with Spitzand
the good things he had eaten or would like to eat. He was not
homesick. The Sunland was very dim and distantand such memories
had no power over him. Far more potent were the memories of his
heredity that gave things he had never seen before a seeming
familiarity; the instincts (which were but the memories of his
ancestors become habits) which had lapsed in later daysand still
laterin himquickened and become alive again.
Sometimes as he crouched thereblinking dreamily at the flames
it seemed that the flames were of another fireand that as he
crouched by this other fire he saw another and different man from
the half-breed cook before him. This other man was shorter of leg
and longer of armwith muscles that were stringy and knotty
rather than rounded and swelling. The hair of this man was long
and mattedand his head slanted back under it from the eyes. He
uttered strange soundsand seemed very much afraid of the
darknessinto which he peered continuallyclutching in his hand
which hung midway between knee and foota stick with a heavy
stone made fast to the end. He was all but nakeda ragged and
fire-scorched skin hanging part way down his backbut on his body
there was much hair. In some placesacross the chest and
shoulders and down the outside of the arms and thighsit was
matted into almost a thick fur. He did not stand erectbut with
trunk inclined forward from the hipson legs that bent at the
knees. About his body there was a peculiar springinessor
resiliencyalmost catlikeand a quick alertness as of one who
lived in perpetual fear of things seen and unseen.
At other times this hairy man squatted by the fire with head
between his legs and slept. On such occasions his elbows were on
his kneeshis hands clasped above his head as though to shed rain
by the hairy arms. And beyond that firein the circling
darknessBuck could see many gleaming coalstwo by twoalways
two by twowhich he knew to be the eyes of great beasts of prey.
And he could hear the crashing of their bodies through the
undergrowthand the noises they made in the night. And dreaming
there by the Yukon bankwith lazy eyes blinking at the fire
these sounds and sights of another world would make the hair to
rise along his back and stand on end across his shoulders and up
his necktill he whimpered low and suppressedlyor growled
softlyand the half-breed cook shouted at himHey, you Buck,
wake up!Whereupon the other world would vanish and the real
world come into his eyesand he would get up and yawn and stretch
as though he had been asleep.
It was a hard tripwith the mail behind themand the heavy work
wore them down. They were short of weight and in poor condition
when they made Dawsonand should have had a ten days' or a week's
rest at least. But in two days' time they dropped down the Yukon
bank from the Barracksloaded with letters for the outside. The
dogs were tiredthe drivers grumblingand to make matters worse
it snowed every day. This meant a soft trailgreater friction on
the runnersand heavier pulling for the dogs; yet the drivers
were fair through it alland did their best for the animals.
Each night the dogs were attended to first. They ate before the
drivers ateand no man sought his sleeping-robe till he had seen
to the feet of the dogs he drove. Stilltheir strength went
down. Since the beginning of the winter they had travelled
eighteen hundred milesdragging sleds the whole weary distance;
and eighteen hundred miles will tell upon life of the toughest.
Buck stood itkeeping his mates up to their work and maintaining
disciplinethough hetoowas very tired. Billee cried and
whimpered regularly in his sleep each night. Joe was sourer than
everand Sol-leks was unapproachableblind side or other side.
But it was Dave who suffered most of all. Something had gone
wrong with him. He became more morose and irritableand when
camp was pitched at once made his nestwhere his driver fed him.
Once out of the harness and downhe did not get on his feet again
till harness-up time in the morning. Sometimesin the traces
when jerked by a sudden stoppage of the sledor by straining to
start ithe would cry out with pain. The driver examined him
but could find nothing. All the drivers became interested in his
case. They talked it over at meal-timeand over their last pipes
before going to bedand one night they held a consultation. He
was brought from his nest to the fire and was pressed and prodded
till he cried out many times. Something was wrong insidebut
they could locate no broken bonescould not make it out.
By the time Cassiar Bar was reachedhe was so weak that he was
falling repeatedly in the traces. The Scotch half-breed called a
halt and took him out of the teammaking the next dogSol-leks
fast to the sled. His intention was to rest Daveletting him run
free behind the sled. Sick as he wasDave resented being taken
outgrunting and growling while the traces were unfastenedand
whimpering broken-heartedly when he saw Sol-leks in the position
he had held and served so long. For the pride of trace and trail
was hisandsick unto deathhe could not bear that another dog
should do his work.
When the sled startedhe floundered in the soft snow alongside
the beaten trailattacking Sol-leks with his teethrushing
against him and trying to thrust him off into the soft snow on the
other sidestriving to leap inside his traces and get between him
and the sledand all the while whining and yelping and crying with
grief and pain. The half-breed tried to drive him away with the
whip; but he paid no heed to the stinging lashand the man had
not the heart to strike harder. Dave refused to run quietly on the
trail behind the sledwhere the going was easybut continued to
flounder alongside in the soft snowwhere the going was most
difficulttill exhausted. Then he felland lay where he fell
howling lugubriously as the long train of sleds churned by.
With the last remnant of his strength he managed to stagger along
behind till the train made another stopwhen he floundered past
the sleds to his ownwhere he stood alongside Sol-leks. His
driver lingered a moment to get a light for his pipe from the man
behind. Then he returned and started his dogs. They swung out on
the trail with remarkable lack of exertionturned their heads
uneasilyand stopped in surprise. The driver was surprisedtoo;
the sled had not moved. He called his comrades to witness the
sight. Dave had bitten through both of Sol-leks's tracesand was
standing directly in front of the sled in his proper place.
He pleaded with his eyes to remain there. The driver was
perplexed. His comrades talked of how a dog could break its heart
through being denied the work that killed itand recalled
instances they had knownwhere dogstoo old for the toilor
injuredhad died because they were cut out of the traces. Also
they held it a mercysince Dave was to die anywaythat he should
die in the tracesheart-easy and content. So he was harnessed in
againand proudly he pulled as of oldthough more than once he
cried out involuntarily from the bite of his inward hurt. Several
times he fell down and was dragged in the tracesand once the
sled ran upon him so that he limped thereafter in one of his hind
But he held out till camp was reachedwhen his driver made a
place for him by the fire. Morning found him too weak to travel.
At harness-up time he tried to crawl to his driver. By convulsive
efforts he got on his feetstaggeredand fell. Then he wormed
his way forward slowly toward where the harnesses were being put
on his mates. He would advance his fore legs and drag up his body
with a sort of hitching movementwhen he would advance his fore
legs and hitch ahead again for a few more inches. His strength
left himand the last his mates saw of him he lay gasping in the
snow and yearning toward them. But they could hear him mournfully
howling till they passed out of sight behind a belt of river
Here the train was halted. The Scotch half-breed slowly retraced
his steps to the camp they had left. The men ceased talking. A
revolver-shot rang out. The man came back hurriedly. The whips
snappedthe bells tinkled merrilythe sleds churned along the
trail; but Buck knewand every dog knewwhat had taken place
behind the belt of river trees.
The Toil of Trace and Trail
Thirty days from the time it left Dawsonthe Salt Water Mail
with Buck and his mates at the forearrived at Skaguay. They
were in a wretched stateworn out and worn down. Buck's one
hundred and forty pounds had dwindled to one hundred and fifteen.
The rest of his matesthough lighter dogshad relatively lost
more weight than he. Pikethe malingererwhoin his lifetime
of deceithad often successfully feigned a hurt legwas now
limping in earnest. Sol-leks was limpingand Dub was suffering
from a wrenched shoulder-blade.
They were all terribly footsore. No spring or rebound was left in
them. Their feet fell heavily on the trailjarring their bodies
and doubting the fatigue of a day's travel. There was nothing the
matter with them except that they were dead tired. It was not the
dead-tiredness that comes through brief and excessive effortfrom
which recovery is a matter of hours; but it was the dead-tiredness
that comes through the slow and prolonged strength drainage of
months of toil. There was no power of recuperation leftno
reserve strength to call upon. It had been all usedthe last
least bit of it. Every muscleevery fibreevery cellwas
tireddead tired. And there was reason for it. In less than
five months they had travelled twenty-five hundred milesduring
the last eighteen hundred of which they had had but five days'
rest. When they arrived at Skaguay they were apparently on their
last legs. They could barely keep the traces tautand on the
down grades just managed to keep out of the way of the sled.
Mush on, poor sore feets,the driver encouraged them as they
tottered down the main street of Skaguay. "Dis is de las'. Den we
get one long res'. Eh? For sure. One bully long res'."
The drivers confidently expected a long stopover. Themselves
they had covered twelve hundred miles with two days' restand in
the nature of reason and common justice they deserved an interval
of loafing. But so many were the men who had rushed into the
Klondikeand so many were the sweetheartswivesand kin that
had not rushed inthat the congested mail was taking on Alpine
proportions; alsothere were official orders. Fresh batches of
Hudson Bay dogs were to take the places of those worthless for the
trail. The worthless ones were to be got rid ofandsince dogs
count for little against dollarsthey were to be sold.
Three days passedby which time Buck and his mates found how
really tired and weak they were. Thenon the morning of the
fourth daytwo men from the States came along and bought them
harness and allfor a song. The men addressed each other as
Haland "Charles." Charles was a middle-agedlightish-colored
manwith weak and watery eyes and a mustache that twisted
fiercely and vigorously upgiving the lie to the limply drooping
lip it concealed. Hal was a youngster of nineteen or twentywith
a big Colt's revolver and a hunting-knife strapped about him on a
belt that fairly bristled with cartridges. This belt was the most
salient thing about him. It advertised his callowness--a
callowness sheer and unutterable. Both men were manifestly out of
placeand why such as they should adventure the North is part of
the mystery of things that passes understanding.
Buck heard the chafferingsaw the money pass between the man and
the Government agentand knew that the Scotch half-breed and the
mail-train drivers were passing out of his life on the heels of
Perrault and Francois and the others who had gone before. When
driven with his mates to the new owners' campBuck saw a slipshod
and slovenly affairtent half stretcheddishes unwashed
everything in disorder; alsohe saw a woman. "Mercedes" the men
called her. She was Charles's wife and Hal's sister--a nice
Buck watched them apprehensively as they proceeded to take down
the tent and load the sled. There was a great deal of effort
about their mannerbut no businesslike method. The tent was
rolled into an awkward bundle three times as large as it should
have been. The tin dishes were packed away unwashed. Mercedes
continually fluttered in the way of her men and kept up an
unbroken chattering of remonstrance and advice. When they put a
clothes-sack on the front of the sledshe suggested it should go
on the back; and when they had put it on the backand covered it
over with a couple of other bundlesshe discovered overlooked
articles which could abide nowhere else but in that very sackand
they unloaded again.
Three men from a neighboring tent came out and looked ongrinning
and winking at one another.
You've got a right smart load as it is,said one of them; "and
it's not me should tell you your businessbut I wouldn't tote
that tent along if I was you."
Undreamed of!cried Mercedesthrowing up her hands in dainty
dismay. "However in the world could I manage without a tent?"
It's springtime, and you won't get any more cold weather,the
She shook her head decidedlyand Charles and Hal put the last
odds and ends on top the mountainous load.
Think it'll ride?one of the men asked.
Why shouldn't it?Charles demanded rather shortly.
Oh, that's all right, that's all right,the man hastened meekly
to say. "I was just a-wonderin'that is all. It seemed a mite
Charles turned his back and drew the lashings down as well as he
couldwhich 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 Halwith freezing politenesstaking 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 breast-bandsstrained hard for a few
momentsthen relaxed. They were unable to move the sled.
The lazy brutes, I'll show them,he criedpreparing to lash out
at them with the whip.
But Mercedes interferedcryingOh, Hal, you mustn't,as she
caught hold of the whip and wrenched it from him. "The poor dears!
Now you must promise you won't be harsh with them for the rest of
the tripor I won't go a step."
Precious lot you know about dogs,her brother sneered; "and I
wish you'd leave me alone. They're lazyI tell youand you've
got to whip them to get anything out of them. That's their way.
You ask any one. Ask one of those men."
Mercedes looked at them imploringlyuntold repugnance at sight of
pain written in her pretty face.
They're weak as water, if you want to know,came the reply from
one of the men. "Plum tuckered outthat's what's the matter.
They need a rest."
Rest be blanked,said Halwith his beardless lips; and Mercedes
saidOh!in pain and sorrow at the oath.
But she was a clannish creatureand rushed at once to the defence
of her brother. "Never mind that man she said pointedly.
You're driving our dogsand you do what you think best with
Again Hal's whip fell upon the dogs. They threw themselves
against the breast-bandsdug their feet into the packed snowgot
down low to itand put forth all their strength. The sled held as
though it were an anchor. After two effortsthey stood still
panting. The whip was whistling savagelywhen once more Mercedes
interfered. She dropped on her knees before Buckwith tears in
her eyesand put her arms around his neck.
You poor, poor dears,she cried sympatheticallywhy don't you
pull hard?--then you wouldn't be whipped.Buck did not like her
but he was feeling too miserable to resist hertaking it as part
of the day's miserable work.
One of the onlookerswho had been clenching his teeth to suppress
hot speechnow spoke up:-
It's not that I care a whoop what becomes of you, but for the
dogs' sakes I just want to tell you, you can help them a mighty
lot by breaking out that sled. The runners are froze fast. Throw
your weight against the gee-pole, right and left, and break it
A third time the attempt was madebut this timefollowing the
adviceHal broke out the runners which had been frozen to the
snow. The overloaded and unwieldy sled forged aheadBuck and his
mates struggling frantically under the rain of blows. A hundred
yards ahead the path turned and sloped steeply into the main
street. It would have required an experienced man to keep the
top-heavy sled uprightand Hal was not such a man. As they swung
on the turn the sled went overspilling half its load through the
loose lashings. The dogs never stopped. The lightened sled
bounded on its side behind them. They were angry because of the
ill treatment they had received and the unjust load. Buck was
raging. He broke into a runthe team following his lead. Hal
cried "Whoa! whoa!" but they gave no heed. He tripped and was
pulled off his feet. The capsized sled ground over himand the
dogs dashed on up the streetadding to the gayety of Skaguay as
they scattered the remainder of the outfit along its chief
Kind-hearted citizens caught the dogs and gathered up the
scattered belongings. Alsothey gave advice. Half the load and
twice the dogsif they ever expected to reach Dawsonwas what
was said. Hal and his sister and brother-in-law listened
unwillinglypitched tentand overhauled the outfit. Canned goods
were turned out that made men laughfor canned goods on the Long
Trail is a thing to dream about. "Blankets for a hotel" quoth one
of the men who laughed and helped. "Half as many is too much; get
rid of them. Throw away that tentand all those dishes--who's
going to wash themanyway? Good Lorddo you think you're
travelling on a Pullman?"
And so it wentthe inexorable elimination of the superfluous.
Mercedes cried when her clothes-bags were dumped on the ground and
article after article was thrown out. She cried in generaland
she cried in particular over each discarded thing. She clasped
hands about kneesrocking back and forth broken-heartedly. She
averred she would not go an inchnot for a dozen Charleses. She
appealed to everybody and to everythingfinally wiping her eyes
and proceeding to cast out even articles of apparel that were
imperative necessaries. And in her zealwhen she had finished
with her ownshe attacked the belongings of her men and went
through them like a tornado.
This accomplishedthe outfitthough cut in halfwas still a
formidable bulk. Charles and Hal went out in the evening and
bought six Outside dogs. Theseadded to the six of the original
teamand Teek and Koonathe huskies obtained at the Rink Rapids
on the record tripbrought the team up to fourteen. But the
Outside dogsthough practically broken in since their landing
did not amount to much. Three were short-haired pointersone was
a Newfoundlandand the other two were mongrels of indeterminate
breed. They did not seem to know anythingthese newcomers. Buck
and his comrades looked upon them with disgustand though he
speedily taught them their places and what not to dohe could not
teach them what to do. They did not take kindly to trace and
trail. With the exception of the two mongrelsthey were
bewildered and spirit-broken by the strange savage environment in
which they found themselves and by the ill treatment they had
received. The two mongrels were without spirit at all; bones were
the only things breakable about them.
With the newcomers hopeless and forlornand the old team worn out
by twenty-five hundred miles of continuous trailthe outlook was
anything but bright. The two menhoweverwere quite cheerful.
And they were proudtoo. They were doing the thing in stylewith
fourteen dogs. They had seen other sleds depart over the Pass for
Dawsonor come in from Dawsonbut never had they seen a sled
with so many as fourteen dogs. In the nature of Arctic travel
there was a reason why fourteen dogs should not drag one sledand
that was that one sled could not carry the food for fourteen dogs.
But Charles and Hal did not know this. They had worked the trip
out with a pencilso much to a dogso many dogsso many days
Q.E.D. Mercedes looked over their shoulders and nodded
comprehensivelyit was all so very simple.
Late next morning Buck led the long team up the street. There was
nothing lively about itno snap or go in him and his fellows.
They were starting dead weary. Four times he had covered the
distance between Salt Water and Dawsonand the knowledge that
jaded and tiredhe was facing the same trail once moremade him
bitter. His heart was not in the worknor was the heart of any
dog. The Outsides were timid and frightenedthe Insides without
confidence in their masters.
Buck felt vaguely that there was no depending upon these two men
and the woman. They did not know how to do anythingand as the
days went by it became apparent that they could not learn. They
were slack in all thingswithout order or discipline. It took
them half the night to pitch a slovenly campand half the morning
to break that camp and get the sled loaded in fashion so slovenly
that for the rest of the day they were occupied in stopping and
rearranging the load. Some days they did not make ten miles. On
other days they were unable to get started at all. And on no day
did they succeed in making more than half the distance used by the
men as a basis in their dog-food computation.
It was inevitable that they should go short on dog-food. But they
hastened it by overfeedingbringing the day nearer when
underfeeding would commence. The Outside dogswhose digestions
had not been trained by chronic famine to make the most of little
had voracious appetites. And whenin addition to thisthe wornout
huskies pulled weaklyHal decided that the orthodox ration
was too small. He doubled it. And to cap it allwhen Mercedes
with tears in her pretty eyes and a quaver in her throatcould
not cajole him into giving the dogs still moreshe stole from the
fish-sacks and fed them slyly. But it was not food that Buck and
the huskies neededbut rest. And though they were making poor
timethe heavy load they dragged sapped their strength severely.
Then came the underfeeding. Hal awoke one day to the fact that
his dog-food was half gone and the distance only quarter covered;
furtherthat for love or money no additional dog-food was to be
obtained. So he cut down even the orthodox ration and tried to
increase the day's travel. His sister and brother-in-law seconded
him; but they were frustrated by their heavy outfit and their own
incompetence. It was a simple matter to give the dogs less food;
but it was impossible to make the dogs travel fasterwhile their
own inability to get under way earlier in the morning prevented
them from travelling longer hours. Not only did they not know how
to work dogsbut they did not know how to work themselves.
The first to go was Dub. Poor blundering thief that he was
always getting caught and punishedhe had none the less been a
faithful worker. His wrenched shoulder-bladeuntreated and
unrestedwent from bad to worsetill finally Hal shot him with
the big Colt's revolver. It is a saying of the country that an
Outside dog starves to death on the ration of the huskyso the
six Outside dogs under Buck could do no less than die on half the
ration of the husky. The Newfoundland went firstfollowed by the
three short-haired pointersthe two mongrels hanging more
grittily on to lifebut going in the end.
By this time all the amenities and gentlenesses of the Southland
had fallen away from the three people. Shorn of its glamour and
romanceArctic travel became to them a reality too harsh for
their manhood and womanhood. Mercedes ceased weeping over the
dogsbeing too occupied with weeping over herself and with
quarrelling with her husband and brother. To quarrel was the one
thing they were never too weary to do. Their irritability arose
out of their miseryincreased with itdoubled upon it
outdistanced it. The wonderful patience of the trail which comes
to men who toil hard and suffer soreand remain sweet of speech
and kindlydid not come to these two men and the woman. They had
no inkling of such a patience. They were stiff and in pain; their
muscles achedtheir bones achedtheir very hearts ached; and
because of this they became sharp of speechand hard words were
first on their lips in the morning and last at night.
Charles and Hal wrangled whenever Mercedes gave them a chance. It
was the cherished belief of each that he did more than his share
of the workand neither forbore to speak this belief at every
opportunity. Sometimes Mercedes sided with her husbandsometimes
with her brother. The result was a beautiful and unending family
quarrel. Starting from a dispute as to which should chop a few
sticks for the fire (a dispute which concerned only Charles and
Hal)presently would be lugged in the rest of the family
fathersmothersunclescousinspeople thousands of miles away
and some of them dead. That Hal's views on artor the sort of
society plays his mother's brother wroteshould have anything to
do with the chopping of a few sticks of firewoodpasses
comprehension; nevertheless the quarrel was as likely to tend in
that direction as in the direction of Charles's political
prejudices. And that Charles's sister's tale-bearing tongue should
be relevant to the building of a Yukon firewas apparent only to
Mercedeswho disburdened herself of copious opinions upon that
topicand incidentally upon a few other traits unpleasantly
peculiar to her husband's family. In the meantime the fire
remained unbuiltthe camp half pitchedand the dogs unfed.
Mercedes nursed a special grievance--the grievance of sex. She was
pretty and softand had been chivalrously treated all her days.
But the present treatment by her husband and brother was
everything save chivalrous. It was her custom to be helpless.
They complained. Upon which impeachment of what to her was her
most essential sex-prerogativeshe made their lives unendurable.
She no longer considered the dogsand because she was sore and
tiredshe persisted in riding on the sled. She was pretty and
softbut she weighed one hundred and twenty pounds--a lusty last
straw to the load dragged by the weak and starving animals. She
rode for daystill they fell in the traces and the sled stood
still. Charles and Hal begged her to get off and walkpleaded
with herentreatedthe while she wept and importuned Heaven with
a recital of their brutality.
On one occasion they took her off the sled by main strength. They
never did it again. She let her legs go limp like a spoiled
childand sat down on the trail. They went on their waybut she
did not move. After they had travelled three miles they unloaded
the sledcame back for herand by main strength put her on the
In the excess of their own misery they were callous to the
suffering of their animals. Hal's theorywhich he practised on
otherswas that one must get hardened. He had started out
preaching it to his sister and brother-in-law. Failing therehe
hammered it into the dogs with a club. At the Five Fingers the
dog-food gave outand a toothless old squaw offered to trade them
a few pounds of frozen horse-hide for the Colt's revolver that
kept the big hunting-knife company at Hal's hip. A poor substitute
for food was this hidejust as it had been stripped from the
starved horses of the cattlemen six months back. In its frozen
state it was more like strips of galvanized ironand when a dog
wrestled it into his stomach it thawed into thin and innutritious
leathery strings and into a mass of short hairirritating and
And through it all Buck staggered along at the head of the team as
in a nightmare. He pulled when he could; when he could no longer
pullhe fell down and remained down till blows from whip or club
drove him to his feet again. All the stiffness and gloss had gone
out of his beautiful furry coat. The hair hung downlimp and
draggledor matted with dried blood where Hal's club had bruised
him. His muscles had wasted away to knotty stringsand the flesh
pads had disappearedso that each rib and every bone in his frame
were outlined cleanly through the loose hide that was wrinkled in
folds of emptiness. It was heartbreakingonly Buck's heart was
unbreakable. The man in the red sweater had proved that.
As it was with Buckso was it with his mates. They were
perambulating skeletons. There were seven all togetherincluding
him. In their very great misery they had become insensible to the
bite of the lash or the bruise of the club. The pain of the
beating was dull and distantjust as the things their eyes saw
and their ears heard seemed dull and distant. They were not half
livingor quarter living. They were simply so many bags of bones
in which sparks of life fluttered faintly. When a halt was made
they dropped down in the traces like dead dogsand the spark
dimmed and paled and seemed to go out. And when the club or whip
fell upon themthe spark fluttered feebly upand they tottered
to their feet and staggered on.
There came a day when Billeethe good-naturedfell and could not
rise. Hal had traded off his revolverso he took the axe and
knocked Billee on the head as he lay in the tracesthen cut the
carcass out of the harness and dragged it to one side. Buck saw
and his mates sawand they knew that this thing was very close to
them. On the next day Koona wentand but five of them remained:
Joetoo far gone to be malignant; Pikecrippled and limping
only half conscious and not conscious enough longer to malinger;
Sol-leksthe one-eyedstill faithful to the toil of trace and
trailand mournful in that he had so little strength with which
to pull; Teekwho had not travelled so far that winter and who
was now beaten more than the others because he was fresher; and
Buckstill at the head of the teambut no longer enforcing
discipline or striving to enforce itblind with weakness half the
time and keeping the trail by the loom of it and by the dim feel
of his feet.
It was beautiful spring weatherbut neither dogs nor humans were
aware of it. Each day the sun rose earlier and set later. It was
dawn by three in the morningand twilight lingered till nine at
night. The whole long day was a blaze of sunshine. The ghostly
winter silence had given way to the great spring murmur of
awakening life. This murmur arose from all the landfraught with
the joy of living. It came from the things that lived and moved
againthings which had been as dead and which had not moved
during the long months of frost. The sap was rising in the pines.
The willows and aspens were bursting out in young buds. Shrubs
and vines were putting on fresh garbs of green. Crickets sang in
the nightsand in the days all manner of creepingcrawling
things rustled forth into the sun. Partridges and woodpeckers
were booming and knocking in the forest. Squirrels were
chatteringbirds singingand overhead honked the wild-fowl
driving up from the south in cunning wedges that split the air.
From every hill slope came the trickle of running waterthe music
of unseen fountains. All things were thawingbendingsnapping.
The Yukon was straining to break loose the ice that bound it down.
It ate away from beneath; the sun ate from above. Air-holes
formedfissures sprang and spread apartwhile thin sections of
ice fell through bodily into the river. And amid all this
burstingrendingthrobbing of awakening lifeunder the blazing
sun and through the soft-sighing breezeslike wayfarers to death
staggered the two menthe womanand the huskies.
With the dogs fallingMercedes weeping and ridingHal swearing
innocuouslyand Charles's eyes wistfully wateringthey staggered
into John Thornton's camp at the mouth of White River. When they
haltedthe dogs dropped down as though they had all been struck
dead. Mercedes dried her eyes and looked at John Thornton.
Charles sat down on a log to rest. He sat down very slowly and
painstakingly what of his great stiffness. Hal did the talking.
John Thornton was whittling the last touches on an axe-handle he
had made from a stick of birch. He whittled and listenedgave
monosyllabic repliesandwhen it was askedterse advice.
He knew the breedand he gave his advice in the certainty that it
would not be followed.
They told us up above that the bottom was dropping out of the
trail and that the best thing for us to do was to lay over,Hal
said in response to Thornton's warning to take no more chances on
the rotten ice. "They told us we couldn't make White Riverand
here we are." This last with a sneering ring of triumph in it.
And they told you true,John Thornton answered. "The bottom's
likely to drop out at any moment. Only foolswith the blind luck
of foolscould have made it. I tell you straightI wouldn't
risk my carcass on that ice for all the gold in Alaska."
That's because you're not a fool, I suppose,said Hal. "All the
samewe'll go on to Dawson." He uncoiled his whip. "Get up there
Buck! Hi! Get up there! Mush on!"
Thornton went on whittling. It was idlehe knewto get between
a fool and his folly; while two or three fools more or less would
not alter the scheme of things.
But the team did not get up at the command. It had long since
passed into the stage where blows were required to rouse it. The
whip flashed outhere and thereon its merciless errands. John
Thornton compressed his lips. Sol-leks was the first to crawl to
his feet. Teek followed. Joe came nextyelping with pain. Pike
made painful efforts. Twice he fell overwhen half upand on
the third attempt managed to rise. Buck made no effort. He lay
quietly where he had fallen. The lash bit into him again and
againbut he neither whined nor struggled. Several times
Thornton startedas though to speakbut changed his mind. A
moisture came into his eyesandas the whipping continuedhe
arose and walked irresolutely up and down.
This was the first time Buck had failedin itself a sufficient
reason to drive Hal into a rage. He exchanged the whip for the
customary club. Buck refused to move under the rain of heavier
blows which now fell upon him. Like his mateshe barely able to
get upbutunlike themhe had made up his mind not to get up.
He had a vague feeling of impending doom. This had been strong
upon him when he pulled in to the bankand it had not departed
from him. What of the thin and rotten ice he had felt under his
feet all dayit seemed that he sensed disaster close at handout
there ahead on the ice where his master was trying to drive him.
He refused to stir. So greatly had he sufferedand so far gone
was hethat the blows did not hurt much. And as they continued
to fall upon himthe spark of life within flickered and went
down. It was nearly out. He felt strangely numb. As though from
a great distancehe was aware that he was being beaten. The last
sensations of pain left him. He no longer felt anythingthough
very faintly he could hear the impact of the club upon his body.
But it was no longer his bodyit seemed so far away.
And thensuddenlywithout warninguttering a cry that was
inarticulate and more like the cry of an animalJohn Thornton
sprang upon the man who wielded the club. Hal was hurled
backwardas though struck by a failing tree. Mercedes screamed.
Charles looked on wistfullywiped his watery eyesbut did not
get up because of his stiffness.
John Thornton stood over Buckstruggling to control himselftoo
convulsed with rage to speak.
If you strike that dog again, I'll kill you,he at last managed
to say in a choking voice.
It's my dog,Hal repliedwiping the blood from his mouth as he
came back. "Get out of my wayor I'll fix you. I'm going to
Thornton stood between him and Buckand evinced no intention of
getting out of the way. Hal drew his long hunting-knife.
Mercedes screamed. criedlaughedand manifested the chaotic
abandonment of hysteria. Thornton rapped Hal's knuckles with the
axe-handleknocking the knife to the ground. He rapped his
knuckles again as he tried to pick it up. Then he stoopedpicked
it up himselfand with two strokes cut Buck's traces.
Hal had no fight left in him. Besideshis hands were full with
his sisteror his armsrather; while Buck was too near dead to
be of further use in hauling the sled. A few minutes later they
pulled out from the bank and down the river. Buck heard them go
and raised his head to seePike was leadingSol-leks was at the
wheeland between were Joe and Teek. They were limping and
staggering. Mercedes was riding the loaded sled. Hal guided at
the gee-poleand Charles stumbled along in the rear.
As Buck watched themThornton knelt beside him and with rough
kindly hands searched for broken bones. By the time his search
had disclosed nothing more than many bruises and a state of
terrible starvationthe sled was a quarter of a mile away. Dog
and man watched it crawling along over the ice. Suddenlythey
saw its back end drop downas into a rutand the gee-polewith
Hal clinging to itjerk into the air. Mercedes's scream came to
their ears. They saw Charles turn and make one step to run back
and then a whole section of ice give way and dogs and humans
disappear. A yawning hole was all that was to be seen. The
bottom had dropped out of the trail.
John Thornton and Buck looked at each other.
You poor devil,said John Thorntonand Buck licked his hand.
For the Love of a Man
When John Thornton froze his feet in the previous December his
partners had made him comfortable and left him to get wellgoing
on themselves up the river to get out a raft of saw-logs for
Dawson. He was still limping slightly at the time he rescued
Buckbut with the continued warm weather even the slight limp
left him. And herelying by the river bank through the long
spring dayswatching the running waterlistening lazily to the
songs of birds and the hum of natureBuck slowly won back his
A rest comes very good after one has travelled three thousand
milesand it must be confessed that Buck waxed lazy as his wounds
healedhis muscles swelled outand the flesh came back to cover
his bones. For that matterthey were all loafing--BuckJohn
Thorntonand Skeet and Nig--waiting for the raft to come that
was to carry them down to Dawson. Skeet was a little Irish setter
who early made friends with Buckwhoin a dying conditionwas
unable to resent her first advances. She had the doctor trait
which some dogs possess; and as a mother cat washes her kittens
so she washed and cleansed Buck's wounds. Regularlyeach morning
after he had finished his breakfastshe performed her selfappointed
tasktill he came to look for her ministrations as much
as he did for Thornton's. Nigequally friendlythough less
demonstrativewas a huge black doghalf bloodhound and half
deerhoundwith eyes that laughed and a boundless good nature.
To Buck's surprise these dogs manifested no jealousy toward him.
They seemed to share the kindliness and largeness of John
Thornton. As Buck grew stronger they enticed him into all sorts
of ridiculous gamesin which Thornton himself could not forbear
to join; and in this fashion Buck romped through his convalescence
and into a new existence. Lovegenuine passionate lovewas his
for the first time. This he had never experienced at Judge
Miller's down in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. With the
Judge's sonshunting and trampingit had been a working
partnership; with the Judge's grandsonsa sort of pompous
guardianship; and with the Judge himselfa stately and dignified
friendship. But love that was feverish and burningthat was
adorationthat was madnessit had taken John Thornton to arouse.
This man had saved his lifewhich was something; butfurtherhe
was the ideal master. Other men saw to the welfare of their dogs
from a sense of duty and business expediency; he saw to the
welfare of his as if they were his own childrenbecause he could
not help it. And he saw further. He never forgot a kindly
greeting or a cheering wordand to sit down for a long talk with
them ("gas" he called it) was as much his delight as theirs. He
had a way of taking Buck's head roughly between his handsand
resting his own head upon Buck'sof shaking him back and forth
the while calling him ill names that to Buck were love names.
Buck knew no greater joy than that rough embrace and the sound of
murmured oathsand at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his
heart would be shaken out of his body so great was its ecstasy.
And whenreleasedhe sprang to his feethis mouth laughinghis
eyes eloquenthis throat vibrant with unuttered soundand in
that fashion remained without movementJohn Thornton would
reverently exclaimGod! you can all but speak!
Buck had a trick of love expression that was akin to hurt. He
would often seize Thornton's hand in his mouth and close so
fiercely that the flesh bore the impress of his teeth for some
time afterward. And as Buck understood the oaths to be love
wordsso the man understood this feigned bite for a caress.
For the most parthoweverBuck's love was expressed in
adoration. While he went wild with happiness when Thornton
touched him or spoke to himhe did not seek these tokens. Unlike
Skeetwho was wont to shove her nose under Thornton's hand and
nudge and nudge till pettedor Nigwho would stalk up and rest
his great head on Thornton's kneeBuck was content to adore at a
distance. He would lie by the houreageralertat Thornton's
feetlooking up into his facedwelling upon itstudying it
following with keenest interest each fleeting expressionevery
movement or change of feature. Oras chance might have ithe
would lie farther awayto the side or rearwatching the outlines
of the man and the occasional movements of his body. And often
such was the communion in which they livedthe strength of Buck's
gaze would draw John Thornton's head aroundand he would return
the gazewithout speechhis heart shining out of his eyes as
Buck's heart shone out.
For a long time after his rescueBuck did not like Thornton to
get out of his sight. From the moment he left the tent to when he
entered it againBuck would follow at his heels. His transient
masters since he had come into the Northland had bred in him a
fear that no master could be permanent. He was afraid that
Thornton would pass out of his life as Perrault and Francois and
the Scotch half-breed had passed out. Even in the nightin his
dreamshe was haunted by this fear. At such times he would shake
off sleep and creep through the chill to the flap of the tent
where he would stand and listen to the sound of his master's
But in spite of this great love he bore John Thorntonwhich
seemed to bespeak the soft civilizing influencethe strain of the
primitivewhich the Northland had aroused in himremained alive
and active. Faithfulness and devotionthings born of fire and
roofwere his; yet he retained his wildness and wiliness. He was
a thing of the wildcome in from the wild to sit by John
Thornton's firerather than a dog of the soft Southland stamped
with the marks of generations of civilization. Because of his
very great lovehe could not steal from this manbut from any
other manin any other camphe did not hesitate an instant;
while the cunning with which he stole enabled him to escape
His face and body were scored by the teeth of many dogsand he
fought as fiercely as ever and more shrewdly. Skeet and Nig were
too good-natured for quarrelling--besidesthey belonged to John
Thornton; but the strange dogno matter what the breed or valor
swiftly acknowledged Buck's supremacy or found himself struggling
for life with a terrible antagonist. And Buck was merciless. He
had learned well the law of club and fangand he never forewent
an advantage or drew back from a foe he had started on the way to
Death. He had lessoned from Spitzand from the chief fighting
dogs of the police and mailand knew there was no middle course.
He must master or be mastered; while to show mercy was a weakness.
Mercy did not exist in the primordial life. It was misunderstood
for fearand such misunderstandings made for death. Kill or be
killedeat or be eatenwas the law; and this mandatedown out
of the depths of Timehe obeyed.
He was older than the days he had seen and the breaths he had
drawn. He linked the past with the presentand the eternity
behind him throbbed through him in a mighty rhythm to which he
swayed as the tides and seasons swayed. He sat by John Thornton's
firea broad-breasted dogwhite-fanged and long-furred; but
behind him were the shades of all manner of dogshalf-wolves and
wild wolvesurgent and promptingtasting the savor of the meat
he atethirsting for the water he drankscenting the wind with
himlistening with him and telling him the sounds made by the
wild life in the forestdictating his moodsdirecting his
actionslying down to sleep with him when he lay downand
dreaming with him and beyond him and becoming themselves the stuff
of his dreams.
So peremptorily did these shades beckon himthat each day mankind
and the claims of mankind slipped farther from him. Deep in the
forest a call was soundingand as often as he heard this call
mysteriously thrilling and luringhe felt compelled to turn his
back upon the fire and the beaten earth around itand to plunge
into the forestand on and onhe knew not where or why; nor did
he wonder where or whythe call sounding imperiouslydeep in the
forest. But as often as he gained the soft unbroken earth and the
green shadethe love for John Thornton drew him back to the fire
Thornton alone held him. The rest of mankind was as nothing.
Chance travellers might praise or pet him; but he was cold under
it alland from a too demonstrative man he would get up and walk
away. When Thornton's partnersHans and Petearrived on the
long-expected raftBuck refused to notice them till he learned
they were close to Thornton; after that he tolerated them in a
passive sort of wayaccepting favors from them as though he
favored them by accepting. They were of the same large type as
Thorntonliving close to the earththinking simply and seeing
clearly; and ere they swung the raft into the big eddy by the sawmill
at Dawsonthey understood Buck and his waysand did not
insist upon an intimacy such as obtained with Skeet and Nig.
For Thorntonhoweverhis love seemed to grow and grow. He
alone among mencould put a pack upon Buck's back in the summer
travelling. Nothing was too great for Buck to dowhen Thornton
commanded. One day (they had grub-staked themselves from the
proceeds of the raft and left Dawson for the head-waters of the
Tanana) the men and dogs were sitting on the crest of a cliff
which fell awaystraight downto naked bed-rock three hundred
feet below. John Thornton was sitting near the edgeBuck at his
shoulder. A thoughtless whim seized Thorntonand he drew the
attention of Hans and Pete to the experiment he had in mind.
Jump, Buck!he commandedsweeping his arm out and over the
chasm. The next instant he was grappling with Buck on the extreme
edgewhile Hans and Pete were dragging them back into safety.
It's uncanny,Pete saidafter it was over and they had caught
Thornton shook his head. "Noit is splendidand it is terrible
too. Do you knowit sometimes makes me afraid."
I'm not hankering to be the man that lays hands on you while he's
around,Pete announced conclusivelynodding his head toward
Py Jingo!was Hans's contribution. "Not mineself either."
It was at Circle Cityere the year was outthat Pete's
apprehensions were realized. "Black" Burtona man evil-tempered
and malicioushad been picking a quarrel with a tenderfoot at the
barwhen Thornton stepped good-naturedly between. Buckas was
his customwas lying in a cornerhead on pawswatching his
master's every action. Burton struck outwithout warning
straight from the shoulder. Thornton was sent spinningand saved
himself from falling only by clutching the rail of the bar.
Those who were looking on heard what was neither bark nor yelp
but a something which is best described as a roarand they saw
Buck's body rise up in the air as he left the floor for Burton's
throat. The man saved his life by instinctively throwing out his
armbut was hurled backward to the floor with Buck on top of him.
Buck loosed his teeth from the flesh of the arm and drove in again
for the throat. This time the man succeeded only in partly
blockingand his throat was torn open. Then the crowd was upon
Buckand he was driven off; but while a surgeon checked the
bleedinghe prowled up and downgrowling furiouslyattempting
to rush inand being forced back by an array of hostile clubs. A
miners' meeting,called on the spotdecided that the dog had
sufficient provocationand Buck was discharged. But his
reputation was madeand from that day his name spread through
every camp in Alaska.
Later onin the fall of the yearhe saved John Thornton's life
in quite another fashion. The three partners were lining a long
and narrow poling-boat down a bad stretch of rapids on the Forty-
Mile Creek. Hans and Pete moved along the banksnubbing with a
thin Manila rope from tree to treewhile Thornton remained in the
boathelping its descent by means of a poleand shouting
directions to the shore. Buckon the bankworried and anxious
kept abreast of the boathis eyes never off his master.
At a particularly bad spotwhere a ledge of barely submerged
rocks jutted out into the riverHans cast off the ropeand
while Thornton poled the boat out into the streamran down the
bank with the end in his hand to snub the boat when it had cleared
the ledge. This it didand was flying down-stream in a current
as swift as a mill-racewhen Hans checked it with the rope and
checked too suddenly. The boat flirted over and snubbed in to the
bank bottom upwhile Thorntonflung sheer out of itwas carried
down-stream toward the worst part of the rapidsa stretch of wild
water in which no swimmer could live.
Buck had sprung in on the instant; and at the end of three hundred
yardsamid a mad swirl of waterhe overhauled Thornton. When he
felt him grasp his tailBuck headed for the bankswimming with
all his splendid strength. But the progress shoreward was slow;
the progress down-stream amazingly rapid. From below came the
fatal roaring where the wild current went wilder and was rent in
shreds and spray by the rocks which thrust through like the teeth
of an enormous comb. The suck of the water as it took the
beginning of the last steep pitch was frightfuland Thornton knew
that the shore was impossible. He scraped furiously over a rock
bruised across a secondand struck a third with crushing force.
He clutched its slippery top with both handsreleasing Buckand
above the roar of the churning water shouted: "GoBuck! Go!"
Buck could not hold his ownand swept on down-streamstruggling
desperatelybut unable to win back. When he heard Thornton's
command repeatedhe partly reared out of the waterthrowing his
head highas though for a last lookthen turned obediently
toward the bank. He swam powerfully and was dragged ashore by
Pete and Hans at the very point where swimming ceased to be
possible and destruction began.
They knew that the time a man could cling to a slippery rock in
the face of that driving current was a matter of minutesand they
ran as fast as they could up the bank to a point far above where
Thornton was hanging on. They attached the line with which they
had been snubbing the boat to Buck's neck and shouldersbeing
careful that it should neither strangle him nor impede his
swimmingand launched him into the stream. He struck out boldly
but not straight enough into the stream. He discovered the
mistake too latewhen Thornton was abreast of him and a bare
half-dozen strokes away while he was being carried helplessly
Hans promptly snubbed with the ropeas though Buck were a boat.
The rope thus tightening on him in the sweep of the currenthe
was jerked under the surfaceand under the surface he remained
till his body struck against the bank and he was hauled out. He
was half drownedand Hans and Pete threw themselves upon him
pounding the breath into him and the water out of him. He
staggered to his feet and fell down. The faint sound of
Thornton's voice came to themand though they could not make out
the words of itthey knew that he was in his extremity. His
master's voice acted on Buck like an electric shockHe sprang to
his feet and ran up the bank ahead of the men to the point of his
Again the rope was attached and he was launchedand again he
struck outbut this time straight into the stream. He had
miscalculated oncebut he would not be guilty of it a second
time. Hans paid out the ropepermitting no slackwhile Pete
kept it clear of coils. Buck held on till he was on a line
straight above Thornton; then he turnedand with the speed of an
express train headed down upon him. Thornton saw him comingand
as Buck struck him like a battering ramwith the whole force of
the current behind himhe reached up and closed with both arms
around the shaggy neck. Hans snubbed the rope around the tree
and Buck and Thornton were jerked under the water. Strangling
suffocatingsometimes one uppermost and sometimes the other
dragging over the jagged bottomsmashing against rocks and snags
they veered in to the bank.
Thornton came tobelly downward and being violently propelled
back and forth across a drift log by Hans and Pete. His first
glance was for Buckover whose limp and apparently lifeless body
Nig was setting up a howlwhile Skeet was licking the wet face
and closed eyes. Thornton was himself bruised and batteredand
he went carefully over Buck's bodywhen he had been brought
aroundfinding three broken ribs.
That settles it,he announced. "We camp right here." And camp
they didtill Buck's ribs knitted and he was able to travel.
That winterat DawsonBuck performed another exploitnot so
heroicperhapsbut one that put his name many notches higher on
the totem-pole of Alaskan fame. This exploit was particularly
gratifying to the three men; for they stood in need of the outfit
which it furnishedand were enabled to make a long-desired trip
into the virgin Eastwhere miners had not yet appeared. It was
brought about by a conversation in the Eldorado Saloonin which
men waxed boastful of their favorite dogs. Buckbecause of his
recordwas the target for these menand Thornton was driven
stoutly to defend him. At the end of half an hour one man stated
that his dog could start a sled with five hundred pounds and walk
off with it; a second bragged six hundred for his dog; and a
Pooh! pooh!said John Thornton; "Buck can start a thousand
And break it out? and walk off with it for a hundred yards?
demanded Matthewsona Bonanza Kinghe of the seven hundred
And break it out, and walk off with it for a hundred yards,John
Thornton said coolly.
Well,Matthewson saidslowly and deliberatelyso that all
could hearI've got a thousand dollars that says he can't. And
there it is.So sayinghe slammed a sack of gold dust of the
size of a bologna sausage down upon the bar.
Nobody spoke. Thornton's bluffif bluff it washad been called.
He could feel a flush of warm blood creeping up his face. His
tongue had tricked him. He did not know whether Buck could start
a thousand pounds. Half a ton! The enormousness of it appalled
him. He had great faith in Buck's strength and had often thought
him capable of starting such a load; but neveras nowhad he
faced the possibility of itthe eyes of a dozen men fixed upon
himsilent and waiting. Furtherhe had no thousand dollars; nor
had Hans or Pete.
I've got a sled standing outside now, with twenty fiftypound
sacks of flour on it,Matthewson went on with brutal directness;
so don't let that hinder you.
Thornton did not reply. He did not know what to say. He glanced
from face to face in the absent way of a man who has lost the
power of thought and is seeking somewhere to find the thing that
will start it going again. The face of Jim O'Briena Mastodon
King and old-time comradecaught his eyes. It was as a cue to
himseeming to rouse him to do what he would never have dreamed
Can you lend me a thousand?he askedalmost in a whisper.
Sure,answered O'Brienthumping down a plethoric sack by the
side of Matthewson's. "Though it's little faith I'm havingJohn
that the beast can do the trick."
The Eldorado emptied its occupants into the street to see the
test. The tables were desertedand the dealers and gamekeepers
came forth to see the outcome of the wager and to lay odds.
Several hundred menfurred and mittenedbanked around the sled
within easy distance. Matthewson's sledloaded with a thousand
pounds of flourhad been standing for a couple of hoursand in
the intense cold (it was sixty below zero) the runners had frozen
fast to the hard-packed snow. Men offered odds of two to one that
Buck could not budge the sled. A quibble arose concerning the
phrase "break out." O'Brien contended it was Thornton's privilege
to knock the runners looseleaving Buck to "break it out" from a
dead standstill. Matthewson insisted that the phrase included
breaking the runners from the frozen grip of the snow. A majority
of the men who had witnessed the making of the bet decided in his
favorwhereat the odds went up to three to one against Buck.
There were no takers. Not a man believed him capable of the feat.
Thornton had been hurried into the wagerheavy with doubt; and
now that he looked at the sled itselfthe concrete factwith the
regular team of ten dogs curled up in the snow before itthe more
impossible the task appeared. Matthewson waxed jubilant.
Three to one!he proclaimed. "I'll lay you another thousand at
that figureThornton. What d'ye say?"
Thornton's doubt was strong in his facebut his fighting spirit
was aroused--the fighting spirit that soars above oddsfails to
recognize the impossibleand is deaf to all save the clamor for
battle. He called Hans and Pete to him. Their sacks were slim
and with his own the three partners could rake together only two
hundred dollars. In the ebb of their fortunesthis sum was their
total capital; yet they laid it unhesitatingly against
Matthewson's six hundred.
The team of ten dogs was unhitchedand Buckwith his own
harnesswas put into the sled. He had caught the contagion of
the excitementand he felt that in some way he must do a great
thing for John Thornton. Murmurs of admiration at his splendid
appearance went up. He was in perfect conditionwithout an ounce
of superfluous fleshand the one hundred and fifty pounds that he
weighed were so many pounds of grit and virility. His furry coat
shone with the sheen of silk. Down the neck and across the
shouldershis manein repose as it washalf bristled and seemed
to lift with every movementas though excess of vigor made each
particular hair alive and active. The great breast and heavy fore
legs were no more than in proportion with the rest of the body
where the muscles showed in tight rolls underneath the skin. Men
felt these muscles and proclaimed them hard as ironand the odds
went down to two to one.
Gad, sir! Gad, sir!stuttered a member of the latest dynastya
king of the Skookum Benches. "I offer you eight hundred for him
sirbefore the testsir; eight hundred just as he stands."
Thornton shook his head and stepped to Buck's side.
You must stand off from him,Matthewson protested. "Free play
and plenty of room."
The crowd fell silent; only could be heard the voices of the
gamblers vainly offering two to one. Everybody acknowledged Buck
a magnificent animalbut twenty fifty-pound sacks of flour bulked
too large in their eyes for them to loosen their pouch-strings.
Thornton knelt down by Buck's side. He took his head in his two
hands and rested cheek on cheek. He did not playfully shake him
as was his wontor murmur soft love curses; but he whispered in
his ear. "As you love meBuck. As you love me was what he
whispered. Buck whined with suppressed eagerness.
The crowd was watching curiously. The affair was growing
mysterious. It seemed like a conjuration. As Thornton got to his
feet, Buck seized his mittened hand between his jaws, pressing in
with his teeth and releasing slowly, half-reluctantly. It was the
answer, in terms, not of speech, but of love. Thornton stepped
NowBuck he said.
Buck tightened the traces, then slacked them for a matter of
several inches. It was the way he had learned.
Gee!" Thornton's voice rang outsharp in the tense silence.
Buck swung to the rightending the movement in a plunge that took
up the slack and with a sudden jerk arrested his one hundred and
fifty pounds. The load quiveredand from under the runners arose
a crisp crackling.
Buck duplicated the manoeuvrethis time to the left. The
crackling turned into a snappingthe sled pivoting and the
runners slipping and grating several inches to the side. The sled
was broken out. Men were holding their breathsintensely
unconscious of the fact.
Thornton's command cracked out like a pistol-shot. Buck threw
himself forwardtightening the traces with a jarring lunge. His
whole body was gathered compactly together in the tremendous
effortthe muscles writhing and knotting like live things under
the silky fur. His great chest was low to the groundhis head
forward and downwhile his feet were flying like madthe claws
scarring the hard-packed snow in parallel grooves. The sled
swayed and trembledhalf-started forward. One of his feet
slippedand one man groaned aloud. Then the sled lurched ahead in
what appeared a rapid succession of jerksthough it never really
came to a dead stop again ...half an inch...an inch . . . two
inches. . . The jerks perceptibly diminished; as the sled gained
momentumhe caught them uptill it was moving steadily along.
Men gasped and began to breathe againunaware that for a moment
they had ceased to breathe. Thornton was running behind
encouraging Buck with shortcheery words. The distance had been
measured offand as he neared the pile of firewood which marked
the end of the hundred yardsa cheer began to grow and grow
which burst into a roar as he passed the firewood and halted at
command. Every man was tearing himself looseeven Matthewson.
Hats and mittens were flying in the air. Men were shaking hands
it did not matter with whomand bubbling over in a general
But Thornton fell on his knees beside Buck. Head was against
headand he was shaking him back and forth. Those who hurried up
heard him cursing Buckand he cursed him long and ferventlyand
softly and lovingly.
Gad, sir! Gad, sir!spluttered the Skookum Bench king. "I'll
give you a thousand for himsira thousandsir--twelve hundred
Thornton rose to his feet. His eyes were wet. The tears were
streaming frankly down his cheeks. "Sir he said to the Skookum
Bench king, nosir. You can go to hellsir. It's the best I
can do for yousir."
Buck seized Thornton's hand in his teeth. Thornton shook him back
and forth. As though animated by a common impulsethe onlookers
drew back to a respectful distance; nor were they again indiscreet
enough to interrupt.
The Sounding of the Call
When Buck earned sixteen hundred dollars in five minutes for John
Thorntonhe made it possible for his master to pay off certain
debts and to journey with his partners into the East after a
fabled lost minethe history of which was as old as the history
of the country. Many men had sought it; few had found it; and
more than a few there were who had never returned from the quest.
This lost mine was steeped in tragedy and shrouded in mystery. No
one knew of the first man. The oldest tradition stopped before it
got back to him. From the beginning there had been an ancient and
ramshackle cabin. Dying men had sworn to itand to the mine the
site of which it markedclinching their testimony with nuggets
that were unlike any known grade of gold in the Northland.
But no living man had looted this treasure houseand the dead
were dead; wherefore John Thornton and Pete and Hanswith Buck
and half a dozen other dogsfaced into the East on an unknown
trail to achieve where men and dogs as good as themselves had
failed. They sledded seventy miles up the Yukonswung to the
left into the Stewart Riverpassed the Mayo and the McQuestion
and held on until the Stewart itself became a streamletthreading
the upstanding peaks which marked the backbone of the continent.
John Thornton asked little of man or nature. He was unafraid of
the wild. With a handful of salt and a rifle he could plunge into
the wilderness and fare wherever he pleased and as long as he
pleased. Being in no hasteIndian fashionhe hunted his dinner
in the course of the day's travel; and if he failed to find it
like the Indianhe kept on travellingsecure in the knowledge
that sooner or later he would come to it. Soon this great
journey into the Eaststraight meat was the bill of fare
ammunition and tools principally made up the load on the sledand
the time-card was drawn upon the limitless future.
To Buck it was boundless delightthis huntingfishingand
indefinite wandering through strange places. For weeks at a time
they would hold on steadilyday after day; and for weeks upon end
they would camphere and therethe dogs loafing and the men
burning holes through frozen muck and gravel and washing countless
pans of dirt by the heat of the fire. Sometimes they went hungry
sometimes they feasted riotouslyall according to the abundance
of game and the fortune of hunting. Summer arrivedand dogs and
men packed on their backsrafted across blue mountain lakesand
descended or ascended unknown rivers in slender boats whipsawed
from the standing forest.
The months came and wentand back and forth they twisted through
the uncharted vastnesswhere no men were and yet where men had
been if the Lost Cabin were true. They went across divides in
summer blizzardsshivered under the midnight sun on naked
mountains between the timber line and the eternal snowsdropped
into summer valleys amid swarming gnats and fliesand in the
shadows of glaciers picked strawberries and flowers as ripe and
fair as any the Southland could boast. In the fall of the year
they penetrated a weird lake countrysad and silentwhere wildfowl
had beenbut where then there was no life nor sign of life-only
the blowing of chill windsthe forming of ice in sheltered
placesand the melancholy rippling of waves on lonely beaches.
And through another winter they wandered on the obliterated trails
of men who had gone before. Oncethey came upon a path blazed
through the forestan ancient pathand the Lost Cabin seemed
very near. But the path began nowhere and ended nowhereand it
remained mysteryas the man who made it and the reason he made it
remained mystery. Another time they chanced upon the time-graven
wreckage of a hunting lodgeand amid the shreds of rotted
blankets John Thornton found a long-barrelled flint-lock. He knew
it for a Hudson Bay Company gun of the young days in the
Northwestwhen such a gun was worth its height in beaver skins
packed flatAnd that was all--no hint as to the man who in an
early day had reared the lodge and left the gun among the
Spring came on once moreand at the end of all their wandering
they foundnot the Lost Cabinbut a shallow placer in a broad
valley where the gold showed like yellow butter across the bottom
of the washing-pan. They sought no farther. Each day they worked
earned them thousands of dollars in clean dust and nuggetsand
they worked every day. The gold was sacked in moose-hide bags
fifty pounds to the bagand piled like so much firewood outside
the spruce-bough lodge. Like giants they toileddays flashing on
the heels of days like dreams as they heaped the treasure up.
There was nothing for the dogs to dosave the hauling in of meat
now and again that Thornton killedand Buck spent long hours
musing by the fire. The vision of the short-legged hairy man came
to him more frequentlynow that there was little work to be done;
and oftenblinking by the fireBuck wandered with him in that
other world which he remembered.
The salient thing of this other world seemed fear. When he
watched the hairy man sleeping by the firehead between his knees
and hands clasped aboveBuck saw that he slept restlesslywith
many starts and awakeningsat which times he would peer fearfully
into the darkness and fling more wood upon the fire. Did they
walk by the beach of a seawhere the hairy man gathered shellfish
and ate them as he gatheredit was with eyes that roved
everywhere for hidden danger and with legs prepared to run like
the wind at its first appearance. Through the forest they crept
noiselesslyBuck at the hairy man's heels; and they were alert
and vigilantthe pair of themears twitching and moving and
nostrils quiveringfor the man heard and smelled as keenly as
Buck. The hairy man could spring up into the trees and travel
ahead as fast as on the groundswinging by the arms from limb to
limbsometimes a dozen feet apartletting go and catchingnever
fallingnever missing his grip. In facthe seemed as much at
home among the trees as on the ground; and Buck had memories of
nights of vigil spent beneath trees wherein the hairy man roosted
holding on tightly as he slept.
And closely akin to the visions of the hairy man was the call
still sounding in the depths of the forest. It filled him with a
great unrest and strange desires. It caused him to feel a vague
sweet gladnessand he was aware of wild yearnings and stirrings
for he knew not what. Sometimes he pursued the call into the
forestlooking for it as though it were a tangible thingbarking
softly or defiantlyas the mood might dictate. He would thrust
his nose into the cool wood mossor into the black soil where
long grasses grewand snort with joy at the fat earth smells; or
he would crouch for hoursas if in concealmentbehind funguscovered
trunks of fallen treeswide-eyed and wide-eared to all
that moved and sounded about him. It might belying thusthat
he hoped to surprise this call he could not understand. But he
did not know why he did these various things. He was impelled to
do themand did not reason about them at all.
Irresistible impulses seized him. He would be lying in camp
dozing lazily in the heat of the daywhen suddenly his head would
lift and his ears cock upintent and listeningand he would
spring to his feet and dash awayand on and onfor hours
through the forest aisles and across the open spaces where the
niggerheads bunched. He loved to run down dry watercoursesand
to creep and spy upon the bird life in the woods. For a day at a
time he would lie in the underbrush where he could watch the
partridges drumming and strutting up and down. But especially he
loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights
listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forestreading
signs and sounds as man may read a bookand seeking for the
mysterious something that called--calledwaking or sleepingat
all timesfor him to come.
One night he sprang from sleep with a starteager-eyednostrils
quivering and scentinghis mane bristling in recurrent waves.
From the forest came the call (or one note of itfor the call was
many noted)distinct and definite as never before--a long-drawn
howllikeyet unlikeany noise made by husky dog. And he knew
itin the old familiar wayas a sound heard before. He sprang
through the sleeping camp and in swift silence dashed through the
woods. As he drew closer to the cry he went more slowlywith
caution in every movementtill he came to an open place among the
treesand looking out sawerect on hauncheswith nose pointed
to the skya longleantimber wolf.
He had made no noiseyet it ceased from its howling and tried to
sense his presence. Buck stalked into the openhalf crouching
body gathered compactly togethertail straight and stifffeet
falling with unwonted care. Every movement advertised commingled
threatening and overture of friendliness. It was the menacing
truce that marks the meeting of wild beasts that prey. But the
wolf fled at sight of him. He followedwith wild leapingsin a
frenzy to overtake. He ran him into a blind channelin the bed
of the creek where a timber jam barred the way. The wolf whirled
aboutpivoting on his hind legs after the fashion of Joe and of
all cornered husky dogssnarling and bristlingclipping his
teeth together in a continuous and rapid succession of snaps.
Buck did not attackbut circled him about and hedged him in with
friendly advances. The wolf was suspicious and afraid; for Buck
made three of him in weightwhile his head barely reached Buck's
shoulder. Watching his chancehe darted awayand the chase was
resumed. Time and again he was corneredand the thing repeated
though he was in poor conditionor Buck could not so easily have
overtaken him. He would run till Buck's head was even with his
flankwhen he would whirl around at bayonly to dash away again
at the first opportunity.
But in the end Buck's pertinacity was rewarded; for the wolf
finding that no harm was intendedfinally sniffed noses with him.
Then they became friendlyand played about in the nervoushalfcoy
way with which fierce beasts belie their fierceness. After
some time of this the wolf started off at an easy lope in a manner
that plainly showed he was going somewhere. He made it clear to
Buck that he was to comeand they ran side by side through the
sombre twilightstraight up the creek bedinto the gorge from
which it issuedand across the bleak divide where it took its
On the opposite slope of the watershed they came down into a level
country where were great stretches of forest and many streamsand
through these great stretches they ran steadilyhour after hour
the sun rising higher and the day growing warmer. Buck was wildly
glad. He knew he was at last answering the callrunning by the
side of his wood brother toward the place from where the call
surely came. Old memories were coming upon him fastand he was
stirring to them as of old he stirred to the realities of which
they were the shadows. He had done this thing beforesomewhere
in that other and dimly remembered worldand he was doing it
againnowrunning free in the openthe unpacked earth
underfootthe wide sky overhead.
They stopped by a running stream to drinkandstoppingBuck
remembered John Thornton. He sat down. The wolf started on
toward the place from where the call surely camethen returned to
himsniffing noses and making actions as though to encourage him.
But Buck turned about and started slowly on the back track. For
the better part of an hour the wild brother ran by his side
whining softly. Then he sat downpointed his nose upwardand
howled. It was a mournful howland as Buck held steadily on his
way he heard it grow faint and fainter until it was lost in the
John Thornton was eating dinner when Buck dashed into camp and
sprang upon him in a frenzy of affectionoverturning him
scrambling upon himlicking his facebiting his hand--"playing
the general tom-fool as John Thornton characterized it, the
while he shook Buck back and forth and cursed him lovingly.
For two days and nights Buck never left camp, never let Thornton
out of his sight. He followed him about at his work, watched him
while he ate, saw him into his blankets at night and out of them
in the morning. But after two days the call in the forest began
to sound more imperiously than ever. Buck's restlessness came back
on him, and he was haunted by recollections of the wild brother,
and of the smiling land beyond the divide and the run side by side
through the wide forest stretches. Once again he took to
wandering in the woods, but the wild brother came no more; and
though he listened through long vigils, the mournful howl was
He began to sleep out at night, staying away from camp for days at
a time; and once he crossed the divide at the head of the creek
and went down into the land of timber and streams. There he
wandered for a week, seeking vainly for fresh sign of the wild
brother, killing his meat as he travelled and travelling with the
long, easy lope that seems never to tire. He fished for salmon in
a broad stream that emptied somewhere into the sea, and by this
stream he killed a large black bear, blinded by the mosquitoes
while likewise fishing, and raging through the forest helpless and
terrible. Even so, it was a hard fight, and it aroused the last
latent remnants of Buck's ferocity. And two days later, when he
returned to his kill and found a dozen wolverenes quarrelling over
the spoil, he scattered them like chaff; and those that fled left
two behind who would quarrel no more.
The blood-longing became stronger than ever before. He was a
killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived,
unaided, alone, by virtue of his own strength and prowess,
surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the
strong survived. Because of all this he became possessed of a
great pride in himself, which communicated itself like a contagion
to his physical being. It advertised itself in all his movements,
was apparent in the play of every muscle, spoke plainly as speech
in the way he carried himself, and made his glorious furry coat if
anything more glorious. But for the stray brown on his muzzle and
above his eyes, and for the splash of white hair that ran midmost
down his chest, he might well have been mistaken for a gigantic
wolf, larger than the largest of the breed. From his St. Bernard
father he had inherited size and weight, but it was his shepherd
mother who had given shape to that size and weight. His muzzle
was the long wolf muzzle, save that was larger than the muzzle of
any wolf; and his head, somewhat broader, was the wolf head on a
His cunning was wolf cunning, and wild cunning; his intelligence,
shepherd intelligence and St. Bernard intelligence; and all this,
plus an experience gained in the fiercest of schools, made him as
formidable a creature as any that intelligence roamed the wild. A
carnivorous animal living on a straight meat diet, he was in full
flower, at the high tide of his life, overspilling with vigor and
virility. When Thornton passed a caressing hand along his back, a
snapping and crackling followed the hand, each hair discharging its
pent magnetism at the contact. Every part, brain and body, nerve
tissue and fibre, was keyed to the most exquisite pitch; and
between all the parts there was a perfect equilibrium or
adjustment. To sights and sounds and events which required
action, he responded with lightning-like rapidity. Quickly as a
husky dog could leap to defend from attack or to attack, he could
leap twice as quickly. He saw the movement, or heard sound, and
responded in less time than another dog required to compass the
mere seeing or hearing. He perceived and determined and responded
in the same instant. In point of fact the three actions of
perceiving, determining, and responding were sequential; but so
infinitesimal were the intervals of time between them that they
appeared simultaneous. His muscles were surcharged with vitality,
and snapped into play sharply, like steel springs. Life streamed
through him in splendid flood, glad and rampant, until it seemed
that it would burst him asunder in sheer ecstasy and pour forth
generously over the world.
Never was there such a dog said John Thornton one day, as the
partners watched Buck marching out of camp.
When he was madethe mould was broke said Pete.
Py jingo! I t'ink so mineself Hans affirmed.
They saw him marching out of camp, but they did not see the
instant and terrible transformation which took place as soon as he
was within the secrecy of the forest. He no longer marched. At
once he became a thing of the wild, stealing along softly, catfooted,
a passing shadow that appeared and disappeared among the
shadows. He knew how to take advantage of every cover, to crawl
on his belly like a snake, and like a snake to leap and strike.
He could take a ptarmigan from its nest, kill a rabbit as it
slept, and snap in mid air the little chipmunks fleeing a second
too late for the trees. Fish, in open pools, were not too quick
for him; nor were beaver, mending their dams, too wary. He killed
to eat, not from wantonness; but he preferred to eat what he
killed himself. So a lurking humor ran through his deeds, and it
was his delight to steal upon the squirrels, and, when he all but
had them, to let them go, chattering in mortal fear to the
As the fall of the year came on, the moose appeared in greater
abundance, moving slowly down to meet the winter in the lower and
less rigorous valleys. Buck had already dragged down a stray
part-grown calf; but he wished strongly for larger and more
formidable quarry, and he came upon it one day on the divide at
the head of the creek. A band of twenty moose had crossed over
from the land of streams and timber, and chief among them was a
great bull. He was in a savage temper, and, standing over six
feet from the ground, was as formidable an antagonist as even Buck
could desire. Back and forth the bull tossed his great palmated
antlers, branching to fourteen points and embracing seven feet
within the tips. His small eyes burned with a vicious and bitter
light, while he roared with fury at sight of Buck.
From the bull's side, just forward of the flank, protruded a
feathered arrow-end, which accounted for his savageness. Guided by
that instinct which came from the old hunting days of the
primordial world, Buck proceeded to cut the bull out from the
herd. It was no slight task. He would bark and dance about in
front of the bull, just out of reach of the great antlers and of
the terrible splay hoofs which could have stamped his life out
with a single blow. Unable to turn his back on the fanged danger
and go on, the bull would be driven into paroxysms of rage. At
such moments he charged Buck, who retreated craftily, luring him
on by a simulated inability to escape. But when he was thus
separated from his fellows, two or three of the younger bulls
would charge back upon Buck and enable the wounded bull to rejoin
There is a patience of the wild--dogged, tireless, persistent as
life itself--that holds motionless for endless hours the spider in
its web, the snake in its coils, the panther in its ambuscade;
this patience belongs peculiarly to life when it hunts its living
food; and it belonged to Buck as he clung to the flank of the
herd, retarding its march, irritating the young bulls, worrying
the cows with their half-grown calves, and driving the wounded
bull mad with helpless rage. For half a day this continued. Buck
multiplied himself, attacking from all sides, enveloping the herd
in a whirlwind of menace, cutting out his victim as fast as it
could rejoin its mates, wearing out the patience of creatures
preyed upon, which is a lesser patience than that of creatures
As the day wore along and the sun dropped to its bed in the
northwest (the darkness had come back and the fall nights were six
hours long), the young bulls retraced their steps more and more
reluctantly to the aid of their beset leader. The down-coming
winter was harrying them on to the lower levels, and it seemed
they could never shake off this tireless creature that held them
back. Besides, it was not the life of the herd, or of the young
bulls, that was threatened. The life of only one member was
demanded, which was a remoter interest than their lives, and in
the end they were content to pay the toll.
As twilight fell the old bull stood with lowered head, watching
his mates--the cows he had known, the calves he had fathered, the
bulls he had mastered--as they shambled on at a rapid pace through
the fading light. He could not follow, for before his nose leaped
the merciless fanged terror that would not let him go. Three
hundredweight more than half a ton he weighed; he had lived a
long, strong life, full of fight and struggle, and at the end he
faced death at the teeth of a creature whose head did not reach
beyond his great knuckled knees.
From then on, night and day, Buck never left his prey, never gave
it a moment's rest, never permitted it to browse the leaves of
trees or the shoots of young birch and willow. Nor did he give the
wounded bull opportunity to slake his burning thirst in the
slender trickling streams they crossed. Often, in desperation, he
burst into long stretches of flight. At such times Buck did not
attempt to stay him, but loped easily at his heels, satisfied with
the way the game was played, lying down when the moose stood
still, attacking him fiercely when he strove to eat or drink.
The great head drooped more and more under its tree of horns, and
the shambling trot grew weak and weaker. He took to standing for
long periods, with nose to the ground and dejected ears dropped
limply; and Buck found more time in which to get water for himself
and in which to rest. At such moments, panting with red lolling
tongue and with eyes fixed upon the big bull, it appeared to Buck
that a change was coming over the face of things. He could feel a
new stir in the land. As the moose were coming into the land,
other kinds of life were coming in. Forest and stream and air
seemed palpitant with their presence. The news of it was borne in
upon him, not by sight, or sound, or smell, but by some other and
subtler sense. He heard nothing, saw nothing, yet knew that the
land was somehow different; that through it strange things were
afoot and ranging; and he resolved to investigate after he had
finished the business in hand.
At last, at the end of the fourth day, he pulled the great moose
down. For a day and a night he remained by the kill, eating and
sleeping, turn and turn about. Then, rested, refreshed and
strong, he turned his face toward camp and John Thornton. He
broke into the long easy lope, and went on, hour after hour, never
at loss for the tangled way, heading straight home through strange
country with a certitude of direction that put man and his
magnetic needle to shame.
As he held on he became more and more conscious of the new stir in
the land. There was life abroad in it different from the life
which had been there throughout the summer. No longer was this
fact borne in upon him in some subtle, mysterious way. The birds
talked of it, the squirrels chattered about it, the very breeze
whispered of it. Several times he stopped and drew in the fresh
morning air in great sniffs, reading a message which made him leap
on with greater speed. He was oppressed with a sense of calamity
happening, if it were not calamity already happened; and as he
crossed the last watershed and dropped down into the valley toward
camp, he proceeded with greater caution.
Three miles away he came upon a fresh trail that sent his neck
hair rippling and bristling, It led straight toward camp and John
Thornton. Buck hurried on, swiftly and stealthily, every nerve
straining and tense, alert to the multitudinous details which told
a story--all but the end. His nose gave him a varying description
of the passage of the life on the heels of which he was
travelling. He remarked die pregnant silence of the forest. The
bird life had flitted. The squirrels were in hiding. One only he
saw,--a sleek gray fellow, flattened against a gray dead limb so
that he seemed a part of it, a woody excrescence upon the wood
As Buck slid along with the obscureness of a gliding shadow, his
nose was jerked suddenly to the side as though a positive force
had gripped and pulled it. He followed the new scent into a
thicket and found Nig. He was lying on his side, dead where he
had dragged himself, an arrow protruding, head and feathers, from
either side of his body.
A hundred yards farther on, Buck came upon one of the sled-dogs
Thornton had bought in Dawson. This dog was thrashing about in a
death-struggle, directly on the trail, and Buck passed around him
without stopping. From the camp came the faint sound of many
voices, rising and falling in a sing-song chant. Bellying forward
to the edge of the clearing, he found Hans, lying on his face,
feathered with arrows like a porcupine. At the same instant Buck
peered out where the spruce-bough lodge had been and saw what made
his hair leap straight up on his neck and shoulders. A gust of
overpowering rage swept over him. He did not know that he
growled, but he growled aloud with a terrible ferocity. For the
last time in his life he allowed passion to usurp cunning and
reason, and it was because of his great love for John Thornton
that he lost his head.
The Yeehats were dancing about the wreckage of the spruce-bough
lodge when they heard a fearful roaring and saw rushing upon them
an animal the like of which they had never seen before. It was
Buck, a live hurricane of fury, hurling himself upon them in a
frenzy to destroy. He sprang at the foremost man (it was the
chief of the Yeehats), ripping the throat wide open till the rent
jugular spouted a fountain of blood. He did not pause to worry
the victim, but ripped in passing, with the next bound tearing
wide the throat of a second man. There was no withstanding him.
He plunged about in their very midst, tearing, rending,
destroying, in constant and terrific motion which defied the
arrows they discharged at him. In fact, so inconceivably rapid
were his movements, and so closely were the Indians tangled
together, that they shot one another with the arrows; and one
young hunter, hurling a spear at Buck in mid air, drove it through
the chest of another hunter with such force that the point broke
through the skin of the back and stood out beyond. Then a panic
seized the Yeehats, and they fled in terror to the woods,
proclaiming as they fled the advent of the Evil Spirit.
And truly Buck was the Fiend incarnate, raging at their heels and
dragging them down like deer as they raced through the trees. It
was a fateful day for the Yeehats. They scattered far and wide
over the country, and it was not till a week later that the last
of the survivors gathered together in a lower valley and counted
their losses. As for Buck, wearying of the pursuit, he returned
to the desolated camp. He found Pete where he had been killed in
his blankets in the first moment of surprise. Thornton's
desperate struggle was fresh-written on the earth, and Buck
scented every detail of it down to the edge of a deep pool. By
the edge, head and fore feet in the water, lay Skeet, faithful to
the last. The pool itself, muddy and discolored from the sluice
boxes, effectually hid what it contained, and it contained John
Thornton; for Buck followed his trace into the water, from which
no trace led away.
All day Buck brooded by the pool or roamed restlessly about the
camp. Death, as a cessation of movement, as a passing out and
away from the lives of the living, he knew, and he knew John
Thornton was dead. It left a great void in him, somewhat akin to
hunger, but a void which ached and ached, and which food could not
fill, At times, when he paused to contemplate the carcasses of the
Yeehats, he forgot the pain of it; and at such times he was aware
of a great pride in himself,--a pride greater than any he had yet
experienced. He had killed man, the noblest game of all, and he
had killed in the face of the law of club and fang. He sniffed
the bodies curiously. They had died so easily. It was harder to
kill a husky dog than them. They were no match at all, were it
not for their arrows and spears and clubs. Thenceforward he would
be unafraid of them except when they bore in their hands their
arrows, spears, and clubs.
Night came on, and a full moon rose high over the trees into the
sky, lighting the land till it lay bathed in ghostly day. And with
the coming of the night, brooding and mourning by the pool, Buck
became alive to a stirring of the new life in the forest other
than that which the Yeehats had made, He stood up, listening and
scenting. From far away drifted a faint, sharp yelp, followed by
a chorus of similar sharp yelps. As the moments passed the yelps
grew closer and louder. Again Buck knew them as things heard in
that other world which persisted in his memory. He walked to the
centre of the open space and listened. It was the call, the manynoted
call, sounding more luringly and compellingly than ever
before. And as never before, he was ready to obey. John Thornton
was dead. The last tie was broken. Man and the claims of man no
longer bound him.
Hunting their living meat, as the Yeehats were hunting it, on the
flanks of the migrating moose, the wolf pack had at last crossed
over from the land of streams and timber and invaded Buck's
valley. Into the clearing where the moonlight streamed, they
poured in a silvery flood; and in the centre of the clearing stood
Buck, motionless as a statue, waiting their coming. They were
awed, so still and large he stood, and a moment's pause fell, till
the boldest one leaped straight for him. Like a flash Buck
struck, breaking the neck. Then he stood, without movement, as
before, the stricken wolf rolling in agony behind him. Three
others tried it in sharp succession; and one after the other they
drew back, streaming blood from slashed throats or shoulders.
This was sufficient to fling the whole pack forward, pell-mell,
crowded together, blocked and confused by its eagerness to pull
down the prey. Buck's marvellous quickness and agility stood him
in good stead. Pivoting on his hind legs, and snapping and
gashing, he was everywhere at once, presenting a front which was
apparently unbroken so swiftly did he whirl and guard from side to
side. But to prevent them from getting behind him, he was forced
back, down past the pool and into the creek bed, till he brought
up against a high gravel bank. He worked along to a right angle
in the bank which the men had made in the course of mining, and in
this angle he came to bay, protected on three sides and with
nothing to do but face the front.
And so well did he face it, that at the end of half an hour the
wolves drew back discomfited. The tongues of all were out and
lolling, the white fangs showing cruelly white in the moonlight.
Some were lying down with heads raised and ears pricked forward;
others stood on their feet, watching him; and still others were
lapping water from the pool. One wolf, long and lean and gray,
advanced cautiously, in a friendly manner, and Buck recognized the
wild brother with whom he had run for a night and a day. He was
whining softly, and, as Buck whined, they touched noses.
Then an old wolf, gaunt and battle-scarred, came forward. Buck
writhed his lips into the preliminary of a snarl, but sniffed
noses with him, Whereupon the old wolf sat down, pointed nose at
the moon, and broke out the long wolf howl. The others sat down
and howled. And now the call came to Buck in unmistakable
accents. He, too, sat down and howled. This over, he came out of
his angle and the pack crowded around him, sniffing in halffriendly,
half-savage manner. The leaders lifted the yelp of the
pack and sprang away into the woods. The wolves swung in behind,
yelping in chorus. And Buck ran with them, side by side with the
wild brother, yelping as he ran.
* * *
And here may well end the story of Buck. The years were not many
when the Yeehats noted a change in the breed of timber wolves; for
some were seen with splashes of brown on head and muzzle, and with
a rift of white centring down the chest. But more remarkable than
this, the Yeehats tell of a Ghost Dog that runs at the head of the
pack. They are afraid of this Ghost Dog, for it has cunning
greater than they, stealing from their camps in fierce winters,
robbing their traps, slaying their dogs, and defying their bravest
Nay, the tale grows worse. Hunters there are who fail to return
to the camp, and hunters there have been whom their tribesmen
found with throats slashed cruelly open and with wolf prints about
them in the snow greater than the prints of any wolf. Each fall,
when the Yeehats follow the movement of the moose, there is a
certain valley which they never enter. And women there are who
become sad when the word goes over the fire of how the Evil Spirit
came to select that valley for an abiding-place.
In the summers there is one visitor, however, to that valley, of
which the Yeehats do not know. It is a great, gloriously coated
wolf, like, and yet unlike, all other wolves. He crosses alone
from the smiling timber land and comes down into an open space
among the trees. Here a yellow stream flows from rotted moosehide
sacks and sinks into the ground, with long grasses growing
through it and vegetable mould overrunning it and hiding its
yellow from the sun; and here he muses for a time, howling once,
long and mournfully, ere he departs.
But he is not always alone. When the long winter nights come on
and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be
seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or
glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great
throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is
the song of the pack.