THE CALL OF THE WILD
BUCK DID NOT READ THE newspapers, or he would have known that
trouble was brewing not alone for himself, but for every tide-water
dog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to
San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a
yellow metal, and because steamship and transportation companies
were booming the find, thousands of men were rushing into the
Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were
heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil and furry coats to
protect them from the frost.
Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley.
Judge Miller's place, it was called. It stood back from the road, half
hidden among the trees, through 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
widespreading 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 stables, where a dozen grooms and boys
held forth, rows of vine-clad servants' cottages, an endless and
orderly array of out-houses, long grape arbours, green pastures,
orchards, and berry patches. Then there was the pumping plant for
the artesian well, and the big cement tank where Judge Miller's boys
took their morning plunge and kept cool in the hot afternoon.
And over this great demesne Buck ruled. Here he was born, and here
he had lived the four years of his life. It was true, there were other
dogs. There could not but be other dogs on so vast a place, but they
did not count. They came and went, resided in the populous kennels, or
lived obscurely in the recesses of the house after the fashion of
Toots, the Japanese pug, or Ysabel, the Mexican hairless- strange
creatures that rarely put nose out of doors or set foot to ground.
On the other hand, there were the fox terriers, a score of them at
least, who 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 Alice, the Judge's daughters,
on 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 back, or rolled them in the grass, and
guarded their footsteps through wild adventures down to the fountain
in the stable yard, and even beyond, where the paddocks were, and
the berry patches. Among the terriers he stalked imperiously, and
Toots and Ysabel he utterly ignored, for he was king- king over all
the creeping, crawling, flying things of Judge Miller's place,
His father, Elmo, a huge St. Bernard, had been the Judge's
inseparable companion and Buck did fair to follow in the way of his
father. He was not so large- he weighed only one hundred and forty
pounds- for his mother, Shep, had been a Scotch shepherd dog.
Nevertheless, one hundred and forty pounds, to 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 himself, was ever a trifle egotistical, as 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 him, as to the cold-tubbing races, the
love of water had been a tonic and a health preserver.
And this was the manner of dog Buck was in the fall of 1897, when
the Klondike strike dragged men from all the world into the frozen
North. But Buck did not read the newspapers, and he did not know
that Manuel, one of the gardener's helpers, was an undesirable
acquaintance. Manuel had one besetting sin. He loved to play Chinese
lottery. Also, in his gambling, he had one besetting weakness- faith
in a system; and this made his damnation certain. For to play a system
requires money, while the wages of a gardener's helper do not lap over
the needs of a wife and numerous progeny.
The Judge was at a meeting of the Raisin Growers' Association, and
the boys were busy organising an athletic club, on 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 man, no one saw them arrive at the little flag
station known as College Park. This man talked with Manuel, and
money clinked between them.
'You might wrap up the goods before you deliver 'm,' the stranger
said gruffly, and Manuel doubled a piece of stout rope around Buck's
neck under the collar.
'Twist it, an' you'll choke 'm plentee,' said Manuel, and the
stranger grunted a ready affirmative.
Buck had accepted the rope with quiet dignity. To be sure, it was an
unwonted performance: but he had learned to trust in men he knew,
and to give them credit for a wisdom that outreached his own. But when
the ends of the rope were placed in the stranger's hands, he growled
menacingly. He had merely intimated his displeasure, in 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 man, who met him halfway, grappled him close by the
throat, and with a deft twist threw him over on his back. Then the
rope tightened mercilessly, while Buck struggled in a fury, his tongue
lolling out of his mouth and his great chest panting futilely. Never
in all his life had he been so vilely treated, and never in all his
life had he been so angry. But his strength ebbed, his eyes glazed,
and he knew nothing when the train was flagged and the two men threw
him into the baggage car.
The next he knew, he was dimly aware that his tongue was hurting and
that he was being jolted along in some kind of 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 eyes, and into
them came the unbridled anger of a kidnapped king. The man sprang
for his throat, but Buck was too quick for him. His jaws closed on the
hand; nor did they relax till his senses were choked out of him once
'Yep, has fits,' the man said, hiding his mangled hand from the
baggageman, who had been attracted by the sounds of struggle. 'I'm
takin' 'im up for the boss to 'Frisco. A crack dog-doctor there thinks
that he can cure 'im.'
Concerning that night's ride the man spoke most eloquently for
himself, in 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 thousand, cold cash.'
His hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, and 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 less, so help me.'
'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 were born to hang,' laughed the saloon-keeper.
'Here, lend me a hand before you pull your freight,' he added.
Dazed, suffering intolerable pain from throat and tongue, with the
life half throttled out of him, Buck attempted to face his tormentors.
But he was thrown down and choked repeatedly, till they succeeded in
filing the heavy brass collar from off his neck. Then the rope was
removed, and he was flung into a cage-like crate.
There he lay for the remainder of the weary night, nursing his wrath
and wounded pride. He could not understand what it all meant. What did
they want with him, these strange men? Why were they keeping him
pent up in this narrow crate? He did not know why, but 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
open, expecting to see the Judge, or 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 alone, and in the morning four men
entered and picked up the crate. More tormentors, Buck decided, for
they were evil-looking creatures, ragged and unkempt; and he stormed
and raged at them through the bars. They only laughed and poked sticks
at him, which he promptly assailed with his teeth till he realised
that that was what they wanted. Whereupon he lay down sullenly and
allowed the crate to be lifted into a waggon. Then he, and the crate
in which he was imprisoned, began a passage through many hands. Clerks
in the express office took charge of him; he was carted about in
another waggon; a truck carried him, with an assortment of boxes and
parcels, upon a ferry steamer; he was trucked off the steamer into a
great railway depot, and 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 growls, and they had retaliated by teasing
him. When he flung himself against the bars, quivering and frothing,
they laughed at him and taunted him. They growled and barked like
detestable dogs, mewed, and flapped their arms and crowed. It was
all very silly, he knew; but therefore the more outrage to his
dignity, and his anger waxed and waxed. He did not mind the hunger
so much, but the lack of water caused him severe suffering and
fanned his wrath to fever-pitch. For that matter, high-strung and
finely sensitive, the ill treatment had flung him into a fever,
which was fed by the inflammation of his parched and swollen throat
He was glad for one thing: the rope was off his neck. That had given
them an unfair advantage; but now that it was off, he 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 drank, and during
those two days and nights of torment, he accumulated a fund of wrath
that boded ill for whoever first fell foul of him. His eyes turned
bloodshot, and he was metamorphosed into a raging fiend. So changed
was he that the Judge himself would not have recognised 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 waggon into a small,
high-walled backyard. A stout man, with a red sweater that sagged
generously at the neck, came out and signed the book for the driver.
That was the man, Buck divined, the next tormentor, and he hurled
himself savagely against the bars. The man smiled grimly, and
brought a hatchet and a club.
'You ain't going to take him out now?' the driver asked.
'Sure,' the man replied, driving the hatchet into the crate for a
There was an instantaneous scattering of the four men who had
carried it in, and from safe perches on top the wall they prepared
to watch the performance.
Buck rushed at the splintering wood, sinking his teeth into it,
surging and wrestling with it. Wherever the hatchet fell on the
outside, he was there on the inside, snarling and growling, as
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 said, when 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 devil, as he drew himself together for
the spring, hair bristling, mouth foaming, a mad glitter in his
bloodshot eyes. Straight at the man he launched his one hundred and
forty pounds of fury, surcharged with the pent passion of two days and
nights. In mid-air, just as his jaws were about to close on the man,
he received a shock that checked his body and brought his teeth
together with an agonising clip. He whirled over, fetching the
ground on his back and side. He had never been struck by a club in his
life, and 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 club, but his madness knew no
caution. A dozen times he charged, and as often the club broke the
charge and smashed him down.
After a particularly fierce blow, he crawled to his feet, too
dazed to rush. He staggered limply about, the blood flowing from
nose and mouth and ears, his 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 ferocity, he again hurled himself at the man. But
the man, shifting the club from right to left, coolly caught him by
the under jaw, at the same time wrenching downward and backward.
Buck described a complete circle in the air, and half of another, then
crashed to the ground on his head and chest.
For the last time he rushed. The man struck the shrewd blow he had
purposely withheld for so long, and Buck crumpled up and went down,
knocked 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 driver, as he climbed on the waggon and started the horses.
Buck's senses came back to him, but not his strength. He lay where
he had fallen, and from there he watched the man in the red sweater.
'"Answers to the name of Buck,"' the man soliloquised, quoting
from the saloon-keeper's letter which had announced the consignment of
the crate and contents. 'Well, Buck, my boy,' he went on in a genial
voice, 'we've had our little ruction, and the best thing we can do
is to let it go at that. You've learned your place, and I know mine.
Be a good dog, and all 'll go well and the goose hang high. Be a bad
dog, and I'll whale the stuffin' outa you. Understand?'
As he spoke he fearlessly patted the head he had so mercilessly
pounded, and though Buck's hair involuntarily bristled at touch of the
hand, he endured it without protest. When the man brought water he
drank eagerly, and later bolted a generous meal of raw meat, chunk
by chunk, from the man's hand.
He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once
for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had
learned the lesson, and in all his afterlife he never forgot it.
That club was a revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of
primitive law, and he met the introduction halfway. The facts of
life took on a fiercer aspect; and while he faced that aspect uncowed,
he faced it with all the latent cunning of his nature aroused. As
the days went by, other dogs came in crates and at the ends of
ropes, some docilely, and some raging and roaring as he had come; and,
one and all, he watched them pass under the dominion of the man in the
red sweater. Again and again, as he looked at each brutal performance,
the lesson was driven home to Buck: a man with a club was a
lawgiver, a master to be obeyed, though not necessarily conciliated.
Of this last Buck was never guilty, though he did see beaten dogs that
fawned upon the man, and wagged their tails, and licked his hand. Also
he saw one dog, that would neither conciliate nor obey, finally killed
in the struggle for mastery.
Now and again men came, strangers, who talked excitedly,
wheedlingly, and 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 went, for they never came back; but the fear of the
future was strong upon him, and he was glad each time when he was
Yet his time came, in the end, in the form of a little weazened
man who spat broken English and many strange and uncouth
exclamations which Buck could not understand.
'Sacredam!' he cried, when his eyes lit upon Buck. 'Dat one dam
bully dog! Eh? How much?'
'Three hundred, and a present at that,' was the prompt reply of
the man in the red sweater. 'And seein' it's government money, you
ain't got no kick coming; eh, Perrault?'
Perrault grinned. Considering that the price of dogs had been boomed
skyward by the unwonted demand, it 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 ever
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 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 to rise in Buck's estimation.
The other dog made no advance, 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 called, and he ate and slept, or yawned between
times, and took interest in nothing, not even when the Narwhal crossed
Queen Charlotte Sound and rolled and pitched and bucked like a thing
possessed. When Buck and Curly grew excited, half wild with fear, he
raised his head as though annoyed, favoured them with an incurious
glance, yawned, and went to sleep again.
Day and night the ship throbbed to the tireless pulse of the
propeller, and though one day was very like another, it was apparent
to Buck that the weather was steadily growing colder. At last, one
morning, the propeller was quiet, and the Narwhal was pervaded with an
atmosphere of excitement. He felt it, as did the other dogs, and
knew that a change was at hand. Francois leashed them and brought them
on deck. At the first step upon the cold surface, Buck'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 himself, but more of it fell upon him. He sniffed it
curiously, then licked some up on his tongue. It bit like fire, and
the next instant was gone. This puzzled him. He tried it again, with
the same result. The onlookers laughed uproariously, and he felt
ashamed, he knew not why, for it was his first snow.
The Law of Club and Fang.
BUCK'S FIRST DAY ON THE Dyea bach was like a nightmare. Every hour
was filled with shock and surprise. He had been suddenly jerked from
the heart of civilisation and flung into the heart of things
primordial. No lazy, sun-kissed life was this, with nothing to do
but loaf and be bored. Here was neither peace, nor rest, nor a
moment's safety. All was confusion and action, and 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
savages, all of them; who 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 unforgettable lesson. It is
true, it was a vicarious experience, else he would not have lived to
profit by it. Curly was the victim. They were camped near the log
store, where she, in her friendly way, made advances to a husky dog
the size of a full-grown wolf, though not half so large she. There was
no warning, only a leap in like a flash, a metallic clip of teeth, a
leap out equally swift, and Curly's face was ripped open from eye to
It was the wolf manner of fighting, to 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 intentness, nor the eager way with
which they were licking their chops. Curly rushed her antagonist,
who struck again and leaped aside. He met her next rush with his
chest, in a peculiar fashion that tumbled her off her feet. She
never regained them. This was what the onlooking huskies had waited
for. They closed in upon her, snarling and yelping, and she was
buried, screaming with agony, beneath the bristling mass of bodies.
So sudden was it, and so unexpected, that Buck was taken aback. He
saw Spitz run out his scarlet tongue in a way he had of laughing;
and he saw Francois, swinging an axe, spring 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 down, the last of her
assailants were clubbed off. But she lay there limp and lifeless in
the bloody, trampled snow, almost literally torn to pieces, the
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 down, that was the end of you. Well, he
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 hatred.
Before he had recovered from the shock caused by the tragic
passing of Curly, he 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 work, so he was set to work, hauling Francois on a sled to
the forest that fringed the valley, and returning with a load of
firewood. Though his dignity was sorely hurt by thus being made a
draught animal, he was too wise to rebel. He buckled down with a
will and did his best, though it was all new and strange. Francois was
stern, demanding instant obedience; and by virtue of his whip
receiving instant obedience; while Dave, who was an experienced
wheeler, nipped Buck's hind quarters whenever he was in error. Spitz
was the leader, likewise experienced, and while he could not always
get at Buck, he growled sharp reproof now and again, or cunningly
threw his weight in the traces to jerk Buck into the way he should go.
Buck learned easily, and 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 their heels.
'T'ree vair' good dogs,' Francois told Perrault. 'Dat Buck, heem
pool lak hell, I tich heem queek as anyt'ing.'
By afternoon, Perrault, who was in a hurry to be on the trail with
his despatches, returned with two more dogs. 'Billee' and 'Joe' he
called them, two brothers, and true huskies both. Sons of the one
mother though they were, they were as different as day and night.
Billee's one fault was his excessive good nature, while Joe was the
very opposite, sour and introspective, with a perpetual snarl and a
malignant eye. Buck received them in comradely fashion. Dave ignored
them; while Spitz proceeded to thrash first one and then the other.
Billee wagged his tail appeasingly, turned to run when he saw that
appeasement was of no avail, and cried (still appeasingly) when
Spitz's sharp teeth scored his flank. But no matter how Spitz circled,
Joe whirled around on his heels to face him, mane bristling, ears laid
back, lips writhing and snarling, jaws clipping together as fast as he
could snap, and 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 dog, an old husky, long and lean
and gaunt, with a battle-scarred face and a single eye which flashed a
warning of prowess that commanded respect. He was called Sol-leks,
which means the Angry One. Like Dave, he asked nothing, gave
nothing, expected nothing; and when he marched slowly and deliberately
into their midst, even 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
guilty, and 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 side,
and to the last of their comradeship had no more trouble. His only
apparent ambition, like Dave's, was to be left alone; though, as
Buck was afterward to learn, each of them possessed one other and even
more vital ambition.
That night Buck faced the great problem of sleeping. The tent,
illumined by a candle, glowed warmly in the midst of the white
plain; and when he, as a matter of course, entered it, both Perrault
and Francois bombarded him with curses and cooking utensils till 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 sleep, but the frost soon drove him shivering to
his feet. Miserable and disconsolate, he wandered about among the many
tents, only to find that one place was as cold as another. Here and
there savage dogs rushed upon him, but he bristled his neck-hair and
snarled (for he was learning fast), and they let him go his way
Finally an idea came to him. He would return and see how his own
team-mates were making out. To his astonishment, they had disappeared.
Again he wandered about through the great camp, looking for them,
again he returned. Were they in the tent? No, that could not be,
else he would not have been driven out. Then where could they possibly
be? With drooping tail and shivering body, very forlorn indeed, he
aimlessly circled the tent. Suddenly the snow gave way beneath his
forelegs and he sank down. Something wriggled under his feet. He
sprang back, bristling and snarling, fearful of the unseen and
unknown. But a friendly little yelp reassured him, and he went back to
investigate. A whiff of warm air ascended to his nostrils, and
there, curled up under the snow in a snug ball, lay Billee. He
whined placatingly, squirmed and wriggled to show his good will and
intention, and even ventured, as a bribe for peace, to lick Buck's
face with his warm wet tongue.
Another lesson. So that was the way they did it, eh? Buck
confidently selected a spot, and 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
arduous, and 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 side, and 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 civilised dog, an unduly civilised 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 instinctively, the hair on his
neck and shoulders stood on end, and with a ferocious snarl he bounded
straight up into the blinding day, the snow flying about him in a
flashing cloud. Ere he landed on his feet, he 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 despatches, he was anxious to secure the best
dogs, and he was particularly gladdened by the possession of Buck.
Three more huskies were added to the team inside an hour, making a
total of nine, and 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 gone, and thought 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 dogs, utterly transformed by the harness. All
passiveness and unconcern had dropped from them. They were alert and
active, anxious that the work should go well and fiercely irritable
with whatever, by delay or confusion, retarded that work. The toil
of the traces seemed the supreme expression of their being, and all
that they lived for and the only thing in which they took delight.
Dave was wheeler or sled dog, pulling in front of him was Buck, then
came Sol-leks; the rest of the team was strung out ahead, single file,
to the leader, which 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 was, they were
equally apt teachers, never allowing him to linger long in error,
and enforcing their teaching with sharp teeth. Dave was fair and
very wise. He never nipped Buck without cause, and he never failed
to nip him when he stood in need of it. As Francois's whip backed
him up, Buck found it to be cheaper to mend his ways than to
retaliate. Once, during a brief halt, when he got tangled in the
traces and delayed the start, both Dave and Sol-leks flew at him and
administered a sound trouncing. The resulting tangle was even worse;
but Buck took good care to keep the traces clear thereafter; and ere
the day was done, so well had he mastered his work, his mates about
ceased nagging him. Francois's whip snapped less frequently, and
Perrault even honoured Buck by lifting up his feet and carefully
It was a hard day's run, up the Canon, through Sheep Camp, past
the Scales and timber line, across glaciers and snowdrifts hundreds of
feet deep, and over the great Chilcoot Divide, which 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 Bennett, where thousands of
gold-seekers 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 just, but all too early was routed out in the cold
darkness and harnessed with his mates to the sled.
That day they made forty miles, the trail being packed; but the next
day, and for many days to follow, they broke their own trail, worked
harder, and made poorer time. As a rule, Perrault travelled ahead of
the team, packing the snow with webbed shoes to make it easier for
them. Francois, guiding the sled at the geepole, sometimes exchanged
places with him, but not often. Perrault was in a hurry, and he prided
himself on his knowledge of ice, which knowledge was indispensable,
for the fall ice was very thin, and where there was swift water, there
was no ice at all.
Day after day, for days unending, Buck toiled in the traces.
Always they broke camp in the dark, and the first grey of dawn found
them hitting the trail with fresh miles reeled off behind them. And
always they pitched camp after dark, eating their bit of fish, and
crawling to sleep into the snow. Buck was ravenous. The pound and a
half of sun-dried salmon, which was his ration for each day, seemed to
go nowhere. He never had enough, and suffered from perpetual hunger
pangs. Yet the other dogs, because they weighed less and were born
to the life, received a pound only of the fish and managed to keep
in good condition.
He swiftly lost the fastidiousness which had characterised his old
life. A dainty eater, he found that his mates, finishing first, robbed
him of his unfinished ration. There was no defending it. While he
was fighting off two or three, it was disappearing down the throats of
the others. To remedy this, he ate as fast as they; and, so greatly
did hunger compel him, he was not above taking what did not belong
to him. He watched and learned. When he saw Pike, one of the new dogs,
a clever malingerer and thief, slyly steal a slice of bacon when
Perrault's back was turned, he duplicated the performance the
following day, getting away with the whole chunk. A great uproar was
raised, but he was unsuspected; while Dub, an awkward blunderer who
was always getting caught, was punished for Buck's misdeed.
This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile
Northland environment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to
adjust himself to changing conditions, the lack of which would have
meant swift and terrible death. It marked further the decay or going
to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a handicap in the
ruthless struggle for existence. It was all well enough in the
Southland, under the law of love and fellowship, to respect private
property and personal feelings; but in the Northland, under the law of
club and fang, whoso took such things into account was a fool, and
in so far as he observed them he would fail to prosper.
Not that Buck reasoned it out. He was fit, that was all, and
unconsciously he accommodated himself to the new mode of life. All his
days, no matter what the odds, he 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. Civilised, he could have died for a
moral consideration, say the defence of Judge Miller's riding-whip;
but the completeness of his decivilisation was not 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 it, but because of the
clamour of his stomach. He did not rob openly, but stole secretly
and cunningly, out of respect for club and fang. In short, the
things he did were done because it was easier to do them than not to
His development (or retrogression) was rapid. His muscles became
hard as iron, and he grew callous to all ordinary pain. He achieved an
internal as well as external economy. He could eat anything, no matter
how loathsome or indigestible; and, once eaten, the juices of his
stomach extracted the last least particle of nutriment; and his
blood carried it to the farthest reaches of his body, building it into
the, toughest and stoutest of tissues. Sight and scent became
remarkably keen, while his hearing developed such acuteness that in
his sleep he heard the faintest sound 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 hole, he 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 at night in advance. No
matter how breathless the air when he dug his nest by tree or bank,
the wind that later blew inevitably found him to leeward, sheltered
And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead
became alive again. The domesticated generations fell from him. In
vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to 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 him,
and the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of the
breed were his tricks. They came to him without effort or discovery,
as though they had been his always. And when, on the still cold
nights, he pointed his nose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it
was his ancestors, dead and dust, pointing nose at star and howling
down through the centuries and through him. And his cadences were
their cadences, the cadences which voiced their woe and what to them
was the meaning of the stillness, and the cold, and dark.
Thus, as token of what a puppet thing life is, the ancient song
surged through him and he came into his own again; and he came because
men had found a yellow metal in the North, and 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 Buck, and under the
fierce conditions of trail life it grew and grew. Yet it was a
secret growth. His new-born 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 fights, but he avoided them whenever possible.
A certain deliberateness characterised 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
On the other hand, possibly because he divined in Buck a dangerous
rival, Spitz never lost an opportunity of showing his teeth. He even
went out of his way to bully Buck, striving 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 snow, a wind
that cut like a white-hot knife, and 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
Close in under the sheltering rock Buck made his nest. So snug and
warm was it, that 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 returned, he found his nest occupied. A
warning snarl told him that his trespasser was Spitz. Till now Buck
had avoided trouble with his enemy, but this was too much. The beast
in him roared. He sprang upon Spitz with a fury which surprised them
both, and Spitz particularly, for his whole experience with Buck had
gone to teach him that his rival was an unusually timid dog, who
managed to hold his own because of his great weight and size.
Francois was surprised, too, when they shot out in a tangle from the
disrupted nest and he divined the cause of the trouble. 'A-a-ah!' he
cried to Buck. 'Gif it to heem, by Gar! Gif it to heem, the dirty
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 eager and no less cautious, as he likewise circled back
and forth for the advantage. But it was then the unexpected
happened, the thing which projected their struggle for supremacy far
into the future, past many a weary mile of trail and toil.
An oath from Perrault, the resounding impact of a club upon a bony
frame, and a shrill yelp of pain, heralded the breaking forth of
pandemonium. The camp was suddenly discovered to be alive with
skulking furry forms- starving huskies, four or five score of them,
who had scented the camp from some Indian village. They had crept in
while Buck and Spitz were fighting, and 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
ribs, and 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 blows, but struggled none the less madly till the last
crumb had been devoured.
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 skeletons, draped loosely in draggled
hides, with blazing eyes and slavered fangs. But the hunger-madness
made them terrifying, irresistible. There was no opposing them. The
team-dogs were swept back against the cliff at the first onset. Buck
was beset by three huskies, and 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 wounds, were
fighting bravely side by side. Joe was snapping like a demon. Once,
his teeth closed on the fore leg of a husky, and he crunched down
through the bone. Pike, the malingerer, leaped upon the crippled
animal, breaking its neck with a quick flash of teeth and a jerk. Buck
got a frothing adversary by the throat, and 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 another,
and at the same time felt teeth sink in his own throat. It was
Spitz, treacherously attacking from the side.
Perrault and Francois, having cleaned out their part of the camp,
hurried to save their sled-dogs. The wild wave of famished beasts
rolled back before them, and Buck shook himself free. But it was
only for a moment. The two men were compelled to run back to save
the grub, upon which the huskies returned to the attack on the team.
Billee, terrified into bravery, sprang through the savage circle and
fled away over the ice. Pike and Dub followed on his heels, with the
rest of the team behind. As Buck drew himself together to spring after
them, out 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 huskies, there was no hope for him. But he braced himself
to the shock of Spitz's charge, then joined the flight out on the
Later, the nine team-dogs gathered together and sought shelter in
the forest. Though unpursued, they were in sorry plight. There was not
one who was not wounded in four or five places, while some were
wounded grievously. Dub was badly injured in a hind leg; Dolly, the
last husky added to the team at Dyea, had a badly torn throat; Joe had
lost an eye; while Billee, the good-natured, with an ear chewed and
rent to ribbons, cried and whimpered throughout the night. At daybreak
they limped warily back to camp, to 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 covering. In
fact, nothing, no matter how remotely eatable, had escaped them.
They had eaten a pair of Perrault's moose-hide moccasins, chunks 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 dogs.
'Ah, my frien's,' he said softly, 'mebbe it mek you mad dog, dose
many bites. Mebbe all mad dog, sacredam! Wot you t'ink, eh, Perrault?'
The courier shook his head dubiously. With four hundred miles of
trail still between him and Dawson, he could ill afford to have
madness break out among his dogs. Two hours of cursing and exertion
got the harness into shape, and the wound-stiffened team was under
way, struggling painfully over the hardest part of the trail they
had yet encountered, and for that matter, the hardest between them and
The Thirty Mile River was wide open. Its wild water defied the
frost, and 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 were, for every
foot of them was accomplished at the risk of life to dog and man. A
dozen times, Perrault, nosing the way, broke through the ice
bridges, being saved by the long pole he carried, which he so held
that it fell each time across the hole made by his body. But a cold
snap was on, the 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 risks,
resolutely 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. Once, the sled broke through, with Dave and Buck, and 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 ice, and the two men kept them on the run around the
fire, sweating and thawing, so close that they were singed by the
At another time Spitz went through, dragging the whole team after
him up to Buck, who strained backward with all his strength, his
fore paws on the slippery edge and the ice quivering and snapping
all around. But behind him was Dave, likewise straining backward,
and behind the sled was Francois, pulling till his tendons cracked.
Again the rim ice broke away before and behind, and 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 rope, the dogs
were hoisted, one by one, to the cliff crest. Francois came up last,
after the sled and load. Then came the search for a place to
descend, which descent was ultimately made by the aid of the rope, and
night found them back on the river with a quarter of a mile to the
By the time they made the Hootalinqua and good ice, Buck was
played out. The rest of the dogs were in like condition; but Perrault,
to make up lost time, pushed 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 miles,
which 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 agony, and camp once made, lay down like a dead dog.
Hungry as he was, he would not move to receive his ration of fish,
which Francois had to bring to him. Also, the dog-driver rubbed Buck's
feet for half an hour each night after supper, and sacrificed the tips
of his own moccasins to make four moccasins for Buck. This was a great
relief, and Buck caused even the weazened face of Perrault to twist
itself into a grin one morning, when Francois forgot the moccasins and
Buck lay on his back, his four feet waving appealingly in the air, and
refused to budge without them. Later his feet grew hard to the
trail, and the worn-out foot-gear was thrown away.
At the Pelly one morning, as they were harnessing up, Dolly, who had
never been conspicuous for anything, went suddenly mad. She
announced her condition by a long, heart-breaking wolf howl that
sent every dog bristling with fear, then sprang straight for Buck.
He had never seen a dog go mad, nor did he have any reason to fear
madness; yet he knew that here was horror, and fled away from it in
a panic. Straight away he raced, with Dolly, panting and frothing, one
leap behind; nor could she gain on him, so great was his terror, nor
could he leave her, so great was her madness. He plunged through the
wooded breast of the island, flew down to the lower end, crossed a
back channel filled with rough ice to another island, gained a third
island, curved back to the main river and in desperation started to
cross it. And all the time, though he did not look, he could hear
her snarling just one leap behind. Francois called to him a quarter of
a mile away and he doubled back, still one leap ahead, gasping
painfully for air and putting all his faith in that Francois would
save him. The dog-driver held the axe poised in his hand, and as
Buck shot past him the axe crashed down upon mad Dolly's head.
Buck staggered over against the sled, exhausted, sobbing for breath,
helpless. This was Spitz's opportunity. He sprang upon Buck, and 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 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. Spitz, as lead-dog and
acknowledged master of the team, felt his supremacy threatened by this
strange Southland dog. And strange Buck was to him, for of the many
Southland dogs he had known, not one had shown up worthily in camp and
on trail. They were all too soft, dying under the toil, the frost, and
starvation. Buck was the exception. He alone endured and prospered,
matching the husky in strength, savagery, and cunning. Then he was a
masterful dog, and 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 pre-eminently
cunning; and could bide his time with a patience that was nothing less
It was inevitable that the clash for leadership should come. Buck
wanted it. He wanted it because it was his nature, because he had been
gripped tight by that nameless, incomprehensible pride of the trail
and trace- that pride which holds dogs in the toil to the last gasp,
which lures them to die joyfully in the harness, and breaks their
hearts if they are cut out of the harness. This was the pride of
Dave as wheel-dog, of 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, eager, ambitious
creatures; the pride that spurred them on all day and dropped them
at pitch of camp at night, letting 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
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 snowfall, and in the morning Pike, the
malingerer, did 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 camp, smelling and digging in
every likely place, snarling so frightfully that Pike heard and
shivered in his hiding-place.
But when he was at last unearthed, and Spitz flew at him to punish
him, Buck flew, with equal rage, in between. So unexpected was it, and
so shrewdly managed, that Spitz was hurled backward and off his
feet. Pike, who had been trembling abjectly, took heart at this open
mutiny, and sprang upon his overthrown leader. Buck, to whom fair play
was a forgotten code, likewise sprang upon Spitz. But Francois,
chuckling at the incident while unswerving in the administration of
justice, brought his lash down upon Buck with all his might. This
failed to drive Buck from his prostrate rival, and the butt of the
whip was brought into play. Half-stunned by the blow, Buck was knocked
backward and the lash laid upon him again and again, while Spitz
soundly punished the many times offending Pike.
In the days that followed, as Dawson grew closer and closer, Buck
still continued to interfere between Spitz and the culprits; but he
did it craftily, when Francois was not around. With the covert
mutiny of Buck, a general insubordination sprang up and increased.
Dave and Sol-leks were unaffected, but the rest of the team went
from bad to worse. Things no longer went right. There was continual
bickering and jangling. Trouble was always afoot, and at the bottom of
it was Buck. He kept Francois busy, for 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 robe, fearful that Buck and Spitz were at it.
But the opportunity did not present itself, and they pulled into
Dawson one dreary afternoon with the great fight still to come. Here
were many men, and countless dogs, and 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 teams, and in the night
their jingling bells still went by. They hauled cabin logs and
firewood, freighted up to the mines, and did all manner of work that
horses did in the Santa Clara Valley. Here and there Buck met
Southland dogs, but in the main they were the wild wolf husky breed.
Every night, regularly at night, at twelve, at three, they lifted a
nocturnal song, a weird and eerie chant, in which it was Buck's
delight to join.
With the aurora borealis flaming coldly overhead, or the stars
leaping in the frost dance, and the land numb and frozen under its
pall of snow, this song of the huskies might have been the defiance of
life, only it was pitched in minor key, with long-drawn wailings and
half-sobs, and was more the pleading of life, the articulate travail
of existence. It was an old song, old as the breed itself- one of
the first songs of the younger world in a day when songs were sad.
Date: 2015-04-19; view: 1042