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
Jack London. The Call of the Wild
"Old longings nomadic leap,
Chafing at custom's chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain."
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 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 stables, where a dozen
grooms and boys held forth, rows of vine-clad servants' cottages,
an endless and orderly array of outhouses, long grape arbors,
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
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 creeping, crawling, flying things of
Judge Miller's place, humans included.
His father, Elmo, a huge St. Bernard, had been the Judge's
inseparable companion, and 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 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 even 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
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
The Judge was at a meeting of the Raisin Growers' Association, and
the boys were busy organizing 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 chinked 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 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
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 more.
"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' 'm up for the boss to 'Frisco. A crack dog-doctor
there thinks that he can cure 'm."
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
"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 saloon-
keeper. "Here, lend me a hand before you pull your freight," he
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 cagelike 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 realized that that was what they wanted. Whereupon he lay
down sullenly and allowed the crate to be lifted into a wagon.
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 wagon; 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 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 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 blood-shot, and 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 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 blood-shot 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 agonizing 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
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
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 wagon and started the
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
" 'Answers to the name of Buck,' " the man soliloquized, 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
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 him
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 after life 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 not selected.
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 moch?"
"Three hundred, and a present at that," was the prompt reply of
the man in the red sweater. "And seem' 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 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 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, favored 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.
Chapter I. Into the Primitive
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 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 unforgetable 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
as 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 jaw.
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
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 stem, 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
"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
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 unmolested.
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, and 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 fore legs 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 intentions, 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 civilized dog, an 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 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 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 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 their 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 honored
Buck by lifting up his feet and carefully examining them.
It was a hard day's run, up the Canon, through Sheep Camp, past
the Scales and the 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 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 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 gee-
pole, 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 gray 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 characterized 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. Civilized, he could
have died for a moral consideration, say 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 it, but because of the clamor 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 do them.
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 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 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 a 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
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
stiffness, 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.
Chapter II. The Law of Club and Fang
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 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 fights, but 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 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 the dark.
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 the 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 only 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 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 eager, and no less cautious, as he likewise
circled back and forth for the advantage. But it was then that
the unexpected happened, the thing which projected their struggle
for supremacy far into the future, past many a weary mile of trail
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
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 into 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 lake.
Later, the nine team-dogs gathered together and sought shelter in
the forest. Though unpursued, they were in a 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 coverings. 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
"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,
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 harnesses 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 Dawson.
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 flames.
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
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 day's credit.
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. AU 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 tops 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, heartbreaking 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 took, 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."
"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 preeminently cunning, and 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 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 pride, too.
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 nine, 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. It was invested with the woe of
unnumbered generations, this plaint by which Buck was so strangely
stirred. When he moaned and sobbed, it was with the pain of
living that was of old the pain of his wild fathers, and 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 Dawson, they dropped
down the steep bank by the Barracks to the Yukon Trail, and pulled
for Dyea and Salt Water. Perrault was carrying despatches if
anything more urgent than those he had brought in; also, the
travel pride had gripped him, and 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 further, the police had arranged in two or three
places deposits of grub for dog and man, and he was travelling
They made Sixty Mile, which is a fifty-mile run, on 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 departed, and they grew equal to challenging his
authority. Pike robbed him of half a fish one night, and 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 Billee, the good-natured, was less good-natured, and
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 bully, and 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 themselves, till at times the camp was a
howling bedlam. Dave and Sol-leks alone were unaltered, though
they were made irritable by the unending squabbling. Francois
swore strange barbarous oaths, and stamped the snow in futile
rage, and tore his hair. His lash was always singing among the
dogs, but it was of small avail. Directly his back was turned they
were at it again. He backed up Spitz with his whip, while Buck
backed up the remainder of the team. Francois knew he was behind
all the trouble, and Buck knew he knew; but Buck was too clever
ever again to be caught red-handed. He worked faithfully in the
harness, for 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 Tahkeena, one night after supper, Dub turned
up a snowshoe rabbit, blundered it, and missed. In a second the
whole team was in full cry. A hundred yards away was a camp of
the Northwest Police, with fifty dogs, huskies all, who joined the
chase. The rabbit sped down the river, turned off into a small
creek, up the frozen bed of which it held steadily. It ran
lightly on the surface of the snow, while the dogs ploughed
through by main strength. Buck led the pack, sixty strong, around
bend after bend, but he could not gain. He lay down low to the
race, whining eagerly, his splendid body flashing forward, leap by
leap, in the wan white moonlight. And leap by leap, like some
pale frost wraith, the 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 pellets, the blood lust, the
joy to kill--all this was Buck's, only it was infinitely more
intimate. He was ranging at the head of the pack, running the
wild thing down, the living meat, to kill with his own teeth and
wash his muzzle to the eyes in warm blood.
There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond
which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this
ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete
forgetfulness that one is alive. This ecstasy, this forgetfulness
of living, comes to the artist, caught up and out of himself in a
sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a stricken
field and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack,
sounding the old wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive
and that fled swiftly before him through the moonlight. He was
sounding the deeps of his nature, and of the parts of his nature
that were deeper than he, going back into the womb of Time. He
was mastered by the sheer surging of life, the tidal wave of
being, the perfect joy of each separate muscle, joint, and sinew
in that it was everything that was not death, that it was aglow
and rampant, expressing itself in movement, flying exultantly
under the stars and over the face of dead matter that did not
But Spitz, cold and calculating even in his supreme moods, left
the pack and cut across a narrow neck of land where the creek made
a long bend around. Buck did not know of this, and as he rounded
the bend, the 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 turn, and as the white teeth broke its back in
mid air it shrieked as loudly as a stricken man may shriek. At
sound of this, the cry of Life plunging down from Life's apex in
the grip of Death, the fall pack at Buck's heels raised a hell's
chorus of delight.
Buck did not cry out. He did not check himself, but drove in upon
Spitz, shoulder to shoulder, so 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 overthrown, slashing Buck
down the shoulder and leaping clear. Twice his teeth clipped
together, like the steel jaws of a trap, as he backed away for
better footing, with 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 about, snarling, ears laid back, keenly watchful
for the advantage, the scene came to Buck with a sense of
familiarity. He seemed to remember it all,--the white woods, and
earth, and moonlight, and the thrill of battle. Over the
whiteness and silence brooded a ghostly calm. There was not the
faintest whisper of air--nothing moved, not a leaf quivered, the
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. They, too, were silent, their eyes only
gleaming and their breaths drifting slowly upward. To Buck it was
nothing new or strange, this scene of old time. It was as though
it had always been, the wonted way of things.
Spitz was a practised fighter. From Spitzbergen through the
Arctic, and across Canada and the Barrens, he had held his own
with all manner of dogs and achieved to mastery over them. Bitter
rage was his, but never blind rage. In passion to rend and
destroy, he 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 flesh, they were
countered by the fangs of Spitz. Fang clashed fang, and lips were
cut and bleeding, but 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 throat, where life
bubbled near to the surface, and each time and every time Spitz
slashed him and got away. Then Buck took to rushing, as though for
the throat, when, suddenly drawing back his head and curving in
from the side, he would drive his shoulder at the shoulder of
Spitz, as a ram by which to overthrow him. But instead, Buck's
shoulder was slashed down each time as Spitz leaped lightly away.
Spitz was untouched, while 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 winded, Spitz took to rushing, and he
kept him staggering for footing. Once Buck went over, and the
whole circle of sixty dogs started up; but he recovered himself,
almost in mid air, and the circle sank down again and waited.
But Buck possessed a quality that made for greatness--
imagination. He fought by instinct, but he could fight by head as
well. He rushed, as though attempting the old shoulder trick, but
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
bone, and the white dog faced him on three legs. Thrice he tried
to knock him over, then repeated the trick and broke the right
fore leg. Despite the pain and helplessness, Spitz struggled
madly to keep up. He saw the silent circle, with gleaming eyes,
lolling tongues, and silvery breaths drifting upward, closing 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 them, beyond Spitz and to
either side, half crouching for the spring, their 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 forth, snarling with horrible menace, as though
to frighten off impending death. Then Buck sprang in and out; but
while he was in, shoulder 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 on, the successful
champion, the dominant primordial beast who had made his kill and
found it good.
Chapter III. The Dominant Primordial Beast
"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 Perrault, as 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 Spitz, no more trouble, sure."
While Perrault packed the camp outfit and loaded the sled, the
dog-driver proceeded to harness the dogs. Buck trotted up to the
place Spitz would have occupied as leader; but Francois, not
noticing him, brought Sol-leks to the coveted position. In his
judgment, Sol-leks was the best lead-dog left. Buck sprang upon
Sol-leks in a fury, driving him back and standing in his place.
"Eh? eh?" Francois cried, slapping his thighs gleefully. "Look at
dat Buck. Heem keel dat Spitz, heem t'ink to take de job."
"Go 'way, Chook!" he cried, but Buck refused to budge.
He took Buck by the scruff of the neck, and though the dog growled
threateningly, dragged him to one side and replaced Sol-leks. The
old dog did not like it, and showed plainly that he was afraid of
Buck. Francois was obdurate, but when he turned his back Buck
again displaced Sol-leks, who was not at all unwilling to go.
Francois was angry. "Now, by Gar, I feex you!" he cried, coming
back with a heavy club in his hand.
Buck remembered the man in the red sweater, and 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
club, snarling with bitterness and rage; and while he circled he
watched the club so as to dodge it if thrown by Francois, for he
was become wise in the way of clubs. The driver went about his
work, and 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 up, whereupon he again retreated. After
some time of this, Francois threw down the club, thinking that
Buck feared a thrashing. But Buck was in open revolt. He wanted,
not to escape a clubbing, but to have the leadership. It was his
by right. He had earned it, and 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 him, and his fathers and mothers before him, and all
his seed to come after him down to the remotest generation, and
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 away, but retreated around and around the camp,
advertising plainly that when his desire was met, he would come in
and be good.
Francois sat down and scratched his head. Perrault looked at his
watch and swore. Time was flying, and they should have been on
the trail an hour gone. Francois scratched his head again. He
shook it and grinned sheepishly at the courier, who shrugged his
shoulders in sign that they were beaten. Then Francois went up to
where Sol-leks stood and called to Buck. Buck laughed, as dogs
laugh, yet 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 line, ready for the trail.
There was no place for Buck save at the front. Once more Francois
called, and once more Buck laughed and kept away.
"T'row down de club," Perrault commanded.
Francois complied, whereupon Buck trotted in, laughing
triumphantly, and swung around into position at the head of the
team. His traces were fastened, the sled broken out, and with
both men running they dashed out on to the river trail.
Highly as the dog-driver had forevalued Buck, with his two devils,
he found, while the day was yet young, that he had undervalued.
At a bound Buck took up the duties of leadership; and where
judgment was required, and quick thinking and quick acting, he
showed himself the superior even of Spitz, of 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
toil, and toil mightily, in the traces. So long as that were not
interfered with, they did not care what happened. Billee, the
good-natured, could lead for all they cared, so long as he kept
order. The rest of the team, however, had grown unruly during the
last days of Spitz, and their surprise was great now that Buck
proceeded to lick them into shape.
Pike, who pulled at Buck's heels, and 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 camp, Joe, the sour one, was punished roundly--
a thing that Spitz had never succeeded in doing. Buck simply
smothered him by virtue of superior weight, and 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 solidarity, and once more the dogs leaped as one dog
in the traces. At the Rink Rapids two native huskies, Teek and
Koona, were added; and the celerity with which Buck broke them in
took away Francois's breath.
"Nevaire such a dog as dat Buck!" he cried. "No, nevaire! Heem
worth one t'ousan' dollair, by Gar! Eh? Wot you say, Perrault?"
And Perrault nodded. He was ahead of the record then, and gaining
day by day. The trail was in excellent condition, well packed and
hard, and 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 turn, and
the dogs were kept on the jump, with but infrequent stoppages.
The Thirty Mile River was comparatively coated with ice, and 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 Marsh, Tagish, and
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 drink, while 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 town, were riddled like
pepper-boxes for their pains, and public interest turned to other
idols. Next came official orders. Francois called Buck to him,
threw his arms around him, wept over him. And that was the last
of Francois and Perrault. Like other men, they passed out of
Buck's life for good.
A Scotch half-breed took charge of him and his mates, and in
company with a dozen other dog-teams he started back over the
weary trail to Dawson. It was no light running now, nor record
time, but heavy toil each day, with a heavy load behind; for this
was the mail train, carrying word from the world to the men who
sought gold under the shadow of the Pole.
Buck did not like it, but he bore up well to the work, taking
pride in it after the manner of Dave and Sol-leks, and seeing that
his mates, whether they prided in it or not, did their fair share.
It was a monotonous life, operating with machine-like regularity.
One day was very like another. At a certain time each morning the
cooks turned out, fires were built, and breakfast was eaten.
Then, while some broke camp, others harnessed the dogs, and they
were under way an hour or so before the darkness fell which gave
warning of dawn. At night, camp was made. Some pitched the
flies, others cut firewood and pine boughs for the beds, and still
others carried water or ice for the cooks. Also, the dogs were
fed. To them, this was the one feature of the day, though it was
good to loaf around, after the fish was eaten, for an hour or so
with the other dogs, of which there were fivescore and odd. There
were fierce fighters among them, but three battles with the
fiercest brought Buck to mastery, so that when he bristled and
showed his teeth they got out of his way.
Best of all, perhaps, he loved to lie near the fire, hind legs
crouched under him, fore legs stretched out in front, head raised,
and eyes blinking dreamily at the flames. Sometimes he thought of
Judge Miller's big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley, and
of the cement swimming-tank, and Ysabel, the Mexican hairless, and
Toots, the Japanese pug; but oftener he remembered the man in the
red sweater, the death of Curly, the great fight with Spitz, and
the good things he had eaten or would like to eat. He was not
homesick. The Sunland was very dim and distant, and 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 days, and still
later, in him, quickened and become alive again.
Sometimes as he crouched there, blinking dreamily at the flames,
it seemed that the flames were of another fire, and 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 arm, with muscles that were stringy and knotty
rather than rounded and swelling. The hair of this man was long
and matted, and his head slanted back under it from the eyes. He
uttered strange sounds, and seemed very much afraid of the
darkness, into which he peered continually, clutching in his hand,
which hung midway between knee and foot, a stick with a heavy
stone made fast to the end. He was all but naked, a ragged and
fire-scorched skin hanging part way down his back, but on his body
there was much hair. In some places, across the chest and
shoulders and down the outside of the arms and thighs, it was
matted into almost a thick fur. He did not stand erect, but with
trunk inclined forward from the hips, on legs that bent at the
knees. About his body there was a peculiar springiness, or
resiliency, almost catlike, and 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 knees, his hands clasped above his head as though to shed rain
by the hairy arms. And beyond that fire, in the circling
darkness, Buck could see many gleaming coals, two by two, always
two by two, which he knew to be the eyes of great beasts of prey.
And he could hear the crashing of their bodies through the
undergrowth, and the noises they made in the night. And dreaming
there by the Yukon bank, with 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 neck, till he whimpered low and suppressedly, or growled
softly, and the half-breed cook shouted at him, "Hey, you Buck,
wake up!" Whereupon the other world would vanish and the real
world come into his eyes, and he would get up and yawn and stretch
as though he had been asleep.
It was a hard trip, with the mail behind them, and the heavy work
wore them down. They were short of weight and in poor condition
when they made Dawson, and 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 Barracks, loaded with letters for the outside. The
dogs were tired, the drivers grumbling, and to make matters worse,
it snowed every day. This meant a soft trail, greater friction on
the runners, and heavier pulling for the dogs; yet the drivers
were fair through it all, and did their best for the animals.
Each night the dogs were attended to first. They ate before the
drivers ate, and no man sought his sleeping-robe till he had seen
to the feet of the dogs he drove. Still, their strength went
down. Since the beginning of the winter they had travelled
eighteen hundred miles, dragging sleds the whole weary distance;
and eighteen hundred miles will tell upon life of the toughest.
Buck stood it, keeping his mates up to their work and maintaining
discipline, though he, too, was very tired. Billee cried and
whimpered regularly in his sleep each night. Joe was sourer than
ever, and Sol-leks was unapproachable, blind side or other side.
But it was Dave who suffered most of all. Something had gone
wrong with him. He became more morose and irritable, and when
camp was pitched at once made his nest, where his driver fed him.
Once out of the harness and down, he did not get on his feet again
till harness-up time in the morning. Sometimes, in the traces,
when jerked by a sudden stoppage of the sled, or by straining to
start it, he 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-time, and over their last pipes
before going to bed, and 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 inside, but
they could locate no broken bones, could not make it out.
By the time Cassiar Bar was reached, he was so weak that he was
falling repeatedly in the traces. The Scotch half-breed called a
halt and took him out of the team, making the next dog, Sol-leks,
fast to the sled. His intention was to rest Dave, letting him run
free behind the sled. Sick as he was, Dave resented being taken
out, grunting and growling while the traces were unfastened, and
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 his, and, sick unto death, he could not bear that another dog
should do his work.
When the sled started, he floundered in the soft snow alongside
the beaten trail, attacking Sol-leks with his teeth, rushing
against him and trying to thrust him off into the soft snow on the
other side, striving to leap inside his traces and get between him
and the sled, and A 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 lash, and the man had
not the heart to strike harder. Dave refused to run quietly on the
trail behind the sled, where the going was easy, but continued to
flounder alongside in the soft snow, where the going was most
difficult, till exhausted. Then he fell, and 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 stop, when he floundered past
the sleds to his own, where 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 exertion, turned their heads
uneasily, and stopped in surprise. The driver was surprised, too;
the sled had not moved. He called his comrades to witness the
sight. Dave had bitten through both of Sol-leks's traces, and 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 it, and recalled
instances they had known, where dogs, too old for the toil, or
injured, had died because they were cut out of the traces. Also,
they held it a mercy, since Dave was to die anyway, that he should
die in the traces, heart-easy and content. So he was harnessed in
again, and proudly he pulled as of old, though more than once he
cried out involuntarily from the bite of his inward hurt. Several
times he fell down and was dragged in the traces, and once the
sled ran upon him so that he limped thereafter in one of his hind
But he held out till camp was reached, when 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 feet, staggered, and 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 movement, when he would advance his fore
legs and hitch ahead again for a few more inches. His strength
left him, and 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
snapped, the bells tinkled merrily, the sleds churned along the
trail; but Buck knew, and every dog knew, what had taken place
behind the belt of river trees.
Chapter IV. Who Has Won to Mastership
Thirty days from the time it left Dawson, the Salt Water Mail,
with Buck and his mates at the fore, arrived at Skaguay. They
were in a wretched state, worn out and worn down. Buck's one
hundred and forty pounds had dwindled to one hundred and fifteen.
The rest of his mates, though lighter dogs, had relatively lost
more weight than he. Pike, the malingerer, who, in his lifetime
of deceit, had often successfully feigned a hurt leg, was now
limping in earnest. Sol-leks was limping, and 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 trail, jarring 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 effort, from
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 left, no
reserve strength to call upon. It had been all used, the last
least bit of it. Every muscle, every fibre, every cell, was
tired, dead tired. And there was reason for it. In less than
five months they had travelled twenty-five hundred miles, during
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 taut, and 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' rest, and 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
Klondike, and so many were the sweethearts, wives, and kin that
had not rushed in, that the congested mail was taking on Alpine
proportions; also, there 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 of, and, since dogs
count for little against dollars, they were to be sold.
Three days passed, by which time Buck and his mates found how
really tired and weak they were. Then, on the morning of the
fourth day, two men from the States came along and bought them,
harness and all, for a song. The men addressed each other as
"Hal" and "Charles." Charles was a middle-aged, lightish-colored
man, with weak and watery eyes and a mustache that twisted
fiercely and vigorously up, giving the lie to the limply drooping
lip it concealed. Hal was a youngster of nineteen or twenty, with
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
place, and why such as they should adventure the North is part of
the mystery of things that passes understanding.
Buck heard the chaffering, saw the money pass between the man and
the Government agent, and 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' camp, Buck saw a slipshod
and slovenly affair, tent half stretched, dishes unwashed,
everything in disorder; also, he 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 manner, but 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 sled, she suggested it should go
on the back; and when they had put it on the back, and covered it
over with a couple of other bundles, she discovered overlooked
articles which could abide nowhere else but in that very sack, and
they unloaded again.
Three men from a neighboring tent came out and looked on, grinning
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 business, but I wouldn't tote
that tent along if I was you."
"Undreamed of!" cried Mercedes, throwing up her hands in dainty
dismay. "However in the world could I manage without a tent?"
"It's springtime, and you won't get any more cold weather," the
She shook her head decidedly, and 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
could, which was not in the least well.
"An' of course the dogs can hike along all day with that
contraption behind them," affirmed a second of the men.
"Certainly," said Hal, with freezing politeness, taking hold of
the gee-pole with one hand and swinging his whip from the other.
"Mush!" he shouted. "Mush on there!"
The dogs sprang against the breast-bands, strained hard for a few
moments, then relaxed. They were unable to move the sled.
"The lazy brutes, I'll show them," he cried, preparing to lash out
at them with the whip.
But Mercedes interfered, crying, "Oh, 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 trip, or 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 lazy, I tell you, and 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 imploringly, untold 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 out, that's what's the matter.
They need a rest."
"Rest be blanked," said Hal, with his beardless lips; and Mercedes
said, "Oh!" in pain and sorrow at the oath.
But she was a clannish creature, and rushed at once to the defence
of her brother. "Never mind that man," she said pointedly.
"You're driving our dogs, and you do what you think best with
Again Hal's whip fell upon the dogs. They threw themselves
against the breast-bands, dug their feet into the packed snow, got
down low to it, and put forth all their strength. The sled held as
though it were an anchor. After two efforts, they stood still,
panting. The whip was whistling savagely, when once more Mercedes
interfered. She dropped on her knees before Buck, with tears in
her eyes, and put her arms around his neck.
"You poor, poor dears," she cried sympathetically, "why don't you
pull hard?--then you wouldn't be whipped." Buck did not like her,
but he was feeling too miserable to resist her, taking it as part
of the day's miserable work.
One of the onlookers, who had been clenching his teeth to suppress
hot speech, now 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 made, but this time, following the
advice, Hal broke out the runners which had been frozen to the
snow. The overloaded and unwieldy sled forged ahead, Buck 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 upright, and Hal was not such a man. As they swung
on the turn the sled went over, spilling 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 run, the 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 him, and the
dogs dashed on up the street, adding 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. Also, they gave advice. Half the load and
twice the dogs, if they ever expected to reach Dawson, was what
was said. Hal and his sister and brother-in-law listened
unwillingly, pitched tent, and overhauled the outfit. Canned goods
were turned out that made men laugh, for 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 tent, and all those dishes,--who's
going to wash them, anyway? Good Lord, do you think you're
travelling on a Pullman?"
And so it went, the 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 general, and
she cried in particular over each discarded thing. She clasped
hands about knees, rocking back and forth broken-heartedly. She
averred she would not go an inch, not for a dozen Charleses. She
appealed to everybody and to everything, finally wiping her eyes
and proceeding to cast out even articles of apparel that were
imperative necessaries. And in her zeal, when she had finished
with her own, she attacked the belongings of her men and went
through them like a tornado.
This accomplished, the outfit, though cut in half, was still a
formidable bulk. Charles and Hal went out in the evening and
bought six Outside dogs. These, added to the six of the original
team, and Teek and Koona, the huskies obtained at the Rink Rapids
on the record trip, brought the team up to fourteen. But the
Outside dogs, though practically broken in since their landing,
did not amount to much. Three were short-haired pointers, one was
a Newfoundland, and the other two were mongrels of indeterminate
breed. They did not seem to know anything, these newcomers. Buck
and his comrades looked upon them with disgust, and though he
speedily taught them their places and what not to do, he could not
teach them what to do. They did not take kindly to trace and
trail. With the exception of the two mongrels, they 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 forlorn, and the old team worn out
by twenty-five hundred miles of continuous trail, the outlook was
anything but bright. The two men, however, were quite cheerful.
And they were proud, too. They were doing the thing in style, with
fourteen dogs. They had seen other sleds depart over the Pass for
Dawson, or come in from Dawson, but 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 sled, and
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 pencil, so much to a dog, so many dogs, so many days,
Q.E.D. Mercedes looked over their shoulders and nodded
comprehensively, it was all so very simple.
Late next morning Buck led the long team up the street. There was
nothing lively about it, no snap or go in him and his fellows.
They were starting dead weary. Four times he had covered the
distance between Salt Water and Dawson, and the knowledge that,
jaded and tired, he was facing the same trail once more, made him
bitter. His heart was not in the work, nor was the heart of any
dog. The Outsides were timid and frightened, the 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 anything, and as the
days went by it became apparent that they could not learn. They
were slack in all things, without order or discipline. It took
them half the night to pitch a slovenly camp, and 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 overfeeding, bringing the day nearer when
underfeeding would commence. The Outside dogs, whose digestions
had not been trained by chronic famine to make the most of little,
had voracious appetites. And when, in addition to this, the worn-
out huskies pulled weakly, Hal decided that the orthodox ration
was too small. He doubled it. And to cap it all, when Mercedes,
with tears in her pretty eyes and a quaver in her throat, could
not cajole him into giving the dogs still more, she stole from the
fish-sacks and fed them slyly. But it was not food that Buck and
the huskies needed, but rest. And though they were making poor
time, the 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;
further, that 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 faster, while 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 dogs, but they did not know how to work themselves.
The first to go was Dub. Poor blundering thief that he was,
always getting caught and punished, he had none the less been a
faithful worker. His wrenched shoulder-blade, untreated and
unrested, went from bad to worse, till 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 husky, so the
six Outside dogs under Buck could do no less than die on half the
ration of the husky. The Newfoundland went first, followed by the
three short-haired pointers, the two mongrels hanging more
grittily on to life, but 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
romance, Arctic travel became to them a reality too harsh for
their manhood and womanhood. Mercedes ceased weeping over the
dogs, being 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 misery, increased with it, doubled upon it,
outdistanced it. The wonderful patience of the trail which comes
to men who toil hard and suffer sore, and remain sweet of speech
and kindly, did 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 ached, their bones ached, their very hearts ached; and
because of this they became sharp of speech, and 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 work, and neither forbore to speak this belief at every
opportunity. Sometimes Mercedes sided with her husband, sometimes
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,
fathers, mothers, uncles, cousins, people thousands of miles away,
and some of them dead. That Hal's views on art, or the sort of
society plays his mother's brother wrote, should have anything to
do with the chopping of a few sticks of firewood, passes
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 fire, was apparent only to
Mercedes, who disburdened herself of copious opinions upon that
topic, and incidentally upon a few other traits unpleasantly
peculiar to her husband's family. In the meantime the fire
remained unbuilt, the camp half pitched, and the dogs unfed.
Mercedes nursed a special grievance--the grievance of sex. She was
pretty and soft, and 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-prerogative, she made their lives unendurable.
She no longer considered the dogs, and because she was sore and
tired, she persisted in riding on the sled. She was pretty and
soft, but she weighed one hundred and twenty pounds--a lusty last
straw to the load dragged by the weak and starving animals. She
rode for days, till they fell in the traces and the sled stood
still. Charles and Hal begged her to get off and walk, pleaded
with her, entreated, the 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
child, and sat down on the trail. They went on their way, but she
did not move. After they had travelled three miles they unloaded
the sled, came back for her, and 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 theory, which he practised on
others, was that one must get hardened. He had started out
preaching it to his sister and brother-in-law. Failing there, he
hammered it into the dogs with a club. At the Five Fingers the
dog-food gave out, and 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 hide, just 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 iron, and when a dog
wrestled it into his stomach it thawed into thin and innutritious
leathery strings and into a mass of short hair, irritating 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
pull, he 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 down, limp and
draggled, or matted with dried blood where Hal's club had bruised
him. His muscles had wasted away to knotty strings, and the flesh
pads had disappeared, so 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 heartbreaking, only Buck's heart was
unbreakable. The man in the red sweater had proved that.
As it was with Buck, so was it with his mates. They were
perambulating skeletons. There were seven all together, including
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 distant, just as the things their eyes saw
and their ears heard seemed dull and distant. They were not half
living, or 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 dogs, and the spark
dimmed and paled and seemed to go out. And when the club or whip
fell upon them, the spark fluttered feebly up, and they tottered
to their feet and staggered on.
There came a day when Billee, the good-natured, fell and could not
rise. Hal had traded off his revolver, so he took the axe and
knocked Billee on the head as he lay in the traces, then cut the
carcass out of the harness and dragged it to one side. Buck saw,
and his mates saw, and they knew that this thing was very close to
them. On the next day Koona went, and but five of them remained:
Joe, too far gone to be malignant; Pike, crippled and limping,
only half conscious and not conscious enough longer to malinger;
Sol-leks, the one-eyed, still faithful to the toil of trace and
trail, and mournful in that he had so little strength with which
to pull; Teek, who had not travelled so far that winter and who
was now beaten more than the others because he was fresher; and
Buck, still at the head of the team, but no longer enforcing
discipline or striving to enforce it, blind 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 weather, but neither dogs nor humans were
aware of it. Each day the sun rose earlier and set later. It was
dawn by three in the morning, and 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 land, fraught with
the joy of living. It came from the things that lived and moved
again, things 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 nights, and in the days all manner of creeping, crawling
things rustled forth into the sun. Partridges and woodpeckers
were booming and knocking in the forest. Squirrels were
chattering, birds singing, and 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 water, the music
of unseen fountains. AU things were thawing, bending, snapping.
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
formed, fissures sprang and spread apart, while thin sections of
ice fell through bodily into the river. And amid all this
bursting, rending, throbbing of awakening life, under the blazing
sun and through the soft-sighing breezes, like wayfarers to death,
staggered the two men, the woman, and the huskies.
With the dogs falling, Mercedes weeping and riding, Hal swearing
innocuously, and Charles's eyes wistfully watering, they staggered
into John Thornton's camp at the mouth of White River. When they
halted, the 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 listened, gave
monosyllabic replies, and, when it was asked, terse advice.
He knew the breed, and 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 River, and
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 fools, with the blind luck
of fools, could have made it. I tell you straight, I 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
same, we'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 idle, he knew, to 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 out, here and there, on its merciless errands. John
Thornton compressed his lips. Sol-leks was the first to crawl to
his feet. Teek followed. Joe came next, yelping with pain. Pike
made painful efforts. Twice he fell over, when half up, and 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
again, but he neither whined nor struggled. Several times
Thornton started, as though to speak, but changed his mind. A
moisture came into his eyes, and, as the whipping continued, he
arose and walked irresolutely up and down.
This was the first time Buck had failed, in 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 mates, he barely able to
get up, but, unlike them, he 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 bank, and it had not departed
from him. What of the thin and rotten ice he had felt under his
feet all day, it seemed that he sensed disaster close at hand, out
there ahead on the ice where his master was trying to drive him.
He refused to stir. So greatly had he suffered, and so far gone
was he, that the blows did not hurt much. And as they continued
to fall upon him, the spark of life within flickered and went
down. It was nearly out. He felt strangely numb. As though from
a great distance, he was aware that he was being beaten. The last
sensations of pain left him. He no longer felt anything, though
very faintly he could hear the impact of the club upon his body.
But it was no longer his body, it seemed so far away.
And then, suddenly, without warning, uttering a cry that was
inarticulate and more like the cry of an animal, John Thornton
sprang upon the man who wielded the club. Hal was hurled
backward, as though struck by a failing tree. Mercedes screamed.
Charles looked on wistfully, wiped his watery eyes, but did not
get up because of his stiffness.
John Thornton stood over Buck, struggling to control himself, too
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 replied, wiping the blood from his mouth as he
came back. "Get out of my way, or I'll fix you. I'm going to
Thornton stood between him and Buck, and evinced no intention of
getting out of the way. Hal drew his long hunting-knife.
Mercedes screamed. cried, laughed, and manifested the chaotic
abandonment of hysteria. Thornton rapped Hal's knuckles with the
axe-handle, knocking the knife to the ground. He rapped his
knuckles again as he tried to pick it up. Then he stooped, picked
it up himself, and with two strokes cut Buck's traces.
Hal had no fight left in him. Besides, his hands were full with
his sister, or his arms, rather; 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 see, Pike was leading, Sol-leks was at the
wheel, and between were Joe and Teek. They were limping and
staggering. Mercedes was riding the loaded sled. Hal guided at
the gee-pole, and Charles stumbled along in the rear.
As Buck watched them, Thornton 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 starvation, the sled was a quarter of a mile away. Dog
and man watched it crawling along over the ice. Suddenly, they
saw its back end drop down, as into a rut, and the gee-pole, with
Hal clinging to it, jerk 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 Thornton, and Buck licked his hand.
Chapter V. The Toil of Trace and Trail
When John Thornton froze his feet in the previous December his
partners had made him comfortable and left him to get well, going
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
Buck, but with the continued warm weather even the slight limp
left him. And here, lying by the river bank through the long
spring days, watching the running water, listening lazily to the
songs of birds and the hum of nature, Buck slowly won back his
A rest comes very good after one has travelled three thousand
miles, and it must be confessed that Buck waxed lazy as his wounds
healed, his muscles swelled out, and the flesh came back to cover
his bones. For that matter, they were all loafing,--Buck, John
Thornton, and 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 Buck, who, in a dying condition, was
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. Regularly, each morning
after he had finished his breakfast, she performed her self-
appointed task, till he came to look for her ministrations as much
as he did for Thornton's. Nig, equally friendly, though less
demonstrative, was a huge black dog, half bloodhound and half
deerhound, with 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 games, in which Thornton himself could not forbear
to join; and in this fashion Buck romped through his convalescence
and into a new existence. Love, genuine passionate love, was 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 sons, hunting and tramping, it had been a working
partnership; with the Judge's grandsons, a sort of pompous
guardianship; and with the Judge himself, a stately and dignified
friendship. But love that was feverish and burning, that was
adoration, that was madness, it had taken John Thornton to arouse.
This man had saved his life, which was something; but, further, he
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 children, because he could
not help it. And he saw further. He never forgot a kindly
greeting or a cheering word, and 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 hands, and
resting his own head upon Buck's, of 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 oaths, and at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his
heart would be shaken out of his body so great was its ecstasy.
And when, released, he sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, his
eyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with unuttered sound, and in
that fashion remained without movement, John Thornton would
reverently exclaim, "God! 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
words, so the man understood this feigned bite for a caress.
For the most part, however, Buck's love was expressed in
adoration. While he went wild with happiness when Thornton
touched him or spoke to him, he did not seek these tokens. Unlike
Skeet, who was wont to shove her nose under Thornton's hand and
nudge and nudge till petted, or Nig, who would stalk up and rest
his great head on Thornton's knee, Buck was content to adore at a
distance. He would lie by the hour, eager, alert, at Thornton's
feet, looking up into his face, dwelling upon it, studying it,
following with keenest interest each fleeting expression, every
movement or change of feature. Or, as chance might have it, he
would lie farther away, to the side or rear, watching the outlines
of the man and the occasional movements of his body. And often,
such was the communion in which they lived, the strength of Buck's
gaze would draw John Thornton's head around, and he would return
the gaze, without speech, his heart shining out of his eyes as
Buck's heart shone out.
For a long time after his rescue, Buck did not like Thornton to
get out of his sight. From the moment he left the tent to when he
entered it again, Buck 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 night, in his
dreams, he 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 Thornton, which
seemed to bespeak the soft civilizing influence, the strain of the
primitive, which the Northland had aroused in him, remained alive
and active. Faithfulness and devotion, things born of fire and
roof, were his; yet he retained his wildness and wiliness. He was
a thing of the wild, come in from the wild to sit by John
Thornton's fire, rather than a dog of the soft Southland stamped
with the marks of generations of civilization. Because of his
very great love, he could not steal from this man, but from any
other man, in any other camp, he 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 dogs, and he
fought as fiercely as ever and more shrewdly. Skeet and Nig were
too good-natured for quarrelling,--besides, they belonged to John
Thornton; but the strange dog, no 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 fang, and he never forewent
an advantage or drew back from a foe he had started on the way to
Death. He had lessoned from Spitz, and from the chief fighting
dogs of the police and mail, and 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 fear, and such misunderstandings made for death. Kill or be
killed, eat or be eaten, was the law; and this mandate, down out
of the depths of Time, he obeyed.
He was older than the days he had seen and the breaths he had
drawn. He linked the past with the present, and 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
fire, a broad-breasted dog, white-fanged and long-furred; but
behind him were the shades of all manner of dogs, half-wolves and
wild wolves, urgent and prompting, tasting the savor of the meat
he ate, thirsting for the water he drank, scenting the wind with
him, listening with him and telling him the sounds made by the
wild life in the forest, dictating his moods, directing his
actions, lying down to sleep with him when he lay down, and
dreaming with him and beyond him and becoming themselves the stuff
of his dreams.
So peremptorily did these shades beckon him, that each day mankind
and the claims of mankind slipped farther from him. Deep in the
forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call,
mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his
back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge
into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did
he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the
forest. But as often as he gained the soft unbroken earth and the
green shade, the 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 all, and from a too demonstrative man he would get up and walk
away. When Thornton's partners, Hans and Pete, arrived on the
long-expected raft, Buck refused to notice them till he learned
they were close to Thornton; after that he tolerated them in a
passive sort of way, accepting favors from them as though he
favored them by accepting. They were of the same large type as
Thornton, living close to the earth, thinking simply and seeing
clearly; and ere they swung the raft into the big eddy by the saw-
mill at Dawson, they understood Buck and his ways, and did not
insist upon an intimacy such as obtained with Skeet and Nig.
For Thornton, however, his love seemed to grow and grow. He,
alone among men, could put a pack upon Buck's back in the summer
travelling. Nothing was too great for Buck to do, when 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 away, straight down, to naked bed-rock three hundred
feet below. John Thornton was sitting near the edge, Buck at his
shoulder. A thoughtless whim seized Thornton, and he drew the
attention of Hans and Pete to the experiment he had in mind.
"Jump, Buck!" he commanded, sweeping his arm out and over the
chasm. The next instant he was grappling with Buck on the extreme
edge, while Hans and Pete were dragging them back into safety.
"It's uncanny," Pete said, after it was over and they had caught
Thornton shook his head. "No, it is splendid, and it is terrible,
too. Do you know, it sometimes makes me afraid."
"I'm not hankering to be the man that lays hands on you while he's
around," Pete announced conclusively, nodding his head toward
"Py Jingo!" was Hans's contribution. "Not mineself either."
It was at Circle City, ere the year was out, that Pete's
apprehensions were realized. "Black" Burton, a man evil-tempered
and malicious, had been picking a quarrel with a tenderfoot at the
bar, when Thornton stepped good-naturedly between. Buck, as was
his custom, was lying in a corner, head on paws, watching his
master's every action. Burton struck out, without warning,
straight from the shoulder. Thornton was sent spinning, and 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 roar, and 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
arm, but 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
blocking, and his throat was torn open. Then the crowd was upon
Buck, and he was driven off; but while a surgeon checked the
bleeding, he prowled up and down, growling furiously, attempting
to rush in, and being forced back by an array of hostile clubs. A
"miners' meeting," called on the spot, decided that the dog had
sufficient provocation, and Buck was discharged. But his
reputation was made, and from that day his name spread through
every camp in Alaska.
Later on, in the fall of the year, he 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 bank, snubbing with a
thin Manila rope from tree to tree, while Thornton remained in the
boat, helping its descent by means of a pole, and shouting
directions to the shore. Buck, on the bank, worried and anxious,
kept abreast of the boat, his eyes never off his master.
At a particularly bad spot, where a ledge of barely submerged
rocks jutted out into the river, Hans cast off the rope, and,
while Thornton poled the boat out into the stream, ran down the
bank with the end in his hand to snub the boat when it had cleared
the ledge. This it did, and was flying down-stream in a current
as swift as a mill-race, when Hans checked it with the rope and
checked too suddenly. The boat flirted over and snubbed in to the
bank bottom up, while Thornton, flung sheer out of it, was carried
down-stream toward the worst part of the rapids, a stretch of wild
water in which no swimmer could live.
Buck had sprung in on the instant; and at the end of three hundred
yards, amid a mad swirl of water, he overhauled Thornton. When he
felt him grasp his tail, Buck headed for the bank, swimming 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 frightful, and Thornton knew
that the shore was impossible. He scraped furiously over a rock,
bruised across a second, and struck a third with crushing force.
He clutched its slippery top with both hands, releasing Buck, and
above the roar of the churning water shouted: "Go, Buck! Go!"
Buck could not hold his own, and swept on down-stream, struggling
desperately, but unable to win back. When he heard Thornton's
command repeated, he partly reared out of the water, throwing his
head high, as though for a last look, then 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 minutes, and 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 shoulders, being
careful that it should neither strangle him nor impede his
swimming, and launched him into the stream. He struck out boldly,
but not straight enough into the stream. He discovered the
mistake too late, when Thornton was abreast of him and a bare
half-dozen strokes away while he was being carried helplessly
Hans promptly snubbed with the rope, as though Buck were a boat.
The rope thus tightening on him in the sweep of the current, he
was jerked under the surface, and under the surface he remained
till his body struck against the bank and he was hauled out. He
was half drowned, and 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 them, and though they could not make out
the words of it, they knew that he was in his extremity. His
master's voice acted on Buck like an electric shock, He 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 launched, and again he
struck out, but this time straight into the stream. He had
miscalculated once, but he would not be guilty of it a second
time. Hans paid out the rope, permitting no slack, while Pete
kept it clear of coils. Buck held on till he was on a line
straight above Thornton; then he turned, and with the speed of an
express train headed down upon him. Thornton saw him coming, and,
as Buck struck him like a battering ram, with the whole force of
the current behind him, he 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,
suffocating, sometimes one uppermost and sometimes the other,
dragging over the jagged bottom, smashing against rocks and snags,
they veered in to the bank.
Thornton came to, belly downward and being violently propelled
back and forth across a drift log by Hans and Pete. His first
glance was for Buck, over whose limp and apparently lifeless body
Nig was setting up a howl, while Skeet was licking the wet face
and closed eyes. Thornton was himself bruised and battered, and
he went carefully over Buck's body, when he had been brought
around, finding three broken ribs.
"That settles it," he announced. "We camp right here." And camp
they did, till Buck's ribs knitted and he was able to travel.
That winter, at Dawson, Buck performed another exploit, not so
heroic, perhaps, but 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 furnished, and were enabled to make a long-desired trip
into the virgin East, where miners had not yet appeared. It was
brought about by a conversation in the Eldorado Saloon, in which
men waxed boastful of their favorite dogs. Buck, because of his
record, was the target for these men, and 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
third, seven hundred.
"Pooh! pooh!" said John Thornton; "Buck can start a thousand
"And break it out? and walk off with it for a hundred yards?"
demanded Matthewson, a Bonanza King, he of the seven hundred
"And break it out, and walk off with it for a hundred yards," John
Thornton said coolly.
"Well," Matthewson said, slowly and deliberately, so that all
could hear, "I've got a thousand dollars that says he can't. And
there it is." So saying, he slammed a sack of gold dust of the
size of a bologna sausage down upon the bar.
Nobody spoke. Thornton's bluff, if bluff it was, had 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 never, as now, had he
faced the possibility of it, the eyes of a dozen men fixed upon
him, silent and waiting. Further, he 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'Brien, a Mastodon
King and old-time comrade, caught his eyes. It was as a cue to
him, seeming to rouse him to do what he would never have dreamed
"Can you lend me a thousand?" he asked, almost in a whisper.
"Sure," answered O'Brien, thumping down a plethoric sack by the
side of Matthewson's. "Though it's little faith I'm having, John,
that the beast can do the trick."
The Eldorado emptied its occupants into the street to see the
test. The tables were deserted, and the dealers and gamekeepers
came forth to see the outcome of the wager and to lay odds.
Several hundred men, furred and mittened, banked around the sled
within easy distance. Matthewson's sled, loaded with a thousand
pounds of flour, had been standing for a couple of hours, and 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 loose, leaving 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
favor, whereat 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 wager, heavy with doubt; and
now that he looked at the sled itself, the concrete fact, with the
regular team of ten dogs curled up in the snow before it, the more
impossible the task appeared. Matthewson waxed jubilant.
"Three to one!" he proclaimed. "I'll lay you another thousand at
that figure, Thornton. What d'ye say?"
Thornton's doubt was strong in his face, but his fighting spirit
was aroused--the fighting spirit that soars above odds, fails to
recognize the impossible, and 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 fortunes, this sum was their
total capital; yet they laid it unhesitatingly against
Matthewson's six hundred.
The team of ten dogs was unhitched, and Buck, with his own
harness, was put into the sled. He had caught the contagion of
the excitement, and 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 condition, without an ounce
of superfluous flesh, and 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
shoulders, his mane, in repose as it was, half bristled and seemed
to lift with every movement, as 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 iron, and the odds
went down to two to one.
"Gad, sir! Gad, sir!" stuttered a member of the latest dynasty, a
king of the Skookum Benches. "I offer you eight hundred for him,
sir, before the test, sir; 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 animal, but 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 wont, or murmur soft love curses; but he whispered in
his ear. "As you love me, Buck. 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
"Now, Buck," 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 out, sharp in the tense silence.
Buck swung to the right, ending the movement in a plunge that took
up the slack and with a sudden jerk arrested his one hundred and
fifty pounds. The load quivered, and from under the runners arose
a crisp crackling.
"Haw!" Thornton commanded.
Buck duplicated the manoeuvre, this time to the left. The
crackling turned into a snapping, the sled pivoting and the
runners slipping and grating several inches to the side. The sled
was broken out. Men were holding their breaths, intensely
unconscious of the fact.
Thornton's command cracked out like a pistol-shot. Buck threw
himself forward, tightening the traces with a jarring lunge. His
whole body was gathered compactly together in the tremendous
effort, the muscles writhing and knotting like live things under
the silky fur. His great chest was low to the ground, his head
forward and down, while his feet were flying like mad, the claws
scarring the hard-packed snow in parallel grooves. The sled
swayed and trembled, half-started forward. One of his feet
slipped, and one man groaned aloud. Then the sled lurched ahead in
what appeared a rapid succession of jerks, though it never really
came to a dead stop again ...half an inch...an inch . . . two
inches. . . The jerks perceptibly diminished; as the sled gained
momentum, he caught them up, till it was moving steadily along.
Men gasped and began to breathe again, unaware that for a moment
they had ceased to breathe. Thornton was running behind,
encouraging Buck with short, cheery words. The distance had been
measured off, and as he neared the pile of firewood which marked
the end of the hundred yards, a 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 loose, even Matthewson.
Hats and mittens were flying in the air. Men were shaking hands,
it did not matter with whom, and bubbling over in a general
But Thornton fell on his knees beside Buck. Head was against
head, and he was shaking him back and forth. Those who hurried up
heard him cursing Buck, and he cursed him long and fervently, and
softly and lovingly.
"Gad, sir! Gad, sir!" spluttered the Skookum Bench king. "I'll
give you a thousand for him, sir, a thousand, sir--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, "no, sir. You can go to hell, sir. It's the best I
can do for you, sir."
Buck seized Thornton's hand in his teeth. Thornton shook him back
and forth. As though animated by a common impulse, the onlookers
drew back to a respectful distance; nor were they again indiscreet
enough to interrupt.
Chapter VI. For the Love of a Man
When Buck earned sixteen hundred dollars in five minutes for John
Thornton, he made it possible for his master to pay off certain
debts and to journey with his partners into the East after a
fabled lost mine, the 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 it, and to the mine the
site of which it marked, clinching their testimony with nuggets
that were unlike any known grade of gold in the Northland.
But no living man had looted this treasure house, and the dead
were dead; wherefore John Thornton and Pete and Hans, with Buck
and half a dozen other dogs, faced 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 Yukon, swung to the
left into the Stewart River, passed the Mayo and the McQuestion,
and held on until the Stewart itself became a streamlet, threading
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 haste, Indian fashion, he hunted his dinner
in the course of the day's travel; and if he failed to find it,
like the Indian, he kept on travelling, secure in the knowledge
that sooner or later he would come to it. So, on this great
journey into the East, straight meat was the bill of fare,
ammunition and tools principally made up the load on the sled, and
the time-card was drawn upon the limitless future.
To Buck it was boundless delight, this hunting, fishing, and
indefinite wandering through strange places. For weeks at a time
they would hold on steadily, day after day; and for weeks upon end
they would camp, here and there, the 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 riotously, all according to the abundance
of game and the fortune of hunting. Summer arrived, and dogs and
men packed on their backs, rafted across blue mountain lakes, and
descended or ascended unknown rivers in slender boats whipsawed
from the standing forest.
The months came and went, and back and forth they twisted through
the uncharted vastness, where no men were and yet where men had
been if the Lost Cabin were true. They went across divides in
summer blizzards, shivered under the midnight sun on naked
mountains between the timber line and the eternal snows, dropped
into summer valleys amid swarming gnats and flies, and 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 country, sad and silent, where wild-
fowl had been, but where then there was no life nor sign of life--
only the blowing of chill winds, the forming of ice in sheltered
places, and the melancholy rippling of waves on lonely beaches.
And through another winter they wandered on the obliterated trails
of men who had gone before. Once, they came upon a path blazed
through the forest, an ancient path, and the Lost Cabin seemed
very near. But the path began nowhere and ended nowhere, and it
remained mystery, as 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 lodge, and 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
Northwest, when such a gun was worth its height in beaver skins
packed flat, And 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 more, and at the end of all their wandering
they found, not the Lost Cabin, but 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 nuggets, and
they worked every day. The gold was sacked in moose-hide bags,
fifty pounds to the bag, and piled like so much firewood outside
the spruce-bough lodge. Like giants they toiled, days flashing on
the heels of days like dreams as they heaped the treasure up.
There was nothing for the dogs to do, save the hauling in of meat
now and again that Thornton killed, and Buck spent long hours
musing by the fire. The vision of the short-legged hairy man came
to him more frequently, now that there was little work to be done;
and often, blinking by the fire, Buck 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 fire, head between his knees
and hands clasped above, Buck saw that he slept restlessly, with
many starts and awakenings, at which times he would peer fearfully
into the darkness and fling more wood upon the fire. Did they
walk by the beach of a sea, where the hairy man gathered shell-
fish and ate them as he gathered, it 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
noiselessly, Buck at the hairy man's heels; and they were alert
and vigilant, the pair of them, ears twitching and moving and
nostrils quivering, for 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 ground, swinging by the arms from limb to
limb, sometimes a dozen feet apart, letting go and catching, never
falling, never missing his grip. In fact, he 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 gladness, and he was aware of wild yearnings and stirrings
for he knew not what. Sometimes he pursued the call into the
forest, looking for it as though it were a tangible thing, barking
softly or defiantly, as the mood might dictate. He would thrust
his nose into the cool wood moss, or into the black soil where
long grasses grew, and snort with joy at the fat earth smells; or
he would crouch for hours, as if in concealment, behind fungus-
covered trunks of fallen trees, wide-eyed and wide-eared to all
that moved and sounded about him. It might be, lying thus, that
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 them, and did not reason about them at all.
Irresistible impulses seized him. He would be lying in camp,
dozing lazily in the heat of the day, when suddenly his head would
lift and his ears cock up, intent and listening, and he would
spring to his feet and dash away, and on and on, for hours,
through the forest aisles and across the open spaces where the
niggerheads bunched. He loved to run down dry watercourses, and
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 forest, reading
signs and sounds as man may read a book, and seeking for the
mysterious something that called--called, waking or sleeping, at
all times, for him to come.
One night he sprang from sleep with a start, eager-eyed, nostrils
quivering and scenting, his mane bristling in recurrent waves.
From the forest came the call (or one note of it, for the call was
many noted), distinct and definite as never before,--a long-drawn
howl, like, yet unlike, any noise made by husky dog. And he knew
it, in the old familiar way, as 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 slowly, with
caution in every movement, till he came to an open place among the
trees, and looking out saw, erect on haunches, with nose pointed
to the sky, a long, lean, timber wolf.
He had made no noise, yet it ceased from its howling and tried to
sense his presence. Buck stalked into the open, half crouching,
body gathered compactly together, tail straight and stiff, feet
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 followed, with wild leapings, in a
frenzy to overtake. He ran him into a blind channel, in the bed
of the creek where a timber jam barred the way. The wolf whirled
about, pivoting on his hind legs after the fashion of Joe and of
all cornered husky dogs, snarling and bristling, clipping his
teeth together in a continuous and rapid succession of snaps.
Buck did not attack, but circled him about and hedged him in with
friendly advances. The wolf was suspicious and afraid; for Buck
made three of him in weight, while his head barely reached Buck's
shoulder. Watching his chance, he darted away, and the chase was
resumed. Time and again he was cornered, and the thing repeated,
though he was in poor condition, or Buck could not so easily have
overtaken him. He would run till Buck's head was even with his
flank, when he would whirl around at bay, only 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 intended, finally sniffed noses with him.
Then they became friendly, and played about in the nervous, half-
coy 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 come, and they ran side by side through the
sombre twilight, straight up the creek bed, into the gorge from
which it issued, and 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 streams, and
through these great stretches they ran steadily, hour after hour,
the sun rising higher and the day growing warmer. Buck was wildly
glad. He knew he was at last answering the call, running by the
side of his wood brother toward the place from where the call
surely came. Old memories were coming upon him fast, and he was
stirring to them as of old he stirred to the realities of which
they were the shadows. He had done this thing before, somewhere
in that other and dimly remembered world, and he was doing it
again, now, running free in the open, the unpacked earth
underfoot, the wide sky overhead.
They stopped by a running stream to drink, and, stopping, Buck
remembered John Thornton. He sat down. The wolf started on
toward the place from where the call surely came, then returned to
him, sniffing 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 down, pointed his nose upward, and
howled. It was a mournful howl, and 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 affection, overturning him,
scrambling upon him, licking his face, biting 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 discharing 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 made, the 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, cat-
footed, 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 many-
noted 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 half-
friendly, 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 moose-
hide 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.
Chapter VII. The Sounding of the Call
Last-modified: Thu, 31 Jul 1997 06:45:47 GMT