The Call of the Wild, by Jack London (2022)

The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Call of the Wild, by Jack LondonThis eBook is for the use of anyone anywhere in the United States and mostother parts of the world at no cost and with almost no restrictionswhatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms ofthe Project Gutenberg License included with this eBook or online If you are not located in the United States, you'll haveto check the laws of the country where you are located before using this ebook.Title: The Call of the WildAuthor: Jack LondonRelease Date: July 1, 2008 [EBook #215]Last updated: August 30, 2019Language: EnglishCharacter set encoding: UTF-8*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK THE CALL OF THE WILD ***Produced by Ryan, Kirstin, Linda and Rick Trapp, and David Widger

The Call of the Wild, by Jack London (1)

by Jack London


Chapter I. Into the Primitive
Chapter II. The Law of Club and Fang
Chapter III. The Dominant Primordial Beast
Chapter IV. Who Has Won to Mastership
Chapter V. The Toil of Trace
Chapter VI. For the Love of a Man
Chapter VII. The Sounding of the Call

Chapter I.
Into the Primitive

“Old longings nomadic leap,
Chafing at custom’s chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain.”

Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble wasbrewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of muscleand with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, gropingin the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and because steamship andtransportation companies were booming the find, thousands of men were rushinginto the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavydogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect themfrom the frost.

Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. JudgeMiller’s place, it was called. It stood back from the road, half hiddenamong the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide coolveranda that ran around its four sides. The house was approached by gravelleddriveways which wound about through wide-spreading lawns and under theinterlacing boughs of tall poplars. At the rear things were on even a morespacious scale than at the front. There were great stables, where a dozengrooms and boys held forth, rows of vine-clad servants’ cottages, anendless and orderly array of outhouses, long grape arbors, green pastures,orchards, and berry patches. Then there was the pumping plant for the artesianwell, and the big cement tank where Judge Miller’s boys took theirmorning plunge and kept cool in the hot afternoon.

And over this great demesne Buck ruled. Here he was born, and here he had livedthe four years of his life. It was true, there were other dogs, There could notbut be other dogs on so vast a place, but they did not count. They came andwent, resided in the populous kennels, or lived obscurely in the recesses ofthe house after the fashion of Toots, the Japanese pug, or Ysabel, the Mexicanhairless,—strange creatures that rarely put nose out of doors or set footto ground. On the other hand, there were the fox terriers, a score of them atleast, who yelped fearful promises at Toots and Ysabel looking out of thewindows at them and protected by a legion of housemaids armed with brooms andmops.

But Buck was neither house-dog nor kennel-dog. The whole realm was his. Heplunged into the swimming tank or went hunting with the Judge’s sons; heescorted Mollie and Alice, the Judge’s daughters, on long twilight orearly morning rambles; on wintry nights he lay at the Judge’s feet beforethe roaring library fire; he carried the Judge’s grandsons on his back,or rolled them in the grass, and guarded their footsteps through wildadventures down to the fountain in the stable yard, and even beyond, where thepaddocks were, and the berry patches. Among the terriers he stalkedimperiously, and Toots and Ysabel he utterly ignored, for he wasking,—king over all creeping, crawling, flying things of JudgeMiller’s place, humans included.

His father, Elmo, a huge St. Bernard, had been the Judge’s inseparablecompanion, and Buck bid fair to follow in the way of his father. He was not solarge,—he weighed only one hundred and forty pounds,—for hismother, Shep, had been a Scotch shepherd dog. Nevertheless, one hundred andforty pounds, to which was added the dignity that comes of good living anduniversal respect, enabled him to carry himself in right royal fashion. Duringthe 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 countrygentlemen sometimes become because of their insular situation. But he had savedhimself by not becoming a mere pampered house-dog. Hunting and kindred outdoordelights had kept down the fat and hardened his muscles; and to him, as to thecold-tubbing races, the love of water had been a tonic and a health preserver.

And this was the manner of dog Buck was in the fall of 1897, when the Klondikestrike dragged men from all the world into the frozen North. But Buck did notread the newspapers, and he did not know that Manuel, one of thegardener’s helpers, was an undesirable acquaintance. Manuel had onebesetting sin. He loved to play Chinese lottery. Also, in his gambling, he hadone besetting weakness—faith in a system; and this made his damnationcertain. For to play a system requires money, while the wages of agardener’s helper do not lap over the needs of a wife and numerousprogeny.

The Judge was at a meeting of the Raisin Growers’ Association, and theboys were busy organizing an athletic club, on the memorable night ofManuel’s treachery. No one saw him and Buck go off through the orchard onwhat Buck imagined was merely a stroll. And with the exception of a solitaryman, 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,” thestranger said gruffly, and Manuel doubled a piece of stout rope aroundBuck’s neck under the collar.

“Twist it, an’ you’ll choke ’m plentee,” saidManuel, and the stranger grunted a ready affirmative.

Buck had accepted the rope with quiet dignity. To be sure, it was an unwontedperformance: but he had learned to trust in men he knew, and to give themcredit for a wisdom that outreached his own. But when the ends of the rope wereplaced in the stranger’s hands, he growled menacingly. He had merelyintimated his displeasure, in his pride believing that to intimate was tocommand. But to his surprise the rope tightened around his neck, shutting offhis breath. In quick rage he sprang at the man, who met him halfway, grappledhim close by the throat, and with a deft twist threw him over on his back. Thenthe rope tightened mercilessly, while Buck struggled in a fury, his tonguelolling out of his mouth and his great chest panting futilely. Never in all hislife had he been so vilely treated, and never in all his life had he been soangry. But his strength ebbed, his eyes glazed, and he knew nothing when thetrain 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 hewas being jolted along in some kind of a conveyance. The hoarse shriek of alocomotive whistling a crossing told him where he was. He had travelled toooften with the Judge not to know the sensation of riding in a baggage car. Heopened 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 closedon the hand, nor did they relax till his senses were choked out of him oncemore.

“Yep, has fits,” the man said, hiding his mangled hand from thebaggageman, who had been attracted by the sounds of struggle. “I’mtakin’ ’m up for the boss to ’Frisco. A crack dog-doctorthere 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 water front.

“All I get is fifty for it,” he grumbled; “an’ Iwouldn’t do it over for a thousand, cold cash.”

His hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, and the right trouser leg wasripped from knee to ankle.

“How much did the other mug get?” the saloon-keeper demanded.

“A hundred,” was the reply. “Wouldn’t take a sou less,so help me.”

“That makes a hundred and fifty,” the saloon-keeper calculated;“and he’s worth it, or I’m a squarehead.”

The kidnapper undid the bloody wrappings and looked at his lacerated hand.“If I don’t get the hydrophoby—”

“It’ll be because you was born to hang,” laughed thesaloon-keeper. “Here, lend me a hand before you pull your freight,”he added.

Dazed, suffering intolerable pain from throat and tongue, with the life halfthrottled out of him, Buck attempted to face his tormentors. But he was throwndown and choked repeatedly, till they succeeded in filing the heavy brasscollar from off his neck. Then the rope was removed, and he was flung into acagelike crate.

There he lay for the remainder of the weary night, nursing his wrath andwounded pride. He could not understand what it all meant. What did they wantwith him, these strange men? Why were they keeping him pent up in this narrowcrate? He did not know why, but he felt oppressed by the vague sense ofimpending calamity. Several times during the night he sprang to his feet whenthe 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 athim by the sickly light of a tallow candle. And each time the joyful bark thattrembled in Buck’s throat was twisted into a savage growl.

But the saloon-keeper let him alone, and in the morning four men entered andpicked up the crate. More tormentors, Buck decided, for they were evil-lookingcreatures, ragged and unkempt; and he stormed and raged at them through thebars. They only laughed and poked sticks at him, which he promptly assailedwith his teeth till he realized that that was what they wanted. Whereupon helay down sullenly and allowed the crate to be lifted into a wagon. Then he, andthe 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 anotherwagon; a truck carried him, with an assortment of boxes and parcels, upon aferry steamer; he was trucked off the steamer into a great railway depot, andfinally he was deposited in an express car.

For two days and nights this express car was dragged along at the tail ofshrieking 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 withgrowls, and they had retaliated by teasing him. When he flung himself againstthe bars, quivering and frothing, they laughed at him and taunted him. Theygrowled and barked like detestable dogs, mewed, and flapped their arms andcrowed. It was all very silly, he knew; but therefore the more outrage to hisdignity, and his anger waxed and waxed. He did not mind the hunger so much, butthe lack of water caused him severe suffering and fanned his wrath tofever-pitch. For that matter, high-strung and finely sensitive, the illtreatment had flung him into a fever, which was fed by the inflammation of hisparched and swollen throat and tongue.

He was glad for one thing: the rope was off his neck. That had given them anunfair advantage; but now that it was off, he would show them. They would neverget another rope around his neck. Upon that he was resolved. For two days andnights he neither ate nor drank, and during those two days and nights oftorment, he accumulated a fund of wrath that boded ill for whoever first fellfoul of him. His eyes turned blood-shot, and he was metamorphosed into a ragingfiend. 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 thetrain at Seattle.

Four men gingerly carried the crate from the wagon into a small, high-walledback 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 mansmiled 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 apry.

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 andwrestling with it. Wherever the hatchet fell on the outside, he was there onthe inside, snarling and growling, as furiously anxious to get out as the manin the red sweater was calmly intent on getting him out.

“Now, you red-eyed devil,” he said, when he had made an openingsufficient for the passage of Buck’s body. At the same time he droppedthe hatchet and shifted the club to his right hand.

And Buck was truly a red-eyed devil, as he drew himself together for thespring, 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 ashis jaws were about to close on the man, he received a shock that checked hisbody 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 inhis life, and did not understand. With a snarl that was part bark and morescream he was again on his feet and launched into the air. And again the shockcame and he was brought crushingly to the ground. This time he was aware thatit was the club, but his madness knew no caution. A dozen times he charged, andas often the club broke the charge and smashed him down.

After a particularly fierce blow, he crawled to his feet, too dazed to rush. Hestaggered limply about, the blood flowing from nose and mouth and ears, hisbeautiful coat sprayed and flecked with bloody slaver. Then the man advancedand deliberately dealt him a frightful blow on the nose. All the pain he hadendured was as nothing compared with the exquisite agony of this. With a roarthat 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 theunder jaw, at the same time wrenching downward and backward. Buck described acomplete circle in the air, and half of another, then crashed to the ground onhis head and chest.

For the last time he rushed. The man struck the shrewd blow he had purposelywithheld for so long, and Buck crumpled up and went down, knocked utterlysenseless.

“He’s no slouch at dog-breakin’, that’s wot Isay,” one of the men on the wall cried enthusiastically.

“Druther break cayuses any day, and twice on Sundays,” was thereply of the driver, as he climbed on the wagon and started the horses.

Buck’s senses came back to him, but not his strength. He lay where he hadfallen, and from there he watched the man in the red sweater.

“‘Answers to the name of Buck,’” the man soliloquized,quoting from the saloon-keeper’s letter which had announced theconsignment of the crate and contents. “Well, Buck, my boy,” hewent on in a genial voice, “we’ve had our little ruction, and thebest 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 hanghigh. Be a bad dog, and I’ll whale the stuffin’ outa you.Understand?”

As he spoke he fearlessly patted the head he had so mercilessly pounded, andthough Buck’s hair involuntarily bristled at touch of the hand, heendured 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 theman’s hand.

He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all, thathe stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and inall his after life he never forgot it. That club was a revelation. It was hisintroduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met the introductionhalfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect; and while he faced thataspect 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, somedocilely, and some raging and roaring as he had come; and, one and all, hewatched them pass under the dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again andagain, as he looked at each brutal performance, the lesson was driven home toBuck: a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to be obeyed, though notnecessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck was never guilty, though he did seebeaten dogs that fawned upon the man, and wagged their tails, and licked hishand. Also he saw one dog, that would neither conciliate nor obey, finallykilled in the struggle for mastery.

Now and again men came, strangers, who talked excitedly, wheedlingly, and inall kinds of fashions to the man in the red sweater. And at such times thatmoney passed between them the strangers took one or more of the dogs away withthem. Buck wondered where they went, for they never came back; but the fear ofthe future was strong upon him, and he was glad each time when he was notselected.

Yet his time came, in the end, in the form of a little weazened man who spatbroken English and many strange and uncouth exclamations which Buck could notunderstand.

“Sacredam!” he cried, when his eyes lit upon Buck. “Dat onedam bully dog! Eh? How moch?”

“Three hundred, and a present at that,” was the prompt reply of theman in the red sweater. “And seem’ it’s government money, youain’t got no kick coming, eh, Perrault?”

Perrault grinned. Considering that the price of dogs had been boomed skyward bythe unwonted demand, it was not an unfair sum for so fine an animal. TheCanadian Government would be no loser, nor would its despatches travel theslower. Perrault knew dogs, and when he looked at Buck he knew that he was onein a thousand—“One in ten t’ousand,” he commentedmentally.

Buck saw money pass between them, and was not surprised when Curly, agood-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 helooked at receding Seattle from the deck of the Narwhal, it was the lasthe saw of the warm Southland. Curly and he were taken below by Perrault andturned over to a black-faced giant called François. Perrault was aFrench-Canadian, and swarthy; but François was a French-Canadian half-breed,and twice as swarthy. They were a new kind of men to Buck (of which he wasdestined to see many more), and while he developed no affection for them, henone the less grew honestly to respect them. He speedily learned that Perraultand François were fair men, calm and impartial in administering justice, andtoo wise in the way of dogs to be fooled by dogs.

In the ’tween-decks of the Narwhal, Buck and Curly joined twoother dogs. One of them was a big, snow-white fellow from Spitzbergen who hadbeen brought away by a whaling captain, and who had later accompanied aGeological Survey into the Barrens. He was friendly, in a treacherous sort ofway, 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. AsBuck sprang to punish him, the lash of François’s whip sang through theair, reaching the culprit first; and nothing remained to Buck but to recoverthe bone. That was fair of François, he decided, and the half-breed began hisrise in Buck’s estimation.

The other dog made no advances, nor received any; also, he did not attempt tosteal from the newcomers. He was a gloomy, morose fellow, and he showed Curlyplainly that all he desired was to be left alone, and further, that there wouldbe trouble if he were not left alone. “Dave” he was called, and heate and slept, or yawned between times, and took interest in nothing, not evenwhen the Narwhal crossed Queen Charlotte Sound and rolled and pitchedand bucked like a thing possessed. When Buck and Curly grew excited, half wildwith fear, he raised his head as though annoyed, favored them with an incuriousglance, yawned, and went to sleep again.

Day and night the ship throbbed to the tireless pulse of the propeller, andthough one day was very like another, it was apparent to Buck that the weatherwas steadily growing colder. At last, one morning, the propeller was quiet, andthe Narwhal was pervaded with an atmosphere of excitement. He felt it,as did the other dogs, and knew that a change was at hand. François leashedthem 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 sprangback with a snort. More of this white stuff was falling through the air. Heshook himself, but more of it fell upon him. He sniffed it curiously, thenlicked 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 onlookerslaughed uproariously, and he felt ashamed, he knew not why, for it was hisfirst snow.

Chapter II.
The Law of Club and Fang

Buck’s first day on the Dyea beach was like a nightmare. Every hour wasfilled with shock and surprise. He had been suddenly jerked from the heart ofcivilization and flung into the heart of things primordial. No lazy, sun-kissedlife was this, with nothing to do but loaf and be bored. Here was neitherpeace, nor rest, nor a moment’s safety. All was confusion and action, andevery moment life and limb were in peril. There was imperative need to beconstantly alert; for these dogs and men were not town dogs and men. They weresavages, 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 firstexperience taught him an unforgetable lesson. It is true, it was a vicariousexperience, 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, madeadvances to a husky dog the size of a full-grown wolf, though not half so largeas she. There was no warning, only a leap in like a flash, a metallic clip ofteeth, a leap out equally swift, and Curly’s face was ripped open fromeye to jaw.

It was the wolf manner of fighting, to strike and leap away; but there was moreto it than this. Thirty or forty huskies ran to the spot and surrounded thecombatants in an intent and silent circle. Buck did not comprehend that silentintentness, nor the eager way with which they were licking their chops. Curlyrushed her antagonist, who struck again and leaped aside. He met her next rushwith his chest, in a peculiar fashion that tumbled her off her feet. She neverregained them, This was what the onlooking huskies had waited for. They closedin 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 Spitzrun out his scarlet tongue in a way he had of laughing; and he saw François,swinging an axe, spring into the mess of dogs. Three men with clubs werehelping him to scatter them. It did not take long. Two minutes from the timeCurly went down, the last of her assailants were clubbed off. But she lay therelimp and lifeless in the bloody, trampled snow, almost literally torn topieces, the swart half-breed standing over her and cursing horribly. The sceneoften came back to Buck to trouble him in his sleep. So that was the way. Nofair play. Once down, that was the end of you. Well, he would see to it that henever went down. Spitz ran out his tongue and laughed again, and from thatmoment Buck hated him with a bitter and deathless hatred.

Before he had recovered from the shock caused by the tragic passing of Curly,he received another shock. François fastened upon him an arrangement of strapsand buckles. It was a harness, such as he had seen the grooms put on the horsesat home. And as he had seen horses work, so he was set to work, haulingFrançois on a sled to the forest that fringed the valley, and returning with aload of firewood. Though his dignity was sorely hurt by thus being made adraught animal, he was too wise to rebel. He buckled down with a will and didhis best, though it was all new and strange. François was stern, demandinginstant obedience, and by virtue of his whip receiving instant obedience; whileDave, who was an experienced wheeler, nipped Buck’s hind quarterswhenever he was in error. Spitz was the leader, likewise experienced, and whilehe could not always get at Buck, he growled sharp reproof now and again, orcunningly threw his weight in the traces to jerk Buck into the way he shouldgo. Buck learned easily, and under the combined tuition of his two mates andFrançois made remarkable progress. Ere they returned to camp he knew enough tostop at “ho,” to go ahead at “mush,” to swing wide onthe bends, and to keep clear of the wheeler when the loaded sled shot downhillat their heels.

“T’ree vair’ good dogs,” François told Perrault.“Dat Buck, heem pool lak hell. I tich heem queek asanyt’ing.”

By afternoon, Perrault, who was in a hurry to be on the trail with hisdespatches, returned with two more dogs. “Billee” and“Joe” he called them, two brothers, and true huskies both. Sons ofthe 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 veryopposite, sour and introspective, with a perpetual snarl and a malignant eye.Buck received them in comradely fashion, Dave ignored them, while Spitzproceeded to thrash first one and then the other. Billee wagged his tailappeasingly, turned to run when he saw that appeasement was of no avail, andcried (still appeasingly) when Spitz’s sharp teeth scored his flank. Butno matter how Spitz circled, Joe whirled around on his heels to face him, manebristling, ears laid back, lips writhing and snarling, jaws clipping togetheras fast as he could snap, and eyes diabolically gleaming—the incarnationof belligerent fear. So terrible was his appearance that Spitz was forced toforego disciplining him; but to cover his own discomfiture he turned upon theinoffensive 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 prowessthat commanded respect. He was called Sol-leks, which means the Angry One. LikeDave, he asked nothing, gave nothing, expected nothing; and when he marchedslowly and deliberately into their midst, even Spitz left him alone. He had onepeculiarity which Buck was unlucky enough to discover. He did not like to beapproached on his blind side. Of this offence Buck was unwittingly guilty, andthe first knowledge he had of his indiscretion was when Sol-leks whirled uponhim and slashed his shoulder to the bone for three inches up and down. Foreverafter Buck avoided his blind side, and to the last of their comradeship had nomore trouble. His only apparent ambition, like Dave’s, was to be leftalone; though, as Buck was afterward to learn, each of them possessed one otherand even more vital ambition.

That night Buck faced the great problem of sleeping. The tent, illumined by acandle, glowed warmly in the midst of the white plain; and when he, as a matterof course, entered it, both Perrault and François bombarded him with curses andcooking utensils, till he recovered from his consternation and fledignominiously into the outer cold. A chill wind was blowing that nipped himsharply and bit with especial venom into his wounded shoulder. He lay down onthe snow and attempted to sleep, but the frost soon drove him shivering to hisfeet. Miserable and disconsolate, he wandered about among the many tents, onlyto find that one place was as cold as another. Here and there savage dogsrushed upon him, but he bristled his neck-hair and snarled (for he was learningfast), and they let him go his way unmolested.

Finally an idea came to him. He would return and see how his own team-mateswere making out. To his astonishment, they had disappeared. Again he wanderedabout through the great camp, looking for them, and again he returned. Werethey in the tent? No, that could not be, else he would not have been drivenout. Then where could they possibly be? With drooping tail and shivering body,very forlorn indeed, he aimlessly circled the tent. Suddenly the snow gave waybeneath his fore legs and he sank down. Something wriggled under his feet. Hesprang back, bristling and snarling, fearful of the unseen and unknown. But afriendly little yelp reassured him, and he went back to investigate. A whiff ofwarm air ascended to his nostrils, and there, curled up under the snow in asnug ball, lay Billee. He whined placatingly, squirmed and wriggled to show hisgood will and intentions, and even ventured, as a bribe for peace, to lickBuck’s face with his warm wet tongue.

Another lesson. So that was the way they did it, eh? Buck confidently selecteda spot, and with much fuss and waste effort proceeded to dig a hole forhimself. In a trice the heat from his body filled the confined space and he wasasleep. The day had been long and arduous, and he slept soundly andcomfortably, 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 firsthe did not know where he was. It had snowed during the night and he wascompletely buried. The snow walls pressed him on every side, and a great surgeof fear swept through him—the fear of the wild thing for the trap. It wasa token that he was harking back through his own life to the lives of hisforebears; for he was a civilized dog, an unduly civilized dog, and of his ownexperience knew no trap and so could not of himself fear it. The muscles of hiswhole body contracted spasmodically and instinctively, the hair on his neck andshoulders stood on end, and with a ferocious snarl he bounded straight up intothe blinding day, the snow flying about him in a flashing cloud. Ere he landedon his feet, he saw the white camp spread out before him and knew where he wasand remembered all that had passed from the time he went for a stroll withManuel to the hole he had dug for himself the night before.

A shout from François hailed his appearance. “Wot I say?” thedog-driver cried to Perrault. “Dat Buck for sure learn queek asanyt’ing.”

Perrault nodded gravely. As courier for the Canadian Government, bearingimportant despatches, he was anxious to secure the best dogs, and he wasparticularly gladdened by the possession of Buck.

Three more huskies were added to the team inside an hour, making a total ofnine, and before another quarter of an hour had passed they were in harness andswinging up the trail toward the Dyea Cañon. Buck was glad to be gone, andthough the work was hard he found he did not particularly despise it. He wassurprised at the eagerness which animated the whole team and which wascommunicated to him; but still more surprising was the change wrought in Daveand Sol-leks. They were new dogs, utterly transformed by the harness. Allpassiveness and unconcern had dropped from them. They were alert and active,anxious that the work should go well, and fiercely irritable with whatever, bydelay or confusion, retarded that work. The toil of the traces seemed thesupreme expression of their being, and all that they lived for and the onlything in which they took delight.

Dave was wheeler or sled dog, pulling in front of him was Buck, then cameSol-leks; the rest of the team was strung out ahead, single file, to theleader, which position was filled by Spitz.

Buck had been purposely placed between Dave and Sol-leks so that he mightreceive instruction. Apt scholar that he was, they were equally apt teachers,never allowing him to linger long in error, and enforcing their teaching withtheir sharp teeth. Dave was fair and very wise. He never nipped Buck withoutcause, and he never failed to nip him when he stood in need of it. AsFrançois’s whip backed him up, Buck found it to be cheaper to mend hisways than to retaliate. Once, during a brief halt, when he got tangled in thetraces and delayed the start, both Dave and Sol-leks flew at him andadministered a sound trouncing. The resulting tangle was even worse, but Bucktook 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.François’s whip snapped less frequently, and Perrault even honored Buckby lifting up his feet and carefully examining them.

It was a hard day’s run, up the Cañon, through Sheep Camp, past theScales and the timber line, across glaciers and snowdrifts hundreds of feetdeep, and over the great Chilcoot Divide, which stands between the salt waterand the fresh and guards forbiddingly the sad and lonely North. They made goodtime down the chain of lakes which fills the craters of extinct volcanoes, andlate that night pulled into the huge camp at the head of Lake Bennett, wherethousands of goldseekers were building boats against the break-up of the ice inthe spring. Buck made his hole in the snow and slept the sleep of the exhaustedjust, but all too early was routed out in the cold darkness and harnessed withhis mates to the sled.

That day they made forty miles, the trail being packed; but the next day, andfor many days to follow, they broke their own trail, worked harder, and madepoorer time. As a rule, Perrault travelled ahead of the team, packing the snowwith webbed shoes to make it easier for them. François, guiding the sled at thegee-pole, sometimes exchanged places with him, but not often. Perrault was in ahurry, and he prided himself on his knowledge of ice, which knowledge wasindispensable, 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 brokecamp in the dark, and the first gray of dawn found them hitting the trail withfresh 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 wasravenous. The pound and a half of sun-dried salmon, which was his ration foreach day, seemed to go nowhere. He never had enough, and suffered fromperpetual hunger pangs. Yet the other dogs, because they weighed less and wereborn to the life, received a pound only of the fish and managed to keep in goodcondition.

He swiftly lost the fastidiousness which had characterized his old life. Adainty eater, he found that his mates, finishing first, robbed him of hisunfinished ration. There was no defending it. While he was fighting off two orthree, it was disappearing down the throats of the others. To remedy this, heate as fast as they; and, so greatly did hunger compel him, he was not abovetaking 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 ofbacon when Perrault’s back was turned, he duplicated the performance thefollowing day, getting away with the whole chunk. A great uproar was raised,but he was unsuspected; while Dub, an awkward blunderer who was always gettingcaught, was punished for Buck’s misdeed.

This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northlandenvironment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to adjust himself tochanging conditions, the lack of which would have meant swift and terribledeath. It marked, further, the decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, avain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence. It was allwell enough in the Southland, under the law of love and fellowship, to respectprivate property and personal feelings; but in the Northland, under the law ofclub and fang, whoso took such things into account was a fool, and in so far ashe observed them he would fail to prosper.

Not that Buck reasoned it out. He was fit, that was all, and unconsciously heaccommodated himself to the new mode of life. All his days, no matter what theodds, he had never run from a fight. But the club of the man in the red sweaterhad beaten into him a more fundamental and primitive code. Civilized, he couldhave died for a moral consideration, say the defence of Judge Miller’sriding-whip; but the completeness of his decivilization was now evidenced byhis ability to flee from the defence of a moral consideration and so save hishide. 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 forclub and fang. In short, the things he did were done because it was easier todo 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 asexternal economy. He could eat anything, no matter how loathsome orindigestible; and, once eaten, the juices of his stomach extracted the lastleast particle of nutriment; and his blood carried it to the farthest reachesof his body, building it into the toughest and stoutest of tissues. Sight andscent became remarkably keen, while his hearing developed such acuteness thatin his sleep he heard the faintest sound and knew whether it heralded peace orperil. He learned to bite the ice out with his teeth when it collected betweenhis toes; and when he was thirsty and there was a thick scum of ice over thewater 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 anight in advance. No matter how breathless the air when he dug his nest by treeor bank, the wind that later blew inevitably found him to leeward, shelteredand snug.

And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became aliveagain. The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he rememberedback to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packsthrough the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down. It wasno 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 lifewithin him, and the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of thebreed were his tricks. They came to him without effort or discovery, as thoughthey had been his always. And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed hisnose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead anddust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and throughhim. And his cadences were their cadences, the cadences which voiced their woeand 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 throughhim and he came into his own again; and he came because men had found a yellowmetal in the North, and because Manuel was a gardener’s helper whosewages did not lap over the needs of his wife and divers small copies ofhimself.

Chapter III.
The Dominant Primordial Beast

The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierceconditions of trail life it grew and grew. Yet it was a secret growth. Hisnewborn cunning gave him poise and control. He was too busy adjusting himselfto the new life to feel at ease, and not only did he not pick fights, but heavoided them whenever possible. A certain deliberateness characterized hisattitude. He was not prone to rashness and precipitate action; and in thebitter hatred between him and Spitz he betrayed no impatience, shunned alloffensive acts.

On the other hand, possibly because he divined in Buck a dangerous rival, Spitznever lost an opportunity of showing his teeth. He even went out of his way tobully Buck, striving constantly to start the fight which could end only in thedeath of one or the other. Early in the trip this might have taken place had itnot been for an unwonted accident. At the end of this day they made a bleak andmiserable camp on the shore of Lake Le Barge. Driving snow, a wind that cutlike a white-hot knife, and darkness had forced them to grope for a campingplace. They could hardly have fared worse. At their backs rose a perpendicularwall of rock, and Perrault and François were compelled to make their fire andspread their sleeping robes on the ice of the lake itself. The tent they haddiscarded at Dyea in order to travel light. A few sticks of driftwood furnishedthem with a fire that thawed down through the ice and left them to eat supperin 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 François distributed the fish which he hadfirst thawed over the fire. But when Buck finished his ration and returned, hefound his nest occupied. A warning snarl told him that the trespasser wasSpitz. 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 themboth, and Spitz particularly, for his whole experience with Buck had gone toteach him that his rival was an unusually timid dog, who managed to hold hisown only because of his great weight and size.

François was surprised, too, when they shot out in a tangle from the disruptednest and he divined the cause of the trouble. “A-a-ah!” he cried toBuck. “Gif it to heem, by Gar! Gif it to heem, the dirtyt’eef!”

Spitz was equally willing. He was crying with sheer rage and eagerness as hecircled back and forth for a chance to spring in. Buck was no less eager, andno less cautious, as he likewise circled back and forth for the advantage. Butit was then that the unexpected happened, the thing which projected theirstruggle for supremacy far into the future, past many a weary mile of trail andtoil.

An oath from Perrault, the resounding impact of a club upon a bony frame, and ashrill yelp of pain, heralded the breaking forth of pandemonium. The camp wassuddenly discovered to be alive with skulking furry forms,—starvinghuskies, four or five score of them, who had scented the camp from some Indianvillage. They had crept in while Buck and Spitz were fighting, and when the twomen 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 buriedin the grub-box. His club landed heavily on the gaunt ribs, and the grub-boxwas capsized on the ground. On the instant a score of the famished brutes werescrambling for the bread and bacon. The clubs fell upon them unheeded. Theyyelped and howled under the rain of blows, but struggled none the less madlytill the last crumb had been devoured.

In the meantime the astonished team-dogs had burst out of their nests only tobe set upon by the fierce invaders. Never had Buck seen such dogs. It seemed asthough their bones would burst through their skins. They were mere skeletons,draped loosely in draggled hides, with blazing eyes and slavered fangs. But thehunger-madness made them terrifying, irresistible. There was no opposing them.The team-dogs were swept back against the cliff at the first onset. Buck wasbeset by three huskies, and in a trice his head and shoulders were ripped andslashed. 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. Joewas 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 thecrippled animal, breaking its neck with a quick flash of teeth and a jerk, Buckgot a frothing adversary by the throat, and was sprayed with blood when histeeth sank through the jugular. The warm taste of it in his mouth goaded him togreater fierceness. He flung himself upon another, and at the same time feltteeth sink into his own throat. It was Spitz, treacherously attacking from theside.

Perrault and François, having cleaned out their part of the camp, hurried tosave 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 werecompelled to run back to save the grub, upon which the huskies returned to theattack on the team. Billee, terrified into bravery, sprang through the savagecircle and fled away over the ice. Pike and Dub followed on his heels, with therest 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 evidentintention of overthrowing him. Once off his feet and under that mass ofhuskies, there was no hope for him. But he braced himself to the shock ofSpitz’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 notwounded in four or five places, while some were wounded grievously. Dub wasbadly 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 thenight. At daybreak they limped warily back to camp, to find the marauders goneand the two men in bad tempers. Fully half their grub supply was gone. Thehuskies had chewed through the sled lashings and canvas coverings. In fact,nothing, no matter how remotely eatable, had escaped them. They had eaten apair of Perrault’s moose-hide moccasins, chunks out of the leathertraces, and even two feet of lash from the end of François’s whip. Hebroke from a mournful contemplation of it to look over his wounded dogs.

“Ah, my frien’s,” he said softly, “mebbe it mek you maddog, dose many bites. Mebbe all mad dog, sacredam! Wot you t’ink, eh,Perrault?”

The courier shook his head dubiously. With four hundred miles of trail stillbetween him and Dawson, he could ill afford to have madness break out among hisdogs. Two hours of cursing and exertion got the harnesses into shape, and thewound-stiffened team was under way, struggling painfully over the hardest partof the trail they had yet encountered, and for that matter, the hardest betweenthem and Dawson.

The Thirty Mile River was wide open. Its wild water defied the frost, and itwas in the eddies only and in the quiet places that the ice held at all. Sixdays of exhausting toil were required to cover those thirty terrible miles. Andterrible they were, for every foot of them was accomplished at the risk of lifeto dog and man. A dozen times, Perrault, nosing the way broke through the icebridges, being saved by the long pole he carried, which he so held that it felleach time across the hole made by his body. But a cold snap was on, thethermometer registering fifty below zero, and each time he broke through he wascompelled for very life to build a fire and dry his garments.

Nothing daunted him. It was because nothing daunted him that he had been chosenfor government courier. He took all manner of risks, resolutely thrusting hislittle weazened face into the frost and struggling on from dim dawn to dark. Heskirted the frowning shores on rim ice that bent and crackled under foot andupon which they dared not halt. Once, the sled broke through, with Dave andBuck, and they were half-frozen and all but drowned by the time they weredragged out. The usual fire was necessary to save them. They were coatedsolidly 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 toBuck, who strained backward with all his strength, his fore paws on theslippery edge and the ice quivering and snapping all around. But behind him wasDave, likewise straining backward, and behind the sled was François, pullingtill his tendons cracked.

Again, the rim ice broke away before and behind, and there was no escape exceptup the cliff. Perrault scaled it by a miracle, while François prayed for justthat miracle; and with every thong and sled lashing and the last bit of harnessrove into a long rope, the dogs were hoisted, one by one, to the cliff crest.François came up last, after the sled and load. Then came the search for aplace to descend, which descent was ultimately made by the aid of the rope, andnight found them back on the river with a quarter of a mile to the day’scredit.

By the time they made the Hootalinqua and good ice, Buck was played out. Therest 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 theBig Salmon; the next day thirty-five more to the Little Salmon; the third dayforty 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. Hishad softened during the many generations since the day his last wild ancestorwas tamed by a cave-dweller or river man. All day long he limped in agony, andcamp once made, lay down like a dead dog. Hungry as he was, he would not moveto receive his ration of fish, which François had to bring to him. Also, thedog-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 totwist itself into a grin one morning, when François forgot the moccasins andBuck lay on his back, his four feet waving appealingly in the air, and refusedto budge without them. Later his feet grew hard to the trail, and the worn-outfoot-gear was thrown away.

At the Pelly one morning, as they were harnessing up, Dolly, who had never beenconspicuous for anything, went suddenly mad. She announced her condition by along, heartbreaking wolf howl that sent every dog bristling with fear, thensprang straight for Buck. He had never seen a dog go mad, nor did he have anyreason to fear madness; yet he knew that here was horror, and fled away from itin a panic. Straight away he raced, with Dolly, panting and frothing, one leapbehind; nor could she gain on him, so great was his terror, nor could he leaveher, so great was her madness. He plunged through the wooded breast of theisland, flew down to the lower end, crossed a back channel filled with roughice 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 notlook, he could hear her snarling just one leap behind. François called to him aquarter of a mile away and he doubled back, still one leap ahead, gaspingpainfully for air and putting all his faith in that François would save him.The dog-driver held the axe poised in his hand, and as Buck shot past him theaxe 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 teethsank into his unresisting foe and ripped and tore the flesh to the bone. ThenFrançois’s lash descended, and Buck had the satisfaction of watchingSpitz receive the worst whipping as yet administered to any of the teams.

“One devil, dat Spitz,” remarked Perrault. “Some dam day heemkeel dat Buck.”

“Dat Buck two devils,” was François’s rejoinder. “Allde tam I watch dat Buck I know for sure. Lissen: some dam fine day heem get madlak hell an’ den heem chew dat Spitz all up an’ spit heem out on desnow. Sure. I know.”

From then on it was war between them. Spitz, as lead-dog and acknowledgedmaster of the team, felt his supremacy threatened by this strange Southlanddog. 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. Healone endured and prospered, matching the husky in strength, savagery, andcunning. Then he was a masterful dog, and what made him dangerous was the factthat the club of the man in the red sweater had knocked all blind pluck andrashness out of his desire for mastery. He was preeminently cunning, and couldbide his time with a patience that was nothing less than primitive.

It was inevitable that the clash for leadership should come. Buck wanted it. Hewanted it because it was his nature, because he had been gripped tight by thatnameless, incomprehensible pride of the trail and trace—that pride whichholds dogs in the toil to the last gasp, which lures them to die joyfully inthe harness, and breaks their hearts if they are cut out of the harness. Thiswas the pride of Dave as wheel-dog, of Sol-leks as he pulled with all hisstrength; the pride that laid hold of them at break of camp, transforming themfrom sour and sullen brutes into straining, eager, ambitious creatures; thepride 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 pridethat bore up Spitz and made him thrash the sled-dogs who blundered and shirkedin the traces or hid away at harness-up time in the morning. Likewise it wasthis pride that made him fear Buck as a possible lead-dog. And this wasBuck’s pride, too.

He openly threatened the other’s leadership. He came between him and theshirks he should have punished. And he did it deliberately. One night there wasa heavy snowfall, and in the morning Pike, the malingerer, did not appear. Hewas securely hidden in his nest under a foot of snow. François called him andsought him in vain. Spitz was wild with wrath. He raged through the camp,smelling and digging in every likely place, snarling so frightfully that Pikeheard and shivered in his hiding-place.

But when he was at last unearthed, and Spitz flew at him to punish him, Buckflew, with equal rage, in between. So unexpected was it, and so shrewdlymanaged, that Spitz was hurled backward and off his feet. Pike, who had beentrembling abjectly, took heart at this open mutiny, and sprang upon hisoverthrown leader. Buck, to whom fair play was a forgotten code, likewisesprang upon Spitz. But François, chuckling at the incident while unswerving inthe administration of justice, brought his lash down upon Buck with all hismight. This failed to drive Buck from his prostrate rival, and the butt of thewhip was brought into play. Half-stunned by the blow, Buck was knocked backwardand the lash laid upon him again and again, while Spitz soundly punished themany times offending Pike.

In the days that followed, as Dawson grew closer and closer, Buck stillcontinued to interfere between Spitz and the culprits; but he did it craftily,when François was not around, With the covert mutiny of Buck, a generalinsubordination sprang up and increased. Dave and Sol-leks were unaffected, butthe rest of the team went from bad to worse. Things no longer went right. Therewas continual bickering and jangling. Trouble was always afoot, and at thebottom of it was Buck. He kept François busy, for the dog-driver was inconstant apprehension of the life-and-death struggle between the two which heknew must take place sooner or later; and on more than one night the sounds ofquarrelling and strife among the other dogs turned him out of his sleepingrobe, fearful that Buck and Spitz were at it.

But the opportunity did not present itself, and they pulled into Dawson onedreary afternoon with the great fight still to come. Here were many men, andcountless dogs, and Buck found them all at work. It seemed the ordained orderof things that dogs should work. All day they swung up and down the main streetin long teams, and in the night their jingling bells still went by. They hauledcabin logs and firewood, freighted up to the mines, and did all manner of workthat horses did in the Santa Clara Valley. Here and there Buck met Southlanddogs, 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 weirdand eerie chant, in which it was Buck’s delight to join.

With the aurora borealis flaming coldly overhead, or the stars leaping in thefrost dance, and the land numb and frozen under its pall of snow, this song ofthe huskies might have been the defiance of life, only it was pitched in minorkey, 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 breeditself—one of the first songs of the younger world in a day when songswere sad. It was invested with the woe of unnumbered generations, this plaintby which Buck was so strangely stirred. When he moaned and sobbed, it was withthe pain of living that was of old the pain of his wild fathers, and the fearand mystery of the cold and dark that was to them fear and mystery. And that heshould be stirred by it marked the completeness with which he harked backthrough the ages of fire and roof to the raw beginnings of life in the howlingages.

Seven days from the time they pulled into Dawson, they dropped down the steepbank 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 hadbrought in; also, the travel pride had gripped him, and he purposed to make therecord trip of the year. Several things favored him in this. The week’srest had recuperated the dogs and put them in thorough trim. The trail they hadbroken into the country was packed hard by later journeyers. And further, thepolice had arranged in two or three places deposits of grub for dog and man,and he was travelling light.

They made Sixty Mile, which is a fifty-mile run, on the first day; and thesecond day saw them booming up the Yukon well on their way to Pelly. But suchsplendid running was achieved not without great trouble and vexation on thepart of François. The insidious revolt led by Buck had destroyed the solidarityof the team. It no longer was as one dog leaping in the traces. Theencouragement Buck gave the rebels led them into all kinds of pettymisdemeanors. No more was Spitz a leader greatly to be feared. The old awedeparted, and they grew equal to challenging his authority. Pike robbed him ofhalf a fish one night, and gulped it down under the protection of Buck. Anothernight Dub and Joe fought Spitz and made him forego the punishment theydeserved. And even Billee, the good-natured, was less good-natured, and whinednot half so placatingly as in former days. Buck never came near Spitz withoutsnarling and bristling menacingly. In fact, his conduct approached that of abully, and he was given to swaggering up and down before Spitz’s verynose.

The breaking down of discipline likewise affected the dogs in their relationswith 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 wereunaltered, though they were made irritable by the unending squabbling. Françoisswore strange barbarous oaths, and stamped the snow in futile rage, and torehis hair. His lash was always singing among the dogs, but it was of smallavail. Directly his back was turned they were at it again. He backed up Spitzwith his whip, while Buck backed up the remainder of the team. François knew hewas behind all the trouble, and Buck knew he knew; but Buck was too clever everagain to be caught red-handed. He worked faithfully in the harness, for thetoil had become a delight to him; yet it was a greater delight slyly toprecipitate a fight amongst his mates and tangle the traces.

At the mouth of the Tahkeena, one night after supper, Dub turned up a snowshoerabbit, blundered it, and missed. In a second the whole team was in full cry. Ahundred yards away was a camp of the Northwest Police, with fifty dogs, huskiesall, who joined the chase. The rabbit sped down the river, turned off into asmall creek, up the frozen bed of which it held steadily. It ran lightly on thesurface of the snow, while the dogs ploughed through by main strength. Buck ledthe pack, sixty strong, around bend after bend, but he could not gain. He laydown low to the race, whining eagerly, his splendid body flashing forward, leapby leap, in the wan white moonlight. And leap by leap, like some pale frostwraith, the snowshoe rabbit flashed on ahead.

All that stirring of old instincts which at stated periods drives men out fromthe sounding cities to forest and plain to kill things by chemically propelledleaden pellets, the blood lust, the joy to kill—all this wasBuck’s, only it was infinitely more intimate. He was ranging at the headof the pack, running the wild thing down, the living meat, to kill with his ownteeth and wash his muzzle to the eyes in warm blood.

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannotrise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is mostalive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive. Thisecstasy, this forgetfulness of living, comes to the artist, caught up and outof himself in a sheet of flame; it comes to the soldier, war-mad on a strickenfield and refusing quarter; and it came to Buck, leading the pack, sounding theold wolf-cry, straining after the food that was alive and that fled swiftlybefore him through the moonlight. He was sounding the deeps of his nature, andof the parts of his nature that were deeper than he, going back into the wombof 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 waseverything that was not death, that it was aglow and rampant, expressing itselfin movement, flying exultantly under the stars and over the face of dead matterthat did not move.

But Spitz, cold and calculating even in his supreme moods, left the pack andcut across a narrow neck of land where the creek made a long bend around. Buckdid not know of this, and as he rounded the bend, the frost wraith of a rabbitstill flitting before him, he saw another and larger frost wraith leap from theoverhanging bank into the immediate path of the rabbit. It was Spitz. Therabbit could not turn, and as the white teeth broke its back in mid air itshrieked as loudly as a stricken man may shriek. At sound of this, the cry ofLife plunging down from Life’s apex in the grip of Death, the fall packat 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 andover in the powdery snow. Spitz gained his feet almost as though he had notbeen overthrown, slashing Buck down the shoulder and leaping clear. Twice histeeth clipped together, like the steel jaws of a trap, as he backed away forbetter footing, with lean and lifting lips that writhed and snarled.

In a flash Buck knew it. The time had come. It was to the death. As theycircled about, snarling, ears laid back, keenly watchful for the advantage, thescene came to Buck with a sense of familiarity. He seemed to remember itall,—the white woods, and earth, and moonlight, and the thrill of battle.Over the whiteness and silence brooded a ghostly calm. There was not thefaintest whisper of air—nothing moved, not a leaf quivered, the visiblebreaths of the dogs rising slowly and lingering in the frosty air. They hadmade 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 itwas nothing new or strange, this scene of old time. It was as though it hadalways been, the wonted way of things.

Spitz was a practised fighter. From Spitzbergen through the Arctic, and acrossCanada and the Barrens, he had held his own with all manner of dogs andachieved to mastery over them. Bitter rage was his, but never blind rage. Inpassion to rend and destroy, he never forgot that his enemy was in like passionto 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 thefangs of Spitz. Fang clashed fang, and lips were cut and bleeding, but Buckcould not penetrate his enemy’s guard. Then he warmed up and envelopedSpitz in a whirlwind of rushes. Time and time again he tried for the snow-whitethroat, where life bubbled near to the surface, and each time and every timeSpitz slashed him and got away. Then Buck took to rushing, as though for thethroat, when, suddenly drawing back his head and curving in from the side, hewould drive his shoulder at the shoulder of Spitz, as a ram by which tooverthrow him. But instead, Buck’s shoulder was slashed down each time asSpitz leaped lightly away.

Spitz was untouched, while Buck was streaming with blood and panting hard. Thefight was growing desperate. And all the while the silent and wolfish circlewaited to finish off whichever dog went down. As Buck grew winded, Spitz tookto rushing, and he kept him staggering for footing. Once Buck went over, andthe whole circle of sixty dogs started up; but he recovered himself, almost inmid air, and the circle sank down again and waited.

But Buck possessed a quality that made for greatness—imagination. Hefought by instinct, but he could fight by head as well. He rushed, as thoughattempting the old shoulder trick, but at the last instant swept low to thesnow and in. His teeth closed on Spitz’s left fore leg. There was acrunch of breaking bone, and the white dog faced him on three legs. Thrice hetried 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 thesilent circle, with gleaming eyes, lolling tongues, and silvery breathsdrifting upward, closing in upon him as he had seen similar circles close inupon beaten antagonists in the past. Only this time he was the one who wasbeaten.

There was no hope for him. Buck was inexorable. Mercy was a thing reserved forgentler climes. He manœuvred for the final rush. The circle had tightened tillhe 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 eyesfixed upon him. A pause seemed to fall. Every animal was motionless as thoughturned to stone. Only Spitz quivered and bristled as he staggered back andforth, snarling with horrible menace, as though to frighten off impendingdeath. Then Buck sprang in and out; but while he was in, shoulder had at lastsquarely met shoulder. The dark circle became a dot on the moon-flooded snow asSpitz 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 IV.
Who Has Won to Mastership

“Eh? Wot I say? I spik true w’en I say dat Buck two devils.”This was François’s speech next morning when he discovered Spitz missingand Buck covered with wounds. He drew him to the fire and by its light pointedthem out.

“Dat Spitz fight lak hell,” said Perrault, as he surveyed thegaping rips and cuts.

“An’ dat Buck fight lak two hells,” was François’sanswer. “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-driverproceeded to harness the dogs. Buck trotted up to the place Spitz would haveoccupied as leader; but François, not noticing him, brought Sol-leks to thecoveted position. In his judgment, Sol-leks was the best lead-dog left. Bucksprang upon Sol-leks in a fury, driving him back and standing in his place.

“Eh? eh?” François cried, slapping his thighs gleefully.“Look at dat Buck. Heem keel dat Spitz, heem t’ink to take dejob.”

“Go ’way, Chook!” he cried, but Buck refused to budge.

He took Buck by the scruff of the neck, and though the dog growledthreateningly, dragged him to one side and replaced Sol-leks. The old dog didnot like it, and showed plainly that he was afraid of Buck. François wasobdurate, but when he turned his back Buck again displaced Sol-leks, who wasnot at all unwilling to go.

François was angry. “Now, by Gar, I feex you!” he cried, comingback with a heavy club in his hand.

Buck remembered the man in the red sweater, and retreated slowly; nor did heattempt to charge in when Sol-leks was once more brought forward. But hecircled 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 byFrançois, for he was become wise in the way of clubs. The driver went about hiswork, and he called to Buck when he was ready to put him in his old place infront of Dave. Buck retreated two or three steps. François followed him up,whereupon he again retreated. After some time of this, François threw down theclub, thinking that Buck feared a thrashing. But Buck was in open revolt. Hewanted, not to escape a clubbing, but to have the leadership. It was his byright. He had earned it, and he would not be content with less.

Perrault took a hand. Between them they ran him about for the better part of anhour. They threw clubs at him. He dodged. They cursed him, and his fathers andmothers before him, and all his seed to come after him down to the remotestgeneration, and every hair on his body and drop of blood in his veins; and heanswered curse with snarl and kept out of their reach. He did not try to runaway, but retreated around and around the camp, advertising plainly that whenhis desire was met, he would come in and be good.

François sat down and scratched his head. Perrault looked at his watch andswore. Time was flying, and they should have been on the trail an hour gone.François scratched his head again. He shook it and grinned sheepishly at thecourier, who shrugged his shoulders in sign that they were beaten. ThenFrançois went up to where Sol-leks stood and called to Buck. Buck laughed, asdogs laugh, yet kept his distance. François unfastened Sol-leks’s tracesand put him back in his old place. The team stood harnessed to the sled in anunbroken line, ready for the trail. There was no place for Buck save at thefront. Once more François called, and once more Buck laughed and kept away.

“T’row down de club,” Perrault commanded.

François complied, whereupon Buck trotted in, laughing triumphantly, and swungaround into position at the head of the team. His traces were fastened, thesled broken out, and with both men running they dashed out on to the rivertrail.

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 upthe duties of leadership; and where judgment was required, and quick thinkingand quick acting, he showed himself the superior even of Spitz, of whomFrançois had never seen an equal.

But it was in giving the law and making his mates live up to it, that Buckexcelled. Dave and Sol-leks did not mind the change in leadership. It was noneof their business. Their business was to toil, and toil mightily, in thetraces. So long as that were not interfered with, they did not care whathappened. Billee, the good-natured, could lead for all they cared, so long ashe kept order. The rest of the team, however, had grown unruly during the lastdays of Spitz, and their surprise was great now that Buck proceeded to lickthem into shape.

Pike, who pulled at Buck’s heels, and who never put an ounce more of hisweight against the breast-band than he was compelled to do, was swiftly andrepeatedly shaken for loafing; and ere the first day was done he was pullingmore 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 heceased snapping and began to whine for mercy.

The general tone of the team picked up immediately. It recovered its old-timesolidarity, and once more the dogs leaped as one dog in the traces. At the RinkRapids two native huskies, Teek and Koona, were added; and the celerity withwhich Buck broke them in took away François’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 nonew-fallen snow with which to contend. It was not too cold. The temperaturedropped to fifty below zero and remained there the whole trip. The men rode andran 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 inone day going out what had taken them ten days coming in. In one run they madea 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 fastthat the man whose turn it was to run towed behind the sled at the end of arope. And on the last night of the second week they topped White Pass anddropped down the sea slope with the lights of Skaguay and of the shipping attheir feet.

It was a record run. Each day for fourteen days they had averaged forty miles.For three days Perrault and François threw chests up and down the main streetof Skaguay and were deluged with invitations to drink, while the team was theconstant centre of a worshipful crowd of dog-busters and mushers. Then three orfour western bad men aspired to clean out the town, were riddled likepepper-boxes for their pains, and public interest turned to other idols. Nextcame official orders. François called Buck to him, threw his arms around him,wept over him. And that was the last of François 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 adozen other dog-teams he started back over the weary trail to Dawson. It was nolight running now, nor record time, but heavy toil each day, with a heavy loadbehind; for this was the mail train, carrying word from the world to the menwho 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 afterthe manner of Dave and Sol-leks, and seeing that his mates, whether they pridedin it or not, did their fair share. It was a monotonous life, operating withmachine-like regularity. One day was very like another. At a certain time eachmorning 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 anhour or so before the darkness fell which gave warning of dawn. At night, campwas made. Some pitched the flies, others cut firewood and pine boughs for thebeds, and still others carried water or ice for the cooks. Also, the dogs werefed. To them, this was the one feature of the day, though it was good to loafaround, after the fish was eaten, for an hour or so with the other dogs, ofwhich there were fivescore and odd. There were fierce fighters among them, butthree battles with the fiercest brought Buck to mastery, so that when hebristled and showed his teeth they got out of his way.

Best of all, perhaps, he loved to lie near the fire, hind legs crouched underhim, fore legs stretched out in front, head raised, and eyes blinking dreamilyat the flames. Sometimes he thought of Judge Miller’s big house in thesun-kissed Santa Clara Valley, and of the cement swimming-tank, and Ysabel, theMexican hairless, and Toots, the Japanese pug; but oftener he remembered theman in the red sweater, the death of Curly, the great fight with Spitz, and thegood things he had eaten or would like to eat. He was not homesick. The Sunlandwas very dim and distant, and such memories had no power over him. Far morepotent were the memories of his heredity that gave things he had never seenbefore a seeming familiarity; the instincts (which were but the memories of hisancestors become habits) which had lapsed in later days, and still later, inhim, quickened and become alive again.

Sometimes as he crouched there, blinking dreamily at the flames, it seemed thatthe flames were of another fire, and that as he crouched by this other fire hesaw another and different man from the half-breed cook before him. This otherman was shorter of leg and longer of arm, with muscles that were stringy andknotty rather than rounded and swelling. The hair of this man was long andmatted, and his head slanted back under it from the eyes. He uttered strangesounds, and seemed very much afraid of the darkness, into which he peeredcontinually, clutching in his hand, which hung midway between knee and foot, astick with a heavy stone made fast to the end. He was all but naked, a raggedand fire-scorched skin hanging part way down his back, but on his body therewas much hair. In some places, across the chest and shoulders and down theoutside of the arms and thighs, it was matted into almost a thick fur. He didnot stand erect, but with trunk inclined forward from the hips, on legs thatbent at the knees. About his body there was a peculiar springiness, orresiliency, almost catlike, and a quick alertness as of one who lived inperpetual fear of things seen and unseen.

At other times this hairy man squatted by the fire with head between his legsand slept. On such occasions his elbows were on his knees, his hands claspedabove 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 hecould hear the crashing of their bodies through the undergrowth, and the noisesthey made in the night. And dreaming there by the Yukon bank, with lazy eyesblinking at the fire, these sounds and sights of another world would make thehair to rise along his back and stand on end across his shoulders and up hisneck, till he whimpered low and suppressedly, or growled softly, and thehalf-breed cook shouted at him, “Hey, you Buck, wake up!” Whereuponthe other world would vanish and the real world come into his eyes, and hewould 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 themdown. 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 intwo days’ time they dropped down the Yukon bank from the Barracks, loadedwith letters for the outside. The dogs were tired, the drivers grumbling, andto make matters worse, it snowed every day. This meant a soft trail, greaterfriction on the runners, and heavier pulling for the dogs; yet the drivers werefair 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 hedrove. Still, their strength went down. Since the beginning of the winter theyhad 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 otherside.

But it was Dave who suffered most of all. Something had gone wrong with him. Hebecame more morose and irritable, and when camp was pitched at once made hisnest, where his driver fed him. Once out of the harness and down, he did notget on his feet again till harness-up time in the morning. Sometimes, in thetraces, when jerked by a sudden stoppage of the sled, or by straining to startit, he would cry out with pain. The driver examined him, but could findnothing. All the drivers became interested in his case. They talked it over atmeal-time, and over their last pipes before going to bed, and one night theyheld a consultation. He was brought from his nest to the fire and was pressedand prodded till he cried out many times. Something was wrong inside, but theycould locate no broken bones, could not make it out.

By the time Cassiar Bar was reached, he was so weak that he was fallingrepeatedly in the traces. The Scotch half-breed called a halt and took him outof the team, making the next dog, Sol-leks, fast to the sled. His intention wasto rest Dave, letting him run free behind the sled. Sick as he was, Daveresented being taken out, grunting and growling while the traces wereunfastened, and whimpering broken-heartedly when he saw Sol-leks in theposition he had held and served so long. For the pride of trace and trail washis, and, sick unto death, he could not bear that another dog should do hiswork.

When the sled started, he floundered in the soft snow alongside the beatentrail, attacking Sol-leks with his teeth, rushing against him and trying tothrust him off into the soft snow on the other side, striving to leap insidehis traces and get between him and the sled, and all the while whining andyelping and crying with grief and pain. The half-breed tried to drive him awaywith the whip; but he paid no heed to the stinging lash, and the man had notthe heart to strike harder. Dave refused to run quietly on the trail behind thesled, where the going was easy, but continued to flounder alongside in the softsnow, where the going was most difficult, till exhausted. Then he fell, and laywhere 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 tillthe 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 lightfor his pipe from the man behind. Then he returned and started his dogs. Theyswung out on the trail with remarkable lack of exertion, turned their headsuneasily, and stopped in surprise. The driver was surprised, too; the sled hadnot moved. He called his comrades to witness the sight. Dave had bitten throughboth of Sol-leks’s traces, and was standing directly in front of the sledin his proper place.

He pleaded with his eyes to remain there. The driver was perplexed. Hiscomrades talked of how a dog could break its heart through being denied thework that killed it, and recalled instances they had known, where dogs, too oldfor 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 inthe traces, heart-easy and content. So he was harnessed in again, and proudlyhe pulled as of old, though more than once he cried out involuntarily from thebite of his inward hurt. Several times he fell down and was dragged in thetraces, and once the sled ran upon him so that he limped thereafter in one ofhis hind legs.

But he held out till camp was reached, when his driver made a place for him bythe fire. Morning found him too weak to travel. At harness-up time he tried tocrawl to his driver. By convulsive efforts he got on his feet, staggered, andfell. Then he wormed his way forward slowly toward where the harnesses werebeing put on his mates. He would advance his fore legs and drag up his bodywith a sort of hitching movement, when he would advance his fore legs and hitchahead again for a few more inches. His strength left him, and the last hismates saw of him he lay gasping in the snow and yearning toward them. But theycould hear him mournfully howling till they passed out of sight behind a beltof river timber.

Here the train was halted. The Scotch half-breed slowly retraced his steps tothe camp they had left. The men ceased talking. A revolver-shot rang out. Theman came back hurriedly. The whips snapped, the bells tinkled merrily, thesleds churned along the trail; but Buck knew, and every dog knew, what hadtaken place behind the belt of river trees.

Chapter V.
The Toil of Trace and Trail

Thirty days from the time it left Dawson, the Salt Water Mail, with Buck andhis mates at the fore, arrived at Skaguay. They were in a wretched state, wornout and worn down. Buck’s one hundred and forty pounds had dwindled toone hundred and fifteen. The rest of his mates, though lighter dogs, hadrelatively lost more weight than he. Pike, the malingerer, who, in his lifetimeof deceit, had often successfully feigned a hurt leg, was now limping inearnest. Sol-leks was limping, and Dub was suffering from a wrenchedshoulder-blade.

They were all terribly footsore. No spring or rebound was left in them. Theirfeet fell heavily on the trail, jarring their bodies and doubling the fatigueof a day’s travel. There was nothing the matter with them except thatthey were dead tired. It was not the dead-tiredness that comes through briefand excessive effort, from which recovery is a matter of hours; but it was thedead-tiredness that comes through the slow and prolonged strength drainage ofmonths of toil. There was no power of recuperation left, no reserve strength tocall upon. It had been all used, the last least bit of it. Every muscle, everyfibre, every cell, was tired, dead tired. And there was reason for it. In lessthan five months they had travelled twenty-five hundred miles, during the lasteighteen hundred of which they had had but five days’ rest. When theyarrived at Skaguay they were apparently on their last legs. They could barelykeep the traces taut, and on the down grades just managed to keep out of theway of the sled.

“Mush on, poor sore feets,” the driver encouraged them as theytottered down the main street of Skaguay. “Dis is de las’. Den weget one long res’. Eh? For sure. One bully long res’.”

The drivers confidently expected a long stopover. Themselves, they had coveredtwelve hundred miles with two days’ rest, and in the nature of reason andcommon justice they deserved an interval of loafing. But so many were the menwho had rushed into the Klondike, and so many were the sweethearts, wives, andkin that had not rushed in, that the congested mail was taking on Alpineproportions; also, there were official orders. Fresh batches of Hudson Bay dogswere to take the places of those worthless for the trail. The worthless oneswere to be got rid of, and, since dogs count for little against dollars, theywere to be sold.

Three days passed, by which time Buck and his mates found how really tired andweak they were. Then, on the morning of the fourth day, two men from the Statescame along and bought them, harness and all, for a song. The men addressed eachother as “Hal” and “Charles.” Charles was amiddle-aged, lightish-colored man, with weak and watery eyes and a mustachethat twisted fiercely and vigorously up, giving the lie to the limply droopinglip it concealed. Hal was a youngster of nineteen or twenty, with a bigColt’s revolver and a hunting-knife strapped about him on a belt thatfairly bristled with cartridges. This belt was the most salient thing abouthim. It advertised his callowness—a callowness sheer and unutterable.Both men were manifestly out of place, and why such as they should adventurethe North is part of the mystery of things that passes understanding.

Buck heard the chaffering, saw the money pass between the man and theGovernment agent, and knew that the Scotch half-breed and the mail-traindrivers were passing out of his life on the heels of Perrault and François andthe others who had gone before. When driven with his mates to the newowners’ camp, Buck saw a slipshod and slovenly affair, tent halfstretched, dishes unwashed, everything in disorder; also, he saw a woman.“Mercedes” the men called her. She was Charles’s wife andHal’s sister—a nice family party.

Buck watched them apprehensively as they proceeded to take down the tent andload the sled. There was a great deal of effort about their manner, but nobusinesslike method. The tent was rolled into an awkward bundle three times aslarge 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 unbrokenchattering of remonstrance and advice. When they put a clothes-sack on thefront of the sled, she suggested it should go on the back; and when they hadput it on the back, and covered it over with a couple of other bundles, shediscovered overlooked articles which could abide nowhere else but in that verysack, and they unloaded again.

Three men from a neighboring tent came out and looked on, grinning and winkingat 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 Iwouldn’t tote that tent along if I was you.”

“Undreamed of!” cried Mercedes, throwing up her hands in daintydismay. “However in the world could I manage without a tent?”

“It’s springtime, and you won’t get any more coldweather,” the man replied.

She shook her head decidedly, and Charles and Hal put the last odds and ends ontop 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 manhastened meekly to say. “I was just a-wonderin’, that is all. Itseemed a mite top-heavy.”

Charles turned his back and drew the lashings down as well as he could, whichwas not in the least well.

“An’ of course the dogs can hike along all day with thatcontraption behind them,” affirmed a second of the men.

“Certainly,” said Hal, with freezing politeness, taking hold of thegee-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, thenrelaxed. They were unable to move the sled.

“The lazy brutes, I’ll show them,” he cried, preparing tolash out at them with the whip.

But Mercedes interfered, crying, “Oh, Hal, you mustn’t,” asshe 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 thetrip, or I won’t go a step.”

“Precious lot you know about dogs,” her brother sneered; “andI wish you’d leave me alone. They’re lazy, I tell you, andyou’ve got to whip them to get anything out of them. That’s theirway. You ask any one. Ask one of those men.”

Mercedes looked at them imploringly, untold repugnance at sight of pain writtenin her pretty face.

“They’re weak as water, if you want to know,” came the replyfrom one of the men. “Plum tuckered out, that’s what’s thematter. They need a rest.”

“Rest be blanked,” said Hal, with his beardless lips; and Mercedessaid, “Oh!” in pain and sorrow at the oath.

But she was a clannish creature, and rushed at once to the defence of herbrother. “Never mind that man,” she said pointedly.“You’re driving our dogs, and you do what you think best withthem.”

Again Hal’s whip fell upon the dogs. They threw themselves against thebreast-bands, dug their feet into the packed snow, got down low to it, and putforth all their strength. The sled held as though it were an anchor. After twoefforts, they stood still, panting. The whip was whistling savagely, when oncemore Mercedes interfered. She dropped on her knees before Buck, with tears inher eyes, and put her arms around his neck.

“You poor, poor dears,” she cried sympathetically, “whydon’t you pull hard?—then you wouldn’t be whipped.”Buck did not like her, but he was feeling too miserable to resist her, takingit 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 thedogs’ sakes I just want to tell you, you can help them a mighty lot bybreaking out that sled. The runners are froze fast. Throw your weight againstthe gee-pole, right and left, and break it out.”

A third time the attempt was made, but this time, following the advice, Halbroke out the runners which had been frozen to the snow. The overloaded andunwieldy sled forged ahead, Buck and his mates struggling frantically under therain of blows. A hundred yards ahead the path turned and sloped steeply intothe main street. It would have required an experienced man to keep thetop-heavy sled upright, and Hal was not such a man. As they swung on the turnthe sled went over, spilling half its load through the loose lashings. The dogsnever stopped. The lightened sled bounded on its side behind them. They wereangry because of the ill treatment they had received and the unjust load. Buckwas 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 offhis feet. The capsized sled ground over him, and the dogs dashed on up thestreet, adding to the gayety of Skaguay as they scattered the remainder of theoutfit along its chief thoroughfare.

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 expectedto reach Dawson, was what was said. Hal and his sister and brother-in-lawlistened unwillingly, pitched tent, and overhauled the outfit. Canned goodswere turned out that made men laugh, for canned goods on the Long Trail is athing to dream about. “Blankets for a hotel” quoth one of the menwho laughed and helped. “Half as many is too much; get rid of them. Throwaway 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 criedwhen her clothes-bags were dumped on the ground and article after article wasthrown out. She cried in general, and she cried in particular over eachdiscarded thing. She clasped hands about knees, rocking back and forthbroken-heartedly. She averred she would not go an inch, not for a dozenCharleses. She appealed to everybody and to everything, finally wiping her eyesand proceeding to cast out even articles of apparel that were imperativenecessaries. And in her zeal, when she had finished with her own, she attackedthe 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 obtainedat the Rink Rapids on the record trip, brought the team up to fourteen. But theOutside dogs, though practically broken in since their landing, did not amountto much. Three were short-haired pointers, one was a Newfoundland, and theother two were mongrels of indeterminate breed. They did not seem to knowanything, 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 couldnot teach them what to do. They did not take kindly to trace and trail. Withthe exception of the two mongrels, they were bewildered and spirit-broken bythe strange savage environment in which they found themselves and by the illtreatment they had received. The two mongrels were without spirit at all; boneswere the only things breakable about them.

With the newcomers hopeless and forlorn, and the old team worn out bytwenty-five hundred miles of continuous trail, the outlook was anything butbright. 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 othersleds depart over the Pass for Dawson, or come in from Dawson, but never hadthey seen a sled with so many as fourteen dogs. In the nature of Arctic travelthere was a reason why fourteen dogs should not drag one sled, and that wasthat one sled could not carry the food for fourteen dogs. But Charles and Haldid not know this. They had worked the trip out with a pencil, so much to adog, so many dogs, so many days, Q.E.D. Mercedes looked over their shouldersand nodded comprehensively, it was all so very simple.

Late next morning Buck led the long team up the street. There was nothinglively about it, no snap or go in him and his fellows. They were starting deadweary. 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 oncemore, made him bitter. His heart was not in the work, nor was the heart of anydog. The Outsides were timid and frightened, the Insides without confidence intheir 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 becameapparent that they could not learn. They were slack in all things, withoutorder or discipline. It took them half the night to pitch a slovenly camp, andhalf the morning to break that camp and get the sled loaded in fashion soslovenly that for the rest of the day they were occupied in stopping andrearranging the load. Some days they did not make ten miles. On other days theywere unable to get started at all. And on no day did they succeed in makingmore than half the distance used by the men as a basis in their dog-foodcomputation.

It was inevitable that they should go short on dog-food. But they hastened itby overfeeding, bringing the day nearer when underfeeding would commence. TheOutside dogs, whose digestions had not been trained by chronic famine to makethe most of little, had voracious appetites. And when, in addition to this, theworn-out huskies pulled weakly, Hal decided that the orthodox ration was toosmall. He doubled it. And to cap it all, when Mercedes, with tears in herpretty eyes and a quaver in her throat, could not cajole him into giving thedogs still more, she stole from the fish-sacks and fed them slyly. But it wasnot food that Buck and the huskies needed, but rest. And though they weremaking 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 washalf gone and the distance only quarter covered; further, that for love ormoney no additional dog-food was to be obtained. So he cut down even theorthodox ration and tried to increase the day’s travel. His sister andbrother-in-law seconded him; but they were frustrated by their heavy outfit andtheir own incompetence. It was a simple matter to give the dogs less food; butit was impossible to make the dogs travel faster, while their own inability toget under way earlier in the morning prevented them from travelling longerhours. Not only did they not know how to work dogs, but they did not know howto work themselves.

The first to go was Dub. Poor blundering thief that he was, always gettingcaught and punished, he had none the less been a faithful worker. His wrenchedshoulder-blade, untreated and unrested, went from bad to worse, till finallyHal shot him with the big Colt’s revolver. It is a saying of the countrythat an Outside dog starves to death on the ration of the husky, so the sixOutside dogs under Buck could do no less than die on half the ration of thehusky. The Newfoundland went first, followed by the three short-hairedpointers, the two mongrels hanging more grittily on to life, but going in theend.

By this time all the amenities and gentlenesses of the Southland had fallenaway from the three people. Shorn of its glamour and romance, Arctic travelbecame to them a reality too harsh for their manhood and womanhood. Mercedesceased weeping over the dogs, being too occupied with weeping over herself andwith quarrelling with her husband and brother. To quarrel was the one thingthey were never too weary to do. Their irritability arose out of their misery,increased with it, doubled upon it, outdistanced it. The wonderful patience ofthe trail which comes to men who toil hard and suffer sore, and remain sweet ofspeech and kindly, did not come to these two men and the woman. They had noinkling 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 becamesharp of speech, and hard words were first on their lips in the morning andlast at night.

Charles and Hal wrangled whenever Mercedes gave them a chance. It was thecherished belief of each that he did more than his share of the work, andneither forbore to speak this belief at every opportunity. Sometimes Mercedessided with her husband, sometimes with her brother. The result was a beautifuland unending family quarrel. Starting from a dispute as to which should chop afew 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. ThatHal’s views on art, or the sort of society plays his mother’sbrother wrote, should have anything to do with the chopping of a few sticks offirewood, passes comprehension; nevertheless the quarrel was as likely to tendin that direction as in the direction of Charles’s political prejudices.And that Charles’s sister’s tale-bearing tongue should be relevantto the building of a Yukon fire, was apparent only to Mercedes, who disburdenedherself of copious opinions upon that topic, and incidentally upon a few othertraits unpleasantly peculiar to her husband’s family. In the meantime thefire remained unbuilt, the camp half pitched, and the dogs unfed.

Mercedes nursed a special grievance—the grievance of sex. She was prettyand soft, and had been chivalrously treated all her days. But the presenttreatment by her husband and brother was everything save chivalrous. It was hercustom to be helpless. They complained. Upon which impeachment of what to herwas her most essential sex-prerogative, she made their lives unendurable. Sheno longer considered the dogs, and because she was sore and tired, shepersisted in riding on the sled. She was pretty and soft, but she weighed onehundred and twenty pounds—a lusty last straw to the load dragged by theweak and starving animals. She rode for days, till they fell in the traces andthe sled stood still. Charles and Hal begged her to get off and walk, pleadedwith her, entreated, the while she wept and importuned Heaven with a recital oftheir brutality.

On one occasion they took her off the sled by main strength. They never did itagain. She let her legs go limp like a spoiled child, and sat down on thetrail. They went on their way, but she did not move. After they had travelledthree miles they unloaded the sled, came back for her, and by main strength puther on the sled again.

In the excess of their own misery they were callous to the suffering of theiranimals. Hal’s theory, which he practised on others, was that one mustget 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 Fingersthe dog-food gave out, and a toothless old squaw offered to trade them a fewpounds of frozen horse-hide for the Colt’s revolver that kept the bighunting-knife company at Hal’s hip. A poor substitute for food was thishide, just as it had been stripped from the starved horses of the cattlemen sixmonths 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 andinnutritious leathery strings and into a mass of short hair, irritating andindigestible.

And through it all Buck staggered along at the head of the team as in anightmare. He pulled when he could; when he could no longer pull, he fell downand remained down till blows from whip or club drove him to his feet again. Allthe stiffness and gloss had gone out of his beautiful furry coat. The hair hungdown, limp and draggled, or matted with dried blood where Hal’s club hadbruised him. His muscles had wasted away to knotty strings, and the flesh padshad disappeared, so that each rib and every bone in his frame were outlinedcleanly through the loose hide that was wrinkled in folds of emptiness. It washeartbreaking, only Buck’s heart was unbreakable. The man in the redsweater had proved that.

As it was with Buck, so was it with his mates. They were perambulatingskeletons. There were seven all together, including him. In their very greatmisery they had become insensible to the bite of the lash or the bruise of theclub. The pain of the beating was dull and distant, just as the things theireyes saw and their ears heard seemed dull and distant. They were not halfliving, or quarter living. They were simply so many bags of bones in whichsparks of life fluttered faintly. When a halt was made, they dropped down inthe 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, andthey tottered to their feet and staggered on.

There came a day when Billee, the good-natured, fell and could not rise. Halhad traded off his revolver, so he took the axe and knocked Billee on the headas he lay in the traces, then cut the carcass out of the harness and dragged itto one side. Buck saw, and his mates saw, and they knew that this thing wasvery 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 halfconscious 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 solittle strength with which to pull; Teek, who had not travelled so far thatwinter and who was now beaten more than the others because he was fresher; andBuck, still at the head of the team, but no longer enforcing discipline orstriving to enforce it, blind with weakness half the time and keeping the trailby 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 themorning, and twilight lingered till nine at night. The whole long day was ablaze of sunshine. The ghostly winter silence had given way to the great springmurmur of awakening life. This murmur arose from all the land, fraught with thejoy of living. It came from the things that lived and moved again, things whichhad been as dead and which had not moved during the long months of frost. Thesap was rising in the pines. The willows and aspens were bursting out in youngbuds. Shrubs and vines were putting on fresh garbs of green. Crickets sang inthe nights, and in the days all manner of creeping, crawling things rustledforth into the sun. Partridges and woodpeckers were booming and knocking in theforest. Squirrels were chattering, birds singing, and overhead honked thewild-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 unseenfountains. All things were thawing, bending, snapping. The Yukon was strainingto break loose the ice that bound it down. It ate away from beneath; the sunate from above. Air-holes formed, fissures sprang and spread apart, while thinsections of ice fell through bodily into the river. And amid all this bursting,rending, throbbing of awakening life, under the blazing sun and through thesoft-sighing breezes, like wayfarers to death, staggered the two men, thewoman, and the huskies.

With the dogs falling, Mercedes weeping and riding, Hal swearing innocuously,and Charles’s eyes wistfully watering, they staggered into JohnThornton’s camp at the mouth of White River. When they halted, the dogsdropped down as though they had all been struck dead. Mercedes dried her eyesand looked at John Thornton. Charles sat down on a log to rest. He sat downvery 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 froma 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 inthe certainty that it would not be followed.

“They told us up above that the bottom was dropping out of the trail andthat the best thing for us to do was to lay over,” Hal said in responseto 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. “Thebottom’s likely to drop out at any moment. Only fools, with the blindluck of fools, could have made it. I tell you straight, I wouldn’t riskmy carcass on that ice for all the gold in Alaska.”

“That’s because you’re not a fool, I suppose,” saidHal. “All the same, we’ll go on to Dawson.” He uncoiled hiswhip. “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 hisfolly; while two or three fools more or less would not alter the scheme ofthings.

But the team did not get up at the command. It had long since passed into thestage where blows were required to rouse it. The whip flashed out, here andthere, on its merciless errands. John Thornton compressed his lips. Sol-lekswas the first to crawl to his feet. Teek followed. Joe came next, yelping withpain. Pike made painful efforts. Twice he fell over, when half up, and on thethird attempt managed to rise. Buck made no effort. He lay quietly where he hadfallen. The lash bit into him again and again, but he neither whined norstruggled. Several times Thornton started, as though to speak, but changed hismind. A moisture came into his eyes, and, as the whipping continued, he aroseand walked irresolutely up and down.

This was the first time Buck had failed, in itself a sufficient reason to driveHal into a rage. He exchanged the whip for the customary club. Buck refused tomove under the rain of heavier blows which now fell upon him. Like his mates,he was barely able to get up, but, unlike them, he had made up his mind not toget up. He had a vague feeling of impending doom. This had been strong upon himwhen he pulled in to the bank, and it had not departed from him. What of thethin and rotten ice he had felt under his feet all day, it seemed that hesensed disaster close at hand, out there ahead on the ice where his master wastrying to drive him. He refused to stir. So greatly had he suffered, and so fargone was he, that the blows did not hurt much. And as they continued to fallupon 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 hewas being beaten. The last sensations of pain left him. He no longer feltanything, though very faintly he could hear the impact of the club upon hisbody. But it was no longer his body, it seemed so far away.

And then, suddenly, without warning, uttering a cry that was inarticulate andmore like the cry of an animal, John Thornton sprang upon the man who wieldedthe club. Hal was hurled backward, as though struck by a falling tree. Mercedesscreamed. Charles looked on wistfully, wiped his watery eyes, but did not getup because of his stiffness.

John Thornton stood over Buck, struggling to control himself, too convulsedwith rage to speak.

“If you strike that dog again, I’ll kill you,” he at lastmanaged to say in a choking voice.

“It’s my dog,” Hal replied, wiping the blood from his mouthas he came back. “Get out of my way, or I’ll fix you. I’mgoing to Dawson.”

Thornton stood between him and Buck, and evinced no intention of getting out ofthe way. Hal drew his long hunting-knife. Mercedes screamed, cried, laughed,and manifested the chaotic abandonment of hysteria. Thornton rapped Hal’sknuckles with the axe-handle, knocking the knife to the ground. He rapped hisknuckles again as he tried to pick it up. Then he stooped, picked it uphimself, and with two strokes cut Buck’s traces.

Hal had no fight left in him. Besides, his hands were full with his sister, orhis arms, rather; while Buck was too near dead to be of further use in haulingthe 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 wasat 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 Charlesstumbled along in the rear.

As Buck watched them, Thornton knelt beside him and with rough, kindly handssearched for broken bones. By the time his search had disclosed nothing morethan many bruises and a state of terrible starvation, the sled was a quarter ofa mile away. Dog and man watched it crawling along over the ice. Suddenly, theysaw its back end drop down, as into a rut, and the gee-pole, with Hal clingingto it, jerk into the air. Mercedes’s scream came to their ears. They sawCharles turn and make one step to run back, and then a whole section of icegive way and dogs and humans disappear. A yawning hole was all that was to beseen. 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 VI.
For the Love of a Man

When John Thornton froze his feet in the previous December his partners hadmade him comfortable and left him to get well, going on themselves up the riverto get out a raft of saw-logs for Dawson. He was still limping slightly at thetime he rescued Buck, but with the continued warm weather even the slight limpleft 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 humof nature, Buck slowly won back his strength.

A rest comes very good after one has travelled three thousand miles, and itmust be confessed that Buck waxed lazy as his wounds healed, his musclesswelled out, and the flesh came back to cover his bones. For that matter, theywere all loafing,—Buck, John Thornton, and Skeet and Nig,—waitingfor the raft to come that was to carry them down to Dawson. Skeet was a littleIrish setter who early made friends with Buck, who, in a dying condition, wasunable to resent her first advances. She had the doctor trait which some dogspossess; and as a mother cat washes her kittens, so she washed and cleansedBuck’s wounds. Regularly, each morning after he had finished hisbreakfast, she performed her self-appointed task, till he came to look for herministrations as much as he did for Thornton’s. Nig, equally friendly,though less demonstrative, was a huge black dog, half bloodhound and halfdeerhound, with eyes that laughed and a boundless good nature.

To Buck’s surprise these dogs manifested no jealousy toward him. Theyseemed to share the kindliness and largeness of John Thornton. As Buck grewstronger they enticed him into all sorts of ridiculous games, in which Thorntonhimself could not forbear to join; and in this fashion Buck romped through hisconvalescence and into a new existence. Love, genuine passionate love, was hisfor the first time. This he had never experienced at Judge Miller’s downin the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. With the Judge’s sons, hunting andtramping, it had been a working partnership; with the Judge’s grandsons,a sort of pompous guardianship; and with the Judge himself, a stately anddignified friendship. But love that was feverish and burning, that wasadoration, that was madness, it had taken John Thornton to arouse.

This man had saved his life, which was something; but, further, he was theideal master. Other men saw to the welfare of their dogs from a sense of dutyand business expediency; he saw to the welfare of his as if they were his ownchildren, because he could not help it. And he saw further. He never forgot akindly 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 away of taking Buck’s head roughly between his hands, and resting his ownhead upon Buck’s, of shaking him back and forth, the while calling himill names that to Buck were love names. Buck knew no greater joy than thatrough embrace and the sound of murmured oaths, and at each jerk back and forthit seemed that his heart would be shaken out of his body so great was itsecstasy. And when, released, he sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, hiseyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with unuttered sound, and in that fashionremained 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 seizeThornton’s hand in his mouth and close so fiercely that the flesh borethe impress of his teeth for some time afterward. And as Buck understood theoaths 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. Whilehe went wild with happiness when Thornton touched him or spoke to him, he didnot seek these tokens. Unlike Skeet, who was wont to shove her nose underThornton’s hand and nudge and nudge till petted, or Nig, who would stalkup and rest his great head on Thornton’s knee, Buck was content to adoreat a distance. He would lie by the hour, eager, alert, at Thornton’sfeet, looking up into his face, dwelling upon it, studying it, following withkeenest 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. Andoften, such was the communion in which they lived, the strength of Buck’sgaze would draw John Thornton’s head around, and he would return thegaze, without speech, his heart shining out of his eyes as Buck’s heartshone out.

For a long time after his rescue, Buck did not like Thornton to get out of hissight. From the moment he left the tent to when he entered it again, Buck wouldfollow at his heels. His transient masters since he had come into the Northlandhad bred in him a fear that no master could be permanent. He was afraid thatThornton would pass out of his life as Perrault and François and the Scotchhalf-breed had passed out. Even in the night, in his dreams, he was haunted bythis fear. At such times he would shake off sleep and creep through the chillto the flap of the tent, where he would stand and listen to the sound of hismaster’s breathing.

But in spite of this great love he bore John Thornton, which seemed to bespeakthe soft civilizing influence, the strain of the primitive, which the Northlandhad aroused in him, remained alive and active. Faithfulness and devotion,things born of fire and roof, were his; yet he retained his wildness andwiliness. He was a thing of the wild, come in from the wild to sit by JohnThornton’s fire, rather than a dog of the soft Southland stamped with themarks of generations of civilization. Because of his very great love, he couldnot steal from this man, but from any other man, in any other camp, he did nothesitate an instant; while the cunning with which he stole enabled him toescape detection.

His face and body were scored by the teeth of many dogs, and he fought asfiercely as ever and more shrewdly. Skeet and Nig were too good-natured forquarrelling,—besides, they belonged to John Thornton; but the strangedog, no matter what the breed or valor, swiftly acknowledged Buck’ssupremacy or found himself struggling for life with a terrible antagonist. AndBuck was merciless. He had learned well the law of club and fang, and he neverforewent an advantage or drew back from a foe he had started on the way toDeath. He had lessoned from Spitz, and from the chief fighting dogs of thepolice and mail, and knew there was no middle course. He must master or bemastered; while to show mercy was a weakness. Mercy did not exist in theprimordial life. It was misunderstood for fear, and such misunderstandings madefor 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 linkedthe past with the present, and the eternity behind him throbbed through him ina mighty rhythm to which he swayed as the tides and seasons swayed. He sat byJohn 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 wildwolves, urgent and prompting, tasting the savor of the meat he ate, thirstingfor the water he drank, scenting the wind with him, listening with him andtelling him the sounds made by the wild life in the forest, dictating hismoods, 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 hisdreams.

So peremptorily did these shades beckon him, that each day mankind and theclaims of mankind slipped farther from him. Deep in the forest a call wassounding, and as often as he heard this call, mysteriously thrilling andluring, he felt compelled to turn his back upon the fire and the beaten eartharound it, and to plunge into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where orwhy; nor did he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in theforest. 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 again.

Thornton alone held him. The rest of mankind was as nothing. Chance travellersmight praise or pet him; but he was cold under it all, and from a toodemonstrative man he would get up and walk away. When Thornton’spartners, Hans and Pete, arrived on the long-expected raft, Buck refused tonotice them till he learned they were close to Thornton; after that hetolerated them in a passive sort of way, accepting favors from them as thoughhe 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 theyswung the raft into the big eddy by the saw-mill at Dawson, they understoodBuck and his ways, and did not insist upon an intimacy such as obtained withSkeet 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 wastoo great for Buck to do, when Thornton commanded. One day (they hadgrub-staked themselves from the proceeds of the raft and left Dawson for thehead-waters of the Tanana) the men and dogs were sitting on the crest of acliff which fell away, straight down, to naked bed-rock three hundred feetbelow. John Thornton was sitting near the edge, Buck at his shoulder. Athoughtless whim seized Thornton, and he drew the attention of Hans and Pete tothe experiment he had in mind. “Jump, Buck!” he commanded, sweepinghis arm out and over the chasm. The next instant he was grappling with Buck onthe extreme edge, while Hans and Pete were dragging them back into safety.

“It’s uncanny,” Pete said, after it was over and they hadcaught their speech.

Thornton shook his head. “No, it is splendid, and it is terrible, too. Doyou know, it sometimes makes me afraid.”

“I’m not hankering to be the man that lays hands on you whilehe’s around,” Pete announced conclusively, nodding his head towardBuck.

“Py Jingo!” was Hans’s contribution. “Not mineselfeither.”

It was at Circle City, ere the year was out, that Pete’s apprehensionswere realized. “Black” Burton, a man evil-tempered and malicious,had been picking a quarrel with a tenderfoot at the bar, when Thornton steppedgood-naturedly between. Buck, as was his custom, was lying in a corner, head onpaws, watching his master’s every action. Burton struck out, withoutwarning, straight from the shoulder. Thornton was sent spinning, and savedhimself from falling only by clutching the rail of the bar.

Those who were looking on heard what was neither bark nor yelp, but a somethingwhich is best described as a roar, and they saw Buck’s body rise up inthe air as he left the floor for Burton’s throat. The man saved his lifeby instinctively throwing out his arm, but was hurled backward to the floorwith Buck on top of him. Buck loosed his teeth from the flesh of the arm anddrove in again for the throat. This time the man succeeded only in partlyblocking, and his throat was torn open. Then the crowd was upon Buck, and hewas driven off; but while a surgeon checked the bleeding, he prowled up anddown, growling furiously, attempting to rush in, and being forced back by anarray of hostile clubs. A “miners’ meeting,” called on thespot, decided that the dog had sufficient provocation, and Buck was discharged.But his reputation was made, and from that day his name spread through everycamp in Alaska.

Later on, in the fall of the year, he saved John Thornton’s life in quiteanother fashion. The three partners were lining a long and narrow poling-boatdown a bad stretch of rapids on the Forty-Mile Creek. Hans and Pete moved alongthe bank, snubbing with a thin Manila rope from tree to tree, while Thorntonremained in the boat, helping its descent by means of a pole, and shoutingdirections to the shore. Buck, on the bank, worried and anxious, kept abreastof the boat, his eyes never off his master.

At a particularly bad spot, where a ledge of barely submerged rocks jutted outinto the river, Hans cast off the rope, and, while Thornton poled the boat outinto the stream, ran down the bank with the end in his hand to snub the boatwhen it had cleared the ledge. This it did, and was flying down-stream in acurrent as swift as a mill-race, when Hans checked it with the rope and checkedtoo suddenly. The boat flirted over and snubbed in to the bank bottom up, whileThornton, flung sheer out of it, was carried down-stream toward the worst partof 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, amida 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 theprogress shoreward was slow; the progress down-stream amazingly rapid. Frombelow came the fatal roaring where the wild current went wilder and was rent inshreds and spray by the rocks which thrust through like the teeth of anenormous comb. The suck of the water as it took the beginning of the last steeppitch was frightful, and Thornton knew that the shore was impossible. Hescraped furiously over a rock, bruised across a second, and struck a third withcrushing 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, hepartly reared out of the water, throwing his head high, as though for a lastlook, then turned obediently toward the bank. He swam powerfully and wasdragged ashore by Pete and Hans at the very point where swimming ceased to bepossible and destruction began.

They knew that the time a man could cling to a slippery rock in the face ofthat driving current was a matter of minutes, and they ran as fast as theycould up the bank to a point far above where Thornton was hanging on. Theyattached the line with which they had been snubbing the boat to Buck’sneck and shoulders, being careful that it should neither strangle him norimpede 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 hewas being carried helplessly past.

Hans promptly snubbed with the rope, as though Buck were a boat. The rope thustightening 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 hewas hauled out. He was half drowned, and Hans and Pete threw themselves uponhim, pounding the breath into him and the water out of him. He staggered to hisfeet and fell down. The faint sound of Thornton’s voice came to them, andthough they could not make out the words of it, they knew that he was in hisextremity. His master’s voice acted on Buck like an electric shock, Hesprang to his feet and ran up the bank ahead of the men to the point of hisprevious departure.

Again the rope was attached and he was launched, and again he struck out, butthis time straight into the stream. He had miscalculated once, but he would notbe 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 straightabove Thornton; then he turned, and with the speed of an express train headeddown upon him. Thornton saw him coming, and, as Buck struck him like abattering ram, with the whole force of the current behind him, he reached upand closed with both arms around the shaggy neck. Hans snubbed the rope aroundthe tree, and Buck and Thornton were jerked under the water. Strangling,suffocating, sometimes one uppermost and sometimes the other, dragging over thejagged bottom, smashing against rocks and snags, they veered in to the bank.

Thornton came to, belly downward and being violently propelled back and forthacross a drift log by Hans and Pete. His first glance was for Buck, over whoselimp and apparently lifeless body Nig was setting up a howl, while Skeet waslicking the wet face and closed eyes. Thornton was himself bruised andbattered, and he went carefully over Buck’s body, when he had beenbrought 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 Alaskanfame. This exploit was particularly gratifying to the three men; for they stoodin need of the outfit which it furnished, and were enabled to make along-desired trip into the virgin East, where miners had not yet appeared. Itwas brought about by a conversation in the Eldorado Saloon, in which men waxedboastful of their favorite dogs. Buck, because of his record, was the targetfor these men, and Thornton was driven stoutly to defend him. At the end ofhalf an hour one man stated that his dog could start a sled with five hundredpounds and walk off with it; a second bragged six hundred for his dog; and athird, seven hundred.

“Pooh! pooh!” said John Thornton; “Buck can start a thousandpounds.”

“And break it out? and walk off with it for a hundred yards?”demanded Matthewson, a Bonanza King, he of the seven hundred vaunt.

“And break it out, and walk off with it for a hundred yards,” JohnThornton said coolly.

“Well,” Matthewson said, slowly and deliberately, so that all couldhear, “I’ve got a thousand dollars that says he can’t. Andthere it is.” So saying, he slammed a sack of gold dust of the size of abologna sausage down upon the bar.

Nobody spoke. Thornton’s bluff, if bluff it was, had been called. Hecould feel a flush of warm blood creeping up his face. His tongue had trickedhim. 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’sstrength 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 uponhim, silent and waiting. Further, he had no thousand dollars; nor had Hans orPete.

“I’ve got a sled standing outside now, with twenty fiftypound sacksof flour on it,” Matthewson went on with brutal directness; “sodon’t let that hinder you.”

Thornton did not reply. He did not know what to say. He glanced from face toface in the absent way of a man who has lost the power of thought and isseeking somewhere to find the thing that will start it going again. The face ofJim O’Brien, a Mastodon King and old-time comrade, caught his eyes. Itwas as a cue to him, seeming to rouse him to do what he would never havedreamed of doing.

“Can you lend me a thousand?” he asked, almost in a whisper.

“Sure,” answered O’Brien, thumping down a plethoric sack bythe side of Matthewson’s. “Though it’s little faith I’mhaving, John, that the beast can do the trick.”

The Eldorado emptied its occupants into the street to see the test. The tableswere deserted, and the dealers and gamekeepers came forth to see the outcome ofthe wager and to lay odds. Several hundred men, furred and mittened, bankedaround the sled within easy distance. Matthewson’s sled, loaded with athousand pounds of flour, had been standing for a couple of hours, and in theintense cold (it was sixty below zero) the runners had frozen fast to thehard-packed snow. Men offered odds of two to one that Buck could not budge thesled. A quibble arose concerning the phrase “break out.”O’Brien contended it was Thornton’s privilege to knock the runnersloose, leaving Buck to “break it out” from a dead standstill.Matthewson insisted that the phrase included breaking the runners from thefrozen grip of the snow. A majority of the men who had witnessed the making ofthe bet decided in his favor, whereat the odds went up to three to one againstBuck.

There were no takers. Not a man believed him capable of the feat. Thornton hadbeen hurried into the wager, heavy with doubt; and now that he looked at thesled itself, the concrete fact, with the regular team of ten dogs curled up inthe snow before it, the more impossible the task appeared. Matthewson waxedjubilant.

“Three to one!” he proclaimed. “I’ll lay you anotherthousand at that figure, Thornton. What d’ye say?”

Thornton’s doubt was strong in his face, but his fighting spirit wasaroused—the fighting spirit that soars above odds, fails to recognize theimpossible, and is deaf to all save the clamor for battle. He called Hans andPete to him. Their sacks were slim, and with his own the three partners couldrake together only two hundred dollars. In the ebb of their fortunes, this sumwas their total capital; yet they laid it unhesitatingly againstMatthewson’s six hundred.

The team of ten dogs was unhitched, and Buck, with his own harness, was putinto the sled. He had caught the contagion of the excitement, and he felt thatin some way he must do a great thing for John Thornton. Murmurs of admirationat his splendid appearance went up. He was in perfect condition, without anounce of superfluous flesh, and the one hundred and fifty pounds that heweighed were so many pounds of grit and virility. His furry coat shone with thesheen of silk. Down the neck and across the shoulders, his mane, in repose asit was, half bristled and seemed to lift with every movement, as though excessof vigor made each particular hair alive and active. The great breast and heavyfore legs were no more than in proportion with the rest of the body, where themuscles showed in tight rolls underneath the skin. Men felt these muscles andproclaimed them hard as iron, and the odds went down to two to one.

“Gad, sir! Gad, sir!” stuttered a member of the latest dynasty, aking 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. “Freeplay and plenty of room.”

The crowd fell silent; only could be heard the voices of the gamblers vainlyoffering two to one. Everybody acknowledged Buck a magnificent animal, buttwenty fifty-pound sacks of flour bulked too large in their eyes for them toloosen their pouch-strings.

Thornton knelt down by Buck’s side. He took his head in his two hands andrested cheek on cheek. He did not playfully shake him, as was his wont, ormurmur 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 suppressedeagerness.

The crowd was watching curiously. The affair was growing mysterious. It seemedlike a conjuration. As Thornton got to his feet, Buck seized his mittened handbetween 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 well back.

“Now, Buck,” he said.

Buck tightened the traces, then slacked them for a matter of several inches. Itwas 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 slackand with a sudden jerk arrested his one hundred and fifty pounds. The loadquivered, and from under the runners arose a crisp crackling.

“Haw!” Thornton commanded.

Buck duplicated the manœuvre, this time to the left. The crackling turned intoa snapping, the sled pivoting and the runners slipping and grating severalinches to the side. The sled was broken out. Men were holding their breaths,intensely unconscious of the fact.

“Now, MUSH!”

Thornton’s command cracked out like a pistol-shot. Buck threw himselfforward, tightening the traces with a jarring lunge. His whole body wasgathered compactly together in the tremendous effort, the muscles writhing andknotting like live things under the silky fur. His great chest was low to theground, his head forward and down, while his feet were flying like mad, theclaws scarring the hard-packed snow in parallel grooves. The sled swayed andtrembled, half-started forward. One of his feet slipped, and one man groanedaloud. Then the sled lurched ahead in what appeared a rapid succession ofjerks, though it never really came to a dead stop again...half an inch...aninch... two inches... The jerks perceptibly diminished; as the sled gainedmomentum, he caught them up, till it was moving steadily along.

Men gasped and began to breathe again, unaware that for a moment they hadceased to breathe. Thornton was running behind, encouraging Buck with short,cheery words. The distance had been measured off, and as he neared the pile offirewood which marked the end of the hundred yards, a cheer began to grow andgrow, 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 wereflying in the air. Men were shaking hands, it did not matter with whom, andbubbling over in a general incoherent babel.

But Thornton fell on his knees beside Buck. Head was against head, and he wasshaking him back and forth. Those who hurried up heard him cursing Buck, and hecursed 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, sir.”

Thornton rose to his feet. His eyes were wet. The tears were streaming franklydown 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 andforth. As though animated by a common impulse, the onlookers drew back to arespectful distance; nor were they again indiscreet enough to interrupt.

Chapter VII.
The Sounding of the Call

When Buck earned sixteen hundred dollars in five minutes for John Thornton, hemade it possible for his master to pay off certain debts and to journey withhis partners into the East after a fabled lost mine, the history of which wasas 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 lostmine was steeped in tragedy and shrouded in mystery. No one knew of the firstman. The oldest tradition stopped before it got back to him. From the beginningthere had been an ancient and ramshackle cabin. Dying men had sworn to it, andto the mine the site of which it marked, clinching their testimony with nuggetsthat 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 otherdogs, faced into the East on an unknown trail to achieve where men and dogs asgood as themselves had failed. They sledded seventy miles up the Yukon, swungto the left into the Stewart River, passed the Mayo and the McQuestion, andheld on until the Stewart itself became a streamlet, threading the upstandingpeaks which marked the backbone of the continent.

John Thornton asked little of man or nature. He was unafraid of the wild. Witha handful of salt and a rifle he could plunge into the wilderness and farewherever he pleased and as long as he pleased. Being in no haste, Indianfashion, he hunted his dinner in the course of the day’s travel; and ifhe failed to find it, like the Indian, he kept on travelling, secure in theknowledge that sooner or later he would come to it. So, on this great journeyinto the East, straight meat was the bill of fare, ammunition and toolsprincipally made up the load on the sled, and the time-card was drawn upon thelimitless future.

To Buck it was boundless delight, this hunting, fishing, and indefinitewandering through strange places. For weeks at a time they would hold onsteadily, day after day; and for weeks upon end they would camp, here andthere, the dogs loafing and the men burning holes through frozen muck andgravel and washing countless pans of dirt by the heat of the fire. Sometimesthey went hungry, sometimes they feasted riotously, all according to theabundance of game and the fortune of hunting. Summer arrived, and dogs and menpacked on their backs, rafted across blue mountain lakes, and descended orascended unknown rivers in slender boats whipsawed from the standing forest.

The months came and went, and back and forth they twisted through the unchartedvastness, where no men were and yet where men had been if the Lost Cabin weretrue. They went across divides in summer blizzards, shivered under the midnightsun on naked mountains between the timber line and the eternal snows, droppedinto summer valleys amid swarming gnats and flies, and in the shadows ofglaciers picked strawberries and flowers as ripe and fair as any the Southlandcould boast. In the fall of the year they penetrated a weird lake country, sadand silent, where wildfowl had been, but where then there was no life nor signof life—only the blowing of chill winds, the forming of ice in shelteredplaces, and the melancholy rippling of waves on lonely beaches.

And through another winter they wandered on the obliterated trails of men whohad gone before. Once, they came upon a path blazed through the forest, anancient path, and the Lost Cabin seemed very near. But the path began nowhereand ended nowhere, and it remained mystery, as the man who made it and thereason he made it remained mystery. Another time they chanced upon thetime-graven wreckage of a hunting lodge, and amid the shreds of rotted blanketsJohn Thornton found a long-barrelled flint-lock. He knew it for a Hudson BayCompany gun of the young days in the Northwest, when such a gun was worth itsheight in beaver skins packed flat, And that was all—no hint as to theman who in an early day had reared the lodge and left the gun among theblankets.

Spring came on once more, and at the end of all their wandering they found, notthe Lost Cabin, but a shallow placer in a broad valley where the gold showedlike yellow butter across the bottom of the washing-pan. They sought nofarther. Each day they worked earned them thousands of dollars in clean dustand 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 thespruce-bough lodge. Like giants they toiled, days flashing on the heels of dayslike dreams as they heaped the treasure up.

There was nothing for the dogs to do, save the hauling in of meat now and againthat Thornton killed, and Buck spent long hours musing by the fire. The visionof the short-legged hairy man came to him more frequently, now that there waslittle work to be done; and often, blinking by the fire, Buck wandered with himin that other world which he remembered.

The salient thing of this other world seemed fear. When he watched the hairyman sleeping by the fire, head between his knees and hands clasped above, Bucksaw that he slept restlessly, with many starts and awakenings, at which timeshe 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 shellfish andate them as he gathered, it was with eyes that roved everywhere for hiddendanger 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 movingand nostrils quivering, for the man heard and smelled as keenly as Buck. Thehairy man could spring up into the trees and travel ahead as fast as on theground, 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, heseemed as much at home among the trees as on the ground; and Buck had memoriesof nights of vigil spent beneath trees wherein the hairy man roosted, holdingon tightly as he slept.

And closely akin to the visions of the hairy man was the call still sounding inthe depths of the forest. It filled him with a great unrest and strangedesires. It caused him to feel a vague, sweet gladness, and he was aware ofwild yearnings and stirrings for he knew not what. Sometimes he pursued thecall 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 hisnose 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 ifin concealment, behind fungus-covered trunks of fallen trees, wide-eyed andwide-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 notknow why he did these various things. He was impelled to do them, and did notreason about them at all.

Irresistible impulses seized him. He would be lying in camp, dozing lazily inthe 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 andon, for hours, through the forest aisles and across the open spaces where theniggerheads bunched. He loved to run down dry watercourses, and to creep andspy upon the bird life in the woods. For a day at a time he would lie in theunderbrush where he could watch the partridges drumming and strutting up anddown. But especially he loved to run in the dim twilight of the summermidnights, listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, readingsigns and sounds as man may read a book, and seeking for the mysterioussomething that called—called, waking or sleeping, at all times, for himto come.

One night he sprang from sleep with a start, eager-eyed, nostrils quivering andscenting, 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 asnever before,—a long-drawn howl, like, yet unlike, any noise made byhusky dog. And he knew it, in the old familiar way, as a sound heard before. Hesprang 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 everymovement, 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 hispresence. Buck stalked into the open, half crouching, body gathered compactlytogether, tail straight and stiff, feet falling with unwonted care. Everymovement advertised commingled threatening and overture of friendliness. It wasthe menacing truce that marks the meeting of wild beasts that prey. But thewolf fled at sight of him. He followed, with wild leapings, in a frenzy toovertake. He ran him into a blind channel, in the bed of the creek where atimber jam barred the way. The wolf whirled about, pivoting on his hind legsafter the fashion of Joe and of all cornered husky dogs, snarling andbristling, clipping his teeth together in a continuous and rapid succession ofsnaps.

Buck did not attack, but circled him about and hedged him in with friendlyadvances. The wolf was suspicious and afraid; for Buck made three of him inweight, while his head barely reached Buck’s shoulder. Watching hischance, he darted away, and the chase was resumed. Time and again he wascornered, and the thing repeated, though he was in poor condition, or Buckcould not so easily have overtaken him. He would run till Buck’s head waseven with his flank, when he would whirl around at bay, only to dash away againat the first opportunity.

But in the end Buck’s pertinacity was rewarded; for the wolf, findingthat no harm was intended, finally sniffed noses with him. Then they becamefriendly, and played about in the nervous, half-coy way with which fiercebeasts belie their fierceness. After some time of this the wolf started off atan easy lope in a manner that plainly showed he was going somewhere. He made itclear to Buck that he was to come, and they ran side by side through the sombretwilight, straight up the creek bed, into the gorge from which it issued, andacross the bleak divide where it took its rise.

On the opposite slope of the watershed they came down into a level countrywhere were great stretches of forest and many streams, and through these greatstretches they ran steadily, hour after hour, the sun rising higher and the daygrowing warmer. Buck was wildly glad. He knew he was at last answering thecall, running by the side of his wood brother toward the place from where thecall surely came. Old memories were coming upon him fast, and he was stirringto 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 rememberedworld, and he was doing it again, now, running free in the open, the unpackedearth underfoot, the wide sky overhead.

They stopped by a running stream to drink, and, stopping, Buck remembered JohnThornton. He sat down. The wolf started on toward the place from where the callsurely came, then returned to him, sniffing noses and making actions as thoughto 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, whiningsoftly. Then he sat down, pointed his nose upward, and howled. It was amournful howl, and as Buck held steadily on his way he heard it grow faint andfainter until it was lost in the distance.

John Thornton was eating dinner when Buck dashed into camp and sprang upon himin a frenzy of affection, overturning him, scrambling upon him, licking hisface, biting his hand—“playing the general tom-fool,” as JohnThornton characterized it, the while he shook Buck back and forth and cursedhim lovingly.

For two days and nights Buck never left camp, never let Thornton out of hissight. He followed him about at his work, watched him while he ate, saw himinto his blankets at night and out of them in the morning. But after two daysthe call in the forest began to sound more imperiously than ever. Buck’srestlessness came back on him, and he was haunted by recollections of the wildbrother, and of the smiling land beyond the divide and the run side by sidethrough the wide forest stretches. Once again he took to wandering in thewoods, but the wild brother came no more; and though he listened through longvigils, the mournful howl was never raised.

He began to sleep out at night, staying away from camp for days at a time; andonce he crossed the divide at the head of the creek and went down into the landof timber and streams. There he wandered for a week, seeking vainly for freshsign of the wild brother, killing his meat as he travelled and travelling withthe long, easy lope that seems never to tire. He fished for salmon in a broadstream that emptied somewhere into the sea, and by this stream he killed alarge black bear, blinded by the mosquitoes while likewise fishing, and ragingthrough the forest helpless and terrible. Even so, it was a hard fight, and itaroused 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 thespoil, he scattered them like chaff; and those that fled left two behind whowould quarrel no more.

The blood-longing became stronger than ever before. He was a killer, a thingthat preyed, living on the things that lived, unaided, alone, by virtue of hisown strength and prowess, surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment whereonly the strong survived. Because of all this he became possessed of a greatpride in himself, which communicated itself like a contagion to his physicalbeing. It advertised itself in all his movements, was apparent in the play ofevery muscle, spoke plainly as speech in the way he carried himself, and madehis glorious furry coat if anything more glorious. But for the stray brown onhis muzzle and above his eyes, and for the splash of white hair that ranmidmost 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 hadinherited size and weight, but it was his shepherd mother who had given shapeto that size and weight. His muzzle was the long wolf muzzle, save that it waslarger than the muzzle of any wolf; and his head, somewhat broader, was thewolf head on a massive scale.

His cunning was wolf cunning, and wild cunning; his intelligence, shepherdintelligence and St. Bernard intelligence; and all this, plus an experiencegained in the fiercest of schools, made him as formidable a creature as anythat roamed the wild. A carnivorous animal living on a straight meat diet, hewas in full flower, at the high tide of his life, overspilling with vigor andvirility. When Thornton passed a caressing hand along his back, a snapping andcrackling followed the hand, each hair discharging its pent magnetism at thecontact. Every part, brain and body, nerve tissue and fibre, was keyed to themost exquisite pitch; and between all the parts there was a perfect equilibriumor adjustment. To sights and sounds and events which required action, heresponded with lightning-like rapidity. Quickly as a husky dog could leap todefend from attack or to attack, he could leap twice as quickly. He saw themovement, or heard sound, and responded in less time than another dog requiredto compass the mere seeing or hearing. He perceived and determined andresponded in the same instant. In point of fact the three actions ofperceiving, determining, and responding were sequential; but so infinitesimalwere the intervals of time between them that they appeared simultaneous. Hismuscles were surcharged with vitality, and snapped into play sharply, likesteel 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 forthgenerously over the world.

“Never was there such a dog,” said John Thornton one day, as thepartners 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 andterrible transformation which took place as soon as he was within the secrecyof 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 anddisappeared among the shadows. He knew how to take advantage of every cover, tocrawl on his belly like a snake, and like a snake to leap and strike. He couldtake a ptarmigan from its nest, kill a rabbit as it slept, and snap in mid airthe little chipmunks fleeing a second too late for the trees. Fish, in openpools, were not too quick for him; nor were beaver, mending their dams, toowary. He killed to eat, not from wantonness; but he preferred to eat what hekilled himself. So a lurking humor ran through his deeds, and it was hisdelight to steal upon the squirrels, and, when he all but had them, to let themgo, chattering in mortal fear to the treetops.

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 stronglyfor larger and more formidable quarry, and he came upon it one day on thedivide at the head of the creek. A band of twenty moose had crossed over fromthe land of streams and timber, and chief among them was a great bull. He wasin a savage temper, and, standing over six feet from the ground, was asformidable an antagonist as even Buck could desire. Back and forth the bulltossed his great palmated antlers, branching to fourteen points and embracingseven feet within the tips. His small eyes burned with a vicious and bitterlight, while he roared with fury at sight of Buck.

From the bull’s side, just forward of the flank, protruded a featheredarrow-end, which accounted for his savageness. Guided by that instinct whichcame from the old hunting days of the primordial world, Buck proceeded to cutthe bull out from the herd. It was no slight task. He would bark and danceabout in front of the bull, just out of reach of the great antlers and of theterrible 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 bedriven into paroxysms of rage. At such moments he charged Buck, who retreatedcraftily, luring him on by a simulated inability to escape. But when he wasthus separated from his fellows, two or three of the younger bulls would chargeback upon Buck and enable the wounded bull to rejoin the herd.

There is a patience of the wild—dogged, tireless, persistent as lifeitself—that holds motionless for endless hours the spider in its web, thesnake in its coils, the panther in its ambuscade; this patience belongspeculiarly to life when it hunts its living food; and it belonged to Buck as heclung to the flank of the herd, retarding its march, irritating the youngbulls, worrying the cows with their half-grown calves, and driving the woundedbull mad with helpless rage. For half a day this continued. Buck multipliedhimself, attacking from all sides, enveloping the herd in a whirlwind ofmenace, cutting out his victim as fast as it could rejoin its mates, wearingout the patience of creatures preyed upon, which is a lesser patience than thatof creatures preying.

As the day wore along and the sun dropped to its bed in the northwest (thedarkness had come back and the fall nights were six hours long), the youngbulls retraced their steps more and more reluctantly to the aid of their besetleader. The down-coming winter was harrying them on to the lower levels, and itseemed 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 wasthreatened. The life of only one member was demanded, which was a remoterinterest 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 hismates—the cows he had known, the calves he had fathered, the bulls he hadmastered—as they shambled on at a rapid pace through the fading light. Hecould not follow, for before his nose leaped the merciless fanged terror thatwould not let him go. Three hundredweight more than half a ton he weighed; hehad lived a long, strong life, full of fight and struggle, and at the end hefaced death at the teeth of a creature whose head did not reach beyond hisgreat knuckled knees.

From then on, night and day, Buck never left his prey, never gave it amoment’s rest, never permitted it to browse the leaves of trees or theshoots of young birch and willow. Nor did he give the wounded bull opportunityto slake his burning thirst in the slender trickling streams they crossed.Often, in desperation, he burst into long stretches of flight. At such timesBuck did not attempt to stay him, but loped easily at his heels, satisfied withthe way the game was played, lying down when the moose stood still, attackinghim fiercely when he strove to eat or drink.

The great head drooped more and more under its tree of horns, and the shamblingtrot grew weak and weaker. He took to standing for long periods, with nose tothe ground and dejected ears dropped limply; and Buck found more time in whichto get water for himself and in which to rest. At such moments, panting withred lolling tongue and with eyes fixed upon the big bull, it appeared to Buckthat a change was coming over the face of things. He could feel a new stir inthe land. As the moose were coming into the land, other kinds of life werecoming in. Forest and stream and air seemed palpitant with their presence. Thenews of it was borne in upon him, not by sight, or sound, or smell, but by someother and subtler sense. He heard nothing, saw nothing, yet knew that the landwas 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 aday and a night he remained by the kill, eating and sleeping, turn and turnabout. Then, rested, refreshed and strong, he turned his face toward camp andJohn 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 strangecountry with a certitude of direction that put man and his magnetic needle toshame.

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 therethroughout the summer. No longer was this fact borne in upon him in somesubtle, mysterious way. The birds talked of it, the squirrels chattered aboutit, the very breeze whispered of it. Several times he stopped and drew in thefresh morning air in great sniffs, reading a message which made him leap onwith greater speed. He was oppressed with a sense of calamity happening, if itwere not calamity already happened; and as he crossed the last watershed anddropped 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 ripplingand bristling, It led straight toward camp and John Thornton. Buck hurried on,swiftly and stealthily, every nerve straining and tense, alert to themultitudinous details which told a story—all but the end. His nose gavehim a varying description of the passage of the life on the heels of which hewas travelling. He remarked the pregnant silence of the forest. The bird lifehad flitted. The squirrels were in hiding. One only he saw,—a sleek grayfellow, flattened against a gray dead limb so that he seemed a part of it, awoody excrescence upon the wood itself.

As Buck slid along with the obscureness of a gliding shadow, his nose wasjerked suddenly to the side as though a positive force had gripped and pulledit. He followed the new scent into a thicket and found Nig. He was lying on hisside, dead where he had dragged himself, an arrow protruding, head andfeathers, from either side of his body.

A hundred yards farther on, Buck came upon one of the sled-dogs Thornton hadbought in Dawson. This dog was thrashing about in a death-struggle, directly onthe trail, and Buck passed around him without stopping. From the camp came thefaint sound of many voices, rising and falling in a sing-song chant. Bellyingforward 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 outwhere the spruce-bough lodge had been and saw what made his hair leap straightup on his neck and shoulders. A gust of overpowering rage swept over him. Hedid 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 theyheard a fearful roaring and saw rushing upon them an animal the like of whichthey had never seen before. It was Buck, a live hurricane of fury, hurlinghimself upon them in a frenzy to destroy. He sprang at the foremost man (it wasthe chief of the Yeehats), ripping the throat wide open till the rent jugularspouted a fountain of blood. He did not pause to worry the victim, but rippedin passing, with the next bound tearing wide the throat of a second man. Therewas no withstanding him. He plunged about in their very midst, tearing,rending, destroying, in constant and terrific motion which defied the arrowsthey discharged at him. In fact, so inconceivably rapid were his movements, andso closely were the Indians tangled together, that they shot one another withthe arrows; and one young hunter, hurling a spear at Buck in mid air, drove itthrough the chest of another hunter with such force that the point brokethrough the skin of the back and stood out beyond. Then a panic seized theYeehats, and they fled in terror to the woods, proclaiming as they fled theadvent of the Evil Spirit.

And truly Buck was the Fiend incarnate, raging at their heels and dragging themdown like deer as they raced through the trees. It was a fateful day for theYeehats. They scattered far and wide over the country, and it was not till aweek later that the last of the survivors gathered together in a lower valleyand counted their losses. As for Buck, wearying of the pursuit, he returned tothe desolated camp. He found Pete where he had been killed in his blankets inthe first moment of surprise. Thornton’s desperate struggle wasfresh-written on the earth, and Buck scented every detail of it down to theedge 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 sluiceboxes, effectually hid what it contained, and it contained John Thornton; forBuck 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, asa cessation of movement, as a passing out and away from the lives of theliving, he knew, and he knew John Thornton was dead. It left a great void inhim, somewhat akin to hunger, but a void which ached and ached, and which foodcould not fill, At times, when he paused to contemplate the carcasses of theYeehats, he forgot the pain of it; and at such times he was aware of a greatpride in himself,—a pride greater than any he had yet experienced. He hadkilled man, the noblest game of all, and he had killed in the face of the lawof club and fang. He sniffed the bodies curiously. They had died so easily. Itwas harder to kill a husky dog than them. They were no match at all, were itnot for their arrows and spears and clubs. Thenceforward he would be unafraidof 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, lightingthe 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 newlife 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 bya chorus of similar sharp yelps. As the moments passed the yelps grew closerand louder. Again Buck knew them as things heard in that other world whichpersisted in his memory. He walked to the centre of the open space andlistened. It was the call, the many-noted call, sounding more luringly andcompellingly than ever before. And as never before, he was ready to obey. JohnThornton was dead. The last tie was broken. Man and the claims of man no longerbound him.

Hunting their living meat, as the Yeehats were hunting it, on the flanks of themigrating moose, the wolf pack had at last crossed over from the land ofstreams and timber and invaded Buck’s valley. Into the clearing where themoonlight streamed, they poured in a silvery flood; and in the centre of theclearing stood Buck, motionless as a statue, waiting their coming. They wereawed, so still and large he stood, and a moment’s pause fell, till theboldest one leaped straight for him. Like a flash Buck struck, breaking theneck. Then he stood, without movement, as before, the stricken wolf rolling inagony behind him. Three others tried it in sharp succession; and one after theother they drew back, streaming blood from slashed throats or shoulders.

This was sufficient to fling the whole pack forward, pell-mell, crowdedtogether, blocked and confused by its eagerness to pull down the prey.Buck’s marvellous quickness and agility stood him in good stead. Pivotingon his hind legs, and snapping and gashing, he was everywhere at once,presenting a front which was apparently unbroken so swiftly did he whirl andguard from side to side. But to prevent them from getting behind him, he wasforced back, down past the pool and into the creek bed, till he brought upagainst a high gravel bank. He worked along to a right angle in the bank whichthe 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 drewback discomfited. The tongues of all were out and lolling, the white fangsshowing cruelly white in the moonlight. Some were lying down with heads raisedand ears pricked forward; others stood on their feet, watching him; and stillothers were lapping water from the pool. One wolf, long and lean and gray,advanced cautiously, in a friendly manner, and Buck recognized the wild brotherwith whom he had run for a night and a day. He was whining softly, and, as Buckwhined, they touched noses.

Then an old wolf, gaunt and battle-scarred, came forward. Buck writhed his lipsinto the preliminary of a snarl, but sniffed noses with him, Whereupon the oldwolf sat down, pointed nose at the moon, and broke out the long wolf howl. Theothers sat down and howled. And now the call came to Buck in unmistakableaccents. He, too, sat down and howled. This over, he came out of his angle andthe pack crowded around him, sniffing in half-friendly, half-savage manner. Theleaders lifted the yelp of the pack and sprang away into the woods. The wolvesswung in behind, yelping in chorus. And Buck ran with them, side by side withthe wild brother, yelping as he ran.

And here may well end the story of Buck. The years were not many when theYeehats noted a change in the breed of timber wolves; for some were seen withsplashes of brown on head and muzzle, and with a rift of white centring downthe chest. But more remarkable than this, the Yeehats tell of a Ghost Dog thatruns at the head of the pack. They are afraid of this Ghost Dog, for it hascunning greater than they, stealing from their camps in fierce winters, robbingtheir traps, slaying their dogs, and defying their bravest hunters.

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 slashedcruelly open and with wolf prints about them in the snow greater than theprints of any wolf. Each fall, when the Yeehats follow the movement of themoose, there is a certain valley which they never enter. And women there arewho become sad when the word goes over the fire of how the Evil Spirit came toselect that valley for an abiding-place.

In the summers there is one visitor, however, to that valley, of which theYeehats do not know. It is a great, gloriously coated wolf, like, and yetunlike, all other wolves. He crosses alone from the smiling timber land andcomes down into an open space among the trees. Here a yellow stream flows fromrotted moose-hide sacks and sinks into the ground, with long grasses growingthrough it and vegetable mould overrunning it and hiding its yellow from thesun; and here he muses for a time, howling once, long and mournfully, ere hedeparts.

But he is not always alone. When the long winter nights come on and the wolvesfollow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be seen running at the head ofthe pack through the pale moonlight or glimmering borealis, leaping giganticabove his fellows, his great throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the youngerworld, which is the song of the pack.

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