Part 2 out of 2
There came a day when Billee, the good-natured, fell and could not
rise. Hal had traded off his revolver, so he took the axe and
knocked Billee on the head as he lay in the traces, then cut the
carcass out of the harness and dragged it to one side. Buck saw,
and his mates saw, and they knew that this thing was very close to
them. On the next day Koona went, and but five of them remained:
Joe, too far gone to be malignant; Pike, crippled and limping,
only half conscious and not conscious enough longer to malinger;
Sol-leks, the one-eyed, still faithful to the toil of trace and
trail, and mournful in that he had so little strength with which
to pull; Teek, who had not travelled so far that winter and who
was now beaten more than the others because he was fresher; and
Buck, still at the head of the team, but no longer enforcing
discipline or striving to enforce it, blind with weakness half the
time and keeping the trail by the loom of it and by the dim feel
of his feet.
It was beautiful spring weather, but neither dogs nor humans were
aware of it. Each day the sun rose earlier and set later. It was
dawn by three in the morning, and twilight lingered till nine at
night. The whole long day was a blaze of sunshine. The ghostly
winter silence had given way to the great spring murmur of
awakening life. This murmur arose from all the land, fraught with
the joy of living. It came from the things that lived and moved
again, things which had been as dead and which had not moved
during the long months of frost. The sap was rising in the pines.
The willows and aspens were bursting out in young buds. Shrubs
and vines were putting on fresh garbs of green. Crickets sang in
the nights, and in the days all manner of creeping, crawling
things rustled forth into the sun. Partridges and woodpeckers
were booming and knocking in the forest. Squirrels were
chattering, birds singing, and overhead honked the wild-fowl
driving up from the south in cunning wedges that split the air.
From every hill slope came the trickle of running water, the music
of unseen fountains. All things were thawing, bending, snapping.
The Yukon was straining to break loose the ice that bound it down.
It ate away from beneath; the sun ate from above. Air-holes
formed, fissures sprang and spread apart, while thin sections of
ice fell through bodily into the river. And amid all this
bursting, rending, throbbing of awakening life, under the blazing
sun and through the soft-sighing breezes, like wayfarers to death,
staggered the two men, the woman, and the huskies.
With the dogs falling, Mercedes weeping and riding, Hal swearing
innocuously, and Charles's eyes wistfully watering, they staggered
into John Thornton's camp at the mouth of White River. When they
halted, the dogs dropped down as though they had all been struck
dead. Mercedes dried her eyes and looked at John Thornton.
Charles sat down on a log to rest. He sat down very slowly and
painstakingly what of his great stiffness. Hal did the talking.
John Thornton was whittling the last touches on an axe-handle he
had made from a stick of birch. He whittled and listened, gave
monosyllabic replies, and, when it was asked, terse advice.
He knew the breed, and he gave his advice in the certainty that it
would not be followed.
"They told us up above that the bottom was dropping out of the
trail and that the best thing for us to do was to lay over," Hal
said in response to Thornton's warning to take no more chances on
the rotten ice. "They told us we couldn't make White River, and
here we are." This last with a sneering ring of triumph in it.
"And they told you true," John Thornton answered. "The bottom's
likely to drop out at any moment. Only fools, with the blind luck
of fools, could have made it. I tell you straight, I wouldn't
risk my carcass on that ice for all the gold in Alaska."
"That's because you're not a fool, I suppose," said Hal. "All the
same, we'll go on to Dawson." He uncoiled his whip. "Get up there,
Buck! Hi! Get up there! Mush on!"
Thornton went on whittling. It was idle, he knew, to get between
a fool and his folly; while two or three fools more or less would
not alter the scheme of things.
But the team did not get up at the command. It had long since
passed into the stage where blows were required to rouse it. The
whip flashed out, here and there, on its merciless errands. John
Thornton compressed his lips. Sol-leks was the first to crawl to
his feet. Teek followed. Joe came next, yelping with pain. Pike
made painful efforts. Twice he fell over, when half up, and on
the third attempt managed to rise. Buck made no effort. He lay
quietly where he had fallen. The lash bit into him again and
again, but he neither whined nor struggled. Several times
Thornton started, as though to speak, but changed his mind. A
moisture came into his eyes, and, as the whipping continued, he
arose and walked irresolutely up and down.
This was the first time Buck had failed, in itself a sufficient
reason to drive Hal into a rage. He exchanged the whip for the
customary club. Buck refused to move under the rain of heavier
blows which now fell upon him. Like his mates, he barely able to
get up, but, unlike them, he had made up his mind not to get up.
He had a vague feeling of impending doom. This had been strong
upon him when he pulled in to the bank, and it had not departed
from him. What of the thin and rotten ice he had felt under his
feet all day, it seemed that he sensed disaster close at hand, out
there ahead on the ice where his master was trying to drive him.
He refused to stir. So greatly had he suffered, and so far gone
was he, that the blows did not hurt much. And as they continued
to fall upon him, the spark of life within flickered and went
down. It was nearly out. He felt strangely numb. As though from
a great distance, he was aware that he was being beaten. The last
sensations of pain left him. He no longer felt anything, though
very faintly he could hear the impact of the club upon his body.
But it was no longer his body, it seemed so far away.
And then, suddenly, without warning, uttering a cry that was
inarticulate and more like the cry of an animal, John Thornton
sprang upon the man who wielded the club. Hal was hurled
backward, as though struck by a failing tree. Mercedes screamed.
Charles looked on wistfully, wiped his watery eyes, but did not
get up because of his stiffness.
John Thornton stood over Buck, struggling to control himself, too
convulsed with rage to speak.
"If you strike that dog again, I'll kill you," he at last managed
to say in a choking voice.
"It's my dog," Hal replied, wiping the blood from his mouth as he
came back. "Get out of my way, or I'll fix you. I'm going to
Thornton stood between him and Buck, and evinced no intention of
getting out of the way. Hal drew his long hunting-knife.
Mercedes screamed, cried, laughed, and manifested the chaotic
abandonment of hysteria. Thornton rapped Hal's knuckles with the
axe-handle, knocking the knife to the ground. He rapped his
knuckles again as he tried to pick it up. Then he stooped, picked
it up himself, and with two strokes cut Buck's traces.
Hal had no fight left in him. Besides, his hands were full with
his sister, or his arms, rather; while Buck was too near dead to
be of further use in hauling the sled. A few minutes later they
pulled out from the bank and down the river. Buck heard them go
and raised his head to see, Pike was leading, Sol-leks was at the
wheel, and between were Joe and Teek. They were limping and
staggering. Mercedes was riding the loaded sled. Hal guided at
the gee-pole, and Charles stumbled along in the rear.
As Buck watched them, Thornton knelt beside him and with rough,
kindly hands searched for broken bones. By the time his search
had disclosed nothing more than many bruises and a state of
terrible starvation, the sled was a quarter of a mile away. Dog
and man watched it crawling along over the ice. Suddenly, they
saw its back end drop down, as into a rut, and the gee-pole, with
Hal clinging to it, jerk into the air. Mercedes's scream came to
their ears. They saw Charles turn and make one step to run back,
and then a whole section of ice give way and dogs and humans
disappear. A yawning hole was all that was to be seen. The
bottom had dropped out of the trail.
John Thornton and Buck looked at each other.
"You poor devil," said John Thornton, and Buck licked his hand.
For the Love of a Man
When John Thornton froze his feet in the previous December his
partners had made him comfortable and left him to get well, going
on themselves up the river to get out a raft of saw-logs for
Dawson. He was still limping slightly at the time he rescued
Buck, but with the continued warm weather even the slight limp
left him. And here, lying by the river bank through the long
spring days, watching the running water, listening lazily to the
songs of birds and the hum of nature, Buck slowly won back his
A rest comes very good after one has travelled three thousand
miles, and it must be confessed that Buck waxed lazy as his wounds
healed, his muscles swelled out, and the flesh came back to cover
his bones. For that matter, they were all loafing,--Buck, John
Thornton, and Skeet and Nig,--waiting for the raft to come that
was to carry them down to Dawson. Skeet was a little Irish setter
who early made friends with Buck, who, in a dying condition, was
unable to resent her first advances. She had the doctor trait
which some dogs possess; and as a mother cat washes her kittens,
so she washed and cleansed Buck's wounds. Regularly, each morning
after he had finished his breakfast, she performed her self-
appointed task, till he came to look for her ministrations as much
as he did for Thornton's. Nig, equally friendly, though less
demonstrative, was a huge black dog, half bloodhound and half
deerhound, with eyes that laughed and a boundless good nature.
To Buck's surprise these dogs manifested no jealousy toward him.
They seemed to share the kindliness and largeness of John
Thornton. As Buck grew stronger they enticed him into all sorts
of ridiculous games, in which Thornton himself could not forbear
to join; and in this fashion Buck romped through his convalescence
and into a new existence. Love, genuine passionate love, was his
for the first time. This he had never experienced at Judge
Miller's down in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. With the
Judge's sons, hunting and tramping, it had been a working
partnership; with the Judge's grandsons, a sort of pompous
guardianship; and with the Judge himself, a stately and dignified
friendship. But love that was feverish and burning, that was
adoration, that was madness, it had taken John Thornton to arouse.
This man had saved his life, which was something; but, further, he
was the ideal master. Other men saw to the welfare of their dogs
from a sense of duty and business expediency; he saw to the
welfare of his as if they were his own children, because he could
not help it. And he saw further. He never forgot a kindly
greeting or a cheering word, and to sit down for a long talk with
them ("gas" he called it) was as much his delight as theirs. He
had a way of taking Buck's head roughly between his hands, and
resting his own head upon Buck's, of shaking him back and forth,
the while calling him ill names that to Buck were love names.
Buck knew no greater joy than that rough embrace and the sound of
murmured oaths, and at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his
heart would be shaken out of his body so great was its ecstasy.
And when, released, he sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, his
eyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with unuttered sound, and in
that fashion remained without movement, John Thornton would
reverently exclaim, "God! you can all but speak!"
Buck had a trick of love expression that was akin to hurt. He
would often seize Thornton's hand in his mouth and close so
fiercely that the flesh bore the impress of his teeth for some
time afterward. And as Buck understood the oaths to be love
words, so the man understood this feigned bite for a caress.
For the most part, however, Buck's love was expressed in
adoration. While he went wild with happiness when Thornton
touched him or spoke to him, he did not seek these tokens. Unlike
Skeet, who was wont to shove her nose under Thornton's hand and
nudge and nudge till petted, or Nig, who would stalk up and rest
his great head on Thornton's knee, Buck was content to adore at a
distance. He would lie by the hour, eager, alert, at Thornton's
feet, looking up into his face, dwelling upon it, studying it,
following with keenest interest each fleeting expression, every
movement or change of feature. Or, as chance might have it, he
would lie farther away, to the side or rear, watching the outlines
of the man and the occasional movements of his body. And often,
such was the communion in which they lived, the strength of Buck's
gaze would draw John Thornton's head around, and he would return
the gaze, without speech, his heart shining out of his eyes as
Buck's heart shone out.
For a long time after his rescue, Buck did not like Thornton to
get out of his sight. From the moment he left the tent to when he
entered it again, Buck would follow at his heels. His transient
masters since he had come into the Northland had bred in him a
fear that no master could be permanent. He was afraid that
Thornton would pass out of his life as Perrault and Francois and
the Scotch half-breed had passed out. Even in the night, in his
dreams, he was haunted by this fear. At such times he would shake
off sleep and creep through the chill to the flap of the tent,
where he would stand and listen to the sound of his master's
But in spite of this great love he bore John Thornton, which
seemed to bespeak the soft civilizing influence, the strain of the
primitive, which the Northland had aroused in him, remained alive
and active. Faithfulness and devotion, things born of fire and
roof, were his; yet he retained his wildness and wiliness. He was
a thing of the wild, come in from the wild to sit by John
Thornton's fire, rather than a dog of the soft Southland stamped
with the marks of generations of civilization. Because of his
very great love, he could not steal from this man, but from any
other man, in any other camp, he did not hesitate an instant;
while the cunning with which he stole enabled him to escape
His face and body were scored by the teeth of many dogs, and he
fought as fiercely as ever and more shrewdly. Skeet and Nig were
too good-natured for quarrelling,--besides, they belonged to John
Thornton; but the strange dog, no matter what the breed or valor,
swiftly acknowledged Buck's supremacy or found himself struggling
for life with a terrible antagonist. And Buck was merciless. He
had learned well the law of club and fang, and he never forewent
an advantage or drew back from a foe he had started on the way to
Death. He had lessoned from Spitz, and from the chief fighting
dogs of the police and mail, and knew there was no middle course.
He must master or be mastered; while to show mercy was a weakness.
Mercy did not exist in the primordial life. It was misunderstood
for fear, and such misunderstandings made for death. Kill or be
killed, eat or be eaten, was the law; and this mandate, down out
of the depths of Time, he obeyed.
He was older than the days he had seen and the breaths he had
drawn. He linked the past with the present, and the eternity
behind him throbbed through him in a mighty rhythm to which he
swayed as the tides and seasons swayed. He sat by John Thornton's
fire, a broad-breasted dog, white-fanged and long-furred; but
behind him were the shades of all manner of dogs, half-wolves and
wild wolves, urgent and prompting, tasting the savor of the meat
he ate, thirsting for the water he drank, scenting the wind with
him, listening with him and telling him the sounds made by the
wild life in the forest, dictating his moods, directing his
actions, lying down to sleep with him when he lay down, and
dreaming with him and beyond him and becoming themselves the stuff
of his dreams.
So peremptorily did these shades beckon him, that each day mankind
and the claims of mankind slipped farther from him. Deep in the
forest a call was sounding, and as often as he heard this call,
mysteriously thrilling and luring, he felt compelled to turn his
back upon the fire and the beaten earth around it, and to plunge
into the forest, and on and on, he knew not where or why; nor did
he wonder where or why, the call sounding imperiously, deep in the
forest. But as often as he gained the soft unbroken earth and the
green shade, the love for John Thornton drew him back to the fire
Thornton alone held him. The rest of mankind was as nothing.
Chance travellers might praise or pet him; but he was cold under
it all, and from a too demonstrative man he would get up and walk
away. When Thornton's partners, Hans and Pete, arrived on the
long-expected raft, Buck refused to notice them till he learned
they were close to Thornton; after that he tolerated them in a
passive sort of way, accepting favors from them as though he
favored them by accepting. They were of the same large type as
Thornton, living close to the earth, thinking simply and seeing
clearly; and ere they swung the raft into the big eddy by the saw-
mill at Dawson, they understood Buck and his ways, and did not
insist upon an intimacy such as obtained with Skeet and Nig.
For Thornton, however, his love seemed to grow and grow. He,
alone among men, could put a pack upon Buck's back in the summer
travelling. Nothing was too great for Buck to do, when Thornton
commanded. One day (they had grub-staked themselves from the
proceeds of the raft and left Dawson for the head-waters of the
Tanana) the men and dogs were sitting on the crest of a cliff
which fell away, straight down, to naked bed-rock three hundred
feet below. John Thornton was sitting near the edge, Buck at his
shoulder. A thoughtless whim seized Thornton, and he drew the
attention of Hans and Pete to the experiment he had in mind.
"Jump, Buck!" he commanded, sweeping his arm out and over the
chasm. The next instant he was grappling with Buck on the extreme
edge, while Hans and Pete were dragging them back into safety.
"It's uncanny," Pete said, after it was over and they had caught
Thornton shook his head. "No, it is splendid, and it is terrible,
too. Do you know, it sometimes makes me afraid."
"I'm not hankering to be the man that lays hands on you while he's
around," Pete announced conclusively, nodding his head toward
"Py Jingo!" was Hans's contribution. "Not mineself either."
It was at Circle City, ere the year was out, that Pete's
apprehensions were realized. "Black" Burton, a man evil-tempered
and malicious, had been picking a quarrel with a tenderfoot at the
bar, when Thornton stepped good-naturedly between. Buck, as was
his custom, was lying in a corner, head on paws, watching his
master's every action. Burton struck out, without warning,
straight from the shoulder. Thornton was sent spinning, and saved
himself from falling only by clutching the rail of the bar.
Those who were looking on heard what was neither bark nor yelp,
but a something which is best described as a roar, and they saw
Buck's body rise up in the air as he left the floor for Burton's
throat. The man saved his life by instinctively throwing out his
arm, but was hurled backward to the floor with Buck on top of him.
Buck loosed his teeth from the flesh of the arm and drove in again
for the throat. This time the man succeeded only in partly
blocking, and his throat was torn open. Then the crowd was upon
Buck, and he was driven off; but while a surgeon checked the
bleeding, he prowled up and down, growling furiously, attempting
to rush in, and being forced back by an array of hostile clubs. A
"miners' meeting," called on the spot, decided that the dog had
sufficient provocation, and Buck was discharged. But his
reputation was made, and from that day his name spread through
every camp in Alaska.
Later on, in the fall of the year, he saved John Thornton's life
in quite another fashion. The three partners were lining a long
and narrow poling-boat down a bad stretch of rapids on the Forty-
Mile Creek. Hans and Pete moved along the bank, snubbing with a
thin Manila rope from tree to tree, while Thornton remained in the
boat, helping its descent by means of a pole, and shouting
directions to the shore. Buck, on the bank, worried and anxious,
kept abreast of the boat, his eyes never off his master.
At a particularly bad spot, where a ledge of barely submerged
rocks jutted out into the river, Hans cast off the rope, and,
while Thornton poled the boat out into the stream, ran down the
bank with the end in his hand to snub the boat when it had cleared
the ledge. This it did, and was flying down-stream in a current
as swift as a mill-race, when Hans checked it with the rope and
checked too suddenly. The boat flirted over and snubbed in to the
bank bottom up, while Thornton, flung sheer out of it, was carried
down-stream toward the worst part of the rapids, a stretch of wild
water in which no swimmer could live.
Buck had sprung in on the instant; and at the end of three hundred
yards, amid a mad swirl of water, he overhauled Thornton. When he
felt him grasp his tail, Buck headed for the bank, swimming with
all his splendid strength. But the progress shoreward was slow;
the progress down-stream amazingly rapid. From below came the
fatal roaring where the wild current went wilder and was rent in
shreds and spray by the rocks which thrust through like the teeth
of an enormous comb. The suck of the water as it took the
beginning of the last steep pitch was frightful, and Thornton knew
that the shore was impossible. He scraped furiously over a rock,
bruised across a second, and struck a third with crushing force.
He clutched its slippery top with both hands, releasing Buck, and
above the roar of the churning water shouted: "Go, Buck! Go!"
Buck could not hold his own, and swept on down-stream, struggling
desperately, but unable to win back. When he heard Thornton's
command repeated, he partly reared out of the water, throwing his
head high, as though for a last look, then turned obediently
toward the bank. He swam powerfully and was dragged ashore by
Pete and Hans at the very point where swimming ceased to be
possible and destruction began.
They knew that the time a man could cling to a slippery rock in
the face of that driving current was a matter of minutes, and they
ran as fast as they could up the bank to a point far above where
Thornton was hanging on. They attached the line with which they
had been snubbing the boat to Buck's neck and shoulders, being
careful that it should neither strangle him nor impede his
swimming, and launched him into the stream. He struck out boldly,
but not straight enough into the stream. He discovered the
mistake too late, when Thornton was abreast of him and a bare
half-dozen strokes away while he was being carried helplessly
Hans promptly snubbed with the rope, as though Buck were a boat.
The rope thus tightening on him in the sweep of the current, he
was jerked under the surface, and under the surface he remained
till his body struck against the bank and he was hauled out. He
was half drowned, and Hans and Pete threw themselves upon him,
pounding the breath into him and the water out of him. He
staggered to his feet and fell down. The faint sound of
Thornton's voice came to them, and though they could not make out
the words of it, they knew that he was in his extremity. His
master's voice acted on Buck like an electric shock, He sprang to
his feet and ran up the bank ahead of the men to the point of his
Again the rope was attached and he was launched, and again he
struck out, but this time straight into the stream. He had
miscalculated once, but he would not be guilty of it a second
time. Hans paid out the rope, permitting no slack, while Pete
kept it clear of coils. Buck held on till he was on a line
straight above Thornton; then he turned, and with the speed of an
express train headed down upon him. Thornton saw him coming, and,
as Buck struck him like a battering ram, with the whole force of
the current behind him, he reached up and closed with both arms
around the shaggy neck. Hans snubbed the rope around the tree,
and Buck and Thornton were jerked under the water. Strangling,
suffocating, sometimes one uppermost and sometimes the other,
dragging over the jagged bottom, smashing against rocks and snags,
they veered in to the bank.
Thornton came to, belly downward and being violently propelled
back and forth across a drift log by Hans and Pete. His first
glance was for Buck, over whose limp and apparently lifeless body
Nig was setting up a howl, while Skeet was licking the wet face
and closed eyes. Thornton was himself bruised and battered, and
he went carefully over Buck's body, when he had been brought
around, finding three broken ribs.
"That settles it," he announced. "We camp right here." And camp
they did, till Buck's ribs knitted and he was able to travel.
That winter, at Dawson, Buck performed another exploit, not so
heroic, perhaps, but one that put his name many notches higher on
the totem-pole of Alaskan fame. This exploit was particularly
gratifying to the three men; for they stood in need of the outfit
which it furnished, and were enabled to make a long-desired trip
into the virgin East, where miners had not yet appeared. It was
brought about by a conversation in the Eldorado Saloon, in which
men waxed boastful of their favorite dogs. Buck, because of his
record, was the target for these men, and Thornton was driven
stoutly to defend him. At the end of half an hour one man stated
that his dog could start a sled with five hundred pounds and walk
off with it; a second bragged six hundred for his dog; and a
third, seven hundred.
"Pooh! pooh!" said John Thornton; "Buck can start a thousand
"And break it out? and walk off with it for a hundred yards?"
demanded Matthewson, a Bonanza King, he of the seven hundred
"And break it out, and walk off with it for a hundred yards," John
Thornton said coolly.
"Well," Matthewson said, slowly and deliberately, so that all
could hear, "I've got a thousand dollars that says he can't. And
there it is." So saying, he slammed a sack of gold dust of the
size of a bologna sausage down upon the bar.
Nobody spoke. Thornton's bluff, if bluff it was, had been called.
He could feel a flush of warm blood creeping up his face. His
tongue had tricked him. He did not know whether Buck could start
a thousand pounds. Half a ton! The enormousness of it appalled
him. He had great faith in Buck's strength and had often thought
him capable of starting such a load; but never, as now, had he
faced the possibility of it, the eyes of a dozen men fixed upon
him, silent and waiting. Further, he had no thousand dollars; nor
had Hans or Pete.
"I've got a sled standing outside now, with twenty fiftypound
sacks of flour on it," Matthewson went on with brutal directness;
"so don't let that hinder you."
Thornton did not reply. He did not know what to say. He glanced
from face to face in the absent way of a man who has lost the
power of thought and is seeking somewhere to find the thing that
will start it going again. The face of Jim O'Brien, a Mastodon
King and old-time comrade, caught his eyes. It was as a cue to
him, seeming to rouse him to do what he would never have dreamed
"Can you lend me a thousand?" he asked, almost in a whisper.
"Sure," answered O'Brien, thumping down a plethoric sack by the
side of Matthewson's. "Though it's little faith I'm having, John,
that the beast can do the trick."
The Eldorado emptied its occupants into the street to see the
test. The tables were deserted, and the dealers and gamekeepers
came forth to see the outcome of the wager and to lay odds.
Several hundred men, furred and mittened, banked around the sled
within easy distance. Matthewson's sled, loaded with a thousand
pounds of flour, had been standing for a couple of hours, and in
the intense cold (it was sixty below zero) the runners had frozen
fast to the hard-packed snow. Men offered odds of two to one that
Buck could not budge the sled. A quibble arose concerning the
phrase "break out." O'Brien contended it was Thornton's privilege
to knock the runners loose, leaving Buck to "break it out" from a
dead standstill. Matthewson insisted that the phrase included
breaking the runners from the frozen grip of the snow. A majority
of the men who had witnessed the making of the bet decided in his
favor, whereat the odds went up to three to one against Buck.
There were no takers. Not a man believed him capable of the feat.
Thornton had been hurried into the wager, heavy with doubt; and
now that he looked at the sled itself, the concrete fact, with the
regular team of ten dogs curled up in the snow before it, the more
impossible the task appeared. Matthewson waxed jubilant.
"Three to one!" he proclaimed. "I'll lay you another thousand at
that figure, Thornton. What d'ye say?"
Thornton's doubt was strong in his face, but his fighting spirit
was aroused--the fighting spirit that soars above odds, fails to
recognize the impossible, and is deaf to all save the clamor for
battle. He called Hans and Pete to him. Their sacks were slim,
and with his own the three partners could rake together only two
hundred dollars. In the ebb of their fortunes, this sum was their
total capital; yet they laid it unhesitatingly against
Matthewson's six hundred.
The team of ten dogs was unhitched, and Buck, with his own
harness, was put into the sled. He had caught the contagion of
the excitement, and he felt that in some way he must do a great
thing for John Thornton. Murmurs of admiration at his splendid
appearance went up. He was in perfect condition, without an ounce
of superfluous flesh, and the one hundred and fifty pounds that he
weighed were so many pounds of grit and virility. His furry coat
shone with the sheen of silk. Down the neck and across the
shoulders, his mane, in repose as it was, half bristled and seemed
to lift with every movement, as though excess of vigor made each
particular hair alive and active. The great breast and heavy fore
legs were no more than in proportion with the rest of the body,
where the muscles showed in tight rolls underneath the skin. Men
felt these muscles and proclaimed them hard as iron, and the odds
went down to two to one.
"Gad, sir! Gad, sir!" stuttered a member of the latest dynasty, a
king of the Skookum Benches. "I offer you eight hundred for him,
sir, before the test, sir; eight hundred just as he stands."
Thornton shook his head and stepped to Buck's side.
"You must stand off from him," Matthewson protested. "Free play
and plenty of room."
The crowd fell silent; only could be heard the voices of the
gamblers vainly offering two to one. Everybody acknowledged Buck
a magnificent animal, but twenty fifty-pound sacks of flour bulked
too large in their eyes for them to loosen their pouch-strings.
Thornton knelt down by Buck's side. He took his head in his two
hands and rested cheek on cheek. He did not playfully shake him,
as was his wont, or murmur soft love curses; but he whispered in
his ear. "As you love me, Buck. As you love me," was what he
whispered. Buck whined with suppressed eagerness.
The crowd was watching curiously. The affair was growing
mysterious. It seemed like a conjuration. As Thornton got to his
feet, Buck seized his mittened hand between his jaws, pressing in
with his teeth and releasing slowly, half-reluctantly. It was the
answer, in terms, not of speech, but of love. Thornton stepped
"Now, Buck," he said.
Buck tightened the traces, then slacked them for a matter of
several inches. It was the way he had learned.
"Gee!" Thornton's voice rang out, sharp in the tense silence.
Buck swung to the right, ending the movement in a plunge that took
up the slack and with a sudden jerk arrested his one hundred and
fifty pounds. The load quivered, and from under the runners arose
a crisp crackling.
"Haw!" Thornton commanded.
Buck duplicated the manoeuvre, this time to the left. The
crackling turned into a snapping, the sled pivoting and the
runners slipping and grating several inches to the side. The sled
was broken out. Men were holding their breaths, intensely
unconscious of the fact.
Thornton's command cracked out like a pistol-shot. Buck threw
himself forward, tightening the traces with a jarring lunge. His
whole body was gathered compactly together in the tremendous
effort, the muscles writhing and knotting like live things under
the silky fur. His great chest was low to the ground, his head
forward and down, while his feet were flying like mad, the claws
scarring the hard-packed snow in parallel grooves. The sled
swayed and trembled, half-started forward. One of his feet
slipped, and one man groaned aloud. Then the sled lurched ahead in
what appeared a rapid succession of jerks, though it never really
came to a dead stop again ...half an inch...an inch . . . two
inches. . . The jerks perceptibly diminished; as the sled gained
momentum, he caught them up, till it was moving steadily along.
Men gasped and began to breathe again, unaware that for a moment
they had ceased to breathe. Thornton was running behind,
encouraging Buck with short, cheery words. The distance had been
measured off, and as he neared the pile of firewood which marked
the end of the hundred yards, a cheer began to grow and grow,
which burst into a roar as he passed the firewood and halted at
command. Every man was tearing himself loose, even Matthewson.
Hats and mittens were flying in the air. Men were shaking hands,
it did not matter with whom, and bubbling over in a general
But Thornton fell on his knees beside Buck. Head was against
head, and he was shaking him back and forth. Those who hurried up
heard him cursing Buck, and he cursed him long and fervently, and
softly and lovingly.
"Gad, sir! Gad, sir!" spluttered the Skookum Bench king. "I'll
give you a thousand for him, sir, a thousand, sir--twelve hundred,
Thornton rose to his feet. His eyes were wet. The tears were
streaming frankly down his cheeks. "Sir," he said to the Skookum
Bench king, "no, sir. You can go to hell, sir. It's the best I
can do for you, sir."
Buck seized Thornton's hand in his teeth. Thornton shook him back
and forth. As though animated by a common impulse, the onlookers
drew back to a respectful distance; nor were they again indiscreet
enough to interrupt.
The Sounding of the Call
When Buck earned sixteen hundred dollars in five minutes for John
Thornton, he made it possible for his master to pay off certain
debts and to journey with his partners into the East after a
fabled lost mine, the history of which was as old as the history
of the country. Many men had sought it; few had found it; and
more than a few there were who had never returned from the quest.
This lost mine was steeped in tragedy and shrouded in mystery. No
one knew of the first man. The oldest tradition stopped before it
got back to him. From the beginning there had been an ancient and
ramshackle cabin. Dying men had sworn to it, and to the mine the
site of which it marked, clinching their testimony with nuggets
that were unlike any known grade of gold in the Northland.
But no living man had looted this treasure house, and the dead
were dead; wherefore John Thornton and Pete and Hans, with Buck
and half a dozen other dogs, faced into the East on an unknown
trail to achieve where men and dogs as good as themselves had
failed. They sledded seventy miles up the Yukon, swung to the
left into the Stewart River, passed the Mayo and the McQuestion,
and held on until the Stewart itself became a streamlet, threading
the upstanding peaks which marked the backbone of the continent.
John Thornton asked little of man or nature. He was unafraid of
the wild. With a handful of salt and a rifle he could plunge into
the wilderness and fare wherever he pleased and as long as he
pleased. Being in no haste, Indian fashion, he hunted his dinner
in the course of the day's travel; and if he failed to find it,
like the Indian, he kept on travelling, secure in the knowledge
that sooner or later he would come to it. So, on this great
journey into the East, straight meat was the bill of fare,
ammunition and tools principally made up the load on the sled, and
the time-card was drawn upon the limitless future.
To Buck it was boundless delight, this hunting, fishing, and
indefinite wandering through strange places. For weeks at a time
they would hold on steadily, day after day; and for weeks upon end
they would camp, here and there, the dogs loafing and the men
burning holes through frozen muck and gravel and washing countless
pans of dirt by the heat of the fire. Sometimes they went hungry,
sometimes they feasted riotously, all according to the abundance
of game and the fortune of hunting. Summer arrived, and dogs and
men packed on their backs, rafted across blue mountain lakes, and
descended or ascended unknown rivers in slender boats whipsawed
from the standing forest.
The months came and went, and back and forth they twisted through
the uncharted vastness, where no men were and yet where men had
been if the Lost Cabin were true. They went across divides in
summer blizzards, shivered under the midnight sun on naked
mountains between the timber line and the eternal snows, dropped
into summer valleys amid swarming gnats and flies, and in the
shadows of glaciers picked strawberries and flowers as ripe and
fair as any the Southland could boast. In the fall of the year
they penetrated a weird lake country, sad and silent, where wild-
fowl had been, but where then there was no life nor sign of life--
only the blowing of chill winds, the forming of ice in sheltered
places, and the melancholy rippling of waves on lonely beaches.
And through another winter they wandered on the obliterated trails
of men who had gone before. Once, they came upon a path blazed
through the forest, an ancient path, and the Lost Cabin seemed
very near. But the path began nowhere and ended nowhere, and it
remained mystery, as the man who made it and the reason he made it
remained mystery. Another time they chanced upon the time-graven
wreckage of a hunting lodge, and amid the shreds of rotted
blankets John Thornton found a long-barrelled flint-lock. He knew
it for a Hudson Bay Company gun of the young days in the
Northwest, when such a gun was worth its height in beaver skins
packed flat, And that was all--no hint as to the man who in an
early day had reared the lodge and left the gun among the
Spring came on once more, and at the end of all their wandering
they found, not the Lost Cabin, but a shallow placer in a broad
valley where the gold showed like yellow butter across the bottom
of the washing-pan. They sought no farther. Each day they worked
earned them thousands of dollars in clean dust and nuggets, and
they worked every day. The gold was sacked in moose-hide bags,
fifty pounds to the bag, and piled like so much firewood outside
the spruce-bough lodge. Like giants they toiled, days flashing on
the heels of days like dreams as they heaped the treasure up.
There was nothing for the dogs to do, save the hauling in of meat
now and again that Thornton killed, and Buck spent long hours
musing by the fire. The vision of the short-legged hairy man came
to him more frequently, now that there was little work to be done;
and often, blinking by the fire, Buck wandered with him in that
other world which he remembered.
The salient thing of this other world seemed fear. When he
watched the hairy man sleeping by the fire, head between his knees
and hands clasped above, Buck saw that he slept restlessly, with
many starts and awakenings, at which times he would peer fearfully
into the darkness and fling more wood upon the fire. Did they
walk by the beach of a sea, where the hairy man gathered shell-
fish and ate them as he gathered, it was with eyes that roved
everywhere for hidden danger and with legs prepared to run like
the wind at its first appearance. Through the forest they crept
noiselessly, Buck at the hairy man's heels; and they were alert
and vigilant, the pair of them, ears twitching and moving and
nostrils quivering, for the man heard and smelled as keenly as
Buck. The hairy man could spring up into the trees and travel
ahead as fast as on the ground, swinging by the arms from limb to
limb, sometimes a dozen feet apart, letting go and catching, never
falling, never missing his grip. In fact, he seemed as much at
home among the trees as on the ground; and Buck had memories of
nights of vigil spent beneath trees wherein the hairy man roosted,
holding on tightly as he slept.
And closely akin to the visions of the hairy man was the call
still sounding in the depths of the forest. It filled him with a
great unrest and strange desires. It caused him to feel a vague,
sweet gladness, and he was aware of wild yearnings and stirrings
for he knew not what. Sometimes he pursued the call into the
forest, looking for it as though it were a tangible thing, barking
softly or defiantly, as the mood might dictate. He would thrust
his nose into the cool wood moss, or into the black soil where
long grasses grew, and snort with joy at the fat earth smells; or
he would crouch for hours, as if in concealment, behind fungus-
covered trunks of fallen trees, wide-eyed and wide-eared to all
that moved and sounded about him. It might be, lying thus, that
he hoped to surprise this call he could not understand. But he
did not know why he did these various things. He was impelled to
do them, and did not reason about them at all.
Irresistible impulses seized him. He would be lying in camp,
dozing lazily in the heat of the day, when suddenly his head would
lift and his ears cock up, intent and listening, and he would
spring to his feet and dash away, and on and on, for hours,
through the forest aisles and across the open spaces where the
niggerheads bunched. He loved to run down dry watercourses, and
to creep and spy upon the bird life in the woods. For a day at a
time he would lie in the underbrush where he could watch the
partridges drumming and strutting up and down. But especially he
loved to run in the dim twilight of the summer midnights,
listening to the subdued and sleepy murmurs of the forest, reading
signs and sounds as man may read a book, and seeking for the
mysterious something that called--called, waking or sleeping, at
all times, for him to come.
One night he sprang from sleep with a start, eager-eyed, nostrils
quivering and scenting, his mane bristling in recurrent waves.
From the forest came the call (or one note of it, for the call was
many noted), distinct and definite as never before,--a long-drawn
howl, like, yet unlike, any noise made by husky dog. And he knew
it, in the old familiar way, as a sound heard before. He sprang
through the sleeping camp and in swift silence dashed through the
woods. As he drew closer to the cry he went more slowly, with
caution in every movement, till he came to an open place among the
trees, and looking out saw, erect on haunches, with nose pointed
to the sky, a long, lean, timber wolf.
He had made no noise, yet it ceased from its howling and tried to
sense his presence. Buck stalked into the open, half crouching,
body gathered compactly together, tail straight and stiff, feet
falling with unwonted care. Every movement advertised commingled
threatening and overture of friendliness. It was the menacing
truce that marks the meeting of wild beasts that prey. But the
wolf fled at sight of him. He followed, with wild leapings, in a
frenzy to overtake. He ran him into a blind channel, in the bed
of the creek where a timber jam barred the way. The wolf whirled
about, pivoting on his hind legs after the fashion of Joe and of
all cornered husky dogs, snarling and bristling, clipping his
teeth together in a continuous and rapid succession of snaps.
Buck did not attack, but circled him about and hedged him in with
friendly advances. The wolf was suspicious and afraid; for Buck
made three of him in weight, while his head barely reached Buck's
shoulder. Watching his chance, he darted away, and the chase was
resumed. Time and again he was cornered, and the thing repeated,
though he was in poor condition, or Buck could not so easily have
overtaken him. He would run till Buck's head was even with his
flank, when he would whirl around at bay, only to dash away again
at the first opportunity.
But in the end Buck's pertinacity was rewarded; for the wolf,
finding that no harm was intended, finally sniffed noses with him.
Then they became friendly, and played about in the nervous, half-
coy way with which fierce beasts belie their fierceness. After
some time of this the wolf started off at an easy lope in a manner
that plainly showed he was going somewhere. He made it clear to
Buck that he was to come, and they ran side by side through the
sombre twilight, straight up the creek bed, into the gorge from
which it issued, and across the bleak divide where it took its
On the opposite slope of the watershed they came down into a level
country where were great stretches of forest and many streams, and
through these great stretches they ran steadily, hour after hour,
the sun rising higher and the day growing warmer. Buck was wildly
glad. He knew he was at last answering the call, running by the
side of his wood brother toward the place from where the call
surely came. Old memories were coming upon him fast, and he was
stirring to them as of old he stirred to the realities of which
they were the shadows. He had done this thing before, somewhere
in that other and dimly remembered world, and he was doing it
again, now, running free in the open, the unpacked earth
underfoot, the wide sky overhead.
They stopped by a running stream to drink, and, stopping, Buck
remembered John Thornton. He sat down. The wolf started on
toward the place from where the call surely came, then returned to
him, sniffing noses and making actions as though to encourage him.
But Buck turned about and started slowly on the back track. For
the better part of an hour the wild brother ran by his side,
whining softly. Then he sat down, pointed his nose upward, and
howled. It was a mournful howl, and as Buck held steadily on his
way he heard it grow faint and fainter until it was lost in the
John Thornton was eating dinner when Buck dashed into camp and
sprang upon him in a frenzy of affection, overturning him,
scrambling upon him, licking his face, biting his hand--"playing
the general tom-fool," as John Thornton characterized it, the
while he shook Buck back and forth and cursed him lovingly.
For two days and nights Buck never left camp, never let Thornton
out of his sight. He followed him about at his work, watched him
while he ate, saw him into his blankets at night and out of them
in the morning. But after two days the call in the forest began
to sound more imperiously than ever. Buck's restlessness came back
on him, and he was haunted by recollections of the wild brother,
and of the smiling land beyond the divide and the run side by side
through the wide forest stretches. Once again he took to
wandering in the woods, but the wild brother came no more; and
though he listened through long vigils, the mournful howl was
He began to sleep out at night, staying away from camp for days at
a time; and once he crossed the divide at the head of the creek
and went down into the land of timber and streams. There he
wandered for a week, seeking vainly for fresh sign of the wild
brother, killing his meat as he travelled and travelling with the
long, easy lope that seems never to tire. He fished for salmon in
a broad stream that emptied somewhere into the sea, and by this
stream he killed a large black bear, blinded by the mosquitoes
while likewise fishing, and raging through the forest helpless and
terrible. Even so, it was a hard fight, and it aroused the last
latent remnants of Buck's ferocity. And two days later, when he
returned to his kill and found a dozen wolverenes quarrelling over
the spoil, he scattered them like chaff; and those that fled left
two behind who would quarrel no more.
The blood-longing became stronger than ever before. He was a
killer, a thing that preyed, living on the things that lived,
unaided, alone, by virtue of his own strength and prowess,
surviving triumphantly in a hostile environment where only the
strong survived. Because of all this he became possessed of a
great pride in himself, which communicated itself like a contagion
to his physical being. It advertised itself in all his movements,
was apparent in the play of every muscle, spoke plainly as speech
in the way he carried himself, and made his glorious furry coat if
anything more glorious. But for the stray brown on his muzzle and
above his eyes, and for the splash of white hair that ran midmost
down his chest, he might well have been mistaken for a gigantic
wolf, larger than the largest of the breed. From his St. Bernard
father he had inherited size and weight, but it was his shepherd
mother who had given shape to that size and weight. His muzzle
was the long wolf muzzle, save that was larger than the muzzle of
any wolf; and his head, somewhat broader, was the wolf head on a
His cunning was wolf cunning, and wild cunning; his intelligence,
shepherd intelligence and St. Bernard intelligence; and all this,
plus an experience gained in the fiercest of schools, made him as
formidable a creature as any that intelligence roamed the wild. A
carnivorous animal living on a straight meat diet, he was in full
flower, at the high tide of his life, overspilling with vigor and
virility. When Thornton passed a caressing hand along his back, a
snapping and crackling followed the hand, each hair discharging its
pent magnetism at the contact. Every part, brain and body, nerve
tissue and fibre, was keyed to the most exquisite pitch; and
between all the parts there was a perfect equilibrium or
adjustment. To sights and sounds and events which required
action, he responded with lightning-like rapidity. Quickly as a
husky dog could leap to defend from attack or to attack, he could
leap twice as quickly. He saw the movement, or heard sound, and
responded in less time than another dog required to compass the
mere seeing or hearing. He perceived and determined and responded
in the same instant. In point of fact the three actions of
perceiving, determining, and responding were sequential; but so
infinitesimal were the intervals of time between them that they
appeared simultaneous. His muscles were surcharged with vitality,
and snapped into play sharply, like steel springs. Life streamed
through him in splendid flood, glad and rampant, until it seemed
that it would burst him asunder in sheer ecstasy and pour forth
generously over the world.
"Never was there such a dog," said John Thornton one day, as the
partners watched Buck marching out of camp.
"When he was made, the mould was broke," said Pete.
"Py jingo! I t'ink so mineself," Hans affirmed.
They saw him marching out of camp, but they did not see the
instant and terrible transformation which took place as soon as he
was within the secrecy of the forest. He no longer marched. At
once he became a thing of the wild, stealing along softly, cat-
footed, a passing shadow that appeared and disappeared among the
shadows. He knew how to take advantage of every cover, to crawl
on his belly like a snake, and like a snake to leap and strike.
He could take a ptarmigan from its nest, kill a rabbit as it
slept, and snap in mid air the little chipmunks fleeing a second
too late for the trees. Fish, in open pools, were not too quick
for him; nor were beaver, mending their dams, too wary. He killed
to eat, not from wantonness; but he preferred to eat what he
killed himself. So a lurking humor ran through his deeds, and it
was his delight to steal upon the squirrels, and, when he all but
had them, to let them go, chattering in mortal fear to the
As the fall of the year came on, the moose appeared in greater
abundance, moving slowly down to meet the winter in the lower and
less rigorous valleys. Buck had already dragged down a stray
part-grown calf; but he wished strongly for larger and more
formidable quarry, and he came upon it one day on the divide at
the head of the creek. A band of twenty moose had crossed over
from the land of streams and timber, and chief among them was a
great bull. He was in a savage temper, and, standing over six
feet from the ground, was as formidable an antagonist as even Buck
could desire. Back and forth the bull tossed his great palmated
antlers, branching to fourteen points and embracing seven feet
within the tips. His small eyes burned with a vicious and bitter
light, while he roared with fury at sight of Buck.
From the bull's side, just forward of the flank, protruded a
feathered arrow-end, which accounted for his savageness. Guided by
that instinct which came from the old hunting days of the
primordial world, Buck proceeded to cut the bull out from the
herd. It was no slight task. He would bark and dance about in
front of the bull, just out of reach of the great antlers and of
the terrible splay hoofs which could have stamped his life out
with a single blow. Unable to turn his back on the fanged danger
and go on, the bull would be driven into paroxysms of rage. At
such moments he charged Buck, who retreated craftily, luring him
on by a simulated inability to escape. But when he was thus
separated from his fellows, two or three of the younger bulls
would charge back upon Buck and enable the wounded bull to rejoin
There is a patience of the wild--dogged, tireless, persistent as
life itself--that holds motionless for endless hours the spider in
its web, the snake in its coils, the panther in its ambuscade;
this patience belongs peculiarly to life when it hunts its living
food; and it belonged to Buck as he clung to the flank of the
herd, retarding its march, irritating the young bulls, worrying
the cows with their half-grown calves, and driving the wounded
bull mad with helpless rage. For half a day this continued. Buck
multiplied himself, attacking from all sides, enveloping the herd
in a whirlwind of menace, cutting out his victim as fast as it
could rejoin its mates, wearing out the patience of creatures
preyed upon, which is a lesser patience than that of creatures
As the day wore along and the sun dropped to its bed in the
northwest (the darkness had come back and the fall nights were six
hours long), the young bulls retraced their steps more and more
reluctantly to the aid of their beset leader. The down-coming
winter was harrying them on to the lower levels, and it seemed
they could never shake off this tireless creature that held them
back. Besides, it was not the life of the herd, or of the young
bulls, that was threatened. The life of only one member was
demanded, which was a remoter interest than their lives, and in
the end they were content to pay the toll.
As twilight fell the old bull stood with lowered head, watching
his mates--the cows he had known, the calves he had fathered, the
bulls he had mastered--as they shambled on at a rapid pace through
the fading light. He could not follow, for before his nose leaped
the merciless fanged terror that would not let him go. Three
hundredweight more than half a ton he weighed; he had lived a
long, strong life, full of fight and struggle, and at the end he
faced death at the teeth of a creature whose head did not reach
beyond his great knuckled knees.
From then on, night and day, Buck never left his prey, never gave
it a moment's rest, never permitted it to browse the leaves of
trees or the shoots of young birch and willow. Nor did he give the
wounded bull opportunity to slake his burning thirst in the
slender trickling streams they crossed. Often, in desperation, he
burst into long stretches of flight. At such times Buck did not
attempt to stay him, but loped easily at his heels, satisfied with
the way the game was played, lying down when the moose stood
still, attacking him fiercely when he strove to eat or drink.
The great head drooped more and more under its tree of horns, and
the shambling trot grew weak and weaker. He took to standing for
long periods, with nose to the ground and dejected ears dropped
limply; and Buck found more time in which to get water for himself
and in which to rest. At such moments, panting with red lolling
tongue and with eyes fixed upon the big bull, it appeared to Buck
that a change was coming over the face of things. He could feel a
new stir in the land. As the moose were coming into the land,
other kinds of life were coming in. Forest and stream and air
seemed palpitant with their presence. The news of it was borne in
upon him, not by sight, or sound, or smell, but by some other and
subtler sense. He heard nothing, saw nothing, yet knew that the
land was somehow different; that through it strange things were
afoot and ranging; and he resolved to investigate after he had
finished the business in hand.
At last, at the end of the fourth day, he pulled the great moose
down. For a day and a night he remained by the kill, eating and
sleeping, turn and turn about. Then, rested, refreshed and
strong, he turned his face toward camp and John Thornton. He
broke into the long easy lope, and went on, hour after hour, never
at loss for the tangled way, heading straight home through strange
country with a certitude of direction that put man and his
magnetic needle to shame.
As he held on he became more and more conscious of the new stir in
the land. There was life abroad in it different from the life
which had been there throughout the summer. No longer was this
fact borne in upon him in some subtle, mysterious way. The birds
talked of it, the squirrels chattered about it, the very breeze
whispered of it. Several times he stopped and drew in the fresh
morning air in great sniffs, reading a message which made him leap
on with greater speed. He was oppressed with a sense of calamity
happening, if it were not calamity already happened; and as he
crossed the last watershed and dropped down into the valley toward
camp, he proceeded with greater caution.
Three miles away he came upon a fresh trail that sent his neck
hair rippling and bristling, It led straight toward camp and John
Thornton. Buck hurried on, swiftly and stealthily, every nerve
straining and tense, alert to the multitudinous details which told
a story--all but the end. His nose gave him a varying description
of the passage of the life on the heels of which he was
travelling. He remarked the pregnant silence of the forest. The
bird life had flitted. The squirrels were in hiding. One only he
saw,--a sleek gray fellow, flattened against a gray dead limb so
that he seemed a part of it, a woody excrescence upon the wood
As Buck slid along with the obscureness of a gliding shadow, his
nose was jerked suddenly to the side as though a positive force
had gripped and pulled it. He followed the new scent into a
thicket and found Nig. He was lying on his side, dead where he
had dragged himself, an arrow protruding, head and feathers, from
either side of his body.
A hundred yards farther on, Buck came upon one of the sled-dogs
Thornton had bought in Dawson. This dog was thrashing about in a
death-struggle, directly on the trail, and Buck passed around him
without stopping. From the camp came the faint sound of many
voices, rising and falling in a sing-song chant. Bellying forward
to the edge of the clearing, he found Hans, lying on his face,
feathered with arrows like a porcupine. At the same instant Buck
peered out where the spruce-bough lodge had been and saw what made
his hair leap straight up on his neck and shoulders. A gust of
overpowering rage swept over him. He did not know that he
growled, but he growled aloud with a terrible ferocity. For the
last time in his life he allowed passion to usurp cunning and
reason, and it was because of his great love for John Thornton
that he lost his head.
The Yeehats were dancing about the wreckage of the spruce-bough
lodge when they heard a fearful roaring and saw rushing upon them
an animal the like of which they had never seen before. It was
Buck, a live hurricane of fury, hurling himself upon them in a
frenzy to destroy. He sprang at the foremost man (it was the
chief of the Yeehats), ripping the throat wide open till the rent
jugular spouted a fountain of blood. He did not pause to worry
the victim, but ripped in passing, with the next bound tearing
wide the throat of a second man. There was no withstanding him.
He plunged about in their very midst, tearing, rending,
destroying, in constant and terrific motion which defied the
arrows they discharged at him. In fact, so inconceivably rapid
were his movements, and so closely were the Indians tangled
together, that they shot one another with the arrows; and one
young hunter, hurling a spear at Buck in mid air, drove it through
the chest of another hunter with such force that the point broke
through the skin of the back and stood out beyond. Then a panic
seized the Yeehats, and they fled in terror to the woods,
proclaiming as they fled the advent of the Evil Spirit.
And truly Buck was the Fiend incarnate, raging at their heels and
dragging them down like deer as they raced through the trees. It
was a fateful day for the Yeehats. They scattered far and wide
over the country, and it was not till a week later that the last
of the survivors gathered together in a lower valley and counted
their losses. As for Buck, wearying of the pursuit, he returned
to the desolated camp. He found Pete where he had been killed in
his blankets in the first moment of surprise. Thornton's
desperate struggle was fresh-written on the earth, and Buck
scented every detail of it down to the edge of a deep pool. By
the edge, head and fore feet in the water, lay Skeet, faithful to
the last. The pool itself, muddy and discolored from the sluice
boxes, effectually hid what it contained, and it contained John
Thornton; for Buck followed his trace into the water, from which
no trace led away.
All day Buck brooded by the pool or roamed restlessly about the
camp. Death, as a cessation of movement, as a passing out and
away from the lives of the living, he knew, and he knew John
Thornton was dead. It left a great void in him, somewhat akin to
hunger, but a void which ached and ached, and which food could not
fill, At times, when he paused to contemplate the carcasses of the
Yeehats, he forgot the pain of it; and at such times he was aware
of a great pride in himself,--a pride greater than any he had yet
experienced. He had killed man, the noblest game of all, and he
had killed in the face of the law of club and fang. He sniffed
the bodies curiously. They had died so easily. It was harder to
kill a husky dog than them. They were no match at all, were it
not for their arrows and spears and clubs. Thenceforward he would
be unafraid of them except when they bore in their hands their
arrows, spears, and clubs.
Night came on, and a full moon rose high over the trees into the
sky, lighting the land till it lay bathed in ghostly day. And with
the coming of the night, brooding and mourning by the pool, Buck
became alive to a stirring of the new life in the forest other
than that which the Yeehats had made, He stood up, listening and
scenting. From far away drifted a faint, sharp yelp, followed by
a chorus of similar sharp yelps. As the moments passed the yelps
grew closer and louder. Again Buck knew them as things heard in
that other world which persisted in his memory. He walked to the
centre of the open space and listened. It was the call, the many-
noted call, sounding more luringly and compellingly than ever
before. And as never before, he was ready to obey. John Thornton
was dead. The last tie was broken. Man and the claims of man no
longer bound him.
Hunting their living meat, as the Yeehats were hunting it, on the
flanks of the migrating moose, the wolf pack had at last crossed
over from the land of streams and timber and invaded Buck's
valley. Into the clearing where the moonlight streamed, they
poured in a silvery flood; and in the centre of the clearing stood
Buck, motionless as a statue, waiting their coming. They were
awed, so still and large he stood, and a moment's pause fell, till
the boldest one leaped straight for him. Like a flash Buck
struck, breaking the neck. Then he stood, without movement, as
before, the stricken wolf rolling in agony behind him. Three
others tried it in sharp succession; and one after the other they
drew back, streaming blood from slashed throats or shoulders.
This was sufficient to fling the whole pack forward, pell-mell,
crowded together, blocked and confused by its eagerness to pull
down the prey. Buck's marvellous quickness and agility stood him
in good stead. Pivoting on his hind legs, and snapping and
gashing, he was everywhere at once, presenting a front which was
apparently unbroken so swiftly did he whirl and guard from side to
side. But to prevent them from getting behind him, he was forced
back, down past the pool and into the creek bed, till he brought
up against a high gravel bank. He worked along to a right angle
in the bank which the men had made in the course of mining, and in
this angle he came to bay, protected on three sides and with
nothing to do but face the front.
And so well did he face it, that at the end of half an hour the
wolves drew back discomfited. The tongues of all were out and
lolling, the white fangs showing cruelly white in the moonlight.
Some were lying down with heads raised and ears pricked forward;
others stood on their feet, watching him; and still others were
lapping water from the pool. One wolf, long and lean and gray,
advanced cautiously, in a friendly manner, and Buck recognized the
wild brother with whom he had run for a night and a day. He was
whining softly, and, as Buck whined, they touched noses.
Then an old wolf, gaunt and battle-scarred, came forward. Buck
writhed his lips into the preliminary of a snarl, but sniffed
noses with him, Whereupon the old wolf sat down, pointed nose at
the moon, and broke out the long wolf howl. The others sat down
and howled. And now the call came to Buck in unmistakable
accents. He, too, sat down and howled. This over, he came out of
his angle and the pack crowded around him, sniffing in half-
friendly, half-savage manner. The leaders lifted the yelp of the
pack and sprang away into the woods. The wolves swung in behind,
yelping in chorus. And Buck ran with them, side by side with the
wild brother, yelping as he ran.
* * *
And here may well end the story of Buck. The years were not many
when the Yeehats noted a change in the breed of timber wolves; for
some were seen with splashes of brown on head and muzzle, and with
a rift of white centring down the chest. But more remarkable than
this, the Yeehats tell of a Ghost Dog that runs at the head of the
pack. They are afraid of this Ghost Dog, for it has cunning
greater than they, stealing from their camps in fierce winters,
robbing their traps, slaying their dogs, and defying their bravest
Nay, the tale grows worse. Hunters there are who fail to return
to the camp, and hunters there have been whom their tribesmen
found with throats slashed cruelly open and with wolf prints about
them in the snow greater than the prints of any wolf. Each fall,
when the Yeehats follow the movement of the moose, there is a
certain valley which they never enter. And women there are who
become sad when the word goes over the fire of how the Evil Spirit
came to select that valley for an abiding-place.
In the summers there is one visitor, however, to that valley, of
which the Yeehats do not know. It is a great, gloriously coated
wolf, like, and yet unlike, all other wolves. He crosses alone
from the smiling timber land and comes down into an open space
among the trees. Here a yellow stream flows from rotted moose-
hide sacks and sinks into the ground, with long grasses growing
through it and vegetable mould overrunning it and hiding its
yellow from the sun; and here he muses for a time, howling once,
long and mournfully, ere he departs.
But he is not always alone. When the long winter nights come on
and the wolves follow their meat into the lower valleys, he may be
seen running at the head of the pack through the pale moonlight or
glimmering borealis, leaping gigantic above his fellows, his great
throat a-bellow as he sings a song of the younger world, which is
the song of the pack.