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The Call of the Wild, by Jack London
Chapter II: The
Law of Club and Fang
first day on the Dyea beach was like a nightmare. Every
hour was filled with shock and surprise.
He had been suddenly jerked
from the heart of civilization and flung into the heart of
things primordial. No
lazy, sun-kissed life was this, with
nothing to do but loaf and be bored.
Here was neither peace, nor rest,
nor a moment's safety. All
was confusion and action, and every
moment life and limb were in peril. There
was imperative need to be
constantly alert; for these dogs and men were not town
dogs and men. They
were savages, all of them, who knew no law but
the law of club and fang.
had never seen dogs fight as these wolfish creatures fought,
and his first experience taught him an unforgetable lesson.
It is true, it was a
vicarious experience, else he would not have lived
to profit by it. Curly
was the victim. They were
camped near the log store,
where she, in her friendly way, made advances to a
husky dog the size of a full-grown wolf, though not half so large
as she. There was no
warning, only a leap in like a flash, a
metallic clip of teeth, a leap out equally swift, and Curly's face
was ripped open from eye to jaw.
was the wolf manner of fighting, to strike and leap away; but
there was more to it than this.
Thirty or forty huskies ran to the
spot and surrounded the combatants in an intent and silent
circle. Buck did not
comprehend that silent intentness, nor the
eager way with which they were licking their chops. Curly rushed
her antagonist, who struck again and leaped aside.
He met her next rush
with his chest, in a peculiar fashion that tumbled her off her feet. She never
regained them, This was what the onlooking
huskies had waited for. They
closed in upon her, snarling
and yelping, and she was buried, screaming with agony,
beneath the bristling mass of bodies.
sudden was it, and so unexpected, that Buck was taken aback.
He saw Spitz run out his scarlet tongue in a way he had of
laughing; and he saw Francois, swinging an axe, spring into the
mess of dogs. Three men with clubs were helping him to scatter
them. It did not take
long. Two minutes from the time
Curly went down, the last of
her assailants were clubbed off. But
she lay there limp and lifeless
in the bloody, trampled snow, almost literally
torn to pieces, the swart half-breed standing over her
and cursing horribly. The
scene often came back to Buck to trouble
him in his sleep. So that was
the way. No fair play. Once down, that was the end of you. Well, he would see to it that
he never went down. Spitz ran out his tongue and laughed again,
and from that moment Buck hated him with a bitter and deathless
he had recovered from the shock caused by the tragic
passing of Curly, he received another shock.
Francois fastened upon
him an arrangement of straps and buckles.
It was a harness, such
as he had seen the grooms put on the horses at home.
And as he had seen
horses work, so he was set to work, hauling Francois
on a sled to the forest that fringed the valley, and returning
with a load of firewood. Though his dignity was sorely hurt by
thus being made a draught animal, he was too wise to rebel.
He buckled down with a
will and did his best, though it was all new
and strange. Francois
was stem, demanding instant obedience, and
by virtue of his whip receiving instant obedience; while Dave, who
was an experienced wheeler, nipped Buck's hind quarters whenever
he was in error. Spitz was the leader, likewise experienced, and
while he could not always get at Buck, he growled sharp reproof
now and again, or cunningly threw his weight in the traces to jerk Buck into the way he should go.
Buck learned easily, and under the
combined tuition of his two mates and Francois made remarkable
progress. Ere they
returned to camp he knew enough to stop at
"ho," to go ahead at "mush," to swing wide on the
bends, and to keep clear of the wheeler when the loaded sled shot downhill
at their heels.
vair' good dogs," Francois told Perrault.
"Dat Buck, heem pool
lak hell. I tich heem queek as
afternoon, Perrault, who was in a hurry to be on the trail with
his despatches, returned with two more dogs.
"Billee" and "Joe"
he called them, two brothers, and true huskies both.
Sons of the one mother
though they were, they were as different as day and
night. Billee's one
fault was his excessive good nature, while
Joe was the very opposite, sour and introspective, with a
perpetual snarl and a malignant eye.
Buck received them in comradely
fashion, Dave ignored them, while Spitz proceeded to
thrash first one and then the other. Billee wagged his tail appeasingly, turned to run when he saw that appeasement was
of no avail, and cried (still
appeasingly) when Spitz's sharp teeth scored
his flank. But no matter how
Spitz circled, Joe whirled around
on his heels to face him, mane bristling, ears laid back,
lips writhing and snarling, jaws clipping together as fast as he
could snap, and eyes diabolically gleaming--the incarnation of
belligerent fear. So
terrible was his appearance that Spitz was
forced to forego disciplining him; but to cover his own
discomfiture he turned upon the inoffensive and wailing Billee and
drove him to the confines of the camp.
evening Perrault secured another dog, an old husky, long and
lean and gaunt, with a battle-scarred face and a single eye which flashed a warning of prowess that commanded respect.
He was called Sol-leks,
which means the Angry One. Like Dave, he asked
nothing, gave nothing, expected nothing; and when he marched
slowly and deliberately into their midst, even Spitz left him
alone. He had one
peculiarity which Buck was unlucky enough to
discover. He did not
like to be approached on his blind side.
Of this offence Buck was
unwittingly guilty, and the first knowledge
he had of his indiscretion was when Sol-leks whirled upon him and slashed his shoulder to the bone for three inches up and
down. Forever after Buck
avoided his blind side, and to the last of
their comradeship had no more trouble.
His only apparent ambition,
like Dave's, was to be left alone; though, as Buck was
afterward to learn, each of them possessed one other and even more
night Buck faced the great problem of sleeping.
The tent, illumined by a
candle, glowed warmly in the midst of the white
plain; and when he, as a matter of course, entered it, both
Perrault and Francois bombarded him with curses and cooking
utensils, till he recovered from his consternation and fled
ignominiously into the outer cold.
A chill wind was blowing that nipped
him sharply and bit with especial venom into his wounded
shoulder. He lay down on
the snow and attempted to sleep, but the
frost soon drove him shivering to his feet. Miserable and disconsolate,
he wandered about among the many tents, only to find that one place was as cold as another. Here and there savage dogs
rushed upon him, but he bristled his neck-hair and snarled (for he
was learning fast), and they let him go his way unmolested.
an idea came to him. He would
return and see how his own team-mates
were making out. To his
astonishment, they had disappeared. Again he wandered about through the great camp,
looking for them, and again he returned.
Were they in the tent? No,
that could not be, else he would not have been driven out.
Then where could they possibly be? With drooping tail and
shivering body, very forlorn indeed, he aimlessly circled the
tent. Suddenly the snow
gave way beneath his fore legs and he sank
down. Something wriggled under
his feet. He sprang back,
bristling and snarling, fearful of the unseen and unknown.
But a friendly little
yelp reassured him, and he went back to
investigate. A whiff of
warm air ascended to his nostrils, and
there, curled up under the snow in a snug ball, lay Billee. He whined
placatingly, squirmed and wriggled to show his good will
and intentions, and even ventured, as a bribe for peace, to lick
Buck's face with his warm wet tongue.
lesson. So that was the way they did it, eh? Buck confidently
selected a spot, and with much fuss and waste effort
proceeded to dig a hole for himself.
In a trice the heat from his body
filled the confined space and he was asleep.
The day had been long
and arduous, and he slept soundly and comfortably,
though he growled and barked and wrestled with bad dreams.
did he open his eyes till roused by the noises of the waking
camp. At first he did
not know where he was. It had
snowed during the night and he was completely buried.
The snow walls pressed him on every side, and a great surge of fear swept
through him--the fear of the
wild thing for the trap. It was
a token that he was harking
back through his own life to the lives of his
forebears; for he was a civilized dog, an unduly civilized dog,
and of his own experience knew no trap and so could not of himself
fear it. The muscles of
his whole body contracted spasmodically
and instinctively, the hair on his neck and shoulders stood on
end, and with a ferocious snarl he bounded straight up into the blinding day, the snow flying about him in a flashing cloud.
Ere he landed on his
feet, he saw the white camp spread out before him
and knew where he was and remembered all that had passed from the
time he went for a stroll with Manuel to the hole he had dug for himself the night before.
shout from Francois hailed his appearance.
"Wot I say?" the dog-driver
cried to Perrault. "Dat
Buck for sure learn queek as anyt'ing."
nodded gravely. As courier for
the Canadian Government, bearing
important despatches, he was anxious to secure the best
dogs, and he was particularly gladdened by the possession of Buck.
more huskies were added to the team inside an hour, making a
total of nine, and before another quarter of an hour had passed they were in harness and swinging up the trail toward the
Dyea Canon. Buck was glad to be gone, and though the work was hard he
found he did not particularly despise it.
He was surprised at the eagerness
which animated the whole team and which was communicated
to him; but still more surprising was the change wrought in Dave and Sol-leks. They
were new dogs, utterly transformed by the
harness. All passiveness
and unconcern had dropped from them. They
were alert and active, anxious that the work should go well, and fiercely irritable with whatever, by delay or confusion,
retarded that work. The
toil of the traces seemed the supreme expression
of their being, and all that they lived for and the
only thing in which they took delight.
was wheeler or sled dog, pulling in front of him was Buck,
then came Sol-leks; the rest of the team was strung out ahead, single file, to the leader, which position was filled by
had been purposely placed between Dave and Sol-leks so that
he might receive instruction. Apt
scholar that he was, they were equally
apt teachers, never allowing him to linger long in error,
and enforcing their teaching with their sharp teeth.
Dave was fair and very
wise. He never nipped Buck
without cause, and he never
failed to nip him when he stood in need of it.
As Francois's whip
backed him up, Buck found it to be cheaper to mend
his ways than to retaliate, Once, during a brief halt, when he got
tangled in the traces and delayed the start, both Dave and Sol- leks
flew at him and administered a sound trouncing.
The resulting tangle was
even worse, but Buck took good care to keep
the traces clear thereafter; and ere the day was done, so well had
he mastered his work, his mates about ceased nagging him.
Francois's whip snapped less frequently, and Perrault even honored
Buck by lifting up his feet and carefully examining them.
was a hard day's run, up the Canon, through Sheep Camp, past
the Scales and the timber line, across glaciers and snowdrifts hundreds of feet deep, and over the great Chilcoot Divide,
which stands between the salt
water and the fresh and guards forbiddingly
the sad and lonely North. They
made good time down the chain
of lakes which fills the craters of extinct volcanoes,
and late that night pulled into the huge camp at the head of Lake
Bennett, where thousands of goldseekers were building boats
against the break-up of the ice in the spring.
Buck made his hole in
the snow and slept the sleep of the exhausted just, but all too
early was routed out in the cold darkness and harnessed with his
mates to the sled.
day they made forty miles, the trail being packed; but the
next day, and for many days to follow, they broke their own trail, worked harder, and made poorer time. As a rule, Perrault travelled
ahead of the team, packing the snow with webbed shoes to
make it easier for them. Francois,
guiding the sled at the gee- pole, sometimes exchanged places with him, but
not often. Perrault was in a hurry, and he prided himself on his
knowledge of ice, which
knowledge was indispensable, for the fall ice was very
thin, and where there was swift water, there was no ice at all.
after day, for days unending, Buck toiled in the traces.
Always, they broke camp in the dark, and the first gray of dawn found them hitting the trail with fresh miles reeled off
And always they pitched camp after dark, eating their bit
of fish, and crawling to sleep into the snow.
Buck was ravenous. The
pound and a half of sun-dried salmon, which was his ration for
each day, seemed to go nowhere.
He never had enough, and suffered
from perpetual hunger pangs. Yet the other dogs, because they
weighed less and were born to the life, received a pound only of
the fish and managed to keep in good condition.
swiftly lost the fastidiousness which had characterized his old
life. A dainty eater, he
found that his mates, finishing first,
robbed him of his unfinished ration.
There was no defending it.
While he was fighting off two or three, it was disappearing down
the throats of the others. To
remedy this, he ate as fast as they;
and, so greatly did hunger compel him, he was not above
taking what did not belong to him.
He watched and learned. When
he saw Pike, one of the new dogs, a clever malingerer and thief,
slyly steal a slice of bacon when Perrault's back was turned, he
duplicated the performance the following day, getting away with the whole chunk. A great uproar was raised, but he was
unsuspected; while Dub, an awkward blunderer who was always
getting caught, was punished for Buck's misdeed.
first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile
Northland environment. It
marked his adaptability, his capacity to
adjust himself to changing conditions, the lack of which would
have meant swift and terrible death.
It marked, further, the decay
or going to pieces of his moral nature, a vain thing and a
handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence.
It was all well enough
in the Southland, under the law of love and fellowship, to
respect private property and personal feelings; but in the
Northland, under the law of club and fang, whoso took such things
into account was a fool, and in so far as he observed them he
would fail to prosper.
that Buck reasoned it out. He
was fit, that was all, and unconsciously
he accommodated himself to the new mode of life.
All his days, no matter what the odds, he had never run from a
fight. But the club of
the man in the red sweater had beaten into
him a more fundamental and primitive code.
Civilized, he could have
died for a moral consideration, say the defence of Judge Miller's riding-whip; but the completeness of his
decivilization was now
evidenced by his ability to flee from the defence of a
moral consideration and so save his hide.
He did not steal for joy
of it, but because of the clamor of his stomach.
He did not rob openly,
but stole secretly and cunningly, out of respect for
club and fang. In short,
the things he did were done because it
was easier to do them than not to do them.
development (or retrogression) was rapid.
His muscles became hard
as iron, and he grew callous to all ordinary pain. He
achieved an internal as well as external economy.
He could eat anything,
no matter how loathsome or indigestible; and, once
eaten, the juices of his stomach extracted the last least particle
of nutriment; and his blood carried it to the farthest reaches of
his body, building it into the toughest and stoutest of tissues.
Sight and scent became remarkably keen, while his hearing
developed such acuteness that in his sleep he heard the faintest sound and knew whether it heralded peace or peril.
He learned to bite the ice out with his teeth when it collected between his
toes; and when he was thirsty and there was a thick scum of ice
over the water hole, he would break it by rearing and striking it
with stiff fore legs. His most conspicuous trait was an ability to
scent the wind and forecast it a night in advance.
No matter how breathless
the air when he dug his nest by tree or bank, the wind
that later blew inevitably found him to leeward, sheltered and
not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead
became alive again. The
domesticated generations fell from him.
In vague ways he remembered back to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in packs through the primeval
forest and killed their meat as
they ran it down. It was no
task for him to learn to fight
with cut and slash and the quick wolf snap.
In this manner had
fought forgotten ancestors. They
quickened the old life within
him, and the old tricks which they had stamped
into the heredity of the breed were his tricks.
They came to him without
effort or discovery, as though they had been his always.
And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed his nose at a star
and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead and dust,
pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and through him. And
his cadences were their cadences, the cadences
which voiced their woe and what to them was the meaning of the
stiffness, and the cold, and dark.
as token of what a puppet thing life is, the ancient song
surged through him and he came into his own again; and he came
because men had found a yellow metal in the North, and because
Manuel was a gardener's helper whose wages did not lap over the
needs of his wife and divers small copies of himself.
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