“Old longings nomadic leap,Chafing at custom’s chain;Again from its brumal sleepWakens the ferine strain.”
Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that troublewas brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog,strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to SanDiego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellowmetal, and because steamship and transportation companies were boomingthe find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These menwanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strongmuscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from thefrost.
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 widecool veranda that ran around its four sides. The house was approachedby gravelled driveways which wound about through wide-spreading lawnsand under the interlacing boughs of tall poplars. At the rear thingswere on even a more spacious scale than at the front. There were greatstables, where a dozen grooms and boys held forth, rows of vine-cladservants’ cottages, an endless and orderly array of outhouses, longgrape arbors, green pastures, orchards, and berry patches. Then therewas the pumping plant for the artesian well, and the big cement tankwhere Judge Miller’s boys took their morning plunge and kept cool inthe hot afternoon.
And over this great demesne Buck ruled. Here he was born, and here hehad lived the four years of his life. It was true, there were otherdogs, There could not but be other dogs on so vast a place, but theydid not count. They came and went, resided in the populous kennels, orlived obscurely in the recesses of the house after the fashion ofToots, the Japanese pug, or Ysabel, the Mexican hairless,—strangecreatures that rarely put nose out of doors or set foot to ground. Onthe other hand, there were the fox terriers, a score of them at least,who yelped fearful promises at Toots and Ysabel looking out of thewindows at them and protected by a legion of housemaids armed withbrooms and mops.
But Buck was neither house-dog nor kennel-dog. The whole realm was his.He plunged into the swimming tank or went hunting with the Judge’ssons; he escorted Mollie and Alice, the Judge’s daughters, on longtwilight or early morning rambles; on wintry nights he lay at theJudge’s feet before the roaring library fire; he carried the Judge’sgrandsons on his back, or rolled them in the grass, and guarded theirfootsteps through wild adventures down to the fountain in the stableyard, and even beyond, where the paddocks were, and the berry patches.Among the terriers he stalked imperiously, and Toots and Ysabel heutterly ignored, for he was king,—king over all creeping, crawling,flying things of Judge Miller’s place, humans included.
His father, Elmo, a huge St. Bernard, had been the Judge’s inseparablecompanion, and Buck bid fair to follow in the way of his father. He wasnot so large,—he weighed only one hundred and forty pounds,—for hismother, Shep, had been a Scotch shepherd dog. Nevertheless, one hundredand forty pounds, to which was added the dignity that comes of goodliving and universal respect, enabled him to carry himself in rightroyal fashion. During the four years since his puppyhood he had livedthe life of a sated aristocrat; he had a fine pride in himself, waseven a trifle egotistical, as country gentlemen sometimes becomebecause of their insular situation. But he had saved himself by notbecoming a mere pampered house-dog. Hunting and kindred outdoordelights had kept down the fat and hardened his muscles; and to him, asto the cold-tubbing races, the love of water had been a tonic and ahealth preserver.
And this was the manner of dog Buck was in the fall of 1897, when theKlondike strike dragged men from all the world into the frozen North.But Buck did not read the newspapers, and he did not know that Manuel,one of the gardener’s helpers, was an undesirable acquaintance. Manuelhad one besetting sin. He loved to play Chinese lottery. Also, in hisgambling, he had one besetting weakness—faith in a system; and thismade his damnation certain. For to play a system requires money, whilethe wages of a gardener’s helper do not lap over the needs of a wifeand numerous progeny.
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 orchardon what Buck imagined was merely a stroll. And with the exception of asolitary man, no one saw them arrive at the little flag station knownas College Park. This man talked with Manuel, and money chinked betweenthem.
“You might wrap up the goods before you deliver ’m,” the stranger saidgruffly, and Manuel doubled a piece of stout rope around Buck’s neckunder the collar.
“Twist it, an’ you’ll choke ’m plentee,” said Manuel, and the strangergrunted a ready affirmative.
Buck had accepted the rope with quiet dignity. To be sure, it was anunwonted performance: but he had learned to trust in men he knew, andto give them credit for a wisdom that outreached his own. But when theends of the rope were placed in the stranger’s hands, he growledmenacingly. He had merely intimated his displeasure, in his pridebelieving that to intimate was to command. But to his surprise the ropetightened around his neck, shutting off his breath. In quick rage hesprang at the man, who met him halfway, grappled him close by thethroat, and with a deft twist threw him over on his back. Then the ropetightened mercilessly, while Buck struggled in a fury, his tonguelolling out of his mouth and his great chest panting futilely. Never inall his life had he been so vilely treated, and never in all his lifehad he been so angry. But his strength ebbed, his eyes glazed, and heknew nothing when the train was flagged and the two men threw him intothe baggage car.
The next he knew, he was dimly aware that his tongue was hurting andthat he was being jolted along in some kind of a conveyance. The hoarseshriek of a locomotive whistling a crossing told him where he was. Hehad travelled too often with the Judge not to know the sensation ofriding in a baggage car. He opened his eyes, and into them came theunbridled anger of a kidnapped king. The man sprang for his throat, butBuck was too quick for him. His jaws closed on the hand, nor did theyrelax till his senses were choked out of him once more.
“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-doctor there thinksthat he can cure ’m.”
Concerning that night’s ride, the man spoke most eloquently forhimself, in a little shed back of a saloon on the San Francisco waterfront.
“All I get is fifty for it,” he grumbled; “an’ I wouldn’t do it overfor a thousand, cold cash.”
His hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, and the right trouserleg was ripped from knee to ankle.
“How much did the other mug get?” the saloon-keeper demanded.
“A hundred,” was the reply. “Wouldn’t take a sou less, so help me.”
“That makes a hundred and fifty,” the saloon-keeper calculated; “andhe’s worth it, or I’m a squarehead.”
The kidnapper undid the bloody wrappings and looked at his laceratedhand. “If I don’t get the hydrophoby—”
“It’ll be because you was born to hang,” laughed the saloon-keeper.“Here, lend me a hand before you pull your freight,” he added.
Dazed, suffering intolerable pain from throat and tongue, with the lifehalf throttled out of him, Buck attempted to face his tormentors. Buthe was thrown down and choked repeatedly, till they succeeded in filingthe heavy brass collar from off his neck. Then the rope was removed,and he was flung into a cagelike crate.
There he lay for the remainder of the weary night, nursing his wrathand wounded pride. He could not understand what it all meant. What didthey want with him, these strange men? Why were they keeping him pentup in this narrow crate? He did not know why, but he felt oppressed bythe vague sense of impending calamity. Several times during the nighthe sprang to his feet when the shed door rattled open, expecting to seethe Judge, or the boys at least. But each time it was the bulging faceof the saloon-keeper that peered in at him by the sickly light of atallow candle. And each time the joyful bark that trembled in Buck’sthroat was twisted into a savage growl.
But the saloon-keeper let him alone, and in the morning four menentered and picked up the crate. More tormentors, Buck decided, forthey were evil-looking creatures, ragged and unkempt; and he stormedand raged at them through the bars. They only laughed and poked sticksat him, which he promptly assailed with his teeth till he realized thatthat was what they wanted. Whereupon he lay down sullenly and allowedthe crate to be lifted into a wagon. Then he, and the crate in which hewas imprisoned, began a passage through many hands. Clerks in theexpress office took charge of him; he was carted about in anotherwagon; a truck carried him, with an assortment of boxes and parcels,upon a ferry steamer; he was trucked off the steamer into a greatrailway depot, and finally he was deposited in an express car.
For two days and nights this express car was dragged along at the tailof shrieking locomotives; and for two days and nights Buck neither atenor drank. In his anger he had met the first advances of the expressmessengers with growls, and they had retaliated by teasing him. When heflung himself against the bars, quivering and frothing, they laughed athim and taunted him. They growled and barked like detestable dogs,mewed, and flapped their arms and crowed. It was all very silly, heknew; but therefore the more outrage to his dignity, and his angerwaxed and waxed. He did not mind the hunger so much, but the lack ofwater caused him severe suffering and fanned his wrath to fever-pitch.For that matter, high-strung and finely sensitive, the ill treatmenthad 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 giventhem an unfair advantage; but now that it was off, he would show them.They would never get another rope around his neck. Upon that he wasresolved. For two days and nights he neither ate nor drank, and duringthose two days and nights of torment, he accumulated a fund of wraththat boded ill for whoever first fell foul of him. His eyes turnedblood-shot, and he was metamorphosed into a raging fiend. So changedwas he that the Judge himself would not have recognized him; and theexpress 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-walled back yard. A stout man, with a red sweater that saggedgenerously at the neck, came out and signed the book for the driver.That was the man, Buck divined, the next tormentor, and he hurledhimself savagely against the bars. The man smiled grimly, and brought ahatchet and a club.
“You ain’t going to take him out now?” the driver asked.
“Sure,” the man replied, driving the hatchet into the crate for a pry.
There was an instantaneous scattering of the four men who had carriedit in, and from safe perches on top the wall they prepared to watch theperformance.
Buck rushed at the splintering wood, sinking his teeth into it, surgingand wrestling with it. Wherever the hatchet fell on the outside, he wasthere on the inside, snarling and growling, as furiously anxious to getout as the man in the red sweater was calmly intent on getting him out.
“Now, you red-eyed devil,” he said, when he had made an 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 forthe spring, hair bristling, mouth foaming, a mad glitter in hisblood-shot eyes. Straight at the man he launched his one hundred andforty pounds of fury, surcharged with the pent passion of two days andnights. In mid air, just as his jaws were about to close on the man, hereceived a shock that checked his body and brought his teeth togetherwith an agonizing clip. He whirled over, fetching the ground on hisback and side. He had never been struck by a club in his life, and didnot understand. With a snarl that was part bark and more scream he wasagain on his feet and launched into the air. And again the shock cameand he was brought crushingly to the ground. This time he was awarethat it was the club, but his madness knew no caution. A dozen times hecharged, and as often the club broke the charge and smashed him down.
After a particularly fierce blow, he crawled to his feet, too dazed torush. He staggered limply about, the blood flowing from nose and mouthand ears, his beautiful coat sprayed and flecked with bloody slaver.Then the man advanced and deliberately dealt him a frightful blow onthe nose. All the pain he had endured was as nothing compared with theexquisite agony of this. With a roar that was almost lionlike in itsferocity, he again hurled himself at the man. But the man, shifting theclub from right to left, coolly caught him by the under jaw, at thesame time wrenching downward and backward. Buck described a completecircle 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 hadpurposely withheld for so long, and Buck crumpled up and went down,knocked utterly senseless.
“He’s no slouch at dog-breakin’, that’s wot I say,” one of the men onthe wall cried enthusiastically.
“Druther break cayuses any day, and twice on Sundays,” was the reply ofthe 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 hehad fallen, and from there he watched the man in the red sweater.
“‘Answers to the name of Buck,’” the man soliloquized, quoting from thesaloon-keeper’s letter which had announced the consignment of the crateand contents. “Well, Buck, my boy,” he went on in a genial voice,“we’ve had our little ruction, and the best thing we can do is to letit go at that. You’ve learned your place, and I know mine. Be a gooddog and all ’ll go well and the goose hang high. Be a bad dog, and I’llwhale the stuffin’ outa you. Understand?”
As he spoke he fearlessly patted the head he had so mercilesslypounded, and though Buck’s hair involuntarily bristled at touch of thehand, he endured it without protest. When the man brought him water hedrank eagerly, and later bolted a generous meal of raw meat, chunk bychunk, from the man’s hand.
He was beaten
he knew that
; but he was not broken. He saw, once forall, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learnedthe lesson, and in all his after life he never forgot it. That club wasa revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law,and he met the introduction halfway. The facts of life took on afiercer aspect; and while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced itwith all the latent cunning of his nature aroused. As the days went by,other dogs came, in crates and at the ends of ropes, some docilely, andsome raging and roaring as he had come; and, one and all, he watchedthem pass under the dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again andagain, as he looked at each brutal performance, the lesson was drivenhome to Buck: a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to be obeyed,though not necessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck was never guilty,though he did see beaten dogs that fawned upon the man, and waggedtheir tails, and licked his hand. Also he saw one dog, that wouldneither conciliate nor obey, finally killed in the struggle formastery.
Now and again men came, strangers, who talked excitedly, wheedlingly,and in all kinds of fashions to the man in the red sweater. And at suchtimes that money passed between them the strangers took one or more ofthe dogs away with them. Buck wondered where they went, for they nevercame back; but the fear of the future was strong upon him, and he wasglad each time when he was not selected.
Yet his time came, in the end, in the form of a little weazened man whospat broken English and many strange and uncouth exclamations whichBuck could not understand.
“Sacredam!” he cried, when his eyes lit upon Buck. “Dat one dam bullydog! Eh? How moch?”
“Three hundred, and a present at that,” was the prompt reply of the manin the red sweater. “And seem’ it’s government money, you ain’t got nokick coming, eh, Perrault?”
Perrault grinned. Considering that the price of dogs had been boomedskyward by the unwonted demand, it was not an unfair sum for so fine ananimal. The Canadian Government would be no loser, nor would itsdespatches travel the slower. Perrault knew dogs, and when he looked atBuck he knew that he was one in a thousand—“One in ten t’ousand,” hecommented mentally.
Buck saw money pass between them, and was not surprised when Curly, agood-natured Newfoundland, and he were led away by the little weazenedman. That was the last he saw of the man in the red sweater, and asCurly and he looked at receding Seattle from the deck of the _Narwhal_,it was the last he saw of the warm Southland. Curly and he were takenbelow by Perrault and turned over to a black-faced giant calledFrançois. Perrault was a French-Canadian, and swarthy; but François wasa French-Canadian half-breed, and twice as swarthy. They were a newkind of men to Buck
of which he was destined to see many more
, andwhile he developed no affection for them, he none the less grewhonestly to respect them. He speedily learned that Perrault andFrançois were fair men, calm and impartial in administering justice,and too wise in the way of dogs to be fooled by dogs.
In the ’tween-decks of the _Narwhal_, Buck and Curly joined two otherdogs. 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 treacheroussort of way, smiling into one’s face the while he meditated someunderhand trick, as, for instance, when he stole from Buck’s food atthe first meal. As Buck sprang to punish him, the lash of François’swhip sang through the air, reaching the culprit first; and nothingremained to Buck but to recover the bone. That was fair of François, hedecided, and the half-breed began his rise in Buck’s estimation.
The other dog made no advances, nor received any; also, he did notattempt to steal from the newcomers. He was a gloomy, morose fellow,and he showed Curly plainly that all he desired was to be left alone,and further, that there would be trouble if he were not left alone.“Dave” he was called, and he ate and slept, or yawned between times,and took interest in nothing, not even when the _Narwhal_ crossed QueenCharlotte Sound and rolled and pitched and bucked like a thingpossessed. When Buck and Curly grew excited, half wild with fear, heraised 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,and though one day was very like another, it was apparent to Buck thatthe weather was steadily growing colder. At last, one morning, thepropeller was quiet, and the _Narwhal_ was pervaded with an atmosphereof excitement. He felt it, as did the other dogs, and knew that achange was at hand. François leashed them and brought them on deck. Atthe first step upon the cold surface, Buck’s feet sank into a whitemushy something very like mud. He sprang back with a snort. More ofthis white stuff was falling through the air. He shook himself, butmore of it fell upon him. He sniffed it curiously, then licked some upon his tongue. It bit like fire, and the next instant was gone. Thispuzzled him. He tried it again, with the same result.