Produced by Ryan, Kirstin, Linda and Rick Trapp in LovingMemory of Ivan Louis Reese
THE CALL OF THE WILD
by Jack London
I Into the Primitive II The Law of Club and Fang III The Dominant Primordial Beast IV Who Has Won to Mastership V The Toil of Trace and Tail VI For the Love of a Man VII The Sounding of the Call
Chapter I. Into the Primitive
"Old longings nomadic leap, Chafing at custom's chain; Again from its brumal sleep Wakens the ferine strain."
Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that troublewas brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strongof muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego.Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal,and because steamship and transportation companies were booming thefind, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanteddogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles bywhich to toil, and furry coats to protect them from the frost.
Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. JudgeMiller's place, it was called. It stood back from the road, half hiddenamong the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the widecool veranda that ran around its four sides. The house was approached bygravelled driveways which wound about through wide-spreading lawns andunder the interlacing boughs of tall poplars. At the rear things were oneven a more spacious scale than at the front. There were great stables,where a dozen grooms and boys held forth, rows of vine-clad servants'cottages, an endless and orderly array of outhouses, long grape arbors,green pastures, orchards, and berry patches. Then there was the pumpingplant for the artesian well, and the big cement tank where JudgeMiller's boys took their morning plunge and kept cool in the hotafternoon.
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 they didnot count. They came and went, resided in the populous kennels, or livedobscurely in the recesses of the house after the fashion of Toots, theJapanese pug, or Ysabel, the Mexican hairless,--strange creatures thatrarely put nose out of doors or set foot to ground. On the other hand,there were the fox terriers, a score of them at least, who yelpedfearful promises at Toots and Ysabel looking out of the windows at themand protected by a legion of housemaids armed with brooms and mops.
But Buck was neither house-dog nor kennel-dog. The whole realm was his.He plunged into the swimming tank or went hunting with the Judge's sons;he escorted Mollie and Alice, the Judge's daughters, on long twilightor early morning rambles; on wintry nights he lay at the Judge's feetbefore the roaring library fire; he carried the Judge's grandsons on hisback, or rolled them in the grass, and guarded their footsteps throughwild adventures down to the fountain in the stable yard, and evenbeyond, where the paddocks were, and the berry patches. Among theterriers he stalked imperiously, and Toots and Ysabel he utterlyignored, for he was king,--king over all creeping, crawling, flyingthings 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, was evena trifle egotistical, as country gentlemen sometimes become because oftheir insular situation. But he had saved himself by not becoming a merepampered house-dog. Hunting and kindred outdoor delights had kept downthe fat and hardened his muscles; and to him, as to the cold-tubbingraces, the love of water had been a tonic and a health preserver.
And this was the manner of dog Buck was in the fall of 1897, when 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 wife andnumerous 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, and togive them credit for a wisdom that outreached his own. But when the endsof the rope were placed in the stranger's hands, he growled menacingly.He had merely intimated his displeasure, in his pride believing that tointimate was to command. But to his surprise the rope tightened aroundhis neck, shutting off his breath. In quick rage he sprang at the man,who met him halfway, grappled him close by the throat, and with a defttwist threw him over on his back. Then the rope tightened mercilessly,while Buck struggled in a fury, his tongue lolling out of his mouth andhis great chest panting futilely. Never in all his life had he been sovilely treated, and never in all his life had he been so angry. But hisstrength ebbed, his eyes glazed, and he knew nothing when the train wasflagged and the two men threw him into the 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 for himself,in a little shed back of a saloon on the San Francisco water front.
"All I get is fifty for it," he grumbled; "an' I wouldn't do it over fora thousand, cold cash."
His hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, and the right trouser legwas 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 att
empted to face his tormentors. But hewas thrown down and choked repeatedly, till they succeeded in filing theheavy brass collar from off his neck. Then the rope was removed, and hewas flung into a cagelike crate.
There he lay for the remainder of the weary night, nursing his wrath andwounded pride. He could not understand what it all meant. What did theywant with him, these strange men? Why were they keeping him pent up inthis narrow crate? He did not know why, but he felt oppressed by thevague sense of impending calamity. Several times during the night hesprang to his feet when the shed door rattled open, expecting to see theJudge, or the boys at least. But each time it was the bulging face ofthe saloon-keeper that peered in at him by the sickly light of a tallowcandle. And each time the joyful bark that trembled in Buck's throat wastwisted into a savage growl.
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 laughedat him 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 anger waxedand waxed. He did not mind the hunger so much, but the lack of watercaused him severe suffering and fanned his wrath to fever-pitch. Forthat matter, high-strung and finely sensitive, the ill treatment hadflung him into a fever, which was fed by the inflammation of his parchedand 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 changed washe that the Judge himself would not have recognized him; and the expressmessengers breathed with relief when they bundled him off the train atSeattle.
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 for thespring, hair bristling, mouth foaming, a mad glitter in his blood-shoteyes. Straight at the man he launched his one hundred and forty poundsof fury, surcharged with the pent passion of two days and nights. Inmid air, just as his jaws were about to close on the man, he receiveda shock that checked his body and brought his teeth together with anagonizing clip. He whirled over, fetching the ground on his back andside. He had never been struck by a club in his life, and did notunderstand. With a snarl that was part bark and more scream he was againon his feet and launched into the air. And again the shock came and hewas brought crushingly to the ground. This time he was aware that it wasthe club, but his madness knew no caution. A dozen times he charged, andas often the club broke the charge and smashed him down.
After a particularly fierce blow, he crawled to his feet, too dazed 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 the sametime wrenching downward and backward. Buck described a complete circlein the air, and half of another, then crashed to the ground on his headand 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.
As he spoke he fearlessly patted the head he had so mercilessly pounded,and though Buck's hair involuntarily bristled at touch of the hand,he endured it without protest. When the man brought him water he drankeagerly, and later bolted a generous meal of raw meat, chunk by chunk,from the man's hand.
He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once 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 a fierceraspect; and while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all thelatent cunning of his nature aroused. As the days went by, other dogscame, in crates and at the ends of ropes, some docilely, and some ragingand roaring as he had come; and, one and all, he watched them passunder the dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again and again, as helooked at each brutal performance, the lesson was driven home to Buck:a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to be obeyed, though notnecessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck was never guilty, though hedid see beaten dogs that fawned upon the man, and wagged their tails,and licked his hand. Also he saw one dog, that would neither conciliatenor obey, finally killed in the struggle for mastery.
Now and again men came, strangers, who talked excitedly, wheedlingly,and in all kinds of fashions to the man in the red sweater. And at 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 wa
sglad 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 which Buckcould 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 finean animal. 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, itwas the last he saw of the warm Southland. Curly and he were taken belowby Perrault and turned over to a black-faced giant called Francois.Perrault was a French-Canadian, and swarthy; but Francois was aFrench-Canadian half-breed, and twice as swarthy. They were a new kindof men to Buck (of which he was destined to see many more), and whilehe developed no affection for them, he none the less grew honestly torespect them. He speedily learned that Perrault and Francois were fairmen, calm and impartial in administering justice, and too wise in theway 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 accompanieda Geological 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 at thefirst meal. As Buck sprang to punish him, the lash of Francois's whipsang through the air, reaching the culprit first; and nothing remainedto Buck but to recover the bone. That was fair of Francois, he decided,and the half-breed began his rise in Buck's estimation.
The other dog made no advances, nor received any; also, he did notattempt to steal from the newcomers. He was a gloomy, morose fellow, andhe showed Curly plainly that all he desired was to be left alone, andfurther, 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 tookinterest in nothing, not even when the Narwhal crossed Queen CharlotteSound and rolled and pitched and bucked like a thing possessed. WhenBuck and Curly grew excited, half wild with fear, he raised his head asthough annoyed, favored them with an incurious glance, yawned, and wentto 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 atmosphere ofexcitement. He felt it, as did the other dogs, and knew that a changewas at hand. Francois leashed them and brought them on deck. At thefirst step upon the cold surface, Buck's feet sank into a white mushysomething very like mud. He sprang back with a snort. More of this whitestuff was falling through the air. He shook himself, but more of it fellupon him. He sniffed it curiously, then licked some up on his tongue. Itbit like fire, and the next instant was gone. This puzzled him. He triedit again, with the same result. The onlookers laughed uproariously, andhe felt ashamed, he knew not why, for it was his first snow.