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Chapter I. Into the Primitive
"Old longings nomadic leap,
Chafing at custom's chain;
Again from its brumal sleep
Wakens the ferine strain."
Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble was
brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide-water dog, strong of
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 the find, thousands of
men were rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs
they wanted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and
furry coats to protect them from the frost.
Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. Judge
Miller's place, it was called. It stood back from the road, half hidden
among the trees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide cool
veranda that ran around its four sides. The house was approached by
gravelled driveways which wound about through wide-spreading lawns and
under the interlacing boughs of tall poplars. At the rear things were on
even 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 pumping
plant for the artesian well, and the big cement tank where Judge Miller's
boys took their morning plunge and kept cool in the hot afternoon.
And over this great demesne Buck ruled. Here he was born, and here he had
lived the four years of his life. It was true, there were other dogs,
There could not but be other dogs on so vast a place, but they did not
count. They came and went, resided in the populous kennels, or lived
obscurely in the recesses of the house after the fashion of Toots, the
Japanese pug, or Ysabel, the Mexican hairless,—strange creatures
that rarely 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 yelped
fearful promises at Toots and Ysabel looking out of the windows at them
and 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 twilight or
early morning rambles; on wintry nights he lay at the Judge's feet before
the roaring library fire; he carried the Judge's grandsons on his back, or
rolled them in the grass, and guarded their footsteps through wild
adventures down to the fountain in the stable yard, and even beyond, where
the paddocks were, and the berry patches. Among the terriers he stalked
imperiously, and Toots and Ysabel he utterly ignored, for he was king,—king
over all creeping, crawling, flying things of Judge Miller's place, humans
His father, Elmo, a huge St. Bernard, had been the Judge's inseparable
companion, and Buck bid fair to follow in the way of his father. He was
not so large,—he weighed only one hundred and forty pounds,—for
his mother, Shep, had been a Scotch shepherd dog. Nevertheless, one
hundred and forty pounds, to which was added the dignity that comes of
good living and universal respect, enabled him to carry himself in right
royal fashion. During the four years since his puppyhood he had lived the
life of a sated aristocrat; he had a fine pride in himself, was even a
trifle egotistical, as country gentlemen sometimes become because of their
insular situation. But he had saved himself by not becoming a mere
pampered house-dog. Hunting and kindred outdoor delights had kept down the
fat and hardened his muscles; and to him, as to the cold-tubbing races,
the love of water had been a tonic and a health preserver.
And this was the manner of dog Buck was in the fall of 1897, when the
Klondike 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. Manuel had one
besetting sin. He loved to play Chinese lottery. Also, in his gambling, he
had one besetting weakness—faith in a system; and this made his
damnation certain. For to play a system requires money, while the wages of
a gardener's helper do not lap over the needs of a wife and numerous
The Judge was at a meeting of the Raisin Growers' Association, and the
boys were busy organizing an athletic club, on the memorable night of
Manuel's treachery. No one saw him and Buck go off through the orchard on
what Buck imagined was merely a stroll. And with the exception of a
solitary man, no one saw them arrive at the little flag station known as
College Park. This man talked with Manuel, and money chinked between them.
"You might wrap up the goods before you deliver 'm," the stranger said
gruffly, and Manuel doubled a piece of stout rope around Buck's neck under
"Twist it, an' you'll choke 'm plentee," said Manuel, and the stranger
grunted a ready affirmative.
Buck had accepted the rope with quiet dignity. To be sure, it was an
unwonted performance: but he had learned to trust in men he knew, and to
give them credit for a wisdom that outreached his own. But when the ends
of the rope were placed in the stranger's hands, he growled menacingly. He
had merely intimated his displeasure, in his pride believing that to
intimate was to command. But to his surprise the rope tightened around his
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 deft twist threw
him over on his back. Then the rope tightened mercilessly, while Buck
struggled in a fury, his tongue lolling out of his mouth and his great
chest panting futilely. Never in all his life had he been so vilely
treated, and never in all his life had he been so angry. But his strength
ebbed, his eyes glazed, and he knew nothing when the train was flagged and
the two men threw him into the baggage car.
The next he knew, he was dimly aware that his tongue was hurting and that
he was being jolted along in some kind of a conveyance. The hoarse shriek
of a locomotive whistling a crossing told him where he was. He had
travelled too often with the Judge not to know the sensation of riding in
a baggage car. He opened his eyes, and into them came the unbridled anger
of a kidnapped king. The man sprang for his throat, but Buck was too quick
for him. His jaws closed on the hand, nor did they relax till his senses
were choked out of him once more.
"Yep, has fits," the man said, hiding his mangled hand from the
baggageman, who had been attracted by the sounds of struggle. "I'm takin'
'm up for the boss to 'Frisco. A crack dog-doctor there thinks that he can
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 for a
thousand, cold cash."
His hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, and the right trouser leg
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; "and he's
worth it, or I'm a squarehead."
The kidnapper undid the bloody wrappings and looked at his lacerated hand.
"If I don't get the hydrophoby—"
"It'll be because you was born to hang," laughed 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 life
half throttled out of him, Buck attempted to face his tormentors. But he
was thrown down and choked repeatedly, till they succeeded in filing the
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 wrath and
wounded pride. He could not understand what it all meant. What did they
want with him, these strange men? Why were they keeping him pent up in
this narrow crate? He did not know why, but he felt oppressed by the vague
sense of impending calamity. Several times during the night he sprang to
his feet when the shed door rattled open, expecting to see the Judge, or
the boys at least. But each time it was the bulging face of the
saloon-keeper that peered in at him by the sickly light of a tallow
candle. And each time the joyful bark that trembled in Buck's throat was
twisted into a savage growl.
But the saloon-keeper let him alone, and in the morning four men entered
and picked up the crate. More tormentors, Buck decided, for they were
evil-looking creatures, ragged and unkempt; and he stormed and raged at
them through the bars. They only laughed and poked sticks at him, which he
promptly assailed with his teeth till he realized that that was what they
wanted. Whereupon he lay down sullenly and allowed the crate to be lifted
into a wagon. Then he, and the crate in which he was imprisoned, began a
passage through many hands. Clerks in the express office took charge of
him; he was carted about in another wagon; a truck carried him, with an
assortment of boxes and parcels, upon a ferry steamer; he was trucked off
the steamer into a great railway depot, and finally he was deposited in an
For two days and nights this express car was dragged along at the tail of
shrieking locomotives; and for two days and nights Buck neither ate nor
drank. In his anger he had met the first advances of the express
messengers with growls, and they had retaliated by teasing him. When he
flung himself against the bars, quivering and frothing, they laughed at
him and taunted him. They growled and barked like detestable dogs, mewed,
and flapped their arms and crowed. It was all very silly, he knew; but
therefore the more outrage to his dignity, and his anger waxed and waxed.
He did not mind the hunger so much, but the lack of water caused him
severe suffering and fanned his wrath to fever-pitch. For that matter,
high-strung and finely sensitive, the ill treatment had flung him into a
fever, which was fed by the inflammation of his parched and swollen throat
He was glad for one thing: the rope was off his neck. That had given them
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 was resolved.
For two days and nights he neither ate nor drank, and during those two
days and nights of torment, he accumulated a fund of wrath that boded ill
for whoever first fell foul of him. His eyes turned blood-shot, and he was
metamorphosed into a raging fiend. So changed was he that the Judge
himself would not have recognized him; and the express messengers breathed
with relief when they bundled him off the train 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 sagged
generously at the neck, came out and signed the book for the driver. That
was the man, Buck divined, the next tormentor, and he hurled himself
savagely against the bars. The man smiled grimly, and brought a hatchet
and a club.
"You ain't going to take him out now?" the driver asked.
"Sure," the man replied, driving the hatchet into the crate for a pry.
There was an instantaneous scattering of the four men who had carried it
in, and from safe perches on top the wall they prepared to watch the
Buck rushed at the splintering wood, sinking his teeth into it, surging
and wrestling with it. Wherever the hatchet fell on the outside, he was
there on the inside, snarling and growling, as furiously anxious to get
out 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 opening sufficient
for the passage of Buck's body. At the same time he dropped the hatchet
and shifted the club to his right hand.
And Buck was truly a red-eyed devil, as he drew himself together for the
spring, hair bristling, mouth foaming, a mad glitter in his blood-shot
eyes. Straight at the man he launched his one hundred and forty pounds of
fury, surcharged with the pent passion of two days and nights. In mid air,
just as his jaws were about to close on the man, he received a shock that
checked his body and brought his teeth together with an agonizing clip. He
whirled over, fetching the ground on his back and side. He had never been
struck by a club in his life, and did not understand. With a snarl that
was part bark and more scream he was again on his feet and launched into
the air. And again the shock came and he was brought crushingly to the
ground. This time he was aware that it was the club, but his madness knew
no caution. A dozen times he charged, and as often the club broke the
charge and smashed him down.
After a particularly fierce blow, he crawled to his feet, too dazed to
rush. He staggered limply about, the blood flowing from nose and mouth and
ears, his beautiful coat sprayed and flecked with bloody slaver. Then the
man advanced and deliberately dealt him a frightful blow on the nose. All
the pain he had endured was as nothing compared with the exquisite agony
of this. With a roar that was almost lionlike in its ferocity, he again
hurled himself at the man. But the man, shifting the club from right to
left, coolly caught him by the under jaw, at the same time wrenching
downward and backward. Buck described a complete circle in the air, and
half of another, then crashed to the ground on his head and chest.
For the last time he rushed. The man struck the shrewd blow he had
purposely 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 on the
wall cried enthusiastically.
"Druther break cayuses any day, and twice on Sundays," was the reply of
the driver, as he climbed on the wagon and started the horses.
Buck's senses came back to him, but not his strength. He lay where he had
fallen, and from there he watched the man in the red sweater.
"'Answers to the name of Buck,'" the man soliloquized, quoting from the
saloon-keeper's letter which had announced the consignment of the crate
and 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 let it go at
that. You've learned your place, and I know mine. Be a good dog and all
'll go well and the goose hang high. Be a bad dog, and I'll whale the
stuffin' outa you. Understand?"
As he spoke he fearlessly patted the head he had so mercilessly pounded,
and though Buck's hair involuntarily bristled at touch of the hand, he
endured it without protest. When the man brought him water he drank
eagerly, and later bolted a generous meal of raw meat, chunk by chunk,
from the man's hand.
He was beaten (he knew that); but he was not broken. He saw, once for all,
that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the
lesson, and in all his after life he never forgot it. That club was a
revelation. It was his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he
met the introduction halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect;
and while he faced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent
cunning of his nature aroused. As the days went by, other dogs came, in
crates and at the ends of ropes, some docilely, and some raging and
roaring as he had come; and, one and all, he watched them pass under the
dominion of the man in the red sweater. Again and again, as he looked 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 not necessarily
conciliated. Of this last Buck was never guilty, though he did see beaten
dogs that fawned upon the man, and wagged their tails, and licked his
hand. Also he saw one dog, that would neither conciliate nor 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 such times
that money passed between them the strangers took one or more of the dogs
away with them. Buck wondered where they went, for they never came back;
but the fear of the future was strong upon him, and he was glad each time
when he was not selected.
Yet his time came, in the end, in the form of a little weazened man who
spat broken English and many strange and uncouth exclamations which Buck
could not understand.
"Sacredam!" he cried, when his eyes lit upon Buck. "Dat one dam bully dog!
Eh? How moch?"
"Three hundred, and a present at that," was the prompt reply of the man in
the red sweater. "And seem' it's government money, you ain't got no kick
coming, eh, Perrault?"
Perrault grinned. Considering that the price of dogs had been boomed
skyward by the unwonted demand, it was not an unfair sum for so fine an
animal. The Canadian Government would be no loser, nor would its
despatches travel the slower. Perrault knew dogs, and when he looked at
Buck he knew that he was one in a thousand—"One in ten t'ousand," he
Buck saw money pass between them, and was not surprised when Curly, a
good-natured Newfoundland, and he were led away by the little weazened
man. That was the last he saw of the man in the red sweater, and as Curly
and 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 taken below by
Perrault and turned over to a black-faced giant called Francois. Perrault
was a French-Canadian, and swarthy; but Francois was a French-Canadian
half-breed, and twice as swarthy. They were a new kind of men to Buck (of
which he was destined to see many more), and while he developed no
affection for them, he none the less grew honestly to respect them. He
speedily learned that Perrault and Francois 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 other dogs.
One of them was a big, snow-white fellow from Spitzbergen who had been
brought away by a whaling captain, and who had later accompanied a
Geological Survey into the Barrens. He was friendly, in a treacherous sort
of way, smiling into one's face the while he meditated some underhand
trick, as, for instance, when he stole from Buck's food at the first meal.
As Buck sprang to punish him, the lash of Francois's whip sang through the
air, reaching the culprit first; and nothing remained to 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 not attempt
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 Queen Charlotte Sound and
rolled and pitched and bucked like a thing possessed. When Buck and Curly
grew excited, half wild with fear, he raised his head as though annoyed,
favored them with an incurious glance, 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 that the
weather was steadily growing colder. At last, one morning, the propeller
was quiet, and the Narwhal was pervaded with an atmosphere of excitement.
He felt it, as did the other dogs, and knew that a change was at hand.
Francois leashed them and brought them on deck. At the first step upon the
cold surface, Buck's feet sank into a white mushy something very like mud.
He sprang back with a snort. More of this white stuff was falling through
the air. He shook himself, but more of it fell upon him. He sniffed it
curiously, then licked some up on his tongue. It bit like fire, and the
next instant was gone. This puzzled him. He tried it again, with the same
result. The onlookers laughed uproariously, and he felt ashamed, he knew
not why, for it was his first snow.