Buck did not read the newspapers, or he would have known that trouble wa_rewing, not alone for himself, but for every tide- water dog, strong o_uscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to San Diego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal, and becaus_teamship and transportation companies were booming the find, thousands of me_ere rushing into the Northland. These men wanted dogs, and the dogs the_anted were heavy dogs, with strong muscles by which to toil, and furry coat_o protect them from the frost.
Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. Judge Miller'_lace, it was called. It stood back from the road, half hidden among th_rees, through which glimpses could be caught of the wide cool veranda tha_an around its four sides. The house was approached by gravelled driveway_hich wound about through wide-spreading lawns and under the interlacin_oughs of tall poplars. At the rear things were on even a more spacious scal_han at the front. There were great stables, where a dozen grooms and boy_eld forth, rows of vine-clad servants' cottages, an endless and orderly arra_f outhouses, long grape arbors, green pastures, orchards, and berry patches.
Then there was the pumping plant for the artesian well, and the big cemen_ank where Judge Miller's boys took their morning plunge and kept cool in th_ot afternoon.
And over this great demesne Buck ruled. Here he was born, and here he ha_ived the four years of his life. It was true, there were other dogs, Ther_ould not but be other dogs on so vast a place, but they did not count. The_ame and went, resided in the populous kennels, or lived obscurely in th_ecesses 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 o_et foot to ground. On the other hand, there were the fox terriers, a score o_hem at least, who yelped fearful promises at Toots and Ysabel looking out o_he windows at them and protected by a legion of housemaids armed with broom_nd mops.
But Buck was neither house-dog nor kennel-dog. The whole realm was his. H_lunged into the swimming tank or went hunting with the Judge's sons; h_scorted Mollie and Alice, the Judge's daughters, on long twilight or earl_orning rambles; on wintry nights he lay at the Judge's feet before th_oaring library fire; he carried the Judge's grandsons on his back, or rolle_hem in the grass, and guarded their footsteps through wild adventures down t_he fountain in the stable yard, and even beyond, where the paddocks were, an_he berry patches. Among the terriers he stalked imperiously, and Toots an_sabel he utterly 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 inseparabl_ompanion, and Buck bid fair to follow in the way of his father. He was not s_arge,—he weighed only one hundred and forty pounds,—for his mother, Shep, ha_een a Scotch shepherd dog. Nevertheless, one hundred and forty pounds, t_hich was added the dignity that comes of good living and universal respect, enabled him to carry himself in right royal fashion. During the four year_ince his puppyhood he had lived the life of a sated aristocrat; he had a fin_ride in himself, was even a trifle egotistical, as country gentleme_ometimes become because of their insular situation. But he had saved himsel_y not becoming a mere pampered house-dog. Hunting and kindred outdoo_elights had kept down the fat and hardened his muscles; and to him, as to th_old-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 Klondik_trike dragged men from all the world into the frozen North. But Buck did no_ead the newspapers, and he did not know that Manuel, one of the gardener'_elpers, was an undesirable acquaintance. Manuel had one besetting sin. H_oved to play Chinese lottery. Also, in his gambling, he had one besettin_eakness—faith in a system; and this made his damnation certain. For to play _ystem requires money, while the wages of a gardener's helper do not lap ove_he needs of a wife and numerous progeny.
The Judge was at a meeting of the Raisin Growers' Association, and the boy_ere busy organizing an athletic club, on the memorable night of Manuel'_reachery. No one saw him and Buck go off through the orchard on what Buc_magined was merely a stroll. And with the exception of a solitary man, no on_aw them arrive at the little flag station known as College Park. This ma_alked with Manuel, and money chinked between them.
"You might wrap up the goods before you deliver 'm," the stranger sai_ruffly, and Manuel doubled a piece of stout rope around Buck's neck under th_ollar.
"Twist it, an' you'll choke 'm plentee," said Manuel, and the stranger grunte_ ready affirmative.
Buck had accepted the rope with quiet dignity. To be sure, it was an unwonte_erformance: but he had learned to trust in men he knew, and to give the_redit for a wisdom that outreached his own. But when the ends of the rop_ere placed in the stranger's hands, he growled menacingly. He had merel_ntimated his displeasure, in his pride believing that to intimate was t_ommand. But to his surprise the rope tightened around his neck, shutting of_is breath. In quick rage he sprang at the man, who met him halfway, grapple_im 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, hi_ongue lolling out of his mouth and his great chest panting futilely. Never i_ll his life had he been so vilely treated, and never in all his life had h_een so angry. But his strength ebbed, his eyes glazed, and he knew nothin_hen 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 h_as being jolted along in some kind of a conveyance. The hoarse shriek of _ocomotive whistling a crossing told him where he was. He had travelled to_ften with the Judge not to know the sensation of riding in a baggage car. H_pened 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 close_n the hand, nor did they relax till his senses were choked out of him onc_ore.
"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 th_oss to 'Frisco. A crack dog-doctor there thinks that he can cure 'm."
Concerning that night's ride, the man spoke most eloquently for himself, in _ittle 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 _housand, cold cash."
His hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, and the right trouser leg wa_ipped 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'_orth it, or I'm a squarehead."
The kidnapper undid the bloody wrappings and looked at his lacerated hand. "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 hal_hrottled out of him, Buck attempted to face his tormentors. But he was throw_own and choked repeatedly, till they succeeded in filing the heavy bras_ollar from off his neck. Then the rope was removed, and he was flung into _agelike crate.
There he lay for the remainder of the weary night, nursing his wrath an_ounded pride. He could not understand what it all meant. What did they wan_ith him, these strange men? Why were they keeping him pent up in this narro_rate? He did not know why, but he felt oppressed by the vague sense o_mpending calamity. Several times during the night he sprang to his feet whe_he 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 a_im by the sickly light of a tallow candle. And each time the joyful bark tha_rembled in Buck's throat was twisted into a savage growl.
But the saloon-keeper let him alone, and in the morning four men entered an_icked up the crate. More tormentors, Buck decided, for they were evil-lookin_reatures, ragged and unkempt; and he stormed and raged at them through th_ars. They only laughed and poked sticks at him, which he promptly assaile_ith his teeth till he realized that that was what they wanted. Whereupon h_ay 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 i_nother 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 railwa_epot, and finally he was deposited in an express car.
For two days and nights this express car was dragged along at the tail o_hrieking 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 wit_rowls, and they had retaliated by teasing him. When he flung himself agains_he bars, quivering and frothing, they laughed at him and taunted him. The_rowled and barked like detestable dogs, mewed, and flapped their arms an_rowed. It was all very silly, he knew; but therefore the more outrage to hi_ignity, 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 t_ever-pitch. For that matter, high-strung and finely sensitive, the il_reatment had flung him into a fever, which was fed by the inflammation of hi_arched and swollen throat and tongue.
He was glad for one thing: the rope was off his neck. That had given them a_nfair advantage; but now that it was off, he would show them. They woul_ever get another rope around his neck. Upon that he was resolved. For tw_ays and nights he neither ate nor drank, and during those two days and night_f torment, he accumulated a fund of wrath that boded ill for whoever firs_ell foul of him. His eyes turned blood-shot, and he was metamorphosed into _aging fiend. So changed was he that the Judge himself would not hav_ecognized him; and the express messengers breathed with relief when the_undled him off the train at Seattle.
Four men gingerly carried the crate from the wagon into a small, high-walle_ack 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 ma_miled 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 performance.
Buck rushed at the splintering wood, sinking his teeth into it, surging an_restling with it. Wherever the hatchet fell on the outside, he was there o_he inside, snarling and growling, as furiously anxious to get out as the ma_n the red sweater was calmly intent on getting him out.
"Now, you red-eyed devil," he said, when he had made an opening sufficient fo_he passage of Buck's body. At the same time he dropped the hatchet an_hifted the club to his right hand.
And Buck was truly a red-eyed devil, as he drew himself together for th_pring, 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 a_is jaws were about to close on the man, he received a shock that checked hi_ody 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 clu_n his life, and did not understand. With a snarl that was part bark and mor_cream he was again on his feet and launched into the air. And again the shoc_ame and he was brought crushingly to the ground. This time he was aware tha_t 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, hi_eautiful coat sprayed and flecked with bloody slaver. Then the man advance_nd deliberately dealt him a frightful blow on the nose. All the pain he ha_ndured was as nothing compared with the exquisite agony of this. With a roa_hat 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 th_nder jaw, at the same time wrenching downward and backward. Buck described _omplete circle in the air, and half of another, then crashed to the ground o_is head and chest.
For the last time he rushed. The man struck the shrewd blow he had purposel_ithheld for so long, and Buck crumpled up and went down, knocked utterl_enseless.
"He's no slouch at dog-breakin', that's wot I say," one of the men on the wal_ried enthusiastically.
"Druther break cayuses any day, and twice on Sundays," was the reply of th_river, 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 ha_allen, and from there he watched the man in the red sweater.
" 'Answers to the name of Buck,' " the man soliloquized, quoting from th_aloon-keeper's letter which had announced the consignment of the crate an_ontents. "Well, Buck, my boy," he went on in a genial voice, "we've had ou_ittle ruction, and the best thing we can do is to let it go at that. You'v_earned your place, and I know mine. Be a good dog and all 'll go well and th_oose hang high. Be a bad dog, and I'll whale the stuffin' outa you.
As he spoke he fearlessly patted the head he had so mercilessly pounded, an_hough Buck's hair involuntarily bristled at touch of the hand, he endured i_ithout protest. When the man brought him water he drank eagerly, and late_olted 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. I_as his introduction to the reign of primitive law, and he met th_ntroduction halfway. The facts of life took on a fiercer aspect; and while h_aced that aspect uncowed, he faced it with all the latent cunning of hi_ature aroused. As the days went by, other dogs came, in crates and at th_nds 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 re_weater. Again and again, as he looked at each brutal performance, the lesso_as driven home to Buck: a man with a club was a lawgiver, a master to b_beyed, though not necessarily conciliated. Of this last Buck was neve_uilty, though he did see beaten dogs that fawned upon the man, and wagge_heir tails, and licked his hand. Also he saw one dog, that would neithe_onciliate nor obey, finally killed in the struggle for mastery.
Now and again men came, strangers, who talked excitedly, wheedlingly, and i_ll kinds of fashions to the man in the red sweater. And at such times tha_oney passed between them the strangers took one or more of the dogs away wit_hem. Buck wondered where they went, for they never came back; but the fear o_he future was strong upon him, and he was glad each time when he was no_elected.
Yet his time came, in the end, in the form of a little weazened man who spa_roken English and many strange and uncouth exclamations which Buck could no_nderstand.
"Sacredam!" he cried, when his eyes lit upon Buck. "Dat one dam bully dog! Eh?
"Three hundred, and a present at that," was the prompt reply of the man in th_ed 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 skywar_y the unwonted demand, it was not an unfair sum for so fine an animal. Th_anadian Government would be no loser, nor would its despatches travel th_lower. Perrault knew dogs, and when he looked at Buck he knew that he was on_n a thousand— "One in ten t'ousand," he commented mentally.
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. Tha_as the last he saw of the man in the red sweater, and as Curly and he looke_t receding Seattle from the deck of the Narwhal, it was the last he saw o_he warm Southland. Curly and he were taken below by Perrault and turned ove_o a black-faced giant called Francois. Perrault was a French-Canadian, an_warthy; 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 man_ore), and while he developed no affection for them, he none the less gre_onestly to respect them. He speedily learned that Perrault and Francois wer_air men, calm and impartial in administering justice, and too wise in the wa_f dogs to be fooled by dogs.
In the 'tween-decks of the Narwhal, Buck and Curly joined two other dogs. On_f them was a big, snow-white fellow from Spitzbergen who had been brough_way by a whaling captain, and who had later accompanied a Geological Surve_nto the Barrens. He was friendly, in a treacherous sort of way, smiling int_ne's face the while he meditated some underhand trick, as, for instance, whe_e stole from Buck's food at the first meal. As Buck sprang to punish him, th_ash of Francois's whip sang through the air, reaching the culprit first; an_othing 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 t_teal from the newcomers. He was a gloomy, morose fellow, and he showed Curl_lainly that all he desired was to be left alone, and further, that ther_ould be trouble if he were not left alone. "Dave" he was called, and he at_nd slept, or yawned between times, and took interest in nothing, not eve_hen the Narwhal crossed Queen Charlotte Sound and rolled and pitched an_ucked like a thing possessed. When Buck and Curly grew excited, half wil_ith fear, he raised his head as though annoyed, favored them with a_ncurious glance, yawned, and went to sleep again.
Day and night the ship throbbed to the tireless pulse of the propeller, an_hough one day was very like another, it was apparent to Buck that the weathe_as steadily growing colder. At last, one morning, the propeller was quiet, and the Narwhal was pervaded with an atmosphere of excitement. He felt it, a_id the other dogs, and knew that a change was at hand. Francois leashed the_nd brought them on deck. At the first step upon the cold surface, Buck's fee_ank 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, bu_ore of it fell upon him. He sniffed it curiously, then licked some up on hi_ongue. It bit like fire, and the next instant was gone. This puzzled him. H_ried it again, with the same result. The onlookers laughed uproariously, an_e felt ashamed, he knew not why, for it was his first snow.