Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 2 The Law of Club and Fang

  • Buck's first day on the Dyea beach was like a nightmare. Every hour was fille_ith shock and surprise. He had been suddenly jerked from the heart o_ivilization 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 wa_either 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 b_onstantly alert; for these dogs and men were not town dogs and men. They wer_avages, all of them, who knew no law but the law of club and fang.
  • He had never seen dogs fight as these wolfish creatures fought, and his firs_xperience taught him an unforgetable lesson. It is true, it was a vicariou_xperience, else he would not have lived to profit by it. Curly was th_ictim. 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 s_arge as she. There was no warning, only a leap in like a flash, a metalli_lip of teeth, a leap out equally swift, and Curly's face was ripped open fro_ye to jaw.
  • It was the wolf manner of fighting, to strike and leap away; but there wa_ore to it than this. Thirty or forty huskies ran to the spot and surrounde_he combatants in an intent and silent circle. Buck did not comprehend tha_ilent intentness, nor the eager way with which they were licking their chops.
  • Curly rushed her antagonist, who struck again and leaped aside. He met he_ext 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, screamin_ith agony, beneath the bristling mass of bodies.
  • So sudden was it, and so unexpected, that Buck was taken aback. He saw Spit_un 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 wer_elping him to scatter them. It did not take long. Two minutes from the tim_urly went down, the last of her assailants were clubbed off. But she la_here limp and lifeless in the bloody, trampled snow, almost literally torn t_ieces, the swart half-breed standing over her and cursing horribly. The scen_ften came back to Buck to trouble him in his sleep. So that was the way. N_air play. Once down, that was the end of you. Well, he would see to it tha_e never went down. Spitz ran out his tongue and laughed again, and from tha_oment Buck hated him with a bitter and deathless hatred.
  • Before he had recovered from the shock caused by the tragic passing of Curly,
  • he received another shock. Francois fastened upon him an arrangement of strap_nd buckles. It was a harness, such as he had seen the grooms put on th_orses at home. And as he had seen horses work, so he was set to work, haulin_rancois on a sled to the forest that fringed the valley, and returning with _oad of firewood. Though his dignity was sorely hurt by thus being made _raught animal, he was too wise to rebel. He buckled down with a will and di_is best, though it was all new and strange. Francois was stern, demandin_nstant obedience, and by virtue of his whip receiving instant obedience;
  • while Dave, who was an experienced wheeler, nipped Buck's hind quarter_henever he was in error. Spitz was the leader, likewise experienced, an_hile 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 h_hould go. Buck learned easily, and under the combined tuition of his tw_ates and Francois made remarkable progress. Ere they returned to camp he kne_nough to stop at "ho," to go ahead at "mush," to swing wide on the bends, an_o keep clear of the wheeler when the loaded sled shot downhill at thei_eels.
  • "T'ree vair' good dogs," Francois told Perrault. "Dat Buck, heem pool la_ell. I tich heem queek as anyt'ing."
  • By afternoon, Perrault, who was in a hurry to be on the trail with hi_espatches, 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 excessiv_ood nature, while Joe was the very opposite, sour and introspective, with _erpetual snarl and a malignant eye. Buck received them in comradely fashion,
  • Dave ignored them, while Spitz proceeded to thrash first one and then th_ther. Billee wagged his tail appeasingly, turned to run when he saw tha_ppeasement was of no avail, and cried (still appeasingly) when Spitz's shar_eeth scored his flank. But no matter how Spitz circled, Joe whirled around o_is heels to face him, mane bristling, ears laid back, lips writhing an_narling, jaws clipping together as fast as he could snap, and eye_iabolically gleaming—the incarnation of belligerent fear. So terrible was hi_ppearance that Spitz was forced to forego disciplining him; but to cover hi_wn discomfiture he turned upon the inoffensive and wailing Billee and drov_im to the confines of the camp.
  • By evening Perrault secured another dog, an old husky, long and lean an_aunt, with a battle-scarred face and a single eye which flashed a warning o_rowess that commanded respect. He was called Sol-leks, which means the Angr_ne. Like Dave, he asked nothing, gave nothing, expected nothing; and when h_arched slowly and deliberately into their midst, even Spitz left him alone.
  • He had one peculiarity which Buck was unlucky enough to discover. He did no_ike to be approached on his blind side. Of this offence Buck was unwittingl_uilty, and the first knowledge he had of his indiscretion was when Sol-lek_hirled upon him and slashed his shoulder to the bone for three inches up an_own. Forever after Buck avoided his blind side, and to the last of thei_omradeship had no more trouble. His only apparent ambition, like Dave's, wa_o be left alone; though, as Buck was afterward to learn, each of the_ossessed one other and even more vital ambition.
  • That night Buck faced the great problem of sleeping. The tent, illumined by _andle, glowed warmly in the midst of the white plain; and when he, as _atter of course, entered it, both Perrault and Francois bombarded him wit_urses and cooking utensils, till he recovered from his consternation and fle_gnominiously into the outer cold. A chill wind was blowing that nipped hi_harply and bit with especial venom into his wounded shoulder. He lay down o_he snow and attempted to sleep, but the frost soon drove him shivering to hi_eet. Miserable and disconsolate, he wandered about among the many tents, onl_o find that one place was as cold as another. Here and there savage dog_ushed upon him, but he bristled his neck-hair and snarled (for he wa_earning fast), and they let him go his way unmolested.
  • Finally an idea came to him. He would return and see how his own team-mate_ere making out. To his astonishment, they had disappeared. Again he wandere_bout through the great camp, looking for them, and again he returned. Wer_hey in the tent? No, that could not be, else he would not have been drive_ut. Then where could they possibly be? With drooping tail and shivering body,
  • very forlorn indeed, he aimlessly circled the tent. Suddenly the snow gave wa_eneath his fore legs and he sank down. Something wriggled under his feet. H_prang back, bristling and snarling, fearful of the unseen and unknown. But _riendly little yelp reassured him, and he went back to investigate. A whif_f warm air ascended to his nostrils, and there, curled up under the snow in _nug ball, lay Billee. He whined placatingly, squirmed and wriggled to sho_is good will and intentions, and even ventured, as a bribe for peace, to lic_uck's face with his warm wet tongue.
  • Another lesson. So that was the way they did it, eh? Buck confidently selecte_ spot, and with much fuss and waste effort proceeded to dig a hole fo_imself. In a trice the heat from his body filled the confined space and h_as asleep. The day had been long and arduous, and he slept soundly an_omfortably, though he growled and barked and wrestled with bad dreams.
  • Nor did he open his eyes till roused by the noises of the waking camp. A_irst he did not know where he was. It had snowed during the night and he wa_ompletely buried. The snow walls pressed him on every side, and a great surg_f fear swept through him—the fear of the wild thing for the trap. It was _oken that he was harking back through his own life to the lives of hi_orebears; for he was a civilized dog, an unduly civilized dog, and of his ow_xperience knew no trap and so could not of himself fear it. The muscles o_is whole body contracted spasmodically and instinctively, the hair on hi_eck and shoulders stood on end, and with a ferocious snarl he bounde_traight up into the blinding day, the snow flying about him in a flashin_loud. Ere he landed on his feet, he saw the white camp spread out before hi_nd knew where he was and remembered all that had passed from the time he wen_or a stroll with Manuel to the hole he had dug for himself the night before.
  • A shout from Francois hailed his appearance. "Wot I say?" the dog-driver crie_o Perrault. "Dat Buck for sure learn queek as anyt'ing."
  • Perrault nodded gravely. As courier for the Canadian Government, bearin_mportant despatches, he was anxious to secure the best dogs, and he wa_articularly gladdened by the possession of Buck.
  • Three more huskies were added to the team inside an hour, making a total o_ine, and before another quarter of an hour had passed they were in harnes_nd swinging up the trail toward the Dyea Canon. Buck was glad to be gone, an_hough the work was hard he found he did not particularly despise it. He wa_urprised at the eagerness which animated the whole team and which wa_ommunicated to him; but still more surprising was the change wrought in Dav_nd Sol-leks. They were new dogs, utterly transformed by the harness. Al_assiveness and unconcern had dropped from them. They were alert and active,
  • anxious that the work should go well, and fiercely irritable with whatever, b_elay or confusion, retarded that work. The toil of the traces seemed th_upreme expression of their being, and all that they lived for and the onl_hing in which they took delight.
  • Dave 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 Spitz.
  • Buck had been purposely placed between Dave and Sol-leks so that he migh_eceive instruction. Apt scholar that he was, they were equally apt teachers,
  • never allowing him to linger long in error, and enforcing their teaching wit_heir sharp teeth. Dave was fair and very wise. He never nipped Buck withou_ause, and he never failed to nip him when he stood in need of it. A_rancois's whip backed him up, Buck found it to be cheaper to mend his way_han to retaliate. Once, during a brief halt, when he got tangled in th_races and delayed the start, both Dave and Sol- leks flew at him an_dministered a sound trouncing. The resulting tangle was even worse, but Buc_ook 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 b_ifting up his feet and carefully examining them.
  • It was a hard day's run, up the Canon, through Sheep Camp, past the Scales an_he timber line, across glaciers and snowdrifts hundreds of feet deep, an_ver the great Chilcoot Divide, which stands between the salt water and th_resh and guards forbiddingly the sad and lonely North. They made good tim_own the chain of lakes which fills the craters of extinct volcanoes, and lat_hat night pulled into the huge camp at the head of Lake Bennett, wher_housands of goldseekers were building boats against the break-up of the ic_n the spring. Buck made his hole in the snow and slept the sleep of th_xhausted just, but all too early was routed out in the cold darkness an_arnessed with his mates to the sled.
  • That day they made forty miles, the trail being packed; but the next day, an_or many days to follow, they broke their own trail, worked harder, and mad_oorer time. As a rule, Perrault travelled ahead of the team, packing the sno_ith webbed shoes to make it easier for them. Francois, guiding the sled a_he gee- pole, sometimes exchanged places with him, but not often. Perraul_as in a hurry, and he prided himself on his knowledge of ice, which knowledg_as indispensable, for the fall ice was very thin, and where there was swif_ater, there was no ice at all.
  • Day after day, for days unending, Buck toiled in the traces. Always, the_roke camp in the dark, and the first gray of dawn found them hitting th_rail with fresh miles reeled off behind them. And always they pitched cam_fter 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 hi_ation for each day, seemed to go nowhere. He never had enough, and suffere_rom perpetual hunger pangs. Yet the other dogs, because they weighed less an_ere born to the life, received a pound only of the fish and managed to kee_n good condition.
  • He swiftly lost the fastidiousness which had characterized his old life. _ainty eater, he found that his mates, finishing first, robbed him of hi_nfinished ration. There was no defending it. While he was fighting off two o_hree, it was disappearing down the throats of the others. To remedy this, h_te as fast as they; and, so greatly did hunger compel him, he was not abov_aking 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 o_acon when Perrault's back was turned, he duplicated the performance th_ollowing day, getting away with the whole chunk. A great uproar was raised,
  • but he was unsuspected; while Dub, an awkward blunderer who was always gettin_aught, was punished for Buck's misdeed.
  • This first theft marked Buck as fit to survive in the hostile Northlan_nvironment. It marked his adaptability, his capacity to adjust himself t_hanging conditions, the lack of which would have meant swift and terribl_eath. It marked, further, the decay or going to pieces of his moral nature, _ain thing and a handicap in the ruthless struggle for existence. It was al_ell enough in the Southland, under the law of love and fellowship, to respec_rivate property and personal feelings; but in the Northland, under the law o_lub and fang, whoso took such things into account was a fool, and in so fa_s he observed them he would fail to prosper.
  • Not that Buck reasoned it out. He was fit, that was all, and unconsciously h_ccommodated himself to the new mode of life. All his days, no matter what th_dds, he had never run from a fight. But the club of the man in the re_weater had beaten into him a more fundamental and primitive code. Civilized,
  • he could have died for a moral consideration, say the defence of Judg_iller's riding-whip; but the completeness of his decivilization was no_videnced by his ability to flee from the defence of a moral consideration an_o save his hide. He did not steal for joy of it, but because of the clamor o_is stomach. He did not rob openly, but stole secretly and cunningly, out o_espect for club and fang. In short, the things he did were done because i_as easier to do them than not to do them.
  • His 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 a_xternal economy. He could eat anything, no matter how loathsome o_ndigestible; and, once eaten, the juices of his stomach extracted the las_east particle of nutriment; and his blood carried it to the farthest reache_f his body, building it into the toughest and stoutest of tissues. Sight an_cent became remarkably keen, while his hearing developed such acuteness tha_n his sleep he heard the faintest sound and knew whether it heralded peace o_eril. He learned to bite the ice out with his teeth when it collected betwee_is toes; and when he was thirsty and there was a thick scum of ice over th_ater 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 _ight in advance. No matter how breathless the air when he dug his nest b_ree or bank, the wind that later blew inevitably found him to leeward,
  • sheltered and snug.
  • And not only did he learn by experience, but instincts long dead became aliv_gain. The domesticated generations fell from him. In vague ways he remembere_ack to the youth of the breed, to the time the wild dogs ranged in pack_hrough the primeval forest and killed their meat as they ran it down. It wa_o 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 lif_ithin him, and the old tricks which they had stamped into the heredity of th_reed were his tricks. They came to him without effort or discovery, as thoug_hey had been his always. And when, on the still cold nights, he pointed hi_ose at a star and howled long and wolflike, it was his ancestors, dead an_ust, pointing nose at star and howling down through the centuries and throug_im. And his cadences were their cadences, the cadences which voiced their wo_nd what to them was the meaning of the stiffness, and the cold, and dark.
  • Thus, as token of what a puppet thing life is, the ancient song surged throug_im and he came into his own again; and he came because men had found a yello_etal in the North, and because Manuel was a gardener's helper whose wages di_ot lap over the needs of his wife and divers small copies of himself.