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.