The Call of the Wild, White Fang, and Other Stories
Penguin BooksCopyright © 1993 Jack London
All right reserved.ISBN: 0140186514
(From The Call of The Wild)
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 knownthat trouble was brewing, not alone for himself, but for every tidewaterdog, strong of muscle and with warm, long hair, from Puget Sound to SanDiego. Because men, groping in the Arctic darkness, had found a yellowmetal, and because steamship and transportation companies were boomingthe find, thousands of men were rushing into the Northland. These menwanted dogs, and the dogs they wanted were heavy dogs, with strongmuscles by which to toil, and furry coats to protect them from thefrost.
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 wide,cool veranda that ran around its four sides. The house was approached bygraveled 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 twilight orearly-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 padlocks 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 known asCollege 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 traveled 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 kidnaped 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 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 hecan 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 waterfront.
"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 saloonkeeper demanded.
"A hundred," was the reply. "Wouldn't take a sou less, so help me."
"That makes a hundred and fifty," the saloonkeeper calculated; "and he'sworth it, or I'm a squarehead."
The kidnaper 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 saloonkeeper."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 attempted 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 saloonkeeper 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.
But the saloonkeeper let him alone, and in the morning four men enteredand picked up the crate. More tormentors, Buck decided, for they wereevil-looking creatures, ragged and unkempt; and he stormed and raged atthem through the bars. They only laughed and poked sticks at him, whichhe promptly assailed with his teeth till he realized that that was whatthey wanted. Whereupon he lay down sullenly and allowed the crate to belifted into a wagon. Then he, and the crate in which he was imprisoned,began a passage through many hands. Clerks in the express office tookcharge of him; he was carted about in another wagon; a truck carriedhim, with an assortment of boxes and parcels, upon a ferry steamer; hewas trucked off the steamer into a great railway depot, and finally hewas deposited in an express car.