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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 included.

  • 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 progeny.

  • 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 the collar.

  • "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 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 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 express car.

  • 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 and tongue.

  • 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 performance.

  • 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-