Jack London.

The Call of the Wild


At home in California, Buck has an easy, comfortable life. He is the biggest, strongest, most important dog in the place. He goes walking and swimming with the children, and sits by his owners fire in the winter.

But this is 1897 and dogs like Buck are needed in the Yukon, where men have found gold. So Buck is stolen from his home and taken north. There he learns how to pull a sledge, travelling day after day over the frozen snow. He learns how to steal food, how to break the ice in water-holes, how to fight the other dogs when they attack him. And he learns fast.

Soon Buck is one of the most famous sledge-dogs in the north. But the north is a wild place, where the wolf howls to the moon and runs free in the forest. And the call of the wild comes to Buck in his dreams, louder and louder

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To the north

Buck did not read the newspapers. He did not know that trouble was coming for every big dog in California. Men had found gold in the Yukon, and these men wanted big, strong dogs to work in the cold and snow of the north.

Buck lived in Mr Millers big house in the sunny Santa Clara valley. There were large gardens and fields of fruit trees around the house, and a river nearby. In a big place like this, of course, there were many dogs. There were house dogs and farm dogs, but they were not important. Buck was chief dog; he was born here, and this was his place. He was four years old and weighed sixty kilos. He went swimming with Mr Millers sons, and walking with his daughters. He carried the grandchildren on his back, and he sat at Mr Millers feet in front of the fire in winter.

But this was 1897, and Buck did not know that men and dogs were hurrying to north-west Canada to look for gold. And he did not know that Manuel, one of Mr Millers gardeners, needed money for his large family. One day, when Mr Miller was out, Manuel and Buck left the garden together. It was just an evening walk, Buck thought. No one saw them go, and only one man saw them arrive at the railway station. This man talked to Manuel, and gave him some money. Then he tied a piece of rope around Bucks neck.

Buck growled, and was surprised when the rope was pulled hard around his neck. He jumped at the man. The man caught him and suddenly Buck was on his back with his tongue out of his mouth. For a few moments he was unable to move, and it was easy for the two men to put him into the train.

When Buck woke up, the train was still moving. The man was sitting and watching him, but Buck was too quick for him and he bit the mans hand hard. Then the rope was pulled again and Buck had to let go.

That evening, the man took Buck to the back room of a bar in San Francisco. The barman looked at the mans hand and trousers covered in blood.

How much are they paying you for this? he asked.

I only get fifty dollars.

And the man who stole him how much did he get? asked the barman.

A hundred. He wouldnt take less.

That makes a hundred and fifty. Its a good price for a dog like him. Here, help me to get him into this.

They took off Bucks rope and pushed him into a wooden box. He spent the night in the box in the back room of the bar. His neck still ached with pain from the rope, and he could not understand what it all meant. What did they want with him, these strange men? And where was Mr Miller?

The next day Buck was carried in the box to the railway station and put on a train to the north. For two days and nights the train travelled north, and for two days and nights Buck neither ate nor drank. Men on the train laughed at him and pushed sticks at him through the holes in the box. For two days and nights Buck got angrier and hungrier and thirstier. His eyes grew red and he bit anything that moved.

In Seattle four men took Buck to a small, high-walled back garden, where a fat man in an old red coat was waiting. Buck was now very angry indeed and he jumped and bit at the sides of his box. The fat man smiled and went to get an axe and a club.

Are you going to take him out now? asked one of the men.

Of course, answered the fat man, and he began to break the box with his axe.

Immediately the four other men climbed up onto the wall to watch from a safe place.

As the fat man hit the box with his axe, Buck jumped at the sides, growling and biting, pulling with his teeth at the pieces of broken wood. After a few minutes there was a hole big enough for Buck to get out.

Now, come here, red eyes, said the fat man, dropping his axe and taking the club in his right hand.

Buck jumped at the man, sixty kilos of anger, his mouth wide open ready to bite the mans neck. Just before his teeth touched the skin, the man hit him with the club. Buck fell to the ground. It was the first time anyone had hit him with a club and he did not understand. He stood up, and jumped again. Again the club hit him and he crashed to the ground. Ten times he jumped at the man, and ten times the club hit him. Slowly he got to his feet, now only just able to stand. There was blood on his nose and mouth and ears. Then the fat man walked up and hit him again, very hard, on the nose. The pain was terrible. Again, Buck jumped at the man and again he was hit to the ground. A last time he jumped, and this time, when the man knocked him down, Buck did not move.

He knows how to teach a dog a lesson, said one of the men on the wall. Then the four men jumped down and went back to the station.

His name is Buck, said the fat man to himself, reading the letter that had come with the box. Well, Buck, my boy, he said in a friendly voice, weve argued a little, and I think the best thing to do now is to stop. Be a good dog and well be friends. But if youre a bad dog, Ill have to use my club again. Understand?

As he spoke, he touched Bucks head, and although Buck was angry inside, he did not move. When the man brought him water and meat, Buck drank and then ate the meat, piece by piece, from the mans hand.

Buck was beaten (he knew that) but he was not broken. He had learnt that a man with a club was stronger than him. Every day he saw more dogs arrive, and each dog was beaten by the fat man. Buck understood that a man with a club must be obeyed, although he did not have to be a friend.

Men came to see the fat man and to look at the dogs. Sometimes they paid money and left with one or more of the dogs. One day a short, dark man came and looked at Buck.

Thats a good dog! he cried. How much do you want for him?

Three hundred dollars. Its a good price, Perrault, said the fat man.

Perrault smiled and agreed that it was a good price. He knew dogs, and he knew that Buck was an excellent dog. One in ten thousand, Perrault said to himself.

Buck saw money put into the fat mans hand, and he was not surprised when he and another dog called Curly were taken away by Perrault. He took them to a ship, and later that day Buck and Curly stood and watched the coast get further and further away. They had seen the warm south for the last time.

Perrault took Buck and Curly down to the bottom of the ship. There they met another man, Fran?ois. Perrault was a French-Canadian, but Fran?ois was half-Indian, tall and dark. Buck learnt quickly that Perrault and Fran?ois were fair men, calm and honest. And they knew everything about dogs.

There were two other dogs on the ship. One was a big dog called Spitz, as white as snow. He was friendly to Buck at first, always smiling. He was smiling when he tried to steal Bucks food at the first meal. Fran?ois was quick and hit Spitz before Buck had time to move. Buck decided that this was fair, and began to like Fran?ois a little.

Dave, the other dog, was not friendly. He wanted to be alone all the time. He ate and slept and was interested in nothing.

One day was very like another, but Buck noticed that the weather was getting colder. One morning, the ships engines stopped, and there was a feeling of excitement in the ship. Fran?ois leashed the dogs and took them outside. At the first step Bucks feet went into something soft and white. He jumped back in surprise. The soft, white thing was also falling through the air, and it fell onto him. He tried to smell it, and then caught some on his tongue. It bit like fire, and then disappeared. He tried again and the same thing happened. People were watching him and laughing, and Buck felt ashamed, although he did not know why. It was his first snow.

The law of club and tooth

Bucks first day at Dyea Beach was terrible. Every hour there was some new, frightening surprise. There was no peace, no rest only continual noise and movement. And every minute there was danger, because these dogs and men were not town dogs and men. They knew only the law of club and tooth.

Buck had never seen dogs fight like these dogs; they were like wolves. In a few minutes he learnt this from watching Curly. She tried to make friends with a dog, a big one, although not as big as she was. There was no warning. The dog jumped on Curly, his teeth closed together, then he jumped away, and Curlys face was torn open from eye to mouth.

Wolves fight like this, biting and jumping away, but the fight did not finish then. Thirty or forty more dogs ran up and made a circle around the fight, watching silently. Curly tried to attack the dog who had bitten her; he bit her a second time, and jumped away. When she attacked him again, he knocked her backwards, and she fell on the ground. She never stood up again, because this was what the other dogs were waiting for. They moved in, and in a moment she was under a crowd of dogs.

It was all very sudden. Buck saw Spitz run out from the crowd with his tongue out of his mouth, laughing. Then he saw Fran?ois with an axe, and two or three other men with clubs jump in among the dogs. Two minutes later the last of the dogs was chased away. But Curly lay dead in the snow, her body torn almost to pieces. Curlys death often came back to Buck in his dreams. He understood that once a dog was down on the ground, he was dead. He also remembered Spitz laughing, and from that moment he hated him.

Then Buck had another surprise. Fran?ois put a harness on him. Buck had seen harnesses on horses, and now he was made to work like a horse, pulling Fran?ois on a sledge into the forest and returning with wood for the fire. Buck worked with Spitz and Dave. The two other dogs had worked in a harness before, and Buck learnt by watching them. He also learnt to stop and turn when Fran?ois shouted.

Those three are very good dogs, Fran?ois told Perrault. That Buck pulls very well, and hes learning quickly.

Perrault had important letters and official papers to take to Dawson City, so that afternoon he bought two more dogs, two brothers called Billee and Joe. Billee was very friendly, but Joe was the opposite. In the evening Perrault bought one more dog, an old dog with one eye. His name was Sol-leks, which means The Angry One. Like Dave, he made no friends; all he wanted was to be alone.

That night Buck discovered another problem. Where was he going to sleep? Fran?ois and Perrault were in their tent, but when he went in, they shouted angrily and threw things at him. Outside it was very cold and windy. He lay down in the snow, but he was too cold to sleep.

He walked around the tents trying to find the other dogs. But, to his surprise, they had disappeared. He walked around Perraults tent, very, very cold, wondering what to do. Suddenly, the snow under his feet fell in, and he felt something move. He jumped back, waiting for the attack, but heard only a friendly bark. There, in a warm hole under the snow, was Billee.

So that was what you had to do. Buck chose a place, dug himself a hole and in a minute he was warm and asleep. He slept well, although his dreams were bad.

When he woke up, at first he did not know where he was. It had snowed in the night and the snow now lay thick and heavy above him. Suddenly he was afraid the fear of a wild animal when it is caught and cannot escape. Growling, he threw himself at the snow, and a moment later, he had jumped upwards into the daylight. He saw the tents and remembered everything, from the time he had gone for a walk with Manuel to the moment he had dug the hole the night before.

What did I say? shouted Fran?ois to Perrault, when he saw Buck come up out of the snow. That Buck learns quickly.

Perrault smiled slowly. He was carrying important papers, and he needed good dogs. He was very pleased to have Buck.

They bought three more dogs that morning, and a quarter of an hour later all nine dogs were in harness and on their way up the Dyea Canyon. Buck was not sorry to be moving, and although it was hard work, he almost enjoyed it. He was also surprised to see that Dave and Sol-leks no longer looked bored and miserable. Pulling in a harness was their job, and they were happy to do it.

Dave was sledge-dog, the dog nearest to the sledge. In front of him was Buck, then came Sol-leks. In front of them were the six other dogs, with Spitz as leader at the front. Fran?ois had put Buck between Dave and Sol-leks because they could teach him the work. Buck learnt well, and they were good teachers. When Buck pulled the wrong way, Dave always bit his leg, but only lightly. Once, when they stopped, Buck got tied up in his harness, and it took ten minutes to get started again. Both Dave and Sol-leks gave him a good beating for that mistake. Buck understood, and was more careful after that.

It was a hard days journey, up the Dyea Canyon and into the mountains. They camped that night at Lake Bennett. Here there were thousands of gold miners. They were building boats to sail up the lake when the ice melted in the spring. Buck made his hole in the snow and slept well, but was woken up very early and harnessed to the sledge. The first day they had travelled on snow that had been hardened by many sledges and they covered sixty kilometres. But the next day, and for days afterwards, they were on new snow. The work was harder and they went slowly. Usually, Perrault went in front, on snowshoes, flattening the snow a little for the dogs. Fran?ois stayed by the sledge. Sometimes the two men changed places, but there were many small lakes and rivers, and Perrault understood ice better. He always knew when the ice across a river was very thin.

Day after day Buck pulled in his harness. They started in the morning before it was light, and they stopped in the evening after dark, ate a piece of fish, and went to sleep in their holes under the snow. Buck was always hungry. Fran?ois gave him 750 grams of dried fish a day, and it was never enough. The other dogs were given only 500 grams; they were smaller and could stay alive on less food.

Buck learnt to eat quickly; if he was too slow, the other dogs stole his food. He saw Pike, one of the new dogs, steal some meat from the sledge when Perrault wasnt looking. The next day Buck stole some and got away unseen. Perrault was very angry, but he thought another dog, Dub, had taken it and so punished him instead of Buck.

Buck was learning how to live in the north. In the south he had never stolen, but there he had never been so hungry. He stole cleverly and secretly, remembering the beatings from the man with the club. Buck was learning the law of club and tooth.

He learnt to eat any food anything that he could get his teeth into. He learnt to break the ice on water holes with his feet when he wanted to drink. He was stronger, harder, and could see and smell better than ever before. In a way, he was remembering back to the days when wild dogs travelled in packs through the forest, killing for meat as they went. It was easy for him to learn to fight like a wolf, because it was in his blood. In the evenings, when he pointed his nose at the moon and howled long and loud, he was remembering the dogs and wolves that had come before him.

The wild animal

The wild animal was strong in Buck, and as he travelled across the snow, it grew stronger and stronger. And as Buck grew stronger, he hated Spitz more and more, although he was careful never to start a fight.

But Spitz was always showing his teeth to Buck, trying to start a fight. And Buck knew that if he and Spitz fought, one of them would die.

The fight almost happened one night when they stopped by Lake Laberge. There was heavy snow and it was very cold. The lake was frozen and Fran?ois, Perrault, and the dogs had to spend the night on the ice, under a big rock. Buck had made a warm hole in the snow and was sorry to leave it to get his piece of fish. But when he had eaten, and returned to his hole, he found Spitz in it. Buck had tried not to fight Spitz before, but this was too much. He attacked him angrily. Spitz was surprised. He knew Buck was big, but he didnt know he was so wild. Fran?ois was surprised too, and guessed why Buck was angry.

Go on Buck! he shouted. Fight him, the dirty thief!

Spitz was also ready to fight, and the two dogs circled one another, looking for the chance to jump in. But suddenly there was a shout from Perrault, and they saw eighty or a hundred dogs around the sledge. The dogs came from an Indian village, and they were searching for the food that they could smell on the sledge. Perrault and Fran?ois tried to fight them off with their clubs, but the dogs, made crazy by the smell of the food, showed their teeth and fought back.

Buck had never seen dogs like these. They were all skin and bone, but hunger made them fight like wild things. Three of them attacked Buck and in seconds his head and legs were badly bitten. Dave and Sol-leks stood side by side, covered in blood, fighting bravely. Joe and Pike jumped on one dog, and Pike broke its neck with one bite. Buck caught another dog by the neck and tasted blood. He threw himself on the next one, and then felt teeth in his own neck. It was Spitz, attacking him from the side.

Perrault and Fran?ois came to help with clubs, but then they had to run back to save the food. It was safer for the nine sledge-dogs to run away across the lake. Several of them were badly hurt, and they spent an unhappy night hiding among the trees.

At first light they returned to the sledge and found Perrault and Fran?ois tired and angry. Half their food was gone. The Indian dogs had even eaten one of Perraults shoes. Fran?ois looked at his dogs unhappily.

Ah, my friends, he said softly, perhaps those bites will make you ill. What do you think, Perrault?

Perrault said nothing. They still had six hundred kilometres to travel, and he hoped very much that his sledge-dogs had not caught rabies from the Indian dogs.

The harness was torn and damaged and it was two hours before they were moving, travelling slowly and painfully over the most difficult country that they had been in.

The Thirty Mile River was not frozen. It ran too fast to freeze. They spent six days trying to find a place to cross, and every step was dangerous for dogs and men. Twelve times they found ice bridges across the river, and Perrault walked carefully onto them, holding a long piece of wood. And twelve times he fell through a bridge and was saved by the piece of wood, which caught on the sides of the hole. But the temperature was 45 below zero, and each time Perrault fell into the water, he had to light a fire to dry and warm himself. Once, the sledge fell through the ice, with Dave and Buck, and they were covered in ice by the time Perrault and Fran?ois pulled them out of the river. Again, a fire was needed to save them. Another time, Spitz and the dogs in front fell through the ice Buck and Dave and Fran?ois at the sledge had to pull backwards. That day they travelled only four hundred metres.

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