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The Call of the Wild

6. For the Love of a Man
When John Thornton froze his feet in the previous December his partners had
made him comfortable and left him to get well, going on themselves up the river
to get out a raft of saw-logs for Dawson. He was still limping slightly at the time
he rescued Buck, but with the continued warm weather even the slight limp left
him. And here, lying by the river bank through the long spring days, watching the
running water, listening lazily to the songs of birds and the hum of nature, Buck
slowly won back his strength.
A rest comes very good after one has travelled three thousand miles, and it must
be confessed that Buck waxed lazy as his wounds healed, his muscles swelled
out, and the flesh came back to cover his bones. For that matter, they were all
loafing,--Buck, John Thornton, and Skeet and Nig,--waiting for the raft to come
that was to carry them down to Dawson. Skeet was a little Irish setter who early
made friends with Buck, who, in a dying condition, was unable to resent her first
advances. She had the doctor trait which some dogs possess; and as a mother
cat washes her kittens, so she washed and cleansed Buck's wounds. Regularly,
each morning after he had finished his breakfast, she performed her self-
appointed task, till he came to look for her ministrations as much as he did for
Thornton's. Nig, equally friendly, though less demonstrative, was a huge black
dog, half bloodhound and half deerhound, with eyes that laughed and a
boundless good nature.
To Buck's surprise these dogs manifested no jealousy toward him. They seemed
to share the kindliness and largeness of John Thornton. As Buck grew stronger
they enticed him into all sorts of ridiculous games, in which Thornton himself
could not forbear to join; and in this fashion Buck romped through his
convalescence and into a new existence. Love, genuine passionate love, was his
for the first time. This he had never experienced at Judge Miller's down in the
sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley. With the Judge's sons, hunting and tramping, it
had been a working partnership; with the Judge's grandsons, a sort of pompous
guardianship; and with the Judge himself, a stately and dignified friendship. But
love that was feverish and burning, that was adoration, that was madness, it had
taken John Thornton to arouse.
This man had saved his life, which was something; but, further, he was the ideal
master. Other men saw to the welfare of their dogs from a sense of duty and
business expediency; he saw to the welfare of his as if they were his own
children, because he could not help it. And he saw further. He never forgot a
kindly greeting or a cheering word, and to sit down for a long talk with them
("gas" he called it) was as much his delight as theirs. He had a way of taking
Buck's head roughly between his hands, and resting his own head upon Buck's,
of shaking him back and forth, the while calling him ill names that to Buck were
love names. Buck knew no greater joy than that rough embrace and the sound of
murmured oaths, and at each jerk back and forth it seemed that his heart would
be shaken out of his body so great was its ecstasy. And when, released, he
sprang to his feet, his mouth laughing, his eyes eloquent, his throat vibrant with
 
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