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The Call of the Wild

7. The Sounding of the Call
When Buck earned sixteen hundred dollars in five minutes for John Thornton, he
made it possible for his master to pay off certain debts and to journey with his
partners into the East after a fabled lost mine, the history of which was as old as
the history of the country. Many men had sought it; few had found it; and more
than a few there were who had never returned from the quest. This lost mine was
steeped in tragedy and shrouded in mystery. No one knew of the first man. The
oldest tradition stopped before it got back to him. From the beginning there had
been an ancient and ramshackle cabin. Dying men had sworn to it, and to the
mine the site of which it marked, clinching their testimony with nuggets that were
unlike any known grade of gold in the Northland.
But no living man had looted this treasure house, and the dead were dead;
wherefore John Thornton and Pete and Hans, with Buck and half a dozen other
dogs, faced into the East on an unknown trail to achieve where men and dogs as
good as themselves had failed. They sledded seventy miles up the Yukon,
swung to the left into the Stewart River, passed the Mayo and the McQuestion,
and held on until the Stewart itself became a streamlet, threading the upstanding
peaks which marked the backbone of the continent.
John Thornton asked little of man or nature. He was unafraid of the wild. With a
handful of salt and a rifle he could plunge into the wilderness and fare wherever
he pleased and as long as he pleased. Being in no haste, Indian fashion, he
hunted his dinner in the course of the day's travel; and if he failed to find it, like
the Indian, he kept on travelling, secure in the knowledge that sooner or later he
would come to it. So, on this great journey into the East, straight meat was the
bill of fare, ammunition and tools principally made up the load on the sled, and
the time-card was drawn upon the limitless future.
To Buck it was boundless delight, this hunting, fishing, and indefinite wandering
through strange places. For weeks at a time they would hold on steadily, day
after day; and for weeks upon end they would camp, here and there, the dogs
loafing and the men burning holes through frozen muck and gravel and washing
countless pans of dirt by the heat of the fire. Sometimes they went hungry,
sometimes they feasted riotously, all according to the abundance of game and
the fortune of hunting. Summer arrived, and dogs and men packed on their
backs, rafted across blue mountain lakes, and descended or ascended unknown
rivers in slender boats whipsawed from the standing forest.
The months came and went, and back and forth they twisted through the
uncharted vastness, where no men were and yet where men had been if the Lost
Cabin were true. They went across divides in summer blizzards, shivered under
the midnight sun on naked mountains between the timber line and the eternal
snows, dropped into summer valleys amid swarming gnats and flies, and in the
shadows of glaciers picked strawberries and flowers as ripe and fair as any the
Southland could boast. In the fall of the year they penetrated a weird lake
country, sad and silent, where wild- fowl had been, but where then there was no
 
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