The Call of the Wild
3. The Dominant Primordial Beast
The dominant primordial beast was strong in Buck, and under the fierce
conditions of trail life it grew and grew. Yet it was a secret growth. His newborn
cunning gave him poise and control. He was too busy adjusting himself to the
new life to feel at ease, and not only did he not pick fights, but he avoided them
whenever possible. A certain deliberateness characterized his attitude. He was
not prone to rashness and precipitate action; and in the bitter hatred between him
and Spitz he betrayed no impatience, shunned all offensive acts.
On the other hand, possibly because he divined in Buck a dangerous rival, Spitz
never lost an opportunity of showing his teeth. He even went out of his way to
bully Buck, striving constantly to start the fight which could end only in the death
of one or the other. Early in the trip this might have taken place had it not been
for an unwonted accident. At the end of this day they made a bleak and
miserable camp on the shore of Lake Le Barge. Driving snow, a wind that cut like
a white-hot knife, and darkness had forced them to grope for a camping place.
They could hardly have fared worse. At their backs rose a perpendicular wall of
rock, and Perrault and Francois were compelled to make their fire and spread
their sleeping robes on the ice of the lake itself. The tent they had discarded at
Dyea in order to travel light. A few sticks of driftwood furnished them with a fire
that thawed down through the ice and left them to eat supper in the dark.
Close in under the sheltering rock Buck made his nest. So snug and warm was it,
that he was loath to leave it when Francois distributed the fish which he had first
thawed over the fire. But when Buck finished his ration and returned, he found
his nest occupied. A warning snarl told him that the trespasser was Spitz. Till
now Buck had avoided trouble with his enemy, but this was too much. The beast
in him roared. He sprang upon Spitz with a fury which surprised them both, and
Spitz particularly, for his whole experience with Buck had gone to teach him that
his rival was an unusually timid dog, who managed to hold his own only because
of his great weight and size.
Francois was surprised, too, when they shot out in a tangle from the disrupted
nest and he divined the cause of the trouble. "A-a-ah!" he cried to Buck. "Gif it to
heem, by Gar! Gif it to heem, the dirty t'eef!"
Spitz was equally willing. He was crying with sheer rage and eagerness as he
circled back and forth for a chance to spring in. Buck was no less eager, and no
less cautious, as he likewise circled back and forth for the advantage. But it was
then that the unexpected happened, the thing which projected their struggle for
supremacy far into the future, past many a weary mile of trail and toil.
An oath from Perrault, the resounding impact of a club upon a bony frame, and a
shrill yelp of pain, heralded the breaking forth of pandemonium. The camp was
suddenly discovered to be alive with skulking furry forms,--starving huskies, four
or five score of them, who had scented the camp from some Indian village. They
had crept in while Buck and Spitz were fighting, and when the two men sprang
among them with stout clubs they showed their teeth and fought back. They were
crazed by the smell of the food. Perrault found one with head buried in the grub-