White Fang (5 of 5)


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Transcript:
White Fang by
Jack London
Part V CHAPTER III—THE GOD'S DOMAIN
Not only was White Fang adaptable by nature, but he had travelled much,
and knew the meaning and necessity of adjustment. Here, in Sierra Vista,
which was the name of Judge Scott's place, White Fang quickly began to
make himself at home. He had no further serious trouble with the dogs.
They knew more about the ways of the Southland gods than did he, and in
their eyes he had qualified when he accompanied the gods inside the
house. Wolf that he was, and unprecedented as it was, the gods had
sanctioned his presence, and they, the dogs of the gods, could only
recognise this sanction.
Dick, perforce, had to go through a few stiff formalities at first, after
which he calmly accepted White Fang as an addition to the premises. Had
Dick had his way, they would have been good friends. All but White Fang
was averse to friendship. All he asked of other dogs was to be let
alone. His whole life he had kept aloof from his kind, and he still
desired to keep aloof. Dick's overtures bothered him, so he snarled Dick
away. In the north he had learned the lesson that he must let the
master's dogs alone, and he did not forget that lesson now. But he
insisted on his own privacy and self-seclusion, and so thoroughly ignored
Dick that that good-natured creature finally gave him up and scarcely
took as much interest in him as in the hitching-post near the stable.
Not so with Collie. While she accepted him because it was the mandate of
the gods, that was no reason that she should leave him in peace. Woven
into her being was the memory of countless crimes he and his had
perpetrated against her ancestry. Not in a day nor a generation were the
ravaged sheepfolds to be forgotten. All this was a spur to her, pricking
her to retaliation. She could not fly in the face of the gods who
permitted him, but that did not prevent her from making life miserable
for him in petty ways. A feud, ages old, was between them, and she, for
one, would see to it that he was reminded.
So Collie took advantage of her sex to pick upon White Fang and maltreat
him. His instinct would not permit him to attack her, while her
persistence would not permit him to ignore her. When she rushed at him
he turned his fur-protected shoulder to her sharp teeth and walked away
stiff-legged and stately. When she forced him too hard, he was compelled
to go about in a circle, his shoulder presented to her, his head turned
from her, and on his face and in his eyes a patient and bored expression.
Sometimes, however, a nip on his hind-quarters hastened his retreat and
made it anything but stately. But as a rule he managed to maintain a
dignity that was almost solemnity. He ignored her existence whenever it
was possible, and made it a point to keep out of her way. When he saw or
heard her coming, he got up and walked off.
There was much in other matters for White Fang to learn. Life in the
Northland was simplicity itself when compared with the complicated
affairs of Sierra Vista. First of all, he had to learn the family of the
master. In a way he was prepared to do this. As Mit-sah and Kloo-kooch
had belonged to Grey Beaver, sharing his food, his fire, and his
blankets, so now, at Sierra Vista, belonged to the love-master all the
denizens of the house.
But in this matter there was a difference, and many differences. Sierra
Vista was a far vaster affair than the tepee of Grey Beaver. There were
many persons to be considered. There was Judge Scott, and there was his
wife. There were the master's two sisters, Beth and Mary. There was his
wife, Alice, and then there were his children, Weedon and Maud, toddlers
of four and six. There was no way for anybody to tell him about all
these people, and of blood-ties and relationship he knew nothing whatever
and never would be capable of knowing. Yet he quickly worked it out that
all of them belonged to the master. Then, by observation, whenever
opportunity offered, by study of action, speech, and the very intonations
of the voice, he slowly learned the intimacy and the degree of favour
they enjoyed with the master. And by this ascertained standard, White
Fang treated them accordingly. What was of value to the master he
valued; what was dear to the master was to be cherished by White Fang and
guarded carefully.
Thus it was with the two children. All his life he had disliked
children. He hated and feared their hands. The lessons were not tender
that he had learned of their tyranny and cruelty in the days of the
Indian villages. When Weedon and Maud had first approached him, he
growled warningly and looked malignant. A cuff from the master and a
sharp word had then compelled him to permit their caresses, though he
growled and growled under their tiny hands, and in the growl there was no
crooning note. Later, he observed that the boy and girl were of great
value in the master's eyes. Then it was that no cuff nor sharp word was
necessary before they could pat him.
Yet White Fang was never effusively affectionate. He yielded to the
master's children with an ill but honest grace, and endured their fooling
as one would endure a painful operation. When he could no longer endure,
he would get up and stalk determinedly away from them. But after a time,
he grew even to like the children. Still he was not demonstrative. He
would not go up to them. On the other hand, instead of walking away at
sight of them, he waited for them to come to him. And still later, it
was noticed that a pleased light came into his eyes when he saw them
approaching, and that he looked after them with an appearance of curious
regret when they left him for other amusements.
All this was a matter of development, and took time. Next in his regard,
after the children, was Judge Scott. There were two reasons, possibly,
for this. First, he was evidently a valuable possession of the master's,
and next, he was undemonstrative. White Fang liked to lie at his feet on
the wide porch when he read the newspaper, from time to time favouring
White Fang with a look or a word—untroublesome tokens that he recognised
White Fang's presence and existence. But this was only when the master
was not around. When the master appeared, all other beings ceased to
exist so far as White Fang was concerned.
White Fang allowed all the members of the family to pet him and make much
of him; but he never gave to them what he gave to the master. No caress
of theirs could put the love-croon into his throat, and, try as they
would, they could never persuade him into snuggling against them. This
expression of abandon and surrender, of absolute trust, he reserved for
the master alone. In fact, he never regarded the members of the family
in any other light than possessions of the love-master.
Also White Fang had early come to differentiate between the family and
the servants of the household. The latter were afraid of him, while he
merely refrained from attacking them. This because he considered that
they were likewise possessions of the master. Between White Fang and
them existed a neutrality and no more. They cooked for the master and
washed the dishes and did other things just as Matt had done up in the
Klondike. They were, in short, appurtenances of the household.
Outside the household there was even more for White Fang to learn. The
master's domain was wide and complex, yet it had its metes and bounds.
The land itself ceased at the county road. Outside was the common domain
of all gods—the roads and streets. Then inside other fences were the
particular domains of other gods. A myriad laws governed all these
things and determined conduct; yet he did not know the speech of the
gods, nor was there any way for him to learn save by experience. He
obeyed his natural impulses until they ran him counter to some law. When
this had been done a few times, he learned the law and after that
observed it.
But most potent in his education was the cuff of the master's hand, the
censure of the master's voice. Because of White Fang's very great love,
a cuff from the master hurt him far more than any beating Grey Beaver or
Beauty Smith had ever given him. They had hurt only the flesh of him;
beneath the flesh the spirit had still raged, splendid and invincible.
But with the master the cuff was always too light to hurt the flesh. Yet
it went deeper. It was an expression of the master's disapproval, and
White Fang's spirit wilted under it.
In point of fact, the cuff was rarely administered. The master's voice
was sufficient. By it White Fang knew whether he did right or not. By
it he trimmed his conduct and adjusted his actions. It was the compass
by which he steered and learned to chart the manners of a new land and
life.
In the Northland, the only domesticated animal was the dog. All other
animals lived in the Wild, and were, when not too formidable, lawful
spoil for any dog. All his days White Fang had foraged among the live
things for food. It did not enter his head that in the Southland it was
otherwise. But this he was to learn early in his residence in Santa
Clara Valley. Sauntering around the corner of the house in the early
morning, he came upon a chicken that had escaped from the chicken-yard.
White Fang's natural impulse was to eat it. A couple of bounds, a flash
of teeth and a frightened squawk, and he had scooped in the adventurous
fowl. It was farm-bred and fat and tender; and White Fang licked his
chops and decided that such fare was good.
Later in the day, he chanced upon another stray chicken near the stables.
One of the grooms ran to the rescue. He did not know White Fang's breed,
so for weapon he took a light buggy-whip. At the first cut of the whip,
White Fang left the chicken for the man. A club might have stopped White
Fang, but not a whip. Silently, without flinching, he took a second cut
in his forward rush, and as he leaped for the throat the groom cried out,
"My God!" and staggered backward. He dropped the whip and shielded his
throat with his arms. In consequence, his forearm was ripped open to the
bone.
The man was badly frightened. It was not so much White Fang's ferocity
as it was his silence that unnerved the groom. Still protecting his
throat and face with his torn and bleeding arm, he tried to retreat to
the barn. And it would have gone hard with him had not Collie appeared
on the scene. As she had saved Dick's life, she now saved the groom's.
She rushed upon White Fang in frenzied wrath. She had been right. She
had known better than the blundering gods. All her suspicions were
justified. Here was the ancient marauder up to his old tricks again.
The groom escaped into the stables, and White Fang backed away before
Collie's wicked teeth, or presented his shoulder to them and circled
round and round. But Collie did not give over, as was her wont, after a
decent interval of chastisement. On the contrary, she grew more excited
and angry every moment, until, in the end, White Fang flung dignity to
the winds and frankly fled away from her across the fields.
"He'll learn to leave chickens alone," the master said. "But I can't
give him the lesson until I catch him in the act."
Two nights later came the act, but on a more generous scale than the
master had anticipated. White Fang had observed closely the
chicken-yards and the habits of the chickens. In the night-time, after
they had gone to roost, he climbed to the top of a pile of newly hauled
lumber. From there he gained the roof of a chicken-house, passed over
the ridgepole and dropped to the ground inside. A moment later he was
inside the house, and the slaughter began.
In the morning, when the master came out on to the porch, fifty white
Leghorn hens, laid out in a row by the groom, greeted his eyes. He
whistled to himself, softly, first with surprise, and then, at the end,
with admiration. His eyes were likewise greeted by White Fang, but about
the latter there were no signs of shame nor guilt. He carried himself
with pride, as though, forsooth, he had achieved a deed praiseworthy and
meritorious. There was about him no consciousness of sin. The master's
lips tightened as he faced the disagreeable task. Then he talked harshly
to the unwitting culprit, and in his voice there was nothing but godlike
wrath. Also, he held White Fang's nose down to the slain hens, and at
the same time cuffed him soundly.
White Fang never raided a chicken-roost again. It was against the law,
and he had learned it. Then the master took him into the chicken-yards.
White Fang's natural impulse, when he saw the live food fluttering about
him and under his very nose, was to spring upon it. He obeyed the
impulse, but was checked by the master's voice. They continued in the
yards for half an hour. Time and again the impulse surged over White
Fang, and each time, as he yielded to it, he was checked by the master's
voice. Thus it was he learned the law, and ere he left the domain of the
chickens, he had learned to ignore their existence.
"You can never cure a chicken-killer." Judge Scott shook his head sadly
at luncheon table, when his son narrated the lesson he had given White
Fang. "Once they've got the habit and the taste of blood . . ." Again
he shook his head sadly.
But Weedon Scott did not agree with his father. "I'll tell you what I'll
do," he challenged finally. "I'll lock White Fang in with the chickens
all afternoon."
"But think of the chickens," objected the judge.
"And furthermore," the son went on, "for every chicken he kills, I'll pay
you one dollar gold coin of the realm."
"But you should penalise father, too," interpose Beth.
Her sister seconded her, and a chorus of approval arose from around the
table. Judge Scott nodded his head in agreement.
"All right." Weedon Scott pondered for a moment. "And if, at the end of
the afternoon White Fang hasn't harmed a chicken, for every ten minutes
of the time he has spent in the yard, you will have to say to him,
gravely and with deliberation, just as if you were sitting on the bench
and solemnly passing judgment, 'White Fang, you are smarter than I
thought.'"
From hidden points of vantage the family watched the performance. But it
was a fizzle. Locked in the yard and there deserted by the master, White
Fang lay down and went to sleep. Once he got up and walked over to the
trough for a drink of water. The chickens he calmly ignored. So far as
he was concerned they did not exist. At four o'clock he executed a
running jump, gained the roof of the chicken-house and leaped to the
ground outside, whence he sauntered gravely to the house. He had learned
the law. And on the porch, before the delighted family, Judge Scott,
face to face with White Fang, said slowly and solemnly, sixteen times,
"White Fang, you are smarter than I thought."
But it was the multiplicity of laws that befuddled White Fang and often
brought him into disgrace. He had to learn that he must not touch the
chickens that belonged to other gods. Then there were cats, and rabbits,
and turkeys; all these he must let alone. In fact, when he had but
partly learned the law, his impression was that he must leave all live
things alone. Out in the back-pasture, a quail could flutter up under
his nose unharmed. All tense and trembling with eagerness and desire, he
mastered his instinct and stood still. He was obeying the will of the
gods.
And then, one day, again out in the back-pasture, he saw Dick start a
jackrabbit and run it. The master himself was looking on and did not
interfere. Nay, he encouraged White Fang to join in the chase. And thus
he learned that there was no taboo on jackrabbits. In the end he worked
out the complete law. Between him and all domestic animals there must be
no hostilities. If not amity, at least neutrality must obtain. But the
other animals—the squirrels, and quail, and cottontails, were creatures
of the Wild who had never yielded allegiance to man. They were the
lawful prey of any dog. It was only the tame that the gods protected,
and between the tame deadly strife was not permitted. The gods held the
power of life and death over their subjects, and the gods were jealous of
their power.
Life was complex in the Santa Clara Valley after the simplicities of the
Northland. And the chief thing demanded by these intricacies of
civilisation was control, restraint—a poise of self that was as delicate
as the fluttering of gossamer wings and at the same time as rigid as
steel. Life had a thousand faces, and White Fang found he must meet them
all—thus, when he went to town, in to San Jose, running behind the
carriage or loafing about the streets when the carriage stopped. Life
flowed past him, deep and wide and varied, continually impinging upon his
senses, demanding of him instant and endless adjustments and
correspondences, and compelling him, almost always, to suppress his
natural impulses.
There were butcher-shops where meat hung within reach. This meat he must
not touch. There were cats at the houses the master visited that must be
let alone. And there were dogs everywhere that snarled at him and that
he must not attack. And then, on the crowded sidewalks there were
persons innumerable whose attention he attracted. They would stop and
look at him, point him out to one another, examine him, talk of him, and,
worst of all, pat him. And these perilous contacts from all these
strange hands he must endure. Yet this endurance he achieved.
Furthermore, he got over being awkward and self-conscious. In a lofty
way he received the attentions of the multitudes of strange gods. With
condescension he accepted their condescension. On the other hand, there
was something about him that prevented great familiarity. They patted
him on the head and passed on, contented and pleased with their own
daring.
But it was not all easy for White Fang. Running behind the carriage in
the outskirts of San Jose, he encountered certain small boys who made a
practice of flinging stones at him. Yet he knew that it was not
permitted him to pursue and drag them down. Here he was compelled to
violate his instinct of self-preservation, and violate it he did, for he
was becoming tame and qualifying himself for civilisation.
Nevertheless, White Fang was not quite satisfied with the arrangement. He
had no abstract ideas about justice and fair play. But there is a
certain sense of equity that resides in life, and it was this sense in
him that resented the unfairness of his being permitted no defence
against the stone-throwers. He forgot that in the covenant entered into
between him and the gods they were pledged to care for him and defend
him. But one day the master sprang from the carriage, whip in hand, and
gave the stone-throwers a thrashing. After that they threw stones no
more, and White Fang understood and was satisfied.
One other experience of similar nature was his. On the way to town,
hanging around the saloon at the cross-roads, were three dogs that made a
practice of rushing out upon him when he went by. Knowing his deadly
method of fighting, the master had never ceased impressing upon White
Fang the law that he must not fight. As a result, having learned the
lesson well, White Fang was hard put whenever he passed the cross-roads
saloon. After the first rush, each time, his snarl kept the three dogs
at a distance but they trailed along behind, yelping and bickering and
insulting him. This endured for some time. The men at the saloon even
urged the dogs on to attack White Fang. One day they openly sicked the
dogs on him. The master stopped the carriage.
"Go to it," he said to White Fang.
But White Fang could not believe. He looked at the master, and he looked
at the dogs. Then he looked back eagerly and questioningly at the
master.
The master nodded his head. "Go to them, old fellow. Eat them up."
White Fang no longer hesitated. He turned and leaped silently among his
enemies. All three faced him. There was a great snarling and growling,
a clashing of teeth and a flurry of bodies. The dust of the road arose
in a cloud and screened the battle. But at the end of several minutes
two dogs were struggling in the dirt and the third was in full flight. He
leaped a ditch, went through a rail fence, and fled across a field. White
Fang followed, sliding over the ground in wolf fashion and with wolf
speed, swiftly and without noise, and in the centre of the field he
dragged down and slew the dog.
With this triple killing his main troubles with dogs ceased. The word
went up and down the valley, and men saw to it that their dogs did not
molest the Fighting Wolf.
CHAPTER IV—THE CALL OF KIND
The months came and went. There was plenty of food and no work in the
Southland, and White Fang lived fat and prosperous and happy. Not alone
was he in the geographical Southland, for he was in the Southland of
life. Human kindness was like a sun shining upon him, and he flourished
like a flower planted in good soil.
And yet he remained somehow different from other dogs. He knew the law
even better than did the dogs that had known no other life, and he
observed the law more punctiliously; but still there was about him a
suggestion of lurking ferocity, as though the Wild still lingered in him
and the wolf in him merely slept.
He never chummed with other dogs. Lonely he had lived, so far as his
kind was concerned, and lonely he would continue to live. In his
puppyhood, under the persecution of Lip-lip and the puppy-pack, and in
his fighting days with Beauty Smith, he had acquired a fixed aversion for
dogs. The natural course of his life had been diverted, and, recoiling
from his kind, he had clung to the human.
Besides, all Southland dogs looked upon him with suspicion. He aroused
in them their instinctive fear of the Wild, and they greeted him always
with snarl and growl and belligerent hatred. He, on the other hand,
learned that it was not necessary to use his teeth upon them. His naked
fangs and writhing lips were uniformly efficacious, rarely failing to
send a bellowing on-rushing dog back on its haunches.
But there was one trial in White Fang's life—Collie. She never gave him
a moment's peace. She was not so amenable to the law as he. She defied
all efforts of the master to make her become friends with White Fang.
Ever in his ears was sounding her sharp and nervous snarl. She had never
forgiven him the chicken-killing episode, and persistently held to the
belief that his intentions were bad. She found him guilty before the
act, and treated him accordingly. She became a pest to him, like a
policeman following him around the stable and the hounds, and, if he even
so much as glanced curiously at a pigeon or chicken, bursting into an
outcry of indignation and wrath. His favourite way of ignoring her was
to lie down, with his head on his fore-paws, and pretend sleep. This
always dumfounded and silenced her.
With the exception of Collie, all things went well with White Fang. He
had learned control and poise, and he knew the law. He achieved a
staidness, and calmness, and philosophic tolerance. He no longer lived
in a hostile environment. Danger and hurt and death did not lurk
everywhere about him. In time, the unknown, as a thing of terror and
menace ever impending, faded away. Life was soft and easy. It flowed
along smoothly, and neither fear nor foe lurked by the way.
He missed the snow without being aware of it. "An unduly long summer,"
would have been his thought had he thought about it; as it was, he merely
missed the snow in a vague, subconscious way. In the same fashion,
especially in the heat of summer when he suffered from the sun, he
experienced faint longings for the Northland. Their only effect upon
him, however, was to make him uneasy and restless without his knowing
what was the matter.
White Fang had never been very demonstrative. Beyond his snuggling and
the throwing of a crooning note into his love-growl, he had no way of
expressing his love. Yet it was given him to discover a third way. He
had always been susceptible to the laughter of the gods. Laughter had
affected him with madness, made him frantic with rage. But he did not
have it in him to be angry with the love-master, and when that god
elected to laugh at him in a good-natured, bantering way, he was
nonplussed. He could feel the pricking and stinging of the old anger as
it strove to rise up in him, but it strove against love. He could not be
angry; yet he had to do something. At first he was dignified, and the
master laughed the harder. Then he tried to be more dignified, and the
master laughed harder than before. In the end, the master laughed him
out of his dignity. His jaws slightly parted, his lips lifted a little,
and a quizzical expression that was more love than humour came into his
eyes. He had learned to laugh.
Likewise he learned to romp with the master, to be tumbled down and
rolled over, and be the victim of innumerable rough tricks. In return he
feigned anger, bristling and growling ferociously, and clipping his teeth
together in snaps that had all the seeming of deadly intention. But he
never forgot himself. Those snaps were always delivered on the empty
air. At the end of such a romp, when blow and cuff and snap and snarl
were last and furious, they would break off suddenly and stand several
feet apart, glaring at each other. And then, just as suddenly, like the
sun rising on a stormy sea, they would begin to laugh. This would always
culminate with the master's arms going around White Fang's neck and
shoulders while the latter crooned and growled his love-song.
But nobody else ever romped with White Fang. He did not permit it. He
stood on his dignity, and when they attempted it, his warning snarl and
bristling mane were anything but playful. That he allowed the master
these liberties was no reason that he should be a common dog, loving here
and loving there, everybody's property for a romp and good time. He
loved with single heart and refused to cheapen himself or his love.
The master went out on horseback a great deal, and to accompany him was
one of White Fang's chief duties in life. In the Northland he had
evidenced his fealty by toiling in the harness; but there were no sleds
in the Southland, nor did dogs pack burdens on their backs. So he
rendered fealty in the new way, by running with the master's horse. The
longest day never played White Fang out. His was the gait of the wolf,
smooth, tireless and effortless, and at the end of fifty miles he would
come in jauntily ahead of the horse.
It was in connection with the riding, that White Fang achieved one other
mode of expression—remarkable in that he did it but twice in all his
life. The first time occurred when the master was trying to teach a
spirited thoroughbred the method of opening and closing gates without the
rider's dismounting. Time and again and many times he ranged the horse
up to the gate in the effort to close it and each time the horse became
frightened and backed and plunged away. It grew more nervous and excited
every moment. When it reared, the master put the spurs to it and made it
drop its fore-legs back to earth, whereupon it would begin kicking with
its hind-legs. White Fang watched the performance with increasing
anxiety until he could contain himself no longer, when he sprang in front
of the horse and barked savagely and warningly.
Though he often tried to bark thereafter, and the master encouraged him,
he succeeded only once, and then it was not in the master's presence. A
scamper across the pasture, a jackrabbit rising suddenly under the
horse's feet, a violent sheer, a stumble, a fall to earth, and a broken
leg for the master, was the cause of it. White Fang sprang in a rage at
the throat of the offending horse, but was checked by the master's voice.
"Home! Go home!" the master commanded when he had ascertained his
injury.
White Fang was disinclined to desert him. The master thought of writing
a note, but searched his pockets vainly for pencil and paper. Again he
commanded White Fang to go home.
The latter regarded him wistfully, started away, then returned and whined
softly. The master talked to him gently but seriously, and he cocked his
ears, and listened with painful intentness.
"That's all right, old fellow, you just run along home," ran the talk.
"Go on home and tell them what's happened to me. Home with you, you
wolf. Get along home!"
White Fang knew the meaning of "home," and though he did not understand
the remainder of the master's language, he knew it was his will that he
should go home. He turned and trotted reluctantly away. Then he
stopped, undecided, and looked back over his shoulder.
"Go home!" came the sharp command, and this time he obeyed.
The family was on the porch, taking the cool of the afternoon, when White
Fang arrived. He came in among them, panting, covered with dust.
"Weedon's back," Weedon's mother announced.
The children welcomed White Fang with glad cries and ran to meet him. He
avoided them and passed down the porch, but they cornered him against a
rocking-chair and the railing. He growled and tried to push by them.
Their mother looked apprehensively in their direction.
"I confess, he makes me nervous around the children," she said. "I have
a dread that he will turn upon them unexpectedly some day."
Growling savagely, White Fang sprang out of the corner, overturning the
boy and the girl. The mother called them to her and comforted them,
telling them not to bother White Fang.
"A wolf is a wolf!" commented Judge Scott. "There is no trusting one."
"But he is not all wolf," interposed Beth, standing for her brother in
his absence.
"You have only Weedon's opinion for that," rejoined the judge. "He
merely surmises that there is some strain of dog in White Fang; but as he
will tell you himself, he knows nothing about it. As for his
appearance—"
He did not finish his sentence. White Fang stood before him, growling
fiercely.
"Go away! Lie down, sir!" Judge Scott commanded.
White Fang turned to the love-master's wife. She screamed with fright as
he seized her dress in his teeth and dragged on it till the frail fabric
tore away. By this time he had become the centre of interest.
He had ceased from his growling and stood, head up, looking into their
faces. His throat worked spasmodically, but made no sound, while he
struggled with all his body, convulsed with the effort to rid himself of
the incommunicable something that strained for utterance.
"I hope he is not going mad," said Weedon's mother. "I told Weedon that
I was afraid the warm climate would not agree with an Arctic animal."
"He's trying to speak, I do believe," Beth announced.
At this moment speech came to White Fang, rushing up in a great burst of
barking.
"Something has happened to Weedon," his wife said decisively.
They were all on their feet now, and White Fang ran down the steps,
looking back for them to follow. For the second and last time in his
life he had barked and made himself understood.
After this event he found a warmer place in the hearts of the Sierra
Vista people, and even the groom whose arm he had slashed admitted that
he was a wise dog even if he was a wolf. Judge Scott still held to the
same opinion, and proved it to everybody's dissatisfaction by
measurements and descriptions taken from the encyclopaedia and various
works on natural history.
The days came and went, streaming their unbroken sunshine over the Santa
Clara Valley. But as they grew shorter and White Fang's second winter in
the Southland came on, he made a strange discovery. Collie's teeth were
no longer sharp. There was a playfulness about her nips and a gentleness
that prevented them from really hurting him. He forgot that she had made
life a burden to him, and when she disported herself around him he
responded solemnly, striving to be playful and becoming no more than
ridiculous.
One day she led him off on a long chase through the back-pasture land
into the woods. It was the afternoon that the master was to ride, and
White Fang knew it. The horse stood saddled and waiting at the door.
White Fang hesitated. But there was that in him deeper than all the law
he had learned, than the customs that had moulded him, than his love for
the master, than the very will to live of himself; and when, in the
moment of his indecision, Collie nipped him and scampered off, he turned
and followed after. The master rode alone that day; and in the woods,
side by side, White Fang ran with Collie, as his mother, Kiche, and old
One Eye had run long years before in the silent Northland forest.
CHAPTER V—THE SLEEPING WOLF
It was about this time that the newspapers were full of the daring escape
of a convict from San Quentin prison. He was a ferocious man. He had
been ill-made in the making. He had not been born right, and he had not
been helped any by the moulding he had received at the hands of society.
The hands of society are harsh, and this man was a striking sample of its
handiwork. He was a beast—a human beast, it is true, but nevertheless
so terrible a beast that he can best be characterised as carnivorous.
In San Quentin prison he had proved incorrigible. Punishment failed to
break his spirit. He could die dumb-mad and fighting to the last, but he
could not live and be beaten. The more fiercely he fought, the more
harshly society handled him, and the only effect of harshness was to make
him fiercer. Straight-jackets, starvation, and beatings and clubbings
were the wrong treatment for Jim Hall; but it was the treatment he
received. It was the treatment he had received from the time he was a
little pulpy boy in a San Francisco slum—soft clay in the hands of
society and ready to be formed into something.
It was during Jim Hall's third term in prison that he encountered a guard
that was almost as great a beast as he. The guard treated him unfairly,
lied about him to the warden, lost his credits, persecuted him. The
difference between them was that the guard carried a bunch of keys and a
revolver. Jim Hall had only his naked hands and his teeth. But he
sprang upon the guard one day and used his teeth on the other's throat
just like any jungle animal.
After this, Jim Hall went to live in the incorrigible cell. He lived
there three years. The cell was of iron, the floor, the walls, the roof.
He never left this cell. He never saw the sky nor the sunshine. Day was
a twilight and night was a black silence. He was in an iron tomb, buried
alive. He saw no human face, spoke to no human thing. When his food was
shoved in to him, he growled like a wild animal. He hated all things.
For days and nights he bellowed his rage at the universe. For weeks and
months he never made a sound, in the black silence eating his very soul.
He was a man and a monstrosity, as fearful a thing of fear as ever
gibbered in the visions of a maddened brain.
And then, one night, he escaped. The warders said it was impossible, but
nevertheless the cell was empty, and half in half out of it lay the body
of a dead guard. Two other dead guards marked his trail through the
prison to the outer walls, and he had killed with his hands to avoid
noise.
He was armed with the weapons of the slain guards—a live arsenal that
fled through the hills pursued by the organised might of society. A
heavy price of gold was upon his head. Avaricious farmers hunted him
with shot-guns. His blood might pay off a mortgage or send a son to
college. Public-spirited citizens took down their rifles and went out
after him. A pack of bloodhounds followed the way of his bleeding feet.
And the sleuth-hounds of the law, the paid fighting animals of society,
with telephone, and telegraph, and special train, clung to his trail
night and day.
Sometimes they came upon him, and men faced him like heroes, or stampeded
through barbed-wire fences to the delight of the commonwealth reading the
account at the breakfast table. It was after such encounters that the
dead and wounded were carted back to the towns, and their places filled
by men eager for the man-hunt.
And then Jim Hall disappeared. The bloodhounds vainly quested on the
lost trail. Inoffensive ranchers in remote valleys were held up by armed
men and compelled to identify themselves. While the remains of Jim Hall
were discovered on a dozen mountain-sides by greedy claimants for blood-
money.
In the meantime the newspapers were read at Sierra Vista, not so much
with interest as with anxiety. The women were afraid. Judge Scott pooh-
poohed and laughed, but not with reason, for it was in his last days on
the bench that Jim Hall had stood before him and received sentence. And
in open court-room, before all men, Jim Hall had proclaimed that the day
would come when he would wreak vengeance on the Judge that sentenced him.
For once, Jim Hall was right. He was innocent of the crime for which he
was sentenced. It was a case, in the parlance of thieves and police, of
"rail-roading." Jim Hall was being "rail-roaded" to prison for a crime
he had not committed. Because of the two prior convictions against him,
Judge Scott imposed upon him a sentence of fifty years.
Judge Scott did not know all things, and he did not know that he was
party to a police conspiracy, that the evidence was hatched and perjured,
that Jim Hall was guiltless of the crime charged. And Jim Hall, on the
other hand, did not know that Judge Scott was merely ignorant. Jim Hall
believed that the judge knew all about it and was hand in glove with the
police in the perpetration of the monstrous injustice. So it was, when
the doom of fifty years of living death was uttered by Judge Scott, that
Jim Hall, hating all things in the society that misused him, rose up and
raged in the court-room until dragged down by half a dozen of his blue-
coated enemies. To him, Judge Scott was the keystone in the arch of
injustice, and upon Judge Scott he emptied the vials of his wrath and
hurled the threats of his revenge yet to come. Then Jim Hall went to his
living death . . . and escaped.
Of all this White Fang knew nothing. But between him and Alice, the
master's wife, there existed a secret. Each night, after Sierra Vista
had gone to bed, she rose and let in White Fang to sleep in the big hall.
Now White Fang was not a house-dog, nor was he permitted to sleep in the
house; so each morning, early, she slipped down and let him out before
the family was awake.
On one such night, while all the house slept, White Fang awoke and lay
very quietly. And very quietly he smelled the air and read the message
it bore of a strange god's presence. And to his ears came sounds of the
strange god's movements. White Fang burst into no furious outcry. It
was not his way. The strange god walked softly, but more softly walked
White Fang, for he had no clothes to rub against the flesh of his body.
He followed silently. In the Wild he had hunted live meat that was
infinitely timid, and he knew the advantage of surprise.
The strange god paused at the foot of the great staircase and listened,
and White Fang was as dead, so without movement was he as he watched and
waited. Up that staircase the way led to the love-master and to the love-
master's dearest possessions. White Fang bristled, but waited. The
strange god's foot lifted. He was beginning the ascent.
Then it was that White Fang struck. He gave no warning, with no snarl
anticipated his own action. Into the air he lifted his body in the
spring that landed him on the strange god's back. White Fang clung with
his fore-paws to the man's shoulders, at the same time burying his fangs
into the back of the man's neck. He clung on for a moment, long enough
to drag the god over backward. Together they crashed to the floor. White
Fang leaped clear, and, as the man struggled to rise, was in again with
the slashing fangs.
Sierra Vista awoke in alarm. The noise from downstairs was as that of a
score of battling fiends. There were revolver shots. A man's voice
screamed once in horror and anguish. There was a great snarling and
growling, and over all arose a smashing and crashing of furniture and
glass.
But almost as quickly as it had arisen, the commotion died away. The
struggle had not lasted more than three minutes. The frightened
household clustered at the top of the stairway. From below, as from out
an abyss of blackness, came up a gurgling sound, as of air bubbling
through water. Sometimes this gurgle became sibilant, almost a whistle.
But this, too, quickly died down and ceased. Then naught came up out of
the blackness save a heavy panting of some creature struggling sorely for
air.
Weedon Scott pressed a button, and the staircase and downstairs hall were
flooded with light. Then he and Judge Scott, revolvers in hand,
cautiously descended. There was no need for this caution. White Fang
had done his work. In the midst of the wreckage of overthrown and
smashed furniture, partly on his side, his face hidden by an arm, lay a
man. Weedon Scott bent over, removed the arm and turned the man's face
upward. A gaping throat explained the manner of his death.
"Jim Hall," said Judge Scott, and father and son looked significantly at
each other.
Then they turned to White Fang. He, too, was lying on his side. His
eyes were closed, but the lids slightly lifted in an effort to look at
them as they bent over him, and the tail was perceptibly agitated in a
vain effort to wag. Weedon Scott patted him, and his throat rumbled an
acknowledging growl. But it was a weak growl at best, and it quickly
ceased. His eyelids drooped and went shut, and his whole body seemed to
relax and flatten out upon the floor.
"He's all in, poor devil," muttered the master.
"We'll see about that," asserted the Judge, as he started for the
telephone.
"Frankly, he has one chance in a thousand," announced the surgeon, after
he had worked an hour and a half on White Fang.
Dawn was breaking through the windows and dimming the electric lights.
With the exception of the children, the whole family was gathered about
the surgeon to hear his verdict.
"One broken hind-leg," he went on. "Three broken ribs, one at least of
which has pierced the lungs. He has lost nearly all the blood in his
body. There is a large likelihood of internal injuries. He must have
been jumped upon. To say nothing of three bullet holes clear through
him. One chance in a thousand is really optimistic. He hasn't a chance
in ten thousand."
"But he mustn't lose any chance that might be of help to him," Judge
Scott exclaimed. "Never mind expense. Put him under the X-ray—anything.
Weedon, telegraph at once to San Francisco for Doctor Nichols. No
reflection on you, doctor, you understand; but he must have the advantage
of every chance."
The surgeon smiled indulgently. "Of course I understand. He deserves
all that can be done for him. He must be nursed as you would nurse a
human being, a sick child. And don't forget what I told you about
temperature. I'll be back at ten o'clock again."
White Fang received the nursing. Judge Scott's suggestion of a trained
nurse was indignantly clamoured down by the girls, who themselves
undertook the task. And White Fang won out on the one chance in ten
thousand denied him by the surgeon.
The latter was not to be censured for his misjudgment. All his life he
had tended and operated on the soft humans of civilisation, who lived
sheltered lives and had descended out of many sheltered generations.
Compared with White Fang, they were frail and flabby, and clutched life
without any strength in their grip. White Fang had come straight from
the Wild, where the weak perish early and shelter is vouchsafed to none.
In neither his father nor his mother was there any weakness, nor in the
generations before them. A constitution of iron and the vitality of the
Wild were White Fang's inheritance, and he clung to life, the whole of
him and every part of him, in spirit and in flesh, with the tenacity that
of old belonged to all creatures.
Bound down a prisoner, denied even movement by the plaster casts and
bandages, White Fang lingered out the weeks. He slept long hours and
dreamed much, and through his mind passed an unending pageant of
Northland visions. All the ghosts of the past arose and were with him.
Once again he lived in the lair with Kiche, crept trembling to the knees
of Grey Beaver to tender his allegiance, ran for his life before Lip-lip
and all the howling bedlam of the puppy-pack.
He ran again through the silence, hunting his living food through the
months of famine; and again he ran at the head of the team, the gut-whips
of Mit-sah and Grey Beaver snapping behind, their voices crying "Ra!
Raa!" when they came to a narrow passage and the team closed together
like a fan to go through. He lived again all his days with Beauty Smith
and the fights he had fought. At such times he whimpered and snarled in
his sleep, and they that looked on said that his dreams were bad.
But there was one particular nightmare from which he suffered—the
clanking, clanging monsters of electric cars that were to him colossal
screaming lynxes. He would lie in a screen of bushes, watching for a
squirrel to venture far enough out on the ground from its tree-refuge.
Then, when he sprang out upon it, it would transform itself into an
electric car, menacing and terrible, towering over him like a mountain,
screaming and clanging and spitting fire at him. It was the same when he
challenged the hawk down out of the sky. Down out of the blue it would
rush, as it dropped upon him changing itself into the ubiquitous electric
car. Or again, he would be in the pen of Beauty Smith. Outside the pen,
men would be gathering, and he knew that a fight was on. He watched the
door for his antagonist to enter. The door would open, and thrust in
upon him would come the awful electric car. A thousand times this
occurred, and each time the terror it inspired was as vivid and great as
ever.
Then came the day when the last bandage and the last plaster cast were
taken off. It was a gala day. All Sierra Vista was gathered around. The
master rubbed his ears, and he crooned his love-growl. The master's wife
called him the "Blessed Wolf," which name was taken up with acclaim and
all the women called him the Blessed Wolf.
He tried to rise to his feet, and after several attempts fell down from
weakness. He had lain so long that his muscles had lost their cunning,
and all the strength had gone out of them. He felt a little shame
because of his weakness, as though, forsooth, he were failing the gods in
the service he owed them. Because of this he made heroic efforts to
arise and at last he stood on his four legs, tottering and swaying back
and forth.
"The Blessed Wolf!" chorused the women.
Judge Scott surveyed them triumphantly.
"Out of your own mouths be it," he said. "Just as I contended right
along. No mere dog could have done what he did. He's a wolf."
"A Blessed Wolf," amended the Judge's wife.
"Yes, Blessed Wolf," agreed the Judge. "And henceforth that shall be my
name for him."
"He'll have to learn to walk again," said the surgeon; "so he might as
well start in right now. It won't hurt him. Take him outside."
And outside he went, like a king, with all Sierra Vista about him and
tending on him. He was very weak, and when he reached the lawn he lay
down and rested for a while.
Then the procession started on, little spurts of strength coming into
White Fang's muscles as he used them and the blood began to surge through
them. The stables were reached, and there in the doorway, lay Collie, a
half-dozen pudgy puppies playing about her in the sun.
White Fang looked on with a wondering eye. Collie snarled warningly at
him, and he was careful to keep his distance. The master with his toe
helped one sprawling puppy toward him. He bristled suspiciously, but the
master warned him that all was well. Collie, clasped in the arms of one
of the women, watched him jealously and with a snarl warned him that all
was not well.
The puppy sprawled in front of him. He cocked his ears and watched it
curiously. Then their noses touched, and he felt the warm little tongue
of the puppy on his jowl. White Fang's tongue went out, he knew not why,
and he licked the puppy's face.
Hand-clapping and pleased cries from the gods greeted the performance. He
was surprised, and looked at them in a puzzled way. Then his weakness
asserted itself, and he lay down, his ears cocked, his head on one side,
as he watched the puppy. The other puppies came sprawling toward him, to
Collie's great disgust; and he gravely permitted them to clamber and
tumble over him. At first, amid the applause of the gods, he betrayed a
trifle of his old self-consciousness and awkwardness. This passed away
as the puppies' antics and mauling continued, and he lay with half-shut
patient eyes, drowsing in the sun.
End of Part V, Chapter V End of White Fang
by Jack London