Call of the Wild Chapter 4 - Who Has Won to Mastership
The following morning, Francois and Perrault are surprised to discover that Spitz is missing from the sled team, but what has happened to him is no great surprise after seeing the many battle scars covering Buck's body. Both men agree, however, that Spitz was a bully and a trouble maker, declaring that he got exactly what he deserved. Praising Buck for winning this long, drawn out rivalry, Francois prepares to place Sol-leks in Spitz's harness at the front of the sled team, thinking him to be the best fit to take over the leadership of the dogs because he is so experienced. However, Buck flies into a fury, snapping and growling at Sol-leks until the half-blind dog returns to his old position at the back of the line; Buck stands at the front of the line instead, waiting expectantly for the harness to be placed on him. Frustrated, Francois drags Buck back to the end of the line and grabs Sol-leks once again, leading him to the front of the line. Buck again growls, rushing forward and chasing Sol-leks away, standing at the front of the line. Francois angrily whips out a large club to punish Buck for this insubordination, yet Buck defiantly dashes out of his reach, growling.
Francois throws down the club, wishing only to harness him in his usual place in front of Dave, but Buck refuses to go near him, since he wants to be the leader of the pack now. Francois then chases Buck, with the help of Perrault, but the dog is too swift for them, even when they hurl clubs at him. As the two men did this, "They cursed [Buck], and his fathers and mothers before him, and all his seed to come after him down to the generation, and every hair on his body and drop of blood in his veins; and [Buck] answered curse with snarl and kept out of their reach...advertising plainly that when his desire was met, he would come in and be good" Chapter 4, pg. 56. The men continue like this for over an hour before Francois sits down, throwing up his arms in submission and gestures for Buck to go up to the front of the line, which Buck agrees to do after Francois drops the club he is still holding in his hand. Gleeful that he has won the struggle, Buck playfully runs to the front of the line to take his place finally as leader of the sled team. This is a job he has coveted since Spitz held the position, and now it is finally his!
Buck is an excellent lead dog, better than even Spitz had been. The sled team now runs faster than ever, and until the disorder that had reigned under Spitz, now Buck unites the dogs again to pull together, acting as one great machine. Any dog that slacks off and does not pull his weight is punished by Buck until he learns to cooperate, such as Pike, the laziest dog in the pack. Now he, too, begins to work with a new sense of efficiency. Buck sits on top of the antisocial Joe, suffocating him, until the dog surrenders himself to Buck's will and begs for mercy. Soon after this, Francois bought two more huskies for the sled team, named Teek and Koona at a place called Rink Rapids, whom Buck quickly trains to be excellent sled dogs. Even though he is less experienced than Spitz had been, Perrault and Francois marvel at how naturally this Southland dog behaves in the harness and as a team leader. In just two weeks they finally make it to Skaguay in Alaska all the way from their earlier location in Canada, averaging forty miles for each day. This accomplishment was a result of Buck's amazing leadership. The dogs rested for three days while Perrault and Francois delivered their important messages from the Canadian government (since Perrault is a courier after all). Then the two men receive new orders from the Canadian government, and with a final hug Francois bids farewell to his beloved Buck.
A nameless Scotch half-breed man takes over the sled team with his friends, traveling in a caravan of dogsleds back to Dawson City in the Yukon Territory of Canada once again, pulling heavy loads of mail destined for the miners digging away at Dawson City during this Klondike Gold Rush, which is still ongoing. The work is much harder now, and the dogs are all put to their limits; rather than carrying small parcels for a few important individuals as they did with Francois and Perrault, now the dogs lug hundreds and hundreds of paper letters and packages, weighing down the sled considerably and probably causing it to dig deeper into the snow as well. Buck still serves as the sled team leader, but he dislikes the nature of this work considerably because of its monotony. There is none of the spontaneous adventure or freedom he experienced while pulling for Perrault and Francois; instead, there is merely the name routine day after day, and the same route to follow as he hauls mail back and forth between Dawson City and Skaguay, Alaska.
Each day the cooks wake up, cook breakfast, and the camp is picked up before they would continue on the day's journey. The dogs pull for the day until around the same time each evening as night falls, they pitch camp, as the men cut down some branches for firewood and bedding material, and finally the dogs are fed large helpings of fish after such a long, hard day. It is the one reward that they all look forward to, and then the dogs could mingle for a little while before bedtime. Buck often sits by the fire with the men as well, remembering the events of his life such as the time with Judge Miller, but he focuses more on the less happy moments such as the death of Curly, and his own murder of Spitz. The old primal urges continue to throb and pulse within him, growing in strength and intensity, "Far more potent were the memories of his heredity that gave things he had never seen before a seeming familiarity; the instincts (which were but the memories of his ancestors become habits) which had lapsed in later days, and still later, in him, quickened and became alive again" Chapter 4, pg. 61. Buck becomes more and more like a wild wolf, less and less like a domesticated dog. This same wildness gave him the strength to kill Spitz, and this wildness causes him to endure to this arduous routine now. His life in Santa Clara Valley is merely a dream to him now, another life that some other dog has lived.
In gazing deep into the fire's flames, Buck would daydream sometimes as well and even begin to feel as if he had returned to more primitive times. The Scotch half-breed man would sit by the fire near him, but Buck would envision that he was someone else, a prehistoric caveman with hairy arms and legs, with a hunched over back, like a monkey. For clothes he would have only an animal's worn skin, and in his hands Buck would suddenly envision that this Scotch half-breed carries a primitive weapon made of a stick and sharpened stone, talking in a deep, guttural voice quite unlike the English language that Buck has grown so accustomed to hear. This dog grows closer and closer in his understanding of the primal urges of his ancestors, and he recognizes the primitive tendencies and primitive history of the living things that are around him, even in the very men who are supposed to be the founders of civilized society themselves. Buck would dream also that great beasts lingered out in the darkness beyond the fire, waiting for him to hunt them and do battle, as he had done with Spitz before this. Suddenly one of the men would stir Buck awake from his pleasant dream, "Hey, you Buck, wake up!" and he would then lose this vision for awhile.
Finally the dogs make it into Dawson City again from Skaguay, Alaska, and although the dogs should have rested for at least a week after this, the men insist on turning back again to Skaguay after only two days, bearing more mail with them from the miners working there. The weather becomes worse, snowing terribly with cold weather, but the men treat the dogs with respect. Each night they feed the dogs first before they even eat, massaging the dogs' feet to avoid frostbite. Life continues in this way for awhile, but the dogs begin to get very weary because between their time with Francois since winter's beginning and now with these new men, the dogs had run over eighteen hundred miles! Naturally, they are bound to become a little grumpy because they haven't had any long vacation from all of this toiling at all yet. Buck stays strong, but some of the other dogs begin to lose faith, such as Joe, Billee, and even half-blind Sol-leks now who is usually somewhat approachable. However, old, faithful Dave is the first to become fatally sick along the way, who had once mentored Buck when he first became a sled dog. No one knows what was wrong with him, but he always whines at odd moments, although there is no sign of any outside injury.
Finally, when the sled teams arrive at Cassiar Bar, Dave can hardly walk. The Scotch half-breed takes Dave out of his harness so that he can run free for awhile, but Dave is upset at this special treatment, insisting that he stay at his old spot in the harness. The men ignore his pleas, eager to get going again, and Dave mournfully collapses for awhile into the snow behind them. Later, he rises up again and catches up to the sleds and, when his old sled team pauses so that one of the men can light his pipe, Dave bites through the leather harness connecting the sled to the dogs. When the man asks the dogs to mush again, they pull on without the sled, much to his astonishment. Then, as "[Dave] pleaded with his eyes to remain there...[the men] talked of how a dog could break its heart through being denied the work that killed it, and recalled instances they had known, where dogs, too old for the toil, or injured, had died because they were cut out of the traces. Also, they held it a mercy, since Dave was to die anyway, that he should die in the traces, heart-easy and content" Chapter 4, pg. 66. The driver finally agrees and harnesses Dave into his old place again, much to Dave's delight.
Dave begins to pull with the other dogs again, even when he falls down and is dragged, or when the sled accidentally runs over his leg once because he cannot keep up. Dave puts in every last bit of energy, doing what he loves and what he has done for his entire life. However, he makes it through the day and when camp is pitched, he goes to sleep. In the morning, Dave can hardly move, however, struggling to walk to his old spot at the harness again, but he falls down into the snow and cannot even stand up. The driver harnesses up all the other dogs, mushing them ahead beyond sight of Dave, who is left howling in the snow for them not to leave him there, begging to join them in the harness so that he will not be a failure, without any purpose. Pulling the sled had been his purpose in life; without it, there is no life left to him. The sled driver stops his sled and then returns to the spot where Dave is laying. From afar, the dogs can hear his revolver shot echo out across the cold snow. Dave's suffering is thus put to an end, and he does not howl any longer. The driver comes back to his sled, and the journey goes on rather nonchalantly as if nothing had happened at all, although every dog on the team knows that Dave won't be coming back to join them again. His life has been all used up, and their lives must now continue on without him.