I hate Stephen Mackay now. If I see him again, I may kill him. And to think that he was my best friend only a few years ago!
But let me tell my story to you from the beginning. That autumn we started very late for the Klondike. We had little time and it was difficult to buy dogs. We paid about one hundred dollars for each dog. And among these dogs we got Spot. We paid even more for him than for the other dogs. We paid one hundred and ten dollars for him.
He looked a very good dog. I say "looked" because we soon saw he was not really a good dog. He only looked good. He was big and he had a beautiful white and brown skin. And on this skin there was a big black spot. This is why we called him Spot. He was strong! And you could see in his eyes he was clever! I think he was perhaps the strongest and cleverest dog in all Alaska.
Rut he did not use his strength. It is true he used his intelligence. But he did not use it in the right way. You will see a little later how he used it.
The principal thing about Spot was this: he didn't work! We saw that the first time we put him into harness. It was like this. It was time to start. Steve gave the signal.
All the dogs began to pull. Only Spot stood still. Steve touched him with his whip. Spot did not move. Steve touched him with the whip again, this time a little stronger. This had no effect! Spot stood where he was. Now Steve got very angry and gave it to him well. But still Spot stood quite still.
In a moment I came up to Steve.
"Why are you beating the dog?" I asked him.
Steve said nothing. He only gave me the whip and walked away. Now I took the whip. I began beating the dog. I beat him so, I thought he could not live another day. But it had no effect! I started the other dogs. Still he did not move. He rolled over and over in the snow on his back but did not move on.
No, we could not get any work out of that dog!
And how much he ate! And how clever he was when he wanted to get some food!
We often had no dinner. Why? —you will ask. Spot had it instead of us.
But he did not take food only from us. He took food in all the places where he could get it. I cannot tell you how much we paid for meat, bacon and other good things that winter. And do you think we ate them? No, Spot ate them. The people very often saw him and came to get their money from us.
Why did we not kill him? — you may ask. Well, I can tell you that. I tried to kill him. One day Steve came to me and said:
"It is enough. We must kill him."
I answered: "Yes, it is enough. We must finish with him."
So I took him into the forest, some distance from the other dogs. Here I stopped. I took my revolver. But then I looked into his eyes. And I tell you, I felt I could not kill him. When I looked into those clever eyes I saw it was like killing a man. He also looked into my eyes. I thought these eyes spoke to me. They said: "You hate me, but you cannot kill me." Do you know what I did? I went back to Steve and told him: "I cannot kill that dog." Steve laughed and said: "I think I can do it." In two or three days he took Spot into the forest. But he came back telling me he could not kill the dog. "He has such clever eyes," said Steve.
As we could not kill him, we tried to sell him. He looked a good dog, so people were glad to buy him. Very soon we sold him to the police for seventy-five dollars. We went to the North and the policemen went to the South — so we thought — good-bye, old Spot! I can tell you we were glad! Six days passed. But in the morning of the seventh day he was with us again. He came and started a terrible fight with the other dogs. In two days we sold him to an official courier. This time he came back in three days.
We were in Alaska the whole winter. Wc got some money for our work and we got some money for Spot. We sold him ten, twenty, thirty times. He always came back and nobody asked for the money. It was not difficult to sell him. He looked such a good dog. We sold him for as high as one hundred and fifty dollars, and we sold him for as low as twenty-five dollars. We sold him to hunters, we sold him to policemen, we sold him to doctors, we sold him to couriers; but he always came back. And at last a time came when everybody knew about Spot and nobody wanted to buy him.
But we could not have this dog with us. He ate our food, he did not work, he demoralized the other dogs.
It was necessary to do something. One day we were travelling in a boat down the Yukon. All our dogs were with us. I saw an island in front.
"Let us leave him on this island," I said to Steve.
"What a good idea!" answered Steve. "Yes, let us leave him on the island."
We began working energetically with our oars. Soon we came quite near the island. Spot was in the front part of the boat. Steve pushed him and in less than a second he was in the water. In another second he was on the island and two seconds after that we were already far from him in the middle of the river. The current was very strong at this place.
Spot was staHding on the island looking at us. He did not swim after us that time but he probably swam over to the bank later, because — when we came to Dawson — he was sitting near the river and waiting for us.
More than ten times we put him on steamers going down the Yukon. But always he got off them and came back to us in a day or two.
One day Spot took a big piece of meat from Major Dinwiddie's house in Dawson City. But Major Dinwiddie saw him. Immediately he took his rifle and fired at Spot.
Do you think he killed him? Nothing of the kind! A policeman came and said to Major Dinwiddie; "You must pay five dollars for using fire-arms in the city." Major Dinwiddie paid five dollars for using fire-arms in the city and Steve and I paid fifty dollars for the meat. Meat stood high at Dawson that year.
One day we were on the Yukon in the month of January. This was near Dawson City. The ice was three feet thick but there were some water holes in it. Well, and Spot fell through a water hole. The current carried him down. "This is the end of Spot," I said to myself. But three hundred feet below was another big water hole. And what do you think Spot did? He got out there, shook himself and immediately started a fight with a big Newfoundland dog which was standing on the bank.
But one day Spot went away from us. And he did not come back for two months. This is how it was. We were in a far-off place in Alaska and we had no more food. Spring was near and we were waiting for the river to open. We were terribly hungry and we decided to eat our dogs. And then Spot ran away. Day after day we sat up waiting for him. But he did not come back and we ate all the other dogs. And now let me tell you how he came back. You know what it is when a big river opens in spring. Millions of tons of ice go up and down in the water. And in the middle of the river we suddenly saw Spot! We thought it was clear he could not come to us. He did not have a chance in a million. But in a moment we saw him jumping over the ice towards us. More than twenty times he fell into the water and more than twenty times he got out again. And at last he was on the bank beside us.
In a day or two the river was quite free from ice. We put our boat into the water and started for Dawson City. Of course we did not take Spot. We left him on the bank. But what do you think was the first thing we saw in Dawson? It was Spot — sitting on the bank and waiting for us.
In the summer of 1899 I thought it was enough. I said nothing to Steve. I just wrote him a note saying goodbye. Then I took my things and went away. I tell you that Spot was on my nerves.
I brought some money home and for a time lived happily. Steve wrote me a letter. It was not a friendly letter: he
said he was very angry with me. He said he was angry because of Spot.
A year passed. And then one fine morning I came out into the garden and what do you think I saw? Spot — tied to a tree and looking at me with his clever eyes.
"How did he come here?" I asked myself. I looked to the right and I looked to the left. And then I saw Steve — my old friend Steve, running away from me. I did not stop him.
My wife is a very kind woman. She gave Spot some food. He thanked her immediately by killing her cat. Three days ago Spot got into Mr. Harvey's hen-house (Mr. Harvey is our great friend) and killed twenty hens. Now I must pay for them. Yesterday, because of Spot, I quarrelled with my wife.
I never thought Stephen Mackay could do such a thing. But now I see what he can do. No, I cannot even hear his name! I may kill him if I see him again!
FOR THE LOVE OF A MAN
They were three men with three dogs. The names of the men were Thornton, Hans and Pete. John Thornton was the chief of the party. Hans and Pete were his helpers. The names of the dogs were Buck, Skeet and Nig.
It was early spring. They were all six waiting for the opening of the Yukon. Then the men could make a boat and go down the river.
They were all great friends — dogs and men. Even the dogs were friends. Dogs often fight. But these three never quarrelled. Buck — a big, strong Newfoundland from the South — had a wound on his back. It was a very big wound. Most of the time he was lying on the river bank. And lying there through the long spring days, watching the running water, listening to the songs of birds, he felt that his strength was coming back to him. His friends helped him as much as they could. Every day Thornton washed his wound, and Skeet washed his wound too. Skeet was a little Irish setter which had the doctor instinct. As a mother cat licks her little ones, so she licked Buck's wound. Regularly, each morning after breakfast, she started her work and continued it for about twenty minutes. Nig was Buck's other great friend. He was a huge black dog with a good nature and eyes that laughed.
Buck was great friends with all of them; but he really loved only one man, his master — Thornton.
Who is loved by his dogs? Only the ideal master — the master who thinks about his dogs as a father and mother think about their children. Thornton was such an ideal master. He not on і у gave his dogs food when they were hungry, not only gave them water when they wanted to drink, not only made them a place to sleep in at night — he talked to them. In fact, he talked to them as he talked to men. How often he sat down with his three dogs round him and spoke kind words to them, putting his hand now on the head of one, now on the head of the other!
But of all the three dogs, he loved Buck most.
With Buck he had a special way of showing his love: he often took the dog's head between his hands, then put his own head on Buck's and at last shook him a little, calling him different kind names at the same time.
But Buck also had a special way of showing his love: he liked to take Thornton's hand in his mouth and then close his mouth. He did not bite, but you could see the impress of his teeth for some time after.
Buck was not a civilized dog; he was a dog of the wild. He never put his head on Thornton's knee as Nig did and never moved his nose under Thornton's hand like Skeet. Only sometimes he came up to Thornton and took Thornton's hand in his mouth. But he never came to other people. He never came to Hans and Pete.
He loved a man, but he loved one man only.
And he liked to fight. Skeet and Nig were his friends and he never quarrelled with them. But if he saw some other dog he started a fight immediately. And it was always a life-or-death fight.
He knew only too well the law of the wild: kill, or be killed; eat, or be eaten!
Spring came at last! The river was now free of ice and the men were finishing the boat.
One morning Pete came to Thornton and said: "The boat is finished! We can start."
The next day they started down the river. Thornton put all his provisions and the three dogs in the boat. Then he, Pete and Hans got into the boat themselves and Thornton pushed off. The men began to work energetically with their oars.
It was difficult getting down that river. In many places the current was very strong and it was necessary for the men and dogs to get off. Only Thornton stood in the back part of the boat all the time working with one oar. Pete and Hans tied a rope to the boat and went along the bank.
In some places the current was so strong that it was necessary for Hans and Pete to pull the boat back. And it was not easy work!
At an especially bad spot, about half-way down the river, Hans and Pete suddenly pulled the boat with great strength and Thornton fell into the water. The current carried him down with great speed. In a moment he was only a small black spot in the white and blue river. In another moment Hans and Pete saw him no more.
Buck jumped into the water the same second he saw Thornton's fall. In a minute he, too, was like a small black spot in the white and blue of the river.
At first Thornton understood nothing: he only felt the cold and saw water all round him. But then he thought "I must swim to the bank." But no, he could not swim to the bank. He was not a good swimmer and then it was too far and the current was too strong. He looked back. But he could not see Pete and Hans.
But what was that black spot in the water just behind him? He looked back again. It was Buck! In a minute the dog was beside him and Thornton held him by the tail. "Now I am saved," thought Thornton.
The dog began furiously beating the water with his paws. But the bank came no nearer. The current was too strong! Thornton saw Buck could do nothing. And then, suddenly, Thornton felt he hit against something hard. Both he and Buck stopped. The river was running past them. They were on a big stone just below the water. But how long could he stay there? The stone was very slippery. He could not stay on it more than a few minutes. "I must send Buck for help!" he thought. And then he commanded: "Go, Buck, go!'* Buck looked at him. He understood Thornton's command. He understood that only he could save his master. And he understood that to save his master it was necessary to leave him and to swim to the bank. In another moment he was already far, far down the river — a black spot in the white-blue water.
He came to the bank about half a mile lower down the river. Hans and Pete saw the dog and helped him to get out of the water.
They looked up the river; they saw Thornton on a stone. Now it was necessary to do something quickly. Hans and Pete knew very well that a man could not stay long on a slippery stone. It was a question of minutes. So, calling Buck, they ran up the bank as quickly as they could. It was necessary to get much higher than Thornton's stone. Only then could they help Thornton.
They ran for nearly a mile. At last they came to a place far above Thornton's stone. Here they stopped and Hans tied a long rope to Buck.
"Go, Buck!" he shouted to the dog. Buck jumped straight into the river. In a few seconds the current carried him to the stone. Thornton was still there. The moment Buck came to him, Thornton closed his arms strongly round the dog's neck. Hans and Pete began to pull. And now Thornton and Buck began their terrible travel to the bank. Their bodies beat against the stones, water ran into their nose, mouth and ears, but at last Hans and Pete got them onto the bank.
At first Thornton's eyes were closed and his face was pale. But he was not badly wounded. In a moment he opened his eyes and looked first to the right and then to the left. He did not say a word but his eyes were asking: "Where is Buck?"
Hans understood him. He pointed to the boat. Buck was lying there.
He was not killed but badly wounded, and Skeet was already licking a new wound on his leg.
"We must stop here," said Thornton: "we must stop here not only till I am well, but till the dog is all right."
And they stopped there for a month, till Buck and he were quite well again.
The same winter Buck did another great thing.
One day they were sitting in a bar — Thornton, Hans and Pete. There were many other people in the bar and all of them drank and talked about dogs.
Each man said he had the best dog. Thornton said the same thing. He knew that Buck was the strongest and best dog of all.
One man said: "I have a dog which can start a sledge with five hundred pounds."
Another man said: "And I have a dog which can start a sledge with six hundred pounds and my dog can walk off with it."
A third man said his dog could start a sledge with seven hundred pounds.
And a fourth man said seven hundred and fifty pounds was not too much for his dog.
"Pooh! pooh!" said John Thornton: "Buck can start a thousand pounds."
"And walk off with it for a hundred yards?" asked Matthewson, one of the men in the bar.
"Yes, and walk off with it a hundred yards," answered Thornton.
"Well," said Matthewson, "I have a thousand dollars here. And I shall give them to you if the dog does it. But will you give me a thousand if he docs not start the sledge?"
Thornton did not answer. He did not know what to say. Half a ton! Could Buck really do it? And then he had not the one thousand dollars.
"I have a sledge here with twenty fifty-pound sacks on it." continued Matthewson.
Thornton looked at the faces of all the people in the bar.
Among them he saw the face of an old friend — O'Brien.
"Can you give me a thousand?" he asked him.
"Yes, I can," said O'Brien. "But do you really think your dog can do it?"
In less than a minute the bar was deserted. All the men stood round Matthewson's sledge.
"No, the dog can't start the sledge," said the people.
Matthewson laughed. "I shall give you two thousand if he starts the sledge," he said.
In a moment Buck was harnessed to the sledge. Thornton came up to him and looked into his clever black eyes. He thought the dog understood.
"As you love me, Buck. As you love me," he said to the dog. Then came a short pause.
"Now, Buck!" — he gave the dog the signal.
Buck pulled. But the sledge did not move.
"Now!" cried Thornton again.
Again Buck pulled and this time the sledge moved just a little to the right.
And then Buck understood. He understood that it wras not right to pull straight. It was necessary to pull first to the right and then to the left. And he did so. He began pulling first to the right and then to the left.
The sledge moved to the right, then a little to the left, then again more to the right, then more to the left and then started.
"Now, go!" Thornton's command was like a revolver-shot.
And the sledge moved. Slowly, slowly, first half a foot, then a foot, then two feet — and now it was already moving quite well.
There was absolute silence.
Nobody said a word. The silence lasted ten minutes — and during ten minutes the sledge moved on.
But then — when the sledge passed the one hundred yards — all the men began to shout and all hats went high up into the air. Matthewson himself cried: "Sell me the dog, I will give you three thousand dollars for him!"
But Thornton did not listen to them.
He went to Buck. He took his head between his hands. Then he put his own head on Buck's and at last started shaking the dog a little.
And Buck took Thornton's hand in his mouth.