The Call of the Wild – Chapter 1 – Into the Primitive

This is the adventure of Buck, a dog that was stolen from his comfortable California home and sent to the freezing Northland to help men find gold. As he faces the cruel new world, he must learn how to survive and dominate in the wild.

Original NovelThe Call of the Wild by Jack London, 1903 野生の呼び声
LevelRewritten for Level 4 (Advanced English Learners)
GenreClassic Literature, Adventure, Animal Story
Word Count35,000 words

Chapter 1 – Into the Primitive

Buck did not read the newspapers. If he did, he would have known that trouble was brewing, not only for himself, but for every working dog with warm fur, from Seattle to San Diego. Because men, searching through the Arctic darkness, had found a yellow metal. Because transportation companies were encouraging the discovery, and thousands of men were rushing to the Northern Land. These men wanted dogs—heavy dogs with strong muscles and furry coats to protect them from the frost.

Buck lived at a big house in the sun-kissed Santa Clara Valley of California. Judge Miller’s place, it was called. The house stood back from the road, half hidden among the trees. It was approached by gravel driveways which wound through wide lawns under tall poplar trees. In back, things were even more spacious than the front. There were great stables, where a dozen men and boys took care of horses. There were rows of vine-clad cottages where the servants stayed. Grapevines, green pastures, orchards, and berry patches. Then, there was a little pond where Judge Miller’s sons swam during the hot afternoons.

This was the land that Buck ruled over. Here he was born, and here he had lived all his life—four years. It was true, there were other dogs, but they didn’t count. Those dogs came and went and they lived in the outdoor kennels. Some of the strange-looking ones, such as the Japanese pug named Toots, and the Mexican hairless named Ysabel, lived inside the house, and they never set foot outside.

But Buck was neither house-dog nor kennel-dog. The whole realm was his. He plunged into the swimming pond, and went hunting with the Judge’s sons. He escorted Mollie and Alice, the Judge’s daughters, on long walks in the morning and after dark. On winter nights, he lay at the Judge’s feet in front of the fireplace in the library room. He carried Judge’s grandsons on his back, and rolled with them in the grass, and guarded them through wild adventures in the berry patches.

He walked with authority in front of the terrier dogs, and he completely ignored Toots and Ysabel. He was king. He was king over all creatures, including the humans.

His father, Elmo, was a huge Saint Bernard who had been Judge’s inseparable companion. Buck was following in his father’s footsteps. He wasn’t as large as his father—he only weighed one hundred and forty pounds—because his mother, Shep, had been a Scotch shepherd dog.

Nevertheless, one hundred and forty pounds was enough to get respect, so he carried himself like royalty. During the four years since his puppy days, he had lived the life of an aristocrat, and he was very proud. Egotistical, actually. But, still, he wasn’t a mere pampered house-dog. He still had his hunting instincts. He spent most of his time outdoors, so he was lean and muscular.

This was the care-free Buck in the fall of 1897. Just before the gold strike that pulled men from all over the world into the frozen North.

But Buck did not read the newspapers, and he did not know that Manuel, one of the gardeners, was a bad man. Manuel had one fault: He loved to play Chinese lottery. He was too naive to become a gambler, and too loose with his money. The salary of a gardener was not enough to pay back his debts.

On the night of Manual’s betrayal, the Judge was at a meeting with the Raisin Growers’ Association, and the boys were busy at an athletic club. No one saw Manual take Buck away, and Buck imagined it was merely a walk. They arrived at a little station known as College Park, and met a man. Buck watched the money clink between them.

“You should have wrapped up the goods before you delivered,” the stranger said gruffly, and Manual put a piece of thick rope around Buck’s neck under the collar.

“Just twist the rope and it’ll choke him,” said Manuel, and the stranger grunted a “yeah.”

Buck had accepted the rope with quiet dignity. He didn’t like it, but he had learned to trust the men that he knew. They seemed to have more wisdom.

But when the end of the rope was placed in the stranger’s hands, he growled menacingly. The intention was to show his displeasure. In his experience, a simple growl had always been enough to command others. But to his surprise, the rope tightened around his neck and cut off his breath. In a quick rage, he sprang at the man, who met him halfway. With a quick arm movement, the stranger tightened the rope even more and threw Buck down on his back. Buck struggled against the rope, his tongue falling out of his mouth and his chest heaving. Never in all his life had he been treated so vilely. And never in all his life had he been so angry.

But without breath, his strength failed, and his eyes glazed. He knew nothing when the train came and the two men threw him into the baggage car.

The next thing he knew, he was in a dark, jolting room, and his tongue was hurting. The sound of the train’s whistling told him where he was. He had often traveled with the Judge, so he knew the sensation of riding in a baggage car. He opened his eyes, and felt the anger of a kidnapped king.

He wasn’t alone. The stranger noticed him waking up and reached for his throat. But Buck was too quick for him. His jaws closed on the stranger’s hand, and he didn’t let go until his senses were choked out of him again.

“Yeah, this dog has seizures. Sorry about the noise,” the stranger said, hiding his bloody hand from the baggageman, who had been attracted by the sounds of a struggle. “I’m taking him up for my boss to San Francisco. A dog doctor there thinks that he can cure him.”

After the train ride, the stranger sat down at a small bar on the San Francisco waterfront. “All I get is fifty dollars for this dog,” he grumbled. “If he asked me to do it again, I wouldn’t even do it for a thousand dollars in cash.”

His hand was wrapped in a bloody handkerchief, and his pants were ripped from the right knee to the ankle.

“How much did you get for the other dog?” the bartender asked.

“A hundred,” was the reply.

“That makes a hundred and fifty,” the bartender calculated. “It’s worth it, isn’t it?”

The stranger undid the bloody handkerchief and looked at his injured hand. “If I get rabies from that dog—“

“If you don’t get rabies, you’ll just die another way,” laughed the bartender. “Let me help you put the dog in a crate.”

Dazed. Buck was suffering intolerable pain from his throat and tongue. With his life half beaten out of him, he attempted to face his tormentors. But he was thrown down again and choked. His collar and rope were removed and he was thrown into a tiny crate and put into the bar’s storage room.

He lay there for the rest of the night, nursing his anger and pride. He couldn’t understand what was happening. What did these strange men want? Why were they keeping him in this narrow crate? Several times during the night, he jumped to his feet when the storage room door opened, expecting to see the Judge or the boys. But each time, it was the barkeeper that peered in at him by the light of a candle. And each time, the joyful bark was twisted into a savage growl.

But the bartender left him alone, and in the morning, four men entered and picked up the crate. More tormentors, Buck decided. They were evil-looking creatures, rough and dirty. He growled and raged at them through the bars. They only laughed and poked sticks at him, which he grabbed at with his teeth. Soon, he realized that the tormentors wanted him to rage and lash out. When he realized this, he lay down in silence and allowed the crate to be lifted into a wagon. Then he, imprisoned in his crate, began a journey. He passed through many hands: Clerks in the shipping offices took charge of him. Then he was carted around in another wagon. A truck. A ferry boat. Another truck. A great railway station. And finally, an express train car.

For two days and nights, this train car was dragged along at the back of shrieking locomotives. And for those two days and nights, Buck neither ate nor drank.

In his anger, he had greeted the first delivery men with growls, and they had retaliated by teasing him. When he flung himself against the bars of the crate, they laughed at him and taunted him. They even growled and barked back like dogs. It was all very silly, he knew, but that just made him more outraged. His anger grew and grew. He did not mind the hunger so much, but the lack of water caused him to suffer. Dehydration, rage, and being locked in a crate had made him sick. He had a fever, and his tongue and throat were swollen.

There was one thing he could be glad about: the rope was off his neck. That had given his tormentors an unfair advantage. But now that it was off, he would show them. They would never get another rope around his neck.

For two days and nights, without food or water, all of his rage accumulated and he was resolved to let it out on the first person he could.

His eyes turned bloodshot, and he looked as wrathful as he felt. His appearance had changed so much that even Judge himself would not have recognized him. The delivery men breathed a sigh of relief when they took him off the train at Seattle.

Four men carefully carried the crate from the wagon into a small, high-walled backyard.

A large man with a red sweater came out and signed off for the delivery. That was the man, Buck decided. The next tormentor. He hurled himself savagely against the bars. The man simply smiled and brought a hatchet and a club.

“You aren’t going to take him out of the crate now, are you?” the delivery man asked.

“Sure,” the man replied, driving the hatchet into the crate to pry it open.

In an instant, the four men scattered away. They stood safely outside the gate and they prepared to watch the performance.

The wooden crate splintered under the hatchet. Buck wrestled inside of the crate, throwing himself and biting at the crate. The hatchet came down again and again. Buck was furiously anxious to get out, as the man calmly broke apart the crate.

“Now, you red-eyed devil,” he said, when there was an opening that was big enough for Buck to squeeze through. At the same time, he dropped the hatchet and shifted the club to his right hand.

And Buck was truly a red-eyed devil, as he drew himself back for his spring, hair bristling, mouth foaming, and a mad glitter in his blood-shot eyes. He launched his one hundred and forty pound body of fury at the man, charged with two days and nights of pent-up anger. In mid-air, just as his jaws were about to close on the man, he received a shock that stopped his body.

He whirled over, hitting the ground on his back and side. He had never been hit by a club in his life, and he did not understand. With a snarl that was half bark and half scream, he got on his feet again and launched himself into the air. And again, the shock came and he was brought painfully to the ground. This time, he was aware that it was the club, but in his madness, he had no caution. A dozen times he charged at his tormentor, and a dozen times, the club smashed him down.

After the last blow, he crawled to his feet. He was too dazed to rush forward again. He staggered, the blood flowing from his nose, mouth, and ears. His beautiful coat was flecked with blood. Then, the man stepped forward and the club came down on Buck’s nose. Of all the pain he had ever felt, this was the worst.

With a roar that was as fierce as a lion’s, he hurled himself at the man. But the man, shifting the club from his right hand to his left, calmly hit him under the jaw, swinging the club downward and backward. Buck flipped backward and crashed to the ground on his head and chest.

Buck was knocked utterly senseless.

“The rumors are true. He’s the best at breaking a dog in,” one of the men behind the gate cried enthusiastically.

“He breaks a new dog every day, and twice on Sundays,” replied another man, as he climbed back in the wagon.

Buck’s senses came back to him, but not his strength. He lay where he had fallen, and from there, he watched the man in the red sweater.

“He answers to the name ‘Buck’,” the man said, reading from the letter that came with the crate. “Well, Buck, my boy,” he went on in a gentle voice, “we’ve had our little fight, and the best thing to do is to forgive it. You’ve learned your place, and I know my place. Be a good dog and we can be friends. Be a bad dog, and I’ll hit you with this club again. You understand?”

As he spoke, he fearlessly patted Buck’s bloody head. Buck could do nothing but endure it without protest. When the man served him water, he drank eagerly. And later, the man brought him a generous meal of raw meat, which Buck ate chunk by chunk from the man’s hand.

He was beaten (he knew that), but he was not broken. He saw, once and for all, that he stood no chance against a man with a club. He had learned the lesson, and in all his life, he would never forget it. That club was his introduction to primitive law: The stronger one wins. The facts of life became clear to him. He wasn’t intimidated by it, but instead, it awakened his wild instincts.

As the days went by, other dogs came. Some were in crates, some were on ropes. Some were docile, and some were raging. And all, one by one, he watched them pass under the teachings of the tormentor in the red sweater. Again and again, as he watched each brutal performance, the lesson was driven home to Buck: a man with a club was a lawmaker. A master to be obeyed.

Buck didn’t have to wonder what would happen if the man was crossed. He saw one dog that would not back down or obey. In the end, that dog had been killed in the struggle.

Now and again, men came. They were strangers who talked excitedly to the man in the red sweater. Money passed between them, and the strangers took one or more of the dogs away with them. Buck didn’t know where they went, because they never came back. The fear of the future was strong, and he was glad each time he was not selected.

Yet, his time came. A little withered man who spoke broken English came for Buck.

“Hey!” he cried when his eyes fell on Buck. “That dog! Eh? Big bully dog. How much?”

“Three hundred. It’s a bargain,” was the prompt replay of the man in the red sweater. “Aren’t you paying with your government money, Perrault?”

Perrault grinned. Considering that the price of dogs had been skyrocketing because of the high demand, it was not an unfair price so such a fine dog. Perrault knew dogs, and when he looked at Buck, he knew he was a special dog. One in a thousand—no, one in ten thousand.

Money passed between them. Buck and a good-natured Newfoundland dog named Curly were led away by the little withered man. That was the last time he saw the man in the red sweater.

As Curly and Bucky watched the receding Seattle from the deck of the ship, it was the last they saw of the warm Southern land. They were taken below the deck by Perrault and given to a tall, dark man called Francois. He was a French-Canadian with sun-worn skin.

Buck would see more of French-Canadians over his life. He didn’t develop any affection for Perrault or Francois, but they were fair and calm, so Buck grew to respect them.

On the ship, Buck and Curly joined two other dogs. One of them was a big, snow-white fellow from Norway who had previously been owned by a whaling captain. He was friendly, but in a treacherous sort of way. He smiled into one’s face while planning a trick, for instance, when he stole Buck’s food at the first meal. When Buck sprang to punish him, Francois’s whip sang through the air. It reached the culprit first. There was nothing for Buck to do except take back his food. That was fair of Francois, he decided.

The other dog didn’t challenge anyone, and he was never punished by anyone. He did not attempt to steal from the newcomers. He was a gloomy fellow, and he showed Curly that he only desired to be left alone. And further, that there would be trouble if he were not left alone. “Dave” he was called. He ate and slept and sometimes yawned. He took interest in nothing, not even when the ship was caught in a storm and it rolled and bucked in the ocean like it was possessed by a demon. When Buck and Curly were excited, half wild with fear, Dave raised his head as though annoyed. Then he yawned and went back to sleep.

Day and night, the ship propelled forward. Every day seemed the same, but it was apparent to Buck that the weather was steadily growing colder. At last, one morning, the propeller was quiet, and there was excitement in the air.

He felt, as well as the other dogs, that there was a change coming. Francois put leashes on them and brought them up to the deck. Buck’s feet sank into a white mushy something, like mud. He sprang back with a snort. More of this white stuff was falling through the air. He shook himself, but more of it fell on him. He sniffed it curiously, then licked some up with his tongue. It bit like fire, and the next instant, it was gone. This puzzled him. He tried it again, with the same result. The men watched him and laughed uproariously. He felt ashamed. It was his first snow.

Published by Judy Shinohara

Hello! I’m Judy, living in Osaka! I love teaching English to my students. In my free time, I enjoy simple gardening, reading and writing, art, and watching Netflix.

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