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White Fang by London, Jack - Chapter 9

PART III




CHAPTER I--THE MAKERS OF FIRE



The cub came upon it suddenly. It was his own fault. He had been
careless. He had left the cave and run down to the stream to
drink. It might have been that he took no notice because he was
heavy with sleep. (He had been out all night on the meat-trail,
and had but just then awakened.) And his carelessness might have
been due to the familiarity of the trail to the pool. He had
travelled it often, and nothing had ever happened on it.

He went down past the blasted pine, crossed the open space, and
trotted in amongst the trees. Then, at the same instant, he saw
and smelt. Before him, sitting silently on their haunches, were
five live things, the like of which he had never seen before. It
was his first glimpse of mankind. But at the sight of him the five
men did not spring to their feet, nor show their teeth, nor snarl.
They did not move, but sat there, silent and ominous.

Nor did the cub move. Every instinct of his nature would have
impelled him to dash wildly away, had there not suddenly and for
the first time arisen in him another and counter instinct. A great
awe descended upon him. He was beaten down to movelessness by an
overwhelming sense of his own weakness and littleness. Here was
mastery and power, something far and away beyond him.

The cub had never seen man, yet the instinct concerning man was
his. In dim ways he recognised in man the animal that had fought
itself to primacy over the other animals of the Wild. Not alone
out of his own eyes, but out of the eyes of all his ancestors was
the cub now looking upon man--out of eyes that had circled in the
darkness around countless winter camp-fires, that had peered from
safe distances and from the hearts of thickets at the strange, two-
legged animal that was lord over living things. The spell of the
cub's heritage was upon him, the fear and the respect born of the
centuries of struggle and the accumulated experience of the
generations. The heritage was too compelling for a wolf that was
only a cub. Had he been full-grown, he would have run away. As it
was, he cowered down in a paralysis of fear, already half
proffering the submission that his kind had proffered from the
first time a wolf came in to sit by man's fire and be made warm.

One of the Indians arose and walked over to him and stooped above
him. The cub cowered closer to the ground. It was the unknown,
objectified at last, in concrete flesh and blood, bending over him
and reaching down to seize hold of him. His hair bristled
involuntarily; his lips writhed back and his little fangs were
bared. The hand, poised like doom above him, hesitated, and the
man spoke laughing, "Wabam wabisca ip pit tah." ("Look! The white
fangs!")

The other Indians laughed loudly, and urged the man on to pick up
the cub. As the hand descended closer and closer, there raged
within the cub a battle of the instincts. He experienced two great
impulsions--to yield and to fight. The resulting action was a
compromise. He did both. He yielded till the hand almost touched
him. Then he fought, his teeth flashing in a snap that sank them
into the hand. The next moment he received a clout alongside the
head that knocked him over on his side. Then all fight fled out of
him. His puppyhood and the instinct of submission took charge of
him. He sat up on his haunches and ki-yi'd. But the man whose
hand he had bitten was angry. The cub received a clout on the
other side of his head. Whereupon he sat up and ki-yi'd louder
than ever.

The four Indians laughed more loudly, while even the man who had
been bitten began to laugh. They surrounded the cub and laughed at
him, while he wailed out his terror and his hurt. In the midst of
it, he heard something. The Indians heard it too. But the cub
knew what it was, and with a last, long wail that had in it more of
triumph than grief, he ceased his noise and waited for the coming
of his mother, of his ferocious and indomitable mother who fought
and killed all things and was never afraid. She was snarling as
she ran. She had heard the cry of her cub and was dashing to save
him.

She bounded in amongst them, her anxious and militant motherhood
making her anything but a pretty sight. But to the cub the
spectacle of her protective rage was pleasing. He uttered a glad
little cry and bounded to meet her, while the man-animals went back
hastily several steps. The she-wolf stood over against her cub,
facing the men, with bristling hair, a snarl rumbling deep in her
throat. Her face was distorted and malignant with menace, even the
bridge of the nose wrinkling from tip to eyes so prodigious was her
snarl.

Then it was that a cry went up from one of the men. "Kiche!" was
what he uttered. It was an exclamation of surprise. The cub felt
his mother wilting at the sound.

"Kiche!" the man cried again, this time with sharpness and
authority.

And then the cub saw his mother, the she-wolf, the fearless one,
crouching down till her belly touched the ground, whimpering,
wagging her tail, making peace signs. The cub could not
understand. He was appalled. The awe of man rushed over him
again. His instinct had been true. His mother verified it. She,
too, rendered submission to the man-animals.

The man who had spoken came over to her. He put his hand upon her
head, and she only crouched closer. She did not snap, nor threaten
to snap. The other men came up, and surrounded her, and felt her,
and pawed her, which actions she made no attempt to resent. They
were greatly excited, and made many noises with their mouths.
These noises were not indication of danger, the cub decided, as he
crouched near his mother still bristling from time to time but
doing his best to submit.

"It is not strange," an Indian was saying. "Her father was a wolf.
It is true, her mother was a dog; but did not my brother tie her
out in the woods all of three nights in the mating season?
Therefore was the father of Kiche a wolf."

"It is a year, Grey Beaver, since she ran away," spoke a second
Indian.

"It is not strange, Salmon Tongue," Grey Beaver answered. "It was
the time of the famine, and there was no meat for the dogs."

"She has lived with the wolves," said a third Indian.

"So it would seem, Three Eagles," Grey Beaver answered, lying his
hand on the cub; "and this be the sign of it."

The cub snarled a little at the touch of the hand, and the hand
flew back to administer a clout. Whereupon the cub covered its
fangs, and sank down submissively, while the hand, returning,
rubbed behind his ears, and up and down his back.

"This be the sign of it," Grey Beaver went on. "It is plain that
his mother is Kiche. But this father was a wolf. Wherefore is
there in him little dog and much wolf. His fangs be white, and
White Fang shall be his name. I have spoken. He is my dog. For
was not Kiche my brother's dog? And is not my brother dead?"

The cub, who had thus received a name in the world, lay and
watched. For a time the man-animals continued to make their mouth-
noises. Then Grey Beaver took a knife from a sheath that hung
around his neck, and went into the thicket and cut a stick. White
Fang watched him. He notched the stick at each end and in the
notches fastened strings of raw-hide. One string he tied around
the throat of Kiche. Then he led her to a small pine, around which
he tied the other string.

White Fang followed and lay down beside her. Salmon Tongue's hand
reached out to him and rolled him over on his back. Kiche looked
on anxiously. White Fang felt fear mounting in him again. He
could not quite suppress a snarl, but he made no offer to snap.
The hand, with fingers crooked and spread apart, rubbed his stomach
in a playful way and rolled him from side to side. It was
ridiculous and ungainly, lying there on his back with legs
sprawling in the air. Besides, it was a position of such utter
helplessness that White Fang's whole nature revolted against it.
He could do nothing to defend himself. If this man-animal intended
harm, White Fang knew that he could not escape it. How could he
spring away with his four legs in the air above him? Yet
submission made him master his fear, and he only growled softly.
This growl he could not suppress; nor did the man-animal resent it
by giving him a blow on the head. And furthermore, such was the
strangeness of it, White Fang experienced an unaccountable
sensation of pleasure as the hand rubbed back and forth. When he
was rolled on his side he ceased to growl, when the fingers pressed
and prodded at the base of his ears the pleasurable sensation
increased; and when, with a final rub and scratch, the man left him
alone and went away, all fear had died out of White Fang. He was
to know fear many times in his dealing with man; yet it was a token
of the fearless companionship with man that was ultimately to be
his.

After a time, White Fang heard strange noises approaching. He was
quick in his classification, for he knew them at once for man-
animal noises. A few minutes later the remainder of the tribe,
strung out as it was on the march, trailed in. There were more men
and many women and children, forty souls of them, and all heavily
burdened with camp equipage and outfit. Also there were many dogs;
and these, with the exception of the part-grown puppies, were
likewise burdened with camp outfit. On their backs, in bags that
fastened tightly around underneath, the dogs carried from twenty to
thirty pounds of weight.

White Fang had never seen dogs before, but at sight of them he felt
that they were his own kind, only somehow different. But they
displayed little difference from the wolf when they discovered the
cub and his mother. There was a rush. White Fang bristled and
snarled and snapped in the face of the open-mouthed oncoming wave
of dogs, and went down and under them, feeling the sharp slash of
teeth in his body, himself biting and tearing at the legs and
bellies above him. There was a great uproar. He could hear the
snarl of Kiche as she fought for him; and he could hear the cries
of the man-animals, the sound of clubs striking upon bodies, and
the yelps of pain from the dogs so struck.

Only a few seconds elapsed before he was on his feet again. He
could now see the man-animals driving back the dogs with clubs and
stones, defending him, saving him from the savage teeth of his kind
that somehow was not his kind. And though there was no reason in
his brain for a clear conception of so abstract a thing as justice,
nevertheless, in his own way, he felt the justice of the man-
animals, and he knew them for what they were--makers of law and
executors of law. Also, he appreciated the power with which they
administered the law. Unlike any animals he had ever encountered,
they did not bite nor claw. They enforced their live strength with
the power of dead things. Dead things did their bidding. Thus,
sticks and stones, directed by these strange creatures, leaped
through the air like living things, inflicting grievous hurts upon
the dogs.

To his mind this was power unusual, power inconceivable and beyond
the natural, power that was godlike. White Fang, in the very
nature of him, could never know anything about gods; at the best he
could know only things that were beyond knowing--but the wonder and
awe that he had of these man-animals in ways resembled what would
be the wonder and awe of man at sight of some celestial creature,
on a mountain top, hurling thunderbolts from either hand at an
astonished world.

The last dog had been driven back. The hubbub died down. And
White Fang licked his hurts and meditated upon this, his first
taste of pack-cruelty and his introduction to the pack. He had
never dreamed that his own kind consisted of more than One Eye, his
mother, and himself. They had constituted a kind apart, and here,
abruptly, he had discovered many more creatures apparently of his
own kind. And there was a subconscious resentment that these, his
kind, at first sight had pitched upon him and tried to destroy him.
In the same way he resented his mother being tied with a stick,
even though it was done by the superior man-animals. It savoured
of the trap, of bondage. Yet of the trap and of bondage he knew
nothing. Freedom to roam and run and lie down at will, had been
his heritage; and here it was being infringed upon. His mother's
movements were restricted to the length of a stick, and by the
length of that same stick was he restricted, for he had not yet got
beyond the need of his mother's side.

He did not like it. Nor did he like it when the man-animals arose
and went on with their march; for a tiny man-animal took the other
end of the stick and led Kiche captive behind him, and behind Kiche
followed White Fang, greatly perturbed and worried by this new
adventure he had entered upon.

They went down the valley of the stream, far beyond White Fang's
widest ranging, until they came to the end of the valley, where the
stream ran into the Mackenzie River. Here, where canoes were
cached on poles high in the air and where stood fish-racks for the
drying of fish, camp was made; and White Fang looked on with
wondering eyes. The superiority of these man-animals increased
with every moment. There was their mastery over all these sharp-
fanged dogs. It breathed of power. But greater than that, to the
wolf-cub, was their mastery over things not alive; their capacity
to communicate motion to unmoving things; their capacity to change
the very face of the world.

It was this last that especially affected him. The elevation of
frames of poles caught his eye; yet this in itself was not so
remarkable, being done by the same creatures that flung sticks and
stones to great distances. But when the frames of poles were made
into tepees by being covered with cloth and skins, White Fang was
astounded. It was the colossal bulk of them that impressed him.
They arose around him, on every side, like some monstrous quick-
growing form of life. They occupied nearly the whole circumference
of his field of vision. He was afraid of them. They loomed
ominously above him; and when the breeze stirred them into huge
movements, he cowered down in fear, keeping his eyes warily upon
them, and prepared to spring away if they attempted to precipitate
themselves upon him.

But in a short while his fear of the tepees passed away. He saw
the women and children passing in and out of them without harm, and
he saw the dogs trying often to get into them, and being driven
away with sharp words and flying stones. After a time, he left
Kiche's side and crawled cautiously toward the wall of the nearest
tepee. It was the curiosity of growth that urged him on--the
necessity of learning and living and doing that brings experience.
The last few inches to the wall of the tepee were crawled with
painful slowness and precaution. The day's events had prepared him
for the unknown to manifest itself in most stupendous and
unthinkable ways. At last his nose touched the canvas. He waited.
Nothing happened. Then he smelled the strange fabric, saturated
with the man-smell. He closed on the canvas with his teeth and
gave a gentle tug. Nothing happened, though the adjacent portions
of the tepee moved. He tugged harder. There was a greater
movement. It was delightful. He tugged still harder, and
repeatedly, until the whole tepee was in motion. Then the sharp
cry of a squaw inside sent him scampering back to Kiche. But after
that he was afraid no more of the looming bulks of the tepees.

A moment later he was straying away again from his mother. Her
stick was tied to a peg in the ground and she could not follow him.
A part-grown puppy, somewhat larger and older than he, came toward
him slowly, with ostentatious and belligerent importance. The
puppy's name, as White Fang was afterward to hear him called, was
Lip-lip. He had had experience in puppy fights and was already
something of a bully.

Lip-lip was White Fang's own kind, and, being only a puppy, did not
seem dangerous; so White Fang prepared to meet him in a friendly
spirit. But when the strangers walk became stiff-legged and his
lips lifted clear of his teeth, White Fang stiffened too, and
answered with lifted lips. They half circled about each other,
tentatively, snarling and bristling. This lasted several minutes,
and White Fang was beginning to enjoy it, as a sort of game. But
suddenly, with remarkable swiftness, Lip-lip leaped in, delivering
a slashing snap, and leaped away again. The snap had taken effect
on the shoulder that had been hurt by the lynx and that was still
sore deep down near the bone. The surprise and hurt of it brought
a yelp out of White Fang; but the next moment, in a rush of anger,
he was upon Lip-lip and snapping viciously.

But Lip-hp had lived his life in camp and had fought many puppy
fights. Three times, four times, and half a dozen times, his sharp
little teeth scored on the newcomer, until White Fang, yelping
shamelessly, fled to the protection of his mother. It was the
first of the many fights he was to have with Lip-lip, for they were
enemies from the start, born so, with natures destined perpetually
to clash.

Kiche licked White Fang soothingly with her tongue, and tried to
prevail upon him to remain with her. But his curiosity was
rampant, and several minutes later he was venturing forth on a new
quest. He came upon one of the man-animals, Grey Beaver, who was
squatting on his hams and doing something with sticks and dry moss
spread before him on the ground. White Fang came near to him and
watched. Grey Beaver made mouth-noises which White Fang
interpreted as not hostile, so he came still nearer.

Women and children were carrying more sticks and branches to Grey
Beaver. It was evidently an affair of moment. White Fang came in
until he touched Grey Beaver's knee, so curious was he, and already
forgetful that this was a terrible man-animal. Suddenly he saw a
strange thing like mist beginning to arise from the sticks and moss
beneath Grey Beaver's hands. Then, amongst the sticks themselves,
appeared a live thing, twisting and turning, of a colour like the
colour of the sun in the sky. White Fang knew nothing about fire.
It drew him as the light, in the mouth of the cave had drawn him in
his early puppyhood. He crawled the several steps toward the
flame. He heard Grey Beaver chuckle above him, and he knew the
sound was not hostile. Then his nose touched the flame, and at the
same instant his little tongue went out to it.

For a moment he was paralysed. The unknown, lurking in the midst
of the sticks and moss, was savagely clutching him by the nose. He
scrambled backward, bursting out in an astonished explosion of ki-
yi's. At the sound, Kiche leaped snarling to the end of her stick,
and there raged terribly because she could not come to his aid.
But Grey Beaver laughed loudly, and slapped his thighs, and told
the happening to all the rest of the camp, till everybody was
laughing uproariously. But White Fang sat on his haunches and ki-
yi'd and ki-yi'd, a forlorn and pitiable little figure in the midst
of the man-animals.

It was the worst hurt he had ever known. Both nose and tongue had
been scorched by the live thing, sun-coloured, that had grown up
under Grey Beaver's hands. He cried and cried interminably, and
every fresh wail was greeted by bursts of laughter on the part of
the man-animals. He tried to soothe his nose with his tongue, but
the tongue was burnt too, and the two hurts coming together
produced greater hurt; whereupon he cried more hopelessly and
helplessly than ever.

And then shame came to him. He knew laughter and the meaning of
it. It is not given us to know how some animals know laughter, and
know when they are being laughed at; but it was this same way that
White Fang knew it. And he felt shame that the man-animals should
be laughing at him. He turned and fled away, not from the hurt of
the fire, but from the laughter that sank even deeper, and hurt in
the spirit of him. And he fled to Kiche, raging at the end of her
stick like an animal gone mad--to Kiche, the one creature in the
world who was not laughing at him.

Twilight drew down and night came on, and White Fang lay by his
mother's side. His nose and tongue still hurt, but he was
perplexed by a greater trouble. He was homesick. He felt a
vacancy in him, a need for the hush and quietude of the stream and
the cave in the cliff. Life had become too populous. There were
so many of the man-animals, men, women, and children, all making
noises and irritations. And there were the dogs, ever squabbling
and bickering, bursting into uproars and creating confusions. The
restful loneliness of the only life he had known was gone. Here
the very air was palpitant with life. It hummed and buzzed
unceasingly. Continually changing its intensity and abruptly
variant in pitch, it impinged on his nerves and senses, made him
nervous and restless and worried him with a perpetual imminence of
happening.

He watched the man-animals coming and going and moving about the
camp. In fashion distantly resembling the way men look upon the
gods they create, so looked White Fang upon the man-animals before
him. They were superior creatures, of a verity, gods. To his dim
comprehension they were as much wonder-workers as gods are to men.
They were creatures of mastery, possessing all manner of unknown
and impossible potencies, overlords of the alive and the not alive-
-making obey that which moved, imparting movement to that which did
not move, and making life, sun-coloured and biting life, to grow
out of dead moss and wood. They were fire-makers! They were gods.