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Literature Post > London, Jack > White Fang > Chapter 13

White Fang by London, Jack - Chapter 13

CHAPTER V--THE COVENANT



When December was well along, Grey Beaver went on a journey up the
Mackenzie. Mit-sah and Kloo-kooch went with him. One sled he
drove himself, drawn by dogs he had traded for or borrowed. A
second and smaller sled was driven by Mit-sah, and to this was
harnessed a team of puppies. It was more of a toy affair than
anything else, yet it was the delight of Mit-sah, who felt that he
was beginning to do a man's work in the world. Also, he was
learning to drive dogs and to train dogs; while the puppies
themselves were being broken in to the harness. Furthermore, the
sled was of some service, for it carried nearly two hundred pounds
of outfit and food.

White Fang had seen the camp-dogs toiling in the harness, so that
he did not resent overmuch the first placing of the harness upon
himself. About his neck was put a moss-stuffed collar, which was
connected by two pulling-traces to a strap that passed around his
chest and over his back. It was to this that was fastened the long
rope by which he pulled at the sled.

There were seven puppies in the team. The others had been born
earlier in the year and were nine and ten months old, while White
Fang was only eight months old. Each dog was fastened to the sled
by a single rope. No two ropes were of the same length, while the
difference in length between any two ropes was at least that of a
dog's body. Every rope was brought to a ring at the front end of
the sled. The sled itself was without runners, being a birch-bark
toboggan, with upturned forward end to keep it from ploughing under
the snow. This construction enabled the weight of the sled and
load to be distributed over the largest snow-surface; for the snow
was crystal-powder and very soft. Observing the same principle of
widest distribution of weight, the dogs at the ends of their ropes
radiated fan-fashion from the nose of the sled, so that no dog trod
in another's footsteps.

There was, furthermore, another virtue in the fan-formation. The
ropes of varying length prevented the dogs attacking from the rear
those that ran in front of them. For a dog to attack another, it
would have to turn upon one at a shorter rope. In which case it
would find itself face to face with the dog attacked, and also it
would find itself facing the whip of the driver. But the most
peculiar virtue of all lay in the fact that the dog that strove to
attack one in front of him must pull the sled faster, and that the
faster the sled travelled, the faster could the dog attacked run
away. Thus, the dog behind could never catch up with the one in
front. The faster he ran, the faster ran the one he was after, and
the faster ran all the dogs. Incidentally, the sled went faster,
and thus, by cunning indirection, did man increase his mastery over
the beasts.

Mit-sah resembled his father, much of whose grey wisdom he
possessed. In the past he had observed Lip-lip's persecution of
White Fang; but at that time Lip-lip was another man's dog, and
Mit-sah had never dared more than to shy an occasional stone at
him. But now Lip-lip was his dog, and he proceeded to wreak his
vengeance on him by putting him at the end of the longest rope.
This made Lip-lip the leader, and was apparently an honour! but in
reality it took away from him all honour, and instead of being
bully and master of the pack, he now found himself hated and
persecuted by the pack.

Because he ran at the end of the longest rope, the dogs had always
the view of him running away before them. All that they saw of him
was his bushy tail and fleeing hind legs--a view far less ferocious
and intimidating than his bristling mane and gleaming fangs. Also,
dogs being so constituted in their mental ways, the sight of him
running away gave desire to run after him and a feeling that he ran
away from them.

The moment the sled started, the team took after Lip-lip in a chase
that extended throughout the day. At first he had been prone to
turn upon his pursuers, jealous of his dignity and wrathful; but at
such times Mit-sah would throw the stinging lash of the thirty-foot
cariboo-gut whip into his face and compel him to turn tail and run
on. Lip-lip might face the pack, but he could not face that whip,
and all that was left him to do was to keep his long rope taut and
his flanks ahead of the teeth of his mates.

But a still greater cunning lurked in the recesses of the Indian
mind. To give point to unending pursuit of the leader, Mit-sah
favoured him over the other dogs. These favours aroused in them
jealousy and hatred. In their presence Mit-sah would give him meat
and would give it to him only. This was maddening to them. They
would rage around just outside the throwing-distance of the whip,
while Lip-lip devoured the meat and Mit-sah protected him. And
when there was no meat to give, Mit-sah would keep the team at a
distance and make believe to give meat to Lip-lip.

White Fang took kindly to the work. He had travelled a greater
distance than the other dogs in the yielding of himself to the rule
of the gods, and he had learned more thoroughly the futility of
opposing their will. In addition, the persecution he had suffered
from the pack had made the pack less to him in the scheme of
things, and man more. He had not learned to be dependent on his
kind for companionship. Besides, Kiche was well-nigh forgotten;
and the chief outlet of expression that remained to him was in the
allegiance he tendered the gods he had accepted as masters. So he
worked hard, learned discipline, and was obedient. Faithfulness
and willingness characterised his toil. These are essential traits
of the wolf and the wild-dog when they have become domesticated,
and these traits White Fang possessed in unusual measure.

A companionship did exist between White Fang and the other dogs,
but it was one of warfare and enmity. He had never learned to play
with them. He knew only how to fight, and fight with them he did,
returning to them a hundred-fold the snaps and slashes they had
given him in the days when Lip-lip was leader of the pack. But
Lip-lip was no longer leader--except when he fled away before his
mates at the end of his rope, the sled bounding along behind. In
camp he kept close to Mit-sah or Grey Beaver or Kloo-kooch. He did
not dare venture away from the gods, for now the fangs of all dogs
were against him, and he tasted to the dregs the persecution that
had been White Fang's.

With the overthrow of Lip-lip, White Fang could have become leader
of the pack. But he was too morose and solitary for that. He
merely thrashed his team-mates. Otherwise he ignored them. They
got out of his way when he came along; nor did the boldest of them
ever dare to rob him of his meat. On the contrary, they devoured
their own meat hurriedly, for fear that he would take it away from
them. White Fang knew the law well: TO OPPRESS THE WEAK AND OBEY
THE STRONG. He ate his share of meat as rapidly as he could. And
then woe the dog that had not yet finished! A snarl and a flash of
fangs, and that dog would wail his indignation to the uncomforting
stars while White Fang finished his portion for him.

Every little while, however, one dog or another would flame up in
revolt and be promptly subdued. Thus White Fang was kept in
training. He was jealous of the isolation in which he kept himself
in the midst of the pack, and he fought often to maintain it. But
such fights were of brief duration. He was too quick for the
others. They were slashed open and bleeding before they knew what
had happened, were whipped almost before they had begun to fight.

As rigid as the sled-discipline of the gods, was the discipline
maintained by White Fang amongst his fellows. He never allowed
them any latitude. He compelled them to an unremitting respect for
him. They might do as they pleased amongst themselves. That was
no concern of his. But it WAS his concern that they leave him
alone in his isolation, get out of his way when he elected to walk
among them, and at all times acknowledge his mastery over them. A
hint of stiff-leggedness on their part, a lifted lip or a bristle
of hair, and he would be upon them, merciless and cruel, swiftly
convincing them of the error of their way.

He was a monstrous tyrant. His mastery was rigid as steel. He
oppressed the weak with a vengeance. Not for nothing had he been
exposed to the pitiless struggles for life in the day of his
cubhood, when his mother and he, alone and unaided, held their own
and survived in the ferocious environment of the Wild. And not for
nothing had he learned to walk softly when superior strength went
by. He oppressed the weak, but he respected the strong. And in
the course of the long journey with Grey Beaver he walked softly
indeed amongst the full-grown dogs in the camps of the strange man-
animals they encountered.

The months passed by. Still continued the journey of Grey Beaver.
White Fang's strength was developed by the long hours on trail and
the steady toil at the sled; and it would have seemed that his
mental development was well-nigh complete. He had come to know
quite thoroughly the world in which he lived. His outlook was
bleak and materialistic. The world as he saw it was a fierce and
brutal world, a world without warmth, a world in which caresses and
affection and the bright sweetnesses of the spirit did not exist.

He had no affection for Grey Beaver. True, he was a god, but a
most savage god. White Fang was glad to acknowledge his lordship,
but it was a lordship based upon superior intelligence and brute
strength. There was something in the fibre of White Fang's being
that made his lordship a thing to be desired, else he would not
have come back from the Wild when he did to tender his allegiance.
There were deeps in his nature which had never been sounded. A
kind word, a caressing touch of the hand, on the part of Grey
Beaver, might have sounded these deeps; but Grey Beaver did not
caress, nor speak kind words. It was not his way. His primacy was
savage, and savagely he ruled, administering justice with a club,
punishing transgression with the pain of a blow, and rewarding
merit, not by kindness, but by withholding a blow.

So White Fang knew nothing of the heaven a man's hand might contain
for him. Besides, he did not like the hands of the man-animals.
He was suspicious of them. It was true that they sometimes gave
meat, but more often they gave hurt. Hands were things to keep
away from. They hurled stones, wielded sticks and clubs and whips,
administered slaps and clouts, and, when they touched him, were
cunning to hurt with pinch and twist and wrench. In strange
villages he had encountered the hands of the children and learned
that they were cruel to hurt. Also, he had once nearly had an eye
poked out by a toddling papoose. From these experiences he became
suspicious of all children. He could not tolerate them. When they
came near with their ominous hands, he got up.

It was in a village at the Great Slave Lake, that, in the course of
resenting the evil of the hands of the man-animals, he came to
modify the law that he had learned from Grey Beaver: namely, that
the unpardonable crime was to bite one of the gods. In this
village, after the custom of all dogs in all villages, White Fang
went foraging, for food. A boy was chopping frozen moose-meat with
an axe, and the chips were flying in the snow. White Fang, sliding
by in quest of meat, stopped and began to eat the chips. He
observed the boy lay down the axe and take up a stout club. White
Fang sprang clear, just in time to escape the descending blow. The
boy pursued him, and he, a stranger in the village, fled between
two tepees to find himself cornered against a high earth bank.

There was no escape for White Fang. The only way out was between
the two tepees, and this the boy guarded. Holding his club
prepared to strike, he drew in on his cornered quarry. White Fang
was furious. He faced the boy, bristling and snarling, his sense
of justice outraged. He knew the law of forage. All the wastage
of meat, such as the frozen chips, belonged to the dog that found
it. He had done no wrong, broken no law, yet here was this boy
preparing to give him a beating. White Fang scarcely knew what
happened. He did it in a surge of rage. And he did it so quickly
that the boy did not know either. All the boy knew was that he had
in some unaccountable way been overturned into the snow, and that
his club-hand had been ripped wide open by White Fang's teeth.

But White Fang knew that he had broken the law of the gods. He had
driven his teeth into the sacred flesh of one of them, and could
expect nothing but a most terrible punishment. He fled away to
Grey Beaver, behind whose protecting legs he crouched when the
bitten boy and the boy's family came, demanding vengeance. But
they went away with vengeance unsatisfied. Grey Beaver defended
White Fang. So did Mit-sah and Kloo-kooch. White Fang, listening
to the wordy war and watching the angry gestures, knew that his act
was justified. And so it came that he learned there were gods and
gods. There were his gods, and there were other gods, and between
them there was a difference. Justice or injustice, it was all the
same, he must take all things from the hands of his own gods. But
he was not compelled to take injustice from the other gods. It was
his privilege to resent it with his teeth. And this also was a law
of the gods.

Before the day was out, White Fang was to learn more about this
law. Mit-sah, alone, gathering firewood in the forest, encountered
the boy that had been bitten. With him were other boys. Hot words
passed. Then all the boys attacked Mit-sah. It was going hard
with him. Blows were raining upon him from all sides. White Fang
looked on at first. This was an affair of the gods, and no concern
of his. Then he realised that this was Mit-sah, one of his own
particular gods, who was being maltreated. It was no reasoned
impulse that made White Fang do what he then did. A mad rush of
anger sent him leaping in amongst the combatants. Five minutes
later the landscape was covered with fleeing boys, many of whom
dripped blood upon the snow in token that White Fang's teeth had
not been idle. When Mit-sah told the story in camp, Grey Beaver
ordered meat to be given to White Fang. He ordered much meat to be
given, and White Fang, gorged and sleepy by the fire, knew that the
law had received its verification.

It was in line with these experiences that White Fang came to learn
the law of property and the duty of the defence of property. From
the protection of his god's body to the protection of his god's
possessions was a step, and this step he made. What was his god's
was to be defended against all the world--even to the extent of
biting other gods. Not only was such an act sacrilegious in its
nature, but it was fraught with peril. The gods were all-powerful,
and a dog was no match against them; yet White Fang learned to face
them, fiercely belligerent and unafraid. Duty rose above fear, and
thieving gods learned to leave Grey Beaver's property alone.

One thing, in this connection, White Fang quickly learnt, and that
was that a thieving god was usually a cowardly god and prone to run
away at the sounding of the alarm. Also, he learned that but brief
time elapsed between his sounding of the alarm and Grey Beaver
coming to his aid. He came to know that it was not fear of him
that drove the thief away, but fear of Grey Beaver. White Fang did
not give the alarm by barking. He never barked. His method was to
drive straight at the intruder, and to sink his teeth in if he
could. Because he was morose and solitary, having nothing to do
with the other dogs, he was unusually fitted to guard his master's
property; and in this he was encouraged and trained by Grey Beaver.
One result of this was to make White Fang more ferocious and
indomitable, and more solitary.

The months went by, binding stronger and stronger the covenant
between dog and man. This was the ancient covenant that the first
wolf that came in from the Wild entered into with man. And, like
all succeeding wolves and wild dogs that had done likewise, White
Fang worked the covenant out for himself. The terms were simple.
For the possession of a flesh-and-blood god, he exchanged his own
liberty. Food and fire, protection and companionship, were some of
the things he received from the god. In return, he guarded the
god's property, defended his body, worked for him, and obeyed him.

The possession of a god implies service. White Fang's was a
service of duty and awe, but not of love. He did not know what
love was. He had no experience of love. Kiche was a remote
memory. Besides, not only had he abandoned the Wild and his kind
when he gave himself up to man, but the terms of the covenant were
such that if ever he met Kiche again he would not desert his god to
go with her. His allegiance to man seemed somehow a law of his
being greater than the love of liberty, of kind and kin.