John Thornton and Pete and Hans, with Buck and half a dozen other dogs, faced
into the East on an unknown trail to achieve where men and dogs as good as themselves
had failed. They sledded seventy miles up the Yukon, swung to the left into the Stewart
River, passed the Mayo and the McQuestion, and held on until the Stewart itself became
a streamlet, threading the upstanding peaks which marked the backbone of the continent.
John Thornton asked little of man or nature. He was unafraid of the wild. With a
handful of salt and a rifle he could plunge into the wilderness and fare wherever he
pleased and as long as he pleased. Being in no haste, Indian fashion, he hunted his dinner
in the course of the day’s travel; and if he failed to find it, like the Indian, he kept on
travelling, secure in the knowledge that sooner or later he would come to it. [...]
To Buck, it was boundless delight, this hunting, fishing, and indefinite wandering
through strange places. [...] Sometimes they went hungry, sometimes they feasted
riotously, all according to the abundance of game and the fortune of hunting. Summer
arrived, and dogs and men packed on their backs, rafted across blue mountain lakes, and
descended or ascended unknown rivers in slender boats whipsawed from the standing
The months came and went, and back and forth they twisted through the uncharted
vastness, where no men were and yet where men had been if the Lost Cabin were true.
They went across divides in summer blizzards, shivered under the midnight sun on
naked mountains between the timber line and the eternal snows, dropped into summer
valleys amid swarming gnats and flies, and in the shadows of glaciers picked strawberries
and flowers as ripe and fair as any the Southland could boast. In the fall of the year they
penetrated a weird lake country, sad and silent, where wildfowl had been, but where then
there was no life nor sign of life—only the blowing of chill winds, the forming of ice in
sheltered places, and the melancholy rippling of waves on lonely beaches.
And through another winter they wandered on the obliterated trails of men who had
gone before. Once, they came upon a path blazed through the forest, an ancient path,
and the Lost Cabin seemed very near. But the path began nowhere and ended nowhere,
and it remained mystery, as the man who made it and the reason he made it remained [a]
mystery. Another time they chanced upon the time-graven wreckage of a hunting lodge,
and amid the shreds of rotted blankets John Thornton found a long-barrelled flint-lock.
He knew it for a Hudson Bay Company gun of the young days in the Northwest, when
such a gun was worth its height in beaver skins packed flat. And that was all—no hint as
to the man who in an early day had reared the lodge and left the gun among the blankets.
Spring came on once more, and at the end of all their wandering they found, not the
Lost Cabin, but a shallow placer in a broad valley where the gold showed like yellow
butter across the bottom of the washing-pan. They sought no farther. Each day they
worked earned them thousands of dollars in clean dust and nuggets, and they worked
every day. The gold was sacked in moose-hide bags, fifty pounds to the bag, and piled like
so much firewood outside the spruce-bough lodge. Like giants they toiled, days flashing
on the heels of days like dreams as they heaped the treasure up.
There was nothing for the dogs to do, save the hauling in of meat now and again that
Thornton killed, and Buck spent long hours musing by the fire.