Chapter XIV - The Famine
The spring of the year was at hand when Grey Beaver finished his
long journey. It was April, and White Fang was a year old when he
pulled into the home villages and was loosed from the harness by
Mit-sah. Though a long way from his full growth, White Fang, next
to Lip-lip, was the largest yearling in the village. Both from his
father, the wolf, and from Kiche, he had inherited stature and
strength, and already he was measuring up alongside the full-grown
dogs. But he had not yet grown compact. His body was slender and
rangy, and his strength more stringy than massive, His coat was the
true wolf-grey, and to all appearances he was true wolf himself.
The quarter-strain of dog he had inherited from Kiche had left no
mark on him physically, though it had played its part in his mental
He wandered through the village, recognising with staid
satisfaction the various gods he had known before the long journey.
Then there were the dogs, puppies growing up like himself, and
grown dogs that did not look so large and formidable as the memory
pictures he retained of them. Also, he stood less in fear of them
than formerly, stalking among them with a certain careless ease
that was as new to him as it was enjoyable.
There was Baseek, a grizzled old fellow that in his younger days
had but to uncover his fangs to send White Fang cringing and
crouching to the right about. From him White Fang had learned much
of his own insignificance; and from him he was now to learn much of
the change and development that had taken place in himself. While
Baseek had been growing weaker with age, White Fang had been
growing stronger with youth.
It was at the cutting-up of a moose, fresh-killed, that White Fang
learned of the changed relations in which he stood to the dog-
world. He had got for himself a hoof and part of the shin-bone, to
which quite a bit of meat was attached. Withdrawn from the
immediate scramble of the other dogs - in fact out of sight behind
a thicket - he was devouring his prize, when Baseek rushed in upon
him. Before he knew what he was doing, he had slashed the intruder
twice and sprung clear. Baseek was surprised by the other's
temerity and swiftness of attack. He stood, gazing stupidly across
at White Fang, the raw, red shin-bone between them.
Baseek was old, and already he had come to know the increasing
valour of the dogs it had been his wont to bully. Bitter
experiences these, which, perforce, he swallowed, calling upon all
his wisdom to cope with them. In the old days he would have sprung
upon White Fang in a fury of righteous wrath. But now his waning
powers would not permit such a course. He bristled fiercely and
looked ominously across the shin-bone at White Fang. And White
Fang, resurrecting quite a deal of the old awe, seemed to wilt and
to shrink in upon himself and grow small, as he cast about in his
mind for a way to beat a retreat not too inglorious.
And right here Baseek erred. Had he contented himself with looking
fierce and ominous, all would have been well. White Fang, on the
verge of retreat, would have retreated, leaving the meat to him.
But Baseek did not wait. He considered the victory already his and
stepped forward to the meat. As he bent his head carelessly to
smell it, White Fang bristled slightly. Even then it was not too
late for Baseek to retrieve the situation. Had he merely stood
over the meat, head up and glowering, White Fang would ultimately
have slunk away. But the fresh meat was strong in Baseek's
nostrils, and greed urged him to take a bite of it.
This was too much for White Fang. Fresh upon his months of mastery
over his own team-mates, it was beyond his self-control to stand
idly by while another devoured the meat that belonged to him. He
struck, after his custom, without warning. With the first slash,
Baseek's right ear was ripped into ribbons. He was astounded at
the suddenness of it. But more things, and most grievous ones,
were happening with equal suddenness. He was knocked off his feet.
His throat was bitten. While he was struggling to his feet the
young dog sank teeth twice into his shoulder. The swiftness of it
was bewildering. He made a futile rush at White Fang, clipping the
empty air with an outraged snap. The next moment his nose was laid
open, and he was staggering backward away from the meat.
The situation was now reversed. White Fang stood over the shin-
bone, bristling and menacing, while Baseek stood a little way off,
preparing to retreat. He dared not risk a fight with this young
lightning-flash, and again he knew, and more bitterly, the
enfeeblement of oncoming age. His attempt to maintain his dignity
was heroic. Calmly turning his back upon young dog and shin-bone,
as though both were beneath his notice and unworthy of his
consideration, he stalked grandly away. Nor, until well out of
sight, did he stop to lick his bleeding wounds.
The effect on White Fang was to give him a greater faith in
himself, and a greater pride. He walked less softly among the
grown dogs; his attitude toward them was less compromising. Not
that he went out of his way looking for trouble. Far from it. But
upon his way he demanded consideration. He stood upon his right to
go his way unmolested and to give trail to no dog. He had to be
taken into account, that was all. He was no longer to be
disregarded and ignored, as was the lot of puppies, and as
continued to be the lot of the puppies that were his team-mates.
They got out of the way, gave trail to the grown dogs, and gave up
meat to them under compulsion. But White Fang, uncompanionable,
solitary, morose, scarcely looking to right or left, redoubtable,
forbidding of aspect, remote and alien, was accepted as an equal by
his puzzled elders. They quickly learned to leave him alone,
neither venturing hostile acts nor making overtures of
friendliness. If they left him alone, he left them alone - a state
of affairs that they found, after a few encounters, to be pre-
In midsummer White Fang had an experience. Trotting along in his
silent way to investigate a new tepee which had been erected on the
edge of the village while he was away with the hunters after moose,
he came full upon Kiche. He paused and looked at her. He
remembered her vaguely, but he REMEMBERED her, and that was more
than could be said for her. She lifted her lip at him in the old
snarl of menace, and his memory became clear. His forgotten
cubhood, all that was associated with that familiar snarl, rushed
back to him. Before he had known the gods, she had been to him the
centre-pin of the universe. The old familiar feelings of that time
came back upon him, surged up within him. He bounded towards her
joyously, and she met him with shrewd fangs that laid his cheek
open to the bone. He did not understand. He backed away,
bewildered and puzzled.
But it was not Kiche's fault. A wolf-mother was not made to
remember her cubs of a year or so before. So she did not remember
White Fang. He was a strange animal, an intruder; and her present
litter of puppies gave her the right to resent such intrusion.
One of the puppies sprawled up to White Fang. They were half-
brothers, only they did not know it. White Fang sniffed the puppy
curiously, whereupon Kiche rushed upon him, gashing is face a
second time. He backed farther away. All the old memories and
associations died down again and passed into the grave from which
they had been resurrected. He looked at Kiche licking her puppy
and stopping now and then to snarl at him. She was without value
to him. He had learned to get along without her. Her meaning was
forgotten. There was no place for her in his scheme of things, as
there was no place for him in hers.
He was still standing, stupid and bewildered, the memories
forgotten, wondering what it was all about, when Kiche attacked him
a third time, intent on driving him away altogether from the
vicinity. And White Fang allowed himself to be driven away. This
was a female of his kind, and it was a law of his kind that the
males must not fight the females. He did not know anything about
this law, for it was no generalisation of the mind, not a something
acquired by experience of the world. He knew it as a secret
prompting, as an urge of instinct - of the same instinct that made
him howl at the moon and stars of nights, and that made him fear
death and the unknown.
The months went by. White Fang grew stronger, heavier, and more
compact, while his character was developing along the lines laid
down by his heredity and his environment. His heredity was a life-
stuff that may be likened to clay. It possessed many
possibilities, was capable of being moulded into many different
forms. Environment served to model the clay, to give it a
particular form. Thus, had White Fang never come in to the fires
of man, the Wild would have moulded him into a true wolf. But the
gods had given him a different environment, and he was moulded into
a dog that was rather wolfish, but that was a dog and not a wolf.
And so, according to the clay of his nature and the pressure of his
surroundings, his character was being moulded into a certain
particular shape. There was no escaping it. He was becoming more
morose, more uncompanionable, more solitary, more ferocious; while
the dogs were learning more and more that it was better to be at
peace with him than at war, and Grey Beaver was coming to prize him
more greatly with the passage of each day.
White Fang, seeming to sum up strength in all his qualities,
nevertheless suffered from one besetting weakness. He could not
stand being laughed at. The laughter of men was a hateful thing.
They might laugh among themselves about anything they pleased
except himself, and he did not mind. But the moment laughter was
turned upon him he would fly into a most terrible rage. Grave,
dignified, sombre, a laugh made him frantic to ridiculousness. It
so outraged him and upset him that for hours he would behave like a
demon. And woe to the dog that at such times ran foul of him. He
knew the law too well to take it out of Grey Beaver; behind Grey
Beaver were a club and godhead. But behind the dogs there was
nothing but space, and into this space they flew when White Fang
came on the scene, made mad by laughter.
In the third year of his life there came a great famine to the
Mackenzie Indians. In the summer the fish failed. In the winter
the cariboo forsook their accustomed track. Moose were scarce, the
rabbits almost disappeared, hunting and preying animals perished.
Denied their usual food-supply, weakened by hunger, they fell upon
and devoured one another. Only the strong survived. White Fang's
gods were always hunting animals. The old and the weak of them
died of hunger. There was wailing in the village, where the women
and children went without in order that what little they had might
go into the bellies of the lean and hollow-eyed hunters who trod
the forest in the vain pursuit of meat.
To such extremity were the gods driven that they ate the soft-
tanned leather of their mocassins and mittens, while the dogs ate
the harnesses off their backs and the very whip-lashes. Also, the
dogs ate one another, and also the gods ate the dogs. The weakest
and the more worthless were eaten first. The dogs that still
lived, looked on and understood. A few of the boldest and wisest
forsook the fires of the gods, which had now become a shambles, and
fled into the forest, where, in the end, they starved to death or
were eaten by wolves.
In this time of misery, White Fang, too, stole away into the woods.
He was better fitted for the life than the other dogs, for he had
the training of his cubhood to guide him. Especially adept did he
become in stalking small living things. He would lie concealed for
hours, following every movement of a cautious tree-squirrel,
waiting, with a patience as huge as the hunger he suffered from,
until the squirrel ventured out upon the ground. Even then, White
Fang was not premature. He waited until he was sure of striking
before the squirrel could gain a tree-refuge. Then, and not until
then, would he flash from his hiding-place, a grey projectile,
incredibly swift, never failing its mark - the fleeing squirrel
that fled not fast enough.
Successful as he was with squirrels, there was one difficulty that
prevented him from living and growing fat on them. There were not
enough squirrels. So he was driven to hunt still smaller things.
So acute did his hunger become at times that he was not above
rooting out wood-mice from their burrows in the ground. Nor did he
scorn to do battle with a weasel as hungry as himself and many
times more ferocious.
In the worst pinches of the famine he stole back to the fires of
the gods. But he did not go into the fires. He lurked in the
forest, avoiding discovery and robbing the snares at the rare
intervals when game was caught. He even robbed Grey Beaver's snare
of a rabbit at a time when Grey Beaver staggered and tottered
through the forest, sitting down often to rest, what of weakness
and of shortness of breath.
One day While Fang encountered a young wolf, gaunt and scrawny,
loose-jointed with famine. Had he not been hungry himself, White
Fang might have gone with him and eventually found his way into the
pack amongst his wild brethren. As it was, he ran the young wolf
down and killed and ate him.
Fortune seemed to favour him. Always, when hardest pressed for
food, he found something to kill. Again, when he was weak, it was
his luck that none of the larger preying animals chanced upon him.
Thus, he was strong from the two days' eating a lynx had afforded
him when the hungry wolf-pack ran full tilt upon him. It was a
long, cruel chase, but he was better nourished than they, and in
the end outran them. And not only did he outrun them, but,
circling widely back on his track, he gathered in one of his
After that he left that part of the country and journeyed over to
the valley wherein he had been born. Here, in the old lair, he
encountered Kiche. Up to her old tricks, she, too, had fled the
inhospitable fires of the gods and gone back to her old refuge to
give birth to her young. Of this litter but one remained alive
when White Fang came upon the scene, and this one was not destined
to live long. Young life had little chance in such a famine.
Kiche's greeting of her grown son was anything but affectionate.
But White Fang did not mind. He had outgrown his mother. So he
turned tail philosophically and trotted on up the stream. At the
forks he took the turning to the left, where he found the lair of
the lynx with whom his mother and he had fought long before. Here,
in the abandoned lair, he settled down and rested for a day.
During the early summer, in the last days of the famine, he met
Lip-lip, who had likewise taken to the woods, where he had eked out
a miserable existence.
White Fang came upon him unexpectedly. Trotting in opposite
directions along the base of a high bluff, they rounded a corner of
rock and found themselves face to face. They paused with instant
alarm, and looked at each other suspiciously.
White Fang was in splendid condition. His hunting had been good,
and for a week he had eaten his fill. He was even gorged from his
latest kill. But in the moment he looked at Lip-lip his hair rose
on end all along his back. It was an involuntary bristling on his
part, the physical state that in the past had always accompanied
the mental state produced in him by Lip-lip's bullying and
persecution. As in the past he had bristled and snarled at sight
of Lip-lip, so now, and automatically, he bristled and snarled. He
did not waste any time. The thing was done thoroughly and with
despatch. Lip-lip essayed to back away, but White Fang struck him
hard, shoulder to shoulder. Lip-lip was overthrown and rolled upon
his back. White Fang's teeth drove into the scrawny throat. There
was a death-struggle, during which White Fang walked around, stiff-
legged and observant. Then he resumed his course and trotted on
along the base of the bluff.
One day, not long after, he came to the edge of the forest, where a
narrow stretch of open land sloped down to the Mackenzie. He had
been over this ground before, when it was bare, but now a village
occupied it. Still hidden amongst the trees, he paused to study
the situation. Sights and sounds and scents were familiar to him.
It was the old village changed to a new place. But sights and
sounds and smells were different from those he had last had when he
fled away from it. There was no whimpering nor wailing. Contented
sounds saluted his ear, and when he heard the angry voice of a
woman he knew it to be the anger that proceeds from a full stomach.
And there was a smell in the air of fish. There was food. The
famine was gone. He came out boldly from the forest and trotted
into camp straight to Grey Beaver's tepee. Grey Beaver was not
there; but Kloo-kooch welcomed him with glad cries and the whole of
a fresh-caught fish, and he lay down to wait Grey Beaver's coming.