home | authors | books | about

Home -> Jack London -> That spot

That spot

Short Stories

A Curious Fragment

A Day's lodging

A Nose for the king

A Piece of Steak

A Wicked Woman

All Gold Canyon

Brown Wolf

Created He Them

Four Horses and a Sailor

Just Meat

Love of life

Make Westing

Nam-Bok the Unveracious

Negore, the coward

Nothing That Ever Came to Anything

Semper Idem

Small-Boat Sailing

That Dead Men Rise Up Never

That spot

The "Francis Spaight"

The Apostate

The Chinago

The Heathen

The Hobo and the Fairy

The Human Drift

The story of Keesh

The Sun-Dog Trail

The Unexpected

The white man's way


When God Laughs

Yellow Handkerchief

I don't think much of Stephen Mackaye any more, though I used to swear
by him. I know that in those days I loved him more than my own brother.
If ever I meet Stephen Mackaye again, I shall not be responsible for my
actions. It passes beyond me that a man with whom I shared food and
blanket, and with whom I mushed over the Chilcoot Trail, should turn out
the way he did. I always sized Steve up as a square man, a kindly
comrade, without an iota of anything vindictive or malicious in his
nature. I shall never trust my judgment in men again. Why, I nursed that
man through typhoid fever; we starved together on the headwaters of the
Stewart; and he saved my life on the Little Salmon. And now, after the
years we were together, all I can say of Stephen Mackaye is that he is
the meanest man I ever knew.

We started for the Klondike in the fall rush of 1897, and we started too
late to get over Chilcoot Pass before the freeze-up. We packed our
outfit on our backs part way over, when the snow began to fly, and then
we had to buy dogs in order to sled it the rest of the way. That was how
we came to get that Spot. Dogs were high, and we paid one hundred and
ten dollars for him. He looked worth it. I say _looked_, because he was
one of the finest appearing dogs I ever saw. He weighed sixty pounds,
and he had all the lines of a good sled animal. We never could make out
his breed. He wasn't husky, nor Malemute, nor Hudson Bay; he looked like
all of them and he didn't look like any of them; and on top of it all he
had some of the white man's dog in him, for on one side, in the thick of
the mixed yellow-brown-red-and-dirty-white that was his prevailing
color, there was a spot of coal-black as big as a water-bucket. That was
why we called him Spot.

He was a good looker all right. When he was in condition his muscles
stood out in bunches all over him. And he was the strongest looking
brute I ever saw in Alaska, also the most intelligent looking. To run
your eyes over him, you'd think he could outpull three dogs of his own
weight. Maybe he could, but I never saw it. His intelligence didn't run
that way. He could steal and forage to perfection; he had an instinct
that was positively grewsome for divining when work was to be done and
for making a sneak accordingly; and for getting lost and not staying
lost he was nothing short of inspired. But when it came to work, the way
that intelligence dribbled out of him and left him a mere clot of
wobbling, stupid jelly would make your heart bleed.

There are times when I think it wasn't stupidity. Maybe, like some men I
know, he was too wise to work. I shouldn't wonder if he put it all over
us with that intelligence of his. Maybe he figured it all out and
decided that a licking now and again and no work was a whole lot better
than work all the time and no licking. He was intelligent enough for
such a computation. I tell you, I've sat and looked into that dog's eyes
till the shivers ran up and down my spine and the marrow crawled like
yeast, what of the intelligence I saw shining out. I can't express
myself about that intelligence. It is beyond mere words. I saw it,
that's all. At times it was like gazing into a human soul, to look into
his eyes; and what I saw there frightened me and started all sorts of
ideas in my own mind of reincarnation and all the rest. I tell you I
sensed something big in that brute's eyes; there was a message there,
but I wasn't big enough myself to catch it. Whatever it was (I know I'm
making a fool of myself)--whatever it was, it baffled me. I can't give
an inkling of what I saw in that brute's eyes; it wasn't light, it
wasn't color; it was something that moved, away back, when the eyes
themselves weren't moving. And I guess I didn't see it move, either; I
only sensed that it moved. It was an expression,--that's what it
was,--and I got an impression of it. No; it was different from a mere
expression; it was more than that. I don't know what it was, but it gave
me a feeling of kinship just the same. Oh, no, not sentimental kinship.
It was, rather, a kinship of equality. Those eyes never pleaded like a
deer's eyes. They challenged. No, it wasn't defiance. It was just a calm
assumption of equality. And I don't think it was deliberate. My belief
is that it was unconscious on his part. It was there because it was
there, and it couldn't help shining out. No, I don't mean shine. It
didn't shine; it _moved_. I know I'm talking rot, but if you'd looked
into that animal's eyes the way I have, you'd understand. Steve was
affected the same way I was. Why, I tried to kill that Spot once--he was
no good for anything; and I fell down on it. I led him out into the
brush, and he came along slow and unwilling. He knew what was going on.
I stopped in a likely place, put my foot on the rope, and pulled my big
Colt's. And that dog sat down and looked at me. I tell you he didn't
plead. He just looked. And I saw all kinds of incomprehensible things
moving, yes, _moving,_ in those eyes of his. I didn't really see them
move; I thought I saw them, for, as I said before, I guess I only sensed
them. And I want to tell you right now that it got beyond me. It was
like killing a man, a conscious, brave man who looked calmly into your
gun as much as to say, "Who's afraid?" Then, too, the message seemed so
near that, instead of pulling the trigger quick, I stopped to see if I
could catch the message. There it was, right before me, glimmering all
around in those eyes of his. And then it was too late. I got scared. I
was trembly all over, and my stomach generated a nervous palpitation
that made me seasick. I just sat down and looked at that dog, and he
looked at me, till I thought I was going crazy. Do you want to know what
I did? I threw down the gun and ran back to camp with the fear of God in
my heart. Steve laughed at me. But I notice that Steve led Spot into the
woods, a week later, for the same purpose, and that Steve came back
alone, and a little later Spot drifted back, too.

At any rate, Spot wouldn't work. We paid a hundred and ten dollars for
him from the bottom of our sack, and he wouldn't work. He wouldn't even
tighten the traces. Steve spoke to him the first time we put him in
harness, and he sort of shivered, that was all. Not an ounce on the
traces. He just stood still and wobbled, like so much jelly. Steve
touched him with the whip. He yelped, but not an ounce. Steve touched
him again, a bit harder, and he howled--the regular long wolf howl. Then
Steve got mad and gave him half a dozen, and I came on the run from the
tent. I told Steve he was brutal with the animal, and we had some
words--the first we'd ever had. He threw the whip down in the snow, and
walked away mad. I picked it up and went to it. That Spot trembled and
wobbled and cowered before ever I swung the lash, and with the first
bite of it he howled like a lost soul. Next he lay down in the snow. I
started the rest of the dogs, and they dragged him along while I threw
the whip into him. He rolled over on his back and bumped along, his four
legs waving in the air, himself howling as though he was going through a
sausage machine. Steve came back and laughed at me, and I apologized for
what I'd said.

There was no getting any work out of that Spot; and to make up for it,
he was the biggest pig-glutton of a dog I ever saw. On top of that, he
was the cleverest thief. There was no circumventing him. Many a
breakfast we went without our bacon because Spot had been there first.
And it was because of him that we nearly starved to death up the
Stewart. He figured out the way to break into our meat-cache, and what
he didn't eat, the rest of the team did. But he was impartial. He stole
from every body. He was a restless dog always very busy snooping around
or going somewhere. And there was never a camp within five miles that he
didn't raid. The worst of it was that they always came back on us to pay
his board bill, which was just, being the law of the land; but it was
mighty hard on us, especially that first winter on the Chilcoot, when we
were busted, paying for whole hams and sides of bacon that we never ate.
He could fight, too, that Spot. He could do anything but work. He never
pulled a pound, but he was the boss of the whole team. The way he made
those dogs stand around was an education. He bullied them, and there was
always one or more of them fresh-marked with his fangs. But he was more
than a bully. He wasn't afraid of anything that walked on four legs; and
I've seen him march, single-handed, into a strange team, without any
provocation whatever, and put the _kibosh_ on the whole outfit. Did I
say he could eat? I caught him eating the whip once. That's straight. He
started in at the lash, and when I caught him he was down to the handle,
and still going.

But he was a good looker. At the end of the first week we sold him for
seventy-five dollars to the Mounted Police. They had experienced
dog-drivers, and we knew that by the time he'd covered the six hundred
miles to Dawson he'd be a good sled-dog. I say we _knew_, for we were
just getting acquainted with that Spot. A little later we were not brash
enough to know anything where he was concerned. A week later we woke up
in the morning to the dangdest dog-fight we'd ever heard. It was that
Spot came back and knocking the team into shape. We ate a pretty
depressing breakfast, I can tell you; but cheered up two hours afterward
when we sold him to an official courier, bound in to Dawson with
government despatches. That Spot was only three days in coming back,
and, as usual, celebrated his arrival with a rough-house.

We spent the winter and spring, after our own outfit was across the
pass, freighting other people's outfits; and we made a fat stake. Also,
we made money out of Spot. If we sold him once, we sold him twenty
times. He always came back, and no one asked for their money. We didn't
want the money. We'd have paid handsomely for any one to take him off
our hands for keeps. We had to get rid of him, and we couldn't give him
away, for that would have been suspicious. But he was such a fine looker
that we never had any difficulty in selling him. "Unbroke," we'd say,
and they'd pay any old price for him. We sold him as low as twenty-five
dollars, and once we got a hundred and fifty for him. That particular
party returned him in person, refused to take his money back, and the
way he abused us was something awful. He said it was cheap at the price
to tell us what he thought of us; and we felt he was so justified that
we never talked back. But to this day I've never quite regained all the
old self-respect that was mine before that man talked to me.

When the ice cleared out of the lakes and river, we put our outfit in a
Lake Bennett boat and started for Dawson. We had a good team of dogs,
and of course we piled them on top the outfit. That Spot was
along--there was no losing him; and a dozen times, the first day, he
knocked one or another of the dogs overboard in the course of fighting
with them. It was close quarters, and he didn't like being crowded.

"What that dog needs is space," Steve said the second day. "Let's
maroon him."

We did, running the boat in at Caribou Crossing for him to jump ashore.
Two of the other dogs, good dogs, followed him; and we lost two whole
days trying to find them. We never saw those two dogs again; but the
quietness and relief we enjoyed made us decide, like the man who refused
his hundred and fifty, that it was cheap at the price. For the first
time in months Steve and I laughed and whistled and sang. We were as
happy as clams. The dark days were over. The nightmare had been lifted.
That Spot was gone.

Three weeks later, one morning, Steve and I were standing on the
river-bank at Dawson. A small boat was just arriving from Lake Bennett.
I saw Steve give a start, and heard him say something that was not nice
and that was not under his breath. Then I looked; and there, in the bow
of the boat, with ears pricked up, sat Spot. Steve and I sneaked
immediately, like beaten curs, like cowards, like absconders from
justice. It was this last that the lieutenant of police thought when he
saw us sneaking. He surmised that there was law-officers in the boat
who were after us. He didn't wait to find out, but kept us in sight,
and in the M. & M. saloon got us in a corner. We had a merry time
explaining, for we refused to go back to the boat and meet Spot; and
finally he held us under guard of another policeman while he went to the
boat. After we got clear of him, we started for the cabin, and when we
arrived, there was that Spot sitting on the stoop waiting for us. Now
how did he know we lived there? There were forty thousand people in
Dawson that summer, and how did he _savve_ our cabin out of all the
cabins? How did he know we were in Dawson, anyway? I leave it to you.
But don't forget what I have said about his intelligence and that
immortal something I have seen glimmering in his eyes.

There was no getting rid of him any more. There were too many people in
Dawson who had bought him up on Chilcoot, and the story got around. Half
a dozen times we put him on board steamboats going down the Yukon; but
he merely went ashore at the first landing and trotted back up the bank.
We couldn't sell him, we couldn't kill him (both Steve and I had tried),
and nobody else was able to kill him. He bore a charmed life. I've seen
him go down in a dog-fight on the main street with fifty dogs on top of
him, and when they were separated, he'd appear on all his four legs,
unharmed, while two of the dogs that had been on top of him would be
lying dead.

I saw him steal a chunk of moose meat from Major Dinwiddie's cache so
heavy that he could just keep one jump ahead of Mrs. Dinwiddie's squaw
cook, who was after him with an axe. As he went up the hill, after the
squaw gave up, Major Dinwiddie himself came out and pumped his
Winchester into the landscape. He emptied his magazine twice, and never
touched that Spot. Then a policeman came along and arrested him for
discharging firearms inside the city limits. Major Dinwiddie paid his
fine, and Steve and I paid him for the moose meat at the rate of a
dollar a pound, bones and all. That was what he paid for it. Meat was
high that year.

I am only telling what I saw with my own eyes. And now I'll tell you
something also. I saw that Spot fall through a water-hole. The ice was
three and a half feet thick, and the current sucked him under like a
straw. Three hundred yards below was the big water-hole used by the
hospital. Spot crawled out of the hospital water-hole, licked off the
water, bit out the ice that had formed between his toes, trotted up the
bank, and whipped a big Newfoundland belonging to the Gold Commissioner.

In the fall of 1898, Steve and I poled up the Yukon on the last water,
bound for Stewart River. We took the dogs along, all except Spot. We
figured we'd been feeding him long enough. He'd cost us more time and
trouble and money and grub than we'd got by selling him on the
Chilcoot--especially grub. So Steve and I tied him down in the cabin and
pulled our freight. We camped that night at the mouth of Indian River,
and Steve and I were pretty facetious over having shaken him. Steve was
a funny fellow, and I was just sitting up in the blankets and laughing
when a tornado hit camp. The way that Spot walked into those dogs and
gave them what-for was hair-raising. Now how did he get loose? It's up
to you. I haven't any theory. And how did he get across the Klondike
River? That's another facer. And anyway, how did he know we had gone up
the Yukon? You see, we went by water, and he couldn't smell our tracks.
Steve and I began to get superstitious about that dog. He got on our
nerves, too; and, between you and me, we were just a mite afraid of him.

The freeze-up came on when we were at the mouth of Henderson Creek, and
we traded him off for two sacks of flour to an outfit that was bound up
White River after copper. Now that whole outfit was lost. Never trace
nor hide nor hair of men, dogs, sleds, or anything was ever found. They
dropped clean out of sight. It became one of the mysteries of the
country. Steve and I plugged away up the Stewart, and six weeks
afterward that Spot crawled into camp. He was a perambulating skeleton,
and could just drag along; but he got there. And what I want to know is
who told him we were up the Stewart? We could have gone a thousand other
places. How did he know? You tell me, and I'll tell you.

No losing him. At the Mayo he started a row with an Indian dog. The buck
who owned the dog took a swing at Spot with an axe, missed him, and
killed his own dog. Talk about magic and turning bullets aside--I, for
one, consider it a blamed sight harder to turn an axe aside with a big
buck at the other end of it. And I saw him do it with my own eyes. That
buck didn't want to kill his own dog. You've got to show me.

I told you about Spot breaking into our meat-cache. It was nearly the
death of us. There wasn't any more meat to be killed and meat was all we
had to live on. The moose had gone back several hundred miles and the
Indians with them. There we were. Spring was on and we had to wait for
the river to break. We got pretty thin before we decided to eat the
dogs, and we decided to eat Spot first. Do you know what that dog did?
He sneaked. Now how did he know our minds were made up to eat him? We
sat up nights laying for him, but he never came back, and we ate the
other dogs. We ate the whole team.

And now for the sequel. You know what it is when a big river breaks up
and a few billion tons of ice go out, jamming and milling and grinding.
Just in the thick of it, when the Stewart went out, rumbling and
roaring, we sighted Spot out in the middle. He'd got caught as he was
trying to cross up above somewhere. Steve and I yelled and shouted and
ran up and down the bank, tossing our hats in the air. Sometimes we'd
stop and hug each other, we were that boisterous, for we saw Spot's
finish. He didn't have a chance in a million. He didn't have any chance
at all. After the ice-run, we got into a canoe and paddled down to the
Yukon, and down the Yukon to Dawson, stopping to feed up for a week at
the cabins at the mouth of Henderson Creek. And as we came in to the
bank at Dawson, there sat that Spot, waiting for us, his ears pricked
up, his tail wagging, his mouth smiling, extending a hearty welcome to
us. Now how did he get out of that ice? How did he know we were coming
to Dawson, to the very hour and minute, to be out there on the bank
waiting for us?

The more I think of that Spot, the more I am convinced that there are
things in this world that go beyond science. On no scientific grounds
can that Spot be explained. It's psychic phenomena, or mysticism, or
something of that sort, I guess, with a lot of Theosophy thrown in. The
Klondike is a good country. I might have been there yet, and become a
millionaire, if it hadn't been for Spot. He got on my nerves. I stood
him for two years all together, and then I guess my stamina broke. It
was the summer of 1899 when I pulled out. I didn't say anything to
Steve. I just sneaked. But I fixed it up all right. I wrote Steve a
note, and enclosed a package of "rough-on-rats," telling him what to do
with it. I was worn down to skin and bone by that Spot, and I was that
nervous that I'd jump and look around when there wasn't anybody within
hailing distance. But it was astonishing the way I recuperated when I
got quit of him. I got back twenty pounds before I arrived in San
Francisco, and by the time I'd crossed the ferry to Oakland I was my old
self again, so that even my wife looked in vain for any change in me.

Steve wrote to me once, and his letter seemed irritated. He took it kind
of hard because I'd left him with Spot. Also, he said he'd used the
"rough-on-rats," per directions, and that there was nothing doing. A
year went by. I was back in the office and prospering in all ways--even
getting a bit fat. And then Steve arrived. He didn't look me up. I read
his name in the steamer list, and wondered why. But I didn't wonder
long. I got up one morning and found that Spot chained to the gatepost
and holding up the milkman. Steve went north to Seattle, I learned, that
very morning. I didn't put on any more weight. My wife made me buy him a
collar and tag, and within an hour he showed his gratitude by killing
her pet Persian cat. There is no getting rid of that Spot. He will be
with me until I die, for he'll never die. My appetite is not so good
since he arrived, and my wife says I am looking peaked. Last night that
Spot got into Mr. Harvey's hen-house (Harvey is my next door neighbor)
and killed nineteen of his fancy-bred chickens. I shall have to pay for
them. My neighbors on the other side quarreled with my wife and then
moved out. Spot was the cause of it. And that is why I am disappointed
in Stephen Mackaye. I had no idea he was so mean a man.

© Art Branch Inc. | English Dictionary