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to get between a fool and his folly; while two or three fools more or
less would not alter the scheme of things.
But the team did not get up at the command. It had long since
passed into the stage where blows were required to rouse it. The
whip flashed out, here and there, on its merciless errands. John
Thornton compressed his lips. Solleks was the first to crawl to his
feet. Teek followed Joe came next, yelping with pain. Pike made
painful efforts. Twice he fell over, when half up, and on the third
attempt managed to rise. Buck made no effort. He lay quietly
where he had fallen. The lash bit into him again and again, but he
neither whined nor struggled. Several times Thornton started, as
though to speak, but changed his mind. A moisture came into his
eyes, and, as the whipping continued, he arose and walked
irresolutely up and down.
This was the first time Buck had failed, in itself sufficient reason to
drive Hal into a rage. He exchanged the whip for the customary
club. Buck refused to move under the rain of heavy blows which
now fell upon him. Like his mates, he was barely able to get up,
but, unlike them, he had made up his mind not to get up. He had a
vague feeling of impending doom. This had been strong upon him
when he pulled in to the bank, and it had not departed from him.
What of the thin and rotten ice he had felt under his feet all day, it
seemed that he sensed disaster close at hand, out there ahead on
the ice where his master was trying to drive him. He refused to stir.
So greatly had he suffered, and so far gone was he, that the blows
did not hurt much. And as they continued to fall upon him, the
spark of life within flickered and went down. It was nearly out. He
felt strangely numb. As though from a great distance, he was
aware that he was being beaten. The last sensations of pain left
him. He no longer felt anything, though very faintly he could hear
the impact of the club upon his body. But it was no longer his
body, it seemed so far away.
And then, suddenly, without warning, uttering a cry that was
inarticulate and more like the cry of an animal, John Thornton
sprang upon the man who wielded the club. Hal was hurled
backward, as though struck by a falling tree. Mercedes screamed.
Charles looked on wistfully, wiping his watery eyes, but did not
get up because of his stiffness.
John Thornton stood over Buck, struggling to control himself, too
convulsed with rage to speak.
‘If you strike that dog again, I’ll kill you,’ he at last managed to say
in a choking voice.