Call of the Wild

How does the bar room bet come to be?

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Buck wins a $1600 bet for his master by pulling a sled loaded with a thousand pounds of flour. After that Buck becomes the most famous dog in Alaska.

“I’ve got a sled standing outside now, with twenty fiftypound sacks of flour on it,” Matthewson went on with brutal directness; “so don’t let that hinder you.”

Thornton did not reply. He did not know what to say. He glanced from face to face in the absent way of a man who has lost the power of thought and is seeking somewhere to find the thing that will start it going again. The face of Jim O’Brien, a Mastodon King and old-time comrade, caught his eyes. It was as a cue to him, seeming to rouse him to do what he would never have dreamed of doing.

“Can you lend me a thousand?” he asked, almost in a whisper.

“Sure,” answered O’Brien, thumping down a plethoric sack by the side of Matthewson’s. “Though it’s little faith I’m having, John, that the beast can do the trick.”

The Eldorado emptied its occupants into the street to see the test. The tables were deserted, and the dealers and gamekeepers came forth to see the outcome of the wager and to lay odds. Several hundred men, furred and mittened, banked around the sled within easy distance. Matthewson’s sled, loaded with a thousand pounds of flour, had been standing for a couple of hours, and in the intense cold (it was sixty below zero) the runners had frozen fast to the hard-packed snow. Men offered odds of two to one that Buck could not budge the sled. A quibble arose concerning the phrase “break out.” O’Brien contended it was Thornton’s privilege to knock the runners loose, leaving Buck to “break it out” from a dead standstill. Matthewson insisted that the phrase included breaking the runners from the frozen grip of the snow. A majority of the men who had witnessed the making of the bet decided in his favor, whereat the odds went up to three to one against Buck.

There were no takers. Not a man believed him capable of the feat. Thornton had been hurried into the wager, heavy with doubt; and now that he looked at the sled itself, the concrete fact, with the regular team of ten dogs curled up in the snow before it, the more impossible the task appeared. Matthewson waxed jubilant.

“Three to one!” he proclaimed. “I’ll lay you another thousand at that figure, Thornton. What d’ye say?”

Thornton’s doubt was strong in his face, but his fighting spirit was aroused—the fighting spirit that soars above odds, fails to recognize the impossible, and is deaf to all save the clamor for battle. He called Hans and Pete to him. Their sacks were slim, and with his own the three partners could rake together only two hundred dollars. In the ebb of their fortunes, this sum was their total capital; yet they laid it unhesitatingly against Matthewson’s six hundred.


Call of the Wild