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Two men from the States, Charles and Hal, buy the dogs and the sled very cheaply. Neither man looks like he belongs. The camp is shabby and sloppy. There waits Mercedes, wife of Charles, sister of Hal. Buck watches apprehensively as they clumsily take down the camp, improperly rolling the tent, and loading up the sleigh unevenly. Two other men from a neighboring camp warn them that the sled is too heavy, but they will not listen. The team cannot move the sled. They are repeatedly whipped by Hal, as Mercedes cries over them. Buck does not like her, but tolerates her pleading pats.
When the sled finally moves,it falls on it's side. Raging at the unfair treatment, Buck leads the team in a run, scattering the belongings even further and running the sled over Hal. Finally taking the advice of those around them, they remove many of the superfluous luxuries, though Mercedes cries over them, and more dogs are added to the team. The journey begins. The new dogs are relatively useless -- Buck can teach them "what not to do," but he can't teach them "what to do."
Buck knows the team cannot depend on these people for they do their work inefficiently and crudely. They are barely traveling ten miles a day, and it is inevitable they will run short on dog food. When this occurs, underfeeding commences. One by one dogs are dying, first Dub whose injured shoulder grows worse and worse, than almost all of the new dogs. The men curse, and Mercedes cries. They lack patience and constantly argue with one another. Charles and Hal constantly fight over who does more work, Mercedes flightily changing her allegiance from husband to brother and back again. All too often the three began to quarrel before the camp was pitched, and it would remain unpitched until the quarrel had ended.
Mercedes has the additional crime of insisting that she ride on the sled. Her weight weakens the team further, until one day they cannot move at all. Despite this struggle, Mercedes refuses to walk, even when the men lift her off the sled and drop her in the snow. Eventually the dog food gives out completely, and Hall feeds the dogs strips of frozen horsehide. Now Buck moves through the snow as if in a nightmare. His glossy coat is matted with blood from the wounds Hal has inflicted with his club. His muscles are disintegrating. The others, there are seven left, are equally badly off.
One day Billie falls and cannot get up. Hal kills him with an ax and cuts him out of the traces. The team knows this fate approaches. The next day Koona goes, but the five remaining struggle on, despite their serious pains. The spring weather is beautiful, but no one can take notice of it. They all stagger into John Thornton's camp for a rest. John warns the travelers that the ice is thin, and the trail is likely to drop out at any moment. Hal refuses to listen, and calls the team to order. Only the merciless lashing of his whip can make any of them rise. But Buck remains on the ground. He refuses to move. Hal takes up the club, but Buck will not move. He is too numb.