Chapter XVI - The Mad God
A small number of white men lived in Fort Yukon. These men had
been long in the country. They called themselves Sour-doughs, and
took great pride in so classifying themselves. For other men, new
in the land, they felt nothing but disdain. The men who came
ashore from the steamers were newcomers. They were known as
CHECHAQUOS, and they always wilted at the application of the name.
They made their bread with baking-powder. This was the invidious
distinction between them and the Sour-doughs, who, forsooth, made
their bread from sour-dough because they had no baking-powder.
All of which is neither here nor there. The men in the fort
disdained the newcomers and enjoyed seeing them come to grief.
Especially did they enjoy the havoc worked amongst the newcomers'
dogs by White Fang and his disreputable gang. When a steamer
arrived, the men of the fort made it a point always to come down to
the bank and see the fun. They looked forward to it with as much
anticipation as did the Indian dogs, while they were not slow to
appreciate the savage and crafty part played by White Fang.
But there was one man amongst them who particularly enjoyed the
sport. He would come running at the first sound of a steamboat's
whistle; and when the last fight was over and White Fang and the
pack had scattered, he would return slowly to the fort, his face
heavy with regret. Sometimes, when a soft southland dog went down,
shrieking its death-cry under the fangs of the pack, this man would
be unable to contain himself, and would leap into the air and cry
out with delight. And always he had a sharp and covetous eye for
This man was called "Beauty" by the other men of the fort. No one
knew his first name, and in general he was known in the country as
Beauty Smith. But he was anything save a beauty. To antithesis
was due his naming. He was pre-eminently unbeautiful. Nature had
been niggardly with him. He was a small man to begin with; and
upon his meagre frame was deposited an even more strikingly meagre
head. Its apex might be likened to a point. In fact, in his
boyhood, before he had been named Beauty by his fellows, he had
been called "Pinhead."
Backward, from the apex, his head slanted down to his neck and
forward it slanted uncompromisingly to meet a low and remarkably
wide forehead. Beginning here, as though regretting her parsimony,
Nature had spread his features with a lavish hand. His eyes were
large, and between them was the distance of two eyes. His face, in
relation to the rest of him, was prodigious. In order to discover
the necessary area, Nature had given him an enormous prognathous
jaw. It was wide and heavy, and protruded outward and down until
it seemed to rest on his chest. Possibly this appearance was due
to the weariness of the slender neck, unable properly to support so
great a burden.
This jaw gave the impression of ferocious determination. But
something lacked. Perhaps it was from excess. Perhaps the jaw was
too large. At any rate, it was a lie. Beauty Smith was known far
and wide as the weakest of weak-kneed and snivelling cowards. To
complete his description, his teeth were large and yellow, while
the two eye-teeth, larger than their fellows, showed under his lean
lips like fangs. His eyes were yellow and muddy, as though Nature
had run short on pigments and squeezed together the dregs of all
her tubes. It was the same with his hair, sparse and irregular of
growth, muddy-yellow and dirty-yellow, rising on his head and
sprouting out of his face in unexpected tufts and bunches, in
appearance like clumped and wind-blown grain.
In short, Beauty Smith was a monstrosity, and the blame of it lay
elsewhere. He was not responsible. The clay of him had been so
moulded in the making. He did the cooking for the other men in the
fort, the dish-washing and the drudgery. They did not despise him.
Rather did they tolerate him in a broad human way, as one tolerates
any creature evilly treated in the making. Also, they feared him.
His cowardly rages made them dread a shot in the back or poison in
their coffee. But somebody had to do the cooking, and whatever
else his shortcomings, Beauty Smith could cook.
This was the man that looked at White Fang, delighted in his
ferocious prowess, and desired to possess him. He made overtures
to White Fang from the first. White Fang began by ignoring him.
Later on, when the overtures became more insistent, White Fang
bristled and bared his teeth and backed away. He did not like the
man. The feel of him was bad. He sensed the evil in him, and
feared the extended hand and the attempts at soft-spoken speech.
Because of all this, he hated the man.
With the simpler creatures, good and bad are things simply
understood. The good stands for all things that bring easement and
satisfaction and surcease from pain. Therefore, the good is liked.
The bad stands for all things that are fraught with discomfort,
menace, and hurt, and is hated accordingly. White Fang's feel of
Beauty Smith was bad. From the man's distorted body and twisted
mind, in occult ways, like mists rising from malarial marshes, came
emanations of the unhealth within. Not by reasoning, not by the
five senses alone, but by other and remoter and uncharted senses,
came the feeling to White Fang that the man was ominous with evil,
pregnant with hurtfulness, and therefore a thing bad, and wisely to
White Fang was in Grey Beaver's camp when Beauty Smith first
visited it. At the faint sound of his distant feet, before he came
in sight, White Fang knew who was coming and began to bristle. He
had been lying down in an abandon of comfort, but he arose quickly,
and, as the man arrived, slid away in true wolf-fashion to the edge
of the camp. He did not know what they said, but he could see the
man and Grey Beaver talking together. Once, the man pointed at
him, and White Fang snarled back as though the hand were just
descending upon him instead of being, as it was, fifty feet away.
The man laughed at this; and White Fang slunk away to the
sheltering woods, his head turned to observe as he glided softly
over the ground.
Grey Beaver refused to sell the dog. He had grown rich with his
trading and stood in need of nothing. Besides, White Fang was a
valuable animal, the strongest sled-dog he had ever owned, and the
best leader. Furthermore, there was no dog like him on the
Mackenzie nor the Yukon. He could fight. He killed other dogs as
easily as men killed mosquitoes. (Beauty Smith's eyes lighted up
at this, and he licked his thin lips with an eager tongue). No,
White Fang was not for sale at any price.
But Beauty Smith knew the ways of Indians. He visited Grey
Beaver's camp often, and hidden under his coat was always a black
bottle or so. One of the potencies of whisky is the breeding of
thirst. Grey Beaver got the thirst. His fevered membranes and
burnt stomach began to clamour for more and more of the scorching
fluid; while his brain, thrust all awry by the unwonted stimulant,
permitted him to go any length to obtain it. The money he had
received for his furs and mittens and moccasins began to go. It
went faster and faster, and the shorter his money-sack grew, the
shorter grew his temper.
In the end his money and goods and temper were all gone. Nothing
remained to him but his thirst, a prodigious possession in itself
that grew more prodigious with every sober breath he drew. Then it
was that Beauty Smith had talk with him again about the sale of
White Fang; but this time the price offered was in bottles, not
dollars, and Grey Beaver's ears were more eager to hear.
"You ketch um dog you take um all right," was his last word.
The bottles were delivered, but after two days. "You ketch um
dog," were Beauty Smith's words to Grey Beaver.
White Fang slunk into camp one evening and dropped down with a sigh
of content. The dreaded white god was not there. For days his
manifestations of desire to lay hands on him had been growing more
insistent, and during that time White Fang had been compelled to
avoid the camp. He did not know what evil was threatened by those
insistent hands. He knew only that they did threaten evil of some
sort, and that it was best for him to keep out of their reach.
But scarcely had he lain down when Grey Beaver staggered over to
him and tied a leather thong around his neck. He sat down beside
White Fang, holding the end of the thong in his hand. In the other
hand he held a bottle, which, from time to time, was inverted above
his head to the accompaniment of gurgling noises.
An hour of this passed, when the vibrations of feet in contact with
the ground foreran the one who approached. White Fang heard it
first, and he was bristling with recognition while Grey Beaver
still nodded stupidly. White Fang tried to draw the thong softly
out of his master's hand; but the relaxed fingers closed tightly
and Grey Beaver roused himself.
Beauty Smith strode into camp and stood over White Fang. He
snarled softly up at the thing of fear, watching keenly the
deportment of the hands. One hand extended outward and began to
descend upon his head. His soft snarl grew tense and harsh. The
hand continued slowly to descend, while he crouched beneath it,
eyeing it malignantly, his snarl growing shorter and shorter as,
with quickening breath, it approached its culmination. Suddenly he
snapped, striking with his fangs like a snake. The hand was jerked
back, and the teeth came together emptily with a sharp click.
Beauty Smith was frightened and angry. Grey Beaver clouted White
Fang alongside the head, so that he cowered down close to the earth
in respectful obedience.
White Fang's suspicious eyes followed every movement. He saw
Beauty Smith go away and return with a stout club. Then the end of
the thong was given over to him by Grey Beaver. Beauty Smith
started to walk away. The thong grew taut. White Fang resisted
it. Grey Beaver clouted him right and left to make him get up and
follow. He obeyed, but with a rush, hurling himself upon the
stranger who was dragging him away. Beauty Smith did not jump
away. He had been waiting for this. He swung the club smartly,
stopping the rush midway and smashing White Fang down upon the
ground. Grey Beaver laughed and nodded approval. Beauty Smith
tightened the thong again, and White Fang crawled limply and
dizzily to his feet.
He did not rush a second time. One smash from the club was
sufficient to convince him that the white god knew how to handle
it, and he was too wise to fight the inevitable. So he followed
morosely at Beauty Smith's heels, his tail between his legs, yet
snarling softly under his breath. But Beauty Smith kept a wary eye
on him, and the club was held always ready to strike.
At the fort Beauty Smith left him securely tied and went in to bed.
White Fang waited an hour. Then he applied his teeth to the thong,
and in the space of ten seconds was free. He had wasted no time
with his teeth. There had been no useless gnawing. The thong was
cut across, diagonally, almost as clean as though done by a knife.
White Fang looked up at the fort, at the same time bristling and
growling. Then he turned and trotted back to Grey Beaver's camp.
He owed no allegiance to this strange and terrible god. He had
given himself to Grey Beaver, and to Grey Beaver he considered he
But what had occurred before was repeated - with a difference.
Grey Beaver again made him fast with a thong, and in the morning
turned him over to Beauty Smith. And here was where the difference
came in. Beauty Smith gave him a beating. Tied securely, White
Fang could only rage futilely and endure the punishment. Club and
whip were both used upon him, and he experienced the worst beating
he had ever received in his life. Even the big beating given him
in his puppyhood by Grey Beaver was mild compared with this.
Beauty Smith enjoyed the task. He delighted in it. He gloated
over his victim, and his eyes flamed dully, as he swung the whip or
club and listened to White Fang's cries of pain and to his helpless
bellows and snarls. For Beauty Smith was cruel in the way that
cowards are cruel. Cringing and snivelling himself before the
blows or angry speech of a man, he revenged himself, in turn, upon
creatures weaker than he. All life likes power, and Beauty Smith
was no exception. Denied the expression of power amongst his own
kind, he fell back upon the lesser creatures and there vindicated
the life that was in him. But Beauty Smith had not created
himself, and no blame was to be attached to him. He had come into
the world with a twisted body and a brute intelligence. This had
constituted the clay of him, and it had not been kindly moulded by
White Fang knew why he was being beaten. When Grey Beaver tied the
thong around his neck, and passed the end of the thong into Beauty
Smith's keeping, White Fang knew that it was his god's will for him
to go with Beauty Smith. And when Beauty Smith left him tied
outside the fort, he knew that it was Beauty Smith's will that he
should remain there. Therefore, he had disobeyed the will of both
the gods, and earned the consequent punishment. He had seen dogs
change owners in the past, and he had seen the runaways beaten as
he was being beaten. He was wise, and yet in the nature of him
there were forces greater than wisdom. One of these was fidelity.
He did not love Grey Beaver, yet, even in the face of his will and
his anger, he was faithful to him. He could not help it. This
faithfulness was a quality of the clay that composed him. It was
the quality that was peculiarly the possession of his kind; the
quality that set apart his species from all other species; the
quality that has enabled the wolf and the wild dog to come in from
the open and be the companions of man.
After the beating, White Fang was dragged back to the fort. But
this time Beauty Smith left him tied with a stick. One does not
give up a god easily, and so with White Fang. Grey Beaver was his
own particular god, and, in spite of Grey Beaver's will, White Fang
still clung to him and would not give him up. Grey Beaver had
betrayed and forsaken him, but that had no effect upon him. Not
for nothing had he surrendered himself body and soul to Grey
Beaver. There had been no reservation on White Fang's part, and
the bond was not to be broken easily.
So, in the night, when the men in the fort were asleep, White Fang
applied his teeth to the stick that held him. The wood was
seasoned and dry, and it was tied so closely to his neck that he
could scarcely get his teeth to it. It was only by the severest
muscular exertion and neck-arching that he succeeded in getting the
wood between his teeth, and barely between his teeth at that; and
it was only by the exercise of an immense patience, extending
through many hours, that he succeeded in gnawing through the stick.
This was something that dogs were not supposed to do. It was
unprecedented. But White Fang did it, trotting away from the fort
in the early morning, with the end of the stick hanging to his
He was wise. But had he been merely wise he would not have gone
back to Grey Beaver who had already twice betrayed him. But there
was his faithfulness, and he went back to be betrayed yet a third
time. Again he yielded to the tying of a thong around his neck by
Grey Beaver, and again Beauty Smith came to claim him. And this
time he was beaten even more severely than before.
Grey Beaver looked on stolidly while the white man wielded the
whip. He gave no protection. It was no longer his dog. When the
beating was over White Fang was sick. A soft southland dog would
have died under it, but not he. His school of life had been
sterner, and he was himself of sterner stuff. He had too great
vitality. His clutch on life was too strong. But he was very
sick. At first he was unable to drag himself along, and Beauty
Smith had to wait half-an-hour for him. And then, blind and
reeling, he followed at Beauty Smith's heels back to the fort.
But now he was tied with a chain that defied his teeth, and he
strove in vain, by lunging, to draw the staple from the timber into
which it was driven. After a few days, sober and bankrupt, Grey
Beaver departed up the Porcupine on his long journey to the
Mackenzie. White Fang remained on the Yukon, the property of a man
more than half mad and all brute. But what is a dog to know in its
consciousness of madness? To White Fang, Beauty Smith was a
veritable, if terrible, god. He was a mad god at best, but White
Fang knew nothing of madness; he knew only that he must submit to
the will of this new master, obey his every whim and fancy.