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
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