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This is the song of the parson's son, as he squats in his shack alone,
On the wild, weird nights, when the Northern Lights
shoot up from the frozen zone,
And it's sixty below, and couched in the snow the hungry huskies moan:
"I'm one of the Arctic brotherhood, I'm an old-time pioneer.
I came with the first -- O God! how I've cursed
this Yukon -- but still I'm here.
I've sweated athirst in its summer heat, I've frozen and starved in its cold;
I've followed my dreams by its thousand streams,
I've toiled and moiled for its gold.
"Look at my eyes -- been snow-blind twice; look where my foot's half gone;
And that gruesome scar on my left cheek,
where the frost-fiend bit to the bone.
Each one a brand of this devil's land,
where I've played and I've lost the game,
A broken wreck with a craze for `hooch', and never a cent to my name.
"This mining is only a gamble; the worst is as good as the best;
I was in with the bunch and I might have come out right on top with the rest;
With Cormack, Ladue and Macdonald -- O God! but it's hell to think
Of the thousands and thousands I've squandered on cards and women and drink.
"In the early days we were just a few, and we hunted and fished around,
Nor dreamt by our lonely camp-fires of the wealth that lay under the ground.
We traded in skins and whiskey, and I've often slept under the shade
Of that lone birch tree on Bonanza, where the first big find was made.
"We were just like a great big family, and every man had his squaw,
And we lived such a wild, free, fearless life beyond the pale of the law;
Till sudden there came a whisper, and it maddened us every man,
And I got in on Bonanza before the big rush began.
"Oh, those Dawson days, and the sin and the blaze,
and the town all open wide!
(If God made me in His likeness, sure He let the devil inside.)
But we all were mad, both the good and the bad, and as for the women, well --
No spot on the map in so short a space has hustled more souls to hell.
"Money was just like dirt there, easy to get and to spend.
I was all caked in on a dance-hall jade, but she shook me in the end.
It put me queer, and for near a year I never drew sober breath,
Till I found myself in the bughouse ward with a claim staked out on death.
"Twenty years in the Yukon, struggling along its creeks;
Roaming its giant valleys, scaling its god-like peaks;
Bathed in its fiery sunsets, fighting its fiendish cold --
Twenty years in the Yukon . . . twenty years -- and I'm old.
"Old and weak, but no matter, there's `hooch' in the bottle still.
I'll hitch up the dogs to-morrow, and mush down the trail to Bill.
It's so long dark, and I'm lonesome -- I'll just lay down on the bed;
To-morrow I'll go . . . to-morrow . . . I guess I'll play on the red.
". . . Come, Kit, your pony is saddled.
I'm waiting, dear, in the court . . .
. . . Minnie, you devil, I'll kill you
if you skip with that flossy sport . . .
. . . How much does it go to the pan, Bill? . . .
play up, School, and play the game . . .
. . . Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name . . ."
This was the song of the parson's son, as he lay in his bunk alone,
Ere the fire went out and the cold crept in,
and his blue lips ceased to moan,
And the hunger-maddened malamutes had torn him flesh from bone.
More Poems by Robert Service