The Ballad Of Blasphemous Bill by Robert William Service
I took a contract to bury the body of blasphemous Bill MacKie, Whenever, wherever or whatsoever the manner of death he die-- Whether he die in the light o' day or under the peak-faced moon; In cabin or dance-hall, camp or dive, mucklucks or patent shoon; On velvet tundra or virgin peak, by glacier, drift or draw; In muskeg hollow or canyon gloom, by avalanche, fang or claw; By battle, murder or sudden wealth, by pestilence, hooch or lead-- I swore on the Book I would follow and look till I found my tombless dead.
For Bill was a dainty kind of cuss, and his mind was mighty sot On a dinky patch with flowers and grass in a civilized bone-yard lot. And where he died or how he died, it didn't matter a damn So long as he had a grave with frills and a tombstone "epigram". So I promised him, and he paid the price in good cheechako coin (Which the same I blowed in that very night down in the Tenderloin). Then I painted a three-foot slab of pine: "Here lies poor Bill MacKie", And I hung it up on my cabin wall and I waited for Bill to die.
Years passed away, and at last one day came a squaw with a story strange, Of a long-deserted line of traps 'way back of the Bighorn range; Of a little hut by the great divide, and a white man stiff and still, Lying there by his lonesome self, and I figured it must be Bill. So I thought of the contract I'd made with him, and I took down from the shelf The swell black box with the silver plate he'd picked out for hisself; And I packed it full of grub and "hooch", and I slung it on the sleigh; Then I harnessed up my team of dogs and was off at dawn of day.
You know what it's like in the Yukon wild when it's sixty-nine below; When the ice-worms wriggle their purple heads through the crust of the pale blue snow; When the pine-trees crack like little guns in the silence of the wood, And the icicles hang down like tusks under the parka hood; When the stove-pipe smoke breaks sudden off, and the sky is weirdly lit, And the careless feel of a bit of steel burns like a red-hot spit; When the mercury is a frozen ball, and the frost-fiend stalks to kill-- Well, it was just like that that day when I set out to look for Bill.
Oh, the awful hush that seemed to crush me down on every hand, As I blundered blind with a trail to find through that blank and bitter land; Half dazed, half crazed in the winter wild, with its grim heart-breaking woes, And the ruthless strife for a grip on life that only the sourdough knows! North by the compass, North I pressed; river and peak and plain Passed like a dream I slept to lose and I waked to dream again.
River and plain and mighty peak--and who could stand unawed? As their summits blazed, he could stand undazed at the foot of the throne of God. North, aye, North, through a land accurst, shunned by the scouring brutes, And all I heard was my own harsh word and the whine of the malamutes, Till at last I came to a cabin squat, built in the side of a hill, And I burst in the door, and there on the floor, frozen to death, lay Bill.
Ice, white ice, like a winding-sheet, sheathing each smoke-grimed wall; Ice on the stove-pipe, ice on the bed, ice gleaming over all; Sparkling ice on the dead man's chest, glittering ice in his hair, Ice on his fingers, ice in his heart, ice in his glassy stare; Hard as a log and trussed like a frog, with his arms and legs outspread. I gazed at the coffin I'd brought for him, and I gazed at the gruesome dead, And at last I spoke: "Bill liked his joke; but still, goldarn his eyes, A man had ought to consider his mates in the way he goes and dies."
Have you ever stood in an Arctic hut in the shadow of the Pole, With a little coffin six by three and a grief you can't control? Have you ever sat by a frozen corpse that looks at you with a grin, And that seems to say: "You may try all day, but you'll never jam me in"? I'm not a man of the quitting kind, but I never felt so blue As I sat there gazing at that stiff and studying what I'd do. Then I rose and I kicked off the husky dogs that were nosing round about, And I lit a roaring fire in the stove, and I started to thaw Bill out.
Well, I thawed and thawed for thirteen days, but it didn't seem no good; His arms and legs stuck out like pegs, as if they was made of wood. Till at last I said: "It ain't no use--he's froze too hard to thaw; He's obstinate, and he won't lie straight, so I guess I got to--saw." So I sawed off poor Bill's arms and legs, and I laid him snug and straight In the little coffin he picked hisself, with the dinky silver plate; And I came nigh near to shedding a tear as I nailed him safely down; Then I stowed him away in my Yukon sleigh, and I started back to town.
So I buried him as the contract was in a narrow grave and deep, And there he's waiting the Great Clean-up, when the Judgment sluice-heads sweep; And I smoke my pipe and I meditate in the light of the Midnight Sun, And sometimes I wonder if they was, the awful things I done. And as I sit and the parson talks, expounding of the Law, I often think of poor old Bill--and how hard he was to saw.