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Rhymes of a Rolling Stone
Rhymes of a Rolling
ROBERT W. SERVICE
“Songs of a Sourdough,” “Ballads of a Cheechako,”
“The Trail of ’98”
Copyright, Canada, 1912, by
ROBERT W. SERVICE
Copyright, 1912, by
DODD, MEAD & COMPANY
I have no doubt at all the Devil grins As seas of ink I spatter: Ye gods, forgive my “literary” sins— The other kind don’t matter.
I sing no idle songs of dalliance days, No dreams Elysian inspire my rhyming; I have no Celia to enchant my lays, No pipes of Pan have set my heart to chiming. I am no wordsmith dripping gems divine Into the golden chalice of a sonnet; If love songs witch you, close this book of mine, Waste no time on it. Yet bring I to my work an eager joy, A lusty love of life and all things human; Still in me leaps the wonder of the boy, A pride in man, a deathless faith in woman. Still red blood calls, still rings the valiant fray; Adventure beacons through the summer gloaming: Oh, long and long and long will be the day Ere I come homing! [page 9] This earth is ours to love: lute, brush and pen, They are but tongues to tell of life sincerely; The thaumaturgic Day, the might of men, O God of Scribes, grant us to grave them clearly! Grant heart that homes in heart, then all is well. Honey is honey-sweet, howe’er the hiving. Each to his work, his wage at evening bell The strength of striving. [page 10]
I sing no idle songs of dalliance days.
|A ROLLING STONE
There’s sunshine in the heart of me.
|THE SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
“Deny your God!” they ringed me with their spears.
|THE GRAMOPHONE AT FOND-DU-LAC
Now Eddie Malone got a swell grammyfone, to draw all the trade to his store.
|THE LAND OF BEYOND
Have ever you heard of the Land of Beyond.
Flat as a drum-head stretch the haggard snows.
Oh, you who have daring deeds to tell!
When the boys come out from Lac Labiche in the lure of the early Spring.
It’s a mighty good world, so it is, dear lass.
They turned him loose; he bowed his head.
|THE JUNIOR GOD
The Junior God looked from his place.
On the ragged edge of the world I’ll roam.
They brought the mighty chief to town.
There lies the trail to Sunnydale.
|THE BLIND AND THE DEAD
She lay like a saint on her copper couch.
What are you doing here, Tom Thorne, on the white top-knot of the world.
My Father Christmas passed away.
Oh how good it is to be.
At dawn of day the white land lay al gruesome-like and grim.
If you had the choice of two women to wed.
Just think! some night the stars will gleam.
Jack would laugh an’ joke all day.
|THE MOUNTAIN AND THE LAKE
I know a mountain thrilling to the stars.
|THE HEADLINER AND THE BREADLINER
Moko, the Educated Ape, is here.
|DEATH IN THE ARCTIC
I took the clock down from the shelf.
|DREAMS ARE BEST
I just think that dreams are best.
When you’re lost in the Wild, and you’re scared as a child.
|THE COW-JUICE CURE
The clover was in blossom, an’ the year was at the June.
|WHILE THE BANNOCK BAKES
Light up your pipe again, old chum, and sit awhile with me.
|THE LOST MASTER
“And when I come to die,” he said.
Come out, O Little Moccasins, and frolic on the snow!
The Wanderlust has lured me to the seven lonely seas.
|THE TRAPPER’S CHRISTMAS EVE
It’s mighty lonesomelike and drear.
|THE WORLD’S ALL RIGHT
Be honest, kindly, simple, true.
|THE BALDNESS OF CHEWED-EAR
When Chewed-ear Jenkins got hitched up to Guinneyveer McGee.
There will be a singing in your heart.
The lone man gazed and gazed upon his gold.
Three score and ten, the Psalmist saith.
The cow-moose comes to water, and the beaver’s overbold.
|HOME AND LOVE
Just Home and Love! The worlds are small.
|I’M SCARED OF IT ALL
I’m scared of it all, God’s truth! So I am.
|A SONG OF SUCCESS
Ho! we were strong, we were swift, we were brave.
|THE SONG OF THE CAMP-FIRE
Heed me, feed me, I am hungry, I am red-tongued with desire.
“I’m taking pen in hand this night, and hard it is for me.
|THE MAN WHO KNEW
The Dreamer visioned Life as it might be.
In the moonless, misty night, with my little pipe alight.
|THE PASSING OF THE YEAR
My glass is filled, my pipe is lit.
Smith, great writer of stories, drank; found it immortalized his pen.
|GOOD-BYE, LITTLE CABIN
O dear little cabin, I’ve loved you so long.
|HEART O’ THE NORTH
And when I come to the dim trail-end.
|THE SCRIBE’S PRAYER…
When from my fumbling hand the tired pen falls.
A ROLLING STONE
There’s sunshine in the heart of me, My blood sings in the breeze; The mountains are a part of me, I’m fellow to the trees. My golden youth I’m squandering, Sun-libertine am I; A-wandering, a-wandering, Until the day I die. I was once, I declare, a Stone Age man, And I roomed in the cool of a cave; I have known, I will swear, in a new life-span, The fret and the sweat of a slave: For far over all that folks hold worth, There lives and there leaps in me A love of the lowly things of earth, And a passion to be free. [page 17] To pitch my tent with no prosy plan, To range and to change at will; To mock at the mastership of man, To seek Adventure’s thrill. Carefree to be, as a bird that sings, To go my own sweet way; To reck not at all what may befall, But to live and to love each day. To make my body a temple pure Wherein I dwell serene; To care for the things that shall endure, The simple, sweet and clean. To oust out envy and hate and rage, To breathe with no alarm; For Nature shall be my anchorage, And none shall do me harm. To shun all lures that debauch the soul, The orgied rites of the rich; To eat my crust as a rover must With the rough-neck down in the ditch. To trudge by his side whate’er betide; To share his fire at night; To call him friend to the long trail-end, And to read his heart aright. [page 18] To scorn all strife, and to view all life With the curious eyes of a child; From the plangent sea to the prairie, From the slum to the heart of the Wild. From the red-rimmed star to the speck of sand, From the vast to the greatly small; For I know that the whole for good is planned, And I want to see it all. To see it all, the wide world-way, From the fig-leaf belt to the Pole; With never a one to say me nay, And none to cramp my soul. In belly-pinch I will pay the price, But God! let me be free; For once I know in the long ago, They made a slave of me. In a flannel shirt from earth’s clean dirt, Here, pal, is my calloused hand! Oh, I love each day as a rover may, Nor seek to understand. To enjoy is good enough for me; The gipsy of God am I; [page 19] Then here’s a hail to each flaring dawn! And here’s a cheer to the night that’s gone! And may I go a-roaming on Until the day I die! Then every star shall sing to me Its song of liberty; And every morn shall bring to me Its mandate to be free. In every throbbing vein of me I’ll feel the vast Earth-call: O body, heart and brain of me, Praise Him who made it all! [page 20]
THE SOLDIER OF FORTUNE
“DENY your God!” they ringed me with their spears; Blood-crazed were they, and reeking from the strife; Hell-hot their hate, and venom-fanged their sneers, And one man spat on me and nursed a knife. And there was I, sore wounded and alone, I, the last living of my slaughtered band. Oh, sinister the sky, and cold as stone! In one red laugh of horror reeled the land. And dazed and desperate I faced their spears, And like a flame out-leaped that naked knife, And like a serpent strung their bitter jeers: “Deny your God, and we will give you life.” Deny my God! Oh, life was very sweet! And it is hard in youth and hope to die; And there my comrades dear lay at my feet, And in that blear of blood soon must I lie. [page 21] And yet… I almost laughed—it seemed so odd, For long and long had I not vainly tried To reason out and body forth my God, And prayed for light, and doubted—and denied. Denied the Being I could not conceive, Denied a life-to-be beyond the grave… And now they ask me, who do not believe, Just to deny, to voice my doubt, to save This life of mine that sings so in the sun, The bloom of youth yet red upon my cheek, My only life!—O fool! ’tis easy done, I will deny… and yet I do not speak. “Deny your God!” their spears are all agleam, And I can see their eyes with blood-lust shine; Their snarling voices shrill into a scream, And, mad to slay, they quiver for the sign. Deny my God! yes, I could do it well; Yet if I did, what of my race, my name? How they would spit on me, these dogs of hell! Spurn me, and put on me the brand of shame. A white man’s honour! what of that, I say? Shall these black curs cry “Coward” in my face? [page 22] They who would perish for their gods of clay— Shall I defile my country and my race? My country! what’s my country to me now? Soldier of Fortune, free and far I roam; All men are brothers in my heart, I vow; The wide and wondrous world is all my home. My country! reverent of her splendid Dead, Her heroes proud, her martyrs pierced with pain: For me her puissant blood was vainly shed; For me her drums of battle beat in vain, And free I fare, half-heedless of her fate: No faith, no flag, I owe—then why not seek This last loop-hole of life? Why hesitate? I will deny… and yet I do not speak. “Deny your God!” their spears are poised on high, And tense and terrible they wait the word; And dark and darker glooms the dreary sky, And in that hush of horror no thing stirred. Then, through the ringing terror and sheer hate Leaped there a vision to me—Oh, how far! A face, Her face… through all my stormy fate A joy, a strength, a glory and a star. [page 23] Beneath the pines, where lonely camp-fires gleam, In seas forlorn, amid the deserts drear, How I had gladdened to that face of dream! And never, never had it seemed so dear. O silken hair that veils the sunny brow! O eyes of grey, so tender and so true! O lips of smiling sweetness! must I now Forever and forever go from you? Ah, yes, I must… for if I do this thing, How can I look into your face again? Knowing you think me more than half a king, I with my craven heart, my honour slain. No! no! my mind’s made up. I gaze above, Into that sky insensate as a stone; Not for my creed, my country, but my Love Will I stand up and meet my death alone. Then, though it be to utter dark I sink, The God that dwells in me is not denied; “Best” triumphs over “Beast”—and so I think Humanity itself is glorified… “And now, my butchers, I embrace my fate. Come! let my heart’s blood slake the thirsty sod. Curst be the life you offer! Glut your hate! Strike! Strike, you dogs! I’ll not deny my God.” [page 24] I saw the spears that seemed a-leap to slay, All quiver earthward at the headman’s nod; And in a daze of dream I heard him say: “Go, set him free who serves so well his God!” [page 25]
THE GRAMOPHONE AT FOND-DU-LAC
Now Eddie Malone got a swell grammyfone, to draw all the trade to his store; An’ sez he: “Come along for a season of song, which the like ye had niver before.” The Dogrib an’ Slave, an’ Yellow-knife brave, an’ Cree in his dinky canoe, Confluated near, to see an’ to hear Ed’s grammyfone make its dayboo. Then Ed turned the crank, an’ there on the bank they squatted like bumps on a log. For acres around there wasn’t a sound, not even the howl of a dog. When out of the horn there sudden was born such a marvellous elegant tone; An’ then like a spell on that auddyence fell the voice of its first grammyfone. [page 26] “Bad medicine!” cried Old Tom, the One-eyed, an’ made for to jump in the lake; But no one gave heed to his little stampede, so he guessed he had made a mistake. Then Roll-in-the-Mud, a chief of the blood, observed in choice Chippewayan: “You’ve brought us canned beef, an’ it’s now my belief, that this here’s a case of ‘canned man.’” Well, though I’m not strong on the Dago in song, that sure got me goin’ for fair. There was Crusoe an’ Scotty an’ Ma’am Shoeman Hank, an’ Melber an’ Bonchy was there. ’Twas silver an’ gold, an’ sweetness untold, to hear all them big guinneys sing; An’ thick all around an’ inhalin’ the sound, them Indians formed in a ring. So solemn they sat, an’ they smoked an’ they spat, but their eyes sort o’ glistened an’ shone; Yet niver a word of approvin’ occurred till that guy Harry Lauder came on. [page 27] Then hunter of moose an’ squaw an’ papoose jest laughed till their stummicks was sore; Six times Eddie set back that record an’ yet they hollered an’ hollered for more. I’ll never forget that frame-up, you bet; them caverns of sunset agleam; Them still peaks aglow, them shadders below, an’ the lake like a petrified dream; The teepees that stood by the edge of the wood; the evenin’ star blinkin’ alone; The peace an’ the rest, an’ final an’ best, the music of Ed’s grammyfone. Then sudden an’ clear there rang on my ear a song mighty simple an’ old; Heart-hungry an’ high it thrilled to the sky, all about “silver threads in the gold.” ’Twas tender to tears, an’ it brung back the years, the mem’ries that hallow an’ yearn; ’Twas home-love an’ joy, ’twas the thought of my boy… an’ right there I vowed I’d return. [page 28] Big Four-finger Jack was right at my back, an’ I saw with a kind o’ surprise, He gazed at the lake with a heartful of ache, an’ the tears irrigated his eyes. An’ sez he: “Cuss me, pard! but that there hits me hard; I’ve a mother does nuthin’ but wait. “She’s turned eighty-three, an’ she’s only got me, an’ I’m scared it’ll soon be too late.”
On Fond-du-lac’s shore I’m hearin’ once more that blessed old grammyfone play. The summer’s all gone, an’ I’m still livin’ on in the same old haphazardous way. Oh, I cut out the booze, an’ with muscles an’ thews I corralled all the coin to go back; But it wasn’t to be—he’d a mother, you see—so I—slipped it to Four-finger Jack. [page 29]
THE LAND OF BEYOND
HAVE you ever heard of the Land of Beyond, That dreams at the gates of the day? Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies, And ever so far away; Alluring it calls: O ye the yoke galls, And ye of the trail overfond, With saddle and pack, by paddle and track, Let’s go to the Land of Beyond! Have ever you stood where the silences brood, And vast the horizons begin, At the dawn of the day to behold far away The goal you would strive for and win? Yet, ah! in the night when you gain to the height, With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned, Afar and agleam, like a valley of dream, Still mocks you a Land of Beyond. [page 30] Thank God! there is always a Land of Beyond For us who are true to the trail; A vision to seek, a beckoning peak, A farness that never will fail; A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal, A manhood that irks at a bond, And try how we will, unattainable still, Behold it, our Land of Beyond! [page 31]
FLAT as a drum-head stretch the haggard snows; The mighty skies are palisades of light; The stars are blurred; the silence grows and grows; Vaster and vaster vaults the icy night. Here in my sleeping-bag I cower and pray: “Silence and night, have pity; stoop and slay.” I have not slept for many, many days. I close my eyes with weariness—that’s all. I still have strength to feed the drift-wood blaze That flickers weirdly on the icy wall. I still have strength to pray: “God rest her soul, Here in the awful shadow of the Pole.” [page 32] There in the cabin’s alcove low she lies, Still candles gleaming at her head and feet; All snow-drop white, ash cold, with closèd eyes, Lips smiling, hands at rest—O God, how sweet! How all unutterably sweet she seems… Not dead, not dead, indeed—she dreams, she dreams.
“Sunshine,” I called her, and she brought, I vow, God’s blessed sunshine to this life of mine. I was a rover, of the breed who plough Life’s furrow in a far-flung, lonely line; The wilderness my home, my fortune cast In a wild land of dearth, barbaric, vast. When did I see her first? Long had I lain Groping my way to life through fevered gloom. Sudden the cloud of darkness left my brain; A velvet bar of sunshine pierced the room, And in that mellow glory aureoled She stood, she stood, all golden in its gold. [page 33] Sunshine! O miracle! the earth grew glad; Radiant each blade of grass, each living thing. What a huge strength, high hope, proud will I had! All the wide world with rapture seemed to ring. Would she but wed me? Yes: then fared we forth Into the vast, unvintageable North.
In Muskrat Land the conies leap, The wavies linger in their flight; The jewelled, snake-like rivers creep; The sun, sad rogue, is our all night; The great wood-bison paws the sand, In Muskrat Land, in Muskrat Land. In Muskrat Land dim streams divide The tundras belted by the sky. How sweet in slim canoe to glide, And dream, and let the world go by! Build gay camp-fires on greening strand! In Muskrat Land, in Muskrat Land. [page 34]
And so we dreamed and drifted, she and I; And how she loved that free, unfathomed life! There, in the peach-bloom of the midnight sky, The silence welded us, true man and wife. Then North and North invincibly we pressed Beyond the Circle, to the world’s white crest. And on the wind-flailed Arctic waste we stayed, Dwelt with the Huskies by the Polar sea. Fur had they, white fox, marten, mink, to trade, And we had food-stuff, bacon, flour and tea. So we made snug, chummed up with all the band: Sudden the Winter swooped on Husky Land.
What was that ill so sinister and dread, Smiting the tribe with sickness to the bone? So that we waked one morn to find them fled; So that we stood and stared, alone, alone. [page 35] Bravely she smiled and looked into my eyes; Laughed at their troubled, stern, foreboding pain; Gaily she mocked the menace of the skies, Turned to our cheery cabin once again, Saying: “’Twill soon be over, dearest one, The long, long night: then O the sun, the sun!”
God made a heart of gold, of gold, Shining and sweet and true; Gave it a home of fairest mould, Blest it, and called it—You. God gave the rose its grace of glow, And the lark its radiant glee; But, better than all, I know, I know God gave you, Heart, to me.
She was all sunshine in those dubious days; Our cabin beaconed with defiant light; We chattered by the friendly drift-wood blaze; Closer and closer cowered the hag-like night. [page 36] A wolf-howl would have been a welcome sound, And there was none in all that stricken land; Yet with such silence, darkness, death around, Learned we to love as few can understand. Spirit with spirit fused, and soul to soul, There in the sullen shadow of the Pole.
What was that haunting horror of the night? Brave was she; buoyant, full of sunny cheer. Why was her face so small, so strangely white? Then did I turn from her, heart-sick with fear; Sought in my agony the outcast snows; Prayed in my pain to that insensate sky; Grovelled and sobbed and cursed, and then arose: “Sunshine! O heart of gold! to die! to die!”
She died on Christmas Day—it seems so sad That one you love should die on Christmas Day. Head-bowed I knelt by her; O God! I had No tears to shed, no moan, no prayer to pray. [page 37] I heard her whisper: “Call me, will you, dear? They say Death parts, but I won’t go away. I will be with you in the cabin here; Oh, I will plead with God to let me stay! Stay till the Night is gone, till Spring is nigh, Till sunshine comes… be brave… I’m tired… good-bye…”
For weeks, for months I have not seen the sun; The minatory dawns are leprous pale; The felon days malinger one by one; How like a dream Life is! how vain! how stale! I, too, am faint; that vampire-like disease Has fallen on me; weak and cold am I, Hugging a tiny fire in fear I freeze: The cabin must be cold, and so I try To bear the frost, the frost that fights decay, The frost that keeps her beautiful alway.
She lies within an icy vault; It glitters like a cave of salt. [page 38] All marble-pure and angel-sweet With candles at her head and feet, Under an ermine robe she lies. I kiss her hands, I kiss her eyes: “Come back, come back, O Love, I pray, Into this house, this house of clay! Answer my kisses soft and warm; Nestle again within my arm. Come! for I know that you are near; Open your eyes and look, my dear. Just for a moment break the mesh; Back from the spirit leap to flesh. Weary I wait; the night is black; Love of my life, come back, come back!”
Last night maybe I was a little mad, For as I prayed despairful by her side, Such a strange, antic visioning I had: Lo! it did seem her eyes were open wide. Surely I must have dreamed! I stared once more… No, ’twas a candle’s trick, a shadow cast. There were her lashes locking as before. (Oh, but it filled me with a joy so vast!) No, ’twas a freak, a fancy of the brain. (Oh, but to-night I’ll try again, again!) [page 39]
It was no dream; now do I know that Love Leapt from the starry battlements of Death; For in my vigil as I bent above, Calling her name with eager, burning breath, Sudden there came a change; again I saw The radiance of the rose-leaf stain her cheek; Rivers of rapture thrilled in sunny thaw; Cleft were her coral lips as if to speak; Curved were her tender arms as if to cling; Open the flower-like eyes of lucent blue, Looking at me with love so pitying That I could fancy Heaven shining through. “Sunshine,” I faltered, “stay with me, oh, stay!” Yet ere I finished, in a moment’s flight, There in her angel purity she lay— Ah! but I know she’ll come again to-night. Even as radiant sword leaps from the sheath, Soul from the body leaps—we call it Death.
Even as this line I write, Do I know that she is near; Happy am I, every night Comes she back to bid me cheer; Kissing her, I hold her fast; Win her into life at last. [page 40] Did I dream that yesterday On yon mountain ridge a glow Soft as moonstone paled away, Leaving less forlorn the snow? Could it be the sun? Oh, fain Would I see the sun again! Oh, to see a coral dawn Gladden to a crocus glow! Day’s a spectre dim and wan, Dancing on the furtive snow; Night’s a cloud upon my brain: Oh, to see the sun again! You who find us in this place, Have you pity in your breast; Let us in our last embrace Under earth sun-hallowed rest. Night’s a claw upon my brain: Oh, to see the sun again!
The Sun! at last the Sun! I write these lines, Here on my knees, with feeble, fumbling hand. Look! in yon mountain cleft a radiance shines, Gleam of a primrose—see it thrill, expand, [page 41] Glow glorious. Dear God be praised! it streams Into the cabin in a gush of gold. Look! there she stands, the angel of my dreams, All in the radiant shimmer aureoled; First as I saw her from my bed of pain; First as I loved her when the darkness passed. Now do I know that Life is not in vain; Now do I know God cares, at last, at last! Light outlives dark, joy grief, and Love’s the sum: Heart of my heart! Sunshine! I come… I come… [page 42]
OH, you who have daring deeds to tell! And you who have felt Ambition’s spell! Have you heard of the louse who longed to dwell In the golden hair of a queen? He sighed all day and he sighed all night, And no one could understand it quite, For the head of a slut is a louse’s delight, But he pined for the head of a queen. So he left his kinsfolk in merry play, And off by his lonesome he stole away, From the home of his youth so bright and gay, And gloriously unclean. And at last he came to the palace gate, And he made his way in a manner straight (For a louse may go where a man must wait) To the tiring-room of the queen. [page 43] The queen she spake to her tiring-maid: “There’s something the matter, I’m afraid. To-night ere for sleep my hair ye braid, Just see what may be seen,” And lo, when they combed that shining hair, They found him alone in his glory there, And he cried: “I die, but I do not care, For I’ve lived in the head of a queen!” [page 44]
WHEN the boys come out from Lac Labiche in the lure of the early Spring, To take the pay of the “Hudson’s Bay,” as their fathers did before, They are all aglee for the jamboree, and they make the Landing ring With a whoop and a whirl, and a “Grab your girl,” and a rip and a skip and a roar. For the spree of Spring is a sacred thing, and the boys must have their fun; Packer and tracker and half-breed Cree, from the boat to the bar they leap; And then when the long flotilla goes, and the last of their pay is done, The boys from the banks of Lac Labiche swing to the heavy sweep. And oh, how they sigh! and their throats are dry, and sorry are they and sick: Yet there’s none so cursed with a lime-kiln thirst as that Athabaska Dick. [page 45] He was long and slim and lean of limb, but strong as a stripling bear; And by the right of his skill and might he guided the Long Brigade. All water-wise were his laughing eyes, and he steered with a careless care, And he shunned the shock of foam and rock, till they came to the Big Cascade. And here they must make the long portage, and the boys sweat in the sun; And the heft and pack, and they haul and track, and each must do his trick; But their thoughts are far in the Landing bar, where the founts of nectar run: And no man thinks of such gorgeous drinks as that Athabaska Dick. ’Twas the close of day, and his long boat lay just over the Big Cascade, When there came to him one Jack-pot Jim, with a wild light in his eye; And he softly laughed, and he led Dick aft, all eager, yet half afraid, And snugly stowed in his coat he showed a pilfered flask of “rye.” [page 46] And in haste he slipped, or in fear he tripped, but—Dick in warning roared— And there rang a yell, and it befell that Jim was overboard. Oh, I heard a splash, and quick as a flash I knew he could not swim. I saw him whirl in the river swirl, and thresh his arms about. In a queer, strained way I heard Dick say: “I’m going after him,” Throw off his coat, leap down the boat—and then I gave a shout: “Boys, grab him, quick! You’re crazy, Dick! Far better one than two! Hell, man! You know you’ve got no show! It’s sure and certain death…” And there we hung, and there we clung, with beef and brawn and thew, And sinews cracked and joints were racked, and panting came our breath; And there we swayed and there we prayed, till strength and hope were spent— Then Dick, he threw us off like rats and after Jim he went. [page 47] With a mighty urge amid the surge of river-rage he leapt, And gripped his mate and desperate he fought to gain the shore; With teeth agleam he bucked the stream, yet swift and sure he swept To meet the mighty cataract that waited all aroar. And there we stood like carven wood, our faces sickly white, And watched him as he beat the foam, and inch by inch he lost; And nearer, nearer drew the fall, and fiercer grew the fight, Till on the very cascade crest a last farewell he tossed. Then down and down and down they plunged into that pit of dread; And mad we tore along the shore to claim our bitter dead. And from that hell of frenzied foam, that crashed and fumed and boiled, Two little bodies bubbled up, and they were heedless then; [page 48] And oh, they lay like senseless clay! and bitter hard we toiled, Yet never, never gleam of hope, and we were weary men. And moments mounted into hours, and black was our despair; And faint were we, and we were fain to give them up as dead, When suddenly I thrilled with hope: “Back, boys! and give him air; I feel the flutter of his heart…” And, as the word I said, Dick gave a sigh, and gazed around, and saw our breathless band; And saw the sky’s blue floor above, all strewn with golden fleece; And saw his comrade Jack-pot Jim, and touched him with his hand; And then there came into his eyes a look of perfect peace. And as there, at his very feet, the thwarted river raved, I heard him murmur low and deep: “Thank God! the whiskey’s saved.” [page 49]
IT’S a mighty good world, so it is, dear lass, When even the worst is said. There’s a smile and a tear, a sigh and a cheer, But better be living than dead; A joy and a pain, a loss and a gain; There’s honey and maybe some gall: Yet still I declare, foul weather or fair, It’s a mighty good world after all. For look, lass! at night when I break from the fight, My Kingdom’s awaiting for me; There’s comfort and rest, and the warmth of your breast, And little ones climbing my knee. There’s fire-light and song—Oh, the world may be wrong, Its empires may topple and fall: My home is my care—if gladness be there, It’s a mighty good world after all. [page 50] O heart of pure gold! I have made you a fold, It’s sheltered, sun-fondled and warm. O little ones, rest! I have fashioned a nest; Sleep on! you are safe from the storm. For there’s no foe like fear, and there’s no friend like cheer, And sunshine will flash at our call; So crown Love as King, and let us all sing— “It’s a mighty good world after all.” [page 51]
THEY turned him loose; he bowed his head, A felon, bent and grey. His face was even as the Dead, He had no word to say. He sought the home of his old love, To look on her once more; And where her roses breathed above, He cowered beside the door. She sat there in the shining room; Her hair was silver grey. He stared and stared from out the gloom; He turned to go away. Her roses rustled overhead. She saw, with sudden start. “I knew that you would come,” she said, And held him to her heart. [page 52] Her face was rapt and angel-sweet; She touched his hair of grey;
THE JUNIOR GOD
THE Junior God looked from his place In the conning-towers of heaven, And he saw the world through the span of space Like a giant golf-ball driven. And because he was bored, as some gods are, With high celestial mirth, He clutched the reins of a shooting star, And he steered it down to earth. The Junior God, ’mid leaf and bud, Passed on with a weary air, Till lo! he came to a pool of mud, And some hogs were rolling there. Then in he plunged with gleeful cries, And down he lay supine; For they had no mud in paradise, And they likewise had no swine. [page 54] The Junior God forgot himself; He squelched mud through his toes; With the careless joy of a wanton boy His reckless laughter rose. Till, tired at last, in a brook close by, He washed off every stain; Then softly up to the radiant sky He rose, a god again. The Junior God now heads the roll In the list of heaven’s peers; He sits in the House of High Control, And he regulates the spheres. Yet does he wonder, do you suppose, If, even in gods divine, The best and wisest may not be those Who have wallowed awhile with the swine? [page 55]
On the ragged edge of the world I’ll roam, And the home of the wolf shall be my home, And a bunch of bones on the boundless snows The end of my trail… who knows, who knows! I’m dreaming to-night in the fire-glow, alone in my study tower, My books battalioned around me, my Kipling flat on my knee; But I’m not in the mood for reading, I haven’t moved for an hour; Body and brain I’m weary, weary the heart of me; Weary of crushing a longing it’s little I understand, For I thought that my trail was ended, I thought I had earned my rest; But oh, it’s stronger than life is, the call of the hearthless land! And I turn to the North in my trouble, as a child to the mother-breast. [page 56] Here in my den it’s quiet; the sea-wind taps on the pane; There’s comfort and ease and plenty, the smile of the South is sweet. All that a man might long for, fight for and seek in vain, Pictures and books and music, pleasure my last retreat. Peace! I thought I had gained it, I swore that my tale was told; By my hair that is grey I swore it, by my eyes that are slow to see; Yet what does it all avail me? to-night, to-night as of old, Out of the dark I hear it—the Northland calling to me. And I’m daring a rampageous river that runs the devil knows where; My hand is athrill on the paddle, the birch-bark bounds like a bird. Hark to the rumble of rapids! Here in my morris chair, Eager and tense I’m straining—isn’t it most absurd? [page 57] Now in the churn and the lather, foam that hisses and stings, Leap I, keyed for the struggle, fury and fume and roar; Rocks are spitting like hell-cats—Oh, it’s a sport for kings, Life on a twist of the paddle… there’s my “Kim” on the floor. How I thrill and I vision! Then my camp of a night; Red and gold of the fire-glow, net afloat in the stream; Scent of the pines and silence, little “pal” pipe alight, Body a-purr with pleasure, sleep untroubled of dream: Banquet of paystreak bacon! moment of joy divine, When the bannock is hot and gluey, and the teapot’s nearing the boil! Never was wolf so hungry, stomach cleaving to spine… Ha! there’s my servant calling, says that dinner will spoil. [page 58] What do I want with dinner? Can I eat any more? Can I sleep as I used to? ... Oh, I abhor this life! Give me the Great Uncertain, the Barren Land for a floor, The Milky Way for roof-beam, splendour and space and strife: Something to fight and die for—the limpid Lake of the Bear, The Empire of Empty Bellies, the dunes where the Dogribs dwell; Big things, real things, live things… here in my morris chair, How I ache for the Northland! “Dinner and servants”—Hell! Am I too old, I wonder? Can I take one trip more? Go to the granite-ribbed valleys, flooded with sunset wine, Peaks that pierce the aurora, rivers I must explore, Lakes of a thousand islands, millioning hordes of the Pine? [page 59] Do they miss me, I wonder, valley and peak and plain? Whispering each to the other: “Many a moon has passed… Where has he gone, our lover? Will he come back again? Star with his fires our tundra, leave us his bones at last?” Yes, I’ll go back to the Northland, back to the way of the bear, Back to the muskeg and mountain, back to the ice-leaguered sea. Old am I! What does it matter? Nothing I would not dare; Give me a trail to conquer—Oh, it is “meat” to me! I will go back to the Northland, feeble and blind and lame; Sup with the sunny-eyed Husky, eat moose-nose with the Cree; Play with the Yellow-knife bastards, boasting my blood and my name: I will go back to the Northland, for the Northland is calling to me. [page 60] Then give to me paddle and whiplash, and give to me tumpline and gun; Give to me salt and tobacco, flour and a gunny of tea; Take me up over the Circle, under the flamboyant sun; Turn me foot-loose like a savage—that is the finish of me. I know the trail I am seeking, it’s up by the Lake of the Bear; It’s down by the Arctic Barrens, it’s over to Hudson’s Bay; Maybe I’ll get there—maybe: death is set by a hair… Hark! it’s the Northland calling! now must I go away… Go to the Wild that waits for me; Go where the moose and the musk-ox be; Go to the wolf and the secret snows; Go to my fate… who knows, who knows! [page 61]
THEY brought the mighty chief to town; They showed him strange, unwonted sights; Yet as he wandered up and down, He seemed to scorn their vain delights. His face was grim, his eye lacked fire, As one who mourns a glory dead; And when they sought his heart’s desire: “Me like-um tooth same gold,” he said. A dental place they quickly found. He neither moaned nor moved his head. They pulled his teeth so white and sound; They put in teeth of gold instead. Oh, never saw I man so gay, His very being seems to swell: “Ha, ha!” he cried, “Now Injun say Me heap big chief, me look like hell!” [page 62]
THERE lies the trail to Sunnydale, Amid the lure of laughter. Oh, how can we unhappy be Beneath its leafy rafter! Each perfect hour is like a flower, Each day is like a posy. How can you say the skies are grey? You’re wrong, my friend, they’re rosy. With right good will let’s climb the hill, And leave behind all sorrow. Oh, we’ll be gay! a bright to-day Will make a bright to-morrow. Oh, we’ll be strong! the way is long That never has a turning; The hill is high, but there’s the sky, And how the West is burning! [page 63] And if through chance of circumstance We have to go bare-foot, sir, We’ll not repine—a friend of mine Has got no feet to boot, sir. This Happiness a habit is, And Life is what we make it: See! there’s the trail to Sunnydale! Up, friend! and let us take it. [page 64]
THE BLIND AND THE DEAD
SHE lay like a saint on her copper couch; Like an angel asleep she lay, In the stare of the ghoulish folks that slouch Past the Dead and sneak away. Then came old Jules of the sightless gaze, Who begged in the streets for bread. Each day he had come for a year of days, And groped his way to the Dead. “What’s the Devil’s Harvest to-day?” he cried; “A wanton with eyes of blue! I’ve known too many a such,” he sighed; “Maybe I know this… mon Dieu!” He raised the head of the heedless Dead; He fingered the frozen face… Then a deathly spell on the watchers fell— God! it was still, that place! [page 65] He raised the head of the careless Dead; He fumbled a vagrant curl; And then with his sightless smile he said: “It’s only my little girl.” “Dear, my dear, did they hurt you so! Come to your daddy’s heart…” Aye, and he held so tight, you know, They were hard to force apart. No! Paris isn’t always gay; And the morgue has its stories, too: You are a writer of tales, you say— Then there is a tale for you. [page 66]
WHAT are you doing here, Tom Thorne, on the white top-knot of the world, Where the wind has the cut of a naked knife and the stars are rapier keen? Hugging a smudgy willow fire, deep in a lynx robe curled, You that’s a lord’s own son, Tom Thorne—what does your madness mean? Go home, go home to your clubs, Tom Thorne! home to your evening dress! Home to your place of power and pride, and the feast that waits for you! Why do you linger all alone in the splendid emptiness, Scouring the Land of the Little Sticks on the trail of the caribou? [page 67] Why did you fall off the Earth, Tom Thorne, out of our social ken? What did your deep damnation prove? What was your dark despair? Oh, with the width of a world between, and years to the count of ten, If they cut out your heart to-night, Tom Thorne, her name would be graven there. And you fled afar for the thing called Peace, and you thought you would find it here, In the purple tundras vastly spread, and the mountains whitely piled; It’s a weary quest and a dreary quest, but I think that the end is near; For they say that the Lord has hidden it in the secret heart of the Wild. And you know that heart as few men know, and your eyes are fey and deep, With a “something lost” come welling back from the raw, red dawn of life: With woe and pain have you greatly lain, till out of abysmal sleep The soul of the Stone Age leaps in you, alert for the ancient strife. [page 68] And if you came to our feast again, with its pomp and glee and glow, I think you would sit stone-still, Tom Thorne, and see in a daze of dream A mad sun goading to frenzied flame the glittering gems of the snow, And a monster musk-ox bulking black against the blood-red gleam. I think you would see berg-battling shores, and stammer and halt and stare With a sudden sense of the frozen void, serene and vast and still; And the aching gleam and the hush of dream, and the track of a great white bear, And the primal lust that surged in you as you sprang to make your kill. I think you would hear the bull-moose call, and the glutted river roar, And spy the hosts of the caribou shadow the shining plain; And feel the pulse of the silences, and stand elate once more On the verge of the yawning vastitudes that call to you in vain. [page 69] For I think you are on with the stars and the sun, and the wind and the wave and the dew; And the peaks untrod that yearn to God, and the valleys undefiled; Men soar with wings, and they bridle kings, but what is it all to you, Wise in the ways of the wilderness, and strong with the strength of the Wild? You have spent your life, you have waged your strife where never we play a part; You have held the throne of the Great Unknown, you have ruled a kingdom vast:
But to-night there’s a strange, new trail for you, and you go, O weary heart! To the peace and rest of the Great Unguessed… at last, Tom Thorne, at last. [page 70]
My Father Christmas passed away When I was barely seven. At twenty one, alack-a-day, I lost my hope of heaven. Yet not in either lies the curse: The hell of it’s because I don’t know which loss hurt the worse— My God or Santa Claus. [page 71]
OH, how good it is to be Foot-loose and heart-free! Just my dog and pipe and I, underneath the vast sky; Trail to try and goal to win, white road and cool inn; Fields to lure a lad afar, clear spring and still star; Lilting feet that never tire, green dingle, faggot fire; None to hurry, none to hold, heather hill and hushed fold; Nature like a picture-book, laughing leaf and bright brook; Every day a jewel bright, set serenely in the night; Every night a holy shrine, radiant for a day divine. [page 72] Weathered cheek and kindly eye, let the wanderer go by. Woman-love and wistful heart, let the gipsy one depart. For the farness and the road are his glory and his goad. Oh, the lilt of youth and Spring! Eyes laugh and lips sing. Yea, but it is good to be Foot-loose and heart-free!
Yet how good it is to come Home at last, home, home! On the clover swings the bee, overhead’s the hale tree. Sky of turquoise gleams through, yonder glints the lake’s blue. In a hammock let’s swing, weary of wandering; Tired of wild, uncertain lands, strange faces, faint hands. Has the wondrous world gone cold? Am I growing old, old? Grey and weary… let me dream, glide on the tranquil stream. [page 73] Oh, what joyous days I’ve had, full, fervid, gay, glad! Yet there comes a subtle change, let the stripling rove, range. From sweet roving comes sweet rest, after all, home’s best. And if there’s a little bit of woman-love with it, I will count my life content, God-blest and well spent… Oh, but it is good to be Foot-loose and heart-free! Yet how good it is to come Home at last, home, home! [page 74]
AT dawn of day the white land lay all gruesome-like and grim, When Bill McGee he says to me: “We’ve got to do it, Jim. We’ve got to make Fort Liard quick. I know the river’s bad, But, oh! the little woman’s sick… why! don’t you savvy, lad?” And me! Well, yes, I must confess it wasn’t hard to see Their little family group of two would soon be one of three. And so I answered, careless-like: “Why, Bill! you don’t suppose I’m scared of that there ‘babbling brook’? Whatever you say—goes.” A real live man was Barb-wire Bill, with insides copper-lined; For “barb-wire” was the brand of “hooch” to which he most inclined. [page 75] They knew him far; his igloos are on Kittie-gazuit strand. They knew him well, the tribes who dwell within the Barren Land. From Koyokuk to Kuskoquim his fame was everywhere; And he did love, all life above, that little Julie Claire, The lithe, white slave-girl he had bought for seven hundred skins, And taken to his wickiup to make his moccasins. We crawled down to the river bank, and feeble folk were we, That Julie Claire from God-knows-where, and Barb-wire Bill and me. From shore to shore we heard the roar the heaving ice-floes make, And loud we laughed, and launched our raft, and followed in their wake. The river swept and seethed and leapt, and caught us in its stride; And on we hurled amid a world that crashed on every side. With sullen din the banks caved in; the shore-ice lanced the stream; [page 76] The naked floes like spooks arose, all jigging and agleam. Black anchor-ice of strange device shot upward from its bed, As night and day we cleft our way, and arrow-like we sped. But “Faster still!” cried Barb-wire Bill, and looked the live-long day In dull despair at Julie Claire, where white like death she lay. And sometimes he would seem to pray and sometimes seem to curse, And bent above, with eyes of love, yet ever she grew worse. And as we plunged and leapt and lunged, her face was plucked with pain, And I could feel his nerves of steel a-quiver at the strain. And in the night he gripped me tight as I lay fast asleep: “The river’s kicking like a steer… run out the forward sweep! That’s Hell-gate Canyon right ahead; I know of old its roar, And… I’ll be damned! the ice is jammed! We’ve got to make the shore.” [page 77] With one wild leap I gripped the sweep. The night was black as sin. The float-ice crashed and ripped and smashed, and stunned us with its din. And near and near, and clear and clear I heard the canyon boom; And swift and strong we swept along to meet our awful doom. And as with dread I glimpsed ahead the death that waited there, My only thought was of the girl, the little Julie Claire; And so, like demon mad with fear, I panted at the oar, And foot by foot, and inch by inch, we worked the raft ashore. The bank was staked with grinding ice, and as we scraped and crashed, I only knew one thing to do, and through my mind it flashed: Yet while I groped to find the rope, I heard Bill’s savage cry: “That’s my job, lad! It’s me that jumps. I’ll snub this raft or die!” [page 78] I saw him leap, I saw him creep, I saw him gain the land; I saw him crawl, I saw him fall, then run with rope in hand. And then the darkness gulped him up, and down we dashed once more, And nearer, nearer drew the jam, and thunder-like its roar. Oh, God! all’s lost… from Julie Claire there came a wail of pain, And then—the rope grew sudden taut, and quivered at the strain; It slacked and slipped, it whined and gripped, and oh, I held my breath! And there we hung and there we swung right in the jaws of death. A little strand of hempen rope, and how I watched it there, With all around a hell of sound, and darkness and despair; A little strand of hempen rope, I watched it all alone, And somewhere in the dark behind I heard a woman moan; [page 79] And somewhere in the dark ahead I heard a man cry out, Then silence, silence, silence fell, and mocked my hollow shout. And yet once more from out the shore I heard that cry of pain, A moan of mortal agony, then all was still again. That night was hell with all the frills, and when the dawn broke dim, I saw a lean and level hand, but never sigh of him. I saw a flat and frozen shore of hideous device, I saw a long-drawn strand of rope that vanished through the ice. And on that treeless, rockless shore I found my partner—dead. No place was there to snub the raft, so—he had served instead! And with the rope lashed round his waist, in last defiant fight, He’d thrown himself beneath the ice, that closed and gripped him tight; And there he’s held us back from death, as fast in death he lay… Say, boys! I’m not the pious brand, but—I just tried to pray. <strong<[page 80] And then I looked to Julie Claire, and sore abashed was I, For from the robes that covered her I heard—a baby cry…
Thus was Love conqueror of death, and life for life was given; And though no saint on earth, d’ye think Bill’s squared hisself with Heaven? [page 81]
IF you had the choice of two women to wed, (Though of course the idea is quite absurd), And the first from her heels to her dainty head Was charming in every sense of the word: And yet in the past (I grieve to state) She never had been exactly “straight.” And the second—she was beyond all cavil, A model of virtue, I must confess; And yet, alas! she was dull as the devil, And rather a dowd in the way of dress; Though what she was lacking in wit and beauty She more than made up for in “sense of duty.” Now, suppose you must wed, and make no blunder, And either would love, and let you win her— Which of the two would you choose, I wonder, The stolid saint or the sparkling sinner? [page 82]
Just think! some night the stars will gleam Upon a cold, grey stone, And trace a name with silver beam, And lo! ’twill be your own. That night is speeding on to greet Your epitaphic rhyme. Your life is but a little beat Within the heart of Time. A little gain, a little pain, A laugh, lest you may moan; A little blame, a little fame, A star-gleam on a stone. [page 83]
JACK would laugh an’ joke all day; Never saw a lad so gay; Singin’ like a medder lark, Loaded to the Plimsoll mark With God’s sunshine was that boy; Had a strangle-holt on Joy. Held his head ’way up in air, left no callin’-cards on Care; Breezy, buoyant, brave and true; Sent his sunshine out to you; Cheerfulest when clouds was black— Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack! Sittin’ in my shack alone I could hear him in his own, Singin’ far into the night, Till it didn’t seem just right One man should corral the fun, Live his life so in the sun; Didn’t seem quite natural Not to have a grouch at all; Not a trouble, not a lack— Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack! [page 84] He was plumbful of good cheer Till he struck that low-down year; Got so thin, so little to him, You could most see daylight through him. Never was his eye so bright, Never was his cheek so white. Seemed as if somethin’ was wrong, Sort o’ quaver in his song. Same old smile, same hearty voice: “Bless you, boys! let’s all rejoice!” But old Doctor shook his head: “Half a lung,” was all he said. Yet that half was surely right, For I heard him every night, Singin’, singin’ in his shack— Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack! Then one day a letter came Endin’ with a female name; Seemed to get him in the neck, Sort o’ pile-driver effect; Paled his lip and plucked his breath, Left him starin’ still as death. Somethin’ had gone awful wrong, Yet that night he sang his song. Oh, but it was good to hear! For there clutched my heart a fear, [page 85] So that I quaked listenin’ Every night to hear him sing. But each day he laughed with me, An’ his smile was full of glee. Nothin’ seemed to set him back— Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack! Then one night the singin’ stopped… Seemed as if my heart just flopped; For I’d learned to love the boy With his gilt-edged line of joy, With his glorious gift of bluff, With his splendid fightin’ stuff. Sing on, lad, and play the game! O dear God! ... no singin’ came, But there surged to me instead— Silence, silence, deep and dread; Till I shuddered, tried to pray, Said: “He’s maybe gone away.” Oh, yes, he had gone away, Gone forever and a day. But he’d left behind him there, In his cabin, pinched and bare, His poor body, skin and bone, His sharp face, cold as a stone. [page 86] An’ his stiffened fingers pressed Somethin’ bright upon his breast: Locket with a silken curl, Poor, sweet portrait of a girl. Yet I reckon at the last How defiant-like he passed; For there sat upon his lips Smile that death could not eclipse; An’ within his eyes lived still Joy that dyin’ could not kill. An’ now when the nights are long, How I miss his cheery song! How I sigh an’ wish him back! Happy Jack! Oh, Happy Jack! [page 87]
THE MOUNTAIN AND THE LAKE
I KNOW a mountain thrilling to the stars Peerless and pure, and pinnacled with snow; Glimpsing the golden dawn o’er coral bars, Flaunting the vanisht sunset’s garnet glow; Proudly patrician, passionless, serene; Soaring in silvered steeps where cloud-surfs break; Virgin and vestal—Oh, a very Queen! And at her feet there dreams a quiet lake. My lake adores my mountain—well I know, For I have watched it from its dawn-dream start, Stilling its mirror to her splendid snow, Framing her image in its trembling heart; Glassing her graciousness of greening wood, Kissing her throne, melodiously mad, Thrilling responsive to her every mood, Gloomed with her sadness, gay when she is glad. [page 88] My lake has dreamed and loved since time was born; Will love and dream till time shall cease to be; Gazing to Her in worship half forlorn, Who looks towards the stars and will not see— My peerless mountain, splendid in her scorn... Alas! poor little lake! Alas! poor me! [page 89]
THE HEADLINER AND THE BREADLINER
MOKO, the Educated Ape, is here, The pet of vaudeville, so the posters say, And every night the gaping people pay To see him in his panoply appear; To see him pad his paunch with dainty cheer, Puff his perfecto, swill champagne, and sway Just like a gentleman, yet all in play, Then bow himself off stage with brutish leer. And as to-night, with noble knowledge crammed, I ’mid this human compost take my place, I, once a poet, now so dead and damned, The woeful tears half freezing on my face: “O God!” I cry, “let me but take his shape, Moko’s, the Blest, the Educated Ape.” [page 90]
DEATH IN THE ARCTIC
I TOOK the clock down from the shelf; “At eight,” said I, “I shoot myself.” It lacked a minute of the hour, And as I waited all a-cower, A skinful of black, boding pain, Bits of my life came back again… “Mother, there’s nothing more to eat— Why don’t you go out on the street? Always you sit and cry and cry; Here at my play I wonder why. Mother, when you dress up at night, Red are your cheeks, your eyes are bright; Twining a riband in your hair, Kissing good-bye you go down-stair. Then I’m as lonely as can be, Oh, how I wish you were with me! Yet when you go out on the street, Mother, there’s always lots to eat.”… [page 91]
For days the igloo has been dark; But now the rag wick sends a spark That glitters in the icy air, And wakes frost sapphires everywhere; Bright, bitter flames, that adder-like Dart here and there, yet fear to strike The gruesome gloom wherein they lie, My comrades, oh, so keen to die! And I, the last—well, here I wait The clock to strike the hour of eight... “Boy, it is bitter to be hurled Nameless and naked on the world; Frozen by night and starred by day, Curses and kicks and clouts your pay. But you must fight! Boy, look on me! Anarch of all earth-misery; Beggar and tramp and shameless sot; Emblem of ill, in rags that rot. Would you be foul and base as I? Oh, it is better far to die! Swear to me now you’ll fight and fight, Boy, or I’ll kill you here to-night.” … [page 92]
Curse this silence soft and black! Sting, little light, the shadows back! Dance, little flame, with freakish glee! Twinkle with brilliant mockery! Glitter on ice-robed roof and floor! Jewel the bear-skin of the door! Gleam in my beard, illume my breath, Blanch the clock face that times my death! But do not pierce that murk so deep, Where in their sleeping-bags they sleep! But do not linger where they lie, They who had all the luck to die! ... “There is nothing more to say; Let us part and go our way. Since it seems we can’t agree, I will go across the sea. Proud of heart and strong am I; Not for woman will I sigh; Hold my head up gay and glad: You can find another lad.” …
Above the igloo piteous flies Our frayed flag to the frozen skies. [page 93] Oh, would you know how earth can be A hell—go north of Eighty-three! Go, scan the snows day after day, And hope for help, and pray and pray; Have seal-hide and sea-lice to eat; Melt water with your body’s heat; Sleep all the fell, black winter through Beside the dear, dead man you knew. (The walrus blubber flares and gleams— O God! how long a minute seem!) … “Mary, many a day has passed, Since that morn of hot-head youth. Come I back at last, at last, Crushed with knowing of the truth; How through bitter, barren years You loved me, and me alone; Waited, wearied, wept your tears— Oh, could I atone, atone, I would pay a million-fold! Pay you for the love you gave. Mary, look down as of old— I am kneeling by your grave.” ... [page 94]
Olaf, the Blonde, was the first to go; Bitten his eyes were by the snow; Sightless and sealed his eyes of blue, So that he died before I knew. Here in these poor weak arms he died: “Wolves will not get you, lad,” I lied; “For I will watch till Spring come round; Slumber you shall beneath the ground.” Oh, how I lied! I scarce can wait: Strike, little clock, the hour of eight! … “Comrade, can you blame me quite? The horror of the long, long night Is on me, and I’ve borne with pain So long, and hoped for help in vain. So frail am I, and blind and dazed; With scurvy sick, with silence crazed. Beneath the Arctic’s heel of hate, Avid for Death I wait, I wait. Oh, if I falter, fail to fight, Can you, dear comrade, blame me quite?”
Big Eric gave up months ago. But seldom do men suffer so. [page 95] His feet sloughed off, his fingers died, His hands shrunk up and mummified. I had to feed him like a child; Yet he was valiant, joked and smiled, Talked of his wife and little one (Thanks be to God that I have none), Passed in the night without a moan, Passed, and I’m here, alone, alone… “I’ve got to kill you, Dick. Your life for mine, you know. Better to do it quick, A swift and sudden blow. See! here’s my hand to lick; A hug before you go— God! but it makes me sick; Old dog, I love you so. Forgive, forgive me, Dick— A swift and sudden blow.” …
Often I start up in the dark, Thinking the sound of bells to hear. Often I wake from sleep: “Oh, hark! Help … it is coming … near and near.” [page 96] Blindly I reel toward the door; There the snow billows bleak and bare; Blindly I seek my den once more, Silence and darkness and despair. Oh, it is all a dreadful dream! Scurvy and cold and death and dearth; I will awake to warmth and gleam, Silvery seas and greening earth. Life is a dream, its wakening, Death, gentle shadow of God’s wing… “Tick, little clock, my life away! Even a second seems a day. Even a minute seems a year, Peopled with ghosts that press and peer Into my face so charnel white, Lit by the devilish, dancing light. Tick, little clock! mete out my fate: Tortured and tense I wait, wait.” …
Oh, I have sworn! the hour is nigh; When it strikes eight, I die, I die. [page 97] Raise up the gun—it stings my brow— When it strikes eight… all ready… now—
Down from my hand the weapon dropped; Wildly I stared…
THE CLOCK HAD STOPPED
Phantoms and fears and ghosts have gone. Peace seems to nestle in my brain. Lo! the clock stopped, I’m living on; Heart-sick I was, and less than sane, Yet do I scorn the thing I planned, Hearing a voice: “O coward, fight!” Then the clock stopped… whose was the hand? Maybe ’twas God’s—ah, well, all’s right. Heap on me darkness, fold on fold! Pain! wrench and rack me! What care I? Leap on me, hunger, thirst and cold! I will await my time to die; Looking to Heaven that shines above; Looking to God, and love… and love. [page 98]
Hark! what is that? Bells, dogs again! Is it a dream? I sob and cry. See! the door opens, fur-clad men Rush to my rescue; frail am I; Feeble and dying, dazed and glad. There is the pistol where it dropped. “Boys, it was hard—but I’m not mad… Look at the clock—it stopped, it stopped. Carry me out. The heavens smile. See! there’s an arch of gold above. Now, let me rest a little while— Looking to God and love... and love.” [page 99]
DREAMS ARE BEST
I JUST think that dreams are best, Just to sit and fancy things; Give your gold no acid test, Try not how your silver rings; Fancy women pure and good, Fancy men upright and true: Fortressed in your solitude, Let Life be a dream to you. For I think that Thought is all; Truth’s a minion of the mind; Love’s ideal comes at call; As ye seek so shall ye find. But ye must not seek too far; Things are never what they seem: Let a star be just a star, And a woman—just a dream. [page 100] O you Dreamers, proud and pure, You have gleaned the sweet of life! Golden truths that shall endure Over pain and doubt and strife. I would rather be a fool Living in my Paradise, Than the leader of a school, Sadly sane and weary-wise. O you Cynics with your sneers, Fallen brains and hearts of brass, Tweak me by my foolish ears, Write me down a simple ass! I’ll believe the real “you” Is the “you” without a taint; I’ll believe each woman, too, But a slightly damaged saint. Yes, I’ll smoke my cigarette, Vestured in my garb of dreams, And I’ll borrow no regret; All is gold that golden gleams. So I’ll charm my solitude With the faith that Life is blest, Brave and noble, bright and good… Oh, I think that dreams are best! [page 101]
WHEN you’re lost in the Wild, and you’re scared as a child, And Death looks you bang in the eye, And you’re sore as a boil, it’s according to Hoyle To cock your revolver and… die. But the Code of a Man says: “Fight all you can,” And self-dissolution is barred. In hunger and woe, oh, it’s easy to blow… It’s the hell-served-for-breakfast that’s hard. “You’re sick of the game!” Well, now, that’s a shame. You’re young and you’re brave and you’re bright. “You’ve had a raw deal!” I know—but don’t squeal, Buck up, do your damnedest, and fight. It’s the plugging away that will win you the day, So don’t be a piker, old pard! Just draw on your grit; it’s so easy to quit: It’s the keeping-your-chin-up that’s hard. [page 102] It’s easy to cry that you’re beaten—and die; It’s easy to crawfish and crawl; But to fight and to fight when hope’s ouy of sight— Why, that’s the best game of them all! And though you come out of each gruelling bout All broken and beaten and scarred, Just have one more try—it’s dead easy to die, Its’ the keeping-on-living that’s hard. [page 103]
THE COW-JUICE CURE
THE clover was in blossom, an’ the year was at the June, When Flap-jack Billy hit the town, likewise O’Flynn’s saloon. The frost was on the fodder an’ the wind was growin’ keen, When Billy got to seein’ snakes in Sullivan’s shebeen. Then in meandered Deep-hole Dan, once comrade of the cup: “Oh, Billy, for the love of Mike, why don’t ye sober up? I’ve got the gorgus recipay, ’tis smooth an’ slick as silk— Jest quit yer strangle-holt on hooch, an’ irrigate with milk. Lackteeal flooid is the lubrication you require; Yer nervus frame-up’s like a bunch of snarled piano wire. [page 104] You want to get it coated up with addypose tishoo, So’s it will work elastic-like, an’ milk’s the dope for you.” Well, Billy was complyable, an’ in a month, it’s strange, That cow-juice seemed to oppyrate a most amazin’ change. “Call up the water-wagon, Dan, an’ book my seat,” sez he. “’Tis mighty queer,” sez Deep-hole Dan, “’twas just the same with me.” They shanghaied little Tom O’Shane, they cached him safe away, An’ though he objurgated some, they “cured” him night an’ day; An’ pretty soon there came the change amazin’ to explain: “I’ll never take another drink,” sez Timothy O’Shane. They tried it out on Spike Muldoon, that toper of renown; They put it over Grouch McGraw, the terror of the town. [page 105] They roped in “tanks” from far and near, an’ every test was sure. An’ like a flame there ran the fame of Deep-hole’s Cow-juice Cure. “It’s mighty queer,” sez Deep-hole Dan, “I’m puzzled through and through; It’s only milk from Riley’s ranch, no other milk will do.” An’ it jest happened on that night, with no predictive plan, He left some milk from Riley’s ranch a-settin’ in a pan; An’ picture his amazement when he poured that milk next day— There in the bottom of the pan a dozen “colours” lay. “Well, what d’ye know ’bout that?” sez Dan; “Gosh-ding my dasted eyes, We’ve been an’ had the Gold Cure, Bill, an’ none of us was wise! The milk’s free-millin’, that’s a cinch; there’s colours everywhere. Now, let us figger this thing out—how does the dust git there? [page 106] ‘Gold from the grass-roots down,’ they say—why, Bill! we’ve got it cold— Them cows what nibbles up the grass, jest nibbles up the gold. We’re blasted, bloomin’ millionaires; dissemble an’ lie low: We’ll follow them gold-bearin’ cows, an’ prospect where they go.” An’ so it came to pass, fer weeks them miners might be found A-sneakin’ round on Riley’s ranch, an’ snipin’ at the ground; Till even Riley stops an’ stares, an’ presently allows: “Them boys appear to take a mighty interest in cows.” An’ night an’ day they shadowed each auriferous bovine, An’ panned the grass-roots on their trail, yet nivver gold they seen, An’ all that season, secret-like, they worked an’ nothin’ found; An’ there was colours in the milk, but none was in the ground. [page 107] An’ mighty desperate was they, an’ down upon their luck, When sudden, inspiration-like, the source of it they struck. An’ where d’ye think they traced it to? It grieves my heart to tell— In the black sand at the bottom of that wicked milkman’s well. [page 108]
WHILE THE BANNOCK BAKES
LIGHT up your pipe again, old chum, and sit awhile with me; I’ve got to watch the bannock bake—how restful is the air! You’d little think that we were somewhere north of Sixty-three. Though where I don’t exactly know, and don’t precisely care. The man-size mountains palisade us round on every side; The river is a-flop with fish, and ripples silver-clear; The midnight sunshine brims yon cleft—we think it’s the Divide; We’ll get there in a month, maybe, or maybe in a year. It doesn’t matter, does it, pal? We’re of that breed of men With whom the world of wine and cards and women disagree; [page 109] Your trouble was a roofless game of poker now and then, And “raising up my elbow,” that’s what got away with me. We’re merely “Undesirables,” artistic more or less; My horny hands are Chopin-wise; you quote your Browning well; And yet we’re fooling round for gold in this damned wilderness: The joke is, if we found it, we would both go straight to hell. Well, maybe we won’t find it—and at least we’ve got the “life.” We’re both as brown as berries, and could wrestle with a bear: (That bannock’s raising nicely, pal; just jab it with your knife.) Fine specimens of manhood they would reckon us out there. It’s the tracking and the packing and the poling in the sun; It’s the sleeping in the open, it’s the rugged, unfaked food; [page 110] It’s the snow-shoe and the paddle, and the campfire and the gun, And when I think of what I was, I know that it is good. Just think of how we’ve poled all day up this strange little stream; Since life began no eye of man has seen this place before; How fearless all the wild things are! the banks with goose-grass gleam, And there’s a bronzy muskrat sitting sniffing at his door. A mother duck with brood of ten comes squattering along; The tawny, white-winged ptarmigan are flying all about; And in that swirly, golden pool, a restless, gleaming throng, The trout are waiting till we condescend to take them out. Ah, yes it’s good! I’ll bet that there’s no doctor like the Wild: (Just turn that bannock over there; it’s getting nicely brown): [page 111] I might be in my grave by now, forgotten and reviled, Or rotting like a sickly cur in some far, foreign town. I might be that vile thing I was—it all seems like a dream; I owed a man a grudge one time that only life could pay; And yet it’s half-forgotten now—how petty these things seem! (But that’s “another story,” pal; I’ll tell it you some day.) How strange two “irresponsibles” should chum away up here! But round the Arctic Circle friends are few and far between. We’ve shared the same camp-fire and tent for nigh on seven year, And never had a word that wasn’t cheering and serene. We’ve halved the toil and split the spoil, and borne each other’s pack; By all the Wild’s freemasonry we’re brothers, tried and true; [page 112] We’ve swept on danger side by side, and fought it back to back, And you would die for me, old pal, and I would die for you. Now there was that time I got lost in Rory Bory Land, (How quick the blizzards sweep on one across that Polar sea!) You formed a rescue crew of One, and saw a frozen hand That stuck out of a drift of snow—and, partner, it was Me. But I got even, did I not, that day the paddle broke? White water on the Coppermine—a rock—a split canoe— Two fellows struggling in the foam (one couldn’t swim a stroke): A half-drowned man I dragged ashore… and, partner, it was You.
In Rory Borealis Land the winter’s long and black; The silence seems a solid thing, shot through with wolfish woe; [page 113] And rowelled by the eager stars the skies vault vastly back, And man seems but a little mite in that weird-lit plateau. Nothing to do but smoke and yarn of wild and misspent lives, Beside the camp-fire there we sat—what tales you told to me Of love and hate, and chance and fate, and temporary wives! In Rory Borealis Land, beside the Arctic Sea. One yarn you told me in those days I can remember still; It seemed as if I visioned it, so sharp you sketched it in; Bellona was the name, I think; a coast town in Brazil, Where nobody did anything but serenade and sin. I saw it all—the jewelled sea, the golden scythe of sand, The stately pillars of the palms, the feathery bamboo, [page 114] The red-roofed houses and the swart, sun-dominated land, The people ever children, and the heavens ever blue. You told me of that girl of yours, that blossom of old Spain, All glamour, grace and witchery, all passion, verve and glow. How maddening she must have been! You made me see her plain, There by our little camp-fire, in the silence and the snow. You loved her and she loved you. She’d a husband, too, I think; A doctor chap, you told me, whom she treated like a dog, A white man living on the beach, a hopeless slave to drink— (Just turn that bannock over there, that’s propped against the log). That story seemed to strike me, pal—it happens every day: You had to go away awhile, then somehow it befell [page 115] The doctor chap discovered, gave her up, and went away; You came back, tired of her in time… there’s nothing more to tell. Hist! see those willows silvering where swamp and river meet! Just reach me up my rifle, quick; that’s Mister Moose, I know— There now, I’ve got him dead to rights… but, hell! we’ve lots to eat; I don’t believe in taking life—we’ll let the beggar go. Heigh-ho! I’m tired; the bannock’s cooked; it’s time we both turned in. The morning mist is coral-kissed, the morning sky is gold. The camp-fire’s a confessional—what funny yarns we spin! It sort of made me think a bit, that story that you told. The fig-leaf belt and Rory Bory are such odd extremes, Yet after all how very small this old world seems to be… [page 116] Yes, that was quite a yarn, old pal, and yet to me it seems You missed the point: the point is that the “doctor chap”… was me. [page 117]
THE LOST MASTER
“AND when I come to die,” he said, “Ye shall not lay me out in state, Nor leave your laurels at my head, Nor cause your men of speech orate; No monument your gift shall be, No column in the Hall of Fame; But just this line ye grave for me: ‘He played the game.’” So when his glorious task was done, It was not of his fame we thought; It was not of his battles won, But of the pride with which he fought; But of his zest, his ringing laugh, His trenchant scorn or praise or blame: And so we graved his epitaph “He played the game.” [page 118] And so we, too, in humbler ways Went forth to fight the fight anew, And heeding neither blame nor praise, We held the course he set us true. As we, too, find the fighting sweet; And we, too, fight for fighting’s sake; And though we go down in defeat, And though our stormy hearts may break, We will not do our Master shame: We’ll play the game, please God, We’ll play the game. [page 119]
COME out, O Little Moccasins, and frolic on the snow! Come out, O tiny beaded feet, and twinkle in the light! I’ll play the old Red River reel, you used to love it so: Awake, O Little Moccasins, and dance for me to-night! Your hair was all a gleamy gold, your eyes a corn-flower blue; Your cheeks were pink as tinted shells, you stepped light as a fawn; Your mouth was like a coral bud, with seed pearls peeping through; As gladdening as Spring you were, as radiant as dawn. [page 120] Come out, O Little Moccasins! I’ll play so soft and low, The songs you loved, the old heart-songs that in my mem’ry ring; O child, I want to hear you now beside the camp-fire glow! With all your heart a-throbbing in the simple words you sing. For there was only you and I, and you were all to me; And round us were the barren lands, but little did we fear; Of all God’s happy, happy folks the happiest were we… (Oh, call her, poor old fiddle mine, and maybe she will hear!) Your mother was a half-breed Cree, but you were white all through; And I your father was—but, well, that’s neither here nor there; I only know, my little Queen, that all my world was you, And now that world can end to-night, and I will never care. [page 121] For there’s a tiny wooden cross that pricks up through the snow: (Poor Little Moccasins! you’re tired, and so you lie at rest.) And there’s a grey-haired, weary man beside the camp-fire glow: (O fiddle mine! the tears to-night are drumming on your breast.) [page 122]
THE Wanderlust has lured me to the seven lonely seas, Has dumped me on the tailing-piles of dearth; The Wanderlust has haled me from the morris chairs of ease, Has hurled me to the ends of all the earth. How bitterly I’ve cursed it, oh, the Painted Desert knows, The wraithlike heights that hug the pallid plain, The all-but-fluid silence—yet the longing grows and grows, And I’ve got to glut the Wanderlust again. Soldier, sailor, in what a plight I’ve been! Tinker, tailor, oh, what a sight I’ve seen! And I’m hitting the trail in the morning, boys, And you won’t see my heels for dust; For it’s “all day” with you When you answer the cue Of the Wan-der-lust. [page 123] The Wanderlust has got me… by the belly-aching fire, By the fever and the freezing and the pain; By the darkness that just drowns you, by the wail of home desire, I’ve tried to break the spell of it—in vain. Life might have been a feast for me, now there are only crumbs; In rags and tatters, beggar-wise I sit; Yet there’s no rest or peace for me, imperious it drums, The Wanderlust, and I must follow it. Highway, by-way, many a mile I’ve done; Rare way, fair way, many a height I’ve won; But I’m pulling my freight in the morning, boys, And it’s over the hills or bust; For there’s never a cure When you list to the lure Of the Wan-der-lust. The Wanderlust has taught me… it has whispered to my heart Things all you stay-at-homes will never know. [page 124] The white man and the savage are but three short days apart, Three days of cursing, crawling, doubt and woe. Then it’s down to chewing muclucs, to the water you can eat, To fish you bolt with nose held in your hand. When you get right down to cases, it’s King Grub that rules the races, And the Wanderlust will help you understand. Haunting, taunting, that is the spell of it; Mocking, baulking, that is the hell of it; But I’ll shoulder my pack in the morning, boys, And I’m going because I must; For it’s so-long to all When you answer the call Of the Wan-der-lust. The Wanderlust has blest me… in a ragged blanket curled, I’ve watched the gulf of Heaven foam with stars; I’ve walked with eyes wide open to the wonder of the world, I’ve seen God’s flood of glory burst its bars. [page 125] I’ve seen the gold a-blinding in the riffles of the sky, Till I fancied me a bloated plutocrat; But I’m freedom’s happy bond-slave, and I will be till I die, And I’ve got to thank the Wanderlust for that. Wild heart, child heart, all of the world your home. Glad heart, mad heart, what can you do but roam? Oh, I’ll beat it once more in the morning, boys, With a pinch of tea and a crust; For you cannot deny When you hark to the cry Of the Wan-der-lust. The Wanderlust will claim me at the finish for its own. I’ll turn my back on men and face the Pole. Beyond the Arctic outposts I will venture all alone; Some Never-never Land will be my goal. Thank God! there’s none will miss me, for I’ve been a bird of flight; [page 126] And in my moccasins I’ll take my call; For the Wanderlust has ruled me, And the Wanderlust has schooled me, And I’m ready for the darkest trail of all. Grim land, dim land, oh, how the vastness calls! Far land, star land, oh, how the stillness falls! For you never can tell if it’s heaven or hell, And I’m taking the trail on trust; But I haven’t a doubt That my soul will leap out On its Wan-der-lust. [page 127]
THE TRAPPER’S CHRISTMAS EVE
It’s mighty lonesome-like and drear. Above the Wild the moon rides high, And shows up sharp and needle-clear The emptiness of earth and sky; No happy homes with love aglow; No Santa Claus to make believe; Just snow and snow, and then more snow; It’s Christmas Eve, it’s Christmas Eve. And here am I where all things end, And Undesirables are hurled; A poor old man without a friend, Forgot and dead to all the world; Clean out of sight and out of mind… Well, maybe it is better so; We all in life our level find, And mine, I guess, is pretty low. [page 128] Again (it’s maybe forty years), With faith and trust almost divine, These same blue eyes, abrim with tears, Through depths of love look into mine. A parting, tender, soft and low, With arms that cling and lips that cleave— Ah me! it’s all so long ago, Yet seems so sweet this Christmas Eve. Just thirty years ago again… We say a bitter, last good-bye; Our lips are white with wrath and pain; Our children cling and cry. Whose was the fault? It matters not, For man and woman both deceive; It’s buried now and all forgot, Forgiven, too, this Christmas Eve. [page 129] And she (God pity me) is dead; Our children men and women grown, I like to think that they are wed, With little children of their own, That crowd around their Christmas tree… I would not ever have them grieve, Nor shed a single tear for me, To mar their joy this Christmas Eve. Stripped to the buff and gaunt and still Lies all the land in grim distress. Like lost soul wailing, long and shrill, A wolf-howl cleaves the emptiness. Then hushed as Death is everything. The moon rides haggard and forlorn… “O hark the herald angels sing!” God bless all men—it’s Christmas morn. [page 130]
THE WORLD’S ALL RIGHT
Be honest, kindly, simple true; Seek good in all, scorn but pretence; Whatever sorrow come to you, Believe in Life’s Beneficence! The World’s all right; serene I sit, And cease to puzzle over it. There’s much that’s mighty strange, no doubt; But Nature knows what she’s about; And in a million years or so We’ll know more than to-day we know. Old Evolution’s under way— What ho! the World’s all right, I say. Could things be other than they are? All’s in its place, from mote to star. The thistledown that flits and flies Could drift no hairsbreadth otherwise. What is, must be; with rhythmic laws All Nature chimes, Effect and Cause. The sand-grain and the sun obey— What ho! the World’s all right, I say. [page 131] Just try to get the Cosmic touch, The sense that “you” don’t matter much. A million stars are in the sky; A million planets plunge and die. A million million men are sped; A million million wait ahead. Each plays his part and has his day— What ho! the World’s all right, I say. Just try to get the Chemic view: A million million lives made “you.” In lives a million you will be Immortal down Eternity; Immortal on this earth to range, With never death, but ever change. You always were, and will be aye— What ho! the World’s all right, I say. Be glad! And do not blindly grope For Truth that lies beyond our scope: A sober plot informeth all Of Life’s uproarious carnival. Your day is such a little one, A gnat that lives from sun to sun; Yet gnat and you have parts to play— What ho! the World’s all right, I say. [page 132] And though it’s written from the start, Just act your best your little part. Just be as happy as you can, And serve your kind, and die—a man. Just live the good that in you lies, And seek no guerdon of the skies; Just make your Heaven here, to-day— What ho! the World’s all right, I say. Remember! in Creation’s swing The Race and not the man’s the thing. There’s battle, murder, sudden death, And pestilence, with poisoned breath. Yet quick forgotten are such woes; On, on the stream of Being flows. Truth, Beauty, Love maintain their sway— What ho! the World’s all right, I say. The World’s all right; serene I sit, And joy that I am part of it; And put my trust in Nature’s plan, And try to aid her all I can; Content to pass, if in my place I’ve served the uplift of the Race. Truth! Beauty! Love! O Radiant Day— What ho! the World’s all right, I say. [page 133]
THE BALDNESS OF CHEWED-EAR
WHEN Chewed-ear Jenkins got hitched up to Guinneyveer McGee, His flowin’ locks, ye recollect, wuz frivolous an’ free; But in old Hymen’s jack-pot, it’s a most amazin’ thing. Them flowin’ locks jest disappeared like snowballs in the Spring; Jest seemed to wilt an’ fade away like dead leaves in the Fall, An’ left old Chewed-ear balder than a white-washed cannon ball. Now Misses Chewed-ear Jenkins, that wuz Guinneyveer McGee, Wuz jest about as fine a draw as ever made a pair; But when the boys go joshin’ an’ suggested it was she That must be inflooenshul for the old man’s slump in hair— Why! Missis Chewed-ear Jenkins jest went clean up in the air. [page 134] “To demonstrate,” sez she that night, “the lovin’ wife I am, I’ve bought a dozen bottles of Bink’s Anty-Dandruff Balm. ’Twill make yer hair jest sprout an’ curl like squash-vines in the sun, An’ I propose to sling it on till every drop is done.” That hit old Chewed-ear’s funny side, so he lays back an’ hollers: “The day you raise a hair, old girl, you’ll git a thousand dollars.” Now, whether ’twas the prize or not ’tis mighty hard to say, But Chewed-ear didn’t seem to have much comfort from that day. With bottles of that dandruff dope she followed at his heels, An’ sprinkled an’ messaged him even when he ate his meals. She waked him from his beauty sleep with tender, lovin’ care, An’ rubbed an’ scrubbed assiduous, yet never sign of hair. [page 135] Well, naturally all the boys soon rumbled to the joke, An’ at the Wow-wow’s Social ’twas Cold-deck Davis spoke: “The little woman’s workin’ mighty hard on Chewed-ear’s crown; Let’s give her for a three-fifth’s share a hundred dollars down. We stand to make five hundred clear—boys, drink in whiskey straight: ‘The Chewed-ear Jenkins Hirsute Propagation Syndicate.’” The boys wuz on, an’ soon chipped in the necessary dust; They primed up a committy to negotiate the deal; Then Missis Jenkins yielded, bein’ rather in disgust, An’ all wuz signed an’ witnessed, an’ invested with a seal. They rounded up old Chewed-ear, an’ they broke it what they’d done; Allowed they’d bought an interest in his chance of raisin’ hair; [page 136] They yanked his hat off anxious-like, opinin’ one by one, Their magnifyin’-glasses showed fine prospects everywhere. They bought Harilene, an’ Thatchem, an’ Jay’s Cappillery Juice, An’ Seven Something Sisters, an’ Macassar an’ Bay Rum, An’ everyone insisted on his speshul right to sluice His speshul line of lotion onto Chewed-ear’s cranium. They only got the merrier the more the old man roared, An’ shares in “Jenkins Hirsute” went sky-highin’ on the board. The Syndicate wuz hopeful that they’d demonstrate the pay, An’ Missis Jenkins labored in her perseverin’ way. The boys discussed on “surface rights,” an’ “out-crops,” an’ so on, An’ planned to have it “crown” surveyed, an’ blueprints of it drawn.[page 137] They ran a base line, sluiced an’ yelled, an’ everyone wuz glad, Except the balance of the property, an’ he wuz “mad.” “It gives me pain,” he interjects, “to squash yer glowin’ dream, But you wuz fools when you got in on this here ‘Hirsute’ scheme. You’ll never raise a hair on me”—when lo! that very night, Preparin’ to retire, he got a most onpleasant fright: For on that shinin’ dome of his, so prominently bare, He felt the baby outcrop of a second growth of hair. A thousand dollars! Sufferin’ Caesar! Well, it must be saved! He grabbed his razor recklesslike, an’ shaved an’ shaved an’ shaved. An’ when his head wuz smooth again he gives a mighty sigh, An’ sneaks away, an’ buys some Hair Destroyer on the sly. [page 138] So there wuz Missis Jenkins with “Restorer” wagin’ fight, An’ Chewed-ear with “Destroyer” circumventin’ her at night. The battle wuz a mighty one; his nerves wuz on the strain, An’ yet in spite of all he did that hair began to gain. The situation grew intense, so quietly one day, He gave his shareholders the slip, an’ made his get-away. Jest like a criminal he skipped, an’ aimed to defalcate The Chewed-ear Jenkins Hirsute Propagation Syndicate. His guilty secret burned him, an’ he sought the city’s din: “I’ve got to get a wig,” sez he, “to cover up my sin. It’s growin’, growin’, night an’ day; it’s most amazin’ hair;” An’ when he looked at it that night, he shuddered with despair. He shuddered an’ suppressed a cry at what his optics seen— For on my word of honour, boys, that hair wuz growin’ green. [page 139] At first he guessed he’s get some dye, an’ try to dye it black; An’ then he saw ’twas Nemmysis wuz layin’ on his track. He must jest face the music, an’ confess the thing he’d done, An’ pay the boys an’ Guinneyveer the money they had won. An’ then there came a big idee—it thrilled him like a shock: Why not control the Syndicate by buyin’ up the stock? An’ so next day he hurried back with smoothly shaven pate, An’ for a hundred dollars he bought up the Syndicate. ’Twas mighty frenzied finance an’ the boys set up a roar, But “Hirsutes” from the market wuz withdrawn for evermore. An’ to this day in Nuggetsville they tell the tale how slick The Syndicate sold out too soon, and Chewed-ear turned the trick. [page 140]
THERE will be a singing in your heart, There will be a rapture in your eyes; You will be a woman set apart, You will be so wonderful and wise. You will sleep, and when from dreams you start, As of one that wakes in Paradise, There will be a singing in your heart, There will be a rapture in your eyes. There will be a moaning in your heart, There will be an anguish in your eyes; You will see your dearest ones depart, You will hear their quivering good-byes. Yours will be the heart-ache and the smart, Tears that scald and lonely sacrifice; There will be a moaning in your heart, There will be an anguish in your eyes. [page 141] There will come a glory in your eyes, There will come a peace within your heart; Sitting ’neath the quiet evening skies, Time will dry the tear and dull the smart. You will know that you have played your part; Yours shall be the love that never dies: You, with Heaven’s peace within your heart, You, with God’s own glory in your eyes. [page 142]
THE lone man gazed and gazed upon his gold, His sweat, his blood, the wage of weary days; But now how sweet, how doubly sweet to hold All gay and gleamy to the camp-fire blaze. The evening sky was sinister and cold; The willows shivered, wanly lay the snow; The uncommiserating land, so old, So worn, so grey, so niggard in its woe, Peered through its ragged shroud. The lone man sighed, Poured back the gaudy dust into its poke, Gazed at the seething river listless-eyed, Loaded his corn-cob pipe as if to smoke; Then crushed with weariness and hardship crept Into his ragged robe, and swiftly slept.
Hour after hour went by; a shadow slipped From vasts of shadow to the camp-fire flame; Gripping a rifle with a deadly aim, A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eye… [page 143]
The sleeper dreamed, and lo! this was his dream: He rode a streaming horse across a moor. Sudden ’mid pit-black night a lightning gleam Showed him a wayside inn, forlorn and poor. A sullen host unbarred the creaking door, And led him to a dim and dreary room, Wherein he sat and poked the fire a-roar, So that weird shadows jigged athwart the gloom. He ordered wine. ’Od’s blood! but he was tired. What matter! Charles was crushed and George was King; His party high in power; how he aspired! Red guineas packed his purse, too tight to ring. The firelight gleamed upon his silken hose, His silver buckles and his powdered wig. What ho! more wine! He drank, he slowly rose. What made the shadows dance that madcap jig? He clutched the candle, steered his way to bed, And in a trice was sleeping like the dead.
Across the room there crept, so shadow soft, His sullen host, with naked knife agleam, (A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eyes.) . . . And as he lay, the sleeper dreamed a dream: [page 144]
’Twas in a ruder land, a wilder day. A rival princeling sat upon his throne, Within a dungeon dark and foul he lay, With chains that bit and festered to the bone. They haled him harshly to a vaulted room, Where One gazed on him with malignant eye; And in that devil-face he read his doom, Knowing that ere the dawn-light he must die. Well, he was sorrow-glutted; let them bring Their prize assassins to the bloody work. His kingdom lost, yet would he die a king, Peerless and proud, as when he faced the Turk. Ah, God! the glory of that great Crusade! The bannered pomp, the gleam, the splendid urge! The crash of reeking combat, blade to blade! The reeling ranks, blood-avid and a-surge! For long he thought; then feeling o’er him creep Vast weariness, he fell into a sleep.
The cell door opened; soft the headsman came, Within his hand a mighty axe agleam, (A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eyes.)… And as he lay, the sleeper dreamed a dream: [page 145]
’Twas in a land unkempt, of life’s red dawn, Where in his sanded cave he dwelt alone; Sleeping by day, or sometimes worked upon His flint-head arrows and his knives of stone; By night stole forth and slew the savage boar, So that he loomed a hunter of loud fame, And many a skin of wolf and wild-cat wore, And counted many a flint-head to his name; Wherefore he walked the envy of the band, Hated and feared, but matchless in his skill. Till lo! one night deep in that shaggy land, He tracked a yearling bear and made his kill; Then over-worn he rested by a stream, And sank into a sleep too deep for dream.
Hunting his food a rival caveman crept Through those dark woods, and marked him where he lay; Cowered and crawled upon him as he slept, Poising a mighty stone aloft to slay— (A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eyes.)…
The great stone crashed. The Dreamer shrieked and woke, And saw, fear-blinded, in his dripping cell, [page 146] A gaunt and hairy man, who with one stroke Swung a great axe of steel that flashed and fell… So that he woke amid his bed-room gloom, And saw, hair-poised, a naked, thirsting knife, A gaunt and hairy man with eyes of doom— And then the blade plunged down to drink his life… So that he woke, wrenched back his robe, and looked, And saw beside his dying fire upstart A gaunt and hairy man with finger crooked— A rifle rang, a bullet searched his heart…
The morning sky was sinister and cold. Grotesque the Dreamer sprawled, and did not rise. For long and long there gazed upon some gold A gaunt and hairy man with wolfish eyes. [page 147]
THREE score and ten, the Psalmist saith, And half my course is well nigh run; I’ve had my flout at dusty death, I’ve had my whack of feast and fun. I’ve mocked at those who prate and preach; I’ve laughed with any man alive; But now with sobered heart I reach The Great Divide of Thirty-five. And looking back I must confess I’ve little cause to feel elate. I’ve played the mummer more or less; I fumbled fortune, flouted fate. I’ve vastly dreamed and little done; I’ve idly watched my brothers strive: Oh, I have loitered in the sun By primrose paths to Thirty-five! [page 148] And those who matched me in the race, Well, some are out and trampled down; The others jog with sober pace; Yet one wins delicate renown. O midnight feast and famished dawn! O gay, hard life, with hope alive! O golden youth, forever gone, How sweet you seem at Thirty-five! Each of our lives is just a book As absolute as Holy Writ; We humbly read, and may not look Ahead, nor change one word of it. And here are joys and here are pains; And here we fail and here we thrive; O wondrous volume! What remains When we reach chapter Thirty-five? The very best, I dare to hope, Ere Fate writes Finis to the tome; A wiser head, a wider scope, And for the gipsy heart, a home; A songful home, with loved ones near, With joy, with sunshine all alive: Watch me grow younger every year— Old Age! thy name is Thirty-five! [page 149]
THE cow-moose come to water, and the beaver’s overbold, The net is in the eddy of the stream; The tepee stars the vivid sward with russet, red and gold, And in the velvet gloom the fire’s agleam. The night is ripe with quiet, rich with incense of the pine; From sanctuary lake I hear the loon; The peaks are bright against the blue, and drenched with sunset wine, And like a silver bubble is the moon. Cloud-high I climbed but yesterday; a hundred miles around I looked to see a rival fire agleam, As in a crystal lens it lay, a land without a bound, All lure, and virgin vastitude, and dream. [page 150] The great sky roared exultantly, the great earth bared its breast, All river-veined and patterned with the pine; The heedless hordes of caribou were streaming to the West, A land of lustrous mystery—and mine. Yea, mine to frame my Odyssey: Oh, little do they know My conquest and the kingdom that I keep! The meadows of the musk-ox where the laughing grasses grow, The rivers where the careless conies leap. Beyond the silent Circle, where white men are fierce and few, I lord it, and I mock at man-made law; Like a flame upon the water is my little light canoe, And yonder in the fireglow is my squaw. A squaw-man! yes that’s what I am; sneer at me if you will. I’ve gone the grilling pace that cannot last; With bawdry, bridge and brandy—Oh, I’ve drunk enough to kill A dozen such as you, but that is past. [page 151] I’ve swung round to my senses, found the place where I belong; The City made a madman out of me; But here beyond the Circle, where there’s neither right or wrong, I leap from life’s straight-jacket, and I’m free. Yet ever in the far forlorn, by trails of lone desire; Yet ever in the dawn’s white leer of hate; Yet ever by the dripping kill, beside the drowsy fire, There come the fierce heart-hunger for a mate. There comes the mad blood-clamour for a woman’s clinging hand, Love-humid eyes, the velvet of a breast: And so I sought the Bonnet-plumes, and chose from out the band The girl I thought the sweetest and the best. O wistful women I have loved before my dark disgrace! O women fair and rare in my home land! [page 152] Dear ladies, if I saw you now I’d turn away my face, Then crawl to kiss your foot-prints in the sand! And yet—that day the rifle jammed—a wounded moose at bay— A roar, a charge… I faced it with my knife: A shot from out the willow-scrub, and there the monster lay… Yes, little Laughing Eyes, you saved my life. The man must have the woman, and we’re all brutes more or less, Since first the male ape shinned the family tree; And yet I think I love her with a husband’s tenderness, And yet, I know that she would die for me. Oh, if I left you, Laughing Eyes, and nevermore came back, God help you, girl! I know what you would do… I see the lake wan in the moon, and from the shadow black, There drifts a little empty birch canoe. [page 153] We’re here beyond the Circle, where there’s never wrong nor right; We aren’t spliced according to the law; But by the gods I hail you on this hushed and holy night As the mother of my children, and my squaw. I see your little slender face set in the firelight glow; I pray that I may never make it sad; I hear you croon a baby song, all slumber-soft and low— God bless you, little Laughing Eyes! I’m glad. [page 154]
HOME AND LOVE
JUST Home and Love! the words are small, Four little letters unto each; And yet you will not find it all The wide and gracious range of speech Two more so tenderly complete: When angels talk in Heaven above, I’m sure they have no words more sweet Than Home and Love. Just Home and Love! it’s hard to guess Which of the two were best to gain; Home without Love is bitterness; Love without Home is often pain. No! each alone will seldom do; Somehow they travel hand and glove: If you win one you must have two, Both Home and Love. [page 155] And if you’ve both, well, then I’m sure You ought to sing the whole day long; It doesn’t matter if you’re poor With these to make divine your song. And so I praisefully repeat, When angels talk in Heaven above, There are no words more simply sweet Than Home and Love. [page 156]
I’M SCARED OF IT ALL
I’M scared of it all, God’s truth! so I am; It’s too big and brutal for me. My nerve’s on the raw and I don’t give a damn For all the “hoorah” that I see. I’m pinned between subway and overhead train, Where automobillies swoop down: Oh, I want to go back to the timber again— I’m scared of the terrible town. I want to go back to my lean, ashen plains; My rivers that flash into foam; My ultimate valleys where solitude reigns; My trail from Fort Churchill to Nome. My forests packed full of mysterious gloom, My ice-fields agrind and aglare: The city is deadfalled with danger and doom— I know that I’m safer up there. [page 157] I watch the wan faces that flash in the street; All kinds and all classes I see. Yet never a one in the million I meet Has the smile of a comrade for me. Just jaded and panting like dogs in a pack; Just tensed and intent on the goal: O God! but I’m lonesome—I wish I was back, Up there in the land of the Pole. I wish I was back on the Hunger Plateaus, And seeking the lost caribou; I wish I was up where the Coppermine flows To the kick of my little canoe. I’d like to be far on some weariful shore, In the Land of the Blizzard and Bear; Oh, I wish I was snug in the Arctic once more, For I know I am safer up there! I prowl in the canyons of dismal unrest; I cringe—I’m so weak and so small. I can’t get my bearings, I’m crushed and oppressed With the haste and the waste of it all. [page 158] The slaves and the madmen, the lust and the sweat, The fear in the faces I see; The getting, the spending, the fever, the fret— It’s too bleeding cruel for me. I feel it’s all wrong, but I can’t tell you why— The palace, the hovel next door; The insolent towers that sprawl to the sky, The crush and the rush and the roar. I’m trapped like a fox and I fear for my pelt; I cower in the crash and the glare; Oh, I want to be back in the avalanche belt, For I know that it’s safer up there! I’m scared of it all. Oh, afar I can hear The voice of my solitudes call! We’re nothing but brute with a little veneer, And nature is best after all. There’s tumult and terror abroad in the street; There’s menace and doom in the air; I’ve got to get back to my thousand-mile, beat; The trail where the cougar and silver-tip meet; The snows and the camp-fire, with wolves at my feet; Good-bye, for it’s safer up there. [page 159] To be forming good habits up there; To be starving on rabbits up there; In your hunger and woe, Though it’s sixty below, Oh, I know that it’s safer up there! [page 160]
A SONG OF SUCCESS
Ho! we were strong, we were swift, we were brave. Youth was a challenge, and Life was a fight. All that was best in us gladly we gave, Sprang from the rally, and leapt for the height. Smiling is Love in a foam of Spring flowers: Harden our hearts to him—on let us press! Oh, what a triumph and pride shall be ours! See where it beacons, the star of success! Cares seem to crowd on us—so much to do; New friends to conquer, and time’s on the wing. Grey hairs are showing, a wrinkle or two; Somehow our footstep is losing its spring. Pleasure’s forsaken us, Love ceased to smile; Youth has been funeralled; Age travels fast. Sometimes we wonder: Is it worth while? There! we have gained to the summit at last. [page 161] Aye, we have triumphed! Now must we haste, Revel in victory… why! what is wrong? Life’s choicest vintage is flat to the taste— Are we too late? Have we laboured too long? Wealth, power, fame we hold… ah! but the truth: Would we not give this vain glory of ours For one mad, glad year of glorious youth, Life in the Springtide, and Love in the flowers? [page 162]
THE SONG OF THE CAMP-FIRE
HEED me, feed me, I am hungry, I am red-tongued with desire; Boughs of balsam, slabs of cedar, gummy faggots of the pine, Heap them on me, let me hug them to my eager heart of fire, Roaring, soaring up to heaven as a symbol and a sign. Bring me knots of sunny maple, silver birch and tamarack; Leaping, sweeping, I will lap them with my ardent wings of flame; I will kindle them to glory, I will beat the darkness back; Streaming, gleaming, I will goad them to my glory and my fame. Bring me gnarly limbs of live-oak, aid me in my frenzied fight; Strips of iron-wood, scaly blue-gum, writhing redly in my hold; [page 163] With my lunge of lurid lances, with my whips that flail the night, They will burgeon into beauty, they will foliate in gold. Let me star the dim sierras, stab with light the inland seas; Roaming wind and roaring darkness! seek no mercy at my hands; I will mock the marly heavens, lamp the purple prairies, I will flaunt my deathless banners down the far, unhouseled lands. In the vast and vaulted pine-gloom where the pillared forests frown, By the sullen, brutish rivers running where God only knows, On the starlit coral beaches when the combers thunder down, In the death-spell of the barrens, in the shudder of the snows; In a blazing belt of triumph from the palm-leaf to the pine, As a symbol of defiance, lo! the wilderness I span; And my beacons burnt exultant as an everlasting sign Of unending domination, of the mastery of Man; [page 164] I, the Life, the fierce Uplifter, I that weaned him from the mire; I, the angel and the devil; I, the tyrant and the slave; I, the Spirit of the Struggle; I, the mighty God of Fire; I, the Maker and Destroyer; I, the Giver and the Grave.
Gather round me, boy and grey-beard, frontiers-men of every kind. Few are you, and far and lonely, yet an army forms behind: By your camp-fires shall they know you, ashes scattered to the wind. Peer into my heart of solace, break your bannock at my blaze; Smoking, stretched in lazy shelter, build your castles as you gaze; Or, it may be, deep in dreaming, think of dim, unhappy days. [page 165] Let my warmth and glow caress you, for your trails are grim and hard; Let my arms of comfort press you, hunger-hewn and battle-scarred: O my lovers! how I bless you with your lives so madly marred! For you seek the silent spaces, and their secret lore you glean; For you win the savage races, and the brutish Wild you wean; And I gladden desert places, where camp-fire has never been. From the Pole unto the Tropics is there trail ye have not dared? And because you hold death lightly, so by death shall you be spared, (As the sages of the ages in their pages have declared.) On the roaring Arkilinik in a leaky bark canoe; Up the cloud of Mount McKinley, where the avalanche leaps through; In the furnace of Death Valley, when the mirage glimmers blue. [page 166] Now a smudge of wiry willows on the weary Kuskoquim; Now a flare of gummy pine-knots where Vancouver’s scaur is grim; Now a gleam of sunny ceiba, when the Cuban beaches dim. Always, always God’s Great Open: lo! I burn with keener light In the corridors of silence, in the vestibules of night; ’Mid the ferns and grasses gleaming, was there ever gem so bright? Not for weaklings, not for women, like my brother of the hearth; Ring your songs of wrath around me, I was made for manful mirth, In the lusty, gusty greatness, on the bald spots of the earth. Men, my masters! Men, my lovers! ye have fought and ye have bled; Gather round my ruddy embers, softly glowing is my bed; By my heart of solace dreaming, rest ye and be comforted! [page 167]
I am dying, O my masters! by my fitful flame ye sleep; My purple plumes of glory droop forlorn. Grey ashes choke and cloak me, and above the pines there creep The stealthy silver moccasins of morn. There comes a countless army, it’s the Legion of the Light; It tramps in gleaming triumph round the world; And before its jewelled lances all the shadows of the night Back in to abysmal darknesses are hurled. Leap to life again, my lovers! ye must toil and never tire; The day of daring, doing, brightens clear, When the bed of spicy cedar and the jovial campfire Must only be a memory of cheer. There is hope and golden promise in the vast, portentous dawn; There is glamour in the glad, effluent sky: Go and leave me; I will dream of you and love you when you’re gone; I have served you, O my masters! let me die. [page 168] A little heap of ashes, grey and sodden by the rain, Wind-scattered, blurred and blotted by the snow: Let that be all to tell of me, and glorious again, Ye things of greening gladness, leap and glow! A black scar in the sunshine by the palm-leaf or the pine, Blind to the night and dead to all desire; Yet oh, of life and uplift what a symbol and a sign! Yet oh, of power and conquest what a destiny is mine! A little heap of ashes—Yea! a miracle divine, The foot-print of a god, all-radiant Fire. [page 169]
“I’M taking pen in hand this night, and hard it is for me; My poor old fingers tremble so, my hand is stiff and slow, And even with my glasses on I’m troubled sore to see… You’d little know your mother, boy; you’d little, little know. You mind how brisk and bright I was, how straight and trim and smart; ’Tis weariful I am the now, and bent and frail and grey. I’m waiting at the road’s end, lad; and all that’s in my heart, Is just to see my boy again before I’m called away. [page 170] “Oh, well I mind the sorry day you crossed the gurly sea; ’Twas like the heart was torn from me, a waeful wife was I. You said that you’d be home again in two years, maybe three; But nigh a score of years have gone, and still the years go by. I know it’s cruel hard for you, you’ve bairnies of your own; I know the siller’s hard to win, and folks have used you ill: But oh, think of your mother, lad, that’s waiting by her lone! And even if you canna come—just write and say you will. “Aye, even though there’s little hope, just promise that you’ll try. It’s weary, weary waiting, lad; just say you’ll come next year. I’m thinking there will be no ‘next’; I’m thinking soon I’ll lie With all the ones I’ve laid away… but oh, the hope will cheer! [page 171] You know you’re all that’s left to me, and we are seas apart; But if you’ll only say you’ll come, then will I hope and pray. I’m waiting by the grave-side, lad; and all that’s in my heart Is just to see my boy again before I’m called away.” [page 172]
THE MAN WHO KNEW
THE Dreamer visioned Life as it might be,
And from his dream forthright a picture grew,
A painting all the people thronged to see,
And joyed therein—till came the Man Who Knew,
Saying: “ ’Tis bad! Why do ye gape, ye fools?
He painteth not according to the schools.”
The Dreamer probed Life’s mystery of woe,
And in a book he sought to give the clue;
The people read, and saw that it was so,
And read again—then came the Man Who Knew,
Saying: “Ye witless ones! this book is vile:
It hath not got the rudiments of style.” [page 173]
Love smote the Dreamer’s lips, and silver-clear
He sang a song so sweet, so tender true,
That all the market-place was thrilled to hear,
And listened rapt—till came the Man Who Knew,
Saying: “His technique’s wrong; he singeth ill.
Waste not your time.” The singer’s voice was still.
And then the people roused as if from sleep,
Crying: “What care we if it be not Art!
Hath he not charmed us, made us laugh and weep?
Come, let us crown him where he sits apart.”
Then, with his picture spurned, his book unread,
His song unsung, they found their Dreamer—dead. [page 174]
IN the moonless, misty night, with my little pipe alight, I am sitting by the camp-fire’s fading cheer; Oh, the dew is falling chill on the dim, deer-haunted hill, And the breakers in the bay are moaning drear. The toilful hours are sped, the boys are long abed, And I alone a weary vigil keep; In the sightless, sullen sky I can hear the night-hawk cry, And the frogs in frenzied chorus from the creek. And somehow the ember’s glow brings me back the long ago, The days of merry laughter and light song; When I sped the hours away with the gayest of the gay In the giddy whirl of fashion’s festal throng. [page 175] Oh, I ran a grilling race and I little recked the pace, For the lust of youth ran riot in my blood; But at last I made a stand in this God-forsaken land Of the pine-tree and the mountain and the flood. And now I’ve got to stay, with an overdraft to pay For pleasure in the past with future pain; And I’m not the chap to whine, for if the chance were mine I know I’d choose the old life once again. With its woman’s eyes ashine, and its flood of golden wine; Its fever and its frolic and its fun; The old life with its din, its laughter and its sin— And chuck me in the gutter when it’s done. Ah, well! it’ past and gone, and the memory is wan, That conjures up each old familiar face; [page 176] And here by fortune hurled, I am dead to all the world, And I’ve learned to lose my pride and keep my place. My ways are hard and rough, and my arms are strong and tough, And I hew the dizzy pine till darkness falls; And sometimes I take a dive, just to keep my heart alive, Among the gay saloons and dancing-halls. In the distant, dinful town just a little drink, to drown The cares that crowd and canker in my brain; Just a little joy to still set my pulses all athrill, Then back to brutish labour once again. And things will go on so until one day I shall know That Death has got me cinched beyond a doubt; Then I’ll crawl away from sight, and morosely in the night My weary, wasted life will peter out. Then the boys will gather round, and they’ll launch me in the ground, And pile on stones the timber wolf to foil; [page 177] And the moaning pine will wave overhead a nameless grave, Where the blacksnake in the sunshine loves to coil. And they’ll leave me there alone, and perhaps with softened tone Speak of me sometimes in the camp-fire’s glow, As a played-out, broken chum, who has gone to Kingdom Come, And who went the pace in England long ago. [page 178]
THE PASSING OF THE YEAR
My glass is filled, my pipe is lit, My den is all a cosy glow; And snug before the fire I sit, And wait to feel the old year go. I dedicate to solemn thought Amid my too-unthinking days, This sober moment, sadly fraught With much of blame, with little praise. Old Year! upon the Stage of Time You stand to bow your last adieu; A moment, and the prompter’s chime Will ring the curtain down on you. Your mien is sad, your step is slow; You falter as a Sage in pain; Yet turn, Old Year, before you go, And face your audience again. [page 179] That sphynx-like face, remote, austere, Let us all read, whete’er the cost: O Maiden! why that bitter tear? Is it for dear one you have lost? Is it for fond illusion gone? For trusted lover proved untrue? O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan, What hath the Old Year meant to you? And you, O neighbour on my right, So sleek, so prosperously clad! What see you in that aged wight That makes your smile so gay and glad? What opportunity unmissed? What golden gain, what pride of place? What splendid hope? O Optimist! What read you in that withered face? And you, deep shrinking in the gloom, What find you in that filmy gaze? What menace of a tragic doom? What dark, condemning yesterdays? What urge to crime, what evil done? What cold, confronting shape of fear? O haggard, haunted, hidden One, What see you in the dying year? [page 180] And so from face to face I flit, The countless eyes that stare and stare; Some are with approbation lit, And some are shadowed with despair. Some show a smile and some a frown; Some joy and hope, some pain and woe: Enough! Oh, ring that curtain down! Old weary year! it’s time to go. My pipe is out, my glass is dry; My fire is almost ashes too; But one again, before you go, And I prepare to meet the New: Old Year! a parting word that’s true, For we’ve been comrades, you and I— I thank God for each day of you; There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye! [page 181]
SMITH, great writer of stories, drank; found it immortalized his pen; Fused in his brain-pan, else a blank heavens of glory now and then; Gave him the magical genius touch; God-given power to gouge out, fling Flat in your face a soul-thought—Bing! Twiddle your heart-strings in his clutch. “Bah!” said Smith, “let my body lie stripped to the buff in swinish shame, If I can blaze in the radiant sky out of adoring stars my name. Sober am I nonentitized; drunk am I more than half a god. Well, let the flesh be sacrificed; spirit shall speak and shame the clod. Who would not gladly, gladly give Life to do one thing that will live?” [page 182] Smith had a friend, we’ll call him Brown; dearer than brothers were those two. When in the wassail Smith would drown, Brown would rescue and pull him through. When Brown was needful Smith would lend; so it fell as the years went by, Each on the other would depend: then at the last Smith came to die. There Brown sat in the sick man’s room, still as a stone in his despair; Smith bent on him his eyes of doom, shook back his lion mane of hair; Said: “Is there one in my chosen line, writer of forthright tales, my peer? Look in that little desk of mine; there is a package, bring it here. Story of stories, gem of all; essence and triumph, key and clue; Tale of a loving woman’s fall; soul swept hell-ward, and God! it’s true. I was the man—Oh, yes, I’ve paid, paid with mighty and mordant pain. Look! here’s the masterpiece I’ve made out of my sin, my manhood slain. [page 183] Art supreme! yet the world would stare, know my mistress and blaze my shame. I have a wife and daughter—there! take it and thrust it in the flame.” Brown answered: “Master, you have dipped pen in your heart, your phrases sear. Ruthless, unflinching, you have stripped naked your soul and set it here. Have I not loved you well and true? See! between us the shadows drift; This bit of blood and tears means You—oh, let me have it, a parting gift. Sacred I’ll hold it, a trust divine; sacred your honour, her dark despair; Never shall it see printed line: here, by the living God I swear.” Brown on a Bible laid his hand; Smith, great writer of stories, sighed: “Comrade, I trust you, and understand. Keep my secret!” And so he died. Smith was buried—upsoared his sales; lured you his books in every store; Exquisite, whimsy, heart-wrung tales; men devoured them and craved for more. [page 184] So when it slyly got about Brown had a posthumous manuscript, Jones, the publisher, sought him out, into his pocket deep he dipped. “A thousand dollars?” Brown shook his head. “The story is not for sale,” he said. Jones went away, then others came. Tempted and taunted, Brown was true. Guarded at friendship’s shrine, the fame of the unpublished story grew and grew. It’s a long, long lane that has no end, but some lanes end in the Potter’s field; Smith to Brown had been more than friend: patron, protector, spur and shield. Poor, loving-wistful, dreamy Brown, long and lean, with a smile askew, Friendless he wandered up and down, gaunt as a wolf, as hungry, too. Brown with his lilt of saucy rhyme, Brown with his tilt of tender mirth, Garretless in the gloom and grime, singing his glad, mad songs of earth: So at last with a faith divine, down and down to the Hunger-line. [page 185] There as he stood in a woeful plight, tears a-freeze on his sharp cheek-bones, Who should chance to behold his plight but the publisher, the plethoric Jones; Peered at him for a little while, held out a bill: “Now, will you sell?” Brown scanned it with his twisted smile: “A thousand dollars! you go to hell!” Brown enrolled in the homeless host, sleeping anywhere, anywhen; Suffered, strove, became a ghost, slave of the lamp for other men; For What’s-his-name and So-and-so in the abyss his soul he stripped, Yet in his want, his worst of woe, held he fast to the manuscript. Then one day as he chewed his pen, half in hunger and half despair, Creaked the door of his garret den; Dick, his brother, was standing there. Down on the pallet bed he sank, ashen his face, his voice a wail: “Save me, brother! I’ve robbed the bank; to-morrow it’s ruin, capture, gaol. [page 186] Yet there’s a chance: I would to-day pay back the money, save our name; You have a manuscript, they say, worth a thousand—think man! the shame…” Brown with his heart pain-pierced the while, with his stern, starved face, and his lips stone-pale, Shuddered and smiled his twisted smile: “Brother, I guess you go to gaol.” While poor Brown in the leer of dawn wrestled with God for the sacred fire, Came there a woman weak and wan, out of the mob, the murk, the mire; Frail as a reed, a fellow ghost, weary with woe, with sorrowing; Two pale souls in the legion lost; lo! Love bent with a tender wing, Taught them a joy so deep, so true, it seemed that the whole world-fabric shook, Thrilled and dissolved in radiant dew: then Brown made him a golden book, Full of the faith that Life is good, that the earth is a dream divinely fair, Lauding his gem of womanhood, in many a lyric rich and rare; Took it to Jones, who shook his head: “I will consider it,” he said. [page 187] While he considered, Brown’s wife lay clutched in the tentacles of pain; Then came the doctor, grave and gray; spoke of decline, of nervous strain; Hinted Egypt, the South of France—Brown with terror was tiger-gripped. Where was the money? What the chance? Pitiful God! … the manuscript! A thousand dollars—his only hope! He gazed and gazed at the garret wall… Reached at last for the envelope, turned to his wife and told her all. Told of his friend, his promise true; told like his very heart would break; “Oh, my dearest! what shall I do? Shall I not sell it for your sake?” Ghostlike she lay, as still as doom; turned to the wall her weary head; Icy-cold in the pallid gloom, silent as death… at last she said: “Do, my husband! Keep your vow! Guard his secret and let me die… Oh, my dear, I must tell you now—the woman he loved and wronged was I; Darling! I haven’t long to live: I never told you—forgive, forgive!” [page 188] For a long, long time Brown did not speak; sat bleak-browed in the wretched room; Slowly a tear stole down his cheek, and he kissed her hand in the dismal gloom. To break his oath, to brand her shame; his well-loved friend, his worshipped wife; To keep his vow, to save her name, yet at the cost of what? Her life! A moment’s space did he hesitate, a moment of pain and dread and doubt, Then he broke the seals and, stern as fate, unfolded the sheets and spread them out… On his knees by her side he limply sank, peering amazed—each page was blank. (For oh, the supremest of our art are the stories we do not dare to tell, Locked in the silence of the heart, for the awful records of Heav’n and Hell.) Yet those two in the silence there seemed less weariful than before. Hark! a step on the garret stair, a postman knocks at the flimsy door. “Registered letter!” Brown thrills with fear; opens and reads, then bends above: “Glorious tidings! Egypt, dear! The book is accepted—life and love!” [page 189]
GOOD-BYE, LITTLE CABIN
O DEAR little cabin, I’ve loved you so long, And now I must bid you good-bye! I’ve filled you with laughter, I’ve thrilled you with song, And sometimes I’ve wished I could cry. Your walls they have witnessed a weariful fight, And rung to a won Waterloo: But oh, in my triumph I’m dreary to-night— Good-bye, little cabin, to you! Your roof is bewhiskered, your floor is aslant, Your walls seem to sag and to swing; I’m trying to find just your faults, but I can’t— You poor, tired, heart-broken old thing! I’ve seen when you’ve been the best friend that I had, Your light like a gem on the snow; You’re sort of a part of me—Gee! but I’m sad; I hate, little cabin, to go. [page 190] Below your cracked window red raspberries climb; A hornet’s nest hangs from a beam; Your rafters are scribbled with adage and rhyme, And dimmed with tobacco and dream. “Each day has its laugh,” and “Don’t worry, just work.” Such mottoes reproachfully shine. Old calendars dangle—what memories lurk About you, dear cabin of mine! I hear the world-call and the clang of the fight; I hear the hoarse cry of my kind; Yet well do I know, as I quit you to-night, It’s Youth that I’m leaving behind. And often I’ll think of you, empty and black, Moose antlers nailed over your door: Oh, if I should perish my ghost will come back To dwell in you, cabin, once more! How cold, still and lonely, how weary you seem! A last wistful look and I’ll go. Oh, will you remember the lad with his dream! The lad that you comforted so. [page 191] The shadows enfold you, it’s drawing to night; The evening star needles the sky: And huh! but it’s stinging and stabbing my sight— God bless you, old cabin, good-bye! [page 192]
HEART O’ THE NORTH
AND when I come to the dim trail-end, I who have been Life’s rover, This is all I would ask, my friend, Over and over and over: A little space on a stony hill, With never another near me, Sky o’ the North that’s vast and still, With a single star to cheer me; Star that gleams on a moss-grey stone Graven by those who love me— There would I lie alone, alone, With a single pine above me; Pine that the north wind whinnies through— Oh, I have been Life’s lover, But there I’d lie and listen to Eternity passing over. [page 193]
THE SCRIBE’S PRAYER
When from my fumbling hand the tired pen falls, And in the twilight weary droops my head; While to my quiet heart a still voice calls, Calls me to join my kindred of the Dead: Grant that I may, O Lord, ere rest be mine, Write to Thy praise one radiant, ringing line. For all of worth that in this clay abides, The leaping rapture and the ardent flame, The hope, the high resolve, the faith that guides; All, all is Thine, and liveth in Thy name: Lord, have I dallied with the sacred fire! Lord, have I trailed Thy glory in the mire! E’en as a toper from the dram-shop reeling, Sees in his garret’s blackness, dazzling fair, All that he might have been, and, heart-sick, kneeling, Sobs in the passion of a vast despair: So my ideal self haunts me alway— When the accounting comes, how shall I pay? [page 194] For in the dark I grope, nor understand; And in my heart fight selfishness and sin: Yet, Lord, I do not seek Thy helping hand; Rather let me my own salvation win: Let me through strife and penitential pain Onward and upward to the heights attain. Yea, let me live my life, its meaning seek; Bear myself fitly in the ringing fight; Strive to be strong that I may aid the weak; Dare to be true—O God! the Light, the Light! Cometh the Dark so soon? I’ve mocked Thy word, Yet do I know Thy Love: have mercy, Lord.
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