Ballads of a Cheechako

Robert W. Service

The Ballad of Pious Pete

     "The North has got him." --Yukonism.

I tried to refine that neighbor of mine, honest to God, I did.
I grieved for his fate, and early and late I watched over him like a kid.
I gave him excuse, I bore his abuse in every way that I could;
I swore to prevail; I camped on his trail;
  I plotted and planned for his good.
By day and by night I strove in men's sight to gather him into the fold,
With precept and prayer, with hope and despair,
  in hunger and hardship and cold.
I followed him into Gehennas of sin, I sat where the sirens sit;
In the shade of the Pole, for the sake of his soul,
  I strove with the powers of the Pit.
I shadowed him down to the scrofulous town;
  I dragged him from dissolute brawls;
But I killed the galoot when he started to shoot electricity into my walls.

God knows what I did he should seek to be rid
  of one who would save him from shame.
God knows what I bore that night when he swore
  and bade me make tracks from his claim.
I started to tell of the horrors of hell,
  when sudden his eyes lit like coals;
And "Chuck it," says he, "don't persecute me
  with your cant and your saving of souls."
I'll swear I was mild as I'd be with a child,
  but he called me the son of a slut;
And, grabbing his gun with a leap and a run,
  he threatened my face with the butt.
So what could I do (I leave it to you)? With curses he harried me forth;
Then he was alone, and I was alone, and over us menaced the North.

Our cabins were near; I could see, I could hear;
  but between us there rippled the creek;
And all summer through, with a rancor that grew,
  he would pass me and never would speak.
Then a shuddery breath like the coming of Death
  crept down from the peaks far away;
The water was still; the twilight was chill; the sky was a tatter of gray.
Swift came the Big Cold, and opal and gold the lights of the witches arose;
The frost-tyrant clinched, and the valley was cinched
  by the stark and cadaverous snows.
The trees were like lace where the star-beams could chase,
  each leaf was a jewel agleam.
The soft white hush lapped the Northland and wrapped
  us round in a crystalline dream;
So still I could hear quite loud in my ear
  the swish of the pinions of time;
So bright I could see, as plain as could be,
  the wings of God's angels ashine.

As I read in the Book I would oftentimes look
  to that cabin just over the creek.
Ah me, it was sad and evil and bad, two neighbors who never would speak!
I knew that full well like a devil in hell
  he was hatching out, early and late,
A system to bear through the frost-spangled air
  the warm, crimson waves of his hate.
I only could peer and shudder and fear--'twas ever so ghastly and still;
But I knew over there in his lonely despair
  he was plotting me terrible ill.
I knew that he nursed a malice accurst,
  like the blast of a winnowing flame;
I pleaded aloud for a shield, for a shroud--Oh, God! then calamity came.

Mad! If I'm mad then you too are mad; but it's all in the point of view.
If you'd looked at them things gallivantin' on wings,
  all purple and green and blue;
If you'd noticed them twist, as they mounted and hissed
  like scorpions dim in the dark;
If you'd seen them rebound with a horrible sound,
  and spitefully spitting a spark;
If you'd watched IT with dread, as it hissed by your bed,
  that thing with the feelers that crawls--
You'd have settled the brute that attempted to shoot
  electricity into your walls.

Oh, some they were blue, and they slithered right through;
  they were silent and squashy and round;
And some they were green; they were wriggly and lean;
  they writhed with so hateful a sound.
My blood seemed to freeze; I fell on my knees;
  my face was a white splash of dread.
Oh, the Green and the Blue, they were gruesome to view;
  but the worst of them all were the Red.
They came through the door, they came through the floor,
  they came through the moss-creviced logs.
They were savage and dire; they were whiskered with fire;
  they bickered like malamute dogs.
They ravined in rings like iniquitous things;
  they gulped down the Green and the Blue.
I crinkled with fear whene'er they drew near,
  and nearer and nearer they drew.

And then came the crown of Horror's grim crown,
  the monster so loathsomely red.
Each eye was a pin that shot out and in, as, squidlike, it oozed to my bed;
So softly it crept with feelers that swept
  and quivered like fine copper wire;
Its belly was white with a sulphurous light,
  it jaws were a-drooling with fire.
It came and it came; I could breathe of its flame,
  but never a wink could I look.
I thrust in its maw the Fount of the Law; I fended it off with the Book.
I was weak--oh, so weak--but I thrilled at its shriek,
  as wildly it fled in the night;
And deathlike I lay till the dawn of the day.
  (Was ever so welcome the light?)

I loaded my gun at the rise of the sun; to his cabin so softly I slunk.
My neighbor was there in the frost-freighted air,
  all wrapped in a robe in his bunk.
It muffled his moans; it outlined his bones, as feebly he twisted about;
His gums were so black, and his lips seemed to crack,
  and his teeth all were loosening out.
'Twas a death's head that peered through the tangle of beard;
  'twas a face I will never forget;
Sunk eyes full of woe, and they troubled me so
  with their pleadings and anguish, and yet
As I rested my gaze in a misty amaze on the scurvy-degenerate wreck,
I thought of the Things with the dragon-fly wings,
  then laid I my gun on his neck.
He gave out a cry that was faint as a sigh, like a perishing malamute,
And he says unto me, "I'm converted," says he;
  "for Christ's sake, Peter, don't shoot!"

     * * * * *

They're taking me out with an escort about, and under a sergeant's care;
I am humbled indeed, for I'm 'cuffed to a Swede
  that thinks he's a millionaire.
But it's all Gospel true what I'm telling to you--
  up there where the Shadow falls--
That I settled Sam Noot when he started to shoot electricity into my walls.

©1909 by Robert W. Service

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