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