The Ballad of Blasphemous Bill

by Robert W. Service

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