YELLOW FEVER a short yukon mystery by John F. Dobbyn
Posted on November 6, 2013
YELLOW FEVER appeared in ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE in August, 1979
Here is the first insatallment:
John F. Dobbyn
A Yukon night could still your soul
In the peace of a glacial tomb,
Or else it could rage like the anger of God,
Till you’d wish you were back in the womb.
And such was the night that I woke in a fright,
For the wind seemed to rattle the floor:
But over the din, I heard more than the wind,
So I carried the lamp to the door.
I lifted the latch and the wind did the rest,
As it slammed the door back to the wall.
And there on the ground was the snow-crusted form
Of a man who was too weak to crawl.
I hauled him inside to the warmth of the fire,
And stripped off his ice-laden clothes.
He’d a face that was hair except for a scar
That the frost cut from ear-lobe to nose.
I fetched him a cup of the broth from the pot
To thaw out his limbs that were numb.
But he lifted a hand, and he whispered, “Whoa, Doc.
If you’ve got it, I’d sooner have rum.”
I poured him a glass of that yellowish stuff
That the natives bring back from the south.
He hoisted himself, and he drained every drop
Until streams of it ran from his mouth.
Then he stiffened as if in the grip of some pain,
And he pointed a hand at his leg.
“It’s busted up, Doc. Can you fix it?” he said.
Then he passed out as cold as a keg.
I chipped through the ice that was crusted rock-hard
On his leg like a crystal clear case:
And I fashioned a splint out of branches of wood,
Tied with rope like a pioneer’s brace.
Anaesthetic was scarce, so I hustled about
To be finished before he came to.
By the time that he stirred, I had fashioned a cast
From his hip to the top of his shoe.
He was dishwater weak when he started to speak,
And exhausted in belly and bone,
But I spooned and he chewed on some pemmican stew
Till he sat up and ate on his own.
And he ate till I thought that he’d bust if he sneezed,
And the color came back to his skin.
Then he lit up a pipe, and I swear through the hair
You could count every tooth for the grin.
“You’ve got reason to grin. You’ve the look of a man
Who’s seen Hell and come through it, “I said.
He looked up and he told me, “If Hell were on ice,
You’d have hit the nail right on the head.”
Then he straightened and said, “You’ve done good for me, Doc,
And I hate to repay good with bad.
But the news that I’ve got is just eating me up.
And delaying won’t make it less sad.
It was back in the spring, I’d come in from the traps
For a fling at the bars and the games.
I was down to the last of the cash from the furs
What with whiskey and girls without names.
So I figured I’d blow it the rest of the way
At a table of gentleman’s stud.
The stakes were OK when we started to play,
But we ended up playing for blood.
TUNE IN NEXT WEDNESDAY FOR THE NEXT INSTALLMENT!