YELLOW FEVER (third installment)

We shortened the turns that we’d drive and then ride,
And it helped to keep us on the go,
But the dogs were exhausted from hunger and strain,
And at night they’d collapse in the snow.
They were mean to begin, but that hunger and strain
Made them meaner than wolves in a trap,
Till if anything came within range of their jaws,
You could feel the air shake with their snap.
Jim was hitching the harness on dog number three,
When the second dog sprang from its place.
Jim was knocked to the ground by a white twisting mound
And its teeth found the side of Jim’s face.
Then the others saw blood, and the passions that sleep
In a dog with a wolf for its seed
Overcame their restraint, and before I could move,
All the dogs were on Jim for a feed.
He’d have died on the spot but for one saving thought.
With his hand he could just reach his knife,
And he plunged in the blade till his hand met the fur,
And the dog at his throat lost its life.
Then with all of the strength that was left in his arms,
He raised that dead load to the sky.
He flung it away, and the rest of the dogs
Set upon it with blood in their eye.
That held their attention, and thank God for that.
They were drawn off of Jim for a spell,
But when Jim tried to walk, he collapsed to the ground,
And the pain in his leg drew a yell.
We cut open his pants, and I knew at a glance
It was broke by the jaws of a dog.
So from then till the end, it was me in the tread,
While Jim rode on the sled like a log.
Between hunger and cold, and exhaustion and pain,
I was close to the point of defeat,
But the call of the gold, like a deafening shout,
Said, ‘You’ll lose me if once you retreat.’
It’s a sickness, I know, but it’s got me for good.
And if God laid the choice on the line
Between life evermore and the gold here and now,
The last of the two would be mine.
It was all of a month, plus or minus a day,
Since the accident happened to Jim,
When the crests of the peaks that were shown on the map
First appeared – snowy, ghostlike, and dim.
I whipped on the dogs, though I knew they were spent
Cause my lust for the gold couldn’t wait,
And in less than two days we were into the hills
That were marked on the map as ‘The Gate’.
The map led through passes so hidden and steep
That I’d bet every nugget we found
That the quest for each line on that wrinkled old map
Had put many a man underground.
But we stuck with it, Doc, and you’ll know that it’s true
If you look in my eyes when I say
We found it! We struck it! Dear God, it was there!
I’d have given my life for that day.
Well I staked out the spot, and I’ll file on the land
When I make it to Dawson next week.
But the story’s not over. The worst of the trip
Was the trail that led back from that peak.