YELLOW FEVER (Installment Four)

We had four starving dogs for a trip that took nine,
And though Jim was not one to complain,
I could see by the flinches he’d make that the pain
Must have driven him nearly insane.
For a month we went on, and it started to look
Like we’d make it, though not by a lot.
Then the final blow came, and I’ll tell it true, Doc,
And then you can believe it or not.
I had hitched up the dogs for the day’s trek ahead
And turned back to help Jim on the sled,
When the dogs caught a scent and went panicking off,
And I fell in the trace on my head.
The next thing I knew I was caught by the sled
With my leg in a strange kind of bend.
I yelled at the dogs, but before they could stop,
I was tumbling end over end.
When everything stopped, I could feel through the clothes,
That my leg was as bad off as Jim’s.
So I tied it in splints with some wood from the sled
Till at last I could stand on two limbs.
But standing was all I could possibly do.
I could never have run in the tread:
And the dogs couldn’t carry us both on the sled.
If we tried it, we’d both wind up dead.
And that’s when we turned to the fates for a choice,
‘Cause we knew only one could get back.
We’d settle who’d stay and who’d go by the cards
So Jim reached in his shirt for a pack.
We both held our breath, and we both cut the cards
To see who would come through this alive.
You brother went first and came up with a three,
And I’m here because I drew a five.
Now that’s the truth, Doc, and this here was Jim’s deck.
I told you all this so’s you’d know
That we worked it out fair, ‘cause it could have been me
That was buried back there in the snow.”

I was numbed when he said that my brother was dead.
Little Jimmy and I were good friends.
We had loved one another in spite of the fact
That our lives led to different ends.
I picked up the cards that the stranger brought back
And riffed them like Jim in a wave.
Then I looked at each card, and I found as I did,
A demand for revenge from the grave.
Now the stanger said ”Doc, I’m obliged for your help.
I’ll be leaving for Dawson at dawn.”
I had all I could do to retain my control
When I thought of him here and Jim gone.
And I’ve got to admit that if thoughts could destroy,
I had thoughts that could blast him to hell.
But I thought of the oath that I swore as a doc,
And a God-fearing doctor as well.
So I looked in his eye with the kind of a look
That says “Listen! I won’t say this twice.”
And my voice had a kind of deliberate calm,
But it held him as if in a vice.
“I’ve got two things to say, and the first one is this.
You’re not leaving this cabin at dawn.
You’ve lost blood by the quart. If those stitches come loose,
Then the little that’s left will be gone.
And the second is this. There’s a lawman due by,
And I’m turning you over to him.
By the time he gets here, you’ll be able to leave
To stand trial for the murder of Jim.”

Tune in next WEDNESDAY for the FIFTH and FINAL
NOTE: the first three installments are just below this. Scroll down if you’ve missed them.