The Ballad of Pious Pete

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The Ballad of Pious Pete
by Robert W. Service
Collected in Ballads of a Cheechako

The Ballad of Pious Pete[edit]

     “The North has got him.” — Yukonism.

I tried to refine that neighbor of mine, honest to God, I did.
I grieved for his fate, and early and late I watched over him like a kid.

I gave him excuse, I bore his abuse in every way that I could;
I swore to prevail; I camped on his trail; I plotted and planned for his good.
By day and by night I strove in men’s sight to gather him into the fold,
With precept and prayer, with hope and despair, in hunger and hardship and cold.
I followed him into Gehennas of sin, I sat where the sirens sit;
In the shade of the Pole, for the sake of his soul, I strove with the powers of the Pit.
I shadowed him down to the scrofulous town; I dragged him from dissolute brawls;
But I killed the galoot when he started to shoot electricity into my walls.

God knows what I did he should seek to be rid of one who would save him from shame.
God knows what I bore that night when he swore and bade me make tracks from his claim.
I started to tell of the horrors of hell, when sudden his eyes lit like coals;
And “Chuck it,” says he, “don’t persecute me with your cant and your saving of souls.”
I’ll swear I was mild as I’d be with a child, but he called me the son of a slut;
And, grabbing his gun with a leap and a run, he threatened my face with the butt.
So what could I do (I leave it to you)? With curses he harried me forth;
Then he was alone, and I was alone, and over us menaced the North.

Our cabins were near; I could see, I could hear; but between us there rippled the creek;
And all summer through, with a rancor that grew, he would pass me and never would speak.
Then a shuddery breath like the coming of Death crept down from the peaks far away;
The water was still; the twilight was chill; the sky was a tatter of gray.
Swift came the Big Cold, and opal and gold the lights of the witches arose;
The frost-tyrant clinched, and the valley was cinched by the stark and cadaverous snows.
The trees were like lace where the star-beams could chase, each leaf was a jewel agleam.
The soft white hush lapped the Northland and wrapped us round in a crystalline dream;
So still I could hear quite loud in my ear the swish of the pinions of time;
So bright I could see, as plain as could be, the wings of God’s angels ashine.

As I read in the Book I would oftentimes look to that cabin just over the creek.
Ah me, it was sad and evil and bad, two neighbors who never would speak!
I knew that full well like a devil in hell he was hatching out, early and late,
A system to bear through the frost-spangled air the warm, crimson waves of his hate.
I only could peer and shudder and fear — ’twas ever so ghastly and still;

But I knew over there in his lonely despair he was plotting me terrible ill.
I knew that he nursed a malice accurst, like the blast of a winnowing flame;
I pleaded aloud for a shield, for a shroud — Oh, God! then calamity came.

Mad! If I’m mad then you too are mad; but it’s all in the point of view.
If you’d looked at them things gallivantin’ on wings, all purple and green and blue;
If you’d noticed them twist, as they mounted and hissed like scorpions dim in the dark;
If you’d seen them rebound with a horrible sound, and spitefully spitting a spark;
If you’d watched it with dread, as it hissed by your bed, that thing with the feelers that crawls —
You’d have settled the brute that attempted to shoot electricity into your walls.

Oh, some they were blue, and they slithered right through; they were silent and squashy and round;
And some they were green; they were wriggly and lean; they writhed with so hateful a sound.
My blood seemed to freeze; I fell on my knees; my face was a white splash of dread.

Oh, the Green and the Blue, they were gruesome to view; but the worst of them all were the Red.
They came through the door, they came through the floor, they came through the moss-creviced logs.
They were savage and dire; they were whiskered with fire; they bickered like malamute dogs.
They ravined in rings like iniquitous things; they gulped down the Green and the Blue.
I crinkled with fear whene’er they drew near, and nearer and nearer they drew.

And then came the crown of Horror’s grim crown, the monster so loathsomely red.
Each eye was a pin that shot out and in, as, squidlike, it oozed to my bed;
So softly it crept with feelers that swept and quivered like fine copper wire;
Its belly was white with a sulphurous light, it jaws were a-drooling with fire.
It came and it came; I could breathe of its flame, but never a wink could I look.
I thrust in its maw the Fount of the Law; I fended it off with the Book.
I was weak — oh, so weak — but I thrilled at its shriek, as wildly it fled in the night;
And deathlike I lay till the dawn of the day. (Was ever so welcome the light?)

I loaded my gun at the rise of the sun; to his cabin so softly I slunk.
My neighbor was there in the frost-freighted air, all wrapped in a robe in his bunk.

It muffled his moans; it outlined his bones, as feebly he twisted about;
His gums were so black, and his lips seemed to crack, and his teeth all were loosening out.
’twas a death’s head that peered through the tangle of beard; ’twas a face I will never forget;
Sunk eyes full of woe, and they troubled me so with their pleadings and anguish, and yet
As I rested my gaze in a misty amaze on the scurvy-degenerate wreck,
I thought of the Things with the dragon-fly wings, then laid I my gun on his neck.
He gave out a cry that was faint as a sigh, like a perishing malamute,
And he says unto me, “I’m converted,” says he; “for Christ’s sake, Peter, don’t shoot!”

*    *    *    *    *

They’re taking me out with an escort about, and under a sergeant’s care;
I am humbled indeed, for I’m ’cuffed to a Swede that thinks he’s a millionaire.
But it’s all Gospel true what I’m telling to you — up there where the Shadow falls —
That I settled Sam Noot when he started to shoot electricity into my walls.


This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1958, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 50 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.