There was Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike living the life of shame,
When unto them in the Long, Long Night came the man-who-had-no-name;
Bearing his prize of a black fox pelt, out of the Wild he came.
His cheeks were blanched as the flume-head foam when the brown spring freshets flow;
Deep in their dark, sin-calcined pits were his sombre eyes aglow;
They knew him far for the fitful man who spat forth blood on the snow.
“Did ever you see such a skin?” quoth he; “there’s nought in the world so fine–
Such fullness of fur as black as the night, such lustre, such size, such shine;
It’s life to a one-lunged man like me; it’s London, it’s women, it’s wine.
“The Moose-hides called it the devil-fox, and swore that no man could kill;
That he who hunted it, soon or late, must surely suffer some ill;
But I laughed at them and their old squaw-tales.
Ha! Ha! I’m laughing still.
“For look ye, the skin–it’s as smooth as sin, and black as the core of the Pit.
By gun or by trap, whatever the hap, I swore I would capture it;
By star and by star afield and afar, I hunted and would not quit.
“For the devil-fox, it was swift and sly, and it seemed to fleer at me;
I would wake in fright by the camp-fire light, hearing its evil glee;
Into my dream its eyes would gleam, and its shadow would I see.
“It sniffed and ran from the ptarmigan I had poisoned to excess;
Unharmed it sped from my wrathful lead (’twas as if I shot by guess);
Yet it came by night in the stark moonlight to mock at my weariness.
“I tracked it up where the mountains hunch like the vertebrae of the world;
I tracked it down to the death-still pits where the avalanche is hurled;
From the glooms to the sacerdotal snows, where the carded clouds are curled.
“From the vastitudes where the world protrudes through clouds like seas up-shoaled,
I held its track till it led me back to the land I had left of old–
The land I had looted many moons. I was weary and sick and cold.
“I was sick, soul-sick, of the futile chase, and there and then I swore
The foul fiend fox might scathless go, for I would hunt no more;
Then I rubbed mine eyes in a vast surprise–it stood by my cabin door.
“A rifle raised in the wraith-like gloom, and a vengeful shot that sped;
A howl that would thrill a cream-faced corpse–and the demon fox lay dead. . . .
Yet there was never a sign of wound, and never a drop he bled.
“So that was the end of the great black fox, and here is the prize I’ve won;
And now for a drink to cheer me up–I’ve mushed since the early sun;
We’ll drink a toast to the sorry ghost of the fox whose race is run.”
Now Claw-fingered Kitty and Windy Ike, bad as the worst were they;
In their road-house down by the river-trail they waited and watched for prey;
With wine and song they joyed night long, and they slept like swine by day.
For things were done in the Midnight Sun that no tongue will ever tell;
And men there be who walk earth-free, but whose names are writ in hell–
Are writ in flames with the guilty names of Fournier and Labelle.
Put not your trust in a poke of dust would ye sleep the sleep of sin;
For there be those who would rob your clothes ere yet the dawn comes in;
And a prize likewise in a woman’s eyes is a peerless black fox skin.