One of the Down and Out–that’s me. Stare at me well, ay, stare!
Stare and shrink–say! you wouldn’t think that I was a millionaire.
Look at my face, it’s crimped and gouged–one of them death-mask things;
Don’t seem the sort of man, do I, as might be the pal of kings?
Slouching along in smelly rags, a bleary-eyed, no-good bum;
A knight of the hollow needle, pard, spewed from the sodden slum.
Look me all over from head to foot; how much would you think I was worth?
A dollar? a dime? a nickel? Why, I’M THE WEALTHIEST MAN ON EARTH.
No, don’t you think that I’m off my base. You’ll sing a different tune
If only you’ll let me spin my yarn. Come over to this saloon;
Wet my throat–it’s as dry as chalk, and seeing as how it’s you,
I’ll tell the tale of a Northern trail, and so help me God, it’s true.
I’ll tell of the howling wilderness and the haggard Arctic heights,
Of a reckless vow that I made, and how I STAKED THE NORTHERN LIGHTS.
Remember the year of the Big Stampede and the trail of Ninety-eight,
When the eyes of the world were turned to the North, and the hearts of men elate;
Hearts of the old dare-devil breed thrilled at the wondrous strike,
And to every man who could hold a pan came the message, “Up and hike”.
Well, I was there with the best of them, and I knew I would not fail.
You wouldn’t believe it to see me now; but wait till you’ve heard my tale.
You’ve read of the trail of Ninety-eight, but its woe no man may tell;
It was all of a piece and a whole yard wide,
and the name of the brand was “Hell”.
We heard the call and we staked our all; we were plungers playing blind,
And no man cared how his neighbor fared, and no man looked behind;
For a ruthless greed was born of need, and the weakling went to the wall,
And a curse might avail where a prayer would fail, and the gold lust crazed us all.
Bold were we, and they called us three the “Unholy Trinity”;
There was Ole Olson, the sailor Swede, and the Dago Kid and me.
We were the discards of the pack, the foreloopers of Unrest,
Reckless spirits of fierce revolt in the ferment of the West.
We were bound to win and we revelled in the hardships of the way.
We staked our ground and our hopes were crowned, and we hoisted out the pay.
We were rich in a day beyond our dreams, it was gold from the grass-roots down;
But we weren’t used to such sudden wealth, and there was the siren town.
We were crude and careless frontiersmen, with much in us of the beast;
We could bear the famine worthily, but we lost our heads at the feast.
The town looked mighty bright to us, with a bunch of dust to spend,
And nothing was half too good them days, and everyone was our friend.
Wining meant more than mining then, and life was a dizzy whirl,
Gambling and dropping chunks of gold down the neck of a dance-hall girl;
Till we went clean mad, it seems to me, and we squandered our last poke,
And we sold our claim, and we found ourselves one bitter morning–broke.
The Dago Kid he dreamed a dream of his mother’s aunt who died–
In the dawn-light dim she came to him, and she stood by his bedside,
And she said: “Go forth to the highest North till a lonely trail ye find;
Follow it far and trust your star, and fortune will be kind.”
But I jeered at him, and then there came the Sailor Swede to me,
And he said: “I dreamed of my sister’s son, who croaked at the age of three.
From the herded dead he sneaked and said: ‘Seek you an Arctic trail;
‘Tis pale and grim by the Polar rim, but seek and ye shall not fail.'”
And lo! that night I too did dream of my mother’s sister’s son,
And he said to me: “By the Arctic Sea there’s a treasure to be won.
Follow and follow a lone moose trail, till you come to a valley grim,
On the slope of the lonely watershed that borders the Polar brim.”
Then I woke my pals, and soft we swore by the mystic Silver Flail,
‘Twas the hand of Fate, and to-morrow straight
we would seek the lone moose trail.