Sunday, May 15, 2005

Phil Blood's Leap

After yesterday, here is another character forming piece remembered from my youth.

'Phil Blood's Leap' by Robert Buchanan

There's some think Injins poison, and others count 'em scum,
And night and day they are melting away, clean into Kingdom Come;
But don't you go and make mistakes, like many dern'd fools I've known,
For dirt is dirt, and snakes is snakes, but an Injin's flesh and bone!

We were seeking gold in the Texan hold, and we'd had a blaze of luck,
More rich and rare the stuff ran there at every foot we struck ;
Like men gone wild we tiled and tiled, and never seemed to tire ;
The hot sun beamed, and our faces streamed with the sweat of a mad desire.

I was Captain then of the mining men, and I had a precious life,
For a wilder set I never met at derringer and knife;
Nigh every day there was some new fray, a bullet in some one's brain,
And the cussedest brute to stab and to shoot was an imp of sin from Maine.

Phil Blood. Well, he was six foot three, with a squint to make you skeer'd,
Sour as the drink in Bitter Chink, with carroty hair and beard.
With pick and spade in sun and shade he labour'd like darnation,
But when his spell was over... well, he was fond of his recreation!
And being a crusty kind of cuss, the only sport he had,
When work was over, seemed to us a bit too rough and bad;
For to put some lead in a comrade's head was the greatest fun in life,
And the sharpest joke he was known to poke was the point of his precious knife.
But game to the bone was Phil, I'll own, and he always fought most fair,
With as good a will to be killed as kill, true grit as any there.
But his eddication, to his ruination, had not been over nice,
And his stupid skull was choking full of vulgar prejudice ;
With anything white he'd drink, or he'd fight in fair and open fray ;
But to murder and kill was his wicked will, if an Injin came his way!
A sarpent's hide has pison inside, and an Injin's heart's the same,
If he seems your friend for to gain his end, look out for the sarpent's game;
Of the snakes that crawl, the worst of all is the snake in a skin of red,
A spotted Snake, and no mistake!' that's what he always said.
Well, we'd jest struck our bit of luck, and were wild as raving men,
When who should stray to our camp one day, but Black Panther, the Cheyenne;
Drest like a Christian, all agrin, the redskin joins our band,
But tho' the rest look'd black as sin, I shakes him by the hand.
Now, the Injin's cuss was known to us, and I knew that he was true,
I'd have trusted him with life and limb as soon as I'd trust you;
For tho' his wit was gone a bit, and he drank like any fish,
His heart was kind, he was well-inclined, as even a white could wish.
Food had got low, for we didn't know the run of the hunting-ground,
And our hunters were sick, when, just in the nick, the friend in need was found;
For he knew the place like his mother's face (or better, a heap, you'd say,
Since she was a squaw of the roaming race, and himself a castaway).
So I took the Panther into camp, and the critter was well content,
And off with him, on the hunting-tramp, next day our hunters went,
And I reckon that day and the next we didn't want for food,
And only one in the camp looked vext... that imp of sin, Phil Blood.
Nothing would please his contrairy idees! an Injin made him rile!
He didn't speak, but I saw on his cheek a kind of an ugly smile;
And I knew his skin was hatching sin, so I kept the Panther apart,
For the Injin he was too blind to see the depth of a white man's heart.

Well, one fine day, we a-resting lay at noon-tide by the creek,
The red sun blazed, and we lay half-dazed, too tired to stir or speak;
I lay and dozed with eyes half-closed, and felt like a three-year child,
And, a plantain blade on his brow for shade, even Phil Blood looked mild.
Well, back, jest then, came our hunting men, with the Panther at their head,
Full of his fun was every one, and the Panther's eyes were red,
And he skipt about with grin and shout, for he'd had a drop that day,
And he twisted and twirled, and squeal'd and skirl'd, in the foolish Injin way.
To the waist all bare Phil Blood lay there, with only his knife in his belt,
And I saw his blood-shot eye-balls stare, and I knew how fierce he felt
When the Injin dances with grinning glances around Phil as he lies,
With his painted skin and his monkey grin... and leers into his eyes!
Then before I knew what I should do Phil Blood was on his feet,
And the Injin could trace the hate in his face, and his heart began to beat,
And, 'Git out o' the way,' he heard them say, ' for he means to hey your life!'
But before he could fly at the warning cry, he saw the flash of the knife.
'Run, Panther, run!' cried every one, and the Panther turned his back;
With a wicked glare, like a wounded bear, Phil Blood sprang on his track.
Up the side so steep of the canon deep the frighted Injin sped,
And after him ran the devil's limb, till they faded over head.

Now, the spot of ground where our luck was found was a queerish place, you'll mark,
Just under the jags of the mountain crags and the precipices dark ;
Far up on high, close to the sky, the two crags leant together,
Leaving a gap, like an open trap, with a gleam of golden weather.
If a man should pop in at that trap on the top he'd never rest arm or leg,
Till neck and crop to the bottom he'd drop, and smash on the stones like an egg.
A pathway led from the beck's dark bed up to the crags on high,
And along that path the Injin fled, fast as a man could fly.
Some shots were fired, for I desired to keep the white cuss back;
But I missed my man, and away he ran on the flying Injin's track.
'Come back, you cuss! come back to us! and let the Injin be!'
I called aloud, while the men in a crowd stood gazing at them and me...
But up they went, and my shots were spent, and at last they disappeared
One minute more, and we gave a roar, for the Iniin had leapt... and cleared

A leap for a deer, not a man, to clear... and the bloodiest grave below
But the Injin was smart and mad with fear, and he went like a bolt from a bow!
Close after him came the devil's limb, with his eyes as dark as death,
But when he came to the gulch's brim, I reckon he paused for breath.
For breath at the brink! but-a white man shrink, when a red had passed so neat?
I knew Phil Blood too well to think he'd turn his back dead beat!
He takes one run, leaps up in the sun, and bounds from the slippery ledge,
And he clears the hole, but Heaven help his soul! just touches the tother edge!
The edge he touches, then sinks, and clutches the rock... our eyes grow dim
I turn away... what's that they say?... he's hanging on to the brim!
On the very brink of the fatal clink a ragged shrub there grew,
And to that he clung, and in silence swung betwixt us and the blue,
And as soon as a man could run, I ran the way I'd seen them flee,
And I came mad-eyed to the chasm's side, and what do you think I see?
All up?... Not quite. Still hanging? Right!... But he'd torn away the shrub;
With lolling tongue he clutch'd and swung-to what? ay, that's the rub!
I saw him glare and dangle in air... for the empty hole he trod
Held by a pair of hands up there!... The Injin's! Yes, by God!

Now, boys, look here! for many a year I've roam'd in this here land,
And many a sight both day and night I've seen that I think grand;
Over the whole wide world I've been, and I know both things and men,
But the biggest sight I've ever seen was the sight I saw jest then.
I held my breath... so nigh to death Phil Blood swung hand and limb,
And it seem'd to us all that down he'll fall, with the Panther after him,
But the Injin at length put out his strength and another minute past,
Then safe and sound to the solid ground he drew Phil Blood, at last!
Saved? True for you! By an Injin, too!... and the man he meant to kill!
There all alone, on the brink of stone, I see them standing still ;
Phil Blood gone white, with the struggle and fright, like a great mad bull at bay,
And the Injin meanwhile, with a half-skeer'd smile, ready to spring away.

"What did Phil do? Well, I watched the two, and I saw Phil Blood turn back,
Bend over the brink, and take a blink right down the chasm black,
Then stooping low for a moment or so, he drew his bowie bright,
And chucked it down the gulf with a frown; then whistled, and slunk from sight!
And after that day Phil changed his play, and kept a civiller tongue,
And whenever an Injin came that way, his contrairy head he hung;
But whenever he heard the lying word, "It's a LIE!" Phil Blood would groan,
"A Snake is a Snake, make no mistake! but an Injin's flesh and bone!"

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