Robert William Service
Old Man Death's a lousy heel who will not play the game:
Let Graveyard yawn and doom down crash, he'll sneer and turn away.
But when the sky with rapture rings and joy is like a flame,
Then Old Man Death grins evilly, and swings around to slay.
Jack Duval was my chosen pal in the ranks of the Reckless Men.
Thick as thieves they used to say, and it may be that we were:
Where the price of life is a naked knife and dammed are nine in ten,
It doesn't do to be curious in the Legion Etrangère.
So when it came to a hidden shame our mugs were zippered tight;
He never asked me what I'd done, and he would never tell;
But though like men we revelled, when it came to bloody fight
I knew that I could bank on him clear to the hubs of hell.
They still tell how we held the Fort back on the blasted bled,
And blazed from out the shambles till the fagged relief arrived.
"The garrison are slaughtered all," the Captain grimly said:
Piped Jack: "Give us a slug of hooch and say that TWO survived."
Then was that time we were lost, canteen and carcase dry,
As on we staggered with the thought: "Here's where our story ends."
Ten desert days delirious, when black against the sky,
We saw a line of camels, and the Arabs were our friends.
And last of all, the lurid night we crashed the gates of hell
And stemmed the Teuton torrent as it roared on every side;
And we were left in blood and mud to rot on the Moselle -
Two lacerated Legionaires, whom all supposed had died.
Three times death thought to take us and three times he stayed his hand;
But when we left the Legion what a happy pair we were,
Then reckless roving up and down the sunny land,
I found Jack eating bouillabaisse back on the Cannebière.
"Next week I wed," he gaily said, "the sweetest girl on earth.
I wonder why did Death pass by just then and turn to gloat?
"Oh I'm so happy! You must come and join us in our mirth."...
Death struck ... Jack gasped and choked and - died:
A fishbone in his throat.
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