Robert William Service
The Ballad Of Touch-The-Button Nell
Beyond the Rocking Bridge it lies, the burg of evil fame,
The huts where hive and swarm and thrive the sisterhood of shame.
Through all the night each cabin light goes out and then goes in,
A blood-red heliograph of lust, a semaphore of sin.
From Dawson Town, soft skulking down, each lewdster seeks his mate;
And glad and bad, kimono clad, the wanton women wait.
The Klondike gossips to the moon, and sinners o'er its bars;
Each silent hill is dark and chill, and chill the patient stars.
Yet hark! upon the Rocking Bridge a bacchanalian step;
A whispered: "Come," the skirl of some hell-raking demirep...
* * * * * * * * * * *
They gave a dance in Lousetown, and the Tenderloin was there,
The girls were fresh and frolicsome, and nearly all were fair.
They flaunted on their back the spoil of half-a-dozen towns;
And some they blazed in gems of price, and some wore Paris gowns.
The voting was divided as to who might be the belle;
But all opined, the winsomest was Touch-the-Button Nell.
Among the merry mob of men was one who did not dance,
But watched the "light fantastic" with a sour sullen glance.
They saw his white teeth gleam, they saw his thick lips twitch;
They knew him for the giant Slav, one Riley Dooleyvitch.
"Oh Riley Dooleyvitch, come forth," quoth Touch-the-Button Nell,
"And dance a step or two with me - the music's simply swell,"
He crushed her in his mighty arms, a meek, beguiling witch,
"With you, oh Nell, I'd dance to hell," said Riley Dooleyvitch.
He waltzed her up, he waltzed her down, he waltzed her round the hall;
His heart was putty in her hands, his very soul was thrall.
As Antony of old succumbed to Cleopatra's spell,
So Riley Dooleyvitch bowed down to Touch-the-Button Nell.
"And do you love me true?" she cried. "I love you as my life."
"How can you prove your love?" she sighed. "I beg you be my wife.
I stake big pay up Hunker way; some day I be so rich;
I make you shine in satins fine," said Riley Dooleyvitch.
"Some day you'll be so rich," she mocked; "that old pipe-dream don't go.
Who gets an option on this kid must have some coin to show.
You work your ground. When Spring comes round, our wedding bells will ring.
I'm on the square, and I'll take care of all the gold you bring."
So Riley Dooleyvitch went back and worked upon his claim;
He ditched and drifted, sunk and stoped, with one unswerving aim;
And when his poke of raw moose-hide with dust began to swell,
He bought and laid it at the feet of Touch-the-Button Nell.
* * * * * * * * * * *
Now like all others of her ilk, the lady had a friend,
And what she made my way of trade, she gave to him to spend;
To stake him in a poker game, or pay his bar-room score;
He was a pimp from Paris. and his name was Lew Lamore.
And so as Dooleyvitch went forth and worked as he was bid,
And wrested from the frozen muck the yellow stuff it hid,
And brought it to his Lady Nell, she gave him love galore -
But handed over all her gains to festive Lew Lamore.
* * * * * * * * * * *
A year had gone, a weary year of strain and bloody sweat;
Of pain and hurt in dark and dirt, of fear that she forget.
He sought once more her cabin door: "I've laboured like a beast;
But now, dear one, the time has come to go before the priest.
"I've brought you gold - a hundred fold I'll bring you bye and bye;
But oh I want you, want you bad; I want you till I die.
Come, quit this life with evil rife - we'll joy while yet we can..."
"I may not wed with you," she said; "I love another man.
"I love him and I hate him so. He holds me in a spell.
He beats me - see my bruisèd brest; he makes my life a hell.
He bleeds me, as by sin and shame I earn my daily bread:
Oh cruel Fate, I cannot mate till Lew Lamore is dead!"
* * * * * * * * * * *
The long lean flume streaked down the hill, five hundred feet of fall;
The waters in the dam above chafed at their prison wall;
They surged and swept, they churned and leapt, with savage glee and strife;
With spray and spume the dizzy flume thrilled like a thing of life.
"We must be free," the waters cried, and scurried down the slope;
"No power can hold us back," they roared, and hurried in their hope.
Into a mighty pipe they plunged, like maddened steers they ran,
And crashed out through a shard of steel - to serve the will of Man.
And there, by hydraulicking his ground beside a bedrock ditch,
With eye aflame and savage aim was Riley Dooleyvitch.
In long hip-boots and overalls, and dingy denim shirt,
Behind a giant monitor he pounded at the dirt.
A steely shaft of water shot, and smote the face of clay;
It burrowed in the frozen muck, and scooped the dirt away;
It gored the gravel from its bed, it bellowed like a bull;
It hurled the heavy rock aloft like heaps of fleecy wool.
Strength of a hundred men was there, resistess might and skill,
And only Riley Dooleyvitch to swing it at his will.
He played it up, he played it down, nigh deafened by its roar,
'Til suddenly he raised his eyes, and there stood Lew Lamore.
Pig-eyed and heavy jowled he stood and puffed a big cigar;
As cool as though he ruled the roost in some Montmartre bar.
He seemed to say, "I've got a cinch, a double diamond hitch:
I'll skin this Muscovitish oaf, this Riley Dooleyvitch.
He shouted: "Stop ze water gun; it stun me... Sacré damn!
I like to make one beezness deal; you know ze man I am.
Zat leetle girl, she loves me so - I tell you what I do:
You geeve to me zees claim... Jeecrize! I geeve zat girl to you."
"I'll see you damned," says Dooleyvitch; but e'er he checked his tongue,
(It may have been an accident) the little Giant swung;
Swift as a lightning flash it swung, until it plumply bore
And met with an obstruction in the shape of Lew lamore.
It caught him up, and spun him round, and tossed him like a ball;
It played and pawed him in the air, before it let him fall.
Then just to show what it could do, with savage rend and thud,
It ripped the entrails from his spine, and dropped him in the mud.
They gathered up the broken bones, and sadly in a sack,
They bore to town the last remains of Lew Lamore, the macque.
And would you hear the full details of how it all befell,
Ask Missis Riley Dooleyvitch (late Touch-the-Button Nell).
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Comments about this poem (The Ballad Of Touch-The-Button Nell by Robert William Service )
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