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Poem by Robert William Service

The Ballad of the Leather Medal

Only a Leather Medal, hanging there on the wall,
Dingy and frayed and faded, dusty and worn and old;
Yet of my humble treasures I value it most of all,
And I wouldn't part with that medal if you gave me its weight in gold.

Read the inscription: For Valour; presented to Millie MacGee.
Ah! how in mem'ry it takes me back to the "auld lang syne,"
When Millie and I were sweethearts, and fair as a flower was she -
Yet little I dreamt that her bosom held the heart of heroine.

Listen! I'll tell you about it... An orphan was Millie MacGee,
Living with Billie her brother, under the Yukon sky,
Sam, her pa, was cremated in the winter of nineteen-three,
As duly and truly related by the pen of an author guy.

A cute little kid was Billie, solemn and silken of hair,
The image of Jackie Coogan in the days before movies could speak.
Devoted to him was Millie, with more than a mother's care,
And happy were they together in their cabin on Bunker Creek.

'Twas only a mining village, where hearts are simple and true,
And Millie MacGee was schoolma'am, loved and admired by all;
Yet no one dreamed for a moment she'd do what she dared to do -
But wait and I'll try to tell you, as clear as I can recall...

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Christmas Eve in the school-house! A scene of glitter and glee;
The children eager and joyful; parents and neighbours too;
Right in the forefront, Millie, close to the Christmas Tree.
While Billie, her brother, recited "The Shooting of Dan McGrew."

I reckon you've heard the opus, a ballad of guts and gore;
Of a Yukon frail and a frozen trail and a fight in a dringing dive,
It's on a par, I figger, with "The Face on the Bar-Room Floor,"
And the boys who wrote them pieces ought to be skinned alive.

Picture that scene of gladness; the honest faces aglow;
The kiddies gaping and spellbound, as Billie strutted his stuff.
The stage with its starry candles, and there in the foremost row,
Millie, bright as a fairy, in radient flounce and fluff.

More like an angel I thought her; all she needed was wings,
And I sought for a smile seraphic, but her eyes were only for Bill;
So there was I longing and loving, and dreaming the craziest things,
And Billie shouting and spouting, and everyone rapt and still.

Proud as a prince was Billie, bang in the footlights' glare,
And quaking for him was Millie, as she followed every word;
Then just as he reached the climax, ranting and sawing the air -
Ugh! How it makes me shudder! The horrible thing occurred...

'Twas the day when frocks were frilly, and skirts were scraping the ground,
And the snowy flounces of Millie like sea foam round her swept;
Humbly adoring I watched her; when oh, my heart gave a bound!
Hoary and scarred and hideous, out from the tree...it...crept.

A whiskered, beady-eyes monster, grisly and grim of hue;
Savage and slinking and silent, born of the dark and dirt;
Dazed by the glare and the glitter, it wavered a moment or two -
Then like a sinister shadow, it vanished... 'neath Millie's skirt.

I stared. had my eyes deceived me? I shivered. I held my breath.
Surly I must have dreamed it. I quivered. I made to rise...
Then; my God! it was real. Millie grew pale as death;
And oh, such a look of terror woke in her lovely eyes.

Did her scream ring out? Ah no, sir. It froze at her very lips.
Clenching her teeth she checked it, and I saw her slim hands lock,
Grasping and gripping tensely, with desperate finger tips,
Something that writhed and wriggled under her dainty frock.

Quick I'd have dashed to her rescue, but fiercely she signalled: "No!"
Her eyes were dark with anguish, but her lips were set and grim;
Then I knew she was thinking of Billie; the kiddy must have his show,
Reap to the full his glory, nothing mattered but him.

So spiked to my chair with horror, there I shuddered and saw
Her fingrs frenziedly clutching and squeezing with all their might
Something that squirmed and struggled, a deamon of tooth and claw,
Fighting with fear and fury, under her garment white.

Oh could I only aid her! But the wide room lay between,
And again her eyes besought me: "Steady!" they seamed to say.
"Stay where you are, Bob Simmons; don't let us have a scene,
Billie will soon be finished. Only a moment...stay!"

A moment! Ah yes, I got her. I knew how night after night
She'd learned him each line of that ballad with patience and pride and glee;
With gesture and tone dramatic, she'd taught him how to recite...
And now at the last to fail him; no, it must never be.

A moment! It seemed like ages. Why was Billie so slow?
He stammered. Twice he repeated: "The Lady that's known as Lou -"
The kiddy was stuck and she knew it. Her face was frantic with woe.
Could she but come to his rescue? Could she remember the cue?

I saw her whispering wildly as she leaned to the frightened boy;
But Billie stared like a dummy, and I stifled an anxious curse.
Louder, louder she prompted; then his face illumined with joy,
And panting, flushed and exultant, he finished the final verse.

So the youngster would up like a whirlwind, while cheer resounded on cheer;
His piece was the hit of the evening. "Bravo!" I heard them say.
But there in the heart of the racket was one who could not hear -
The loving sister who'd coached him; for Millie had fainted away.

I rushed to her side and grabbed her; then others saw her distress,
And all were eager to aid me, as I pillowed that golden head,
But her arms were tense and rigid, and clutched in the folds of her dress,
Unlocking her hands they found it... A RAT... and the brute was dead.

In silence she'd crushed its life out, rather than scare the crowd,
And queer little Billie's triumph... Hey! Mother, what about tea?
I've just been telling a story that makes me so mighty proud...
Stranger, let me present you; my wife, that was Millie MacGee.

Robert William Service

Robert William Service's other poems:
  1. The Robbers
  2. The Wee Shop
  3. The Sum-Up
  4. Include Me Out
  5. Resolutions

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