The Shooting of Dan McGrew

Original Text: 
Robert W. Service, The Spell of the Yukon and Other Verses (New York: Barse & Hopkins, 1907): 45-49. PS 8537 E72S6 1907a Robarts Library
1A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
2The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
3Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
4And watching his luck was his light-o'-love, the lady that's known as Lou.
5When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,
6There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
7He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
8Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
9There was none could place the stranger's face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
10But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.
11There's men that somehow just grip your eyes, and hold them hard like a spell;
12And such was he, and he looked to me like a man who had lived in hell;
13With a face most hair, and the dreary stare of a dog whose day is done,
14As he watered the green stuff in his glass, and the drops fell one by one.
15Then I got to figgering who he was, and wondering what he'd do,
16And I turned my head -- and there watching him was the lady that's known as Lou.
17His eyes went rubbering round the room, and he seemed in a kind of daze,
18Till at last that old piano fell in the way of his wandering gaze.
19The rag-time kid was having a drink; there was no one else on the stool,
20So the stranger stumbles across the room, and flops down there like a fool.
21In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
22Then he clutched the keys with his talon hands -- my God! but that man could play.
23Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
24And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
25With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
26A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
27While high overhead, green, yellow and red, the North Lights swept in bars? --
28Then you've a haunch what the music meant. . . hunger and night and the stars.
29And hunger not of the belly kind, that's banished with bacon and beans,
30But the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means;
31For a fireside far from the cares that are, four walls and a roof above;
32But oh! so cramful of cosy joy, and crowned with a woman's love --
33A woman dearer than all the world, and true as Heaven is true --
34(God! how ghastly she looks through her rouge, -- the lady that's known as Lou.)
35Then on a sudden the music changed, so soft that you scarce could hear;
36But you felt that your life had been looted clean of all that it once held dear;
37That someone had stolen the woman you loved; that her love was a devil's lie;
38That your guts were gone, and the best for you was to crawl away and die.
39'Twas the crowning cry of a heart's despair, and it thrilled you through and through --
40"I guess I'll make it a spread misere", said Dangerous Dan McGrew.
41The music almost died away ... then it burst like a pent-up flood;
42And it seemed to say, "Repay, repay," and my eyes were blind with blood.
43The thought came back of an ancient wrong, and it stung like a frozen lash,
44And the lust awoke to kill, to kill ... then the music stopped with a crash,
45And the stranger turned, and his eyes they burned in a most peculiar way;
46In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
47Then his lips went in in a kind of grin, and he spoke, and his voice was calm,
48And "Boys," says he, "you don't know me, and none of you care a damn;
49But I want to state, and my words are straight, and I'll bet my poke they're true,
50That one of you is a hound of hell. . .and that one is Dan McGrew."
51Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark,
52And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.
53Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,
54While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that's known as Lou.
55These are the simple facts of the case, and I guess I ought to know.
56They say that the stranger was crazed with "hooch," and I'm not denying it's so.
57I'm not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two --
58The woman that kissed him and -- pinched his poke -- was the lady that's known as Lou.
Publication Start Year: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1996-2000.