One cold morning, old Zach Baxter,
Riding o’er this snowbound sea
Saw a famished pony standing
Near a queer and lonely tree.
From his frost-encrusted nostrils
Came a plaintive whinny, low,
As the man rode up beside him
Struggling through the drifted snow.
When the old man tried to lead him,
He refused to turn away;
But he pawed the drift beneath him,
Where his stricken master lay.
And below the cold, white cover,
In a deathlike stupor deep,
Old Zach found a sorry stranger
Shrouded for his last long sleep.
Tearing at the ragged bundle
Lodged between the horse’s feet,
Clutching at the frozen blanket,
Brushing back the crusted sleet,
Faithful in his rude endeavors,
Rousing by his loud commands,
Roughly shaking, turning, rubbing,
Zach breathed on his face and hands;
Till the stiffened limbs responded
And the closed eyes opened wide,
Dazed and puzzled at the stranger
Working fiercely at his side.
Billy felt the strong arms raise him,
Felt the Frost King’s stinging breath
As he struggled, half unconscious,
In the wav’ring fight with death.
In the east, the sun dogs glistened
Like tall shafts of marble, bright,
O’er the whitened grave of nature,—
Ghostly spires of frozen light,
Flying frost flakes snapping, sparkling,
Dancing in a wild display,
Turned into a mist of diamonds
As they mocked the newborn day.
Old Zach’s pony bearing double,
Reeking steam from every pore,
Reached at last the covered pathway
Leading to the dug-out door.
With his arms clasped tight round Billy,
Zach half dragged his helpless load
Through the lowly, mud-walled entrance
Of his rudely built abode.
There, upon the narrow bunk bed
Spread with nondescript attire,
Zach enfolded him in wrappings
While he started up a fire;
And no nurse, however skillful,
Whatsoever her degree,
Ever gave more loyal service
To a patient, than did he.
Poor and meager were the comforts
Of Zach’s cave-like prairie home,
Permeated with the odor
Of the fresh-dug virgin loam.
Pungent wreaths of smoke, slow drifting,
Floated lazily above,
To the dried grass of the ceiling
From the cracked and rusty stove.
Willow poles athwart for rafters
Sagged beneath the dirt roof’s strain,
And a piece of grease-smeared paper
Formed the only window-pane.
In the center, on the dirt floor
Stood a table-like affair
Fashioned from a wagon end-gate,
Where Zach spread his scanty fare.