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Jews in the Wild West

Ben Levi's Gold

by R. R. Strang, 1910

Men kneel no more in the altar's pale
To the gods of their fathers old;
But worship and slave for a six-foot grave
The merciless god of gold!

Ben Levi's heart was a heart of stone,
His body lean and dry; 
Thro' either check stuck a famine bone
Deep sunk was each fish-cold eye.
From Mexico clear to Nome he'd trod,
Till now, withered, weird, and old; 
He bowed no more to his father's god,
But worshiped the god of Gold!

Time was when he'd starve to play the game,
Or pawn his coat for a chip;
In each bulging eye a ghost-like flame,
A foot between lip and lip;
For days at a stretch he would watch the ball,
The banker's hand and the wheel,
Till, by gods of all Jews, he'd bank all and lose-
Or break up the bank in the deal!

The climax came in a dive in Nome,
Mid putrid thoughts and reek;
With crowds at the tables in parkas to sables,
An' suckers just fresh from the creek.
He had played three days an' had played three nights
In five figures he'd counted his roll;
But when he crawled forth 'neath the northern lights
He had naught but a thread-bare soul.

Three years passed over Ben Levi's head,
Just he and his God know how;
With his heart of stone and his soul of thread
He vanished that night in the snow
And the wilderness swallowed him up; but he lived
By a vow to the soul he had sold,
Made that night in the dive, when but half alive-
To the merciless God of Gold.

When he struck it so rich that he feared 'twas a dream,
He wept, prayed, and vowed in turn;
He clutched and caressed it, and cursed it, and blessed it
Till his eye like two coals did burn;
Then the fear almost choked him that others would come;
"O, curse them, God! curse them!" he cried.
While with hands thin and cold he kept fondling the gold
Till exhausted he sank by its side.

For months he worked fev'rishly, fearfully on;
And the pile of gold grew and grew;
Till it girdled his soul and his heart of stone,
And owned him as it would own you!
But one night as he fondled his mound of wealth
A thought struck him awesome and evil,
And the old gambling spirit o'ertook him by stealth
And he shouted, "I'll play with the devil!"

He made a rude wheel on his cabin floor,
And muttered great oaths 'neath his breath;
Gave the devil his share of the yellow store
And hissed, "We will play to the death."
How he laughed when he won, how he cursed each reverse.
While the days passed one by one,
Till he rose one night and exclaimed with a curse,
"It's all mine! I've won! I've won!"

And over the wheel fell a skinful of bone,
Two glassy eyes and a beard;
For the threadbare soul thro' the night had flown
Thro' the still white night so weird.
And they found him there frozen as stiff as a board,
Ben Levi, the gambler who sold,
His soul for a golden thread-held sword
To the merciless God of Gold!