As I was walking down the street
A week ago,
Near Henderson's I chanced to meet
A man I know.
His name is Alexander Bell,
His home, Dundee;
I do not know him quite so well
As he knows me.
He gave my hand a hearty shake,
Discussed the weather,
And then proposed that we should take
A stroll together.
Down College Street we took our way,
And there we met
The beautiful Miss Mary Gray,
That arch coquette,
Who stole last spring my heart away
And has it yet.
That smile with which my bow she greets,
Would it were fonder!
Or else less fond--since she its sweets
On all must squander.
Thus, when I meet her in the streets,
I sadly ponder,
And after her, as she retreats,
My thoughts will wander.
And so I listened with an air
While Bell described a folding-chair
Of his invention.
And when we reached the Swilcan Burn,
'It looks like rain,'
Said I, 'and we had better turn.'
'Twas all in vain,
For Bell was weather-wise, and knew
The signs aerial;
He bade me note the strip of blue
Above the Imperial,
Also another patch of sky,
South-west by south,
Which meant that we might journey dry
To Eden's mouth.
He was a man with information
On many topics:
He talked about the exploration
Of Poles and Tropics,
The scene in Parliament last night,
Sir William's letter;
'And do you like the electric light,
Or gas-lamps better?'
The strike among the dust-heap pickers
He said was over;
And had I read about the liquors
Just seized at Dover?
Or the unhappy printer lad
At Rothesay drowned?
Or the Italian ironclad
That ran aground?
He told me stories (lately come)
Of good society,
Some slightly tinged with truth, and some
He spoke of duelling in France,
Then lightly glanced at
Mrs. Mackenzie's monster dance,
Which he had danced at.
So he ran on, till by-and-by
A silence came,
For which I greatly fear that I
Was most to blame.
Then neither of us spoke a word
For quite a minute,
When presently a thought occurred
With promise in it.
'How did you like the Shakespeare play
The students read?'
By this, the Eden like a bay
Before us spread.
Near Eden many softer plots
Of sand there be;
Our feet, like Pharaoh's chariots,
And ere an answer I could frame,
He said that Irving
Of his extraordinary fame
And for his part he thought more highly
Of Ellen Terry;
Although he knew a girl named Riley
At Broughty Ferry,
Who might be, if she only chose,
As great a star.
She had a part in the tableaux
At the bazaar.
If I had said but little yet,
I now said less,
And smoked a home-made cigarette
In mute distress.
The smoke into his face was blown
By the wind's action,
And this afforded me, I own,
But still his tongue received no check
Till, coming home,
We stood beside the ancient wreck
And watched the foam
Wash in among the timbers, now
Sunk deep in sand,
Though I can well remember how
I used to stand
On windy days and hold my hat,
And idly turn
To read 'Lovise, Frederikstad'
Upon her stern.
Her stern long since was buried quite,
And soon no trace
The absorbing sand will leave in sight
To mark her place.
This reverie was not permitted
To last too long.
Bell's mind had left the stage, and flitted
To fields of song.
And now he spoke of Marmion
And Lewis Morris;
The former he at school had done,
Along with Horace.
His maiden aunts, no longer young,
But learned ladies,
Had lately sent him Songs Unsung,
Epic of Hades,
Gycia, and Gwen. He thought them fine;
Not like that Browning,
Of whom he would not read a line,
He told me, frowning.
Talking of Horace--very clever,
Beyond a doubt,
But what the Satires meant, he never
Yet could make out.
I said I relished Satire Nine
Of the First Book;
But he had skipped to the divine
He took occasion to declare,
In tones devoted,
How much he loved her old Arm-chair,
Which now he quoted.
And other poets he reviewed,
Some two or three,
Till, having touched on Thomas Hood,
He turned to me.
'Have you been stringing any rhymes
Of late?' he said.
I could not lie, but several times
I shook my head.
The last straw to the earth will bow
The o'erloaded camel,
And surely I resembled now
That ill-used mammal.
See how a thankless world regards
The gifted choir
Of minstrels, singers, poets, bards,
Who sweep the lyre.
This is the recompense we meet
In our vocation.
We bear the burden and the heat
The beauties of the earth we sing
In glowing numbers,
And to the 'reading public' bring
We save from Mammon's gross dominion
These sordid times . . .
And all this, in the world's opinion,
Is 'stringing rhymes.'
It is as if a man should say,
In accents mild,
'Have you been stringing beads to-day,
My gentle child?'
(Yet even children fond of singing
Will pay off scores,
And I to-day at least am stringing
Not beads but bores.)
And now the sands were left behind,
The Club-house past.
I wondered, Can I hope to find
Escape at last,
Or must I take him home to tea,
And bear his chatter
Until the last train to Dundee
Shall solve the matter?
But while I shuddered at the thought
And planned resistance,
My conquering Alexander caught
Sight in the distance
Of two young ladies, one of whom
Is his ambition;
And so, with somewhat heightened bloom,
He asked permission
To say good-bye to me and follow.
I freely gave it,
And wished him all success. Apollo
Sic me servavit.