Overheard

So the day dragged through,
And the afternoon brought the spangles, 
  The sawdust smell, the tights,
  The flickering, flashing lights,
      The smile to acknowledge the cheer 
As the rider skips and jangles
      The bells. Ye gods!—'twas queer 
How the young equestriennes flew.

A programme relished, I lay 
  Back in my seat to gaze
On·the faces around, to hear what folk say,
While the orchestra rattled and roared,
  Murdering popular lays—
It was hot, too, and I felt bored.

Then a voice from behind, a rustling of dress, 
  The step of a man, a silence to settle,
  A babble of children (how they push,
These little ones, making your coat in a mess), 
A silence to settle, and after a gush
  Of small talk, I sat and waited,
  Shutting my eyes till the stream abated. 
'Twas a tale of trouble, told in a rush.

Who was the speaker? I turned to see— 
  A sharp little saucy face,
No whit abashed, gazing at me 
With bead-eyes, curiously,
  With a petulant child's grimace,
As I shifted, moving her feet
  From the chair where they'd taken root, 
  For the time at least; then again
I listened. Fast and fleet
  She poured out the queer little words 
to her friend—
  (A sort of an overgrown brute).
  I heard it out to the end—
      A story of pain.
      Here you have it, in fine 
        (Her words, not mine):
      'Tried for luck in London—
                                                  Voila tout! 
      Failed, lost money, undone; 
      Took to the streets for a life.
                                                  Entre nous, 
      It's a terrible uphill strife,
      Like all professions—too filled. 
      And now I'm in lodgings hard by, 
      Au quatrième, up in the sky.
      Visit me by and by,
  They're furnished, but oh—so cold, 
        So cold!'

There the queer little voice was stilled; 
      She moved to a further chair
      And left me sitting there
        To think on the story told— 
      Not to me, but to her friend—
Of a life that had only one end, 
      And for burden, 'Oh, so cold!'

Have you ever seen on the face 
      Of a child a sort of despair, 
      A comical, hopeless air,
When a toy won't work, or a doll won't cry, 
Or a cart runs awkwardly?
      Well, I saw it there
      As she moved to a further chair. 
She'd broken some toy she had— 
Or, was it a life gone bad? 

[Well I moved just then  
      And among the crowds of men 
      I lost them She with her tale 
(Carelessly told indeed) 
Of means to supply a need 
      For bread 
      Till she's dead 
She has my prayers if they're any avail.]


Note: the final stanza above was not included
in the publishedversion of the poem, but included
in an undated version sent to
Edith Macdonald; see   Andrew Rutherford  p. 93.