William Makepeace Thackeray

(1811-1863 / India)

The Speculators - Poem by William Makepeace Thackeray

The night was stormy and dark,
The town was shut up in sleep:
Only those were abroad who were out on a lark,
Or those who'd no beds to keep.

I pass'd through the lonely street,
The wind did sing and blow;
I could hear the policeman's feet
Clapping to and fro.

There stood a potato-man
In the midst of all the wet;
He stood with his 'tato-can
In the lonely Hay-market.

Two gents of dismal mien,
And dank and greasy rags,
Came out of a shop for gin,
Swaggering over the flags:

Swaggering over the stones,
These shabby bucks did walk;
And I went and followed those seedy ones,
And listened to their talk.

Was I sober or awake?
Could I believe my ears?
Those dismal beggars spake
Of nothing but railroad shares.

I wondered more and more:
Says one—'Good friend of mine,
How many shares have you wrote for,
In the Diddlesex Junction line?'

'I wrote for twenty,' says Jim,
'But they wouldn't give me one;'
His comrade straight rebuked him
For the folly he had done:

'O Jim, you are unawares
Of the ways of this bad town;
I always write for five hundred shares,
And THEN they put me down.'

'And yet you got no shares,'
Says Jim, 'for all your boast;'
'I WOULD have wrote,' says Jack, 'but where
Was the penny to pay the post?'

'I lost, for I couldn't pay
That first instalment up;
But here's 'taters smoking hot—I say,
Let's stop, my boy, and sup.'

And at this simple feast
The while they did regale,
I drew each ragged capitalist
Down on my left thumbnail.

Their talk did me perplex,
All night I tumbled and tost,
And thought of railroad specs,
And how money was won and lost.

'Bless railroads everywhere,'
I said, 'and the world's advance;
Bless every railroad share
In Italy, Ireland, France;
For never a beggar need now despair,
And every rogue has a chance.'

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Poem Submitted: Wednesday, April 7, 2010

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