Now then, Smith!

From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia

Now then, Smith! is a poem written by Arthur Conan Doyle first published in The Strand Magazine in july 1922.

Conan Doyle refers to the Messina earthquake (dixit The Strand Magazine).


Now then, Smith!

Illustration by E. G. Oakdale

Twas on Messina's day of wrath,
When one wild morning laid her low,
On either side of that gray path
The cinder piles were still aglow.
Down it there sauntered Skipper Wise,
The Master of the Roderic Dhu,
And at his heels, with wondering eyes,
A dozen of her collier crew.

But hark that cry! Above their heads,
There hung a riven shaking wall,
From bulging base to melting leads
Was sheer a hundred foot of fall;
And there, half balanced on a sill,
There clung a little frightened maid,
Her white face staring down, and still
She waved her hand and cried for aid.

The Skipper cocked his thumb in airs
"Now then, Smith!" he curtly said.
The seaman marked the child up there,
And growled an oath and scratched his head.
They saw him wet his horny paw,
They saw him test the shaking wall,
They saw him creep from flaw to flaw,
They saw him slip, they saw him fall,
And yet again regain his grip,
And find a crevice for his stand,
And on with jerk and spring and slip,
Until he clutched the downstretched hand.

He braced his shoulder to the strain,
He caught her as she sank all spent,
And with her balanced turned again
To make his terrible descent.
With pause for thought and pause for breath,
While the dark rabble prayed and cried,
Until from that high place of death
He bore her to her mother's side.

"Now then, Smith!" the skipper said,
And at the word the thing was done.
But where is Smith, whose hand and head
Have played a match with death and won?
He's just a chap among the chaps,
Unknown, unhonoured, as before,
And there he'll stay until perhaps
The world has need of him once more.

So has it been in every age,
In every age it still shall be,
Smith's name is not on history's page,
But who has made that page save he?
The Warrior chief can frame his plan
With all that wisdom can devise,
And then, - ah, then it needs the man,
And "Now then, Smith!" he loudly cries.

The Statesman in a parlous place
May totter on unstable ground,
His blunders rise before his face,
And no redemption may be found.
When all is lost, 'mid doubts and fears,
There's one more card that he can play.
It's "Now then, Smith!" and Smith appears
To save him for some later day.

And when War raised its fearsome shape
And Europe shrank before its form,
Our England stood with no escape,
Unarmed before the rising storm,
Twas Smith to whom at once we turned.
Five million Smiths obeyed the call.
To Smith the praise that he has earned,
For by his blood he saved us all.

Now then, Smith!
You're neither rich nor gifted,
But here's a job that must be done,
A job we may not shirk.
Now then, Smith!
Get down to it and shift it!
You're just the common working bee,
So work, you beggar, work!