The Mysterious Visiter
by Oliver Wendell Holmes
There was a sound of hurrying feet,
A tramp on echoing stairs,
There was a rush along the aisles, --
It was the hour of prayers.
And on, like Ocean's midnight wave,
The current rolled along,
When, suddenly, a stranger form
Was seen amidst the throng.
He was a dark and swarthy man
That uninvited guest;
A faded coat of bottle green
Was buttoned round his breast.
There was not one among them all
Could say from whence he came
Nor beardless boy, nor ancient man.
Could tell that stranger's name.
All silent as the sheeted dead,
In spite of sneer and frown,
Fast by a gray-haired senior's side
He sat him boldly down.
There was a look of horror flashed
From out the tutor's eyes;
When all around him rose to pray,
The stranger did not rise!
A murmur broke along the crowd,
The prayer was at an end;
With ringing heels and measured tread
A hundred forms descend.
Through sounding aisle, o'er grating stair,
The long procession poured,
Till all were gathered on the seats
Around the Commons board.
That fearful stranger! down he sat,
Unasked, yet undismayed;
And on his lip a rising smile
Of scorn or pleasure played.
He took his hat and hung it up,
With slow but earnest air;
He stripped his coat from off his back,
And placed it on a chair.
Then from his nearest neighbor's side
A knife and plate he drew;
And, reaching out his hand again,
He took his teacup too.
How fled the sugar from the bowl!
How sunk the azure cream!
They vanished like the shapes that float
Upon a summer's dream.
A long, long draught, -- an outstretched hand, --
And crackers, toast, and tea,
They faded from the stranger's touch
Like dew upon the sea.
Then clouds were dark on many a brow,
Fear sat upon their souls,
And, in a bitter agony,
They clasped their buttered rolls.
A whisper trembled through the crowd, --
Who could the stranger be?
And some were silent, for they thought
A cannibal was he.
What if the creature should arise, --
For he was stout and tall, --
And swallow down a sophomore,
Coat, crow's-foot, cap, and all!
All sullenly the stranger rose;
They sat in mute despair;
He took his hat from off the peg,
His coat from off the chair.
Four freshmen fainted on the seat,
Six swooned upon the floor;
Yet on the fearful being passed,
And shut the chapel door.
There is full many a starving man,
That walks in bottle green,
But never more that hungry one
In Commons-hall was seen.
Yet often at the sunset hour,
When tolls the evening bell,
The freshman lingers on the steps,
That frightful tale to tell.
Boston: Ticknor And Fields