Decadence

Before the florid portico
I watched the gamblers come and go,
While by me on a bench there sat
A female in a faded hat;
A shabby, shrinking, crumpled creature,
Of waxy casino-ward with eyes
Of lost soul seeking paradise.

Then from the Café de la Paix
There shambled forth a waiter fellow,
Clad dingily, down-stooped and grey,
With hollow face, careworn and yellow.
With furtive feet before our seat
He came to a respectful stand,
And bowed, my sorry crone to greet,
Saying: "Princess, I kiss your hand."

She gave him such a gracious smile,
And bade him linger by her side;
So there they talked a little while
Of kingly pomp and country pride;
Of Marquis This and Prince von That,
Of Old Vienna, glamour gay. . . .
Then sad he rose and raised his hat:
Saying: "My tables I must lay."

"Yea, you must go, dear Count," she said,
"For luncheon tables must be laid."
He sighed: from his alpaca jacket
He pressed into her hand a packet,
"Sorry, to-day it's all I'm rich in -
A chicken sandwich from the kitchen."
Then bowed and left her after she
Had thanked him with sweet dignity.

She pushed the package out of sight,
Within her bag and closed it tight;
But by and bye I saw her go
To where thick laurel bushes grow,
And there behind that leafy screen,
Thinking herself by all unseen,
That sandwich! How I saw her grab it,
And gulp it like a starving rabbit!

Thinks I: Is all that talk a bluff -
Their dukes and kings and courtly stuff:
The way she ate, why one would say
She hadn't broken fast all day.

by Robert William Service

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