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The Roots of Shep's Tales

Robert W. Service
Robert W. Service - As read by Shep - 12-31-65 The Passing of the Year My glass is filled, my pipe is lit, My den is all a cosy glow; And snug before the fire I sit, And wait to feel the old year go. I dedicate to solemn thought Amid my too-unthinking days, This sober moment, sadly fraught With much of blame, with little praise. Old Year! upon the Stage of Time You stand to bow your last adieu; A moment, and the prompter's chime Will ring the curtain down on you. Your mien is sad, your step is slow; You falter as a Sage in pain; Yet turn, Old Year, before you go, And face your audience again. That sphinx-like face, remote, austere, Let us all read, whate'er the cost: O Maiden! why that bitter tear? Is it for dear one you have lost? Is it for fond illusion gone? For trusted lover proved untrue? O sweet girl-face, so sad, so wan What hath the Old Year meant to you? And you, O neighbour on my right So sleek, so prosperously clad! What see you in that aged wight That makes your smile so gay and glad? What opportunity unmissed? What golden gain, what pride of place? What splendid hope? O Optimist! What read you in that withered face? And You, deep shrinking in the gloom, What find you in that filmy gaze? What menace of a tragic doom? What dark, condemning yesterdays? What urge to crime, what evil done? What cold, confronting shape of fear? O haggard, haunted, hidden One What see you in the dying year? And so from face to face I flit, The countless eyes that stare and stare; Some are with approbation lit, And some are shadowed with despair. Some show a smile and some a frown; Some joy and hope, some pain and woe: Enough! Oh, ring the curtain down! Old weary year! it's time to go. My pipe is out, my glass is dry; My fire is almost ashes too; But once again, before you go, And I prepare to meet the New: Old Year! a parting word that's true, For we've been comrades, you and I -- I thank God for each day of you; There! bless you now! Old Year, good-bye! ------------------------------------------------------------------------- New Year's Eve It's cruel cold on the water-front, silent and dark and drear; Only the black tide weltering, only the hissing snow; And I, alone, like a storm-tossed wreck, on this night of the glad New Year, Shuffling along in the icy wind, ghastly and gaunt and slow. They're playing a tune in McGuffy's saloon, and it's cheery and bright in there (God! But I'm weak -- since the bitter dawn, and never a bite of food); I'll just go over and slip inside -- I mustn't give way to despair -- Perhaps I can bum a little booze if the boys are feeling good. They'll jeer at me, and they'll sneer at me, and they'll call me a whiskey soak; ("Have a drink? Well, thankee kindly, sir, I don't mind if I do.") A drivelling, dirty, gin-joint fiend, the butt of the bar-room joke; Sunk and sodden and hopeless -- "Another? Well, here's to you!" McGuffy is showing a bunch of the boys how Bob Fitzsimmons hit; The barman is talking of Tammany Hall, and why the ward boss got fired. I'll just sneak into a corner and they'll let me alone a bit; The room is reeling round and round . . .O God! But I'm tired, I'm tired. . . . * * * * * Roses she wore on her breast that night. Oh, but their scent was sweet! Alone we sat on the balcony, and the fan-palms arched above; The witching strain of a waltz by Strauss came up to our cool retreat, And I prisoned her little hand in mine, and I whispered my plea of love. Then sudden the laughter died on her lips, and lowly she bent her head; And oh, there came in the deep, dark eyes a look that was heaven to see; And the moments went, and I waited there, and never a word was said, And she plucked from her bosom a rose of red and shyly gave it to me. Then the music swelled to a crash of joy, and the lights blazed up like day, And I held her fast to my throbbing heart, and I kissed her bonny brow. "She is mine, she is mine for evermore!" the violins seemed to say, And the bells were ringing the New Year in -- O God! I can hear them now. Don't you remember that long, last waltz, with its sobbing, sad refrain? Don't you remember that last good-by, and the dear eyes dim with tears? Don't you remember that golden dream, with never a hint of pain, Of lives that would blend like an angel-song in the bliss of the coming years? Oh, what have I lost! What have I lost! Ethel, forgive, forgive! The red, red rose is faded now, and it's fifty years ago. 'Twere better to die a thousand deaths than live each day as I live! I have sinned, I have sunk to the lowest depths -- but oh, I have suffered so! Hark! Oh, hark! I can hear the bells! . . . Look! I can see her there, Fair as a dream . . . But it fades . . . And now -- I can hear the dreadful hum Of the crowded court . . . See! The Judge looks down . . . NOT GUILTY, my Lord, I swear . . . The bells -- I can hear the bells again! . . . Ethel, I come, I come! . . . * * * * * "Rouse up, old man, it's twelve o'clock. You can't sleep here, you know. Say! Ain't you got no sentiment? Lift up your muddled head; Have a drink to the glad New Year, a drop before you go -- You darned old dirty hobo . . . My God! Here, boys! He's DEAD!"
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