There was many a token of festal display,
And reveling crowds who were never so gay,
And, as it were Æolus charming the hours,
An orchestra hidden by foliage and flowers;
There were tapestries fit for the home of a queen,
And mirrors that glistened in wonderful sheen;
There was feasting and mirth in the banqueting-hall,
For this was the annual Charity Ball.
There were pompous civilians, in wealth who abide,
Displaying their purses, the source of their pride;
And plethoric dealers in margins and stocks,
And owners of acres of elegant blocks,
And tenement-landlords who cling to a cent
When from the poor widow exacting her rent -
Immovable, stern, as an adamant wall -
And yet, who "came down" to this Charity Ball.
There was Beauty whose toilet, superb and unique,
Cost underpaid industry many a week
Of arduous labor of eye, and heartache,
Its starving inadequate pittance to make;
There were mischievous maidens and cavaliers bold,
Whose blushes and glances and coquetry told
A tale of the monarch who held them in thrall -
Who met, as by chance, at the Charity Ball.
There were delicate viands the poor never taste,
And dollars were lavished in prodigal waste
To pamper the palate of epicures rich;
Who drew from the wine cellar's cavernous niche
"Excelsior" brands of the rarest champagnes
To loosen their tongues - though it pilfered their brains -
Oh, sad if a step in some woeful downfall
Should ever be traced to a Charity Ball!
Outside of the window, pressed close to the pane,
And furrowed by tears that had fallen like rain,
Was the face of a woman, so spectral in hue,
With great liquid eyes, like twin oceans of blue,
And cheeks in whose hollows were written the lines
That pitiless hunger so often defines,
Who muttered, as closer she gathered the shawl,
"Oh, never for me is this Charity Ball!"
From liveried hirelings who bade her begone,
By uniformed minions compelled to move on,
Out into the street again driven to roam -
For friends she had none, neither fortune nor home;
While carnival-goers in morning's dull gray
As homeward returning, fatigued and blasé,
A vision encountered their hearts to appall,
And banish all thought of the Charity Ball.
As if seeking warmth from the icy curb-stone,
A form half-reclining, half-clad, and unknown.
Dead eyes looking up with a meaningless stare,
Lay close to the crowded and broad thoroughfare;
A form so emaciate the spirit had fled -
But the pulpit and press and the public all said,
As society's doings they sought to recall,
That a "brilliant success" was the Charity Ball.