Excerpt XVI. "Midnight's meridian is supposed to mark The bound twixt toil and slumber. Light and dark Mete out the lives of mortals In happy alternation," said my guide. "Six hours must fleet ere Phoebus shall set wide His glowing orient portals. "The last loud halloo at the tavern-door long since has driven the reckless and the poor From misery's only haven Forth on the chilling night. 'All out! All out!' Less sad would fall on bibulous' souls, no doubt, The refrain of the Raven. "London lies shuttered close. Law's measured beat Falls echoing down the shadow-chequered street; A distant cab-wheel clatters; The wastrel's drunken cry, the waif's low moan, Reach not the ear of tired Philistia, prone, Dreaming of other matters." The Shadow's slow subacid speech, I knew, Foreboded more than mirth. Downward we drew, Silent, and all un-noted, O'er sleeping Shopdom. Sleeping? Closer quest Might prove it one vast Valley of Unrest O'er which we mutely floated. "Post-midnight peace," I said, "must fall like balm, After the long day's turmoil, on this calm, Close-clustering, lamp-lit city," "Peace?" sighed the Shadow. "She of the white dove Is not less partial in her gifts than Love, Or Wealth, or Worldly Pity. "See yon close-shuttered shop! Peace broodeth there, You deem perchance; but look within. A lair Of midnight smugglers, stirring At the sea's signal, scarce seems more agog. And yet each toiler's heart lies like a log, Sleep each tired eye is blurring. "Feet scuttle, fingers fleet, pens work apace; A whipt-up zeal marks every pallid face; One voice austere, sonorous, Chides, threatens, sometimes curses. How they flush, Its victims silent, tame! That voice would hush A seraph-choir in chorus. "Strident, sardonic, stern; the harrying sound Lashes them like a flail the long hours round, Till to strained nerves 'twere sweeter To silence it with one fierce passionate grip, Than into some bland Lotos Land to slip, And moon out life to metre. "From early morn till midnight these poor slaves Have 'served the public;' now, when nature craves Rest from the strain and scurry Of Shopdom's servitude, they still must wake Some weary hours, though hands with fever shake And nerves are racked with worry. "Though the great streets are still, the shutters up, Gas flares within, and ere they sleep or sup These serfs of Competition Must clean, and sort and sum. There's much to do Behind those scenes set fair to public view By hucksters of position. "The shop-assistant's Sabbath has begun! His sixteen hours long Saturday has run Its wearing course and weary. The last light's out, and many an aching head At last, at last, seeks in a lonely bed A dreamland dim and dreary. "In roseate visions shall racked souls rejoice Haunted by echoes of that harrying voice? Nay, friend, uncounted numbers Of victims to commercial strain and stress, Seek nought more sweet than dull forgetfulness In the short night's scant slumbers." "Too sombre Spirit, hath the opening year No scenes of gayer hope and gentler cheer...?
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