MEN, WOMEN AND GHOSTS
by Amy Lowell
by Amy Lowell [American (Massachusetts) poet and critic—1874-1925.]
[Note on text: Lines longer than 78 characters are broken and the continuation is indented two spaces. Some obvious errors have been corrected.]
"'... See small portions of the Eternal World that ever groweth':... So sang a Fairy, mocking, as he sat on a streak'd tulip, Thinking none saw him: when he ceas'd I started from the trees, And caught him in my hat, as boys knock down a butterfly." William Blake. "Europe. A Prophecy."
'Thou hast a lap full of seed, And this is a fine country.' William Blake.
This is a book of stories. For that reason I have excluded all purely lyrical poems. But the word "stories" has been stretched to its fullest application. It includes both narrative poems, properly so called; tales divided into scenes; and a few pieces of less obvious story-telling import in which one might say that the dramatis personae are air, clouds, trees, houses, streets, and such like things.
It has long been a favourite idea of mine that the rhythms of 'vers libre' have not been sufficiently plumbed, that there is in them a power of variation which has never yet been brought to the light of experiment. I think it was the piano pieces of Debussy, with their strange likeness to short vers libre poems, which first showed me the close kinship of music and poetry, and there flashed into my mind the idea of using the movement of poetry in somewhat the same way that the musician uses the movement of music.
It was quite evident that this could never be done in the strict pattern of a metrical form, but the flowing, fluctuating rhythm of vers libre seemed to open the door to such an experiment. First, however, I considered the same method as applied to the more pronounced movements of natural objects. If the reader will turn to the poem, "A Roxbury Garden", he will find in the first two sections an attempt to give the circular movement of a hoop bowling along the ground, and the up and down, elliptical curve of a flying shuttlecock.
From these experiments, it is but a step to the flowing rhythm of music. In "The Cremona Violin", I have tried to give this flowing, changing rhythm to the parts in which the violin is being played. The effect is farther heightened, because the rest of the poem is written in the seven line Chaucerian stanza; and, by deserting this ordered pattern for the undulating line of vers libre, I hoped to produce something of the suave, continuous tone of a violin. Again, in the violin parts themselves, the movement constantly changes, as will be quite plain to any one reading these passages aloud.
In "The Cremona Violin", however, the rhythms are fairly obvious and regular. I set myself a far harder task in trying to transcribe the various movements of Stravinsky's "Three Pieces 'Grotesques', for String Quartet". Several musicians, who have seen the poem, think the movement accurately given.
These experiments lead me to believe that there is here much food for thought and matter for study, and I hope many poets will follow me in opening up the still hardly explored possibilities of vers libre.
A good many of the poems in this book are written in "polyphonic prose". A form about which I have written and spoken so much that it seems hardly necessary to explain it here. Let me hastily add, however, that the word "prose" in its name refers only to the typographical arrangement, for in no sense is this a prose form. Only read it aloud, Gentle Reader, I beg, and you will see what you will see. For a purely dramatic form, I know none better in the whole range of poetry. It enables the poet to give his characters the vivid, real effect they have in a play, while at the same time writing in the 'decor'.
One last innovation I have still to mention. It will be found in "Spring Day", and more fully enlarged upon in the series, "Towns in Colour". In these poems, I have endeavoured to give the colour, and light, and shade, of certain places and hours, stressing the purely pictorial effect, and with little or no reference to any other aspect of the places described. It is an enchanting thing to wander through a city looking for its unrelated beauty, the beauty by which it captivates the sensuous sense of seeing.
I have always loved aquariums, but for years I went to them and looked, and looked, at those swirling, shooting, looping patterns of fish, which always defied transcription to paper until I hit upon the "unrelated" method. The result is in "An Aquarium". I think the first thing which turned me in this direction was John Gould Fletcher's "London Excursion", in "Some Imagist Poets". I here record my thanks.
For the substance of the poems—why, the poems are here. No one writing to-day can fail to be affected by the great war raging in Europe at this time. We are too near it to do more than touch upon it. But, obliquely, it is suggested in many of these poems, most notably those in the section, "Bronze Tablets". The Napoleonic Era is an epic subject, and waits a great epic poet. I have only been able to open a few windows upon it here and there. But the scene from the windows is authentic, and the watcher has used eyes, and ears, and heart, in watching.
Amy Lowell July 10, 1916.
Figurines in Old Saxe
Patterns Pickthorn Manor The Cremona Violin The Cross-Roads A Roxbury Garden 1777
The Fruit Shop Malmaison The Hammers Two Travellers in the Place Vendome
The Allies The Bombardment Lead Soldiers The Painter on Silk A Ballad of Footmen
The Overgrown Pasture
Reaping Off the Turnpike The Grocery Number 3 on the Docket
Clocks Tick a Century
Nightmare: A Tale for an Autumn Evening The Paper Windmill The Red Lacquer Music-Stand Spring Day The Dinner-Party Stravinsky's Three Pieces "Grotesques", for String Quartet Towns in Colour Red Slippers Thompson's Lunch Room—Grand Central Station An Opera House Afternoon Rain in State Street An Aquarium
The two sea songs quoted in "The Hammers" are taken from 'Songs: Naval and Nautical, of the late Charles Dibdin', London, John Murray, 1841. The "Hanging Johnny" refrain, in "The Cremona Violin", is borrowed from the old, well-known chanty of that name.
MEN, WOMEN AND GHOSTS
FIGURINES IN OLD SAXE
I walk down the garden paths, And all the daffodils Are blowing, and the bright blue squills. I walk down the patterned garden-paths In my stiff, brocaded gown. With my powdered hair and jewelled fan, I too am a rare Pattern. As I wander down The garden paths.
My dress is richly figured, And the train Makes a pink and silver stain On the gravel, and the thrift Of the borders. Just a plate of current fashion, Tripping by in high-heeled, ribboned shoes. Not a softness anywhere about me, Only whalebone and brocade. And I sink on a seat in the shade Of a lime tree. For my passion Wars against the stiff brocade. The daffodils and squills Flutter in the breeze As they please. And I weep; For the lime-tree is in blossom And one small flower has dropped upon my bosom.
And the plashing of waterdrops In the marble fountain Comes down the garden-paths. The dripping never stops. Underneath my stiffened gown Is the softness of a woman bathing in a marble basin, A basin in the midst of hedges grown So thick, she cannot see her lover hiding, But she guesses he is near, And the sliding of the water Seems the stroking of a dear Hand upon her. What is Summer in a fine brocaded gown! I should like to see it lying in a heap upon the ground. All the pink and silver crumpled up on the ground.
I would be the pink and silver as I ran along the paths, And he would stumble after, Bewildered by my laughter. I should see the sun flashing from his sword-hilt and the buckles on his shoes. I would choose To lead him in a maze along the patterned paths, A bright and laughing maze for my heavy-booted lover, Till he caught me in the shade, And the buttons of his waistcoat bruised my body as he clasped me, Aching, melting, unafraid. With the shadows of the leaves and the sundrops, And the plopping of the waterdrops, All about us in the open afternoon— I am very like to swoon With the weight of this brocade, For the sun sifts through the shade.
Underneath the fallen blossom In my bosom, Is a letter I have hid. It was brought to me this morning by a rider from the Duke. "Madam, we regret to inform you that Lord Hartwell Died in action Thursday se'nnight." As I read it in the white, morning sunlight, The letters squirmed like snakes. "Any answer, Madam," said my footman. "No," I told him. "See that the messenger takes some refreshment. No, no answer." And I walked into the garden, Up and down the patterned paths, In my stiff, correct brocade. The blue and yellow flowers stood up proudly in the sun, Each one. I stood upright too, Held rigid to the pattern By the stiffness of my gown. Up and down I walked, Up and down.
In a month he would have been my husband. In a month, here, underneath this lime, We would have broke the pattern; He for me, and I for him, He as Colonel, I as Lady, On this shady seat. He had a whim That sunlight carried blessing. And I answered, "It shall be as you have said." Now he is dead.
In Summer and in Winter I shall walk Up and down The patterned garden-paths In my stiff, brocaded gown. The squills and daffodils Will give place to pillared roses, and to asters, and to snow. I shall go Up and down, In my gown. Gorgeously arrayed, Boned and stayed. And the softness of my body will be guarded from embrace By each button, hook, and lace. For the man who should loose me is dead, Fighting with the Duke in Flanders, In a pattern called a war. Christ! What are patterns for?
How fresh the Dartle's little waves that day! A steely silver, underlined with blue, And flashing where the round clouds, blown away, Let drop the yellow sunshine to gleam through And tip the edges of the waves with shifts And spots of whitest fire, hard like gems Cut from the midnight moon they were, and sharp As wind through leafless stems. The Lady Eunice walked between the drifts Of blooming cherry-trees, and watched the rifts Of clouds drawn through the river's azure warp.
Her little feet tapped softly down the path. Her soul was listless; even the morning breeze Fluttering the trees and strewing a light swath Of fallen petals on the grass, could please Her not at all. She brushed a hair aside With a swift move, and a half-angry frown. She stopped to pull a daffodil or two, And held them to her gown To test the colours; put them at her side, Then at her breast, then loosened them and tried Some new arrangement, but it would not do.
A lady in a Manor-house, alone, Whose husband is in Flanders with the Duke Of Marlborough and Prince Eugene, she's grown Too apathetic even to rebuke Her idleness. What is she on this Earth? No woman surely, since she neither can Be wed nor single, must not let her mind Build thoughts upon a man Except for hers. Indeed that were no dearth Were her Lord here, for well she knew his worth, And when she thought of him her eyes were kind.
Too lately wed to have forgot the wooing. Too unaccustomed as a bride to feel Other than strange delight at her wife's doing. Even at the thought a gentle blush would steal Over her face, and then her lips would frame Some little word of loving, and her eyes Would brim and spill their tears, when all they saw Was the bright sun, slantwise Through burgeoning trees, and all the morning's flame Burning and quivering round her. With quick shame She shut her heart and bent before the law.
He was a soldier, she was proud of that. This was his house and she would keep it well. His honour was in fighting, hers in what He'd left her here in charge of. Then a spell Of conscience sent her through the orchard spying Upon the gardeners. Were their tools about? Were any branches broken? Had the weeds Been duly taken out Under the 'spaliered pears, and were these lying Nailed snug against the sunny bricks and drying Their leaves and satisfying all their needs?
She picked a stone up with a little pout, Stones looked so ill in well-kept flower-borders. Where should she put it? All the paths about Were strewn with fair, red gravel by her orders. No stone could mar their sifted smoothness. So She hurried to the river. At the edge She stood a moment charmed by the swift blue Beyond the river sedge. She watched it curdling, crinkling, and the snow Purfled upon its wave-tops. Then, "Hullo, My Beauty, gently, or you'll wriggle through."
The Lady Eunice caught a willow spray To save herself from tumbling in the shallows Which rippled to her feet. Then straight away She peered down stream among the budding sallows. A youth in leather breeches and a shirt Of finest broidered lawn lay out upon An overhanging bole and deftly swayed A well-hooked fish which shone In the pale lemon sunshine like a spurt Of silver, bowed and damascened, and girt With crimson spots and moons which waned and played.
The fish hung circled for a moment, ringed And bright; then flung itself out, a thin blade Of spotted lightning, and its tail was winged With chipped and sparkled sunshine. And the shade Broke up and splintered into shafts of light Wheeling about the fish, who churned the air And made the fish-line hum, and bent the rod Almost to snapping. Care The young man took against the twigs, with slight, Deft movements he kept fish and line in tight Obedience to his will with every prod.
He lay there, and the fish hung just beyond. He seemed uncertain what more he should do. He drew back, pulled the rod to correspond, Tossed it and caught it; every time he threw, He caught it nearer to the point. At last The fish was near enough to touch. He paused. Eunice knew well the craft—"What's got the thing!" She cried. "What can have caused— Where is his net? The moment will be past. The fish will wriggle free." She stopped aghast. He turned and bowed. One arm was in a sling.
The broad, black ribbon she had thought his basket Must hang from, held instead a useless arm. "I do not wonder, Madam, that you ask it." He smiled, for she had spoke aloud. "The charm Of trout fishing is in my eyes enhanced When you must play your fish on land as well." "How will you take him?" Eunice asked. "In truth I really cannot tell. 'Twas stupid of me, but it simply chanced I never thought of that until he glanced Into the branches. 'Tis a bit uncouth."
He watched the fish against the blowing sky, Writhing and glittering, pulling at the line. "The hook is fast, I might just let him die," He mused. "But that would jar against your fine Sense of true sportsmanship, I know it would," Cried Eunice. "Let me do it." Swift and light She ran towards him. "It is so long now Since I have felt a bite, I lost all heart for everything." She stood, Supple and strong, beside him, and her blood Tingled her lissom body to a glow.
She quickly seized the fish and with a stone Ended its flurry, then removed the hook, Untied the fly with well-poised fingers. Done, She asked him where he kept his fishing-book. He pointed to a coat flung on the ground. She searched the pockets, found a shagreen case, Replaced the fly, noticed a golden stamp Filling the middle space. Two letters half rubbed out were there, and round About them gay rococo flowers wound And tossed a spray of roses to the clamp.
The Lady Eunice puzzled over these. "G. D." the young man gravely said. "My name Is Gervase Deane. Your servant, if you please." "Oh, Sir, indeed I know you, for your fame For exploits in the field has reached my ears. I did not know you wounded and returned." "But just come back, Madam. A silly prick To gain me such unearned Holiday making. And you, it appears, Must be Sir Everard's lady. And my fears At being caught a-trespassing were quick."
He looked so rueful that she laughed out loud. "You are forgiven, Mr. Deane. Even more, I offer you the fishing, and am proud That you should find it pleasant from this shore. Nobody fishes now, my husband used To angle daily, and I too with him. He loved the spotted trout, and pike, and dace. He even had a whim That flies my fingers tied swiftly confused The greater fish. And he must be excused, Love weaves odd fancies in a lonely place."
She sighed because it seemed so long ago, Those days with Everard; unthinking took The path back to the orchard. Strolling so She walked, and he beside her. In a nook Where a stone seat withdrew beneath low boughs, Full-blossomed, hummed with bees, they sat them down. She questioned him about the war, the share Her husband had, and grown Eager by his clear answers, straight allows Her hidden hopes and fears to speak, and rouse Her numbed love, which had slumbered unaware.
Under the orchard trees daffodils danced And jostled, turning sideways to the wind. A dropping cherry petal softly glanced Over her hair, and slid away behind. At the far end through twisted cherry-trees The old house glowed, geranium-hued, with bricks Bloomed in the sun like roses, low and long, Gabled, and with quaint tricks Of chimneys carved and fretted. Out of these Grey smoke was shaken, which the faint Spring breeze Tossed into nothing. Then a thrush's song
Needled its way through sound of bees and river. The notes fell, round and starred, between young leaves, Trilled to a spiral lilt, stopped on a quiver. The Lady Eunice listens and believes. Gervase has many tales of her dear Lord, His bravery, his knowledge, his charmed life. She quite forgets who's speaking in the gladness Of being this man's wife. Gervase is wounded, grave indeed, the word Is kindly said, but to a softer chord She strings her voice to ask with wistful sadness,
"And is Sir Everard still unscathed? I fain Would know the truth." "Quite well, dear Lady, quite." She smiled in her content. "So many slain, You must forgive me for a little fright." And he forgave her, not alone for that, But because she was fingering his heart, Pressing and squeezing it, and thinking so Only to ease her smart Of painful, apprehensive longing. At Their feet the river swirled and chucked. They sat An hour there. The thrush flew to and fro.
The Lady Eunice supped alone that day, As always since Sir Everard had gone, In the oak-panelled parlour, whose array Of faded portraits in carved mouldings shone. Warriors and ladies, armoured, ruffed, peruked. Van Dykes with long, slim fingers; Holbeins, stout And heavy-featured; and one Rubens dame, A peony just burst out, With flaunting, crimson flesh. Eunice rebuked Her thoughts of gentler blood, when these had duked It with the best, and scorned to change their name.
A sturdy family, and old besides, Much older than her own, the Earls of Crowe. Since Saxon days, these men had sought their brides Among the highest born, but always so, Taking them to themselves, their wealth, their lands, But never their titles. Stern perhaps, but strong, The Framptons fed their blood from richest streams, Scorning the common throng. Gazing upon these men, she understands The toughness of the web wrought from such strands And pride of Everard colours all her dreams.
Eunice forgets to eat, watching their faces Flickering in the wind-blown candle's shine. Blue-coated lackeys tiptoe to their places, And set out plates of fruit and jugs of wine. The table glitters black like Winter ice. The Dartle's rushing, and the gentle clash Of blossomed branches, drifts into her ears. And through the casement sash She sees each cherry stem a pointed slice Of splintered moonlight, topped with all the spice And shimmer of the blossoms it uprears.
"In such a night—" she laid the book aside, She could outnight the poet by thinking back. In such a night she came here as a bride. The date was graven in the almanack Of her clasped memory. In this very room Had Everard uncloaked her. On this seat Had drawn her to him, bade her note the trees, How white they were and sweet And later, coming to her, her dear groom, Her Lord, had lain beside her in the gloom Of moon and shade, and whispered her to ease.
Her little taper made the room seem vast, Caverned and empty. And her beating heart Rapped through the silence all about her cast Like some loud, dreadful death-watch taking part In this sad vigil. Slowly she undrest, Put out the light and crept into her bed. The linen sheets were fragrant, but so cold. And brimming tears she shed, Sobbing and quivering in her barren nest, Her weeping lips into the pillow prest, Her eyes sealed fast within its smothering fold.
The morning brought her a more stoic mind, And sunshine struck across the polished floor. She wondered whether this day she should find Gervase a-fishing, and so listen more, Much more again, to all he had to tell. And he was there, but waiting to begin Until she came. They fished awhile, then went To the old seat within The cherry's shade. He pleased her very well By his discourse. But ever he must dwell Upon Sir Everard. Each incident
Must be related and each term explained. How troops were set in battle, how a siege Was ordered and conducted. She complained Because he bungled at the fall of Liege. The curious names of parts of forts she knew, And aired with conscious pride her ravelins, And counterscarps, and lunes. The day drew on, And his dead fish's fins In the hot sunshine turned a mauve-green hue. At last Gervase, guessing the hour, withdrew. But she sat long in still oblivion.
Then he would bring her books, and read to her The poems of Dr. Donne, and the blue river Would murmur through the reading, and a stir Of birds and bees make the white petals shiver, And one or two would flutter prone and lie Spotting the smooth-clipped grass. The days went by Threaded with talk and verses. Green leaves pushed Through blossoms stubbornly. Gervase, unconscious of dishonesty, Fell into strong and watchful loving, free He thought, since always would his lips be hushed.
But lips do not stay silent at command, And Gervase strove in vain to order his. Luckily Eunice did not understand That he but read himself aloud, for this Their friendship would have snapped. She treated him And spoilt him like a brother. It was now "Gervase" and "Eunice" with them, and he dined Whenever she'd allow, In the oak parlour, underneath the dim Old pictured Framptons, opposite her slim Figure, so bright against the chair behind.
Eunice was happier than she had been For many days, and yet the hours were long. All Gervase told to her but made her lean More heavily upon the past. Among Her hopes she lived, even when she was giving Her morning orders, even when she twined Nosegays to deck her parlours. With the thought Of Everard, her mind Solaced its solitude, and in her striving To do as he would wish was all her living. She welcomed Gervase for the news he brought.
Black-hearts and white-hearts, bubbled with the sun, Hid in their leaves and knocked against each other. Eunice was standing, panting with her run Up to the tool-house just to get another Basket. All those which she had brought were filled, And still Gervase pelted her from above. The buckles of his shoes flashed higher and higher Until his shoulders strove Quite through the top. "Eunice, your spirit's filled This tree. White-hearts!" He shook, and cherries spilled And spat out from the leaves like falling fire.
The wide, sun-winged June morning spread itself Over the quiet garden. And they packed Full twenty baskets with the fruit. "My shelf Of cordials will be stored with what it lacked. In future, none of us will drink strong ale, But cherry-brandy." "Vastly good, I vow," And Gervase gave the tree another shake. The cherries seemed to flow Out of the sky in cloudfuls, like blown hail. Swift Lady Eunice ran, her farthingale, Unnoticed, tangling in a fallen rake.
She gave a little cry and fell quite prone In the long grass, and lay there very still. Gervase leapt from the tree at her soft moan, And kneeling over her, with clumsy skill Unloosed her bodice, fanned her with his hat, And his unguarded lips pronounced his heart. "Eunice, my Dearest Girl, where are you hurt?" His trembling fingers dart Over her limbs seeking some wound. She strove To answer, opened wide her eyes, above Her knelt Sir Everard, with face alert.
Her eyelids fell again at that sweet sight, "My Love!" she murmured, "Dearest! Oh, my Dear!" He took her in his arms and bore her right And tenderly to the old seat, and "Here I have you mine at last," she said, and swooned Under his kisses. When she came once more To sight of him, she smiled in comfort knowing Herself laid as before Close covered on his breast. And all her glowing Youth answered him, and ever nearer growing She twined him in her arms and soft festooned
Herself about him like a flowering vine, Drawing his lips to cling upon her own. A ray of sunlight pierced the leaves to shine Where her half-opened bodice let be shown Her white throat fluttering to his soft caress, Half-gasping with her gladness. And her pledge She whispers, melting with delight. A twig Snaps in the hornbeam hedge. A cackling laugh tears through the quietness. Eunice starts up in terrible distress. "My God! What's that?" Her staring eyes are big.
Revulsed emotion set her body shaking As though she had an ague. Gervase swore, Jumped to his feet in such a dreadful taking His face was ghastly with the look it wore. Crouching and slipping through the trees, a man In worn, blue livery, a humpbacked thing, Made off. But turned every few steps to gaze At Eunice, and to fling Vile looks and gestures back. "The ruffian! By Christ's Death! I will split him to a span Of hog's thongs." She grasped at his sleeve, "Gervase!
What are you doing here? Put down that sword, That's only poor old Tony, crazed and lame. We never notice him. With my dear Lord I ought not to have minded that he came. But, Gervase, it surprises me that you Should so lack grace to stay here." With one hand She held her gaping bodice to conceal Her breast. "I must demand Your instant absence. Everard, but new Returned, will hardly care for guests. Adieu." "Eunice, you're mad." His brain began to reel.
He tried again to take her, tried to twist Her arms about him. Truly, she had said Nothing should ever part them. In a mist She pushed him from her, clasped her aching head In both her hands, and rocked and sobbed aloud. "Oh! Where is Everard? What does this mean? So lately come to leave me thus alone!" But Gervase had not seen Sir Everard. Then, gently, to her bowed And sickening spirit, he told of her proud Surrender to him. He could hear her moan.
Then shame swept over her and held her numb, Hiding her anguished face against the seat. At last she rose, a woman stricken—dumb— And trailed away with slowly-dragging feet. Gervase looked after her, but feared to pass The barrier set between them. All his rare Joy broke to fragments—worse than that, unreal. And standing lonely there, His swollen heart burst out, and on the grass He flung himself and wept. He knew, alas! The loss so great his life could never heal.
For days thereafter Eunice lived retired, Waited upon by one old serving-maid. She would not leave her chamber, and desired Only to hide herself. She was afraid Of what her eyes might trick her into seeing, Of what her longing urge her then to do. What was this dreadful illness solitude Had tortured her into? Her hours went by in a long constant fleeing The thought of that one morning. And her being Bruised itself on a happening so rude.
It grew ripe Summer, when one morning came Her tirewoman with a letter, printed Upon the seal were the Deane crest and name. With utmost gentleness, the letter hinted His understanding and his deep regret. But would she not permit him once again To pay her his profound respects? No word Of what had passed should pain Her resolution. Only let them get Back the old comradeship. Her eyes were wet With starting tears, now truly she deplored
His misery. Yes, she was wrong to keep Away from him. He hardly was to blame. 'Twas she—she shuddered and began to weep. 'Twas her fault! Hers! Her everlasting shame Was that she suffered him, whom not at all She loved. Poor Boy! Yes, they must still be friends. She owed him that to keep the balance straight. It was such poor amends Which she could make for rousing hopes to gall Him with their unfulfilment. Tragical It was, and she must leave him desolate.
Hard silence he had forced upon his lips For long and long, and would have done so still Had not she—here she pressed her finger tips Against her heavy eyes. Then with forced will She wrote that he might come, sealed with the arms Of Crowe and Frampton twined. Her heart felt lighter When this was done. It seemed her constant care Might some day cease to fright her. Illness could be no crime, and dreadful harms Did come from too much sunshine. Her alarms Would lessen when she saw him standing there,
Simple and kind, a brother just returned From journeying, and he would treat her so. She knew his honest heart, and if there burned A spark in it he would not let it show. But when he really came, and stood beside Her underneath the fruitless cherry boughs, He seemed a tired man, gaunt, leaden-eyed. He made her no more vows, Nor did he mention one thing he had tried To put into his letter. War supplied Him topics. And his mind seemed occupied.
Daily they met. And gravely walked and talked. He read her no more verses, and he stayed Only until their conversation, balked Of every natural channel, fled dismayed. Again the next day she would meet him, trying To give her tone some healthy sprightliness, But his uneager dignity soon chilled Her well-prepared address. Thus Summer waned, and in the mornings, crying Of wild geese startled Eunice, and their flying Whirred overhead for days and never stilled.
One afternoon of grey clouds and white wind, Eunice awaited Gervase by the river. The Dartle splashed among the reeds and whined Over the willow-roots, and a long sliver Of caked and slobbered foam crept up the bank. All through the garden, drifts of skirling leaves Blew up, and settled down, and blew again. The cherry-trees were weaves Of empty, knotted branches, and a dank Mist hid the house, mouldy it smelt and rank With sodden wood, and still unfalling rain.
Eunice paced up and down. No joy she took At meeting Gervase, but the custom grown Still held her. He was late. She sudden shook, And caught at her stopped heart. Her eyes had shown Sir Everard emerging from the mist. His uniform was travel-stained and torn, His jackboots muddy, and his eager stride Jangled his spurs. A thorn Entangled, trailed behind him. To the tryst He hastened. Eunice shuddered, ran—a twist Round a sharp turning and she fled to hide.
But he had seen her as she swiftly ran, A flash of white against the river's grey. "Eunice," he called. "My Darling. Eunice. Can You hear me? It is Everard. All day I have been riding like the very devil To reach you sooner. Are you startled, Dear?" He broke into a run and followed her, And caught her, faint with fear, Cowering and trembling as though she some evil Spirit were seeing. "What means this uncivil Greeting, Dear Heart?" He saw her senses blur.
Swaying and catching at the seat, she tried To speak, but only gurgled in her throat. At last, straining to hold herself, she cried To him for pity, and her strange words smote A coldness through him, for she begged Gervase To leave her, 'twas too much a second time. Gervase must go, always Gervase, her mind Repeated like a rhyme This name he did not know. In sad amaze He watched her, and that hunted, fearful gaze, So unremembering and so unkind.
Softly he spoke to her, patiently dealt With what he feared her madness. By and by He pierced her understanding. Then he knelt Upon the seat, and took her hands: "Now try To think a minute I am come, my Dear, Unharmed and back on furlough. Are you glad To have your lover home again? To me, Pickthorn has never had A greater pleasantness. Could you not bear To come and sit awhile beside me here? A stone between us surely should not be."
She smiled a little wan and ravelled smile, Then came to him and on his shoulder laid Her head, and they two rested there awhile, Each taking comfort. Not a word was said. But when he put his hand upon her breast And felt her beating heart, and with his lips Sought solace for her and himself. She started As one sharp lashed with whips, And pushed him from her, moaning, his dumb quest Denied and shuddered from. And he, distrest, Loosened his wife, and long they sat there, parted.
Eunice was very quiet all that day, A little dazed, and yet she seemed content. At candle-time, he asked if she would play Upon her harpsichord, at once she went And tinkled airs from Lully's 'Carnival' And 'Bacchus', newly brought away from France. Then jaunted through a lively rigadoon To please him with a dance By Purcell, for he said that surely all Good Englishmen had pride in national Accomplishment. But tiring of it soon
He whispered her that if she had forgiven His startling her that afternoon, the clock Marked early bed-time. Surely it was Heaven He entered when she opened to his knock. The hours rustled in the trailing wind Over the chimney. Close they lay and knew Only that they were wedded. At his touch Anxiety she threw Away like a shed garment, and inclined Herself to cherish him, her happy mind Quivering, unthinking, loving overmuch.
Eunice lay long awake in the cool night After her husband slept. She gazed with joy Into the shadows, painting them with bright Pictures of all her future life's employ. Twin gems they were, set to a single jewel, Each shining with the other. Soft she turned And felt his breath upon her hair, and prayed Her happiness was earned. Past Earls of Crowe should give their blood for fuel To light this Frampton's hearth-fire. By no cruel Affrightings would she ever be dismayed.
When Everard, next day, asked her in joke What name it was that she had called him by, She told him of Gervase, and as she spoke She hardly realized it was a lie. Her vision she related, but she hid The fondness into which she had been led. Sir Everard just laughed and pinched her ear, And quite out of her head The matter drifted. Then Sir Everard chid Himself for laziness, and off he rid To see his men and count his farming-gear.
At supper he seemed overspread with gloom, But gave no reason why, he only asked More questions of Gervase, and round the room He walked with restless strides. At last he tasked Her with a greater feeling for this man Than she had given. Eunice quick denied The slightest interest other than a friend Might claim. But he replied He thought she underrated. Then a ban He put on talk and music. He'd a plan To work at, draining swamps at Pickthorn End.
Next morning Eunice found her Lord still changed, Hard and unkind, with bursts of anger. Pride Kept him from speaking out. His probings ranged All round his torment. Lady Eunice tried To sooth him. So a week went by, and then His anguish flooded over; with clenched hands Striving to stem his words, he told her plain Tony had seen them, "brands Burning in Hell," the man had said. Again Eunice described her vision, and how when Awoke at last she had known dreadful pain.
He could not credit it, and misery fed Upon his spirit, day by day it grew. To Gervase he forbade the house, and led The Lady Eunice such a life she flew At his approaching footsteps. Winter came Snowing and blustering through the Manor trees. All the roof-edges spiked with icicles In fluted companies. The Lady Eunice with her tambour-frame Kept herself sighing company. The flame Of the birch fire glittered on the walls.
A letter was brought to her as she sat, Unsealed, unsigned. It told her that his wound, The writer's, had so well recovered that To join his regiment he felt him bound. But would she not wish him one short "Godspeed", He asked no more. Her greeting would suffice. He had resolved he never should return. Would she this sacrifice Make for a dying man? How could she read The rest! But forcing her eyes to the deed, She read. Then dropped it in the fire to burn.
Gervase had set the river for their meeting As farthest from the farms where Everard Spent all his days. How should he know such cheating Was quite expected, at least no dullard Was Everard Frampton. Hours by hours he hid Among the willows watching. Dusk had come, And from the Manor he had long been gone. Eunice her burdensome Task set about. Hooded and cloaked, she slid Over the slippery paths, and soon amid The sallows saw a boat tied to a stone.
Gervase arose, and kissed her hand, then pointed Into the boat. She shook her head, but he Begged her to realize why, and with disjointed Words told her of what peril there might be From listeners along the river bank. A push would take them out of earshot. Ten Minutes was all he asked, then she should land, He go away again, Forever this time. Yet how could he thank Her for so much compassion. Here she sank Upon a thwart, and bid him quick unstrand
His boat. He cast the rope, and shoved the keel Free of the gravel; jumped, and dropped beside Her; took the oars, and they began to steal Under the overhanging trees. A wide Gash of red lantern-light cleft like a blade Into the gloom, and struck on Eunice sitting Rigid and stark upon the after thwart. It blazed upon their flitting In merciless light. A moment so it stayed, Then was extinguished, and Sir Everard made One leap, and landed just a fraction short.
His weight upon the gunwale tipped the boat To straining balance. Everard lurched and seized His wife and held her smothered to his coat. "Everard, loose me, we shall drown—" and squeezed Against him, she beat with her hands. He gasped "Never, by God!" The slidden boat gave way And the black foamy water split—and met. Bubbled up through the spray A wailing rose and in the branches rasped, And creaked, and stilled. Over the treetops, clasped In the blue evening, a clear moon was set.
They lie entangled in the twisting roots, Embraced forever. Their cold marriage bed Close-canopied and curtained by the shoots Of willows and pale birches. At the head, White lilies, like still swans, placidly float And sway above the pebbles. Here are waves Sun-smitten for a threaded counterpane Gold-woven on their graves. In perfect quietness they sleep, remote In the green, rippled twilight. Death has smote Them to perpetual oneness who were twain.
The Cremona Violin
Frau Concert-Meister Altgelt shut the door. A storm was rising, heavy gusts of wind Swirled through the trees, and scattered leaves before Her on the clean, flagged path. The sky behind The distant town was black, and sharp defined Against it shone the lines of roofs and towers, Superimposed and flat like cardboard flowers.
A pasted city on a purple ground, Picked out with luminous paint, it seemed. The cloud Split on an edge of lightning, and a sound Of rivers full and rushing boomed through bowed, Tossed, hissing branches. Thunder rumbled loud Beyond the town fast swallowing into gloom. Frau Altgelt closed the windows of each room.
She bustled round to shake by constant moving The strange, weird atmosphere. She stirred the fire, She twitched the supper-cloth as though improving Its careful setting, then her own attire Came in for notice, tiptoeing higher and higher She peered into the wall-glass, now adjusting A straying lock, or else a ribbon thrusting
This way or that to suit her. At last sitting, Or rather plumping down upon a chair, She took her work, the stocking she was knitting, And watched the rain upon the window glare In white, bright drops. Through the black glass a flare Of lightning squirmed about her needles. "Oh!" She cried. "What can be keeping Theodore so!"
A roll of thunder set the casements clapping. Frau Altgelt flung her work aside and ran, Pulled open the house door, with kerchief flapping She stood and gazed along the street. A man Flung back the garden-gate and nearly ran Her down as she stood in the door. "Why, Dear, What in the name of patience brings you here?
Quick, Lotta, shut the door, my violin I fear is wetted. Now, Dear, bring a light. This clasp is very much too worn and thin. I'll take the other fiddle out to-night If it still rains. Tut! Tut! my child, you're quite Clumsy. Here, help me, hold the case while I— Give me the candle. No, the inside's dry.
Thank God for that! Well, Lotta, how are you? A bad storm, but the house still stands, I see. Is my pipe filled, my Dear? I'll have a few Puffs and a snooze before I eat my tea. What do you say? That you were feared for me? Nonsense, my child. Yes, kiss me, now don't talk. I need a rest, the theatre's a long walk."
Her needles still, her hands upon her lap Patiently laid, Charlotta Altgelt sat And watched the rain-run window. In his nap Her husband stirred and muttered. Seeing that, Charlotta rose and softly, pit-a-pat, Climbed up the stairs, and in her little room Found sighing comfort with a moon in bloom.
But even rainy windows, silver-lit By a new-burst, storm-whetted moon, may give But poor content to loneliness, and it Was hard for young Charlotta so to strive And down her eagerness and learn to live In placid quiet. While her husband slept, Charlotta in her upper chamber wept.
Herr Concert-Meister Altgelt was a man Gentle and unambitious, that alone Had kept him back. He played as few men can, Drawing out of his instrument a tone So shimmering-sweet and palpitant, it shone Like a bright thread of sound hung in the air, Afloat and swinging upward, slim and fair.
Above all things, above Charlotta his wife, Herr Altgelt loved his violin, a fine Cremona pattern, Stradivari's life Was flowering out of early discipline When this was fashioned. Of soft-cutting pine The belly was. The back of broadly curled Maple, the head made thick and sharply whirled.
The slanting, youthful sound-holes through The belly of fine, vigorous pine Mellowed each note and blew It out again with a woody flavour Tanged and fragrant as fir-trees are When breezes in their needles jar.
The varnish was an orange-brown Lustered like glass that's long laid down Under a crumbling villa stone. Purfled stoutly, with mitres which point Straight up the corners. Each curve and joint Clear, and bold, and thin. Such was Herr Theodore's violin.
Seven o'clock, the Concert-Meister gone With his best violin, the rain being stopped, Frau Lotta in the kitchen sat alone Watching the embers which the fire dropped. The china shone upon the dresser, topped By polished copper vessels which her skill Kept brightly burnished. It was very still.
An air from 'Orfeo' hummed in her head. Herr Altgelt had been practising before The night's performance. Charlotta had plead With him to stay with her. Even at the door She'd begged him not to go. "I do implore You for this evening, Theodore," she had said. "Leave them to-night, and stay with me instead."
"A silly poppet!" Theodore pinched her ear. "You'd like to have our good Elector turn Me out I think." "But, Theodore, something queer Ails me. Oh, do but notice how they burn, My cheeks! The thunder worried me. You're stern, And cold, and only love your work, I know. But Theodore, for this evening, do not go."
But he had gone, hurriedly at the end, For she had kept him talking. Now she sat Alone again, always alone, the trend Of all her thinking brought her back to that She wished to banish. What would life be? What? For she was young, and loved, while he was moved Only by music. Each day that was proved.
Each day he rose and practised. While he played, She stopped her work and listened, and her heart Swelled painfully beneath her bodice. Swayed And longing, she would hide from him her smart. "Well, Lottchen, will that do?" Then what a start She gave, and she would run to him and cry, And he would gently chide her, "Fie, Dear, fie.
I'm glad I played it well. But such a taking! You'll hear the thing enough before I've done." And she would draw away from him, still shaking. Had he but guessed she was another one, Another violin. Her strings were aching, Stretched to the touch of his bow hand, again He played and she almost broke at the strain.
Where was the use of thinking of it now, Sitting alone and listening to the clock! She'd best make haste and knit another row. Three hours at least must pass before his knock Would startle her. It always was a shock. She listened—listened—for so long before, That when it came her hearing almost tore.
She caught herself just starting in to listen. What nerves she had: rattling like brittle sticks! She wandered to the window, for the glisten Of a bright moon was tempting. Snuffed the wicks Of her two candles. Still she could not fix To anything. The moon in a broad swath Beckoned her out and down the garden-path.
Against the house, her hollyhocks stood high And black, their shadows doubling them. The night Was white and still with moonlight, and a sigh Of blowing leaves was there, and the dim flight Of insects, and the smell of aconite, And stocks, and Marvel of Peru. She flitted Along the path, where blocks of shadow pitted
The even flags. She let herself go dreaming Of Theodore her husband, and the tune From 'Orfeo' swam through her mind, but seeming Changed—shriller. Of a sudden, the clear moon Showed her a passer-by, inopportune Indeed, but here he was, whistling and striding. Lotta squeezed in between the currants, hiding.
"The best laid plans of mice and men," alas! The stranger came indeed, but did not pass. Instead, he leant upon the garden-gate, Folding his arms and whistling. Lotta's state, Crouched in the prickly currants, on wet grass, Was far from pleasant. Still the stranger stayed, And Lotta in her currants watched, dismayed.
He seemed a proper fellow standing there In the bright moonshine. His cocked hat was laced With silver, and he wore his own brown hair Tied, but unpowdered. His whole bearing graced A fine cloth coat, and ruffled shirt, and chased Sword-hilt. Charlotta looked, but her position Was hardly easy. When would his volition
Suggest his walking on? And then that tune! A half-a-dozen bars from 'Orfeo' Gone over and over, and murdered. What Fortune Had brought him there to stare about him so? "Ach, Gott im Himmel! Why will he not go!" Thought Lotta, but the young man whistled on, And seemed in no great hurry to be gone.
Charlotta, crouched among the currant bushes, Watched the moon slowly dip from twig to twig. If Theodore should chance to come, and blushes Streamed over her. He would not care a fig, He'd only laugh. She pushed aside a sprig Of sharp-edged leaves and peered, then she uprose Amid her bushes. "Sir," said she, "pray whose
Garden do you suppose you're watching? Why Do you stand there? I really must insist Upon your leaving. 'Tis unmannerly To stay so long." The young man gave a twist And turned about, and in the amethyst Moonlight he saw her like a nymph half-risen From the green bushes which had been her prison.
He swept his hat off in a hurried bow. "Your pardon, Madam, I had no idea I was not quite alone, and that is how I came to stay. My trespass was not sheer Impertinence. I thought no one was here, And really gardens cry to be admired. To-night especially it seemed required.
And may I beg to introduce myself? Heinrich Marohl of Munich. And your name?" Charlotta told him. And the artful elf Promptly exclaimed about her husband's fame. So Lotta, half-unwilling, slowly came To conversation with him. When she went Into the house, she found the evening spent.
Theodore arrived quite wearied out and teased, With all excitement in him burned away. It had gone well, he said, the audience pleased, And he had played his very best to-day, But afterwards he had been forced to stay And practise with the stupid ones. His head Ached furiously, and he must get to bed.
Herr Concert-Meister Altgelt played, And the four strings of his violin Were spinning like bees on a day in Spring. The notes rose into the wide sun-mote Which slanted through the window, They lay like coloured beads a-row, They knocked together and parted, And started to dance, Skipping, tripping, each one slipping Under and over the others so That the polychrome fire streamed like a lance Or a comet's tail, Behind them. Then a wail arose—crescendo— And dropped from off the end of the bow, And the dancing stopped. A scent of lilies filled the room, Long and slow. Each large white bloom Breathed a sound which was holy perfume from a blessed censer, And the hum of an organ tone, And they waved like fans in a hall of stone Over a bier standing there in the centre, alone. Each lily bent slowly as it was blown. Like smoke they rose from the violin— Then faded as a swifter bowing Jumbled the notes like wavelets flowing In a splashing, pashing, rippling motion Between broad meadows to an ocean Wide as a day and blue as a flower, Where every hour Gulls dipped, and scattered, and squawked, and squealed, And over the marshes the Angelus pealed, And the prows of the fishing-boats were spattered With spray. And away a couple of frigates were starting To race to Java with all sails set, Topgallants, and royals, and stunsails, and jibs, And wide moonsails; and the shining rails Were polished so bright they sparked in the sun. All the sails went up with a run: "They call me Hanging Johnny, Away-i-oh; They call me Hanging Johnny, So hang, boys, hang." And the sun had set and the high moon whitened, And the ship heeled over to the breeze. He drew her into the shade of the sails, And whispered tales Of voyages in the China seas, And his arm around her Held and bound her. She almost swooned, With the breeze and the moon And the slipping sea, And he beside her, Touching her, leaning— The ship careening, With the white moon steadily shining over Her and her lover, Theodore, still her lover!
Then a quiver fell on the crowded notes, And slowly floated A single note which spread and spread Till it filled the room with a shimmer like gold, And noises shivered throughout its length, And tried its strength. They pulled it, and tore it, And the stuff waned thinner, but still it bore it. Then a wide rent Split the arching tent, And balls of fire spurted through, Spitting yellow, and mauve, and blue. One by one they were quenched as they fell, Only the blue burned steadily. Paler and paler it grew, and—faded—away. Herr Altgelt stopped.
"Well, Lottachen, my Dear, what do you say? I think I'm in good trim. Now let's have dinner. What's this, my Love, you're very sweet to-day. I wonder how it happens I'm the winner Of so much sweetness. But I think you're thinner; You're like a bag of feathers on my knee. Why, Lotta child, you're almost strangling me.
I'm glad you're going out this afternoon. The days are getting short, and I'm so tied At the Court Theatre my poor little bride Has not much junketing I fear, but soon I'll ask our manager to grant a boon. To-night, perhaps, I'll get a pass for you, And when I go, why Lotta can come too.
Now dinner, Love. I want some onion soup To whip me up till that rehearsal's over. You know it's odd how some women can stoop! Fraeulein Gebnitz has taken on a lover, A Jew named Goldstein. No one can discover If it's his money. But she lives alone Practically. Gebnitz is a stone,
Pores over books all day, and has no ear For his wife's singing. Artists must have men; They need appreciation. But it's queer What messes people make of their lives, when They should know more. If Gebnitz finds out, then His wife will pack. Yes, shut the door at once. I did not feel it cold, I am a dunce."
Frau Altgelt tied her bonnet on and went Into the streets. A bright, crisp Autumn wind Flirted her skirts and hair. A turbulent, Audacious wind it was, now close behind, Pushing her bonnet forward till it twined The strings across her face, then from in front Slantingly swinging at her with a shunt,
Until she lay against it, struggling, pushing, Dismayed to find her clothing tightly bound Around her, every fold and wrinkle crushing Itself upon her, so that she was wound In draperies as clinging as those found Sucking about a sea nymph on the frieze Of some old Grecian temple. In the breeze
The shops and houses had a quality Of hard and dazzling colour; something sharp And buoyant, like white, puffing sails at sea. The city streets were twanging like a harp. Charlotta caught the movement, skippingly She blew along the pavement, hardly knowing Toward what destination she was going.
She fetched up opposite a jeweller's shop, Where filigreed tiaras shone like crowns, And necklaces of emeralds seemed to drop And then float up again with lightness. Browns Of striped agates struck her like cold frowns Amid the gaiety of topaz seals, Carved though they were with heads, and arms, and wheels.
A row of pencils knobbed with quartz or sard Delighted her. And rings of every size Turned smartly round like hoops before her eyes, Amethyst-flamed or ruby-girdled, jarred To spokes and flashing triangles, and starred Like rockets bursting on a festal day. Charlotta could not tear herself away.
With eyes glued tightly on a golden box, Whose rare enamel piqued her with its hue, Changeable, iridescent, shuttlecocks Of shades and lustres always darting through Its level, superimposing sheet of blue, Charlotta did not hear footsteps approaching. She started at the words: "Am I encroaching?"
"Oh, Heinrich, how you frightened me! I thought We were to meet at three, is it quite that?" "No, it is not," he answered, "but I've caught The trick of missing you. One thing is flat, I cannot go on this way. Life is what Might best be conjured up by the word: 'Hell'. Dearest, when will you come?" Lotta, to quell
His effervescence, pointed to the gems Within the window, asked him to admire A bracelet or a buckle. But one stems Uneasily the burning of a fire. Heinrich was chafing, pricked by his desire. Little by little she wooed him to her mood Until at last he promised to be good.
But here he started on another tack; To buy a jewel, which one would Lotta choose. She vainly urged against him all her lack Of other trinkets. Should she dare to use A ring or brooch her husband might accuse Her of extravagance, and ask to see A strict accounting, or still worse might be.
But Heinrich would not be persuaded. Why Should he not give her what he liked? And in He went, determined certainly to buy A thing so beautiful that it would win Her wavering fancy. Altgelt's violin He would outscore by such a handsome jewel That Lotta could no longer be so cruel!
Pity Charlotta, torn in diverse ways. If she went in with him, the shopman might Recognize her, give her her name; in days To come he could denounce her. In her fright She almost fled. But Heinrich would be quite Capable of pursuing. By and by She pushed the door and entered hurriedly.
It took some pains to keep him from bestowing A pair of ruby earrings, carved like roses, The setting twined to represent the growing Tendrils and leaves, upon her. "Who supposes I could obtain such things! It simply closes All comfort for me." So he changed his mind And bought as slight a gift as he could find.
A locket, frosted over with seed pearls, Oblong and slim, for wearing at the neck, Or hidden in the bosom; their joined curls Should lie in it. And further to bedeck His love, Heinrich had picked a whiff, a fleck, The merest puff of a thin, linked chain To hang it from. Lotta could not refrain
From weeping as they sauntered down the street. She did not want the locket, yet she did. To have him love her she found very sweet, But it is hard to keep love always hid. Then there was something in her heart which chid Her, told her she loved Theodore in him, That all these meetings were a foolish whim.
She thought of Theodore and the life they led, So near together, but so little mingled. The great clouds bulged and bellied overhead, And the fresh wind about her body tingled; The crane of a large warehouse creaked and jingled; Charlotta held her breath for very fear, About her in the street she seemed to hear: "They call me Hanging Johnny, Away-i-oh; They call me Hanging Johnny, So hang, boys, hang."
And it was Theodore, under the racing skies, Who held her and who whispered in her ear. She knew her heart was telling her no lies, Beating and hammering. He was so dear, The touch of him would send her in a queer Swoon that was half an ecstasy. And yearning For Theodore, she wandered, slowly turning
Street after street as Heinrich wished it so. He had some aim, she had forgotten what. Their progress was confused and very slow, But at the last they reached a lonely spot, A garden far above the highest shot Of soaring steeple. At their feet, the town Spread open like a chequer-board laid down.
Lotta was dimly conscious of the rest, Vaguely remembered how he clasped the chain About her neck. She treated it in jest, And saw his face cloud over with sharp pain. Then suddenly she felt as though a strain Were put upon her, collared like a slave, Leashed in the meshes of this thing he gave.
She seized the flimsy rings with both her hands To snap it, but they held with odd persistence. Her eyes were blinded by two wind-blown strands Of hair which had been loosened. Her resistance Melted within her, from remotest distance, Misty, unreal, his face grew warm and near, And giving way she knew him very dear.
For long he held her, and they both gazed down At the wide city, and its blue, bridged river. From wooing he jested with her, snipped the blown Strands of her hair, and tied them with a sliver Cut from his own head. But she gave a shiver When, opening the locket, they were placed Under the glass, commingled and enlaced.
"When will you have it so with us?" He sighed. She shook her head. He pressed her further. "No, No, Heinrich, Theodore loves me," and she tried To free herself and rise. He held her so, Clipped by his arms, she could not move nor go. "But you love me," he whispered, with his face Burning against her through her kerchief's lace.
Frau Altgelt knew she toyed with fire, knew That what her husband lit this other man Fanned to hot flame. She told herself that few Women were so discreet as she, who ran No danger since she knew what things to ban. She opened her house door at five o'clock, A short half-hour before her husband's knock.
The 'Residenz-Theater' sparked and hummed With lights and people. Gebnitz was to sing, That rare soprano. All the fiddles strummed With tuning up; the wood-winds made a ring Of reedy bubbling noises, and the sting Of sharp, red brass pierced every ear-drum; patting From muffled tympani made a dark slatting
Across the silver shimmering of flutes; A bassoon grunted, and an oboe wailed; The 'celli pizzicato-ed like great lutes, And mutterings of double basses trailed Away to silence, while loud harp-strings hailed Their thin, bright colours down in such a scatter They lost themselves amid the general clatter.
Frau Altgelt in the gallery, alone, Felt lifted up into another world. Before her eyes a thousand candles shone In the great chandeliers. A maze of curled And powdered periwigs past her eyes swirled. She smelt the smoke of candles guttering, And caught the glint of jewelled fans fluttering
All round her in the boxes. Red and gold, The house, like rubies set in filigree, Filliped the candlelight about, and bold Young sparks with eye-glasses, unblushingly Ogled fair beauties in the balcony. An officer went by, his steel spurs jangling. Behind Charlotta an old man was wrangling
About a play-bill he had bought and lost. Three drunken soldiers had to be ejected. Frau Altgelt's eyes stared at the vacant post Of Concert-Meister, she at once detected The stir which brought him. But she felt neglected When with no glance about him or her way, He lifted up his violin to play.
The curtain went up? Perhaps. If so, Charlotta never saw it go. The famous Fraeulein Gebnitz' singing Only came to her like the ringing Of bells at a festa Which swing in the air And nobody realizes they are there. They jingle and jangle, And clang, and bang, And never a soul could tell whether they rang, For the plopping of guns and rockets And the chinking of silver to spend, in one's pockets, And the shuffling and clapping of feet, And the loud flapping Of flags, with the drums, As the military comes. It's a famous tune to walk to, And I wonder where they're off to. Step-step-stepping to the beating of the drums. But the rhythm changes as though a mist Were curling and twisting Over the landscape. For a moment a rhythmless, tuneless fog Encompasses her. Then her senses jog To the breath of a stately minuet. Herr Altgelt's violin is set In tune to the slow, sweeping bows, and retreats and advances, To curtsies brushing the waxen floor as the Court dances. Long and peaceful like warm Summer nights When stars shine in the quiet river. And against the lights Blundering insects knock, And the 'Rathaus' clock Booms twice, through the shrill sounds Of flutes and horns in the lamplit grounds. Pressed against him in the mazy wavering Of a country dance, with her short breath quavering She leans upon the beating, throbbing Music. Laughing, sobbing, Feet gliding after sliding feet; His—hers— The ballroom blurs— She feels the air Lifting her hair, And the lapping of water on the stone stair. He is there! He is there! Twang harps, and squeal, you thin violins, That the dancers may dance, and never discover The old stone stair leading down to the river With the chestnut-tree branches hanging over Her and her lover. Theodore, still her lover!
The evening passed like this, in a half faint, Delirium with waking intervals Which were the entr'acts. Under the restraint Of a large company, the constant calls For oranges or syrops from the stalls Outside, the talk, the passing to and fro, Lotta sat ill at ease, incognito.
She heard the Gebnitz praised, the tenor lauded, The music vaunted as most excellent. The scenery and the costumes were applauded, The latter it was whispered had been sent From Italy. The Herr Direktor spent A fortune on them, so the gossips said. Charlotta felt a lightness in her head.
When the next act began, her eyes were swimming, Her prodded ears were aching and confused. The first notes from the orchestra sent skimming Her outward consciousness. Her brain was fused Into the music, Theodore's music! Used To hear him play, she caught his single tone. For all she noticed they two were alone.
Frau Altgelt waited in the chilly street, Hustled by lackeys who ran up and down Shouting their coachmen's names; forced to retreat A pace or two by lurching chairmen; thrown Rudely aside by linkboys; boldly shown The ogling rapture in two bleary eyes Thrust close to hers in most unpleasant wise.
Escaping these, she hit a liveried arm, Was sworn at by this glittering gentleman And ordered off. However, no great harm Came to her. But she looked a trifle wan When Theodore, her belated guardian, Emerged. She snuggled up against him, trembling, Half out of fear, half out of the assembling
Of all the thoughts and needs his playing had given. Had she enjoyed herself, he wished to know. "Oh! Theodore, can't you feel that it was Heaven!" "Heaven! My Lottachen, and was it so? Gebnitz was in good voice, but all the flow Of her last aria was spoiled by Klops, A wretched flutist, she was mad as hops."
He was so simple, so matter-of-fact, Charlotta Altgelt knew not what to say To bring him to her dream. His lack of tact Kept him explaining all the homeward way How this thing had gone well, that badly. "Stay, Theodore!" she cried at last. "You know to me Nothing was real, it was an ecstasy."
And he was heartily glad she had enjoyed Herself so much, and said so. "But it's good To be got home again." He was employed In looking at his violin, the wood Was old, and evening air did it no good. But when he drew up to the table for tea Something about his wife's vivacity
Struck him as hectic, worried him in short. He talked of this and that but watched her close. Tea over, he endeavoured to extort The cause of her excitement. She arose And stood beside him, trying to compose Herself, all whipt to quivering, curdled life, And he, poor fool, misunderstood his wife.
Suddenly, broken through her anxious grasp, Her music-kindled love crashed on him there. Amazed, he felt her fling against him, clasp Her arms about him, weighing down his chair, Sobbing out all her hours of despair. "Theodore, a woman needs to hear things proved. Unless you tell me, I feel I'm not loved."
Theodore went under in this tearing wave, He yielded to it, and its headlong flow Filled him with all the energy she gave. He was a youth again, and this bright glow, This living, vivid joy he had to show Her what she was to him. Laughing and crying, She asked assurances there's no denying.
Over and over again her questions, till He quite convinced her, every now and then She kissed him, shivering as though doubting still. But later when they were composed and when She dared relax her probings, "Lottachen," He asked, "how is it your love has withstood My inadvertence? I was made of wood."
She told him, and no doubt she meant it truly, That he was sun, and grass, and wind, and sky To her. And even if conscience were unruly She salved it by neat sophistries, but why Suppose her insincere, it was no lie She said, for Heinrich was as much forgot As though he'd never been within earshot.
But Theodore's hands in straying and caressing Fumbled against the locket where it lay Upon her neck. "What is this thing I'm pressing?" He asked. "Let's bring it to the light of day." He lifted up the locket. "It should stay Outside, my Dear. Your mother has good taste. To keep it hidden surely is a waste."
Pity again Charlotta, straight aroused Out of her happiness. The locket brought A chilly jet of truth upon her, soused Under its icy spurting she was caught, And choked, and frozen. Suddenly she sought The clasp, but with such art was this contrived Her fumbling fingers never once arrived
Upon it. Feeling, twisting, round and round, She pulled the chain quite through the locket's ring And still it held. Her neck, encompassed, bound, Chafed at the sliding meshes. Such a thing To hurl her out of joy! A gilded string Binding her folly to her, and those curls Which lay entwined beneath the clustered pearls!
Again she tried to break the cord. It stood. "Unclasp it, Theodore," she begged. But he Refused, and being in a happy mood, Twitted her with her inefficiency, Then looking at her very seriously: "I think, Charlotta, it is well to have Always about one what a mother gave.
As she has taken the great pains to send This jewel to you from Dresden, it will be Ingratitude if you do not intend To carry it about you constantly. With her fine taste you cannot disagree, The locket is most beautifully designed." He opened it and there the curls were, twined.
Charlotta's heart dropped beats like knitting-stitches. She burned a moment, flaming; then she froze. Her face was jerked by little, nervous twitches, She heard her husband asking: "What are those?" Put out her hand quickly to interpose, But stopped, the gesture half-complete, astounded At the calm way the question was propounded.
"A pretty fancy, Dear, I do declare. Indeed I will not let you put it off. A lovely thought: yours and your mother's hair!" Charlotta hid a gasp under a cough. "Never with my connivance shall you doff This charming gift." He kissed her on the cheek, And Lotta suffered him, quite crushed and meek.
When later in their room she lay awake, Watching the moonlight slip along the floor, She felt the chain and wept for Theodore's sake. She had loved Heinrich also, and the core Of truth, unlovely, startled her. Wherefore She vowed from now to break this double life And see herself only as Theodore's wife.
It was no easy matter to convince Heinrich that it was finished. Hard to say That though they could not meet (he saw her wince) She still must keep the locket to allay Suspicion in her husband. She would pay Him from her savings bit by bit—the oath He swore at that was startling to them both.
Her resolution taken, Frau Altgelt Adhered to it, and suffered no regret. She found her husband all that she had felt His music to contain. Her days were set In his as though she were an amulet Cased in bright gold. She joyed in her confining; Her eyes put out her looking-glass with shining.
Charlotta was so gay that old, dull tasks Were furbished up to seem like rituals. She baked and brewed as one who only asks The right to serve. Her daily manuals Of prayer were duties, and her festivals When Theodore praised some dish, or frankly said She had a knack in making up a bed.
So Autumn went, and all the mountains round The city glittered white with fallen snow, For it was Winter. Over the hard ground Herr Altgelt's footsteps came, each one a blow. On the swept flags behind the currant row Charlotta stood to greet him. But his lip Only flicked hers. His Concert-Meistership
Was first again. This evening he had got Important news. The opera ordered from Young Mozart was arrived. That old despot, The Bishop of Salzburg, had let him come Himself to lead it, and the parts, still hot From copying, had been tried over. Never Had any music started such a fever.
The orchestra had cheered till they were hoarse, The singers clapped and clapped. The town was made, With such a great attraction through the course Of Carnival time. In what utter shade All other cities would be left! The trade In music would all drift here naturally. In his excitement he forgot his tea.
Lotta was forced to take his cup and put It in his hand. But still he rattled on, Sipping at intervals. The new catgut Strings he was using gave out such a tone The "Maestro" had remarked it, and had gone Out of his way to praise him. Lotta smiled, He was as happy as a little child.
From that day on, Herr Altgelt, more and more, Absorbed himself in work. Lotta at first Was patient and well-wishing. But it wore Upon her when two weeks had brought no burst Of loving from him. Then she feared the worst; That his short interest in her was a light Flared up an instant only in the night.
'Idomeneo' was the opera's name, A name that poor Charlotta learnt to hate. Herr Altgelt worked so hard he seldom came Home for his tea, and it was very late, Past midnight sometimes, when he knocked. His state Was like a flabby orange whose crushed skin Is thin with pulling, and all dented in.
He practised every morning and her heart Followed his bow. But often she would sit, While he was playing, quite withdrawn apart, Absently fingering and touching it, The locket, which now seemed to her a bit Of some gone youth. His music drew her tears, And through the notes he played, her dreading ears
Heard Heinrich's voice, saying he had not changed; Beer merchants had no ecstasies to take Their minds off love. So far her thoughts had ranged Away from her stern vow, she chanced to take Her way, one morning, quite by a mistake, Along the street where Heinrich had his shop. What harm to pass it since she should not stop!
It matters nothing how one day she met Him on a bridge, and blushed, and hurried by. Nor how the following week he stood to let Her pass, the pavement narrowing suddenly. How once he took her basket, and once he Pulled back a rearing horse who might have struck Her with his hoofs. It seemed the oddest luck
How many times their business took them each Right to the other. Then at last he spoke, But she would only nod, he got no speech From her. Next time he treated it in joke, And that so lightly that her vow she broke And answered. So they drifted into seeing Each other as before. There was no fleeing.
Christmas was over and the Carnival Was very near, and tripping from each tongue Was talk of the new opera. Each book-stall Flaunted it out in bills, what airs were sung, What singers hired. Pictures of the young "Maestro" were for sale. The town was mad. Only Charlotta felt depressed and sad.
Each day now brought a struggle 'twixt her will And Heinrich's. 'Twixt her love for Theodore And him. Sometimes she wished to kill Herself to solve her problem. For a score Of reasons Heinrich tempted her. He bore Her moods with patience, and so surely urged Himself upon her, she was slowly merged
Into his way of thinking, and to fly With him seemed easy. But next morning would The Stradivarius undo her mood. Then she would realize that she must cleave Always to Theodore. And she would try To convince Heinrich she should never leave, And afterwards she would go home and grieve.
All thought in Munich centered on the part Of January when there would be given 'Idomeneo' by Wolfgang Mozart. The twenty-ninth was fixed. And all seats, even Those almost at the ceiling, which were driven Behind the highest gallery, were sold. The inches of the theatre went for gold.
Herr Altgelt was a shadow worn so thin With work, he hardly printed black behind The candle. He and his old violin Made up one person. He was not unkind, But dazed outside his playing, and the rind, The pine and maple of his fiddle, guarded A part of him which he had quite discarded.
It woke in the silence of frost-bright nights, In little lights, Like will-o'-the-wisps flickering, fluttering, Here—there— Spurting, sputtering, Fading and lighting, Together, asunder— Till Lotta sat up in bed with wonder, And the faint grey patch of the window shone Upon her sitting there, alone. For Theodore slept.
The twenty-eighth was last rehearsal day, 'Twas called for noon, so early morning meant Herr Altgelt's only time in which to play His part alone. Drawn like a monk who's spent Himself in prayer and fasting, Theodore went Into the kitchen, with a weary word Of cheer to Lotta, careless if she heard.
Lotta heard more than his spoken word. She heard the vibrating of strings and wood. She was washing the dishes, her hands all suds, When the sound began, Long as the span Of a white road snaking about a hill. The orchards are filled With cherry blossoms at butterfly poise. Hawthorn buds are cracking, And in the distance a shepherd is clacking His shears, snip-snipping the wool from his sheep. The notes are asleep, Lying adrift on the air In level lines Like sunlight hanging in pines and pines, Strung and threaded, All imbedded In the blue-green of the hazy pines. Lines—long, straight lines! And stems, Long, straight stems Pushing up To the cup of blue, blue sky. Stems growing misty With the many of them, Red-green mist Of the trees, And these Wood-flavoured notes. The back is maple and the belly is pine. The rich notes twine As though weaving in and out of leaves, Broad leaves Flapping slowly like elephants' ears, Waving and falling. Another sound peers Through little pine fingers, And lingers, peeping. Ping! Ping! pizzicato, something is cheeping. There is a twittering up in the branches, A chirp and a lilt, And crimson atilt on a swaying twig. Wings! Wings! And a little ruffled-out throat which sings. The forest bends, tumultuous With song. The woodpecker knocks, And the song-sparrow trills, Every fir, and cedar, and yew Has a nest or a bird, It is quite absurd To hear them cutting across each other: Peewits, and thrushes, and larks, all at once, And a loud cuckoo is trying to smother A wood-pigeon perched on a birch, "Roo—coo—oo—oo—" "Cuckoo! Cuckoo! That's one for you!" A blackbird whistles, how sharp, how shrill! And the great trees toss And leaves blow down, You can almost hear them splash on the ground. The whistle again: It is double and loud! The leaves are splashing, And water is dashing Over those creepers, for they are shrouds; And men are running up them to furl the sails, For there is a capful of wind to-day, And we are already well under way. The deck is aslant in the bubbling breeze. "Theodore, please. Oh, Dear, how you tease!" And the boatswain's whistle sounds again, And the men pull on the sheets: "My name is Hanging Johnny, Away-i-oh; They call me Hanging Johnny, So hang, boys, hang." The trees of the forest are masts, tall masts; They are swinging over Her and her lover. Almost swooning Under the ballooning canvas, She lies Looking up in his eyes As he bends farther over. Theodore, still her lover!
The suds were dried upon Charlotta's hands, She leant against the table for support, Wholly forgotten. Theodore's eyes were brands Burning upon his music. He stopped short. Charlotta almost heard the sound of bands Snapping. She put one hand up to her heart, Her fingers touched the locket with a start.
Herr Altgelt put his violin away Listlessly. "Lotta, I must have some rest. The strain will be a hideous one to-day. Don't speak to me at all. It will be best If I am quiet till I go." And lest She disobey, he left her. On the stairs She heard his mounting steps. What use were prayers!
He could not hear, he was not there, for she Was married to a mummy, a machine. Her hand closed on the locket bitterly. Before her, on a chair, lay the shagreen Case of his violin. She saw the clean Sun flash the open clasp. The locket's edge Cut at her fingers like a pushing wedge.
A heavy cart went by, a distant bell Chimed ten, the fire flickered in the grate. She was alone. Her throat began to swell With sobs. What kept her here, why should she wait? The violin she had begun to hate Lay in its case before her. Here she flung The cover open. With the fiddle swung
Over her head, the hanging clock's loud ticking Caught on her ear. 'Twas slow, and as she paused The little door in it came open, flicking A wooden cuckoo out: "Cuckoo!" It caused The forest dream to come again. "Cuckoo!" Smashed on the grate, the violin broke in two.
"Cuckoo! Cuckoo!" the clock kept striking on; But no one listened. Frau Altgelt had gone.
A bullet through his heart at dawn. On the table a letter signed with a woman's name. A wind that goes howling round the house, and weeping as in shame. Cold November dawn peeping through the windows, cold dawn creeping over the floor, creeping up his cold legs, creeping over his cold body, creeping across his cold face. A glaze of thin yellow sunlight on the staring eyes. Wind howling through bent branches. A wind which never dies down. Howling, wailing. The gazing eyes glitter in the sunlight. The lids are frozen open and the eyes glitter.
The thudding of a pick on hard earth. A spade grinding and crunching. Overhead, branches writhing, winding, interlacing, unwinding, scattering; tortured twinings, tossings, creakings. Wind flinging branches apart, drawing them together, whispering and whining among them. A waning, lopsided moon cutting through black clouds. A stream of pebbles and earth and the empty spade gleams clear in the moonlight, then is rammed again into the black earth. Tramping of feet. Men and horses. Squeaking of wheels.
"Whoa! Ready, Jim?"
Something falls, settles, is still. Suicides have no coffin.
"Give us the stake, Jim. Now."
"He'll never walk. Nailed to the ground."
An ash stick pierces his heart, if it buds the roots will hold him. He is a part of the earth now, clay to clay. Overhead the branches sway, and writhe, and twist in the wind. He'll never walk with a bullet in his heart, and an ash stick nailing him to the cold, black ground.
Six months he lay still. Six months. And the water welled up in his body, and soft blue spots chequered it. He lay still, for the ash stick held him in place. Six months! Then her face came out of a mist of green. Pink and white and frail like Dresden china, lilies-of-the-valley at her breast, puce-coloured silk sheening about her. Under the young green leaves, the horse at a foot-pace, the high yellow wheels of the chaise scarcely turning, her face, rippling like grain a-blowing, under her puce-coloured bonnet; and burning beside her, flaming within his correct blue coat and brass buttons, is someone. What has dimmed the sun? The horse steps on a rolling stone; a wind in the branches makes a moan. The little leaves tremble and shake, turn and quake, over and over, tearing their stems. There is a shower of young leaves, and a sudden-sprung gale wails in the trees.
The yellow-wheeled chaise is rocking—rocking, and all the branches are knocking—knocking. The sun in the sky is a flat, red plate, the branches creak and grate. She screams and cowers, for the green foliage is a lowering wave surging to smother her. But she sees nothing. The stake holds firm. The body writhes, the body squirms. The blue spots widen, the flesh tears, but the stake wears well in the deep, black ground. It holds the body in the still, black ground.
Two years! The body has been in the ground two years. It is worn away; it is clay to clay. Where the heart moulders, a greenish dust, the stake is thrust. Late August it is, and night; a night flauntingly jewelled with stars, a night of shooting stars and loud insect noises. Down the road to Tilbury, silence—and the slow flapping of large leaves. Down the road to Sutton, silence—and the darkness of heavy-foliaged trees. Down the road to Wayfleet, silence—and the whirring scrape of insects in the branches. Down the road to Edgarstown, silence—and stars like stepping-stones in a pathway overhead. It is very quiet at the cross-roads, and the sign-board points the way down the four roads, endlessly points the way where nobody wishes to go.
A horse is galloping, galloping up from Sutton. Shaking the wide, still leaves as he goes under them. Striking sparks with his iron shoes; silencing the katydids. Dr. Morgan riding to a child-birth over Tilbury way; riding to deliver a woman of her first-born son. One o'clock from Wayfleet bell tower, what a shower of shooting stars! And a breeze all of a sudden, jarring the big leaves and making them jerk up and down. Dr. Morgan's hat is blown from his head, the horse swerves, and curves away from the sign-post. An oath—spurs—a blurring of grey mist. A quick left twist, and the gelding is snorting and racing down the Tilbury road with the wind dropping away behind him.
The stake has wrenched, the stake has started, the body, flesh from flesh, has parted. But the bones hold tight, socket and ball, and clamping them down in the hard, black ground is the stake, wedged through ribs and spine. The bones may twist, and heave, and twine, but the stake holds them still in line. The breeze goes down, and the round stars shine, for the stake holds the fleshless bones in line.
Twenty years now! Twenty long years! The body has powdered itself away; it is clay to clay. It is brown earth mingled with brown earth. Only flaky bones remain, lain together so long they fit, although not one bone is knit to another. The stake is there too, rotted through, but upright still, and still piercing down between ribs and spine in a straight line.
Yellow stillness is on the cross-roads, yellow stillness is on the trees. The leaves hang drooping, wan. The four roads point four yellow ways, saffron and gamboge ribbons to the gaze. A little swirl of dust blows up Tilbury road, the wind which fans it has not strength to do more; it ceases, and the dust settles down. A little whirl of wind comes up Tilbury road. It brings a sound of wheels and feet. The wind reels a moment and faints to nothing under the sign-post. Wind again, wheels and feet louder. Wind again—again—again. A drop of rain, flat into the dust. Drop!—Drop! Thick heavy raindrops, and a shrieking wind bending the great trees and wrenching off their leaves.
Under the black sky, bowed and dripping with rain, up Tilbury road, comes the procession. A funeral procession, bound for the graveyard at Wayfleet. Feet and wheels—feet and wheels. And among them one who is carried.
The bones in the deep, still earth shiver and pull. There is a quiver through the rotted stake. Then stake and bones fall together in a little puffing of dust.
Like meshes of linked steel the rain shuts down behind the procession, now well along the Wayfleet road.
He wavers like smoke in the buffeting wind. His fingers blow out like smoke, his head ripples in the gale. Under the sign-post, in the pouring rain, he stands, and watches another quavering figure drifting down the Wayfleet road. Then swiftly he streams after it. It flickers among the trees. He licks out and winds about them. Over, under, blown, contorted. Spindrift after spindrift; smoke following smoke. There is a wailing through the trees, a wailing of fear, and after it laughter—laughter—laughter, skirling up to the black sky. Lightning jags over the funeral procession. A heavy clap of thunder. Then darkness and rain, and the sound of feet and wheels.
A Roxbury Garden
Blue and pink sashes, Criss-cross shoes, Minna and Stella run out into the garden To play at hoop.
Up and down the garden-paths they race, In the yellow sunshine, Each with a big round hoop White as a stripped willow-wand.
Round and round turn the hoops, Their diamond whiteness cleaving the yellow sunshine. The gravel crunches and squeaks beneath them, And a large pebble springs them into the air To go whirling for a foot or two Before they touch the earth again In a series of little jumps.
Spring, Hoops! Spit out a shower of blue and white brightness. The little criss-cross shoes twinkle behind you, The pink and blue sashes flutter like flags, The hoop-sticks are ready to beat you. Turn, turn, Hoops! In the yellow sunshine. Turn your stripped willow whiteness Along the smooth paths.
Stella sings: "Round and round, rolls my hoop, Scarcely touching the ground, With a swoop, And a bound, Round and round. With a bumpety, crunching, scattering sound, Down the garden it flies; In our eyes The sun lies. See it spin Out and in; Through the paths it goes whirling, About the beds curling. Sway now to the loop, Faster, faster, my hoop. Round you come, Up you come, Quick and straight as before. Run, run, my hoop, run, Away from the sun."