The Crescent Moon
Slipping softly through the sky
Little horned, happy moon,
Can you hear me up so high?
Will you come down soon?
On my nursery window-sill
Will you stay your steady flight?
And then float away with me
Through the summer night?
Brushing over tops of trees,
Playing hide and seek with stars,
Peeping up through shiny clouds
At Jupiter or Mars.
I shall fill my lap with roses
Gathered in the milky way,
All to carry home to mother.
Oh! what will she say!
Little rocking, sailing moon,
Do you hear me shout -- Ahoy!
Just a little nearer, moon,
To please a little boy.
Little cramped words scrawling all over
Like draggled fly's legs,
What can you tell of the flaring moon
Through the oak leaves?
Or of my uncertain window and the
Spattered with moonlight?
Your silly quirks and twists have nothing
Of blossoming hawthorns,
And this paper is dull, crisp, smooth,
virgin of loveliness
Beneath my hand.
I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart
The want of you;
Of squeezing it into little inkdrops,
And posting it.
And I scald alone, here, under the fire
Of the great moon.
Submitted by Venus
The Garden By Moonlight
A black cat among roses,
Phlox, lilac-misted under a first-quarter moon,
The sweet smells of heliotrope and night-scented stock.
The garden is very still,
It is dazed with moonlight,
Contented with perfume,
Dreaming the opium dreams of its folded poppies.
Firefly lights open and vanish
High as the tip buds of the golden glow
Low as the sweet alyssum flowers at my feet.
Moon-shimmer on leaves and trellises,
Moon-spikes shafting through the snowball bush.
Only the little faces of the ladies' delight are alert and staring,
Only the cat, padding between the roses,
Shakes a branch and breaks the chequered pattern
As water is broken by the falling of a leaf.
Then you come,
And you are quiet like the garden,
And white like the alyssum flowers,
And beautiful as the silent sparks of the fireflies.
Ah, Beloved, do you see those orange lilies?
They knew my mother,
But who belonging to me will they know
When I am gone.
The Last Quarter Of The Moon
How long shall I tarnish the mirror of life,
A spatter of rust on its polished steel!
The seasons reel
Like a goaded wheel.
Half-numb, half-maddened, my days are strife.
The night is sliding towards the dawn,
And upturned hills crouch at autumn's knees.
A torn moon flees
Through the hemlock trees,
The hours have gnawed it to feed their spawn.
Pursuing and jeering the misshapen thing
A rabble of clouds flares out of the east.
Like dogs unleashed
After a beast,
They stream on the sky, an outflung string.
A desolate wind, through the unpeopled dark,
Shakes the bushes and whistles through empty nests,
And the fierce unrests
I keep as guests
Crowd my brain with corpses, pallid and stark.
Leave me in peace, O Spectres, who haunt
My labouring mind, I have fought and failed.
I have not quailed,
I was all unmailed
And naked I strove, 'tis my only vaunt.
The moon drops into the silver day
As waking out of her swoon she comes.
I hear the drums
Beating the mornings I still must stay.
The years I must watch go in and out,
While I build with water, and dig in air,
And the trumpets blare
The shuddering trumpets of utter rout.
An atom tossed in a chaos made
Of yeasting worlds, which bubble and foam.
Whence have I come?
What would be home?
I hear no answer. I am afraid!
I crave to be lost like a wind-blown flame.
Pushed into nothingness by a breath,
And quench in a wreath
Of engulfing death
This fight for a God, or this devil's game.
Clear, With Light, Variable Winds
The fountain bent and straightened itself
In the night wind,
Blowing like a flower.
It gleamed and glittered,
A tall white lily,
Under the eye of the golden moon.
From a stone seat,
Beneath a blossoming lime,
The man watched it.
And the spray pattered
On the dim grass at his feet.
The fountain tossed its water,
Up and up, like silver marbles.
Is that an arm he sees?
And for one moment
Does he catch the moving curve
Of a thigh?
The fountain gurgled and splashed,
And the man's face was wet.
Is it singing that he hears?
A song of playing at ball?
The moonlight shines on the straight column of water,
And through it he sees a woman,
Tossing the water-balls.
Her breasts point outwards,
And the nipples are like buds of peonies.
Her flanks ripple as she plays,
And the water is not more undulating
Than the lines of her body.
'Come,' she sings, 'Poet!
Am I not more worth than your day ladies,
Covered with awkward stuffs,
What do you fear in taking me?
Is not the night for poets?
I am your dream,
Recurrent as water,
Gemmed with the moon!'
She steps to the edge of the pool
And the water runs, rustling, down her sides.
She stretches out her arms,
And the fountain streams behind her
Like an opened veil.
* * * * *
In the morning the gardeners came to their work.
'There is something in the fountain,' said one.
They shuddered as they laid their dead master
On the grass.
'I will close his eyes,' said the head gardener,
'It is uncanny to see a dead man staring at the sun.'
Before The Altar
Before the Altar, bowed, he stands
With empty hands;
Upon it perfumed offerings burn
Wreathing with smoke the sacrificial urn.
Not one of all these has he given,
No flame of his has leapt to Heaven
Forked, and darted,
Consuming what a few spare pence
Have cheaply bought, to fling from hence
In idly-asked petition.
His sole condition
Love and poverty.
And while the moon
Swings slow across the sky,
Athwart a waving pine tree,
Tips all the needles there
With silver sparkles, bitterly
He gazes, while his soul
Grows hard with thinking of the poorness of his dole.
"Shining and distant Goddess, hear my prayer
Where you swim in the high air!
With charity look down on me,
Under this tree,
Tending the gifts I have not brought,
The rare and goodly things
I have not sought.
Instead, take from me all my life!
"Upon the wings
Of shimmering moonbeams
I pack my poet's dreams
My wearying strife,
My courage, my loss,
Into the night I toss
Deign to look down on me
Who so unworthily
Offers to you:
All life has known,
Seeds withered unsown,
Hopes turning quick to fears,
Laughter which dies in tears.
The shredded remnant of a man
Is all the span
And compass of my offering to you.
"Empty and silent, I
Kneel before your pure, calm majesty.
On this stone, in this urn
I pour my heart and watch it burn,
Myself the sacrifice; but be
Still unmoved: Divinity.”
From the altar, bathed in moonlight,
The smoke rose straight in the quiet night.
The Exeter Road
Panels of claret and blue which shine
Under the moon like lees of wine.
A coronet done in a golden scroll,
And wheels which blunder and creak as they roll
Through the muddy ruts of a moorland track.
They daren't look back!
They are whipping and cursing the horses. Lord!
What brutes men are when they think they're scored.
Behind, my bay gelding gallops with me,
In a steaming sweat, it is fine to see
That coach, all claret, and gold, and blue,
Hop about and slue.
They are scared half out of their wits, poor souls.
For my lord has a casket full of rolls
Of minted sovereigns, and silver bars.
I laugh to think how he'll show his scars
In London to-morrow. He whines with rage
In his varnished cage.
My lady has shoved her rings over her toes.
'Tis an ancient trick every night-rider knows.
But I shall relieve her of them yet,
When I see she limps in the minuet
I must beg to celebrate this night,
And the green moonlight.
There's nothing to hurry about, the plain
Is hours long, and the mud's a strain.
My gelding's uncommonly strong in the loins,
In half an hour I'll bag the coins.
'Tis a clear, sweet night on the turn of Spring.
The chase is the thing!
How the coach flashes and wobbles, the moon
Dripping down so quietly on it. A tune
Is beating out of the curses and screams,
And the cracking all through the painted seams.
Steady, old horse, we'll keep it in sight.
'Tis a rare fine night!
There's a clump of trees on the dip of the down,
And the sky shimmers where it hangs over the town.
It seems a shame to break the air
In two with this pistol, but I've my share
Of drudgery like other men.
His hat? Amen!
Hold up, you beast, now what the devil!
Confound this moor for a pockholed, evil,
Rotten marsh. My right leg's snapped.
'Tis a mercy he's rolled, but I'm nicely capped.
A broken-legged man and a broken-legged horse!
They'll get me, of course.
The cursed coach will reach the town
And they'll all come out, every loafer grown
A lion to handcuff a man that's down.
What's that? Oh, the coachman's bulleted hat!
I'll give it a head to fit it pat.
Thank you! No cravat.
~They handcuffed the body just for style,
And they hung him in chains for the volatile
Wind to scour him flesh from bones.
Way out on the moor you can hear the groans
His gibbet makes when it blows a gale.
'Tis a common tale.~
Color of lilac,
Your great puffs of flowers
Are everywhere in this my New England.
Among your heart-shaped leaves
Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing
Their little weak soft songs;
In the crooks of your branches
The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs
Peer restlessly through the light and shadow
Of all Springs.
Lilacs in dooryards
Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;
Lilacs watching a deserted house
Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;
Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom
Above a cellar dug into a hill.
You are everywhere.
You were everywhere.
You tapped the window when the preacher preached his sermon,
And ran along the road beside the boy going to school.
You stood by the pasture-bars to give the cows good milking,
You persuaded the housewife that her dishpan was of silver.
And her husband an image of pure gold.
You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms
Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—
You, and sandal-wood, and tea,
Charging the noses of quill-driving clerks
When a ship was in from China.
You called to them: “Goose-quill men, goose-quill men,
May is a month for flitting.”
Until they writhed on their high stools
And wrote poetry on their letter-sheets behind the propped-up ledgers.
Paradoxical New England clerks,
Writing inventories in ledgers, reading the “Song of Solomon” at night,
So many verses before bed-time,
Because it was the Bible.
The dead fed you
Amid the slant stones of graveyards.
Pale ghosts who planted you
Came in the nighttime
And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.
You are of the green sea,
And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.
You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,
You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.
You cover the blind sides of greenhouses
And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass
To your friends, the grapes, inside.
Color of lilac,
You have forgotten your Eastern origin,
The veiled women with eyes like panthers,
The swollen, aggressive turbans of jeweled pashas.
Now you are a very decent flower,
A reticent flower,
A curiously clear-cut, candid flower,
Standing beside clean doorways,
Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,
Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight
And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.
Maine knows you,
Has for years and years;
New Hampshire knows you,
Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;
Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.
You are brighter than apples,
Sweeter than tulips,
You are the great flood of our souls
Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,
You are the smell of all Summers,
The love of wives and children,
The recollection of gardens of little children,
You are State Houses and Charters
And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.
May is lilac here in New England,
May is a thrush singing “Sun up!” on a tip-top ash tree,
May is white clouds behind pine-trees
Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky.
May is a green as no other,
May is much sun through small leaves,
May is soft earth,
And windows open to a South Wind.
May is full light wind of lilac
From Canada to Narragansett Bay.
Color of lilac.
Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,
Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,
Lilac in me because I am New England,
Because my roots are in it,
Because my leaves are of it,
Because my flowers are for it,
Because it is my country
And I speak to it of itself
And sing of it with my own voice
Since certainly it is mine.
The inkstand is full of ink, and the paper lies white and unspotted,
in the round of light thrown by a candle. Puffs of darkness sweep into
the corners, and keep rolling through the room behind his chair. The air
is silver and pearl, for the night is liquid with moonlight.
See how the roof glitters, like ice!
Over there, a slice of yellow cuts into the silver-blue, and beside it stand
two geraniums, purple because the light is silver-blue, to-night.
See! She is coming, the young woman with the bright hair.
She swings a basket as she walks, which she places on the sill,
between the geranium stalks. He laughs, and crumples his paper
as he leans forward to look. 'The Basket Filled with Moonlight',
what a title for a book!
The bellying clouds swing over the housetops.
He has forgotten the woman in the room with the geraniums. He is beating
his brain, and in his eardrums hammers his heavy pulse. She sits
on the window-sill, with the basket in her lap. And tap! She cracks a nut.
And tap! Another. Tap! Tap! Tap! The shells ricochet upon the roof,
and get into the gutters, and bounce over the edge and disappear.
'It is very queer,' thinks Peter, 'the basket was empty, I'm sure.
How could nuts appear from the atmosphere?'
The silver-blue moonlight makes the geraniums purple, and the roof glitters
Five o'clock. The geraniums are very gay in their crimson array.
The bellying clouds swing over the housetops, and over the roofs goes Peter
to pay his morning's work with a holiday.
'Annette, it is I. Have you finished? Can I come?'
Peter jumps through the window.
'Dear, are you alone?'
'Look, Peter, the dome of the tabernacle is done. This gold thread
is so very high, I am glad it is morning, a starry sky would have
seen me bankrupt. Sit down, now tell me, is your story going well?'
The golden dome glittered in the orange of the setting sun. On the walls,
at intervals, hung altar-cloths and chasubles, and copes, and stoles,
and coffin palls. All stiff with rich embroidery, and stitched with
so much artistry, they seemed like spun and woven gems, or flower-buds
new-opened on their stems.
Annette looked at the geraniums, very red against the blue sky.
'No matter how I try, I cannot find any thread of such a red.
My bleeding hearts drip stuff muddy in comparison. Heigh-ho! See my little
pecking dove? I'm in love with my own temple. Only that halo's wrong.
The colour's too strong, or not strong enough. I don't know. My eyes
are tired. Oh, Peter, don't be so rough; it is valuable. I won't do
any more. I promise. You tyrannise, Dear, that's enough. Now sit down
and amuse me while I rest.'
The shadows of the geraniums creep over the floor, and begin to climb
the opposite wall.
Peter watches her, fluid with fatigue, floating, and drifting,
and undulant in the orange glow. His senses flow towards her,
where she lies supine and dreaming. Seeming drowned in a golden halo.
The pungent smell of the geraniums is hard to bear.
He pushes against her knees, and brushes his lips across her languid hands.
His lips are hot and speechless. He woos her, quivering, and the room
is filled with shadows, for the sun has set. But she only understands
the ways of a needle through delicate stuffs, and the shock of one colour
on another. She does not see that this is the same, and querulously murmurs
'Peter, I don't want it. I am tired.'
And he, the undesired, burns and is consumed.
There is a crescent moon on the rim of the sky.
'Go home, now, Peter. To-night is full moon. I must be alone.'
'How soon the moon is full again! Annette, let me stay. Indeed, Dear Love,
I shall not go away. My God, but you keep me starved! You write
`No Entrance Here', over all the doors. Is it not strange, my Dear,
that loving, yet you deny me entrance everywhere. Would marriage
strike you blind, or, hating bonds as you do, why should I be denied
the rights of loving if I leave you free? You want the whole of me,
you pick my brains to rest you, but you give me not one heart-beat.
Oh, forgive me, Sweet! I suffer in my loving, and you know it. I cannot
feed my life on being a poet. Let me stay.'
'As you please, poor Peter, but it will hurt me if you do. It will
crush your heart and squeeze the love out.'
He answered gruffly, 'I know what I'm about.'
'Only remember one thing from to-night. My work is taxing and I must
have sight! I MUST!'
The clear moon looks in between the geraniums. On the wall,
the shadow of the man is divided from the shadow of the woman
by a silver thread.
They are eyes, hundreds of eyes, round like marbles! Unwinking, for there
are no lids. Blue, black, gray, and hazel, and the irises are cased
in the whites, and they glitter and spark under the moon. The basket
is heaped with human eyes. She cracks off the whites and throws them away.
They ricochet upon the roof, and get into the gutters, and bounce
over the edge and disappear. But she is here, quietly sitting
on the window-sill, eating human eyes.
The silver-blue moonlight makes the geraniums purple, and the roof shines
How hot the sheets are! His skin is tormented with pricks,
and over him sticks, and never moves, an eye. It lights the sky with blood,
and drips blood. And the drops sizzle on his bare skin, and he smells them
burning in, and branding his body with the name 'Annette'.
The blood-red sky is outside his window now. Is it blood or fire?
Merciful God! Fire! And his heart wrenches and pounds 'Annette!'
The lead of the roof is scorching, he ricochets, gets to the edge,
bounces over and disappears.
The bellying clouds are red as they swing over the housetops.
The air is of silver and pearl, for the night is liquid with moonlight.
How the ruin glistens, like a palace of ice! Only two black holes swallow
the brilliance of the moon. Deflowered windows, sockets without sight.
A man stands before the house. He sees the silver-blue moonlight,
and set in it, over his head, staring and flickering, eyes of geranium red.
Nightmare: A Tale For An Autumn Evening
After a Print by George Cruikshank
It was a gusty night,
With the wind booming, and swooping,
Looping round corners,
Sliding over the cobble-stones,
Whipping and veering,
And careering over the roofs
Like a thousand clattering horses.
Mr. Spruggins had been dining in the city,
Mr. Spruggins was none too steady in his gait,
And the wind played ball with Mr. Spruggins
And laughed as it whistled past him.
It rolled him along the street,
With his little feet pit-a-patting on the flags of the sidewalk,
And his muffler and his coat-tails blown straight out behind him.
It bumped him against area railings,
And chuckled in his ear when he said 'Ouch!'
Sometimes it lifted him clear off his little patting feet
And bore him in triumph over three grey flagstones and a quarter.
The moon dodged in and out of clouds, winking.
It was all very unpleasant for Mr. Spruggins,
And when the wind flung him hard against his own front door
It was a relief,
Although the breath was quite knocked out of him.
The gas-lamp in front of the house flared up,
And the keyhole was as big as a barn door;
The gas-lamp flickered away to a sputtering blue star,
And the keyhole went out with it.
Such a stabbing, and jabbing,
And sticking, and picking,
And poking, and pushing, and prying
With that key;
And there is no denying that Mr. Spruggins rapped out an oath or two,
Rub-a-dub-dubbing them out to a real snare-drum roll.
But the door opened at last,
And Mr. Spruggins blew through it into his own hall
And slammed the door to so hard
That the knocker banged five times before it stopped.
Mr. Spruggins struck a light and lit a candle,
And all the time the moon winked at him through the window.
'Why couldn't you find the keyhole, Spruggins?'
Taunted the wind.
'I can find the keyhole.'
And the wind, thin as a wire,
Darted in and seized the candle flame
And knocked it over to one side
And pummelled it down - down - down -!
But Mr. Spruggins held the candle so close that it singed his chin,
And ran and stumbled up the stairs in a surprisingly agile manner,
For the wind through the keyhole kept saying, 'Spruggins! Spruggins!'
The fire in his bedroom burned brightly.
The room with its crimson bed and window curtains
Was as red and glowing as a carbuncle.
It was still and warm.
There was no wind here, for the windows were fastened;
And no moon,
For the curtains were drawn.
The candle flame stood up like a pointed pear
In a wide brass dish.
Mr. Spruggins sighed with content;
He was safe at home.
The fire glowed - red and yellow roses
In the black basket of the grate -
And the bed with its crimson hangings
Seemed a great peony,
Wide open and placid.
Mr. Spruggins slipped off his top-coat and his muffler.
He slipped off his bottle-green coat
And his flowered waistcoat.
He put on a flannel dressing-gown,
And tied a peaked night-cap under his chin.
He wound his large gold watch
And placed it under his pillow.
Then he tiptoed over to the window and pulled back the curtain.
There was the moon dodging in and out of the clouds;
But behind him was his quiet candle.
There was the wind whisking along the street.
The window rattled, but it was fastened.
Did the wind say, 'Spruggins'?
All Mr. Spruggins heard was 'S-s-s-s-s -'
Dying away down the street.
He dropped the curtain and got into bed.
Martha had been in the last thing with the warming-pan;
The bed was warm,
And Mr. Spruggins sank into feathers,
With the familiar ticking of his watch just under his head.
Mr. Spruggins dozed.
He had forgotten to put out the candle,
But it did not make much difference as the fire was so bright . . .
The red and yellow roses pricked his eyelids,
They scorched him back to consciousness.
He tried to shift his position;
He could not move.
Something weighed him down,
He could not breathe.
He was gasping,
Pinned down and suffocating.
He opened his eyes.
The curtains of the window were flung back,
The fire and the candle were out,
And the room was filled with green moonlight.
And pressed against the window-pane
Was a wide, round face,
Winking - winking -
Solemnly dropping one eyelid after the other.
Tick - tock - went the watch under his pillow,
Wink - wink - went the face at the window.
It was not the fire roses which had pricked him,
It was the winking eyes.
Mr. Spruggins tried to bounce up;
He could not, because -
His heart flapped up into his mouth
And fell back dead.
On his chest was a fat pink pig,
On the pig a blackamoor
With a ten pound weight for a cap.
His mustachios kept curling up and down like angry snakes,
And his eyes rolled round and round,
With the pupils coming into sight, and disappearing,
And appearing again on the other side.
The holsters at his saddle-bow were two port bottles,
And a curved table-knife hung at his belt for a scimitar,
While a fork and a keg of spirits were strapped to the saddle behind.
He dug his spurs into the pig,
Which trampled and snorted,
And stamped its cloven feet deeper into Mr. Spruggins.
Then the green light on the floor began to undulate.
It heaved and hollowed,
It rose like a tide,
Full of claws and scales
The air above his bed began to move;
It weighed over him
In a mass of draggled feathers.
Not one lifted to stir the air.
They drooped and dripped
With a smell of port wine and brandy,
Closing down, slowly,
Trickling drops on the bed-quilt.
Suddenly the window fell in with a great scatter of glass,
And the moon burst into the room,
Sizzling - 'S-s-s-s-s - Spruggins! Spruggins!'
It rolled toward him,
A green ball of flame,
With two eyes in the center,
A red eye and a yellow eye,
Dropping their lids slowly,
One after the other.
Mr. Spruggins tried to scream,
But the blackamoor
Leapt off his pig
With a cry,
Drew his scimitar,
And plunged it into Mr. Spruggins's mouth.
Mr. Spruggins got up in the cold dawn
And remade the fire.
Then he crept back to bed
By the light which seeped in under the window curtains,
And lay there, shivering,
While the bells of St. George the Martyr chimed the quarter after seven.
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,
lobsided 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.
The Book Of Hours Of Sister Clotilde
The Bell in the convent tower swung.
High overhead the great sun hung,
A navel for the curving sky.
The air was a blue clarity.
And a cock crew.
The iron clanging sank through the light air,
Rustled over with blowing branches. A flare
Of spotted green, and a snake had gone
Into the bed where the snowdrops shone
In green new-started,
Their white bells parted.
Two by two, in a long brown line,
The nuns were walking to breathe the fine
Bright April air. They must go in soon
And work at their tasks all the afternoon.
But this time is theirs!
They walk in pairs.
First comes the Abbess, preoccupied
And slow, as a woman often tried,
With her temper in bond. Then the oldest nun.
Then younger and younger, until the last one
Has a laugh on her lips,
And fairly skips.
They wind about the gravel walks
And all the long line buzzes and talks.
They step in time to the ringing bell,
With scarcely a shadow. The sun is well
In the core of a sky
Sister Marguerite said: 'The pears will soon bud.'
Sister Angelique said she must get her spud
And free the earth round the jasmine roots.
Sister Veronique said: 'Oh, look at those shoots!
There's a crocus up,
With a purple cup.'
But Sister Clotilde said nothing at all,
She looked up and down the old grey wall
To see if a lizard were basking there.
She looked across the garden to where
Flanked the garden door.
She was restless, although her little feet danced,
And quite unsatisfied, for it chanced
Her morning's work had hung in her mind
And would not take form. She could not find
For the Virgin's dress.
Should it be of pink, or damasked blue?
Or perhaps lilac with gold shotted through?
Should it be banded with yellow and white
Roses, or sparked like a frosty night?
Or a crimson sheen
Over some sort of green?
But Clotilde's eyes saw nothing new
In all the garden, no single hue
So lovely or so marvellous
That its use would not seem impious.
So on she walked,
And the others talked.
Sister Elisabeth edged away
From what her companion had to say,
For Sister Marthe saw the world in little,
She weighed every grain and recorded each tittle.
She did plain stitching
And worked in the kitchen.
'Sister Radegonde knows the apples won't last,
I told her so this Friday past.
I must speak to her before Compline.'
Her words were like dust motes in slanting sunshine.
The other nun sighed,
With her pleasure quite dried.
Suddenly Sister Berthe cried out:
'The snowdrops are blooming!' They turned about.
The little white cups bent over the ground,
And in among the light stems wound
A crested snake,
With his eyes awake.
His body was green with a metal brightness
Like an emerald set in a kind of whiteness,
And all down his curling length were disks,
Evil vermilion asterisks,
They paled and flooded
As wounds fresh-blooded.
His crest was amber glittered with blue,
And opaque so the sun came shining through.
It seemed a crown with fiery points.
When he quivered all down his scaly joints,
From every slot
The sparkles shot.
The nuns huddled tightly together, fear
Catching their senses. But Clotilde must peer
More closely at the beautiful snake,
She seemed entranced and eased. Could she make
Colours so rare,
The dress were there.
The Abbess shook off her lethargy.
'Sisters, we will walk on,' said she.
Sidling away from the snowdrop bed,
The line curved forwards, the Abbess ahead.
Was the last to yield.
When the recreation hour was done
Each went in to her task. Alone
In the library, with its great north light,
Clotilde wrought at an exquisite
Wreath of flowers
For her Book of Hours.
She twined the little crocus blooms
With snowdrops and daffodils, the glooms
Of laurel leaves were interwoven
With Stars-of-Bethlehem, and cloven
Whose colour varies.
They framed the picture she had made,
Half-delighted and half-afraid.
In a courtyard with a lozenged floor
The Virgin watched, and through the arched door
The angel came
Like a springing flame.
His wings were dipped in violet fire,
His limbs were strung to holy desire.
He lowered his head and passed under the arch,
And the air seemed beating a solemn march.
The Virgin waited
With eyes dilated.
Her face was quiet and innocent,
And beautiful with her strange assent.
A silver thread about her head
Her halo was poised. But in the stead
Of her gown, there remained
The vellum, unstained.
Clotilde painted the flowers patiently,
Lingering over each tint and dye.
She could spend great pains, now she had seen
That curious, unimagined green.
A colour so strange
It had seemed to change.
She thought it had altered while she gazed.
At first it had been simple green; then glazed
All over with twisting flames, each spot
A molten colour, trembling and hot,
And every eye
Seemed to liquefy.
She had made a plan, and her spirits danced.
After all, she had only glanced
At that wonderful snake, and she must know
Just what hues made the creature throw
Those splashes and sprays
Of prismed rays.
When evening prayers were sung and said,
The nuns lit their tapers and went to bed.
And soon in the convent there was no light,
For the moon did not rise until late that night,
Only the shine
Of the lamp at the shrine.
Clotilde lay still in her trembling sheets.
Her heart shook her body with its beats.
She could not see till the moon should rise,
So she whispered prayers and kept her eyes
On the window-square
Till light should be there.
The faintest shadow of a branch
Fell on the floor. Clotilde, grown staunch
With solemn purpose, softly rose
And fluttered down between the rows
Of sleeping nuns.
She almost runs.
She must go out through the little side door
Lest the nuns who were always praying before
The Virgin's altar should hear her pass.
She pushed the bolts, and over the grass
The red moon's brim
Mounted its rim.
Her shadow crept up the convent wall
As she swiftly left it, over all
The garden lay the level glow
Of a moon coming up, very big and slow.
The gravel glistened.
She stopped and listened.
It was still, and the moonlight was getting clearer.
She laughed a little, but she felt queerer
Than ever before. The snowdrop bed
Was reached and she bent down her head.
On the striped ground
The snake was wound.
For a moment Clotilde paused in alarm,
Then she rolled up her sleeve and stretched out her arm.
She thought she heard steps, she must be quick.
She darted her hand out, and seized the thick
Only just in time.
The old gardener came muttering down the path,
And his shadow fell like a broad, black swath,
And covered Clotilde and the angry snake.
He bit her, but what difference did that make!
The Virgin should dress
In his loveliness.
The gardener was covering his new-set plants
For the night was chilly, and nothing daunts
Your lover of growing things. He spied
Something to do and turned aside,
And the moonlight streamed
On Clotilde, and gleamed.
His business finished the gardener rose.
He shook and swore, for the moonlight shows
A girl with a fire-tongued serpent, she
Grasping him, laughing, while quietly
Her eyes are weeping.
Is he sleeping?
He thinks it is some holy vision,
Brushes that aside and with decision
Jumps -- and hits the snake with his stick,
Crushes his spine, and then with quick,
Takes her hand.
The gardener sucks the poison and spits,
Cursing and praying as befits
A poor old man half out of his wits.
'Whatever possessed you, Sister, it's
Hatched of a devil
And very evil.
It's one of them horrid basilisks
You read about. They say a man risks
His life to touch it, but I guess I've sucked it
Out by now. Lucky I chucked it
Away from you.
I guess you'll do.'
'Oh, no, Francois, this beautiful beast
Was sent to me, to me the least
Worthy in all our convent, so I
Could finish my picture of the Most High
And Holy Queen,
In her dress of green.
He is dead now, but his colours won't fade
At once, and by noon I shall have made
The Virgin's robe. Oh, Francois, see
How kindly the moon shines down on me!
I can't die yet,
For the task was set.'
'You won't die now, for I've sucked it away,'
Grumbled old Francois, 'so have your play.
If the Virgin is set on snake's colours so strong, --'
'Francois, don't say things like that, it is wrong.'
So Clotilde vented
Her creed. He repented.
'He can't do no more harm, Sister,' said he.
'Paint as much as you like.' And gingerly
He picked up the snake with his stick. Clotilde
Thanked him, and begged that he would shield
Her secret, though itching
To talk in the kitchen.
The gardener promised, not very pleased,
And Clotilde, with the strain of adventure eased,
Walked quickly home, while the half-high moon
Made her beautiful snake-skin sparkle, and soon
In her bed she lay
And waited for day.
At dawn's first saffron-spired warning
Clotilde was up. And all that morning,
Except when she went to the chapel to pray,
She painted, and when the April day
Was hot with sun,
Clotilde had done.
Done! She drooped, though her heart beat loud
At the beauty before her, and her spirit bowed
To the Virgin her finely-touched thought had made.
A lady, in excellence arrayed,
Christ's Blessed Mould!
From long fasting Clotilde felt weary and faint,
But her eyes were starred like those of a saint
Enmeshed in Heaven's beatitude.
A sudden clamour hurled its rude
Force to break
Her vision awake.
The door nearly leapt from its hinges, pushed
By the multitude of nuns. They hushed
When they saw Clotilde, in perfect quiet,
Smiling, a little perplexed at the riot.
And all the hive
Buzzed 'She's alive!'
Old Francois had told. He had found the strain
Of silence too great, and preferred the pain
Of a conscience outraged. The news had spread,
And all were convinced Clotilde must be dead.
For Francois, to spite them,
Had not seen fit to right them.
The Abbess, unwontedly trembling and mild,
Put her arms round Clotilde and wept, 'My child,
Has the Holy Mother showed you this grace,
To spare you while you imaged her face?
How could we have guessed
Our convent so blessed!
A miracle! But Oh! My Lamb!
To have you die! And I, who am
A hollow, living shell, the grave
Is empty of me. Holy Mary, I crave
To be taken, Dear Mother,
Instead of this other.'
She dropped on her knees and silently prayed,
With anguished hands and tears delayed
To a painful slowness. The minutes drew
To fractions. Then the west wind blew
The sound of a bell,
On a gusty swell.
It came skipping over the slates of the roof,
And the bright bell-notes seemed a reproof
To grief, in the eye of so fair a day.
The Abbess, comforted, ceased to pray.
And the sun lit the flowers
In Clotilde's Book of Hours.
It glistened the green of the Virgin's dress
And made the red spots, in a flushed excess,
Pulse and start; and the violet wings
Of the angel were colour which shines and sings.
The book seemed a choir
Of rainbow fire.
The Abbess crossed herself, and each nun
Did the same, then one by one,
They filed to the chapel, that incensed prayers
Might plead for the life of this sister of theirs.
Clotilde, the Inspired!
She only felt tired.
* * * * *
The old chronicles say she did not die
Until heavy with years. And that is why
There hangs in the convent church a basket
Of osiered silver, a holy casket,
And treasured therein
A dried snake-skin.
How the slates of the roof sparkle in the sun, over there, over there,
beyond the high wall! How quietly the Seine runs in loops and windings,
over there, over there, sliding through the green countryside! Like ships
of the line, stately with canvas, the tall clouds pass along the sky,
over the glittering roof, over the trees, over the looped and curving river.
A breeze quivers through the linden-trees. Roses bloom at Malmaison.
Roses! Roses! But the road is dusty. Already the Citoyenne Beauharnais
wearies of her walk. Her skin is chalked and powdered with dust,
she smells dust, and behind the wall are roses! Roses with
smooth open petals, poised above rippling leaves . . . Roses . . .
They have told her so. The Citoyenne Beauharnais shrugs her shoulders
and makes a little face. She must mend her pace if she would be back
in time for dinner. Roses indeed! The guillotine more likely.
The tiered clouds float over Malmaison, and the slate roof sparkles
in the sun.
Gallop! Gallop! The General brooks no delay. Make way, good people,
and scatter out of his path, you, and your hens, and your dogs,
and your children. The General is returned from Egypt, and is come
in a `caleche' and four to visit his new property. Throw open the gates,
you, Porter of Malmaison. Pull off your cap, my man, this is your master,
the husband of Madame. Faster! Faster! A jerk and a jingle
and they are arrived, he and she. Madame has red eyes. Fie! It is for joy
at her husband's return. Learn your place, Porter. A gentleman here
for two months? Fie! Fie, then! Since when have you taken to gossiping.
Madame may have a brother, I suppose. That -- all green, and red,
and glitter, with flesh as dark as ebony -- that is a slave; a bloodthirsty,
stabbing, slashing heathen, come from the hot countries to cure your tongue
of idle whispering.
A fine afternoon it is, with tall bright clouds sailing over the trees.
'Bonaparte, mon ami, the trees are golden like my star, the star I pinned
to your destiny when I married you. The gypsy, you remember her prophecy!
My dear friend, not here, the servants are watching; send them away,
and that flashing splendour, Roustan. Superb -- Imperial, but . . .
My dear, your arm is trembling; I faint to feel it touching me! No, no,
Bonaparte, not that -- spare me that -- did we not bury that last night!
You hurt me, my friend, you are so hot and strong. Not long, Dear,
no, thank God, not long.'
The looped river runs saffron, for the sun is setting. It is getting dark.
Dark. Darker. In the moonlight, the slate roof shines palely milkily white.
The roses have faded at Malmaison, nipped by the frost. What need for roses?
Smooth, open petals -- her arms. Fragrant, outcurved petals -- her breasts.
He rises like a sun above her, stooping to touch the petals, press them wider.
Eagles. Bees. What are they to open roses! A little shivering breeze
runs through the linden-trees, and the tiered clouds blow across the sky
like ships of the line, stately with canvas.
The gates stand wide at Malmaison, stand wide all day. The gravel
of the avenue glints under the continual rolling of wheels.
An officer gallops up with his sabre clicking; a mameluke gallops down
with his charger kicking. `Valets de pied' run about in ones, and twos,
and groups, like swirled blown leaves. Tramp! Tramp! The guard is changing,
and the grenadiers off duty lounge out of sight, ranging along the roads
The slate roof sparkles in the sun, but it sparkles milkily, vaguely,
the great glass-houses put out its shining. Glass, stone, and onyx
now for the sun's mirror. Much has come to pass at Malmaison.
New rocks and fountains, blocks of carven marble, fluted pillars uprearing
antique temples, vases and urns in unexpected places, bridges of stone,
bridges of wood, arbours and statues, and a flood of flowers everywhere,
new flowers, rare flowers, parterre after parterre of flowers. Indeed,
the roses bloom at Malmaison. It is youth, youth untrammeled and advancing,
trundling a country ahead of it as though it were a hoop. Laughter,
and spur janglings in tessellated vestibules. Tripping of clocked
and embroidered stockings in little low-heeled shoes over smooth grass-plots.
India muslins spangled with silver patterns slide through trees --
mingle -- separate -- white day fireflies flashing moon-brilliance
in the shade of foliage.
'The kangaroos! I vow, Captain, I must see the kangaroos.'
'As you please, dear Lady, but I recommend the shady linden alley
and feeding the cockatoos.'
'They say that Madame Bonaparte's breed of sheep is the best in all France.'
'And, oh, have you seen the enchanting little cedar she planted
when the First Consul sent home the news of the victory of Marengo?'
Picking, choosing, the chattering company flits to and fro. Over the trees
the great clouds go, tiered, stately, like ships of the line
bright with canvas.
Prisoners'-base, and its swooping, veering, racing, giggling, bumping.
The First Consul runs plump into M. de Beauharnais and falls.
But he picks himself up smartly, and starts after M. Isabey. Too late,
M. Le Premier Consul, Mademoiselle Hortense is out after you. Quickly,
my dear Sir! Stir your short legs, she is swift and eager, and as graceful
as her mother. She is there, that other, playing too, but lightly, warily,
bearing herself with care, rather floating out upon the air than running,
never far from goal. She is there, borne up above her guests
as something indefinably fair, a rose above periwinkles. A blown rose,
smooth as satin, reflexed, one loosened petal hanging back and down.
A rose that undulates languorously as the breeze takes it,
resting upon its leaves in a faintness of perfume.
There are rumours about the First Consul. Malmaison is full of women,
and Paris is only two leagues distant. Madame Bonaparte stands
on the wooden bridge at sunset, and watches a black swan
pushing the pink and silver water in front of him as he swims,
crinkling its smoothness into pleats of changing colour with his breast.
Madame Bonaparte presses against the parapet of the bridge,
and the crushed roses at her belt melt, petal by petal, into the pink water.
A vile day, Porter. But keep your wits about you. The Empress
will soon be here. Queer, without the Emperor! It is indeed,
but best not consider that. Scratch your head and prick up your ears.
Divorce is not for you to debate about. She is late? Ah, well,
the roads are muddy. The rain spears are as sharp as whetted knives.
They dart down and down, edged and shining. Clop-trop! Clop-trop!
A carriage grows out of the mist. Hist, Porter. You can keep on your hat.
It is only Her Majesty's dogs and her parrot. Clop-trop!
The Ladies in Waiting, Porter. Clop-trop! It is Her Majesty. At least,
I suppose it is, but the blinds are drawn.
'In all the years I have served Her Majesty she never before passed the gate
without giving me a smile!'
You're a droll fellow, to expect the Empress to put out her head
in the pouring rain and salute you. She has affairs of her own
to think about.
Clang the gate, no need for further waiting, nobody else will be coming
to Malmaison to-night.
White under her veil, drained and shaking, the woman crosses the antechamber.
Empress! Empress! Foolish splendour, perished to dust. Ashes of roses,
ashes of youth. Empress forsooth!
Over the glass domes of the hot-houses drenches the rain. Behind her
a clock ticks -- ticks again. The sound knocks upon her thought
with the echoing shudder of hollow vases. She places her hands on her ears,
but the minutes pass, knocking. Tears in Malmaison. And years to come
each knocking by, minute after minute. Years, many years, and tears,
and cold pouring rain.
'I feel as though I had died, and the only sensation I have
is that I am no more.'
Rain! Heavy, thudding rain!
The roses bloom at Malmaison. And not only roses. Tulips, myrtles,
geraniums, camelias, rhododendrons, dahlias, double hyacinths.
All the year through, under glass, under the sky, flowers bud, expand, die,
and give way to others, always others. From distant countries they have
been brought, and taught to live in the cool temperateness of France.
There is the `Bonapartea' from Peru; the `Napoleone Imperiale';
the `Josephinia Imperatrix', a pearl-white flower, purple-shadowed,
the calix pricked out with crimson points. Malmaison wears its flowers
as a lady wears her gems, flauntingly, assertively. Malmaison decks herself
to hide the hollow within.
The glass-houses grow and grow, and every year fling up hotter reflections
to the sailing sun.
The cost runs into millions, but a woman must have something
to console herself for a broken heart. One can play backgammon and patience,
and then patience and backgammon, and stake gold napoleons on each game won.
Sport truly! It is an unruly spirit which could ask better. With her jewels,
her laces, her shawls; her two hundred and twenty dresses, her fichus,
her veils; her pictures, her busts, her birds. It is absurd that she
cannot be happy. The Emperor smarts under the thought of her ingratitude.
What could he do more? And yet she spends, spends as never before.
It is ridiculous. Can she not enjoy life at a smaller figure?
Was ever monarch plagued with so extravagant an ex-wife. She owes
her chocolate-merchant, her candle-merchant, her sweetmeat purveyor;
her grocer, her butcher, her poulterer; her architect, and the shopkeeper
who sells her rouge; her perfumer, her dressmaker, her merchant of shoes.
She owes for fans, plants, engravings, and chairs. She owes
masons and carpenters, vintners, lingeres. The lady's affairs
are in sad confusion.
And why? Why?
Can a river flow when the spring is dry?
Night. The Empress sits alone, and the clock ticks, one after one.
The clock nicks off the edges of her life. She is chipped like
an old bit of china; she is frayed like a garment of last year's wearing.
She is soft, crinkled, like a fading rose. And each minute flows by
brushing against her, shearing off another and another petal.
The Empress crushes her breasts with her hands and weeps. And the tall clouds
sail over Malmaison like a procession of stately ships bound for the moon.
Scarlet, clear-blue, purple epauletted with gold. It is a parade of soldiers
sweeping up the avenue. Eight horses, eight Imperial harnesses,
four caparisoned postilions, a carriage with the Emperor's arms on the panels.
Ho, Porter, pop out your eyes, and no wonder. Where else under the Heavens
could you see such splendour!
They sit on a stone seat. The little man in the green coat of a Colonel
of Chasseurs, and the lady, beautiful as a satin seed-pod, and as pale.
The house has memories. The satin seed-pod holds his germs of Empire.
We will stay here, under the blue sky and the turreted white clouds.
She draws him; he feels her faded loveliness urge him to replenish it.
Her soft transparent texture woos his nervous fingering. He speaks to her
of debts, of resignation; of her children, and his; he promises that she
shall see the King of Rome; he says some harsh things and some pleasant.
But she is there, close to him, rose toned to amber, white shot with violet,
pungent to his nostrils as embalmed rose-leaves in a twilit room.
Suddenly the Emperor calls his carriage and rolls away
across the looping Seine.
Crystal-blue brightness over the glass-houses. Crystal-blue streaks
and ripples over the lake. A macaw on a gilded perch screams;
they have forgotten to take out his dinner. The windows shake. Boom! Boom!
It is the rumbling of Prussian cannon beyond Pecq. Roses bloom at Malmaison.
Roses! Roses! Swimming above their leaves, rotting beneath them.
Fallen flowers strew the unraked walks. Fallen flowers for a fallen Emperor!
The General in charge of him draws back and watches. Snatches of music --
snarling, sneering music of bagpipes. They say a Scotch regiment
is besieging Saint-Denis. The Emperor wipes his face, or is it his eyes.
His tired eyes which see nowhere the grace they long for. Josephine!
Somebody asks him a question, he does not answer, somebody else does that.
There are voices, but one voice he does not hear, and yet he hears it
all the time. Josephine! The Emperor puts up his hand to screen his face.
The white light of a bright cloud spears sharply through the linden-trees.
`Vive l'Empereur!' There are troops passing beyond the wall,
troops which sing and call. Boom! A pink rose is jarred off its stem
and falls at the Emperor's feet.
'Very well. I go.' Where! Does it matter? There is no sword to clatter.
Nothing but soft brushing gravel and a gate which shuts with a click.
'Quick, fellow, don't spare your horses.'
A whip cracks, wheels turn, why burn one's eyes following a fleck of dust.
Over the slate roof tall clouds, like ships of the line, pass along the sky.
The glass-houses glitter splotchily, for many of their lights are broken.
Roses bloom, fiery cinders quenching under damp weeds. Wreckage and misery,
and a trailing of petty deeds smearing over old recollections.
The musty rooms are empty and their shutters are closed, only in the gallery
there is a stuffed black swan, covered with dust. When you touch it,
the feathers come off and float softly to the ground. Through a chink
in the shutters, one can see the stately clouds crossing the sky
toward the Roman arches of the Marly Aqueduct.
Frindsbury, Kent, 1786
All through the lead and silver Winter days,
All through the copper of Autumn hazes.
Tap to the red rising sun,
Tap to the purple setting sun.
Four years pass before the job is done.
Two thousand oak trees grown and felled,
Two thousand oaks from the hedgerows of the Weald,
Sussex had yielded two thousand oaks
With huge boles
Round which the tape rolls
Thirty mortal feet, say the village folks.
Two hundred loads of elm and Scottish fir;
Planking from Dantzig.
My! What timber goes into a ship!
Two years they have seasoned her ribs on the ways,
You can hear, though there's nothing where you gaze.
Through the fog down the reaches of the river,
The tapping goes on like heart-beats in a fever.
The church-bells chime
Hours and hours,
Dropping days in showers.
Bang! Rap! Tap!
Go the hammers all the time.
They have planked up her timbers
And the nails are driven to the head;
They have decked her over,
And again, and again.
The shoring-up beams shudder at the strain.
Black and blue breeches,
Pigtails bound and shining:
Like ants crawling about,
The hull swarms with carpenters, running in and out.
And they are all terrible talkers.
Jem Wilson has been to sea and he tells some wonderful tales
Of whales, and spice islands,
And pirates off the Barbary coast.
He boasts magnificently, with his mouth full of nails.
Stephen Pibold has a tenor voice,
He shifts his quid of tobacco and sings:
'The second in command was blear-eyed Ned:
While the surgeon his limb was a-lopping,
A nine-pounder came and smack went his head,
Pull away, pull away, pull away! I say;
Rare news for my Meg of Wapping!'
People come in crowds
(After church-time, of course)
In curricles, and gigs, and wagons,
And some have brought cold chicken and flagons
And beer in stoppered jugs.
'Dear! Dear! But I tell 'ee 'twill be a fine ship.
There's none finer in any of the slips at Chatham.'
The third Summer's roses have started in to blow,
When the fine stern carving is begun.
Flutings, and twinings, and long slow swirls,
Bits of deal shaved away to thin spiral curls.
Tap! Tap! A cornucopia is nailed into place.
Rap-a-tap! They are putting up a railing filigreed like Irish lace.
The Three Town's people never saw such grace.
And the paint on it! The richest gold leaf!
Why, the glitter when the sun is shining passes belief.
And that row of glass windows tipped toward the sky
Are rubies and carbuncles when the day is dry.
Oh, my! Oh, my!
They have coppered up the bottom,
And the copper nails
Stand about and sparkle in big wooden pails.
Bang! Clash! Bang!
'And he swigg'd, and Nick swigg'd,
And Ben swigg'd, and Dick swigg'd,
And I swigg'd, and all of us swigg'd it,
And swore there was nothing like grog.'
It seems they sing,
Even though coppering is not an easy thing.
What a splendid specimen of humanity is a true British workman,
Say the people of the Three Towns,
As they walk about the dockyard
To the sound of the evening church-bells.
And so artistic, too, each one tells his neighbour.
What immense taste and labour!
Miss Jessie Prime, in a pink silk bonnet,
Titters with delight as her eyes fall upon it,
When she steps lightly down from Lawyer Green's whisky;
Such amazing beauty makes one feel frisky,
Mr. Nichols says he is delighted
(He is the firm);
His work is all requited
If Miss Jessie can approve.
Miss Jessie answers that the ship is 'a love'.
The sides are yellow as marigold,
The port-lids are red when the ports are up:
Blood-red squares like an even chequer
Of yellow asters and portulaca.
There is a wide 'black strake' at the waterline
And above is a blue like the sky when the weather is fine.
The inner bulwarks are painted red.
'Why?' asks Miss Jessie. ''Tis a horrid note.'
Mr. Nichols clears his throat,
And tells her the launching day is set.
He says, 'Be careful, the paint is wet.'
But Miss Jessie has touched it, her sprigged muslin gown
Has a blood-red streak from the shoulder down.
'It looks like blood,' says Miss Jessie with a frown.
Tap! Tap! Rap!
An October day, with waves running in blue-white lines and a capful of wind.
Three broad flags ripple out behind
Where the masts will be:
Royal Standard at the main,
Admiralty flag at the fore,
Union Jack at the mizzen.
The hammers tap harder, faster,
They must finish by noon.
The last nail is driven.
But the wind has increased to half a gale,
And the ship shakes and quivers upon the ways.
The Commissioner of Chatham Dockyard is coming
In his ten-oared barge from the King's Stairs;
The Marine's band will play 'God Save Great George Our King';
And there is to be a dinner afterwards at the Crown, with speeches.
The wind screeches, and flaps the flags till they pound like hammers.
The wind hums over the ship,
And slips round the dog-shores,
Jostling them almost to falling.
There is no time now to wait for Commissioners and marine bands.
Mr. Nichols has a bottle of port in his hands.
He leans over, holding his hat, and shouts to the men below:
'Let her go!'
Bang! Bang! Pound!
The dog-shores fall to the ground,
And the ship slides down the greased planking.
A splintering of glass,
And port wine running all over the white and copper stem timbers.
'Success to his Majesty's ship, the Bellerophon!'
And the red wine washes away in the waters of the Medway.
Paris, March, 1814
Fine yellow sunlight down the rue du Mont Thabor.
Ten o'clock striking from all the clock-towers of Paris.
Over the door of a shop, in gilt letters:
'Martin - Parfumeur', and something more.
A large gilded wooden something.
Listen! What a ringing of hammers!
Tap! Squeak! Tap-a-tap!
'Don't touch the letters. My name stays.'
'Just take down the eagle, and the shield with the bees.'
'As M'sieu pleases.'
Tap! Squeak! Tap!
The man on the ladder hammers steadily for a minute or two,
They are fastened well, Nom d'un Chien!
What if I break them?'
You and Paul must have them down to-day.'
And the hammers start again,
Drum-beating at the something of gilded wood.
Sunshine in a golden flood
Lighting up the yellow fronts of houses,
Glittering each window to a flash.
Squeak! Squeak! Tap!
The hammers beat and rap.
A Prussian hussar on a grey horse goes by at a dash.
From other shops, the noise of striking blows:
Pounds, thumps, and whacks;
Wooden sounds: splinters - cracks.
Paris is full of the galloping of horses and the knocking of hammers.
'Hullo! Friend Martin, is business slack
That you are in the street this morning? Don't turn your back
And scuttle into your shop like a rabbit to its hole.
I've just been taking a stroll.
The stinking Cossacks are bivouacked all up and down the Champs Elysees.
I can't get the smell of them out of my nostrils.
Dirty fellows, who don't believe in frills
Like washing. Ah, mon vieux, you'd have to go
Out of business if you lived in Russia. So!
We've given up being perfumers to the Emperor, have we?
Be careful of the hen,
Maybe I can find a use for her one of these days.
That eagle's rather well cut, Martin.
But I'm sick of smelling Cossack,
Take me inside and let me put my head into a stack
Of orris-root and musk.'
Within the shop, the light is dimmed to a pearl-and-green dusk
Out of which dreamily sparkle counters and shelves of glass,
Containing phials, and bowls, and jars, and dishes; a mass
Of aqueous transparence made solid by threads of gold.
Gold and glass,
And scents which whiff across the green twilight and pass.
The perfumer sits down and shakes his head:
'Always the same, Monsieur Antoine,
You artists are wonderful folk indeed.'
But Antoine Vernet does not heed.
He is reading the names on the bottles and bowls,
Done in fine gilt letters with wonderful scrolls.
'What have we here? `Eau Imperial Odontalgique.'
I must say, mon cher, your names are chic.
But it won't do, positively it will not do.
Elba doesn't count. Ah, here is another:
`Baume du Commandeur'. That's better. He needs something to smother
Regrets. A little lubricant, too,
Might be useful. I have it,
`Sage Oil', perhaps he'll be good now; with it we'll submit
This fine German rouge. I fear he is pale.'
'Monsieur Antoine, don't rail
At misfortune. He treated me well and fairly.'
'And you prefer him to Bourbons, admit it squarely.'
'Heaven forbid!' Bang! Whack!
Squeak! Squeak! Crack!
'Oh, Lord, Martin! That shield is hash.
The whole street is covered with golden bees.
They look like so many yellow peas,
Lying there in the mud. I'd like to paint it.
`Plum pudding of Empire'. That's rather quaint, it
Might take with the Kings. Shall I try?' 'Oh, Sir,
You distress me, you do.' 'Poor old Martin's purr!
But he hasn't a scratch in him, I know.
Now let us get back to the powders and patches.
The Kings are here now. We must hit on a plan
To change all these titles as fast as we can.
`Bouquet Imperatrice'. Tut! Tut! Give me some ink -
`Bouquet de la Reine', what do you think?
Not the same receipt?
Now, Martin, put away your conceit.
Who will ever know?
`Extract of Nobility' - excellent, since most of them are killed.'
'But, Monsieur Antoine -'
'You are self-willed,
Martin. You need a salve
For your conscience, do you?
Very well, we'll halve
The compliments, also the pastes and dentifrices;
Send some to the Kings, and some to the Empresses.
`Oil of Bitter Almonds' - the Empress Josephine can have that.
`Oil of Parma Violets' fits the other one pat.'
Rap! Rap! Bang!
'What a hideous clatter!
Blaise seems determined to batter
That poor old turkey into bits,
And pound to jelly my excellent wits.
Come, come, Martin, you mustn't shirk.
`The night cometh soon' - etc. Don't jerk
Me up like that. `Essence de la Valliere' -
That has a charmingly Bourbon air.
And, oh! Magnificent! Listen to this! -
`Vinaigre des Quatre Voleurs'. Nothing amiss
With that - England, Austria, Russia and Prussia!
Martin, you're a wonder,
Upheavals of continents can't keep you under.'
'Monsieur Antoine, I am grieved indeed
At such levity. What France has gone through -'
'Very true, Martin, very true,
But never forget that a man must feed.'
Pound! Pound! Thump!
'Look here, in another minute Blaise will drop that bird on the ground.'
Martin shrugs his shoulders. 'Ah, well, what then? -'
Antoine, with a laugh: 'I'll give you two sous for that antiquated hen.'
The Imperial Eagle sells for two sous,
And the lilies go up.
A man must choose!
Paris, April, 1814
Cold, impassive, the marble arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Haughty, contemptuous, the marble arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Like a woman raped by force, rising above her fate,
Borne up by the cold rigidity of hate,
Stands the marble arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Tap! Rap! Chink!
What falls to the ground like a streak of flame?
Hush! It is only a bit of bronze flashing in the sun.
What are all those soldiers? Those are not the uniforms of France.
Alas! No! The uniforms of France, Great Imperial France, are done.
They will rot away in chests and hang to dusty tatters in barn lofts.
These are other armies. And their name?
Hush, be still for shame;
Be still and imperturbable like the marble arch.
Another bright spark falls through the blue air.
Over the Place du Carrousel a wailing of despair.
Crowd your horses back upon the people, Uhlans and Hungarian Lancers,
They see too much.
Unfortunately, Gentlemen of the Invading Armies, what they do not see,
Another sharp spear
And a ringing of quick metal lightness
On hard stones.
Workmen are chipping off the names of Napoleon's victories
From the triumphal arch of the Place du Carrousel.
Do they need so much force to quell the crowd?
An old Grenadier of the line groans aloud,
And each hammer tap points the sob of a woman.
Russia, Prussia, Austria, and the faded-white-lily Bourbon king
Think it well
To guard against tumult,
A mob is an undependable thing.
Vienna is scattered all over the Place du Carrousel
In glittering, bent, and twisted letters.
Your betters have clattered over Vienna before,
Officer of his Imperial Majesty our Father-in-Law!
A workman's chisel can strew you to the winds,
Do they think
To pleasure Paris, used to the fall of cities,
By giving her a fall of letters!
It is a month too late.
One month, and our lily-white Bourbon king
Has done a colossal thing;
He has curdled love,
And soured the desires of a people.
Still the letters fall,
The workmen creep up and down their ladders like lizards on a wall.
Tap! Tap! Tink!
'Oh, merciful God, they will not touch Austerlitz!
Strike me blind, my God, my eyes can never look on that.
I would give the other leg to save it, it took one.
Curse them! Curse them! Aim at his hat.
Give me the stone. Why didn't you give it to me?
I would not have missed. Curse him!
Curse all of them! They have got the `A'!'
'I saw the Terror, but I never saw so horrible a thing as this.
`Vive l'Empereur! Vive l'Empereur!''
'Don't strike him, Fritz.
The mob will rise if you do.
Just run him out to the `quai',
That will get him out of the way.
They are almost through.'
Clink! Tink! Ding!
Clear as the sudden ring
Of a bell
'Z' strikes the pavement.
Farewell, Austerlitz, Tilsit, Presbourg;
Farewell, greatness departed.
Farewell, Imperial honours, knocked broadcast by the beating hammers
of ignorant workmen.
Straight, in the Spring moonlight,
Rises the deflowered arch.
In the silence, shining bright,
She stands naked and unsubdued.
Her marble coldness will endure the march
Rend her bronzes, hammers;
Cast down her inscriptions.
She is unconquerable, austere,
Cold as the moon that swims above her
When the nights are clear.
Croissy, Ile-de-France, June, 1815
Devil take the mare! I've never seen so vicious a beast.
She kicked Jules the last time she was here,
He's been lame ever since, poor chap.'
Tap-a-tap-a-tap! Tap! Tap!
'I'd rather be lame than dead at Waterloo, M'sieu Charles.'
'Sacre Bleu! Don't mention Waterloo, and the damned grinning British.
We didn't run in the old days.
There wasn't any running at Jena.
Those were decent days,
And decent men, who stood up and fought.
We never got beaten, because we wouldn't be.
'You would have taught them, wouldn't you, Sergeant Boignet?
But to-day it's everyone for himself,
And the Emperor isn't what he was.'
'How the Devil do you know that?
If he was beaten, the cause
Is the green geese in his army, led by traitors.
Oh, I say no names, Monsieur Charles,
You needn't hammer so loud.
If there are any spies lurking behind the bellows,
I beg they come out. Dirty fellows!'
The old Sergeant seizes a red-hot poker
And advances, brandishing it, into the shadows.
The rows of horses flick
Victorine gives a savage kick
As the nails
Go in. Tap! Tap!
Jules draws a horseshoe from the fire
And beats it from red to peacock-blue and black,
Purpling darker at each whack.
Ding! Dang! Dong!
It is a long time since any one spoke.
Then the blacksmith brushes his hand over his eyes,
'Well,' he sighs,
The Sergeant charges out from behind the bellows.
'It's the green geese, I tell you,
Their hearts are all whites and yellows,
There's no red in them. Red!
That's what we want. Fouche should be fed
To the guillotine, and all Paris dance the carmagnole.
That would breed jolly fine lick-bloods
To lead his armies to victory.'
'Ancient history, Sergeant.
'Say that again, Monsieur Charles, and I'll stun
You where you stand for a dung-eating Royalist.'
The Sergeant gives the poker a savage twist;
He is as purple as the cooling horseshoes.
The air from the bellows creaks through the flues.
Tap! Tap! The blacksmith shoes Victorine,
And through the doorway a fine sheen
Of leaves flutters, with the sun between.
By a spurt of fire from the forge
You can see the Sergeant, with swollen gorge,
Puffing, and gurgling, and choking;
The bellows keep on croaking.
Creak! Bang! Squeeze!
And the hammer strokes fall like buzzing bees
Or pattering rain,
Or faster than these,
Like the hum of a waterfall struck by a breeze.
Clank! from the bellows-chain pulled up and down.
And sunshine twinkles on Victorine's flank,
Starting it to blue,
Dropping it to black.
Lord! What galloping! Some mishap
Is making that man ride so furiously.
Victorine won't be through
For another quarter of an hour.' 'As you hope to die,
Work faster, man, the order has come.'
'What order? Speak out. Are you dumb?'
'A chaise, without arms on the panels, at the gate
In the far side-wall, and just to wait.
We must be there in half an hour with swift cattle.
You're a stupid fool if you don't hear that rattle.
Those are German guns. Can't you guess the rest?
Nantes, Rochefort, possibly Brest.'
Tap! Tap! as though the hammers were mad.
Dang! Ding! Creak! The farrier's lad
Jerks the bellows till he cracks their bones,
And the stifled air hiccoughs and groans.
The Sergeant is lying on the floor
Stone dead, and his hat with the tricolore
Cockade has rolled off into the cinders. Victorine snorts and lays back
What glistens on the anvil? Sweat or tears?
St. Helena, May, 1821
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Through the white tropic night.
Beat the hammers,
They are hanging dull black cloth about the dead.
Lustreless black cloth
Which chokes the radiance of the moonlight
And puts out the little moving shadows of leaves.
The knocking makes the candles quaver,
And the long black hangings waver
Tap! Tap! Tap!
In the ears which do not heed.
Above the eyelids which do not flicker.
Over the hands which do not stir.
Chiselled like a cameo of white agate against the hangings,
Struck to brilliance by the falling moonlight,
Sharp as a frozen flame,
Beautiful as an altar lamp of silver,
And still. Perfectly still.
In the next room, the men chatter
As they eat their midnight lunches.
A knife hits against a platter.
But the figure on the bed
Between the stifling black hangings
Is cold and motionless,
Played over by the moonlight from the windows
And the indistinct shadows of leaves.
Upholsterer Darling has a fine shop in Jamestown.
Andrew Darling has ridden hard from Longwood to see to the work in his shop
He has a corps of men in it, toiling and swearing,
Knocking, and measuring, and planing, and squaring,
Working from a chart with figures,
Comparing with their rules,
Setting this and that part together with their tools.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
So great is the need
That carpenters have been taken from the new church,
Joiners have been called from shaping pews and lecterns
To work of greater urgency.
Coffins is what they are making this bright Summer morning.
Coffins - and all to measurement.
There is a tin coffin,
A deal coffin,
A lead coffin,
And Captain Bennett's best mahogany dining-table
Has been sawed up for the grand outer coffin.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Sunshine outside in the square,
But inside, only hollow coffins and the tapping upon them.
The men whistle,
And the coffins grow under their hammers
In the darkness of the shop.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Tramp of men.
Steady tramp of men.
Slit-eyed Chinese with long pigtails
Bearing oblong things upon their shoulders
March slowly along the road to Longwood.
Their feet fall softly in the dust of the road;
Sometimes they call gutturally to each other and stop to shift shoulders.
Four coffins for the little dead man,
Four fine coffins,
And one of them Captain Bennett's dining-table!
And sixteen splendid Chinamen, all strong and able
And of assured neutrality.
Ah! George of England, Lord Bathhurst & Co.
Your princely munificence makes one's heart glow.
Huzza! Huzza! For the Lion of England!
Tap! Tap! Tap!
Marble likeness of an Emperor,
Dead man, who burst your heart against a world too narrow,
The hammers drum you to your last throne
Which always you shall hold alone.
The glory of your past is faded as a sunset fire,
Your day lingers only like the tones of a wind-lyre
In a twilit room.
Here is the emptiness of your dream
Scattered about you.
Coins of yesterday,
Double napoleons stamped with Consul or Emperor,
Strange as those of Herculaneum -
And you just dead!
Not one spool of thread
Will these buy in any market-place.
Lay them over him,
They are the baubles of a crown of mist
Worn in a vision and melted away at waking.
His heart strained at kingdoms
And now it is content with a silver dish.
Strange World! Strange Wayfarer!
Lower it gently beside him and let it lie.
Tap! Tap! Tap!
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 Great Adventure Of Max Breuck
A yellow band of light upon the street
Pours from an open door, and makes a wide
Pathway of bright gold across a sheet
Of calm and liquid moonshine. From inside
Come shouts and streams of laughter, and a snatch
Of song, soon drowned and lost again in mirth,
The clip of tankards on a table top,
And stir of booted heels. Against the patch
Of candle-light a shadow falls, its girth
Proclaims the host himself, and master of his shop.
This is the tavern of one Hilverdink,
Jan Hilverdink, whose wines are much esteemed.
Within his cellar men can have to drink
The rarest cordials old monks ever schemed
To coax from pulpy grapes, and with nice art
Improve and spice their virgin juiciness.
Here froths the amber beer of many a brew,
Crowning each pewter tankard with as smart
A cap as ever in his wantonness
Winter set glittering on top of an old yew.
Tall candles stand upon the table, where
Are twisted glasses, ruby-sparked with wine,
Clarets and ports. Those topaz bumpers were
Drained from slim, long-necked bottles of the Rhine.
The centre of the board is piled with pipes,
Slender and clean, the still unbaptized clay
Awaits its burning fate. Behind, the vault
Stretches from dim to dark, a groping way
Bordered by casks and puncheons, whose brass stripes
And bands gleam dully still, beyond the gay tumult.
'For good old Master Hilverdink, a toast!'
Clamoured a youth with tassels on his boots.
'Bring out your oldest brandy for a boast,
From that small barrel in the very roots
Of your deep cellar, man. Why here is Max!
Ho! Welcome, Max, you're scarcely here in time.
We want to drink to old Jan's luck, and smoke
His best tobacco for a grand climax.
Here, Jan, a paper, fragrant as crushed thyme,
We'll have the best to wish you luck, or may we choke!'
Max Breuck unclasped his broadcloth cloak, and sat.
'Well thought of, Franz; here's luck to Mynheer Jan.'
The host set down a jar; then to a vat
Lost in the distance of his cellar, ran.
Max took a pipe as graceful as the stem
Of some long tulip, crammed it full, and drew
The pungent smoke deep to his grateful lung.
It curled all blue throughout the cave and flew
Into the silver night. At once there flung
Into the crowded shop a boy, who cried to them:
'Oh, sirs, is there some learned lawyer here,
Some advocate, or all-wise counsellor?
My master sent me to inquire where
Such men do mostly be, but every door
Was shut and barred, for late has grown the hour.
I pray you tell me where I may now find
One versed in law, the matter will not wait.'
'I am a lawyer, boy,' said Max, 'my mind
Is not locked to my business, though 'tis late.
I shall be glad to serve what way is in my power.
Then once more, cloaked and ready, he set out,
Tripping the footsteps of the eager boy
Along the dappled cobbles, while the rout
Within the tavern jeered at his employ.
Through new-burst elm leaves filtered the white moon,
Who peered and splashed between the twinkling boughs,
Flooded the open spaces, and took flight
Before tall, serried houses in platoon,
Guarded by shadows. Past the Custom House
They took their hurried way in the Spring-scented night.
Before a door which fronted a canal
The boy halted. A dim tree-shaded spot.
The water lapped the stones in musical
And rhythmic tappings, and a galliot
Slumbered at anchor with no light aboard.
The boy knocked twice, and steps approached. A flame
Winked through the keyhole, then a key was turned,
And through the open door Max went toward
Another door, whence sound of voices came.
He entered a large room where candelabra burned.
An aged man in quilted dressing gown
Rose up to greet him. 'Sir,' said Max, 'you sent
Your messenger to seek throughout the town
A lawyer. I have small accomplishment,
But I am at your service, and my name
Is Max Breuck, Counsellor, at your command.'
'Mynheer,' replied the aged man, 'obliged
Am I, and count myself much privileged.
I am Cornelius Kurler, and my fame
Is better known on distant oceans than on land.
My ship has tasted water in strange seas,
And bartered goods at still uncharted isles.
She's oft coquetted with a tropic breeze,
And sheered off hurricanes with jaunty smiles.'
'Tush, Kurler,' here broke in the other man,
'Enough of poetry, draw the deed and sign.'
The old man seemed to wizen at the voice,
'My good friend, Grootver, --' he at once began.
'No introductions, let us have some wine,
And business, now that you at last have made your choice.'
A harsh and disagreeable man he proved to be,
This Grootver, with no single kindly thought.
Kurler explained, his old hands nervously
Twisting his beard. His vessel he had bought
From Grootver. He had thought to soon repay
The ducats borrowed, but an adverse wind
Had so delayed him that his cargo brought
But half its proper price, the very day
He came to port he stepped ashore to find
The market glutted and his counted profits naught.
Little by little Max made out the way
That Grootver pressed that poor harassed old man.
His money he must have, too long delay
Had turned the usurer to a ruffian.
'But let me take my ship, with many bales
Of cotton stuffs dyed crimson, green, and blue,
Cunningly patterned, made to suit the taste
Of mandarin's ladies; when my battered sails
Open for home, such stores will I bring you
That all your former ventures will be counted waste.
Such light and foamy silks, like crinkled cream,
And indigo more blue than sun-whipped seas,
Spices and fragrant trees, a massive beam
Of sandalwood, and pungent China teas,
Tobacco, coffee!' Grootver only laughed.
Max heard it all, and worse than all he heard
The deed to which the sailor gave his word.
He shivered, 'twas as if the villain gaffed
The old man with a boat-hook; bleeding, spent,
He begged for life nor knew at all the road he went.
For Kurler had a daughter, young and gay,
Carefully reared and shielded, rarely seen.
But on one black and most unfriendly day
Grootver had caught her as she passed between
The kitchen and the garden. She had run
In fear of him, his evil leering eye,
And when he came she, bolted in her room,
Refused to show, though gave no reason why.
The spinning of her future had begun,
On quiet nights she heard the whirring of her doom.
Max mended an old goosequill by the fire,
Loathing his work, but seeing no thing to do.
He felt his hands were building up the pyre
To burn two souls, and seized with vertigo
He staggered to his chair. Before him lay
White paper still unspotted by a crime.
'Now, young man, write,' said Grootver in his ear.
'`If in two years my vessel should yet stay
From Amsterdam, I give Grootver, sometime
A friend, my daughter for his lawful wife.' Now swear.'
And Kurler swore, a palsied, tottering sound,
And traced his name, a shaking, wandering line.
Then dazed he sat there, speechless from his wound.
Grootver got up: 'Fair voyage, the brigantine!'
He shuffled from the room, and left the house.
His footsteps wore to silence down the street.
At last the aged man began to rouse.
With help he once more gained his trembling feet.
'My daughter, Mynheer Breuck, is friendless now.
Will you watch over her? I ask a solemn vow.'
Max laid his hand upon the old man's arm,
'Before God, sir, I vow, when you are gone,
So to protect your daughter from all harm
As one man may.' Thus sorrowful, forlorn,
The situation to Max Breuck appeared,
He gave his promise almost without thought,
Nor looked to see a difficulty. 'Bred
Gently to watch a mother left alone;
Bound by a dying father's wish, who feared
The world's accustomed harshness when he should be dead;
Such was my case from youth, Mynheer Kurler.
Last Winter she died also, and my days
Are passed in work, lest I should grieve for her,
And undo habits used to earn her praise.
My leisure I will gladly give to see
Your household and your daughter prosperous.'
The sailor said his thanks, but turned away.
He could not brook that his humility,
So little wonted, and so tremulous,
Should first before a stranger make such great display.
'Come here to-morrow as the bells ring noon,
I sail at the full sea, my daughter then
I will make known to you. 'Twill be a boon
If after I have bid good-by, and when
Her eyeballs scorch with watching me depart,
You bring her home again. She lives with one
Old serving-woman, who has brought her up.
But that is no friend for so free a heart.
No head to match her questions. It is done.
And I must sail away to come and brim her cup.
My ship's the fastest that owns Amsterdam
As home, so not a letter can you send.
I shall be back, before to where I am
Another ship could reach. Now your stipend --'
Quickly Breuck interposed. 'When you once more
Tread on the stones which pave our streets. -- Good night!
To-morrow I will be, at stroke of noon,
At the great wharf.' Then hurrying, in spite
Of cake and wine the old man pressed upon
Him ere he went, he took his leave and shut the door.
'Twas noon in Amsterdam, the day was clear,
And sunshine tipped the pointed roofs with gold.
The brown canals ran liquid bronze, for here
The sun sank deep into the waters cold.
And every clock and belfry in the town
Hammered, and struck, and rang. Such peals of bells,
To shake the sunny morning into life,
And to proclaim the middle, and the crown,
Of this most sparkling daytime! The crowd swells,
Laughing and pushing toward the quays in friendly strife.
The 'Horn of Fortune' sails away to-day.
At highest tide she lets her anchor go,
And starts for China. Saucy popinjay!
Giddy in freshest paint she curtseys low,
And beckons to her boats to let her start.
Blue is the ocean, with a flashing breeze.
The shining waves are quick to take her part.
They push and spatter her. Her sails are loose,
Her tackles hanging, waiting men to seize
And haul them taut, with chanty-singing, as they choose.
At the great wharf's edge Mynheer Kurler stands,
And by his side, his daughter, young Christine.
Max Breuck is there, his hat held in his hands,
Bowing before them both. The brigantine
Bounces impatient at the long delay,
Curvets and jumps, a cable's length from shore.
A heavy galliot unloads on the walls
Round, yellow cheeses, like gold cannon balls
Stacked on the stones in pyramids. Once more
Kurler has kissed Christine, and now he is away.
Christine stood rigid like a frozen stone,
Her hands wrung pale in effort at control.
Max moved aside and let her be alone,
For grief exacts each penny of its toll.
The dancing boat tossed on the glinting sea.
A sun-path swallowed it in flaming light,
Then, shrunk a cockleshell, it came again
Upon the other side. Now on the lee
It took the 'Horn of Fortune'. Straining sight
Could see it hauled aboard, men pulling on the crane.
Then up above the eager brigantine,
Along her slender masts, the sails took flight,
Were sheeted home, and ropes were coiled. The shine
Of the wet anchor, when its heavy weight
Rose splashing to the deck. These things they saw,
Christine and Max, upon the crowded quay.
They saw the sails grow white, then blue in shade,
The ship had turned, caught in a windy flaw
She glided imperceptibly away,
Drew farther off and in the bright sky seemed to fade.
Home, through the emptying streets, Max took Christine,
Who would have hid her sorrow from his gaze.
Before the iron gateway, clasped between
Each garden wall, he stopped. She, in amaze,
Asked, 'Do you enter not then, Mynheer Breuck?
My father told me of your courtesy.
Since I am now your charge, 'tis meet for me
To show such hospitality as maiden may,
Without disdaining rules must not be broke.
Katrina will have coffee, and she bakes today.'
She straight unhasped the tall, beflowered gate.
Curled into tendrils, twisted into cones
Of leaves and roses, iron infoliate,
It guards the pleasance, and its stiffened bones
Are budded with much peering at the rows,
And beds, and arbours, which it keeps inside.
Max started at the beauty, at the glare
Of tints. At either end was set a wide
Path strewn with fine, red gravel, and such shows
Of tulips in their splendour flaunted everywhere!
From side to side, midway each path, there ran
A longer one which cut the space in two.
And, like a tunnel some magician
Has wrought in twinkling green, an alley grew,
Pleached thick and walled with apple trees; their flowers
Incensed the garden, and when Autumn came
The plump and heavy apples crowding stood
And tapped against the arbour. Then the dame
Katrina shook them down, in pelting showers
They plunged to earth, and died transformed to sugared food.
Against the high, encircling walls were grapes,
Nailed close to feel the baking of the sun
From glowing bricks. Their microscopic shapes
Half hidden by serrated leaves. And one
Old cherry tossed its branches near the door.
Bordered along the wall, in beds between,
Flickering, streaming, nodding in the air,
The pride of all the garden, there were more
Tulips than Max had ever dreamed or seen.
They jostled, mobbed, and danced. Max stood at helpless stare.
'Within the arbour, Mynheer Breuck, I'll bring
Coffee and cakes, a pipe, and Father's best
Tobacco, brought from countries harbouring
Dawn's earliest footstep. Wait.' With girlish zest
To please her guest she flew. A moment more
She came again, with her old nurse behind.
Then, sitting on the bench and knitting fast,
She talked as someone with a noble store
Of hidden fancies, blown upon the wind,
Eager to flutter forth and leave their silent past.
The little apple leaves above their heads
Let fall a quivering sunshine. Quiet, cool,
In blossomed boughs they sat. Beyond, the beds
Of tulips blazed, a proper vestibule
And antechamber to the rainbow. Dyes
Of prismed richness: Carmine. Madder. Blues
Tinging dark browns to purple. Silvers flushed
To amethyst and tinct with gold. Round eyes
Of scarlet, spotting tender saffron hues.
Violets sunk to blacks, and reds in orange crushed.
Of every pattern and in every shade.
Nacreous, iridescent, mottled, checked.
Some purest sulphur-yellow, others made
An ivory-white with disks of copper flecked.
Sprinkled and striped, tasselled, or keenest edged.
Striated, powdered, freckled, long or short.
They bloomed, and seemed strange wonder-moths new-fledged,
Born of the spectrum wedded to a flame.
The shade within the arbour made a port
To o'ertaxed eyes, its still, green twilight rest became.
Her knitting-needles clicked and Christine talked,
This child matured to woman unaware,
The first time left alone. Now dreams once balked
Found utterance. Max thought her very fair.
Beneath her cap her ornaments shone gold,
And purest gold they were. Kurler was rich
And heedful. Her old maiden aunt had died
Whose darling care she was. Now, growing bold,
She asked, had Max a sister? Dropped a stitch
At her own candour. Then she paused and softly sighed.
Two years was long! She loved her father well,
But fears she had not. He had always been
Just sailed or sailing. And she must not dwell
On sad thoughts, he had told her so, and seen
Her smile at parting. But she sighed once more.
Two years was long; 'twas not one hour yet!
Mynheer Grootver she would not see at all.
Yes, yes, she knew, but ere the date so set,
The 'Horn of Fortune' would be at the wall.
When Max had bid farewell, she watched him from the door.
The next day, and the next, Max went to ask
The health of Jufvrouw Kurler, and the news:
Another tulip blown, or the great task
Of gathering petals which the high wind strews;
The polishing of floors, the pictured tiles
Well scrubbed, and oaken chairs most deftly oiled.
Such things were Christine's world, and his was she
Winter drew near, his sun was in her smiles.
Another Spring, and at his law he toiled,
Unspoken hope counselled a wise efficiency.
Max Breuck was honour's soul, he knew himself
The guardian of this girl; no more, no less.
As one in charge of guineas on a shelf
Loose in a china teapot, may confess
His need, but may not borrow till his friend
Comes back to give. So Max, in honour, said
No word of love or marriage; but the days
He clipped off on his almanac. The end
Must come! The second year, with feet of lead,
Lagged slowly by till Spring had plumped the willow sprays.
Two years had made Christine a woman grown,
With dignity and gently certain pride.
But all her childhood fancies had not flown,
Her thoughts in lovely dreamings seemed to glide.
Max was her trusted friend, did she confess
A closer happiness? Max could not tell.
Two years were over and his life he found
Sphered and complete. In restless eagerness
He waited for the 'Horn of Fortune'. Well
Had he his promise kept, abating not one pound.
Spring slipped away to Summer. Still no glass
Sighted the brigantine. Then Grootver came
Demanding Jufvrouw Kurler. His trespass
Was justified, for he had won the game.
Christine begged time, more time! Midsummer went,
And Grootver waxed impatient. Still the ship
Tarried. Christine, betrayed and weary, sank
To dreadful terrors. One day, crazed, she sent
For Max. 'Come quickly,' said her note, 'I skip
The worst distress until we meet. The world is blank.'
Through the long sunshine of late afternoon
Max went to her. In the pleached alley, lost
In bitter reverie, he found her soon.
And sitting down beside her, at the cost
Of all his secret, 'Dear,' said he, 'what thing
So suddenly has happened?' Then, in tears,
She told that Grootver, on the following morn,
Would come to marry her, and shuddering:
'I will die rather, death has lesser fears.'
Max felt the shackles drop from the oath which he had sworn.
'My Dearest One, the hid joy of my heart!
I love you, oh! you must indeed have known.
In strictest honour I have played my part;
But all this misery has overthrown
My scruples. If you love me, marry me
Before the sun has dipped behind those trees.
You cannot be wed twice, and Grootver, foiled,
Can eat his anger. My care it shall be
To pay your father's debt, by such degrees
As I can compass, and for years I've greatly toiled.
This is not haste, Christine, for long I've known
My love, and silence forced upon my lips.
I worship you with all the strength I've shown
In keeping faith.' With pleading finger tips
He touched her arm. 'Christine! Beloved! Think.
Let us not tempt the future. Dearest, speak,
I love you. Do my words fall too swift now?
They've been in leash so long upon the brink.'
She sat quite still, her body loose and weak.
Then into him she melted, all her soul at flow.
And they were married ere the westering sun
Had disappeared behind the garden trees.
The evening poured on them its benison,
And flower-scents, that only night-time frees,
Rose up around them from the beamy ground,
Silvered and shadowed by a tranquil moon.
Within the arbour, long they lay embraced,
In such enraptured sweetness as they found
Close-partnered each to each, and thinking soon
To be enwoven, long ere night to morning faced.
At last Max spoke, 'Dear Heart, this night is ours,
To watch it pale, together, into dawn,
Pressing our souls apart like opening flowers
Until our lives, through quivering bodies drawn,
Are mingled and confounded. Then, far spent,
Our eyes will close to undisturbed rest.
For that desired thing I leave you now.
To pinnacle this day's accomplishment,
By telling Grootver that a bootless quest
Is his, and that his schemes have met a knock-down blow.'
But Christine clung to him with sobbing cries,
Pleading for love's sake that he leave her not.
And wound her arms about his knees and thighs
As he stood over her. With dread, begot
Of Grootver's name, and silence, and the night,
She shook and trembled. Words in moaning plaint
Wooed him to stay. She feared, she knew not why,
Yet greatly feared. She seemed some anguished saint
Martyred by visions. Max Breuck soothed her fright
With wisdom, then stepped out under the cooling sky.
But at the gate once more she held him close
And quenched her heart again upon his lips.
'My Sweetheart, why this terror? I propose
But to be gone one hour! Evening slips
Away, this errand must be done.' 'Max! Max!
First goes my father, if I lose you now!'
She grasped him as in panic lest she drown.
Softly he laughed, 'One hour through the town
By moonlight! That's no place for foul attacks.
Dearest, be comforted, and clear that troubled brow.
One hour, Dear, and then, no more alone.
We front another day as man and wife.
I shall be back almost before I'm gone,
And midnight shall anoint and crown our life.'
Then through the gate he passed. Along the street
She watched his buttons gleaming in the moon.
He stopped to wave and turned the garden wall.
Straight she sank down upon a mossy seat.
Her senses, mist-encircled by a swoon,
Swayed to unconsciousness beneath its wreathing pall.
Briskly Max walked beside the still canal.
His step was firm with purpose. Not a jot
He feared this meeting, nor the rancorous gall
Grootver would spit on him who marred his plot.
He dreaded no man, since he could protect
Christine. His wife! He stopped and laughed aloud.
His starved life had not fitted him for joy.
It strained him to the utmost to reject
Even this hour with her. His heart beat loud.
'Damn Grootver, who can force my time to this employ!'
He laughed again. What boyish uncontrol
To be so racked. Then felt his ticking watch.
In half an hour Grootver would know the whole.
And he would be returned, lifting the latch
Of his own gate, eager to take Christine
And crush her to his lips. How bear delay?
He broke into a run. In front, a line
Of candle-light banded the cobbled street.
Hilverdink's tavern! Not for many a day
Had he been there to take his old, accustomed seat.
'Why, Max! Stop, Max!' And out they came pell-mell,
His old companions. 'Max, where have you been?
Not drink with us? Indeed you serve us well!
How many months is it since we have seen
You here? Jan, Jan, you slow, old doddering goat!
Here's Mynheer Breuck come back again at last,
Stir your old bones to welcome him. Fie, Max.
Business! And after hours! Fill your throat;
Here's beer or brandy. Now, boys, hold him fast.
Put down your cane, dear man. What really vicious whacks!'
They forced him to a seat, and held him there,
Despite his anger, while the hideous joke
Was tossed from hand to hand. Franz poured with care
A brimming glass of whiskey. 'Here, we've broke
Into a virgin barrel for you, drink!
Tut! Tut! Just hear him! Married! Who, and when?
Married, and out on business. Clever Spark!
Which lie's the likeliest? Come, Max, do think.'
Swollen with fury, struggling with these men,
Max cursed hilarity which must needs have a mark.
Forcing himself to steadiness, he tried
To quell the uproar, told them what he dared
Of his own life and circumstance. Implied
Most urgent matters, time could ill be spared.
In jesting mood his comrades heard his tale,
And scoffed at it. He felt his anger more
Goaded and bursting; -- 'Cowards! Is no one loth
To mock at duty --' Here they called for ale,
And forced a pipe upon him. With an oath
He shivered it to fragments on the earthen floor.
Sobered a little by his violence,
And by the host who begged them to be still,
Nor injure his good name, 'Max, no offence,'
They blurted, 'you may leave now if you will.'
'One moment, Max,' said Franz. 'We've gone too far.
I ask your pardon for our foolish joke.
It started in a wager ere you came.
The talk somehow had fall'n on drugs, a jar
I brought from China, herbs the natives smoke,
Was with me, and I thought merely to play a game.
Its properties are to induce a sleep
Fraught with adventure, and the flight of time
Is inconceivable in swiftness. Deep
Sunken in slumber, imageries sublime
Flatter the senses, or some fearful dream
Holds them enmeshed. Years pass which on the clock
Are but so many seconds. We agreed
That the next man who came should prove the scheme;
And you were he. Jan handed you the crock.
Two whiffs! And then the pipe was broke, and you were freed.'
'It is a lie, a damned, infernal lie!'
Max Breuck was maddened now. 'Another jest
Of your befuddled wits. I know not why
I am to be your butt. At my request
You'll choose among you one who'll answer for
Your most unseasonable mirth. Good-night
And good-by, -- gentlemen. You'll hear from me.'
But Franz had caught him at the very door,
'It is no lie, Max Breuck, and for your plight
I am to blame. Come back, and we'll talk quietly.
You have no business, that is why we laughed,
Since you had none a few minutes ago.
As to your wedding, naturally we chaffed,
Knowing the length of time it takes to do
A simple thing like that in this slow world.
Indeed, Max, 'twas a dream. Forgive me then.
I'll burn the drug if you prefer.' But Breuck
Muttered and stared, -- 'A lie.' And then he hurled,
Distraught, this word at Franz: 'Prove it. And when
It's proven, I'll believe. That thing shall be your work.
I'll give you just one week to make your case.
On August thirty-first, eighteen-fourteen,
I shall require your proof.' With wondering face
Franz cried, 'A week to August, and fourteen
The year! You're mad, 'tis April now.
April, and eighteen-twelve.' Max staggered, caught
A chair, -- 'April two years ago! Indeed,
Or you, or I, are mad. I know not how
Either could blunder so.' Hilverdink brought
'The Amsterdam Gazette', and Max was forced to read.
'Eighteen hundred and twelve,' in largest print;
And next to it, 'April the twenty-first.'
The letters smeared and jumbled, but by dint
Of straining every nerve to meet the worst,
He read it, and into his pounding brain
Tumbled a horror. Like a roaring sea
Foreboding shipwreck, came the message plain:
'This is two years ago! What of Christine?'
He fled the cellar, in his agony
Running to outstrip Fate, and save his holy shrine.
The darkened buildings echoed to his feet
Clap-clapping on the pavement as he ran.
Across moon-misted squares clamoured his fleet
And terror-winged steps. His heart began
To labour at the speed. And still no sign,
No flutter of a leaf against the sky.
And this should be the garden wall, and round
The corner, the old gate. No even line
Was this! No wall! And then a fearful cry
Shattered the stillness. Two stiff houses filled the ground.
Shoulder to shoulder, like dragoons in line,
They stood, and Max knew them to be the ones
To right and left of Kurler's garden. Spine
Rigid next frozen spine. No mellow tones
Of ancient gilded iron, undulate,
Expanding in wide circles and broad curves,
The twisted iron of the garden gate,
Was there. The houses touched and left no space
Between. With glassy eyes and shaking nerves
Max gazed. Then mad with fear, fled still, and left that place.
Stumbling and panting, on he ran, and on.
His slobbering lips could only cry, 'Christine!
My Dearest Love! My Wife! Where are you gone?
What future is our past? What saturnine,
Sardonic devil's jest has bid us live
Two years together in a puff of smoke?
It was no dream, I swear it! In some star,
Or still imprisoned in Time's egg, you give
Me love. I feel it. Dearest Dear, this stroke
Shall never part us, I will reach to where you are.'
His burning eyeballs stared into the dark.
The moon had long been set. And still he cried:
'Christine! My Love! Christine!' A sudden spark
Pricked through the gloom, and shortly Max espied
With his uncertain vision, so within
Distracted he could scarcely trust its truth,
A latticed window where a crimson gleam
Spangled the blackness, and hung from a pin,
An iron crane, were three gilt balls. His youth
Had taught their meaning, now they closed upon his dream.
Softly he knocked against the casement, wide
It flew, and a cracked voice his business there
Demanded. The door opened, and inside
Max stepped. He saw a candle held in air
Above the head of a gray-bearded Jew.
'Simeon Isaacs, Mynheer, can I serve
You?' 'Yes, I think you can. Do you keep arms?
I want a pistol.' Quick the old man grew
Livid. 'Mynheer, a pistol! Let me swerve
You from your purpose. Life brings often false alarms --'
'Peace, good old Isaacs, why should you suppose
My purpose deadly. In good truth I've been
Blest above others. You have many rows
Of pistols it would seem. Here, this shagreen
Case holds one that I fancy. Silvered mounts
Are to my taste. These letters `C. D. L.'
Its former owner? Dead, you say. Poor Ghost!
'Twill serve my turn though --' Hastily he counts
The florins down upon the table. 'Well,
Good-night, and wish me luck for your to-morrow's toast.'
Into the night again he hurried, now
Pale and in haste; and far beyond the town
He set his goal. And then he wondered how
Poor C. D. L. had come to die. 'It's grown
Handy in killing, maybe, this I've bought,
And will work punctually.' His sorrow fell
Upon his senses, shutting out all else.
Again he wept, and called, and blindly fought
The heavy miles away. 'Christine. I'm well.
I'm coming. My Own Wife!' He lurched with failing pulse.
Along the dyke the keen air blew in gusts,
And grasses bent and wailed before the wind.
The Zuider Zee, which croons all night and thrusts
Long stealthy fingers up some way to find
And crumble down the stones, moaned baffled. Here
The wide-armed windmills looked like gallows-trees.
No lights were burning in the distant thorps.
Max laid aside his coat. His mind, half-clear,
Babbled 'Christine!' A shot split through the breeze.
The cold stars winked and glittered at his chilling corpse.
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,
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
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,
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,
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 -
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,
In the blue-green of the hazy pines.
Lines - long, straight lines!
Long, straight stems
To the cup of blue, blue sky.
Stems growing misty
With the many of them,
Of the trees,
The back is maple and the belly is pine.
The rich notes twine
As though weaving in and out of 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.
And a little ruffled-out throat which sings.
The forest bends, tumultuous
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.
Oh, Dear, how you tease!'
And the boatswain's whistle sounds again,
And the men pull on the sheets:
'My name is Hanging Johnny,
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.
Under the ballooning canvas,
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.