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Part Fourth

Frau Altgelt waited in the chilly street,
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Part Fourth

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.

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