Amy Lowell: Part First

Part First

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.