Jane Wilde

27 December 1821 – 3 February 1896

The Punishment

Full seven years have passed and flown
But years o’er Thekla lightly pass,
As rose leaves, falling one by one,
From roses on the summer grass.
“It is our bridal day,” she said;
“We’re bidden to a christ’ning feast
I’ll wear the robe I had when wed,
The robe I love of all the best.
“I’ll wear my crown of jewels rare:
On brow and bosom let them shine;
Yet diamonds in my golden hair
Were dull beside these eyes of mine!”
She laughed aloud before the glass.
“Some women’s hair would turn to grey
With cares, ere half the years did pass
I’ve numbered since my wedding day.

“But they were mothers—fools, I trow.
Life’s current all too quickly runs;
I would not give my beauty now
For all their goodly race of sons.”
She sprang upon her palfrey white,
While Erick held the broidered broiderd rein,
And showered down her veil of light
Upon the flowing, silky mane.
The guests rose up in wonderment
Such beauty never had been seen
And bowed before her as she went,
As if she were a crownéd queen.
The knights pressed round with words of praise,
And murmured homage in her ear,
And swore to serve her all their days,
E’en die for her—would she but hear.
But vainly, all in vain they sought
One answering smile of love to win.
Upon her soul there lieth nought
Save that one only, deadly sin.
“I pray you now I fain would have
So fair an angel hold my child,”
The mother said; and smiling smilling , gave
To Thekla’s arms her infant mild.
Advancing slow, with stately air,
Beside the font she took her place,
The infant, like a rosebud fair,
Nestling amid her bosom’s lace.
She lays it on the bishop’s arm,
The while he makes the blessed sign,
And sains it safe from ghostly harm
By Father, Spirit, Son Divine.
Then reaches out her hands again
To take it—but with moaning sound,
Like one distraught with sudden pain,
Falls pale and fainting to the ground.

“She has no children,” Erick said,
As pleading for the strange mischance;
“This only grief since we were wed
Has saddened sore her life, perchance.”
“She has no children!” murmured low
The happy mothers, gathered near;
“No child to love her—bitter woe;
No child to kiss her on her bier!”
But graver matrons shook the head:
“That witchlike beauty bodes no good;
Witch hands can never hold, ’tis said,
A child just blessed by holy rood.”
They raised her up; she spake no word,
But slowly drooped her tearful eyes;
The rushing wave was all she heard,
The whirling wheels, the infants’ cries.
And Erick said, with bitter smile:
“You play the mother all too ill;
Madonnas do not suit your style.”
Her thoughts were by the lonely mill.
They set her on her palfrey white;
She heeds not all their taunting sneers,
But showers down her veil of light,
To hide the conscious, guilty tears.
They rode through all his vast estate,
But rode in silence—he behind,
Sore pondering on his childless fate,
With ruffled brow and moody mind.
They rode through shadowy forest glades,
By meadows filled with lowing kine,
By streams that ran like silver threads
Down from the dark‐fringed hills of pine.
“Alas!” he thought, “no child of mine
When I am dead shall take my place;
Must all the wealth of all my line
Pass to a hated kinsman’s race?

“Now, by my sword, I’d give up all,
Wealth, fame, and glory, all I’ve won,
So that within my father’s hall
Beside me stood a noble son!”
He saw her white veil floating back
Along the twilight gray and still,
Like ghostly shadows on her track
Her thoughts were by the lonely mill.
And now they neared the ancient church,
The ancient church where they were wed!
The moonlight full upon the porch
Shone bright, and Erick raised his head.
O Heaven! There upon the lawn
The palfrey’s shadow stands out clear,
But Thekla’s shadow—it is gone!
Nor form nor floating veil is there.
He spurred his steed with bitter cry:
“Could she have fallen in deathly swoon?”
But no, there, slowly riding by,
He sees her by the bright full moon.
With gesture fierce he seized her rein:
“ Woman or fiend! Look, if you dare,
The palfrey casts a shadow plain,
But yours—O horror!—is not there!”
She gathered close her silken veil,
And wrung her hands, and prayed for grace,
While down from Heaven the calm moon pale
Looked like God’s own accusing face.
He flung aside the broidered rein:
“O woe the day that we were wed!
A witch bride to my arms I’ve ta’en,
Branded by God’s own finger dread.”
She followed, weeping, step by step,
Led by the unseen hand of Fate,
Still keeping in the shadows deep,
Until they reached the castle gate.

He strode across the corridor,
And rolling back upon its ring
The curtain curtan of her chamber door,
He motioned her to enter in.
She laid aside her silken veil,
The golden circlet from her head,
And waited, motionless and pale,
Like one uprisen from the dead.
Could she deny, e’en if she would?
The moonlight wrapped her like a sheet.
And in the accusing light she stood,
As if before God’s judgment‐seat.
Brief were his questions, stern his wrath;
A doom seemed laid on her to tell,
How, with the ring of plighted troth,
Her hand had wrought the murd’rous spell.
How she had marred his ancient line,
And broke the life‐chord that should bless,
And sent the seven fair souls to pine
Back to the shades of nothingness
That so her beauty might not wane,
Her glorious beauty—fatal good;
Yet one she would not lose to gain
The rights of sacred motherhood.
And still she told the tale as cold
The witch‐fire burning in her eyes
As if it were some legend old,
Drawn from a poet’s memories.
He cursed her in his bitter wrath,
He cursed her by her children dead,
He cursed the ring of plighted troth,
He cursed the day when they were wed.
Fierce and more fierce his accents rose:
“Away!” he cried, “false hag of sin:
I see through all this painted gloze
The black and hideous soul within.

“Oh! false and foul, thou art to me
A devil—not a woman fair!
Like coiling snakes I seem to see
Each twisted tress of golden hair.
“I hate thee, as I hate God’s foe.
Forth from my castle halls this night:
I could not breathe the air, if so
Thy poison breath were here to blight.”
She cowered, shivered, spake no word,
But fell before him at his feet,
As if an angel of the Lord
Had smote her at the judgment‐seat.
And on her heart there came at last
The dread, deep consciousness of sin,
That ghastly spectre which had cast
Upon her life this suffering.
And from her hand the gold ring fell
Her wedding ring—and broke in twain;
The fatal ring that wrought the spell,
The accursed ring of love and pain.
The spell seemed broken then: the word
Came, softly breath’d: “Oh, pardon! grace!”
And pleadingly to her dread lord
She lifted up her angel face
With golden tresses all unbound,
Still lovely through her shame and loss,
Around his feet her arms she wound,
As sinner might around the cross.
He dashed her twining hands aside,
He spurned her from him as she knelt.
“O hateful beauty!” Erick cried,
“The source of all thy hellish guilt.
“Pray for a cloud that can eclipse
That long, white streak of moonlight pale.
No word of grace from mortal lips
Can bring a ruined soul from Hell.

“Away! I would not pardon, not
(I swear it by the holy rood)
Unless upon that hated spot
An angel with a lily stood!”
She shuddered in the moonlight pale,
That doomed and banned her from his sight,
Then rose up with a bitter wail,
And fled away into the night!
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