David Lewis Paget
The Baroness von Hexe Poem by David Lewis Paget
We'd ridden through Lower Bavaria
And our horses were fading fast,
The evening mist was rising, and
We knew that they couldn't last.
My cousin, Dietrich, pulled on the reins,
Then he turned to me and said:
‘I thought that we'd find an Inn by now
But there's something up ahead! '
Then up on the side of the mountain in
The mist, and deepening gloom,
There loomed the walls of a fortress there
And I felt a sense of doom,
For up on the ancient battlements
There were gargoyles peering down,
With their mediaeval, evil eyes,
Grimacing at the ground.
And under the ivy covered walls
There were spikes, from times before,
When soldiers, thrust from the castle walls
Were impaled, to rise no more,
The moat was merely an empty trench
And the drawbridge was let down,
We rode on up to the iron doors
And knocked, a metallic sound.
From deep within there were footsteps grim
Like a shuffle of ancient bones,
And Dietrich shuddered, as I did too
When we heard those ghostly tones,
The iron door on its hinges creaked
And opened enough to see,
That the man who stood in the doorway there
Was all of a hundred and three.
His cheeks were sallow, his face was gaunt
And his eyes were fiercely bright,
‘What brings you travellers to my door
At the onset of the night? '
‘We beg for shelter, ' my cousin said,
‘And feed for a weary horse,
Our mounts have carried us fifty miles
Since crossing the watercourse.'
He stood aside, and motioned us in
To a long, dark flagstoned hall,
Then led us on to the kitchen through
An archway in the wall,
‘I only offer you bread and cheese,
For we live like simple folk,
But we have a cask of home brewed ale
And eggs with a double yolk.'
‘My servant will see to the horses, and
You can sleep in the tower room,
I only ask that you stay in there,
Not wander around in the gloom,
There's a catafalque in the chamber there
And I caution you with a word,
The Baroness von Hexe lies there
And never must be disturbed.'
The name itself gave a chill to me
For in German, Hexe means witch,
She'd been condemned in the Wurzburg Trials
In sixteen twenty-six,
She should have been burned at the stake back then
But she was of noble line,
So they sealed her into a coffin alive
In the Castle of Frohmlinstein.
We ate most heartily, he and I
For we'd not stopped once for the day,
I said, ‘I'd happily eat your horse, '
And Dietrich laughed, in his way,
We went to sleep on an old divan
Each wrapped around with a cloak,
It must have been during the early hours,
I heard a sound, and awoke.
Dietrich wasn't asleep, he'd gone
To wander round in the gloom,
I saw him stand by the catafalque
He stared at the ancient tomb,
I saw him lift up the coffin lid
Then start back, in surprise,
So I went to see what my cousin did,
And stared at the woman's eyes.
She seemed as if she'd been laid to rest
Just a day or two before,
She clutched an amulet to her breast,
I gasped at the jewels she wore,
A ruby pendant hung at her neck
On her hands were three gold rings,
She looked so beautiful lying there
That I stood there, wondering.
But Dietrich, he was smitten, I saw
As he stood there, holding his breath,
He said, ‘I've never seen loveliness
So cruelly put to death, '
And then, before I could stop him there
He'd leant right over and kissed,
The cold remains of the Baroness,
Right there on her pale, white lips.
A moment passed as I held my breath
Then the corpse, it shuddered and sighed,
Her eyes just fluttered the lashes, then
They suddenly opened wide,
She sat up straight and she turned her head
To stare at my cousin's face,
While he stood trembling by her side
At the thing that had taken place.
She climbed right out of the coffin then
And stood by the catafalque,
Laughed, in what was a high-pitched shriek,
Spun round, and started to dance,
She chanted something I'd never heard
In a strange and forgotten tongue,
And soldiers sprang from the cold stone walls,
Their death-throes now undone.
The old man came at a shuffle, cried:
‘Mein Gott! She's here, von Hexe!
You've raised the devil they put to rest
In sixteen twenty-six,
The soldiers seized him and built a pyre
In the centre of the hall,
And put a torch to the old man's cries
As we cowered against the wall.
The Baroness turned to face us then
And pointed my cousin out,
The soldiers hurried to do her will
But Dietrich tried to shout:
‘I was the one that brought you back,
I kissed your lips so fair! '
But she just laughed, and beckoned them go
To the battlements, by the stair.
And me, she simply waved me away
I left by the iron door,
I took my horse and galloped on out,
What would I stay there for?
I turned to look at the battlements
And watched the end of a tryst,
Saw Dietrich scream, and fall on the spikes,
The price of a stolen kiss!
I heard the Castle was torched that day
For the villagers lived in dread,
They came together once they were told
That the witch was back from the dead,
They watched her leap from the battlements
In flames, and out of her mind,
She lay impaled on the spikes she'd laid
At the Castle of Frohmlinstein.
26 March 2013
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