COBB: The False Knight

Cobb’s False Knight: 2. Secret in the Hunter’s Cot

Arme Ritter (“Poor Knights”) is a fourteenth century recipe for pan fried French toast served with sweets which is still very popular in Germany today. Watch this video to see how you can fry your own Sir Lancelot. We don’t know for sure how the name Arme Ritter came about. Maybe because so many impoverished knights ended up being burned at the stake for all their robberies? Many were “broken by wheel” instead.

That mysterious wounded man treated by our beautiful heroine… Would such “early nursing” by a beautiful young woman have been likely at all? Medicine was studied in cloisters and monasteries throughout the Middle Ages, by both men and women. Electra may well have studied Chirurgie (the German word for surgery) in one.

Cobb’s choice of the name Electra for the beautiful young daughter of a knight at first seemed rather odd to me, so I tried to find out more about name choices in the Middle Ages. Robber knight Eppelein von Gailingen, who ended up “broken by wheel” for his crimes, lived from about 1320 to 1381. Some almost think of him as a German Robin Hood. Was he really one? He was most famous for how he escaped execution for multiple robberies in Nuremberg Castle. He had allegedly asked to be allowed to die on horseback.

Once in the saddle, he galloped to the castle wall and jumped with his horse into the moat. The hoof-prints can supposedly still be seen on the wall, although it was rebuilt and the moat widened some fifty years after the famous leap. Many generations of school children who have since toured the castle however scoured out those hoof-prints on the wall with whatever implements they had. They seemed to like the tales of him being a hero.

Eppelein von Gailingen. Source: Die Gartenlaube – Illustriertes Familienblatt (The Garden Arbor – Illustrated Family Journal)

Eppelein had three sons and five daughters. To give you an idea of typical girl’s names of the time, we know that he named them Kathrin, Anna, Margret Elsbeth and Soffey (Soffey being a Middle Ages version of Sophie). All quite modern sounding names. What about Electra? The name is from ancient Greece, she was the daughter of King Agamemnon. Strauss composed an opera of the same name, a brutal and disturbing tale of murder and insanity. Yet even today, five out of 100,000 girls are still named Electra, although I’d bet most of them prefer “Ellie”.

Could Cobb’s choice of that name be alluding to darker aspects of the story which are yet to come? In comparison to many names given to daughters by modern day Germans, naming your daughter after a deranged, ancient Greek murderess might not be as strange a thing to do as I first thought. Every German Standesamt, (Registry Office) has a current list of names which German parents, as decided by courts, may not give their sons and daughters, which is a good thing if you look at some of the ones that have been refused.

They include an awfully revengeful “Pillula“, which several German parents thought was appropriate for the result of forgotten contraceptives, all the way to neo-Nazi favourites “Hitlerike” and “Goebbelin“, the latter being a contrived female first name version of that awful and infamous Reich’s Propaganda Minister, Dr Josef Goebbels, believe it or not. People actually wanted to give a daughter that name?

Thanatos“, ancient Greek for death, was also knocked back. An obviously more religiously inclined parent had tried to register the name “Frieden mit Gott allein durch Jesus Christus“, (Peace with God only though Jesus Christ), which, thankfully for the unfortunate child doomed to be brought up by those awful parents, was also ruled against by a court.

While such verbotene blossoms of German parent name ideas were prevented, some of the names NOT taken to court and actually allowed by registry offices are just as bad or even worse: “Schneewittchen” (Snow White), Cinderella-Melody (cringe…), Bluecherine (an attempt to make a female name out of “Bluecher”, the Prussian general who led the decisive blow against Napoleon at the Battle of Waterloo), Verleihnix (Don’t lend anything), Popo (German slang for bottom or backside), Pepsi-Carola (wouldn’t you almost like to thump those parents responsible for such names for child cruelty?), Champagna, Galaxina, Gucci and Bierstuebl (a small beer room).

I think I’d prefer mad, ancient Greek murderess Elektra any day … While the name Deckendorf is fictitious, it is at least similar to Deggendorf, a town on the Danube in Bavaria, adjacent to the Bavarian Forest. There was a knight and a castle there too, once belonging to Heinrich III of Natternberg, who, coincidentally, died there in 1333 at the age of only 21 of an improperly treated wound to his leg. If only he had met Electra, who knows what might have been… Natternberg is a suburb of Deggendorf, with a hill on which the castle was built, the hill’s name in German meaning “Snake Mountain”.


CHAPTER TWO

A SECRET IN THE HUNTER’S COT

Once on the way, after they had reached a point in the dense wood where the tangled undergrowth began to trouble them, the girls stopped as by mutual consent. The dog, seeing his mistress thus hesitate, became urgent in the extreme. He took hold of her skirt with his teeth; as though to lead her on; then he lifted his eyes to her face with a pitiful whine, and then, once more, set forward.

“Let us go,” said Electra, resolutely. ” It must be a case of need, or Fritz would not —”

She was interrupted by a voice, not far away, imploring help. It was a deep, solemn voice, mellow and heartful.

“Help! help! For the love of Heaven! Whoever you are, come quickly, I pray!”

Without further thought of tangle or bramble, the girls hastened forward, Electra in advance. At the distance of not more than a dozen yards from where they had stopped they found a clear space of considerable extent, near the centre of which was a rock — it might be called a boulder — and against it a man was reclining, retaining a sitting posture with evident difficulty. He was a man of powerful frame, full six feet tall, from five-and-forty to fifty years of age, with strongly marked features — decidedly a handsome man; his large, shapely head covered by a flowing mass of nutbrown curls, with here and there a trace of silver; his eyes large and full, of a dark, solemn grey, the lower part of the face being entirely covered by a full beard of the same colour as the hair, saving only that there were no threads of silver in it. He was clad in a mountaineer’s garb of finely dressed deerskin, with a leathern baldric over his shoulder, to which was attached a large empty scabbard. His head-covering was gone, and upon the ground by his side lay the hilt, with a portion of the broken blade, of a heavy sword.

The man was sorely wounded, and his life seemed ebbing fast away. There were cuts upon his shoulders, and the blood trickled from a wound on the side of the head; but that from which his life was flowing out was a wound in the breast, over which, with what little strength was left him, he pressed a closely folded kerchief.

“Ladies, kind Heaven hath surely sent you. Stand not upon ceremony, I pray, I may yet live, if you can stanch the flow of blood from this ugly hole in my breast. I — I —beg and pray —”

“He had spoken with difficulty, and at this point his strength seemed to fail him. It was plainly to be seen that he was losing strength rapidly. Electra saw, and as soon as she had recovered from the first shock occasioned by the ghastly scene her every sense came to her aid; her wits were clear and quick; her understanding sure; and her only thought was of help to the sufferer, and how she best could render it. One swift review of the case, and she said to her companion:

“Irene, do you hasten to the cot and bring back with you an old sheet for bandaging, and a flask of brandy; also two or three napkins. I will manage alone till you come back. I know you will borrow the wings of the wind if you can.”

As soon as her companion had gone — and she had obeyed the order without a question or a murmur — Electra hastened to the sufferer’s side and knelt down.

“Have no fear, good sir,” she said, at the same time gently lifting his weakening hand away from the wounded bosom. “I am a soldier’s daughter, and have been taught very much of the art of surgery. You may trust me.”

“Heaven bless you, whoever you may be! Your face is like the face of an angel; your voice like celestial music. It was a sword-thrust — deep,” he added, as the gentle hands began to remove the clothing from over the region of the wound.

“Please, sir, do not speak at present,” Electra said, seeing that the effort caused the blood to flow in greater volume.

“Let your head rest there — so! — That will do.”

With a small pocket-knife, which she always carried with her, she cut away such clothing as she could not otherwise remove, and having arrived at the wound she found it to be a clean cut, little more than an inch in length, very near the sternum, on the right side, and between the second and third ribs. Feeling that she must know quickly the direction and depth of the wound, she hesitated not an instant in probing it with her finger.

The Wounded Knight (1853). William Gale. Source: Tate

“If I hurt you, you must not wince. I will be as careful as I can.”

If there was pain the patient did not show it so much as by the twitching of a nerve; and presently a glad look came to his weather-beaten face as the fair surgeon exclaimed, out of the fullness of her heart:

“Good! Thank Heaven for that! O! had this wound been direct, or had it turned one poor finger’s breath the other way, life would have gone out at once!”

She had found it to be deeper than her finger would reach; but that mattered not, as the point of the sword had been turned so far to the right — towards the side — as to escape the heart and the deeper arteries. Several large vessels had been cut, but the colour of the blood was almost entirely venous.

At this point, as Electra had determined the course of the wound, Irene made her appearance, with the articles she had been asked to bring; and she had been thoughtful, further, of a jug of water. Meantime the dog had not been idle. He had with his tongue thoroughly cleansed the wound on the head, and when his mistress laid bare the shoulder, he applied himself to that.

A draught of the brandy gave the sufferer new life at once; but a deeper draught of the water was required to restore something of the circulating medium he had lost. Then the two girls went to work, Electra giving directions, and very soon the flow of blood was stopped, and the wounds all successfully cared for.

“There, sir; I have done the best in my power,” the heiress said, when she had secured the last bandage; “and if there is nothing worse than I think, you need not die from these hurts, bad as they are. If you could walk a short distance, or, if you could rest comfortably here until a strong man can come to help you —”

The patient interrupted her with a motion of the hand. He asked for another draught of brandy, and when he had slowly swallowed it, he said he thought he could walk.

“If,” he added, “you two blessed angels will allow me to lean somewhat upon you. I will not bear heavily. I think the cot of Martin Oberwald should not be far from this spot.”

As the man thus spoke Irene glanced quickly at his face with a startled look, and seemed, for a moment, half inclined to shrink away from him; but her native goodness of heart came to her aid, and she joined cheerfully with Electra in giving him the aid he required.

“The cot is only a short distance away, good sir,” his fair physician answered him, without observing the strange emotion of her companion, “and if you will be very careful, and lean upon us with thought only of your own good, I think you will be able to reach it safely.”

As Electra thus spoke the man looked upon her with a great yearning in his eyes, as though he would have taken her to his bosom had he dared. It was a holy look, soulful and solemn, and full of blessing. A moment so, and then, with a deep sigh, as if in acknowledgment of his own unworthiness, he bowed his head, and signified his readiness to make the proposed attempt.

Very tenderly the girls lifted him to his feet, and after one or two false movements and a little stumbling, he went on quite comfortably.

“Dear sir,” said Electra, when she was assured that the sufferer was putting forth more strength than he ought, “we are stronger than you think. Indeed you will please me if you will let me bear more of your weight.”

She was forced to speak again before he would obey; but he did it at length, and all went well after that. They reached the cot with but little difficulty, and there, in a comfortably furnished apartment, upon an easy bed, the wounded man found rest. Whether it was the brandy, or only weakness and fatigue, could not be told; but, whatever the cause, scarcely had the girls seen that the bandages were all right, and with care arranged the clothing of the bed, before their patient was sleeping soundly. And so they left him, leaving the door of the apartment ajar, so that they might have warning should he awake and require assistance.

“Irene!” cried the maiden of the castle, when the twain had reached the front room of the cot —removed a considerable distance from the dormitory in the rear, where the unfortunate guest had been placed, — “what ails you? What makes you act so strangely? Surely you are not afraid of that wounded man?”

The hunter’s daughter returned a wondering look, with a shade of unmistakable fear but did not speak.

“Why,” continued Electra, with ardent feeling, “he is one of the grandest looking men I ever saw. Did you look at his eyes? They are truth itself. He has been waylaid by some of the dreadful mountain robbers and very likely robbed of everything he possessed.”

“Electra! Electra!” burst forth Irene as though unable to contain herself longer, “have you not eyes? Can you not guess who that man is?”

“Why! what do you mean?” cried the heiress, frightened by her companion’s wild and excited manner. “One would think, to look at you, that we had taken in the very king of the Schwarzwald robbers.”

“And have we not?” was Irene’s response in a heavy whisper.

Electra caught her by the arm, and looked eagerly into her face. The truth was dawning upon her. A moment so; then she moved back and sank into a scat.

“Irene, — speak! Tell me what you mean. You think that man is —”

“THORBRAND!”

A sharp cry broke from Electra’s lips. In all that region of country no name was more terrible. Nurses spoke it to frighten refractory children, and stout men trembled when they heard it in wild and forsaken places. At first she could not believe it; but when she had reflected — when she had called to mind several strange movements on the part of the mountaineer while in the firwood — it became more reasonable. She could now understand why, when he had gazed upon her so yearningly, as though he would take her in his arms, and bless her, his countenance had fallen, and a sigh had escaped him. He had felt himself unworthy to lay his hand upon her in friendship. But even that should tell them that he was to be trusted. If his sense of honor was so fine, surely they had nothing to fear.

“Do you not see?” said Irene, after a prolonged silence, during which both had been deeply thoughtful. “Think how we found him, — sorely wounded, and his sword broken, alone in a part of the forest which he seldom, if ever, visits.”

“He must have visited it at some time,” suggested Electra. “Don’t you remember, — he knew that your cot was somewhere near him.”

“Yes, he has probably passed this way before.”

“But why should he be alone when he has so many men at his beck and call?”

“Very likely,” said Irene, after a little thought, “he became separated from his companions while being pursued by the soldiers of the grand duke. I heard papa say, only two or three days ago, that a strong force of well-armed cavalry was to be sent after Thorbrand and his host. Very likely they have met, and there has been severe lighting. The robber chief was forced to flee for his life, and was able to make his way to the place where we found him. O! I wish he had not come this way.”

“Dear Irene, how can you wish that? Be he robber, or not, he is a human being, whom we found in sore distress — a man, in the image of his Maker. For my part, I am glad we have been able to do him good. Who shall say what the result may be? Suppose the event should prove the turning point of his life? He is yet in the prime of his manhood, and may have many years to live.”

“Electra!” cried the hunter’s daughter, with a wondering look, “I do really believe you have fallen in love with the man.”

“No, no, Irene, — not that,” returned the heiress soberly; “but I am free to confess that he has inspired me with a good deal of interest. In my heart I feel glad that we have saved him; for he would certainly have died if we had not found him as we did.”

“So am I glad that we have saved him,” repeated the other; “but I wish we had not been obliged to bring him hither to my father’s cot.”

“Why so?”

“Can you not see? How long can such a man as Thorbrand — hunted by monarchs, with the price of a king’s ransom set upon his head; the terror of the State and the enemy of every honest traveller, — how long can he remain beneath my father’s roof without its becoming known? — and what will be said of him who has given shelter and hiding to the Robber Chieftain of the Schwarzwald?”

Before Electra could make a reply a glad cry from the stag-hound gave notice that a friend was approaching, and in n few moments more the hunter himself appeared.

Martin Oberwald was near fifty years of age; a powerfully built man, of medium height; with broad shoulders; a deep, full chest; limbs muscular and finely proportioned; features strongly marked and full of character — honest and reliable — a man that one would never fear to trust under any and every circumstance; his head covered by a mass of yellow, curling hair; eyes blue and frank, with a light that, seldom, if ever, wavered; and when he smiled, which was very often, he displayed a set of teeth like pearls. He was clad in a mountain garb — a doublet and breeches of tanned leather; a vest of dark blue velvet; and a bonnet of the same material upon his head; or, rather, in his hand, for he had removed it on entering the cot.

He greeted the baron’s daughter as though she had been a loved one of his own family; and having taken Irene in his arms and kissed her, he started to take a chair, when his eye chanced to fall upon a strip of white cloth bespattered with blood.

“Dear papa,” cried Irene, seeing his glance, and his sudden start of surprise, “sit right down, and I will tell you all about it.”

He did as she bade him, and then standing a part of the time before him, and a part of the time sitting upon his knee, she told him the story — told it minutely, from the moment when they heard the first call of distress to the placing of the wounded man upon the bed in the guest’s room.

“Papa you must not blame us. We could not do otherwise. The man was —”

“Why bless thee, child!” broke in her father, “what art thou craving about? Blame thee for helping Electra to save a human life.”

“Ah! — but, papa, you don’t dream who it is that we have taken beneath your roof.”

The stout hunter started.

“Aye!” he exclaimed, putting his daughter from his knee, and rising to his feet. “I can guess who it is. I have heard that he has been seen in the neighbourhood; but I did not think the soldiers had come out yet. Did he tell you who he was?”

“No, but it is not difficult to guess.”

Oberwald took several turns to and fro across the apartment, evidently ill at ease, At length he stopped, and pressed his hand over his brow. So he stood for a little time, and then said:

“Stay you here girls and keep watch, while I go in and see our guest. That wound in his breast I had better look at.”

So saying the hunter turned and left the room. The dog would have followed him if his mistress had not called him back.

Martin was gone a long time — so long that the girls became anxious, wondering if anything could have happened. Irene would have feared for her father’s safety had she not known how strong and brave he was, and how weak and helpless the robber must be.

Electra, on the contrary, could conceive nothing of the kind. To her the man whom she had saved was still a hero. She had given him back his life, and with his heart in his look he had blessed her. If the soldiers had appeared at that moment, demanding their legal prey, she would have saved him had the power been hers. Still she was anxious. She wished the hunter would come and tell them if the patient would live. And further, she would be assured of his identity. She was not yet quite satisfied that he was truly the terrible robber chief.

Full half an hour passed before Oberwald returned. He came and sat down without speaking, evidently in a state of deep and painful agitation. Irene was the first to speak.

“Papa — how did you find him? Was he awake? Did he know you? ”

“I found him far more comfortable than I had expected.” Then to Electra he added:

“To you, dear lady, he owes his life. I do not think a physician will be needed, for which I am very thankful. Your treatment of the ugly wound was more than skilful, — it was eminently successful. He told me how you probed into his bosom with your finger and how prompt and firm you were, and how quickly you decided upon the necessary treatment. If no accident happens I think he will do very well. I can find a safe man to nurse him.”

“Papa,” broke in the eager daughter, “did he really confess who he was? Did he —”

The hunter put out his hand to stop her.

“Let not his name be spoken here, my child. Remember — he is a suffering fellow creature cast for a time on our hands; and we are bound to care for him as best we can. Electra, — may I ask you, when you go from us, to forget the man to whose need you have so kindly administered? That is — you will not speak of him to any person whatever. Will you give me your promise?”

“Most cheerfully,” she promptly answered.

“I have given that man my personal pledge that he shall remain here in safety. Whether I have done right or not in this, leave with the Searcher of hearts. For myself I feel that I am in right. At all events, I am perfectly willing to assume the responsibility.”

Once more Electra gave her promise to remain silent, and then she turned her thoughts homeward. The sun was very near to its setting, and she would have just about time enough to reach the castle before dark. The hunter would have gone with her at least part of the way, but her noble dog was amply sufficient for her protection, and she would not take the good man away from his cot under existing circumstances.

“If I do not come tomorrow,” she said as she stood in the doorway, “I shall certainly come on the day after, to see my patient. Since his life is mine, you can give him no name that will frighten me. With the new life, who shall say that there may not come forth a new and a better man?”

“Amen! So may it be!” fervently pronounced the hunter.

And with that the lady of the castle went her way, her faithful dog holding his place close by her side.

Something seemed to whisper to her, as the entered upon the deep forest path — an unseen, solemn voice from out the vast solitude — that a new page in her life was opening. The feeling thrilled her to the uttermost depths of her being, and silently she prayed that the All-father would be merciful unto her.


Notes and References

  • Die Gartenlaube – Illustriertes Familienblatt: “The Garden Arbor – Illustrated Family Journal”. Founded in 1854, “the most successful and most popular German family magazine of the second half of the nineteenth century; it is referred to as the first periodic mass press publication.” Paletschek 41.
  • baldric: “an often ornamented belt worn over one shoulder to support a sword or bugle” (Merriam-Webster).
  • stanch: staunch
  • Searcher of hearts: “O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.” Psalm 7:9 (New International Version).

Paletschek, Sylvia. “Popular Presentations of History in the Nineteenth Century: The Example of Die Gartenlaube,” in Paletschek, ed., Popular Historiographies in the 19th and 20th Centuries: Cultural Meanings, Social Practices (Oxford: Berghahn, 2011), 34-53.

Severin, Carolina. “Verbotene Namen: So dürfen Babys in Deutschland nicht heißen” (Forbidden Baby Names in Germany).

Wallis, Faith, ed. “Chapter Ten: Who Can Help? Physicians, ‘Empirics,’ and the Spectrum of Practitioners Medieval Medicine,” in Medieval Medicine: A Reader (Toronto: U Toronto P, 2010).

This work CC BY-SA 4.0

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