The first impression of a flight from danger I can remember was that of the Von Trapp family. Good heavens, no, I’m not one of those people that would mar an otherwise perfectly enchanting visit to a beautiful city like Salzburg by insisting on trying to sing songs from The Sound of Music at every turn when a possibly familiar backdrop comes into sight. Remind me to take earplugs with me, however, when I do next visit.
At the time, the family escaping over the Swiss Alps to the tune of “Climb Every Mountain” might have seemed a tad less corny before the fifty millionth re-run. There actually are countless tours of Salzburg and ferry rides across Lake Wolfgang where costume wearing “entertainers” endlessly yodel to visitors or sing “Doe, a deer” and so on.
On the subject of such fiendish and dastardly torture: Will Ernest von Linden and Electra make it to safety? Or will a fake Mother Superior belting out “How do you solve a problem like Electra” in the guise of Sir Pascal Dunwolf thwart their plan? That haunting image must be something acquired from TV news coverage of the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras or something. Not that I have any problem at all with that event, no, it’s the evil nuns that get me. Is there a known phobia of nuns by the way? I looked it up. There is! It’s called sphenisciphobia. Oh well, I guess there had to be. If there’s one of clowns, then evil nuns surely must be right up there with them when it comes to having a phobia attributed to them. Let alone fake ones with beards…
What will happen at Martin Oberwald’s? Will our heroes find safety and protection? Or could a seemingly far too easy escape from a dark dungeon be an overture to doing away with a problem? “How do you solve a problem like Von Linden”? Oh no, not one of those ghastly songs stuck in my ear now, I hope. Worse still, I could have made it stick in your ear!
The baroness and her daughter were in an agony of unrest and disquiet. They had been told that Ernest had returned, and they had not seen him. More than an hour had elapsed since the word of his arrival had been brought to them. A servant had seen him ascending the hill. She knew it was Ernest von Linden, and no one else. Then Electra had bethought her of the horse, and she sent a boy—one whom she could trust—to the stable to see if the captain’s horse was there. He had been upon the mission, and had returned with word that the horse was there. He knew the animal, and could not be mistaken. Then mother and daughter had sought Sir Pascal, but had not been able to find him. At length they came across the dwarf, Balthazar, who had informed them that his master was lying down. He had not felt well, and had sought recovery in sleep, which he often found efficacious. He promised them, however, that he would come to them, if they would permit him, and inform them when the knight had risen.
Before giving him this permission, they asked him concerning the young captain. He was simply surprised. He had not seen the man, nor had he left the castle on his journey to Baden-Baden, The ladies then told him that he might come to them when his master was astir.
And for this they were now waiting. Meantime, however, they had made other enquiries, but without avail. At length, when their patience had become well nigh exhausted, the dwarf appeared, and directly behind him came Sir Pascal. Lady Bertha arose quickly to her feet and took a stop forward.
“Sir Pascal! you find me in great distress of mind. Can you tell me where Captain von Linden is?”
She spoke eagerly and impulsively, with her whole heart in her face. The knight was not prompt in his answer. He seemed to be gloating over the unrest he had been able to give these proud suppliants. So long did he hesitate that the widow spoke again:
“Sir Pascal Dunwolf! You heard my question. Will you tell me if you know what has become of the young man? Where has he gone? He returned here more than an hour ago, and I have had no sign of him I cannot understand it.”
“My dear, dear Baroness!” exclaimed the false knight, with fulsome effusiveness, “the absence of the young captain is very simple. He returned, as you say, an hour or more ago, arriving fresh and well, and in the best of spirits. He found here a messenger who had just arrived in hot haste from the village in quest of him. What was wanted I do not know, for I was not informed. I can only tell you that the young man turned him about instantly and went with the courier. This, you will understand, was told to me by the sentinel at the gate. I did not see the captain myself.”
“It is very strange that a messenger should have come from the village and not inquired for me,” the baroness said, looking the knight straight in the eye.
“I thought so myself, madam; but I had no opportunity to investigate. However, I can see no occasion for alarm. Doubtless our young friend will pretty soon return; and then we shall know all about it.”
Something in the man’s manner—something in his look, in his averted eye—an unmistakable malevolence of expression—impressed her ladyship with distrust. She did not tell herself that the man was flatly lying, but he was not telling the whole truth. At all events, she would not question him further. She thanked him for his trouble in waiting upon her, and then dismissed him. He would have offered further help, but the lady would not listen. His presence was painfully disagreeable to her, and she could not wholly hide it. This he saw, and without further remark he turned away, his mutterings of wrath breaking the air as he went.
“O! mamma! mamma! what can we do? Where do you think dear Ernest is? Has that bad man done him harm?”
“Hush! my child. Let us wait for a little time. It may be that he has been called to the village, as Sir Pascal says. If he has, he will surely be with us before we retire. Put away your fears, and let us give our thoughts to pleasant subjects.”
It was easily said, but it was hard to do. Pleasant subjects were not readily found. At length, however, the baroness spoke of Ernest’s brave and noble qualities, and of the assurance she felt that the grand duke would unhesitatingly befriend him when he came to know him, thus bringing her daughter to a theme that for a time led her thoughts away from the dark fears of the hour.
Thus passed the time until the little Strasburg clock on the mantel struck the hour of nine. As the silvery chime broke the air Electra sprang to her feet with her hands clasped, exclaiming:
“Have you been uneasy?” was Ernest’s first speech, after he had seen who were present, and had succeeded in freeing himself from the attentions of the happy staghound.
“Mamma! mamma! I cannot endure it. I must go down to the village and make inquiries. Don’t say me nay. My noble Fritz will give me safe conduct. I can go out by the private postern, which Dunwolf knows nothing about.”
Before her mother could reply, the staghound, who had been crouched away in a corner ever since Dunwolf had made his appearance in the chamber, sprung up with a sharp sniff and rushed to the door and tried to open it, which he would have done had not the baroness turned the key after the dark-visaged knight had gone out. Presently, above the dog’s eager whining, was heard a rap.
”It is a friend—I know it is a friend!” Electra cried, starting forward. “O, mamma!— don’t stop me. Don’t you know dear old Fritz’s meaning when he acts like that? It is my darling—my darling!”
She turned the key and lifted the latch, and in another moment was in the arms of her dear lover. Without a word, he lifted her from her feet and bore her back into the room; then closed and locked the door behind him.
“O! Ernest! we cannot tell you how uneasy. Where have you been? Did that bad man tell us the truth?”
“What did he tell you?”
Electra told him the whole story from beginning to end, but in a very few words and disconnectedly.
He shook his head very slowly and significantly, and with a very significant smile as he replied:
“I will tell you all about it in a very few moments. But, first, dear lady,” to the baroness, “you and Electra must prepare at once to leave the castle. If I can convince you that your safety and well-being demand it, will you go with me?”
“Let me hear what you have to say, dear boy. You know that I will do what is right.”
Ernest made sure that all was safe—that the doors were fast, and that no eavesdroppers were near,—and then he sat down and told his story. He told, first, of the coming of the dwarf, Balthazar, to his chamber, on the morning of his departure, with letters from his master to be delivered in Baden Baden. Then of his meeting with the wolf, and his discovery of the trick that had been played with his pistols. When he came to tell of his being waylaid by the two assassins, and of the scene that followed, his hearers were excited indeed.
Of his meeting with his old tutor, and of their conversation, he told minutely. And then came his return. He told how he had been met by the lieutenant, at the gate, and how he had suffered himself to be led into the trap that had been set for him, and how that trap had been sprung upon him. Many times he was stopped, and forced to go over certain parts of his story; and more than once he had been called upon to assure Electra that he had not suffered harm.
“When I had been thus bound and gagged,” he went on, “the two burly ruffians took me by the arms, and led me away, Sir Pascal going on in advance with a lighted candle. Then came the torch, and the descent into the dungeons.
“Here,” he said, “I became anxious. Down in those dismal depths are three entrances to the secret subterranean passes to and from the castle. The main shaft connects the dungeon at the extreme corner towards the east. I asked myself, would they carry me thither? I thought they would, for two reasons. First,—that cell is the farthest removed from any possible point of hearing by those in the apartments above; and, second, it is in the best order and apparently the most secure. If they should take me to that place, I need have nothing to fear.
“And thither I was led. Perhaps you can imagine how I had to struggle to hide my emotions of satisfaction; but I fancy I did it. I asked but one favor—a candle— which was granted. My bond and my gag were removed, and the door shut upon me. An hour later food and drink were brought, with straw for a bed, and some candles. When I had been left for the night I ate a hearty meal; for I was hungry; and then turned my attention to the opening of the secret pass. It was very familiar to me, and without the slightest difficulty I tipped up the broad flag, and found the stairs clear.
“You are aware, dear lady, that there are several entrance to the pass in the upper apartments of the keep. There is one in the upper wall of the great library; one in the baron’s sleeping-room; one in the extreme rear of the banqueting-room, and one in your own dressing-room. It was by way of the latter that I just came.”
It would be impossible to tell the variety of emotions that had been called up in the bosoms of the listeners while Ernest had been telling his story. Electra’s chief thought was of what the wicked man’s final plan had been. What had he meant to do with her dear lover in the end?
“What he would have done with me,” said the captain, “did not give me so much concern as did the thought of what he certainly would have done with you, my beloved. Remembering what good old Arnbeck told me, of the power which the grand duke’s commission had placed in the villain’s hands, I could see his plan was to make you his wife, and himself lord of this castle, as quickly as possible. Did you understand, my darling,—and do you, dear lady,—that by the will of the grand duke, the man marrying with the heiress of Deckendorf may take her name, and become feudal lord of the domain?”
“I supposed it was so,” the baroness replied.
“Yes—so it is. Pascal Dunwolf is very eager to become baron Deckendorf; and to that end he knows he must get rid of me. I think, had he succeeded in this bold scheme—had he managed to seal me up in a dungeon from which there was no escape, save at his own will and pleasure—he would not have delayed a great while the marriage ceremony. He has his own priest with him—a man ready to do his bidding. The consent of the bride would not have been asked, nor would it have been needful, so far as the black-visaged and black-hearted man cared. And now, dear lady,—knowing what you do, are you ready to go with me, and seek safety elsewhere?”
“Yes, yes, yes!” was Electra’s response, quickly and earnestly.
But the older lady was more thoughtful. She would know first whither they were to go.
“To the cot of good Martin Oberwald,” was Ernest’s answer. “He has secrets about his dwelling that are more wonderful than anything connected with the castle. He can give us a safe and comfortable place of hiding, where no enemy can find us. And, moreover, he is himself a true and noble man.”
“Noble in more ways than you think, perhaps,” said Lady Bertha, with a curious smile.
”Eh!” cried the youth, quickly, at the same time laying a hand upon her arm. ”What mean you by that? I have heard something—I remember once hearing the baron make an allusion to the hunter that puzzled me. Is he—”
“Hush! Oberwald’s secrets are his own.”
“O, but, mamma, you can tell us!” pleaded Electra. I have been puzzled more than once by remarks I have heard him drop. Is he—”
“There. No more. I cannot—”
“But, mamma, you have made us both so anxious.”
The baroness smiled, and finally said:
“Well, well, if you will promise to keep what I now tell you to yourselves, as I have never been bound to silence,—I will tell you this: Martin Oberwald was a baron of the empire. In his younger days he was gay and reckless. He married a lovely wife, whom he well nigh worshipped. She was taken from him by a cruel death—killed by an accident—shot by a bullet intended for himself; and in the depth of his despair he surrendered his barony, together with his estate, to a cousin—he had no brother—and, with an infant daughter, retired from the world. He came to this place, and here he has been ever since. Electra, I charge you, never a word of this to Irene. I have told you the truth, that you may know better how to value that beautiful girl’s friendship.”
“Ah, mamma, it needed not that to make me appreciate Irene. She is an angel. I love her.”
“And now, Ernest, which way do you propose to go?”
“There is but one. We must, of course, go by way of the secret passage, through a part of which I have just come. We will enter from your apartment, and go the course towards the Schwarzwolf. It is very nearly in the direction of the hunter’s cot.”
The baroness required no further urging. Ernest’s plan was that she and her daughter should remain in hiding until he could see the grand duke, being well assured that the true-hearted prince, when he should have been made to understand the situation, and to know the true character of Dunwolf, would do them ample justice.
Only one other person would they call to bear them company. Lady Bertha’s faithful maid, Gretchen, who had nursed Electra, and who was at heart one of themselves, must go. Not only did they need her services, but the devoted creature would go fairly frantic were they to leave her behind.
So Gretchen was summoned—a hearty, buxom woman of five-and-forty, or thereabouts, whose chief beauty was in her goodness, and who had been an inmate of the castle long before the baroness ever entered it. She required but little instruction. She had already conceived an utter horror of Sir Pascal, and was rejoiced when she know they were to leave the place, made dark and dangerous by his presence.
With her aid the necessary preparations wore soon made. Her jewels and her money, the baroness collected, having no confidence in their safety if left behind. Ernest gave to Gretchen particular directions with regard to the things he would have brought from his room, and told her where she would find the key. She was quick and prompt in her movements, and in less than an hour from the time of beginning the preparations they were complete, and the party ready to set forth.
It was close upon eleven o’clock when Ernest placed his hand upon the secret spring which set free the sliding panel that closed the entrance to the passage they were to enter. They were careful to lock all the doors behind them, so that their absence might not be accidently discovered. First beyond the panel was a broad step, and then a flight of narrow steps descending. When all had entered, the Captain closed the panel, which locked itself, and then, went on in advance with a convenient lantern, Gretchen bringing up the rear with another light—also a lantern, as they were liable to strong currents of air which might extinguish the flame of a candle.
For a considerable distance the way for the most part was descending. They passed quite near the dungeons, but did not care to look into them. Beyond this point, a natural fissure, made easily passable by the hand of man, served them until they had reached the top of an abrupt descent, down which they went over a flight of rough stone stops, cut in the native rock. At the foot of this they were at their lowest point, the guide informing them that the rumbling noise they heard overhead was the brook that flowed through the valley between the castle and the Schwarzwolf Mountain.
Beyond this they began to ascend. The way was somewhat tedious and toilsome, all having more or less of luggage to carry; but they pushed on bravely, glad at heart that they were leaving the castle under its present control, farther and farther behind them. At the end of twenty minutes after commencing the ascent, and more than an hour from the point of starting, the guide stopped before what appeared to be the solid face of rock, cutting all further progress; but he very soon found a way through it. A concealed door was opened—a door formed by a rock that turned on a central pivot—and upon passing through the aperture thus afforded the party found themselves in a deep mountain cavern—a cavern which Electra knew very well; and here for the first time the staghound was inclined to be frisky and obtrusive; but a persuasive word from his mistress quickly calmed him.
Though we have not before spoken of the dog as one of the journeying party, he had been with it, and had been an important and useful member. Upon his strong back he bore a goodly store of Electra’s raiment; and more than that, on the dark and dubious way he had gone far enough in advance to give timely warning had there been danger ahead.
Our heroine recognized the cave as one in which she and Irene had often stopped, about half way from the foot of the mountain to the hunter’s abode.
As soon as Ernest had been assured that Fritz would not bark, he went out and took a survey of the surroundings. It was now not far from midnight; the heavens were clear; and the moon, within an hour of setting, gave plenty of light to guide them on their way up the mountains; so the lights were extinguished, and as soon as the baroness had signified her readiness to proceed they moved on. They very soon struck the main path, and in less than half an hour more, without accident of any kind, they stopped before the door of Oberwald’s cot, where Fritz, with a desire to make himself useful, with a loud voice demanded admission.
Irene’s St. Bernard was the first to make answer from within, but the hunter himself appeared shortly after, with a lighted flambeau in his hand, not a little surprised at the sight of his midnight visitors. His first movement, without question, was to step back, and allow the women to enter; and after he had closed the door behind Ernest and Fritz, he found voice to ask what had happened.
- Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras…: Popular annual LGBT pride festival and parade. The Sisters and Brothers of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence, Sydney, are prominent regular participants.
- flag: (n) or flagstone. “A grit or sandstone naturally separating in layers of suitable thickness for flagging; any rock which splits or is capable of being readily split into tabular plates or flags. Usually the layers are parallel to the bedding or stratification of the rock; but there are cases in which the lamination of the material available for flagging is the result of cleavage or jointing” (finedictionary.com; New Century Dictionary). Hence, as here, an individual flat piece of paving, having been split from such stratified rock.
Introduction © 2020 Furin Chime, Oliver Raven
Categories: COBB: The False Knight