COBB: The False Knight

Cobb’s False Knight: 11. Sir Pascal in Trouble

What would they call a villain or “badguy” in German? An older term was “Boesewicht“, “Boese” meaning bad or naughty, “wicht” being a derogatory term meaning something like “blackguard”, but also a toddler, a naughty child . It is still in use today, along with “Schurke“, which means villain. Can you think of any typical villain in German literature or music?

Unless you count the witch in Hansel and Gretel, it is not that easy to think of one. Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust? Mack the Knife in Brecht’s Threepenny Opera? When you think about it, from Dracula to Batman’s Joker to Darth Vader, there seem to be countless villains in English literature and movies, but it is quite difficult to think of any German counterparts. Unless you count books or movies about Hitler of course. It’s almost as if any evil, against which heroes and heroines fought, was not that commonly personified as just a single “badguy”.

Mephistopheles in the air (1828). Lithograph by Eugène Delacroix, appeared in Goethe’s Faust, publ. Charles Motte, Paris 1828. NGV online collection.

There was a 1995 German movie, Der Totmacher (“The Deadmaker”) in which Goetz George starred as the famous mass murderer Fritz Haarmann. The “Butcher of Hannover” murdered at least 24 young men and boys between 1918 and 1924. And then there was the unscrupulous reporter Tötges in Heinrich Boell’s novel The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum (1974) and Volker Schloendorff’s 1975 film version. That seems about it offhand, apart from more common portrayals of “evil women” in the German literature of the Middle Ages.

Cobb’s use of the Pascal Dunwolf character therefore seems to be much more typically American. Had it, at the time, fulfilled a need for English readers to personify evil? Don’t Germans want to read about or see movies with “badguys” in them? I wonder. There were none to mention in the works of Hermann Hesse or Thomas Mann, only minor role baddies invented by Goethe or Schiller. Do Germans somehow seem to more often prefer to see or read about “evil” as being much less personified? Any thoughts on this?

Now I think of it, I do remember a local villain from a forested range of hills called the “Elm”, which was near my home. Johannes Tetzel was an infamous “Indulgences Preacher“, a Catholic Priest who roamed the countryside selling indulgences. Apparently, he had sold one such piece of paper absolving a certain nobleman from Kueblingen of the sin of murder, only to be shot dead and robbed by the same nobleman in 1518. The stone marking the grave of the villainous priest who possibly got what was coming to him is known as the Tetzelstein (“Tetzel Stone”).

The name of the even more villainous nobleman has been forgotten, written out of history in the1800s. The odd thing about this stone and the even more elaborate monument to Tetzel, which is located in the town of Koenigslutter, his supposed destination at the time of his murder, is the apparent fact that Tetzel actually died in prison in Leipzig in the year 1519. Most locals believe that the 19th century monument is the real Tetzelstein, when in fact the real one is the much older stone, located about 100m away in the forest. Under which, according to local legend, an “Indulgences Preacher” lies buried. An impostor? Tetzel has been portrayed in various films on the subject of Martin Luther.



On the morning next following the events last recorded, Sir Pascal Dunwolf was up and moving earlier than was his wont. He had much on his mind—much that was weighty and of the utmost importance to himself. First, he was in doubt as to the course he should pursue in regard to his youthful prisoner. He feared Captain von Linden more than he liked to acknowledge, even to himself. Were that man to gain his freedom before he had made the heiress of Deckendorf his wife, he would find it difficult to accomplish the cherished purpose. The thought had occurred to him of having the youth put to death, but he was not quite prepared for that. He was safe where he was for the present, so there let him remain.

Next,—What should he do about his marriage? That was the main question. After he had eaten of his breakfast, he sent for the priest, for the purpose of conferring with him on the subject. The good father came, fresh from his hot meats and hot wines, ready and willing for anything that would not pull too hard on his conscience.

The knight put the question to him squarely: Would he perform the marriage ceremony, no matter what opposition might be made to it by others than himself?

Portrait of a Woman (1464). Rogier van der Weyden. Nat. Gallery London

“Suppose,” said the recreant scoundrel, “that the girl should declare that she would not be my wife, and should persist in it to the end.”

“You have the grand duke’s consent?” said the priest.

“Yes, I have it in his own hand, and over his own signature.”

“Then what care you for the girl’s consent? She is merely an infant; the grand duke is her legal guardian; and only the formal ceremony is required to make her your wife.”

“And you are willing to perform that ceremony?”

“Most assuredly I will.”

“Good. I shall give you the opportunity very soon.”

When, the priest had gone Sir Pascal summoned Balthazar and bade him, go and see the baroness, and ask her how soon she could be prepared to receive him. He wished to confer with her upon a matter of great importance.

The dwarf departed, and was gone so long that his master became uneasy and suspicious of evil. He had twice framed the opening speech with which he would salute her ladyship, and had twice forgotten it; and by the time the hunchback finally returned he had forgotten much more.”

“Well, rascal? What says her august ladyship? Have you been making love to the fair daughter?”

“No, your lordship. I will leave that delectable pastime to you, when—you find her.”

“Ha! What does that mean?” cried the knight, seizing the pigmy by the collar of his doublet and giving him a shake. “Did you see the baroness?”

“No sir. Not a door could I open beyond the archway at the entrance to the ladies’ apartments. After I had knocked, and kicked, and called at as many doors as I have fingers, I found a servant, who told me that she had been doing the same thing for more than an hour; and the black-eyed wench had the audacity to spit at me—not on me, mark you—and tell me that I and others like me—meaning your excellency—had driven the poor woman to seeking safety in death, to which end she had drank poison.”

“Hark ye, sirrah! Speak ye now soberly and to the point, or I’ll—I’ll cut your wine for a week. I mean it. Now, tell me what you found.”

“I told you as nearly as I knew how. I went to the chamber of the lady as you bade me; and I tried the doors of all the rooms on that floor, in that wing; and not a door could I start, nor a word of response to my calls could I hear; and the girl said she’d been an hour trying to raise somebody without avail.”

Twice the startled knight strode across the room, and then, seizing his cap, he went out—went to the forge of the armorer, and selecting a heavy sledge—a two headed tool—with which he returned to the keep, he ascended to the apartments of the ladies, his dwarf page bearing him company. In the first passage on the second floor they met the servant whom Balthazar had questioned, and her Sir Pascal told to show him which was the sleeping-chamber of the baroness. The door was pointed out, and a single blow of the heavy sledge beat it open.

The girl rushed in, and presently set up a frantic outcry. Her dear mistress was dead she knew. That was her bed, out of which she never slept, and it had not been touched during the night.

Other doors were broken open, and other chambers looked into; but no trace of mother or daughter could be found. It was Balthazar who thought of asking the servant if she ever waited upon the baroness, and helped her to dress.

Yes, that was a part of her duty. She and Gretchen always waited upon the good lady and her daughter, and nobody else. And Gretchen, too, was gone. She was directed to see if the ladies had carried anything away with them; and upon search it was found that both of them had taken clothing and all their jewelry.

In a state of frenzy the knight hastened down, and summoned to his presence all the officers and soldiers who had been on guard duty during the night. There were a full score of them in all. They were questioned sharply, but nothing could be learned from them. None of them had seen either of the missing females. Each and every one most solemnly swore that not a soul had passed him during his watch.

“Where is the wonder?” suggested Lieutenant Franz, when the chief had reached the point of declaring that somebody had lied. “Do you not know that these old castles are riddled, through and through, with all sorts of secret passages?”

“Simple as was the revelation, Dunwolf had not thought of it. But he saw it now, and admitted the probability of its correctness.

He had just bowed his acknowledgment to Franz when the door of the apartment was opened, and the two ruffians, Zillern and Walbeck, came in, looking like men who had just seen a veritable ghost, each trying to push the other on ahead.

“How now?” cried the knight, with a new terror before him. “Why are you here? Speak!—Zounds! I’ll—”

“Mercy, Meinherr!” And it came out, with much stumbling, that they had gone down to carry their prisoner his breakfast; had found the door of the dungeon bolted and barred and locked, just as they had left it; but the place was empty. The straw had not been laid upon, and two of the candles and the candlestick had been taken away.

This was too much. Sir Pascal was stricken dumb. He gasped and choked, but for a considerable time was unable to speak. And when, at length, his power of speech came to him, he was so deeply moved that he spoke without an oath; no oath that he could frame being adequate to the occasion.

“Franz! What do you make of this?”

“It must be, sir, that some of the men of the castle discovered that the captain had been locked up in that, place, and they contrived, during the night, to set him free.”

“But how could they have got there if our sentinels were awake?”

“By means of passes of which we are ignorant. If you will reflect, you will call to mind that the subterranean passes of these old piles always connect with the lower crypts and dungeons.”

Again the knight was forced to admit the plausibility of his lieutenant’s solution; and, having questioned the jailers somewhat further, he resolved to go down and investigate for himself. He had brought with him the sledge with which he had opened the chamber doors; that he gave to Zillern, and directed Walbeck to go to the armorer’s forge and get another just like it, and to bring, also, a common hammer of goodly size.

When all was ready, lights were taken and the party set forth. The first point for examination was the dungeon from which the prisoner had been set free. Was there any secret pass there? They hammered and pounded everywhere, but only the dull, massy sound of solid rock was returned. The walls on three sides were absolutely native rock, and, of course, there could be nothing of the kind in the front wall. As for the floor, it was of flags of such size, and so firmly laid, that no human power could move them. It never occurred to them that the floor of a square recess cut from the native ledge ought itself—or, at least, the inner portion of it—to be solid like the walls that arose from it. They might have seen, too, that the floor of the passage outside, on a level with that of the dungeon, was simply a surface of natural rock. Also, they might have discovered that the floor of the very next dungeon was of nature’s own make.

But they saw nothing of this. It was evident that the prisoner had been set free by somebody from the outside; and as for finding the secret in that maze of cells and crypts and vaulted passages, the thing was not to be thought of. They hammered and banged upon a few suspicious-looking places, but in the end returned no wiser than they went.

On reaching daylight again, Sir Pascal thought of mustering the force of the castle—those men who had been under Capt. von Linden’s command—and demanding of them information upon the subject of what he was pleased to term the recent outrage; but Franz quickly argued him away from it. Said he, after his chief had given up the objectionable plan:

“The prisoner is gone, of course, beyond the confines of the castle, and I doubt if there is a soul here present who knows where he is. Further, the ladies are surely with him; and we may judge, from the fact that no horses have been taken, that they have not gone far. Now, my dear master,” continued the trusty henchman, laying the dexter finger of the right hand into the palm of the left, as he went on, speaking slowly and earnestly, “our first object is to make ourselves secure in our position, and know who are our friends. Of the five-and-forty men-at-arms whom we found in the garrison here when we came, the larger portion of them are soldiers who have been drawn from other sources within a few months. The old knight, whose funeral had just taken place when we arrived, had enlisted them by order of the grand duke, after intelligence had been received of the anticipated insurrection. More than half of those men, to my certain knowledge, are already heart and soul with us; and I have no doubt that we might, by proper management, gain very nearly the whole of them.

“Let us first do that, sir; and then let us find Thorbrand. If we do not find him readily, we must find some of his men and confer with them. That they are in this neighborhood there can be no doubt. Meantime we will throw our guards upon all the avenues of the surrounding forest, to make sure that the fugitives do not escape us. This is the plan I would suggest.” And the chief had resolved to adopt it before Franz had done speaking.

Accordingly, after one more thorough search over the castle for the missing ones, Sir Pascal caused the original force of the castle to be mustered on the parade ground, and when they were together, he stated to them plainly his object. He wanted to know how many of them he could depend upon to follow him without question; how many would take the oath of fealty to himself. He used no honeyed words, but he did this: He made them understand that those who should refuse him allegiance might look for hard times; while on the other hand, for those who should prove true to him, there would be the best of treatment, and there might be considerable booty.

The result had not been looked for. Only ten men of the five-and-forty privates and nine non-commissioned officers—ten of the whole number—stood firm and true to the old duty; and they, when they saw and understood the situation, believing that their young captain and the ladies of the castle had got safely away, asked that they might be discharged from the service. They had taken the oath of fealty to the baroness, and only she herself could absolve them.

Portrait of Götz von Berlichingen. 1651/1700. Copper engraving, artist unknown. City Museum of Cologne. See note.

For a wonder Dunwolf permitted them to go. He felt that they could do him more harm if they remained than they could in being outside. And thus was he completely master of the castle. Saving the few household servants, for whom he did not care, all within the walls were his sworn supporters. Before the sun of that day had set he had sent swift couriers out upon all the roads—upon every path where a woman could make her way—and made sure that no persons had gone forth since the previous evening. Also, he had posted sentinels at the various passes, to prevent the outgoing of anyone without question.

During the evening of that day, for the first time he was told of the cot of the old hunter on the opposite mountainside. Could it be possible that the fugitives had found sheltered hiding there? He would very soon know.

On the next morning, bright and early, accompanied by a guide from the men of the castle, Sir Pascal and his lieutenant, with the dwarf page, who had begged hard that he might be permitted to go, set forth for the hunter’s cot. They reached it without adventure worthy of note, and found the hunter himself standing in his open doorway. Evidently he had been on the watch for them, having been very sure that they would come.

Pascal Dunwolf stood fairly abashed before the man he had come to see. He had been prepared to find a rough, ignorant mountaineer, who would instinctively quail and cower before him; but, instead of that, he gazed upon a man noble and grand in form and feature—a man who looked upon him as a monarch might look upon his meanest subject.

Never mind the details of the interview. The visitor, as soon as he could present his business, stated why he had come. He was very anxious concerning the ladies, who were so far under his care that he felt responsible for their safety. Had the hunter seen anything of them? Could he give any information at all?

“Sir,” said Oberwald with a stately bow, “I might answer you that I had not seen them—that I knew nothing of them; but that would presuppose my readiness to betray them if they were here, or to tell a falsehood. The lady Bertha and her daughter are my dear friends, and if I knew where they had found refuge I certainly should refuse to tell you. O! do not look so glum! I only do what you would do if you be a man of honor. But, sir, my humble abode is before you; no doors are locked. You can look through it if you will; also, you may search the forest round about. I certainly hope you may not find them, because I know they would not have left you without good and sufficient reason.”

The spurred and belted knight was for a little time fairly beside himself with contending emotions. Once he seemed more than half inclined to draw his sword, and again a torrent of curses was upon his lips ready to burst forth; but his better judgment finally prevailed, and in moderate tones he told the hunter that he should like to view the internal arrangements of his dwelling.

Without a word Oberwald admitted him and his lieutenant. The obtrusive hunchback started to go in, but his master put him back.

Upon entering the living-room the hunter’s daughter was discovered sitting by the great fire-place, and Franz who had an eye for a pretty face, started to address her. At that moment up rose the great St. Bernard, with a growl like far-off thunder, and the gallant drew back, leaving the damsel to herself.

Every part of the cot was visited; every hole and corner was peered into; but nothing was found that looked like a fugitive baroness, and in the end the party of observation left the cot no wiser than they were on their arrival.

Sore at heart, and in deeper trouble than he would acknowledge, Sir Pascal Dunwolf returned to the castle. Thus far he had been baffled at every step; still he did not give up. Fresh riders were sent out to scour the forest, and every means he could think of taken to find the missing ones.

And now for the robber chief. While the search was going on for the fugitives he must find Thorbrand, and with him come to an understanding. Why the man had not called upon him he could not conceive.

He had promised that he would be very punctual.

It was on the third day after the disappearance of Captain von Linden and the ladies, while scouts were scouring in every direction for the robber chieftain, or for any of his band, that one of the famed bandit’s followers was brought before him. He gave his name as Hildegund, and he was one of Thorbrand’s chief lieutenants. He had been on his way to the castle when the outriders had met him, and he was anxious to find his master as was any one.

“More than a hundred men of our band,” he said, “are now encamped in the Arnberg Valley waiting for an order from their chief. Thorbrand left us little more than a week ago, in company with his chief officer, young Wolfgang—young he is, sir, but a thunderbolt in battle—they left us for the express purpose of coming to this very castle to report to yourself. All is ready with us, and the barons of Wurtemburg are ready to move as soon as they know that Deckendorf Castle is open to them in case of need. We have waited till now for our chief’s return, and when the full week had gone I started out in quest of him. The last words he spoke before leaving us were spoken to me.

“‘Hildegund,’ he said, ‘I go to confer with the knight who has been sent to command Deckendorf Castle. When I have arranged satisfactorily with him I will let you know.’

“He promised that if he did not come himself he would send Wolfgang. That, as I have said, was more than a week ago, and from that time, we have heard not a word, nor have we received a sign. What can it mean?”

Dunwolf was confounded. Was it possible that Thorbrand had made his appearance at the castle before his arrival while von Linden was in command—and had the fiery youth put him out of the way?

He summoned two of the assistant warders, who had taken the oath of fealty to him, and questioned them closely. They declared unhesitatingly that it would have been impossible for any man to have visited the castle during the week previous to Sir Arthur’s’ death without either one or the other of them being witness.

After this there was a silence, broken at length by the robber.

“Have you made search at the cot of Martin Oberwald?”

”What?—the hunter on the opposite mountains?”

“The same.”

“Not for Thorbrand; but I have been there, and have looked into every hole and
corner after others.”

Hildegund shrugged his shoulders significantly.

“That man,” he said, “is deeper than you think. If anyone can give us information, it is he. But we must be wary. Let us think the matter over, and fix upon a plan of action. He has holes and corners at command that you did not dream of, I’ll be bound.”

Hildegund was of middle age; tall and sinewy, and strong of limb. He was a handsome man, too, with a face remarkably keen and intelligent. That he was an experienced forester and mountaineer was evident from the outset, and to him Sir Pascal tendered the office of guide in the present emergency.

The brigand readily accepted the position and straightway proceeded to action, his movements indicating very plainly that he knew what he was about. Before that day’s sun had set he had organized a force of little less than two-score men—all more or less versed in the mysteries of mountain life—and the dwelling of Martin Oberwald was completely environed; so that no person could enter in or go away without being discovered.


  • various films on the subject of Martin Luthor: E,g. Luthor (2003), dir. Eric Till & Marc Canosa.
  • doublet: “A close-fitting garment for men, covering the body from the neck to the waist or a little below. It was worn in Western Europe from the 15th to the 17th century.” Webster’s, cited in finedictionary.
  • she had drank poison: Sic erat scriptum. Merriam-Webster discusses some confusion over the usage of drank/drunk. Drunk is, of course, the past participle according to the present rules of grammar. However, instances date from the 17th century, and commonly throughout the 19th, when drank was also so used.
  • Zounds!: Expression of anger, wonder, astonishment. Contraction of “God’s wounds.”
  • Portrait of Götz von Berlichingen: Aka Götz of the Iron Hand. German (Franconian) Imperial Knight (Reichsritter), mercenary, and poet. Robber knight and all-round tough guy. Distinguishing physical feature: iron prosthesis. Subject of a play by Goethe, Götz von Berlichingen (1773), well-known for Götz’s line: “Me, surrender! At mercy! Whom do you speak with? Am I a robber! Tell your captain that for His Imperial Majesty, I have, as always, due respect. But he, tell him that, he can lick me in the arse!”; embroidering Götz’s self-attributed: “He can lick me on the behind.” Inspired Mozart’s canon in B-flat for six voices, “Leck mich im Arsch” K. 231 (K. 382c)(1872). See Götz entry at Wikipedia.
  • Hildegund: A man herein; but seems exclusively a female name.
  • environed: Encircled, encompassed.

Introduction © 2020 Furin Chime, Oliver Raven

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