COBB: The False Knight

Cobb’s False Knight: 13. A Terrible Blow

For some people living in western democracies, reading Cobb’s story with spies lurking in the woods may almost seem a bit too fictional to be taken seriously. Yes, some of us remember all the “reds under the beds” hysteria from not so long ago, but wasn’t that a bit different?

Perhaps we are entering times of spies galore once again, but only a few years ago, all you had to do was get a day pass to visit East Berlin from West Berlin, and suddenly you entered something like a huge walk-through movie set from what could have been a James Bond spy film. Except, it was real.

Maybe it was because the drab border checkpoints and East Berlin streets seemed familiar from such movies? Or maybe it was because you knew a bit more about Stasi, the East German security service, that was reputed to have up to ten percent of the population working for it as informants? They even had one in West German Chancellor Willy Brandt’s office, happily passing on NATO secrets (Guenther Guillaume).

Still, imagining “spies lurking in the woods” is something quite different, isn’t it? I guess it might not seem so unusual for those of us who might be a bit more prone to paranoia than others when it comes to feeling observed to accept such a notion. But for the others? Is Frau Schmidt from the apartment building next door hoping to see what kind of furniture is being delivered from the van parked below? Perhaps, in the Middle Ages, “spies” may have been little more than inbred villagers paid to hang around an area and hope to get a reward for reporting something suspicious. Calling them “spies” may be all that had irked me at first. I really wondered exactly why Cobb’s mentioning of them at first seemed a bit too contrived for me.

Mata Hari in 1906, photographer unknown. Source: Wiki Commons

We have all heard of Mata Hari and those famous British traitors from Cambridge, like Philby. Less well known is Rudolf Roessler, an extremely successful anti-Nazi Soviet spy. But do we know the name of even a single spy from several hundred years ago? Hmmmm… There you go. Not one, I bet. Perhaps they were just too good at keeping a low profile back then? I’m just kidding. Or could it be that in an age of chivalry, when concepts such as “honour” and “fairness” still meant something, anyone lacking enough in either to become a spy in such times was soon best forgotten?

An example of this could be Christian Andreas Kaesebier (the surname translates as “Cheesebeer”). Known as a thief and a scoundrel, Prussian King Frederick II had him released from prison in Stettin during the siege of Prague in 1757, on the condition that he should of enter the city and spy for Frederick. He did so on two consecutive nights, not returning from a third however. He disappeared and was never heard of again. It’s amazing we even still know of him.

So of course Kings, Emperors and all sorts of nobles had spies, maybe even knights from smaller castles, surely also in the Middle Ages. Perhaps my reason for at first wanting to think of them as being too fictional was simply because I had never heard of any from that era. Tinker, tailor, soldier, spy? Forgotten bit part players in the intrigues of long ago, mere village inbreds, standing around suspiciously in the woods? Fitting then, that Cobb didn’t even name them.

Just kidding. It seems that our perception of spies may have changed since a century or so, except those we revile for having worked for the other side. Too many Bond films?


CHAPTER 13

A TERRIBLE BLOW

An hour and more Oberwald and his young friend spent with Thorbrand, finding him more easy and comfortable than he had been at any time since his sanguinary ordeal. For one thing, they found him up and partly dressed, sitting in a softly-cushioned chair, with a sword in his hand— a sword which his host had kindly lent him to hang up on the wall of his abode. He said he had been simply trying the strength and endurance of his arm. His nurse did not scold him, as he believed the exercise would be of benefit.

As we have said, his visitors remained with him an hour and more, and when they left him he seemed better and stronger than when they had found him. They had told him all they thought it best to tell him, giving him to understand that the baroness and her daughter were for the present safe, but withholding the fact that they were so near him.

When evening had come, Lady Bertha and Electra, with Captain von Linden, joined the hunter and his child in their comfortable living room. The heavy inside shutters had been put up against the windows, and there firmly bolted, and the doors carefully closed and secured.

“Dear sister,” said the heiress of Deckendorf, looking suspiciously into Irene’s face, “what has happened to you? What is that wondrous light in your eyes? And why does your heart beat so strangely? I can hear its throbbing when I lay my head against your bosom. Ah! you have seen—”

“Hush! No more now, if you love me!” And as Irene thus exclaimed in a tremulous whisper, she caught her companion’s hands and looked into her face imploringly. “At some other time I will tell you all about it. Don’t ask me any more now.”

Electra gave her a curious glance, then a meaning smile broke over her beautiful features, and she turned the conversation upon another topic.

Wolfgang had gone as he had come, promising that with the expiration of another week, if not before, he would come again, by which time he felt assured his chief would be entirely recovered; or, should an alarm of impending danger reach him, they might see him at any moment thereafter.

The fourth day from the visit of Wolfgang was dull and drizzly—really stormy. The wind moaned through the sombre firs and around the broken faces of the mountain, and the driving moisture was penetrating. Early in the morning the hunter had been obliged to go to the village, taking the secret way. It was a business he dared not neglect. Before he went he looked in upon the baroness, to see if she had any orders or errands for him, at the same time being very particular to enjoin upon her the utmost caution during his absence. She promised him that both she and her daughter would be very, very careful and circumspect; and he went away content.

Alas! Why did the woman break her promise? Was it that perversity of her kind that makes forbidden fruit so attractive? At any rate, good Martin Oberwald had not been gone an hour when the fancy seized the baroness that it was very gloomy and lonesome in that dismal cavern, and she tried to make herself believe that the rain was coming down through the roof. A full hour she dwelt upon the subject, telling herself repeatedly that she would certainly stay where she was, and then—then she persuaded Electra that they might, on such a wretched day, with entire safety spend a little time with Irene before her great fire. The girl, unfortunately, needed no urging. So many days of quiet rest without any alarm had made them bold.

At the same time that Lady Bertha and her daughter were making their way out into the living-room of the cottage, something happened outside that is worthy of note.

Two of Dunwolf’s spies, posted near the main path from the hunter’s cot, were surprised by the appearance of another of their squad, who had just come up the mountain. He had been climbing rapidly, and was breathing hard.

“Martin Oberwald is in the village!” was the report. “I saw him at the foot: of the mountain, just striking into the path from a dense jungle of rock and tangled wildwood. Now let us strike at the game. We know where it is, and we may capture it if we are prompt and wary. What say you ?”

They were both of his way of thinking, and they at once went to work to gather together sufficient of their comrades to strike a decisive blow.

* * *

“O! Irene, how comfortable you are here!”

The words were spoken by the Baroness Deckendorf, as she and Electra came forth from their hiding place.

The hunter’s daughter started so suddenly that she dropped a part of the work from her hands.

“Now, don’t scold us. I cannot tell you how lonesome and cheerless it had become in that dark and dismal place,” said the baroness.

“I could not scold you if I would, dear lady; yet I must tell you that you are running a risk. I know the cavern is chill and cheerless on such a day; but it is safe, nevertheless.”

“And why shall we not be safe here?” asked the baroness, as she spread her hands over the blazing fire. “The shutters are all up at the lower windows, and if strangers should approach the dogs would give us warning.”

“What makes your father so particularly anxious?” asked Electra, not offering to sit. ” I thought this morning, when he came to speak to us, that some new cause of alarm had arisen.”

Young Couple (1850), Carl Wilhelm Hübner. Source: invaluable.com

“You know, dear sister, that your staghound got out on the day before yesterday, and was away for a considerable time. Some of the spies must have seen him, and if they recognised him as yours, of course they would be certain that you are not far away.”

“Really, mamma,” the daughter said, “I think we had better return to our safe retreat. We can have a good fire there, and be as comfortable as we please. Let us call Ernest to sit with us, and I am sure we shall pass the time away very pleasantly.”

“Well, well,” the baroness returned, as she arose from her chair with a seeming effort, ” I will go back. But, certainly, I do not see how anybody can come upon us in here. How could they, with the lower shutters up, and everything so snug and close?”

As she spoke, and before lrene could reply, the staghound, who had followed his mistress from the cave, gave a sudden start; then a low, sharp cry; and then away to the door, where he pressed his muzzle against the cracks, sniffing and growling with wonderful persistence.

“Mamma! mamma! come! let us make haste. There is something at the door I am sure.”

Electra had taken her mother’s hand, and had turned towards the place of exit, when a sound, as of a thunderclap, smote their ears, and on the next instant the outer door was burst from its fastenings, and flew wide open, a huge battering-ram—a log of wood as heavy as ten men could lift—being at the same time projected into the room; and in a moment more the place was filled with armed men!

While the women screamed the staghound flew at the foremost of the intruders ferociously; but one of the men, with his wits about him, and evidently prepared for the work, adroitly slipped a noose over his head, and very quickly had him secured and placed beyond the power to do more harm.

The baroness and her daughter were then seized, their arms bound behind them, their heads and shoulders protected from the weather by heavy coats which two of the soldiers threw off; and then, without further ceremony—without waiting for further raiment, they started off upon the run, the half paralyzed women being borne roughly along, a strong man at each arm, almost lifting them from their feet as they sped on their way. In their paroxysm of terror, the stricken captives could neither struggle nor cry out; one word, and one alone, fell from the lips of Electra—the name of her dear lover—”ERNEST!”

So quickly had the whole thing been done, so prompt and sure had been every moment without mistake or mishap, that not more than one poor minute had elapsed after the invaders had burst open the door of the cot before they were out again, with their prisoners in charge,

Upon Irene they had scarcely looked. Her great St. Bernard, accidently left shut up in another room, had been struggling for admittance, but she felt that in opening the way to him she would but admit him to his death. And further, he could have done no good. As for herself, she had not lost her presence of mind at any time during the startling scene. She had seen on the instant that anything like resistance would be worse than useless. As for help, there was none to call. If, for a single moment, she had allowed Electra’s pathetic call to lead her to think of arousing Ernest, the thought was quickly put away. She would have simply called him to share the fate of the others. There had been at least a full score of the ruffians, and they had been determined and desperate. Against them, the arm of the young captain, strong as it was, would have been but as an arm of straw. He would have been instantly captured, if not killed, and thus the loved ones would have been robbed of a valuable helper in the future. Aye, Ernest von Linden left behind in his safe retreat, could be of vastly more service to them than he could have been had he kept them company in captivity.

The girl stood where she had stood from the first, and watched the departing troopers—saw them half carrying their captives in their arms—forcing them onward in brutal haste—watched them until they had gone from sight, and then went to close the door; but this she was unable to do. The heavy log, which had been used as a battering-ram, had been left across the threshold, and she had not the strength to lift it. With a strong lever, however, she at length succeeded in working it out of her way, after which she shut to the door, and secured it as best she could.

Her next movement was to loosen poor Fritz, who was jumping against his leash, and howling most dismally. When the dog was free, he sprang to the door and tried to open it. Then he came back to Irene, and begged most piteously, fawning upon her and whining, his great brown eyes fairly brimming with tears. The agony of that poor, dumb friend made her heart ache more than had all that had gone before; and by and by the intelligent animal seemed to understand that he had her sympathy, and that that was all she could give him. He finally returned to the door, and there lay down, moaning in bitter grief and distress.

The getting of the log from the threshold and disposing of the dog had consumed considerable time; so much, that Irene judged that the marauders had, reached the foot of the mountain, at least, and she would be safe in letting Ernest know what had happened. She had hesitated until now, because she had felt sure that he would, if he thought the ruffians within reach, dash madly after them; and she did not care to be a party to his self-destruction. But she was speedily saved further anxiety in the matter by the appearance of the man himself.

She was standing looking at the dog, but thinking of Ernest, when she heard her name called, and on turning, she saw the face of the captain just peering through a narrow opening he had made by partially pulling back the door.

“Irene, What was the noise I heard? Where are the baroness and Electra?” he asked, hurriedly and eagerly, as the girl came towards him. “How? Has anything happened?” he exclaimed, catching the scared look upon her face; and, at the same time forgetting the precautions of the hunter, he threw open the door and came out.

But Irene pushed him back, herself following; and as she started to close the door behind her, the stag-hound came bounding through, and at once began to fawn upon the youth, and to implore him as he had to the maiden.

By this time our hero knew that all was not right. He caught the girl by the wrist and besought her to speak.

“Alas, dear sir, the worst— No, no not the worst,” she cried, correcting herself, “but something very painful has happened.”

And then, as best she could, with his frequent and frantic interruptions, she went on and told the story.

It was terrible—and for a little time the frenzied youth strode to and fro, wringing his hands in speechless agony. His first thought, when he could think at all, was of instant pursuit. He would arm himself with sword and pistols, and overtake the villains if he could.

Fortunately for Irene, and, perhaps, fortunately for the young man himself, at that moment the hunter made his appearance. In the two faces before him he saw the indications of terrible news, for never was more terror depicted in a human countenance. Before a word had been spoken he opened the door and looked into the front room. He saw the ponderous log of wood upon the floor, its smaller end just clear of the outer door, and his quick eye detected that the fastening had been broken away, in a moment he knew what had happened.

“Irene! how came it to pass?”

“Dear papa! It was all done in a moment, without warning of any kind.” And she went on, and told the story as it was; and this time she was permitted to tell it without interruption.

When it was done, the strong man bowed his head upon his hand, and so remained for several seconds.

“Alas! Alas!” he moaned, on looking up. “l ought not to blame her. Poor lady! she was very sad and lonesome, I have no doubt; and she did not think. Yet, if she had obeyed me— if she had kept the spirit of her promise to me—this would not have happened.”

“But how did they happen to strike at the very time when you were away, dear papa?”

“There was no happening in that. As I emerged from the cover of the far end of the mountain pass, I saw one of Dunwolf’s men not ten yards away; and I know that he saw and recognised me. But I feared nothing. Even should the rascals pluck up courage enough to break into my dwelling in my absence, they could find nothing, for my caverns are beyond human skill to discover. Had I thought that Bertha could have been so careless, after the caution I had given her, I should have come back at once. You remember the circumstance of the dog’s getting loose and wandering into the forest? The spies knew that the [check typo in copy] mistress must be hidden not far away.”

To a question from Ernest, Oberwald explained that he had several times detected spies in the tall grass near the cot, from which position they could look into the sitting-room through the upper windows. In all probability enough had been seen to warrant them in making a bold dash. They made it, and the result we have now before us.

Ernest groaned in bitterness of spirit. By-and-by, when he could speak coherently, he laid a hand upon the hunter’s shoulder and asked him what could be done.

“If I thought I could find the grand duke,” he said, “I would take horse for Baden-Baden at once. He, l am sure, would set this matter right.”

“There is the trouble,” returned Oberwald. “You are not sure of finding Leopold, if you go. I have not heard of his return to his palace since he went away. We must look to Thorbrand. Upon him our hopes must now rest.”

“Let me see him,” pleaded the eager youth. “I can so set before him the character of Pascal Dunwolf—”

The hunter put out his hand and commanded silence.

“Thorbrand will not be seen until he is ready to act. Be sure, my dear Ernest, you can tell him nothing which he does not know. As for the character of Dunwolf he knows it thoroughly; and I may assure you that he can, when he will, strike him to the earth. There is one other, however, for whose coming we must wait. I think he will be here before this day’s light is gone.

Irene looked up quickly, with a flush upon her face, and a wondrous sparkle in her eye.

Her father nodded pleasantly. “Yes, dear child, it is he. With his arrival we shall be prepared to lay out the work. Meantime, you Ernest, must run a little risk. You must visit the castle—”

“O!” the latter exclaimed, impetuously, “did you think I needed to be told that? Did you imagine that I would allow a night to pass with us in uncertainty regarding the fate of our beloved friends?”

“Ah, my dear boy,” the hunter said, with a significant shake of the head, ” I think you need a little caution before you venture. You may be sure that Dunwolf will have an eye upon his fair captives, that they do not escape him again by any secret pass; for, of course, he must know that in that way alone could you have given him the slip, and taken the ladies with you. Now, mark me, Ernest, your only object in going to the castle must be to learn what is going on, and, if possible, what the rascal’s plans are. Evidently, he intends to force a marriage ceremony upon the heiress, and that we must prevent.”

“Prevent it! By the heavens above me I would—”

“Tut! tut! What would you do, singlehanded, against the host that man has at command? Be rational, boy, and listen. You will learn all you can learn, and bring back word as speedily as possible. And do you not, for a single moment, lose sight of this important fact: The power to overcome Pascal Dunwolf is here—at present within these walls.”

“O! dear Oberwald, if I could know—”

“Pshaw! Can you not believe me? Do you fear to trust me?”

“Papa,” interposed Irene, with pleading look and tone, “remember how he has been tried. Think how his heart is aching.”

“And I would heal it for him.—Dear boy,” the hunter added, with a kindly smile, laying a hand upon his shoulder, “there is no need of haste in this matter. You will not think of going to the castle until evening; so we have plenty of time for consideration. I might ask you, however, whom you will seek? To which part of the keep will you direct your steps?”

The young man reflected for a brief space, and finally said that he should go to the old picture-gallery.

“Leading out from that,” he explained, “is a small closet, for the stowing away of pictures not hung, in one of the walls of which is a sliding panel that opens the way into a branch of the secret pass. None of Dunwolf’s people will be in that neighbourhood. From that point I can direct my steps as I will. I must run some risk. I will see the baroness if I can. But, good Martin, I will be careful. I shall be cool and collected. Know that clanger, however great or sudden, never weakens or confuses me. I am never so strong, never so cool and calm as when in the face of mortal peril. I shall go well armed, and woe betide the man who shall place himself in my way.”

Oberwald gazed upon the youth with a beaming look—a look of admiration and respect.

“Ernest,” he said, extending his hand as he spoke, ” I did you wrong a little while ago. I failed to think how sorely you had been stricken, how your heart must have been wrung. I will trust you, dear boy. Aye, more, if Thorbrand thinks well of it, I will go with you. The pair of us might present a strong front in case of discovery and attack.”

Von Linden uttered an exclamation of gladness.

“O! that would be a joy for me,” he cried. “As we should go we could meet nothing that we could not overcome on the instant. Say you will go.”

“I will speak with him I told you of, and by his judgment must I abide. You shall know in good time.”

Just then poor old Gretchen came crying upon the scene. She had just missed her dear mistress, and feared some accident had befallen her.

To Irene was left the work of comforting the faithful old servitor. She did it after a time, though she found it difficult to do.

After this Martin put on his cloak and went out to take an observation. For half an hour he scoured the forest in every direction, over the ground, lately occupied by the spies from the castle, without finding one of them left behind. The capture of the two ladies had been all that had been particularly desired by their chief; for, though he had set a price upon Von
Linden’s head, he was not at all anxious that he should be brought back to him.

Having satisfied himself upon this point the hunter returned to his cot, where, for the next hour, with Ernest’s help, he worked on his front door. Luckily the door itself had been stronger than had been its fastening, in consequence of which only the latter had suffered.

House in the Middle Black Forest (1910-11 autochrome, cropped). (Emmendingen district of Baden-Württemberg). Public Domain. Source: Wiki Commons

Irene was just preparing the evening meal when a step was heard in the rear porch of the cot, and shortly afterwards the door of the living-room was unceremoniously opened, and the golden-haired, blue-eyed hero of our mountain maid’s love-dream appeared. He shook the dripping moisture from his plumed cap, and threw off his cloak before he spoke.

Oberwald started to his feet, and took his hand.

“Just in season, my dear Wolfgang—in season for supper, and for news,” said the hunter.

Our hero gazed in speechless wonder upon this man, with the name of the most notorious of the famed robbers of the Schwarzwald, and whom yet the honest hunter took by the hand and addressed as a dear friend. But a greater surprise was in store. He saw the man turn from the father to the daughter, and never before had he seen that beautiful maiden look so charmingly beautiful as she did at that moment.

Her azure eyes beamed and glowed with the light of a gladness that was of the heart; and when the man lifted her hand to his lips she did not quail, and if she trembled at all, it was not with either fear or offence.

And for the man himself—Ernest was obliged to confess that he had never seen a handsomer— never a man whose face at sight he would sooner trust. This had he seen and thought when he stood with him face to face.

“Captain von Linden, this is the Herr Wolfgang of whom you have heard. I present him to you as my very dear friend. And to you, my dear sir, I will say, Von Linden is worthy of your confidence and esteem.”

It was all very strange to our hero, but he had no time then for speculation. He gave the man his hand, and in the grasp which he received there was a warmth and spirit that went to his heart. He met the earnest, honest gaze of those deep blue eyes—eyes that appeared a heavenly blue to Irene—and he was captive from that moment.

After a time the men resumed their seats, and Irene, assisted by her maid, with good old Gretchen making herself as useful as she could, resumed her work of preparing supper.

Then Oberwald told the new-comer the story of the abduction of the baroness and her daughter; and if Ernest had honored and respected Wolfgang before, he fairly loved him now; for the words which he spoke, the spirit which he manifested, and the power which he seemed to possess, gave him more of hope and courage than had come to him from any other source.

When supper was ready, they all sat round the table, for the time putting off every anxious care, and turning their conversation upon subjects of interest and instruction.

Later in the evening the hunter drew Ernest aside, and said :

“Now, my dear boy, you must make yourself comfortable and sociable, if you can, for a time with Irene. Wolfgang and I are going to confer with him whom we both acknowledge our chief at present. I would ask you to go with us if I dared, but our master has forbidden it. Be not uneasy. The time is not far distant when we shall have no secrets from you.”

In speechless amaze Ernest stood gazing in to the vacant space which the hunter had left, until the sweet voice of Irene recalled him to himself.


Notes & FYI

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