(c. 1802)


Koenigsmark the Robber, an example of the chapbook ‘robber romances’, contains a series of loosely interlinked adventures having German sources. It was printed by Tegg and Castleman, ‘at the Eccentric Book Warehouse’, West Smithfield: their other chapbooks included The Southern Tower; or, Conjugal Sacrifice, The Veiled Picture: or, The Mysteries of Gorgono, The Appennine Castle, A Tale of Mystery; or The Castle of Solitude, Father Innocent, Abbot of the Capuchins; or, The Crimes of Cloisters (based upon Radcliffe’s The Italian) and Matilda; or The Adventures of an Orphan. The following extract is just a small portion of the whole; though chapbooks were short, they were printed in very tiny typeface and managed to squeeze a lot of excess into their few pages.

(Copyright 2000, 2013 Rictor Norton)

‘Bolfeld,’ said Herman, addressing himself to the landlord, ‘you will oblige my friend and myself by telling us the particulars of poor Rosenberg’s death.’ ‘Herman,’ answered Bolfeld, ‘I will, since you desire it; but it is distressing to me; every one in the village knew Rosenberg, and every one revered him. Ah! we have all made a great loss!’ He wiped his eyes and proceeded:
          ‘Konigsal, you know, lies on the other side of this forest, at the distance of about twelve miles from this place. Rosenberg wished to cross the forest that night; his servant represented to him the danger of being in the forest at such an hour; he reminded him of the many murders and robberies which had been committed in that dreary place. Rosenberg would not listen to what his servant urged; he said, that duty and friendship impelled him to make every possible haste, and that a soldier could not know fear. The servant was silent, and they proceeded; as the distant clock struck twelve, they heard the cries of murder, seemingly issuing from a clump of trees at a short distance from them. “It is the cries of a female – some villains are murdering her,” exclaimed Rosenberg, seizing his pistols, and galloping towards the spot. His faithful servant followed; as they approached, they saw a figure in white gliding through the trees with inconceivable switfness, and four men, apparently of a gigantick stature, following her with the utmost speed; the forest resounded with her cries. Again the servant remonstrated, but Rosenberg heeded him not – he still urged his courser, and followed the white figure, convinced, that it was a female in danger of being murdered! Alas, poor Rosenberg! he was flying to meet death. Two assassins sprung from a thicket; one seized his horse’s bridle, and the other raised his arm, and held a dagger to his breast – Rosenberg’s pistols did not miss fire; both the ruffians fell in blood; but, at the same moment, a dastardly villain buried his poniard in his back. Rosenberg fell from his horse – in an instant he had ceased to live. The rest of the banditti severely wounded the servant, and left him apparently lifeless; they then stripped the wretched Rosenberg, carried away every thing which he had about him, and left his corpse perfectly naked. The servant still breathed, but was covered with wounds, and unable to move. At day-break, three woodmen passed near the spot, and were greatly terrified at beholding two men, stripped and bleeding: they humanely conveyed them to their cottages, and endeavoured to restore animation by every means in their power; with the servant they soon succeeded, but Adelaide’s husband was gone for ever! The servant gave an account of the event, similar to that which I have just related, and told the woodmen the name and rank of his beloved master. The fatal news were immediately sent to Clonel Kæmpfer; he wisely resolved to conceal the dreadful intelligence from his Adelaide, and, in the course of some time, to impart to her a forged letter, giving an account of Rosenberg’s illness. A few days after the receipt of it, he intends to inform her, that her husband is much worse, and he hopes that he will gradually prepare her to hear the dreadful tidings of his death; but he is determined, that she shall never know that he was murdered in the forest, within six miles of all that his soul held dear.
          ‘I saw the servant yesterday, he told me that Colonel Kæmpfer will not long survive his dear Rosenberg; the shock has been fatal; he suffers still more than he would do, if he could give way to his grief, but he endeavours to appear cheerful, to prevent his unhappy child from guessing the truth. He has written to Montecuculi, to communicate the melancholy event, and to request him to send a letter to Adelaide, as if Rosenberg were indisposed: the servant added, that Adelaide would never survive the news of her husband’s death, and that it was but too probable that the villain who had stabbed Rosenberg, had, at the same instant, mortally wounded his father, wife, and child. That is all that I know of the event which you have wished me to relate; I have obliged you, but it has cost me many pangs – I dream of it every night. Poor Rosenberg! peace to his departed soul!’ Bolfeld concluded his narrative, and the tear of agony proclaimed that he was a man. Theodor was greatly affected, and the friends were silent for some time. The company gradually recovered their spirits. Many strangers entered, and demanded whether they could sleep at the inn that night, for the weather was still very bad; the moon had risen about an hour, but though its pale orb was sometimes seen through the flying clouds, its silver light was too feeble to dispel the gloom which surrounded every object. The path through the forest was perceptible only when the transient light of Diana silvered the edge of a dark portending cloud. The wind howled with redoubled violence – every gust terrified the travellers who had intended to cross the forest that night; the story of Rosenberg’s murder had appalled them; they almost fancied that they heard his groans on the blast – their dread increased. All those who had arrived that night, except one, resolved to sleep at the inn; even Theodore and Herman agreed to defer their return to their village until the next morning. Bolfeld having agreed to provide beds for his guests, they became more tranquil, and the conversation took a more lively turn: at last Bolfeld told the traveller who had not expressed a wish of sleeping at the inn, ‘You, sir, seem determined to pursue your journey to night; you are alone; can you mean to cross the forest, on such a night particularly? Are you not afraid of – ’
          ‘Afraid!’ answered the stranger, ‘I have never been afraid.’
          The manner in which he answered – the look which he darted on Bolfeld – his piercing inquisitive eye, struck every one – every eye was immediately directed on him. He was a tall, strong, well-made man; his appearance excited terror and distrust. He perceived the effect which his answer had produced; he wrapped himself up in his mantle, and remained silent. It was some time before the company could resume their tranquillity. Bolfeld now and then cast a fearful glance on the terrible stranger; he looked expressively at Herman and his friend, but was afraid to speak. It began to grow late – some of his guests who were fatigued with their journey, retired to rest; Theodore, Herman, Bolfeld, and three or four more friends, remained. The dread unknown still remained in his place. A silence of a few minutes ensued; Theodore, less terrified at the sight of the stranger, and wishing to renew the conversation about Rosenberg, addressed himself to the landlord:
          ‘Bolfeld,’ said he, ‘in giving us an account of the violent death of Rosenberg, you mentioned that he had heard appalling cries in the forest, and that when he approached the spot whence the cries appeared to issue, he beheld a tall figure in white, gliding through the trees, and endeavouring to escape from four gigantick men. Have you ever heard what became of that female, and what was the reason of’ – ’
          ‘In what does that concern you?’ interrupted the stranger, starting from his chair.
          ‘Concern me;’ retorted Theodore, ‘I wished to know what became of her; and I confess,’ added he, looking at the stranger, and smiling contemptuously, ‘that I did not think myself obliged to ask your leave before I put the question to the landlord.’ The stranger hastily put his hand in his bosom, and Bolfeld thought that he saw the shining blade of a dagger. Theodore remained calm and undaunted. The stranger endeavoured to unknit his brow, but his dark scowling eye betrayed the workings of his soul; he at last composed himself, and said to Theodore, ‘I meant not to offend you, but your question reminded me of a tradition which I have heard many times; the supernatural event which it records caused the death of one of my ancestors – it bears some resemblance to what Bolfeld has related, and the thought that one of my forefathers had perished by – affected me – made me furious. I did not intend – to offend you –’
          The evident hesitating manner in which the terrifick stranger had concluded his speech, produced a violent effect on the mind of his hearers. Theodore alone remained firm, and, addressing himself to the unknown,
          ‘Sir,’ said he, ‘I freely accept your apology, but I request, as a particular favour, that you would oblige me so far as to relate the tradition to which you alluded: it must record some dreadful deed. This night has been devoted to the awful: the account of Rosenberg’s assassination has prepared our minds for every thing that is horrid and appalling – the fury of the elements seem to add to the horror of the narratives. We request you to oblige us with that tradition.’
          ‘You will not like it,’ said the stranger. ‘On the twenty-seventh of November, 1401, one of my ancestors was crossing the northern part of this forest; it was nearly the same hour that it is now – it was almost midnight – he was very well armed, and like myself had never known fear.’ The unknown assumed a hollow voice in pronouncing those last words: it was so exactly the same sepulchral voice in which he had uttered, ‘Afraid!’ when addressing himself to Bolfeld, that the landlord’s blood ran cold in his veins. Theodore fixed his eye intently upon him; he did not seem to notice it: he resumed his stern, but tranquil voice, and continued: ‘Passing under a lofty bower which was formed by the tall branches of elm-trees: his ears were assailed by the most appalling screams which he had ever heard. He galloped towards the spot, and perceived a beautiful female dishevelled, and in indescribable agony: she was imploring the mercy of heaven, and whenever she turned her eyes on the left side, she uttered the most terrifying yells. Romaldi (that was the name of the knight) asked her who had injured her, and what induced her to scream so violently, although no one was by her. “Oh! in the name of the Holy Virgin,” she said, “destroy this terrible insect which is by me – make every possible haste, I conjuure you by all that is dear to you.” “Insect!” answered Romaldi, “and is it the sight of an insect which occasions all these cries? Where is this insect?” The unhappy woman, shuddering with horror, pointed to a large, black, horrid spider, which lay motionless by her. Romaldi, half inclined to laugh, good-naturedly alighted, and approached with the intention of trampling over this insect! but he started back with horror at perceiving the spider slowly increasing in size, and rolling two large yellow eyes, which glared frightfully. The wretched woman redoubled her cries: “By the host of saints,” she exclaimed, “endeavour to destroy it, else we are both lost.” During this time the insect was grown to a tremendous size. Romaldi was no coward – he drew his falchion, and struck a violent blow; it failed of effect – the sword rebounded as if it had struck a rock, and Romaldi disarmed, stood petrified with terror. The spider had disappeared; the wretched female, unable to speak, writhed in agony; unutterable horror seized Romaldi, when he beheld a hand grasping her by the throat – a loud peal of thunder shook the sky – all the winds seemed to be let loose – the hurricane was appalling – the trees were torn up by the roots – the storm lasted but a few minutes – the scene became calm. Romaldi fearfully looked around – his unhappy companion was gone – his knees shook under him; he lifted his hands to heaven, and recommended himself to the protection of every saint. A loud and reiterated laugh made him turn – at that instant something struck him on the face, and he fell with violence. A voice which seemed quite close to him, said in a whisper, “Thou shalt pay dearly for thy attempt.” Romaldi, unable to support so many shocks, uttered a loud groan, and fainted away. He lay in a state of insensibility nearly an hour: when he opened his eyes, the dreadful adventure rushed upon his mind; his blood ran cold with horror. His horse was grazing near him; Romaldi crawled a few steps, and, with a great deal of trouble, mounted his courser, and endeavoured to reach an inn which was on the borders of the forest. It was day-light before he succeeded. When he arrived, the landlord came to receive him, but he stopped short, exclaiming, “My Lord, how pale you are! your lips are vivid, and your face has the pale ghastly hue of death. Have you been attacked? are you wounded?” “No,” defiantly answered Romaldi, I am unwell; give me some wine; I shall soon recover.” The landlord complied; the wine was excellent, and Romaldi did not spare it, yet it was long ere he could recover his spirits. The dreadful screams; the supernatural insect; above all, the threatened punishment which still vibrated on his ear, recurred every moment on his agitated mind. He sometimes doubted his senses; he wished to persuade himself that he had been dreaming; but he had lost his sword; he had severely hurt himself when he fell in consequence of the invisible blow – all that convinced him but too plainly that he had really experienced a horrid adventure, and he considered what could be done to avert the appalling threat: he examined his conscience, and found it not quite still. “I will brave every thing,” he said mentally; “it shall not be said that Romaldi is a coward.” He called the landlord: “Muller,” said he, “could you procure me a sword? I left mine at the place where I slept a few hours yesterday.” “It is now two years, my lord,” answered Muller, “since a noble knight breathed his last in my house; he was just returned from Palestine, and had no attendant with him; his sword is hung in the apartment in which he died; I shall get it down.”
          ‘Romaldi was agreeably surprised at finding that it was a most excellent sword; the blade was well tempered, and the mounting was magnificent. Romaldi generously paid the landlord for it, and gradually recovered his tranquillity. He resolved to stop at that inn two or three days, and then proceed to Vienna. The next day in the evening, Count Clodomir arrived with his attendants and a great many dogs, intending to hunt in the forest early on the succeeding morning. Romaldi, who had met Clodomir at several tournaments, was overjoyed at his arrival, and Clodomir was delighted to find a companion. “Romaldi,” said he, “thou shalt hunt with me to-morrow; the number of bears and wolves is incredible: they are fierce, I am told – we shall signalize ourselves. I mean to rise before day; what sayst thou? Wilt thou accompany me?” Romaldi promised he would. At five the next morning, Clodomir and his friend were equipped and well armed; their attendants joined them, and they plunged into the thickest part of the forest. The dogs soon seized an immense bear, which Clodomir put to death with his spear: Romaldi was soon equally successful, and after a space of two hours, their horses were so fatigued, that Clodomir proposed returning to the inn; his friend assented to the proposal. At the same instant, a prodigiously large wolf passed by them – Romaldi pursued him: Clodomir called out, “My horse is so fatigued that I shall wait here for thee.” One of his servants, who was very well mounted, called two of his fiercest dogs, and galloped after Romaldi. The wolf fled with inconceivable rapidity, and had considerably the start of his pursuers: at last the dogs seemed to gain on him; Romaldi and the servant encouraged them. The wolf entered a long avenue, and, without seeming to be any longer afraid, he rested at the foot of a large tree. Romaldi, who was at some distance, perceived it, and again spurred his courses; when he came up, the wolf had disappeared, and, instead of him, he beheld a man dressed in a peasant’s habit, and sitting in the very place where the wolf had rested. Romaldi was thunderstruck. The servant crossed himself, and waited in awful expectation the end of that diabolical transformation. The dogs barked violently, but seemed afraid of attacking the man.
          ‘Romaldi became furious; he sprang from his horse, and, rushing on the unknown, wounded him severely in the breast: “Thou diest,” he exclaimed, holding his sword over him: “thou diest, unless thou tell me by what power thou canst transform thyself into a wolf at pleasure.” “Mercy, noble knight,” answered the man,”mercy! save my life and I will tell you all: it is a secret which I received from my father. But help! oh, help; I expire!” He sunk to the ground. Romaldi ordered his servant to support him on horseback, and if he were too weak, to endeavour to carry him as far as the place where they had left Clodomir. The servant, who was very athletick, took up the wounded man on his shoulders, and they proceeded towards the place where they had parted from their friends. As they approached, Clodomir said to his friend, “So, thou hast been pursuing a wolf, and thou returnest with a wounded man!” “Forbear thy jokes,” answered Romaldi, very gravely. “When thou knowest our adventure, thou shalt not smile; but this is no time to relate it to thee. Let us hasten to the inn, and get the wound of this wretch properly dressed, though he is very underserving of any care; I will then relate every thing to thee. Great God!” continued Romaldi; “I believe that I am doomed to experience the most horrible adventures.” In a short time they reached the inn: the unknown was carried by two servants, and, to all appearance, was lifeless. Clodomir and Romaldi entered the yard – at that instant a frightful scream was heard – Clodomir turned suddenly round – he beheld his two servants motionless on the ground, and the wounded man had disappeared. Clodomir, struck with horror, called Romaldi, but no Romaldi answered. Clodomir grew pale with terror, and his heart scarcely palpitated. He at last ventured to look towards the spot where Romaldi was when he heard the scream – no trace of the knight was to be seen: the situation of Clodomir is indescribable. While he stared in vacant manner on the spot where his friend stood but a minute before, something brushed by him, and the words, “Romaldi receives the punishment due to his crimes,” were whispered near his ear.
          ‘Clodomir, dreadfully terrified, prostrated himself, and prayed with fervour. His courage gradually returned – he entered, and desired the landlord to take care of his servants, who had been stunned at the moment that the wounded unknown had disappeared. They had not been much hurt; they were unable to describe the manner in which that man had been torn from them; all that they recollected was, that a strong sulphurous smell had suddenly issued – their sight had grown dim, and they had lost the powers of perception. From that moment,’ continued the stranger, raising his voice, ‘from that moment, Romaldi was seen no more. Clodomir, greatly affected at the awful event, departed for Spain, intended to seek for adventures, that he might dispel the gloom which enveloped his mind: he was present at a tournament at Seville, and lost his life fighting bravely against a Spanish knight. That is the tradition which you demanded;’ said the unknown, addressing himself to Theodore, and fixing him fiercely, ‘You see that there is a great similarity between the adventure which befell Romaldi and, that, which Bolfeld says, happened to Rosenberg.’ ‘I thank you for your narrative,’ replied Theodore calmly, ‘but must confess that I do not see a great resemblance between the adventures: it is true that Romaldi heard the screams of a female in the forest, but when he approached, he beheld only a woman, who was probably beset by a fiend, perhaps for some crime which she had committed: the whole of the adventure which you have related is supernatural; quite different is that which Rosenberg met with in the forest – there is nothing of the marvellous in that . . .’

[SOURCE: V. J. Sarrett, Koenigsmark the Robber, or, The Terror of Bohemia (London: Tegg and Castleman, n.d.), pp. 9–17]

Return to The 'German' School of Horror

Return to Index of Gothic Readings