A little further on they emerged into the open plains. The city lay glittering before them, and the evening sun that gilded her towers, lent its grateful warmth to dry their soaked garments.
The sudden disappearance of the young Knight Huldbrand of Ringstetten had made a great stir in the city, and distressed the inhabitants, with whom his gallantry in the lists and the dance, and his gentle, courteous manners, had made him very popular. His retainers would not leave the place without their master, but yet none had the courage to seek him in the haunted forest. They therefore remained in their hostelry, idly hoping, as men are so apt to do, and keeping alive the remembrance of their lost lord by lamentations. But soon after, when the tempest raged and the rivers overflowed, few doubted that the handsome stranger must have perished. Bertalda, among others, mourned him for lost, and was ready to curse herself, for having urged him to the fatal ride through the forest. Her ducal foster parents had arrived to take her away, but she prevailed upon them to wait a little, in hope that a true report of Huldbrand’s death or safety might reach them. She tried to persuade some of the young knights who contended for her favour, to venture into the forest and seek for the noble adventurer. But she would not offer her hand as the reward, because she still hoped to bestow it some day on the wanderer himself; and to obtain a glove, a scarf, or some such token from her, none of them cared to expose his life to bring back so dangerous a rival.
Now, when Huldbrand unexpectedly reappeared, it spread joy among his servants, and all the people generally, except Bertalda; for while the others were pleased at his bringing with him such a beautiful wife, and Father Heilmann to bear witness to their marriage, it could not but grieve her: first, because the young Knight had really won her heart; and next, because she had betrayed her feelings by so openly lamenting his absence, far more than was now becoming. However, she behaved like a prudent woman and suited her conduct to the circumstances, by living in the most cordial intimacy with Undine—who passed in the town for a princess, released by Huldbrand from the power of some wicked enchanter of the forest. If she or her husband were questioned about it, they gave evasive answers; Father Heilmann’s lips were sealed on all such idle topics, beside which, he had left them soon after they arrived, and returned to his cloister: so the citizens were left to their own wondering conjectures, and even Bertalda came no nearer the truth than others.