XII.—HOW THEY LEFT THE IMPERIAL CITY
There was certainly much to displease the Lord of Ringstetten in the events of this day; yet he could not look back upon them, without feeling proud of the guileless truth and the generosity of heart shown by his lovely wife. “If indeed her soul was my gift,” thought he, “it is nevertheless much better than my own;” and he devoted himself to the task of soothing her grief, and determined he would take her away the next morning from a spot now so full of bitter recollections.
They were mistaken, however, in thinking that she had lost in the eyes of the world by this adventure. So prepared were the minds of the people to find something mysterious in her, that her strange discovery of Bertalda’s origin scarcely surprised them; while, on the other hand, everyone that heard of Bertalda’s history and of her passionate behaviour, was moved with indignation. Of this, the Knight and Undine were not aware; nor would it have given them any comfort, for she was still as jealous of Bertalda’s good name as of her own. Upon the whole, they had no greater wish than to leave the town without delay.
At daybreak next morning, Undine’s chariot was in readiness at the door, and the steeds of Huldbrand and of his squires stood around it, pawing the ground with impatience. As the Knight led his fair bride to the door, a fishing girl accosted them. “We want no fish,” said Huldbrand; “we are just going away.” The girl began to sob bitterly, and they then recognised her as Bertalda. They immediately turned back into the house with her; and she said that the Duke and Duchess had been so incensed at her violence the day before, as to withdraw their protection from her, though not without giving her a handsome allowance. The Fisherman too had received a liberal gift, and had departed that evening with his wife, to return to the promontory. “I would have gone with them,” she continued, “but the old Fisherman, whom they call my father—”
“And so he is, Bertalda,” interrupted Undine. “He is your father. For the man you saw at the fountain told me how it is. He was trying to persuade me that I had better not take you to Ringstetten, and he let drop the secret.”
“Well then,” said Bertalda, “my father—if so it must be—my father said, ’You shall not live with us till you are an altered creature. Take courage and come across the haunted forest to us; that will show that you sincerely wish to belong to your parents. But do not come in your finery; be like what you are, a fisherman’s daughter.’ And I will do as he bids me; for the whole world has forsaken me, and I have nothing left, but to live and die humbly in a poor hut, alone with my lowly parents. I do dread the forest very much. They say it is full of grim spectres, and I am so timid! But what can I do? I came here only to implore the Lady of Ringstetten’s pardon for my rude language yesterday. I have no doubt you meant what you did kindly, noble Dame; but you little knew what a trial your words would be to me, and I was so alarmed and bewildered, that many a hasty, wicked word escaped my lips. Ah forgive me, forgive me! I am unhappy enough already. Only consider what I was yesterday morning, even at the beginning of your feast, and what I am now.”