“Try your luck, then, and help us as quickly as possible!” said the impatient knight.
Upon this the waggoner drew down the head of the rearing courser close to his own, and spoke some words in his ear. The animal instantly stood still and subdued; only his quick panting and smoking sweat showed his recent violence.
Huldbrand had little time to inquire by what means this had been effected. He agreed with the man that he should take Bertalda in his waggon, where, as he said, a quantity of soft cotton was stowed, and he might in this way convey her to Castle Ringstetten. The knight could accompany them on horseback. But the horse appeared to be too much exhausted to carry his master so far. Seeing this, the man advised him to mount the waggon with Bertalda. The horse could be attached to it behind.
“It is down-hill,” said he, “and the load for my greys will therefore be light.”
The knight accepted his offer, and entered the waggon with Bertalda. The horse followed patiently after, while the waggoner, sturdy and attentive, walked beside them.
Amid the silence and deepening obscurity of the night, the tempest sounding more and more remote, in the comfortable feeling of their security, a confidential conversation arose between Huldbrand and Bertalda. He reproached her in the most flattering words for her resentful flight. She excused herself with humility and feeling; and from every tone of her voice it shone out, like a lamp guiding to the beloved through night and darkness, that Huldbrand was still dear to her. The knight felt the sense of her words rather than heard the words themselves, and answered simply to this sense.
Then the waggoner suddenly shouted, with a startling voice: “Up, my greys, up with your feet! Hey, now together!—show your spirit!— remember who you are!”
The knight bent over the side of the waggon, and saw that the horses had stepped into the midst of a foaming stream, and were, indeed, almost swimming, while the wheels of the waggon were rushing round and flashing like mill-wheels; and the waggoner had got on before, to avoid the swell of the flood.
“What sort of a road is this? It leads into the middle of the stream!” cried Huldbrand to his guide.
“Not at all, sir,” returned he, with a laugh; “it is just the contrary. The stream is running in the middle of our road. Only look about you, and see how all is overflowed!”
The whole valley, in fact, was in commotion, as the waters, suddenly raised and visibly rising, swept over it.
“It is Kuhleborn, that evil water-spirit, who wishes to drown us!” exclaimed the knight. “Have you no charm of protection against him, friend?”
“I have one,” answered the waggoner; “but I cannot and must not make use of it before you know who I am.”
“Is this a time for riddles?” cried the knight. “The flood is every moment rising higher; and what does it concern me to know who you are?”