1825, the petty countship of Rennitz in the post-Napoleonic kingdom of Hannover. Handsome, clever forester Walther Fichtner forgot his dream of succeeding old estate steward Senneisen, his former mentor, when handpicked as gloomy count Heinrich's worthless son Diebold's devoted manservant, loyal even when abused as scapegoat. Walter's lover, unruly maid Gisela Fürnagel, constantly gets into trouble for lip and petty faults, which the bully countess orders her duly caned for. Walter always resisted and tempered her revolutionary ideas, yet on her account takes pity when stumbling after a hunt on an old servant on the run after stealing bread. The estate being in danger of bankruptcy as its main commodity, wood, has been badly managed, Senneisen is sidetracked but manages to have the count promote Walter as his successor. Jealous Diebold harbors a petty grudge, desires Gisela and sets a monstrous trap.