Herr von Graufalter, a wealthy capitalist
Heinrich Still, his nephew
von Holzstamm, head forester
Anna, his daughter
Herr von Wollberger, a millionaire factory and property owner
Amalie, his wife
Fräulein von Jahrzahl
Ida, her foster daughter
Federkleks, Wollberger’s clerk
Philippine, his wife
Anton, Graufalter’s servant
Frau Sorgner, Graufalter’s housekeeper
Margreth, Federkleks’ maid
Scene: A provincial town. Graufalter's
house, then Holzstamm's house.
Act 1. [Song, Heinrich with Stegreif: "I used to live such an orderly
life, but oh dear, if my uncle were to see me now"] - Heinrich,
who is always afraid his wealthy uncle Graufalter will find out about
his debts and his lackadaisical lifestyle, has made the acquaintance
of the good-for-nothing Stegreif (lit. Improvised). The latter invites
himself back to Heinrich's uncle's house and can't understand why he
is so fearful of being found out.
Graufalter meanwhile is primarily concerned with his forthcoming
wedding. The terms of his brother-in-law's will dictate that he must
young daughter Anna, while Heinrich must wed Fräulein von Jahrzahl,
a lady well past her youth. In that event, each will inherit half a
million guilders. If one of them refuses to wed his designated spouse,
money will go to the other. - Holzstamm has been trying to persuade
Graufalter not to comply with the terms of the will, because he fears
that the enormous
age difference between his daughter and her intended can only lead
to unhappiness. But Graufalter will not be moved, and Anna seems perfectly
willing to marry an old man for such a large sum.
In Graufalter's house Holzstamm meets Stegreif and decides to invite
him home. Stegreif extends the invitation to his new friend Heinrich.
Since there is a creditor waiting outside for him, Heinrich is only
too willing to make a getaway.
Holzstamm still hopes to dissuade Anna from marrying Graufalter by
showing her an example of marital unhappiness arising from a large
age gap. As
it is, the only couple she knows where the gap is comparable are
Wollberger and his young wife Amalie, who are quite happy together.
pays Wollberger's clerk Federkleks (Inksmudge) and his young wife
Philippine, who are also happily married, to pretend to be utterly
Anna observes their marital squabbling, but is unimpressed.
Stegreif now arrives at Holzstamm's house and introduces Heinrich
as his friend August Holmfeld. The latter promptly falls head over
in love with Anna. As he has never been told about the terms of his
relatives' will, he is horrified to hear that Anna is to be married
in a week -
In the meantime Philippine and Federkleks are becoming so carried
away by the charade of their "unhappy marriage" that the
fiction is becoming reality, and they are close to filing for divorce.
gets wind of Heinrich and Anna's feelings for each other, but Stegreif
promises to get him a good job in town if he will keep stumm. - Graufalter
arrives, and immediately recognises "August Holmfeld" as
his nephew Heinrich. But Stegreif somehow persuades him that August
Heinrich's double. Anna and Amalie see through this deception but
decide to keep quiet. It is agreed that August should stay until
when Heinrich is due to arrive and the question of identity can be
Act 2. Wollberger is beginning to feel
jealous, because Graufalter is displaying an amorous interest, not
in his intended, Anna, but
wife Amalie. To allay his suspicions he engages Federkleks to spy
on Amalie. Simultaneously Federkleks is employed by Graufalter
him win favour with Amalie. - The creditor Hantig now turns up
to have Heinrich arrested if he won't repay the 300 guilders he
owes him. Anna and Amalie enter, and Stegreif misleads them into thinking
that Hantig has challenged August to a duel. As Hantig waits impatiently
for his "opponent", Heinrich holds back, hoping that the
prospect of his imminent death will induce Anna to confess her love
for him. Equally,
Anna waits for some parting kind words from Heinrich. As a result,
neither of them say anything. - Amalie promises Anna that if the
duel goes in
August's favour she will pretend to respond to Graufalter's advances
to get him to call off the wedding.
Graufalter now accosts Stegreif and asks him how he came to be
staying in his house. Never at a loss for an answer as his name
Stegreif explains that he once lent Heinrich 300 guilders, because
had inherited his uncle's generosity of spirit and wanted to help
a poor family. Stegreif had come to ask for the loan to be repaid.
circumstances Graufalter is only too glad to pay Stegreif back.
As "August" appears
unmoved by this conversation, Graufalter is genuinely convinced that
the young man is a double of his nephew, and allows him to leave the
house without waiting for Heinrich to arrive. Holzstamm is suspicious
of Stegreif and intends to throw him out, but Stegreif tells him who
August really is, reveals that he and Anna are falling in love, and
admits his own role in promoting their relationship. Holzstamm is delighted
to give Stegreif a free hand if he will also agree to sort out Federkleks
and Philippine's problems.
Heinrich now returns as himself, and gets Federkleks to report
to Anna that August has been killed in the duel, because he is
to see how
she will react. She collapses in a faint. When she comes to, Heinrich
explains that he is her beloved August's double. But Anna sees
through this charade at once and decides to punish Heinrich. She
to be inconsolable, so that Heinrich has to declare his love and
that he and August are one and the same. But Anna refuses to believe
this comforting lie, and is no more persuaded by Federkleks and
Fräulein von Jahrzahl now arrives with her foster daughter Ida,
and Stegreif presents himself to her as her designated husband. He proceeds
to behave with such appalling rudeness that she is shocked to the core.
Stegreif leaves the room for a moment, promptly returns as a completely
different character, polite and reserved, and explains that he is the
rude one's twin brother. The Fräulein declares that she would
rather not marry either of them, but for her foster daughter's sake
to renounce the inheritance.
That night, Stegreif implements his scheme to repair the marriage
of Federkleks and Philippine, and lures each of them separately
cemetery. Legend has it that anyone seen loitering in the cemetery
on that particular
night is doomed to die within a year. Stegreif makes sure they
each spot other without realising that the other has spotted them.
3. As proof
of his love for her, Amalie demands of Graufalter a written declaration
that he will decline to marry Anna and renounce the inheritance.
- Graufalter then meets Fräulein von Jahrzahl and her foster
daughter Ida, and misleadingly suggests that Heinrich would fulfil
the terms of the will
if he were to marry Ida. The Fräulein and Ida are actually
Stegreif and Federkleks in disguise, and they indignantly reject
- Wollberger has been warned by an anonymous letter-writer (Federkleks)
that his wife is about to run off with Graufalter. A distraught
Wollberger is lovingly comforted by Ida (again Stegreif in disguise)
who tells him
that Graufalter is refusing to let Heinrich marry Fräulein
von Jahrzahl. In that case her foster mother should at least
be allowed to console
herself with the inheritance. She asks him therefore as executor
of the will to provide her foster mother with a certificate that
her to inherit the money in any event. Wollberger, who is gradually
succumbing to the charms of this delightful girl, is still hesitating
von Jahrzahl enters (Federkleks in disguise). Ida tells her foster
mother that Wollberger was trying to seduce her, and both women
report the matter to his wife. An embarrassed Wollberger hurriedly
agrees to provide the certificate they need.
Anna has heard about Graufalter's agreement with Amalie. He now
wants Anna to marry Heinrich. But he is very angry when Anna
that August was indeed Heinrich. Anna in her turn is angry with
Heinrich for making advances to Fräulein von Jahrzahl.
Federkleks and Philippine kiss and make up because each is convinced
that the other has only a year to live. - Wollberger's suspicions
are aroused by a carriage at the gate that is about to depart.
finds two muffled passengers whom he takes to be Amalie and Graufalter,
and in a rage he drags them from the coach. They are in fact
von Jahrzahl and Ida, who intended to slip away unnoticed. Wollberger
is struck by the difference in appearance between the two women now and
his bittersweet encounter with them earlier. When Anna and Amalie appear,
the denouement is set in motion. Amalie explains that she wanted to punish
Graufalter for his lewdness and save Anna from an unhappy marriage. Heinrich
shows Anna that the Fräulein he was courting was just Federkleks
in disguise. Philippine and her husband confess their fears for each
other's health and mercifully enlightened by Stegreif, who also explains
why he pursued Fräulein von Jahrzahl's claim: he and Ida are in