The setting contains a two-story house with a balcony. The house has a marble statue of a young girl, pots of hyacinths, and white sheets over the windows to signify mourning. The play opens on a bright Sunday morning. The sound of churchbells, steamship gongs, and organ music can be heard. A milkmaid in a summer dress drinks from a fountain as the disheveled Arkenholz (generally referred to as “the Student”), a Sunday’s child gifted with second sight, enters. Since the Student has been helping the wounded and moving corpses, the Milkmaid bathes his eyes for him. Hummel, an old man in a wheelchair, has seen the Student’s picture in the paper and tries to match the Student with the Colonel’s daughter, who lives in the house. The Student sees the house as a paradise where he could rear a family and live in luxury. Hummel can arrange for him to enter the house if the Student will go to a performance of Die Walkure and sit next to the Colonel’s daughter. Hummel knows everyone in the house and hints that all is not as it seems. The Colonel’s wife is a mummy in a closet. The Dead Consul, who lived on the second floor, has had an illicit relationship with the Superintendent’s Wife, who lives in the basement. Their illegitimate daughter, the Lady in Black, is having an affair with the Aristocrat, who is divorcing the Consul’s legitimate daughter. Hummel’s onetime fiancee is an old woman who looks at the world through a series of mirrors. This eerie ensemble is in the audience’s view, some still, some milling about. Even the Dead Consul walks around.
Hummel wants to control human destinies and to do some good in his life through the Student. Hummel’s icy grip freezes the Student, who tries to free himself. The Student fears that he is selling his soul, but the sight of the beautiful Young Lady moves him, and he knows that Hummel can help him win her. Johansson, Hummel’s servant, describes Hummel as a man who has been everything from a Don Juan to a horse thief. Hummel, riding his chariot like Thor, infiltrates and destroys houses, enslaves people, corrupts the police, and bewitches the poor. Just as the Student is about to back out of his bargain, the Young Lady drops her bracelet, and he retrieves it. Hummel proclaims the Student a hero as the group cheers. Hummel, who has plainly shown that the Milkmaid is the one person he fears, sees her pantomiming the act of drowning and shrinks back. He then reminds the confused Student to go to Die Walkure. The stage is now set for the Student’s entrance into his dream house.
Scene 2 opens in the Round Room, which reveals a marble statue, a mirror, and a pendulum...
(The entire section is 1089 words.)