Herr von Scheitermann, a timber merchant
Josephine, his wife
Anton Muffl, a servant (originally played by Nestroy)
Peppi Amsel, a cook
Scene: A large town.
and Scheitermann are having to make do without domestic help, having
just dismissed both their servants. Scheitermann
is always afraid
that his wife, a Professor’s daughter, will one day find out
about his “past circumstances”. He is the son of an ordinary
cobbler and has been in service himself. – [Song, Peppi: “Oh
theatre, theatre”] – Peppi used to be Josephine’s
cook but is now the leading juvenile in a travelling theatre company.
Her efforts are not exactly crowned with success, so she hopes to return
to her “past circumstances” and re-enter service with her
former employer’s daughter. Josephine gladly takes her on and
immediately tells her what has been troubling her: that her husband
has some guilty
secret that he is keeping from her, which may be of a criminal nature.
She wants Peppi to help her solve the mystery.
[Song, Muffl: “There are many good people, but bad folks as well”] – Muffl
has a sad story to tell: he had a textile company that went bankrupt
through the fault of his partner. He managed to salvage 10,000 guilders.
At a spa he got to know an actress to whom he became engaged. Soon after
she left him for two rich foreigners. He began to travel around and took
up drinking until, poor and bedraggled, he decided to enter domestic
service. He is now applying for the vacancy with Scheitermann. The two
men look at each other with astonishment. Scheitermann had once been
in service with Muffl. At first he denies it and tries to get rid of
this unwelcome ghost from his past, but Muffl explains his situation
and threatens to expose Scheitermann’s “past circumstances” if
he won’t give him the job. Scheitermann reluctantly agrees.
Muffl now meets Peppi, recognises her as his former girlfriend, but
mistakenly thinks she is the lady of the house. Peppi does not enlighten
tries to use her status to get rid of him, but Muffl threatens to
expose her “past circumstances” to the master of the house.
Josephine is annoyed that her husband has taken on an itinerant servant
without consulting her. Peppi now tells her that the newcomer seems
to know something of her husband’s secret. Josephine confronts Scheitermann
and insists he send Muffl away, or she will dismiss him. Scheitermann
tries to reason with Muffl, but instead of conceding, Muffl tells Scheitermann
that his wife is not all she claims to be either. Far from being a Professor’s
daughter, she is actually the offspring of a waiter and a laundress,
and has worked as a maid, a cook and an actress. She was also engaged
to Muffl, left him when he was unfaithful to her twice, and is, as far
as he can tell, still in love with him. Peppi has tried to eavesdrop
on this conversation but partly misunderstood and thinks Scheitermann
has confessed to robbery and murder. She reports back to Josephine, but
Scheitermann bursts in and demands to know the truth about his wife.
Josephine counters with the same request. There are further misunderstandings,
with Scheitermann believing he has really exposed his wife and she believing
her husband has gone mad. Only when Muffl, Josephine and Peppi are brought
together does the confusion end. It transpires Josephine has known all
along of her husband’s “past circumstances”. She
promises to help Muffl and Peppi marry and set up a shop together in