A story by Christoph von Schmid. Adapted as a screenplay and staged with The Sims 3 by Danjaley.
The children’s short-story Das stumme Kind (The Mute Child) by Christoph von Schmid, was published in 1838. Schmid was a German catholic priest and author, many of whose books were regarded as children’s classics throughout the 19th century. Today they’re mostly forgotten and Schmid is mainly known for his Christmas poem (also a song) Ihr Kinderlein kommet.
The story takes place in Austria at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Most dialogues of the screenplay are written in English, but the characters are supposed to speak German (and occasionally Hungarian). Translations are given in footnotes.
- Major von Berg: Hussar captain in the Austrian army [’Major’ is a military rank]
- Frau von Grünau: Von Berg’s sister
- Haska*: Hungarian Hussar under Von Berg’s command
- Ludwig von Thann: Von Berg’s friend
- Ursula: The mute child
- Landlady: A grimy old lady
- Inn-Keeper: A sinister gentleman
- Hussar Wachtmeister: A commander in Von Berg’s regiment [’Wachtmeister’ is also a rank]
* “Haska” is not actually a Hungarian name, and indeed rarely used as a name at all. But since the author valued correctness, he must have been convinced it was Hungarian. (Thanks to Hungarian friends on Tumblr who helped clear this point up!)
Von Thann: My friend! You’re alive! I didn’t want to believe it, until I’d seen you with my own eyes.
Von Berg: Yes, sometimes the most incredible things come true. So many times I thought I’d never see my home-country and my loved ones again – yet here I am. And when I look back, it was the hope of return that kept me alive through those years of captivity.
Von Thann: Your sister will be overjoyed to see you. And I can’t think of anyone who deserves some good news more.
Von Berg: Have you heard from her? How is she?
Von Thann: She’s very brave, but I’m afraid fate has not been kind to her. You know that she lost her husband?
Von Berg: I didn’t. Poor Friedrich!
Von Thann: It must have been around the time you were reported missing. Then, the following year, soldiers brought the smallpox to these parts, which took Young Friedrich and little Karl.
Von Berg: Oh no! God rest their souls. They were such cheerful boys. So there’s only the baby left – Meline?
Von Thann: She was, and your sister took great comfort in her. But only half a year ago she fell into the river and drowned. Apparently she was playing near the bank, and when Frau von Grünau came to fetch her to dinner, she was gone. Her hat was recovered some way downstream.
Von Berg: These are sad news! My poor sister! She must feel all alone in the world
Von Thann: I admire her strength. She’s finding comfort in prayer. Last time I spoke to her, she said her only remaining wish was to go to Heaven to be with her family again. I’m glad you’re back though, because she’s still needed here on Earth. Friedrich’s relatives have their eyes on the estate. In her present state of mind, your sister is likely to let them have it. And much as I admire her otherworldly attitude, I don’t think this would be wise. All the old servants depend on her.
Von Berg: I must ask for leave as soon as possible, and see what I can do. But tell me about yourself – what have you been up to since we last met?
* * *
Haska: Mein Herr*, it’s time we were on our way, if we want to reach the regiment in time.
Von Berg: You’re right, I’m coming. Well, Ludwig, old friend, it was a pleasure. May I ask you to write to my sister and let her know I was here? I don’t want her to have a shock when I suddenly walk in.
Von Thann: It will be pleasure to tell her the good news! Have a safe journey, even if it’s peace now!
Von Berg: Are you sure this is the way we came? Shouldn’t we have reached the town by now?
Haska: To confess the truth, I was following you.
Von Berg: Our horses are getting tired. If we don’t arrive somewhere soon, we’ll have to spend the night in the forest.
Haska: Wouldn’t be the first time, eh?
Von Berg: Right, but I don’t like outstaying me leave. You know how much I value punctuality.
Haska: Everyone knows that.
Haska: Look there! A light! It can’t be the town, but maybe a house or a little village.
Von Berg: I think so, too. Let’s ask there if we can stay the night. Tomorrow we must get up early and try to find our way by daylight.
Landlady: Who are you?
Haska: Travellers who got lost in the forest. May we come in for the night?
Landlady: Hum hum … Your time of arrival doesn’t suit me at all. Who are you, and how many of you?
Haska: We’re two Hussars – on horseback, of course.
Landlady: So all together four …
Von Berg: Do be kind and let us in! I’m Major von Berg, and I must be back with my regiment tomorrow.
Landlady: Very interesting. Well, as you are such a dashing and well-clad young gentleman, Herr von Berg – our honourable inn is open to you.
Landlady: The stable is over to the right. There you find space and hay for your horses, only with oats we’re not too well provided. I will re-lock the gate. You can’t be too careful in this part of the forest…
Von Berg: What a night! It was very kind of you to take us in, werte Frau Mutter*. Please do me another favour and bring some hot soup.
Landlady: Yes, yes, but cooking and serving at the table is too much work for me. As you can see I’m limping a little. URSULA! SET THE TABLE!
* “Esteemed Lady Mother” (polite address for an elderly lady)
Landlady [to Von Berg]: My granddaughter, y’know. You mustn’t think her rude. She’s mute as a fish, but she hears well enough. Useful little thing, helping around the house. When my son comes home, in an hour or so, you shall have better entertainment.
Von Berg: Grüß Gott,* little girl! You must be Ursula.
* (greeting and blessing)
Von Berg: I didn’t expect such splendour in a rustic old inn. What a stroke of good fortune that I found comfortable quarters in the middle of the forest.
Von Berg: My dear, is anything wrong? I’d have liked to talk some more with you, but I heard you’re mute. Is this what’s troubling you?
Ursula: (shakes head and leaves)
“You’re in the hands of murderers. They’re planning to kill you tonight. Be on your guard – and don’t give me away!”
Haska: Ah, hot soup! I’m hungry as a wolf and cold as a drenched poodle!
Von Berg (in Hungarian): Most kaptam ezt az üzenetet.* (shows it to him discreetly)
Von Berg (in Hungarian): I’m sure this is not a joke, but before we talk further let’s put on jolly faces. If we look like a council of war, the landlady will get suspicious.
* I just received this message.
Haska (in German): HAHAHAHA! Der war gut!*
* That was a good one!
Von Berg: (continuing in Hungarian) It wouldn’t have been necessary to laugh quite so loudly. Now first of all fetch my pistols from the stable and keep your eyes open for anything suspicious.
* * *
[A short while later]
Haska (puts the pistols on the table) (in Hungarian): I’ve seen enough. There’s a trap-door in the stables. Normally I don’t open trap-doors when I’m a guest somewhere, but as you wanted to know about suspicious things… There was a lot of luggage down there. Cases with expensive clothing and jewellery. And there was a fine suit thrown in a corner, all bloody, with a hole, exactly where the heart is. I was struck by dread.
Von Berg (in Hungarian): Is there any way of escape?
Haska (in Hungarian): No apparent one. The only entrance is the gate, which is locked, and the walls are too high to climb. Besides I wouldn’t like to leave the horses behind.
Von Berg: All this is extremely fishy. I don’t want to seem rude, but maybe we should demand the keys from the landlady and ride on. We’re two Hussars against an old woman after all.
[Three knocks at the door]
Innkeeper: What’s this, Mother? Guests? Tonight?
Landlady: Travellers, lost in the forest. One Major von Berg and his servant.
Innkeeper: Ah! Welcome! I hope my lazy old mother hasn’t tried your patience too much? Has your servant already had his soup?
Haska: (looks unsure)
Von Berg (in Hungarian): Eat your soup and then pretend to go to sleep. Keep yourself in readiness though.
Innkeeper: My dear friend, you won’t need your pistols at the table. Let me lock them away for you. This is the safest house on earth, as true as I’m honest.
Von Berg: I take your word for it. But since I’ve been to the war, it’s a spleen of mine, that I must always have my pistols within sight.
Innkeeper: Really? Well, just as you wish…
Haska (with a tremendous yawn): This was delicious! I’m off to bed now. I’ll be sleeping like a badger in winter! Wake me at daybreak. But be sure you make a proper noise. I’m known to be a very heavy sleeper.
Innkeeper: So you’ve been to the war? You must tell me all about it, while we drink a – wait a second!
Innkeeper: My stupid mother forgot to bring wine! Hurry up, old hag, light me to the cellar! I want to open the barrel I always kept for a very special guest!
Innkeeper: Oh mein liebster Herr!* You must come and help! My poor dear mother fell down the cellar stairs! I’m not sure if she’s alive or dead. Do help me carry her back upstairs.
Von Berg: Of course I will. Light the way!
* Oh my dearest Sir!
Innkeeper: There she lies! Quick, perhaps she can still be saved!
Von Berg: “HE WHO DIGS A PIT FOR OTHERS FALLS IN HIMSELF!”
Landlady (behind the door): You stupid idiot! (slaps the innkeeper)
Von Berg: HASKA! HASKA!
Haska: Hussa! Attack!
Von Berg: You won’t need your weapons now – the enemy is locked in the cellar.
Von Berg: For now, yes. You must help me search for the keys. I don’t think this charming couple works alone, and I don’t want to meet their fellow crooks.
A Voice: Vater unser im Himmel, geheiligt werde dein Name …*
* Our Father in Heaven, hallowed by thy Name …
Voice (closer): Dear Father in Heaven, please have mercy upon the good soldier and his servant. Please save them, and stand by me …
Von Berg: Ursula! Is that you praying so fervently? But aren’t you mute?
Ursula: Oh no. They just told me never to say a word to the guests or I’ll end like the Merchant.
Von Berg: Which Merchant?
Ursula: He was such a nice, friendly gentleman. He had lots of goods and money with him, in his coach. They murdered him! I heard his screams and came downstairs. It was terrible! I told them murder is a terrible crime and will mar their souls if they don’t repent. But they just told me to shut up about it. The innkeeper was furious. “We’ll pass you off as mute from now on”, he shouted. He made me look at the corpse and said “If I hear you speak but one word to the guests, I’ll kill you in an even worse fashion.” Most of the time I didn’t mind being quiet. The only one I can really talk to is God anyway. But I had to warn you, so I wrote the note.
Von Berg: My poor girl! Don’t be afraid; the innkeeper and his mother are taken care of. Come downstairs and tell us what on earth is going on here.
Haska: Here are the keys! The fortress is yours!
Ursula: Mein Herr!* You’re far from safe! There are at least twelve robbers roaming the forest and they’ll be here for dinner soon. That’s what the old lady was busy preparing for, when you came. Follow me – I’ll show you something.
Ursula: This is what they call their lighthouse. When the candle is in the window, the robbers know it’s safe to come, and the light helps them find the way.
Haska: Quick, let’s blow it out!
Von Berg: Wait! I’m sure some have already seen it, as we have. If it disappears, they’ll know something is wrong and band together. If they arrive one by one, we have the effect of surprise on our side. – Come on, let’s get ready to defend the gate!
(a knock at the gate)
Voice: Open up, old hag, we’re hungry!
Von Berg: Surrender, or you’ll meet your death!
Von Berg: Well done, Haska! Two down, ten to go! Tie them up as well as you can, and quick, before the next ones arrive.
Ursula: These were the two who kidnapped me and brought me here.
Robber: You treacherous little … We should have cut your throat as was the original plan!
Ursula: I’d rather have gone to Heaven than to this place.
Von Berg: Yes, of course, but now go back into hiding, there’s someone coming.
Haska: Did Ursula say they have horses?
Von Berg: These are more than ten!
[hoofbeat draws nearer]
[a knock at the gate]
Voice: Hello? In the name of the Kaiser, open this gate!
Von Berg: Herr Wachtmeister!?
Wachtmeister: Von Berg? You’re here? Kameraden*, we found him!
(cheers from the comrades)
Wachtmeister: What a night, hu? We hunted down no less than ten robbers in the forest, until we finally saw the light which led us to you!
Von Berg: You were looking for me?
Wachtmeister: But of course we were! Everyone knows how much you value punctuality. When you didn’t arrive at the time you gave us, we knew something must have happened.
Von Berg: Indeed! I stumbled into the robbers’ headquarters! There are two of them locked in the cellar, besides those two you see here. The little girl is on our side. Tell our men to secure the prisoners – and then they may eat the beefsteaks the landlady was preparing for the robbers. I’m sure there’s also plenty of wine and beer in the house.
(cheers from the comrades)
* * *
[The next morning]
Von Berg: Here comes brave little Ursula, who saved our lives!
Ursula: Don’t mention it, mein Herr,* that’s what anyone should have done. But actually my name isn’t Ursula. It’s Meline von Grünau. I was taken from my mother’s house and brought here by the robbers.
Von Berg: Gott im Himmel!* – this means you’re my sister’s daughter! I’m your uncle, Major von Berg!
Meline: But my uncle fell in battle.
Von Berg: No I didn’t. I was a prisoner of war for many years. The last time I saw you, you were only a little baby. Who would have thought that you’d be my guardian-angel one day!
* “God in Heaven!” (exclamation of surprise)
Von Berg: But tell me, how, and why did you get abducted?
Meline: One day a nasty, rude man called on us – one of the robbers, I saw him here often. He claimed that my father had owed him money. Mother told me to leave the room and sent me to fetch Herr Verwalter*. When I had done so, I went to the garden. Suddenly two men broke out of the scrubbery – the two you defeated yesterday. One grabbed me and carried me away. The other kicked my hat into the brook and followed.
* the Steward
Meline: They brought me here, and the disgusting old landlady said, I must be her granddaughter Ursula now. At first she was always flattering me, and giving me sweets – she really thought sweets were all a child cared for! It was so unlike home! The innkeepers were either talking about money and getting rich or they were quarreling and calling each other names. The robbers were also drinking and brawling and making jokes I didn’t understand – so I assumed they must be wicked. But as to why this happened to me – I’ve often wondered myself.
Von Berg: I think I can tell you why. You’ll never have met your father’s kinsman, Herr von Klauenburg. They couldn’t stand each other, as Von Klauenburg is a greedy old villain. I suspect he wanted you out of the way to inherit the estate. Luckily he’s also a coward, so he didn’t stoop to murder, but what he did is bad enough. Taking an innocent young girl from her home to have her raised by crooks!
Frau von Grünau: Raised by crooks! There I was thinking of her as drowned, and in fact she was among criminals who tried to turn her into one of themselves! Heaven would have been a better place!
Meline: That’s what I told them, too! But it’s good that I survived. I could use all the things you taught me about der liebe Gott.* He was my only friend all this time. I didn’t want to be Ursula at all. I stayed in my room as much as I could, and prayed, which was really the only thing I could do.
Frau von Grünau: I felt the same, although I was alone in my quiet, comfortable home. We both prayed to be reunited.
Meline: … and then, when I told them they were murderers, they forced me to play mute, which I had to do, because I didn’t want to be murdered. But when it really mattered, I did get a say and could safe my Uncle.
Von Berg: And that’s another reason, why I think all this happened. Meline saved my life and I saved hers. None of us could have made it without the other.
Frau von Grünau: And I am no longer alone in the world. Let us remember this, whenever we are in a dark place. Help is on the way.
* the good Lord