late at night, in a cottage in a bleak countryside.
heidi senberg hears a knock on the door. she puts down her knitting and gets up from the table. she opens the door.
"good evening, aunt margarethe. what brings you here at this late hour?"
"what brings me here? as you know, heidi, i am your aunt margarethe, and i have known you since you were a little girl. you were a curiously joyful little girl, prone to laughter at the most inopportune times, and as such, you attracted the attention of the ecclesiastical authorities. then, when your mother, my younger sister sillibet, ran off with an imperial guardsman at the time of the first forty year war, i took you in, even though i had already seven children of my own, with three more to come.
although i was only following the dictates of common charity, i would quickly pay the price of my folly. as the years went by and the ecclesiastical authorities gave way to the peoples tribunals and then back to the church and then to the revolution until a poor person's head began to spin, it was always you, heidi, who remained curiously untouched. whenever a new archbishop or a new commissar or good king matthew or his ill fated son augustus rode through the village, who did their eye fall upon, but the little girl with the strange laugh, who became the darkeyed wench with the even stranger laugh."
"this is all very well, aunt margarethe, and quite a speech from someone normally so taciturn as yourself, but what exactly has brought it on?"
"what has brought it on, you little fool? you have brought it on by stirring up trouble again, bringing yourself to the attention of the authorities with this ridiculous complaint about getting strange packages in the mail. only today the malignant and implacable inspector bohr visited me and pestered me with questions about you. me, a broken old woman only hoping for a few moments of peace."
"and what did you tell him?"
"nothing good, i assure you. my days of protecting you are long past, my girl."
"but aunt margarethe , i have indeed been getting these strange packages and as a citizen like any other i have a right to make a complaint. as you know, the days of turmoil are over and a dull peace has settled over the land. you can make all the nasty insinuations you like about coming to the attention of the commissars or prince augustus or anyone else, but today i make a humble living with my knitting and selling my oat cakes. i am just a poor citizen like you, getting along as best i can one day at a time."
"hush! i hear someone!"
the door was flung open and the malignant and implacable inspector bohr stood before the two women.
aunt margarethe threw her shawl over her face as if avoiding the evil eye.
"good evening,sir," heidi addressed the visitor. "would you like one of my oat cakes? they are the best in the village, if i say so myself."
"no thank you. permit me to introduce myself. i am inspector bohr, or as the ignorant and superstitious villagers like to refer to me, the malignant and implacable inspector bohr. i am on special assignment from the ministry of the interior to investigate any curious happenings which might indicate a crack or fissure in the structure of society."
"i trust, sir, that i am not a crack in the structure of society, or even a fissure."
"as you know, miss, the villagers regard you as a sorceress or witch. those with long memories hold you accountable for the untimely fate of prince augustus. in these enlightened times we in positions of authority smile at such ignorance. of course you are not a witch. but you are a troublemaker, which is the same thing. "
the malignant and implacable inspector drew himself up. "yes, with these ridiculous allegations of strange packages in the mail. you know very well that you are sending them to yourself, simply to bring attention to yourself."
"but, inspector, the packages exist. i not only reported them, i brought them to the station."
"of course they exist, you made them yourself. do you think you are dealing with commissar gratz, or prince augustus now?"
"ah! i see, sir, that in your enlightened state you do not disdain the malicious prattle of idle tongues!"
"hark!" cried the inspector. "what is that?"
"yes," exclaimed aunt margarethe, "i hear something too."
the night outside the window and the open door was suddenly illuminated with torches.
"bring out the witch! bring out the witch! avenge prince augustus!"
heidi fixed inspector bohr with her gaze. "hold them off as long as you can."
"no." cried aunt margarethe, "let them have her!"
heidi snatched a couple of oat cakes off the table and wrapped them in a cloth and put them in her pocket. then she ran out the back door.
she ran across the fields until she reached the high road.
the skies were filled with strange burning stars.
a blue star exploded and sent a rain of red sparks to earth.
a riderless red horse with three heads passed her, headed back to the village.
a green horse with a guillotine on its back passed her going in her direction.
heidi saw prince augustus riding past her on his white horse. she rushed forward but when she touched the horse, both horse and rider disappeared and she landed on her face in a ditch.
she picked herself up and ran on. frogs and salamanders and tiger cubs began to rain down on her.
the full moon exploded and the souls of the saved emerged from it and drifted down to a mountain on the horizon.
then the sun suddenly rose and exploded, and the souls of the damned emerged from it and filled the whole horizon and the whole sky.
heidi kept running. an old woman in rags grabbed at her arm but she shook her off.
the curtain fell on act one. polite applause rippled through the cafe rousseau.
count witte and colonel osbert mccutcheon silently rose from their seats at one of the front tables and repaired to the foyer.
mr gibsen's coterie were assuring him of a triumph, even though there were two acts yet to come. miss gertrude gainsworth was not in evidence.
the colonel took a railroad timetable from his coat pocket and tapped it.
"we have just time to catch the express to naples. from there we can ferry to sardinia and meet the cairo-gibraltar packet."