A synopsis of the play by Gerhart Hauptmann

This document was originally published in Minute History of the Drama. Alice B. Fort & Herbert S. Kates. New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1935. p. 105.

HEINRICH, the famous bell-founder, has one ambition . . . to make a bell clear-toned and perfect, worthy to ring out from the little church on top the mountain for all the world to hear. When at last success seems attained, he sets out with the bell on a strong wagon drawn by eight horses. The Pastor, the Baker, the School Master, and a crowd of villagers follow on foot to assist at the hanging of the precious bell. Halfway up the mountain a wagon wheel breaks, plunging Heinrich and his precious bell deep into the abyss. The bell by reason of its great weight rolls down to the depths of the lake. Heinrich's fall, however, is broken by trees, so that at last he stumbles, bruised and semi-conscious, upon the cottage of Wittikin, the witch.

Her beautiful elfin forest-daughter, Rautendelein, wants to claim Heinrich for her own, but is prevented from doing so by the arrival of the Pastor, the Baker, and the School Master, who bear him tenderly down to his cottage in the valley. To Heinrich's devoted wife, Magda, the fate of the bell matters little "if he, the master, be but safe." Heinrich, however, reads in his misfortune a sign from Heaven that his supreme effort is considered unworthy, and he has no desire to recover from his injuries.

As he hovers between life and death, Rautendelein comes in the guise of a simple maid from the inn. She inspires him to believe that in the freer atmosphere of the mountains he can yet achieve his perfect bell. Leaving his family, he goes up into the mountains with Rautendelein. There, with the grudging help of the little mountain people, a wonderful new bell takes form. Heinrich refuses all pleas of his former neighbors and, when they try to force him to leave the mountains and Rautendelein's inspiration, puts them to rout.

What his friends fail to accomplish, however, is achieved by the phantom forms of his two children bearing a pitcher filled with their mother's tears. Even as they speak, the tones of the sunken bell, tolled by her dead hands, rise to snatch Heinrich from victory on the heights back to his failures of the valley, while Rautendelein at last consents to wed the Nickelmann, spirit of all waters.

The call of his unfinished masterpiece, however, is too strong for Heinrich. Attempting to regain the heights and final achievement, he sells his life for one last look at Rautendelein whose inspiration had made possible the perfect, though unfinished, bell.

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