Synopsis of The Three Strangers by Harriet Lee
The Three Strangers is Lee’s own adaptation of her gothic tale Kruitzner or "The German Tale". The tale is transformed and manipulated in order for it to adapt to the stage.
The play opens within the office of Mr Weilberg, the postmaster of the small German town. His wife is immediately introduced as the town gossip and the couple soon set about discussing the latest hot town news. They reveal that the Countess de Roslach is worthy of some attention as her recent disappearance has fuelled many theories as to her whereabouts and that of the Count who desperately seeks to find her. Idenstein, the town’s lawyer, arrives on the scene and brings news of the arrival of a strange man, his wife and his child to the town. The stranger has apparently earned the sympathy of the Prince’s attendant, who allows the stranger and his family the use of an empty apartment within the Countess’ house, close to the palace. They all immediately suspect a possible connection between the two events.
It conspires that the stranger is a man called Kruitzner and the intrigue surrounding his mysterious arrival is not ill founded as he holds a secret. Idenstein admits he has lent Kruitzner money in exchange for his confidence in keeping his secret, but the exchange is not yet complete as his wife is adamant the secret remain within the family.
Act Two opens within the walls of the palace. A raging storm blows outside and we hear that freak weather conditions has caused flash flooding within the town.
Three strangers are stalled on their business by the floods and so take refuge within the palace. The three strangers are strangers in that they met together within the palace as a result of circumstance. It is later revealed, however that their connection goes far deeper than circumstance. The men consist of a Hungarian, a man called Conrad and Baron Stralenheim who, as they communicate, reveals his plans to track down and murder a man who has claims to the throne he also strives to succeed. This man is Kruitzner.
The attendant to the Prince meets with the three strangers within the palace and reveals in conversation the whereabouts of Kruitzner and his family, triggering the instant response of the Baron who orders a messenger to send word to the Commandant to order military guard.
Meanwhile, Idenstein ‘the lawyer’, develops a plot to lure Kruitzner to the palace and into the Baron’s clutches as revenge for the loss of his money. This plot fails however as Idenstein, having had too much to drink, gives the game away. Kruitzner, aware that all is not well, is persuaded not to fight but to stay and hide. Kruitzner, feeling the threat of the Baron, decides to escape from his secret hiding place through a secret passage but to his dismay it leads him to the heart of the Baron’s chamber. Kruitzner does not let this opportunity pass him by and so he reads the Baron’s plans for his capture, his imprisonment and the disposal of his wife and child. Having digested this news Kruitzner decides to steal the Baron’s gold while he sleeps.
When Kruitzner returns to the house after his little escapade, he returns to even more shocking news that his long lost son Conrad isone of the three strangers who has chanced upon his house by accident. Conrad has not been in any form of contact with his parents for over eight years and the reunion is as intense as it is comical.
It is here that the plot unwinds and Kruitzner begins to shed light upon his secret past. The father and his son sit down and Kruitzner tells him of his troublesome past and circumstances surrounding the loss of his title. It transpires that Kruitzner has been banished from his homeland due to his dishonesty and lack of respect for his hereditary title. He now wants to win back this family right. Kruitzner tells him of Baron Stralenheim’s true nature and intentions to prevent Conrad, who due to the wishes of Count Seigendorf Snr is now heir to the throne, from progressing to this position. He also tells him of the truth surrounding the death of his grandfather, Count Seigendorf Snr.
Meanwhile, uproar has also broken out in the palace as the theft has now been discovered. The Hungarian is suspected of the crime and so turns to Conrad for protection and shelter until the floods clear.
The act ends with the comical Idenstein striking up yet another deal with Kruitzner. Idenstein is persuaded to tell Kruitzner all he knows about the Baron's plans and to ensure the safe escape of Kruitzner and his family.
It is in Act four that the action comes to a head. As a means of fulfilling his part of the bargain Idenstien delays the Prince’s attendant with wine so that Kruitzner can safely escape. Idenstien is unaware that the attendant knows of the whereabouts of the Hungarian and intends to inform the Baron. Later during this act he does just this.
The Baron is of course pleased at the discovery of this information. As Kruitzner and his family prepare to leave the town, the Hungarian cannot be found and as news comes of the death of the Baron, all suspect their fugitive. The shock does not however distract from their joy, as this news confirms Kruitzner’s freedom.
The final act takes place back at the castle of Kruitzner, at the Seigendorf estate. As in the first act, we are informed as to the latest circumstances via the gossiping of the castle domestic staff. They presume that Conrad’s recent remoteness is due to his change in fortune and his expected inheritance. As the family prays in the castle chapel, they are informed of a sighting of the Hungarian within the castle walls. Panic breaks out, as all feel threatened by the presence of a suspected murderer. The panic continues until the Hungarian shows him self and declares he is the Count De Roslach and he bears the truth as to the murder of the Baron Stralenheim.
The Count tells them of his dealings with Conrad and how he allured him under his roof in order to veil his own premeditated crime. In a moment of blind rage Conrad lifts his sword and plunges it into the heart of his father Kruitzner. He kills him by way of punishment for nurturing a son capable of such crimes. Seigendorf falls upon his son and the curtain drops.