Note: Sergius’s interaction with Louka to end of Act Two
Now alone, Sergius begins to flirt with Louka. He comes on to her brusquely, and wonders at his own boldness, referring to himself as a hero. Sergius admits that though he loves Raina, his personality will allow him to go behind her with Louka. Louka cautions that they should move to where they can’t be seen. Sergius also bristles at Louka’s mention of Raina, and says that he cannot talk about his engagement with a servant, thus toggling between wooer and haughty noble. Louka, angry, tells him that Raina will never marry him because Raina is in love with another man. Sergius demands to know who that man is, but Louka says she will never tell. Sergius insults her, calls her a sneak and a bad servant, and grabs her so hard on the wrist that he bruises her. Sergius regrets that he’s harmed Louka and asks for her forgiveness right away, but Louka says that such apologies are of no use to servants, who must do what nobles say.
Raina enters, breaking up their conversation, and asks, jokingly, if Sergius and Louka have been flirting. This flusters Sergius, and Raina apologizes for what she considers a harmless joke. Sergius goes to Petkoff’s office to help him with plans for troop movements in the final stages of the war, despite Sergius’s poor command of military strategy. Catherine enters and wonders with Raina at the terrible luck of Sergius and Petkoff meeting the soldier that the two women helped. They wonder what to do, and Catherine worries that if anyone finds out about the soldier’s presence in Raina’s room, Sergius will break off the engagement. Raina replies bitterly that she sometimes feels Catherine wants to marry Sergius more than she does. Raina departs. Louka returns and announces the arrival of a Swiss soldier named Captain Bluntschli. Catherine realizes that it’s the soldier she and Raina helped.
Catherine conspires to keep Sergius and Petkoff from finding out about the soldier’s presence. Bluntschli has returned to give back Petkoff’s coat, which Catherine lent him to stay warm and disguise himself when he left the house. Much to Catherine’s dismay, Sergius and Petkoff have already seen Bluntschli from the window and come out to greet him happily, as they have already met him during the war. Raina enters, sees Bluntschli, and, in a moment of shock, says aloud “the chocolate cream soldier.” This quietly amuses Bluntschli and confuses Petkoff and Sergius, who assume Raina and Catherine have never met Bluntschli. Raina clears the confusion by lying that Nicola has destroyed a soldier ornament she has constructed to place on a chocolate dessert dish. Nicola returns with Bluntschli’s bag in which Petkoff’s coat is concealed. Catherine freezes, as she realizes that if Petkoff and Sergius were to see this exchange, they would know something is amiss. Petkoff asks Bluntschli to stay with them, as he is happy to have Bluntschli among them and senses nothing of the drama. Bluntschli smiles to himself and agrees, much to the despair of Catherine.
Sergius’s behavior in this section swiftly changes direction. Not only does he flirt with Louka, he throws caution to the wind and does it with his fiancé in the next room. Although Louka entertains Sergius’s affections, she is shocked at his boldness. She is not entirely satisfied with the explanation that Sergius has many kinds of personalities in him that allow him to behave according to the circumstances. Sergius’s behavior here sheds more light on his performance during the calvary charge, as, in that instance, his only hope was to make it seem that he was brave. It also sheds light on his performance of an apology to Raina in just before she exits the room.
Of note are the instances in which male characters exert themselves over female characters. Sergius hurting Louka’s arm might raise an eyebrow among readers and audience members. So too would Bluntschli’s threat of physical harm to Raina in the first act. The master of the house, Petkoff, and their servant, Nicola, both chide their female counterparts: Petkoff dismisses Catherine’s improvements to the home while he was away, and Nicola puts down Louka by telling her she does not have the soul of a servant. The persistence of male threats and criticisms to female characters is striking to readers now, and would have been striking at the time of the play’s first performance. It brings attention to how interactions between men and women were the same no matter their social standing.
The timing of Bluntschli’s arrival is the single greatest coincidence of the play. But it also sets up the drama that will eventually spill over in the final act. Bluntschli is largely unperturbed by what Catherine and Raina see as a fiasco. He is not an excitable character, although he does alternate between moments of fear, self-pity, and calm during his initial interaction with Raina in her bedroom. But, largely, Bluntschli’s feelings are muted compared to the feelings of those around him, and he tends to excite emotions in others without necessarily experiencing them himself. The contrast between Bluntschli’s calm demeanor and the frenzy of the other characters becomes starker as the play progresses. He may not be the classic idea of noble and heroic, but Bluntschli’s ability to smoothly navigate through difficult situations and keep his wits about him make both Raina and the audience begin to fall for him.