Note: Beginning of Act Two to Sergius’s first interaction with Louka
The stage notes say that it is now March of 1886. The setting is still the Petkoffs’ house in rural Bulgaria, but the action now takes place in an adjacent garden. Nicola, the male servant of the home, converses with Louka. Louka complains about her mistresses, Catherine and Raina, and Nicola scolds her for it. As he does it, he reveals that he and Louka are engaged. Nicola argues that he could never marry someone who didn’t behave according to the rules of good service. Louka says she doesn’t have the soul of a servant like Nicola does. Louka also says she knows many of the Petkoffs’ secrets, and could use them against the family. Nicola counters that he also knows many secrets, but warns her that it is a servant’s job never to betray these secrets to anyone. Nicola reveals to the audience that he one day hopes to purchase his freedom and open a shop in Sofia, the capital, at which Louka can work.
Nicola and Louka hear a man’s voice outside the gate. The family’s patriarch, Major Paul Petkoff, has returned from the war. The household scurries about to receive him. Nicola and Louka provide coffee, alcohol, and cigarettes. Catherine greets her husband excitedly but modestly. She is surprised and offended when Petkoff reveals that the Bulgarians and Russians have brokered a peace with the Serbians, instead of simply vanquishing them without conditions. In response, Petkoff says that it would have been nearly impossible to achieve total victory. Catherine tells her husband that, in his absence, they have installed an electric bell for the servants in the house, so no one needs to impolitely shout for help. Catherine finds the bell more civilized, but Petkoff thinks it unnecessary. They hear Sergius arriving, and before he enters the scene, Petkoff tells Catherine she’ll need to get Sergius off Petkoff’s back. Sergius is angling for a promotion that Petkoff fears will never come, because Sergius has no tactical military skill or intelligence.
Sergius enters, and the stage directions describe him as the true image of his picture that Raina keeps in her bedroom. The directions say he looks like a genuine soldierly hero, but is cynical, moody, and thinks the world is unworthy of his ideals. Sergius announces, however, that he has resigned his commission in the Bulgarian army because he can no longer tolerate the cowardice of those in command. He repeats that although his cavalry charge was successful, the officers believed it was foolish and out of line with military etiquette. Petkoff tries to remain neutral in this, acknowledging that Sergius has been sorely treated but that being a soldier is a trade. Raina enters, greeting her father and Sergius excitedly but modestly.
Petkoff and Sergius reminisce about a soldier they met in battle near Peerot, who tricked them into trading two hundred worn-out horses for fifty strong men. This soldier was a Swiss hired by the Serbians. This immediately strikes Raina’s and Catherine’s interest, although they try not to let on that they are thinking of Bluntschli. Sergius and Petkoff tell a story they heard about this Swiss soldier being hidden by two Bulgarian women during his retreat. Catherine and Raina’s fear is confirmed, that this man is the “chocolate cream soldier” they helped, and the women in the story are themselves. Sergius says the soldier escaped the master of the house’s cloak.
Raina and Catherine try to pass of their dismay by scolding Petkoff and Sergius for telling an unseemly story. Sergius apologizes theatrically but Petkoff argues that women married to soldiers should be up to handling rough words. Catherine and Petkoff leave, and Sergius and Raina are alone for the first time in the play. Raina says that she could never remain mad at Sergius, and that she loves him. Sergius says the same to Raina, and she leaves the scene briefly, at which point Sergius turns his attentions to Louka and begins flirting with her.
This section of the play introduces the servants’ intrigue, and important feature of nineteenth- and twentieth-century drama and fiction. The actions of servants usually serve to reflect the actions of the main characters, their employers. Often in these narratives, the servants’ actions disrupt and interfere with the plot. Here, Nicola indicates that Louka has aspirations “above her station,” that she does not always want to be a servant. He does not argue when Louka tells him that he, on the other hand, will be a servant forever, that he will always do exactly what the master and mistress want at all times. The inclusion of Louka and Nicola’s contrasting aspirations in this dialogue foreshadows events to come. Louka has no qualms about using information she gleans about each family member to her advantage. This is evident early on when Raina is hiding the soldier in her room and Louka senses that Raina is not being absolutely truthful. Louka has proven to be likely untrustworthy, but also cunning.