Note: Beginning of Act Three to Nicola’s conversation with Louka
The scene shifts to the library, where Bluntschli is drawing up the troop movements for Petkoff and Sergius, both of who are in awe of his abilities. Petkoff wonders where his old coat went. He’s wearing a replacement and doesn’t like it. Catherine tells him his coat is in the closest where he left it, and Petkoff bets a large sum it isn’t there. When Nicola does in fact bring the coat in, Petkoff is flummoxed and Catherine and Raina are not surprised, as it was Bluntschli who returned that coat the same morning. Sergius and Petkoff leave the library, Sergius somewhat embarrassed by Bluntschli’s expertise and leadership in drawing up the plans for the troops.
Raina and Bluntschli are alone for the first time since his arrival. Raina says that Bluntschli looks better than he did the first time they met, and he replies that he’s had a chance to wash up. Raina, pressing him, gets him to admit that he told the story of hiding in Raina’s to only one man, whom Bluntschli trusted. But he learns from Raina that that man relayed this story to Petkoff and Sergius in the encampment. This worries Bluntschli, and Raina says that, if Sergius finds out that Bluntschli is the soldier from the story, he’ll challenge Bluntschli to a duel.
Bluntschli replies that Raina should not tell Sergius his identity. Raina is aghast at this, since it would mean her telling a lie. She says she has only lied one other time in her life, which was when she told the army officer that Bluntschli wasn’t present in her room. Bluntschli says that, in his line of work, lying is commonplace, as is people trying to save their lives. He has no trouble with Raina’s lying, which she sees as a slip in character. He believes she should keep the secret from Sergius. When Raina becomes even more indignant, Bluntschli tells her to stop acting high and mighty. This shocks Raina thoroughly. She admits that no man has ever spoken to her honestly, and without idolizing her. She says that Bluntschli doesn’t take her seriously, but he replies that he’s in fact the first man to take her seriously.
Bluntschli declares that is infatuated with Raina. She admits to leaving a picture of herself for Bluntschli in the pocket of her father’s coat that Bluntschli wore when he escaped the house. She assumed he would have seen it there. But Bluntschli did not find the picture, and Raina figures it must still be present in the pocket of the coat that Petkoff is now wearing. Bluntschli admits that he’s not sure whether the picture is there, on second thought, because he had the coat pawned during the battle before he reclaimed it. This horrifies Raina. Louka enters to deliver a letter for Bluntschli that says his father has died. Bluntschli responds with dismay only at all the affairs that must be sorted out, since, Bluntschli realizes, his father was manager of far more hotels than he thought initially. Bluntschli leaves to begin planning his departure. Raina departs, and Nicola enters, finding Louka alone.
Bluntschli has an incredible knowledge of warcraft. The nature of how to fight wars is a recurring topic in the play. Characters wonder whether being a good soldier, for example, entails being a hero or being valiant in the face of danger. Bluntschli upends that paradigm. He is someone who understands military tactics better than anyone. He views this calling as a trade, rather than as an exalted, romantic position demanding the utmost of him unto death. What makes Bluntschli a good soldier is his ability to use practicality, reason, and large amounts of information instead of getting caught up in ego or inflated pride.
Sergius, of course, is the opposite. Although he did in fact lead the successful cavalry charge, Sergius and his soldiers would have been killed had the Serbs’ machine guns not malfunctioned. It was only by chance that the guns did not fire and slaughter the Bulgarians. Sergius goes on to prove his incompetence by failing to earn a promotion, despite his fame for the charge. This causes Sergius to resign his prized military commission. By contrast, Bluntschli, who does not care much for the trappings of war and state like officers’ titles, manages to keep his military commission. Bluntschli helps Petkoff when he is in need by using his reason and patience on a set of maps and troop guides.