Act I Scene 5



COUNT LEOPOLD FRANZ RUDOLF ERNEST VINZENZ INNOCENZ MARIA[1]:    The ultimatum was superb! Finally, finally!

BARON EDUARD ALOIS JOSEF OTTOKAR IGNAZIUS EUSEBIUS MARIA:    Incroyable! But the Serbs were within a whisker of accepting.

COUNT:    That would have made me so mad. Luckily we had those two little clauses in[2], an inquiry by us on Serbian soil, etc. Of course that was never going to fly. The Serbs have only themselves to blame now.

BARON:    When one really thinks about it – for two teeny clauselets – for such a bagatelle a world war breaks out! Terribly funny actually.

COUNT:    But we couldn’t have done without them, we had to insist on those two sticky sticking points. And why did they need to be so bloody-minded, they could simply have accepted two little clauses, couldn’t they?

BARON:    It was clear from the beginning what they wouldn’t agree.

COUNT:    We knew beforehand, precisely. Is Poldi Berchtold[3] a smooth operator or what! And now society speaks with a single voice. Humongous! It’s a real feeling of elation – I tell you! Finally, finally! Well, it was beyond endurance. We were thwarted at every turn. But now we’re looking at another kind of life altogether!  This winter, right after the peace settlement, I’ll be ripping it up on the Riviera.

BARON:    I’ll be happy if we’ve still got the Adriatic to let rip on.

COUNT:    Don’t even joke about that. The Adriatic is ours. Italy is never going to stir herself. I tell you another thing, after the peace settlement –

BARON:    So when do you think we’ll get peace?

COUNT:    I’d guess two weeks, three at the outside.

BARON:    Don’t make me laugh.

COUNT:    Come on, it’ll be child’s play to finish off Serbia, child’s play, old chum – you’ll see how well our chaps can slug it out. The sheer guts of the 6th Dragoons alone! A whole bunch of them should be at the front by now! And our artillery – first class. I mean so accurate it’s just crazy!

BARON:    What about Russia?

COUNT:    Russia will be thankful to be left alone in the end. You can rely on Conrad[4], he’ll know why he let them take Lemberg all right. Once we’re into Belgrade the tide will turn. Potoriek[5] is fantastic! I tell you, the Serbs will fold just like that. The rest will follow like clockwork.

BARON:    So, seriously, when do you think –

COUNT:    Peace in three, four weeks.

BARON:    You’ve always been insanely optimistic.

COUNT:    All right then, when?

BARON:     It won’t happen for two or three months! You’ll see. If all goes well, two. But it really would have to go well for that, old chum!

COUNT:    I’d really have to question that – for a start it’s too beastly boring! A charming state of affairs! And it wouldn’t work anyway, because of the food situation, you see. Frau Sacher[6] said to me only the other day – you don’t think the food regulations can really last, do you? Even Demel’s[7] has been bitten by this seeing-it-through bug – a charming state of affairs indeed – absurd, it won’t do! You don’t agree?

BARON:    You know my view. I don’t have much faith in the home front. We’re no Krauts after all, even if we do subject ourselves to a bit of coercion at times – but only yesterday I was talking to Putzo Wurmbrand[8], you know, the one who used to go with that little Maria Palffy[9], he’s Krobatin’s[10] right hand man right now and a superb patriot – well, he reckons when you start a defensive war – you do have to understand that he’s quite entrenched in this concept of a defensive war –

COUNT:    Stop – please – are you implying that this is somehow not a defensive war? That’s rank defeatism, cut it out! Are you forgetting the predicament we’re in already, forced on to the so-called offensive because of a matter of honour and are you also – possibly – if I may make so bold – forgetting how we’ve been encircled? – only yesterday I was chatting to Fipsi Schaffgotsch[11], a little gaga but very pleasant, she’s a  Bellgarde[12] of course – what was I – yes – are you suggesting we had any choice but to let the Serbs attack us at Temes-Kubin[13], in order to –

BARON:    What’s that?

COUNT:    What’s that? Don’t pretend – you know very well a Serbian attack at Temes-Kubin was essential – so that we could fight back –

BARON:    Well, naturally!

COUNT:    Otherwise why would anyone have bothered? It’s just like the Germans saying Nuremberg was bombed![14] There were no bombs really! So if this – permit me to say it – if this is not a defensive war, what is?

BARON:    Did I say it wasn’t? I’ve been all enthusiasm for this trial of strength from the start, and by the way it is going to be the very last one. But how it’s all dressed up doesn’t matter to me. A defensive war – that sounds as if we ought to be apologising. War is war, that’s what I say.

COUNT:    You could be right.  But what about our Poldi Berchtold! He’s still an incredibly cute cookie. You can say what you like. It’s balls that matter in our game, and he’s got them! The way he slipped one past the powers that be at Bad Ischl – the ones who might well have tried to block the ultimatum! He was – just tremendous! It was one goal after another.

BARON:    Formidable![15] I wouldn’t have believed he could pull it off.  He knows how to keep that soft bunch off his back. We’ve already seen the effect of Poldi Berchtold’s policies, scaling Franz Ferdinand’s funeral down to nothing like that, even keeping the Russian Grand Duke at bay.

COUNT:    Of course. It wasn’t his fault Russia decided to poke its nose in. If it had been down to him he’d have contained the whole world war in Serbia. Do you know what Poldi Berchtold has? He’s got what a diplomat in a world war needs above everything else: savoir vivre! I was so impressed with the way he just got news of that peace proposal from the English squirts stuck between the racing pages – we could occupy Belgrade with their permission! – hypocritical mercenaries – and the way he popped up to the club afterwards, remember, giving us a knowing look and telling us: Now the army’s got what it wants! He was looking straight at you! You told me – well, that was no small thing at such a fateful hour.

We hear a bell ringing from the next room and then:

BERCHTOLD’S VOICE:    Iced coffee! (Hear a door shut.)

BARON:    You see – half past eleven! You see – Poldi Berchtold’s demanding iced coffee at half past eleven! I’m even thinking about one myself – really, I have to say it – iced coffee truly is his strongest point!

COUNT:    Or maybe the only weak spot he’s got! He adores iced coffee! But then you have to admit, the iced coffee at Demel’s – quite perfect!

BARON:    And look, a bit of sun out there today – perfect too!

COUNT (opens an official envelope):    Ah, Lemberg must be back in our hands.

BARON:    You see!

COUNT:    Poldi Berchtold – you have to understand (as he murmurs the rest of the message) – oh no, our withdrawal from Lemburg– it’s always the same – so irritating – I’m fed up to the back – (screws up the piece of paper) – now what was it I was saying – the more I ponder the situation – all in all – yes, the more I think it has to be dinner with Steffi this evening, alfresco.


[1] Parodies of the absurdly long names Austro-Hungarian aristocrats gave their offspring.

[2] The ultimatum to Serbia was so constructed as to be impossible for the Serbs to accept.

[3] Leopold Berchtold, count (1863-1942), politician, sometime ambassador to Russia, Foreign Minister (1912-1915); responsible for the Serbian ultimatum after Franz Ferdinand’s death.

[4] Franz Conrad von Hötzendorf, chief of the general staff; his strategy against Russia and Serbia, in the first year of the war, led to a series of disastrous defeats and huge casualties; Austro-Hungarian armies would never again take to the field without German support.

[5] Oskar Potoriek (1853-1933), commander in the Balkans in 1914.

[6] Anna Sacher (1859-1930), proprietor of the Hotel Sacher, close to the Opera House, one of Vienna’s grandest hotels; famous, as now, for its he Viennese chocolate cake, Sachertorte.

[7] Vienna’s most prestigious patisserie, in Kohlmarkt near the Hofberg Palace; it still carries its imperial title today, kaiserlich und könglich (k.u.k.) Hofzuckerbäckek, Imperial and Royal Master Confectioner.

[8] ‘Wormbane’. Wurmbrand-Stuppach, well-established Austrian aristocratic family.

[9] Family with palaces in Vienna, Prague, Bratislava; also Červený Kameň, castle in Slovakia.

[10] Alexandre Krobatin, baron (1849-1933), field marshal, Minister of War (1912-1917).

[11] Schaffgotsch, wealthy aristocratic family associated with Lower Austria and German Silesia; origins in the Tyrol stretching back to 800 AD. Schaff is a dialect word for ‘vessel’ (empty?), ‘receptacle’; Gotsch, dialect word for ‘mouth’; goschad can mean ‘loud-mouthed’.

[12] Bellgarde, another one of the endless list of prominent aristocratic families; Heinrich von Bellgarde (1756-1845), was an imperial general during the Napoleonic Wars.

[13] As the Serbian response to the Austro-Hungarian ultimatum was rejected, Serbian reservists strayed across the Danube at Temes-Kubin. Austro-Hungarian troops fired to warn them off. The incident was instrumental in finally persuading Franz Josef to declare war.

[14] German newspaper reported (falsely) the French bombing of Nuremberg on 2 Aug 1914.

[15] French pronunciation; from time to time a few French adjectives slip in.