THE LAST DAYS OF MANKIND ACT I SCENE 21
Battlefield. Nothing can be seen. In the distance, now and again, smoke curls up. Two war correspondents with breeches, binoculars and cameras.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: That was a dud, not worth – Take cover!
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: Take what?
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: Cover! Give me those binoculars.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: What can you see?
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: Just naked ladies, you know, meadow saffron. It reminds me of the Balkan War. That lifts my spirits. (Listens.)
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: What can you hear?
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: Ravens. Cawing as they scent their quarry. Like the Balkan War. Danger is alluring. (A shot.) God! Are those our guys?
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: Looks like it, yes.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: They’re brave lads. They didn’t think about their families, they thought about the enemy. What’s that down there?
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: Nothing, just Italian corpses.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: Hang on a minute. (Takes photographs.)
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: We should have stayed in Villach – God, it’s only yesterday I was out on the piss with Sascha Kolowrat –
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: You’re about to disgrace yourself in front of Alice Schalek! Here she comes! You could always hide –
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: Right. (He hides. A shot.)
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: Don’t want her to see me either. (Hides.)
ALICE SCHALEK (appearing in full military kit, she says): I will go out, out there, where the simple soldier is, the Common Man. (She goes off.)
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: She goes right to the frontline. (They get up.) She’s so passionate about how we clean out the enemy trenches too - !
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: Well, a woman would be, but is that for us? I know she’s plucky. But my province has always been the theatre really.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: When she describes the corpses, it’s with the minutest details about the smell of decay.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: It’s just not my thing. When we were up against Russia we never went further forward than the hotel. Take me for a coward, but I am not going another step! I’ll send off a feuilleton, a human interest piece, you can fill me in on any bits of technical jargon.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: Aren’t you seduced by the danger? (Ducks.)
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: I’ve written all about its intoxicating effect, blesséd oblivion in the face of death, you know how pleased the Boss was, we got sackfuls of letters in. I was even up for the Order of Merit! (Ducks.)
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: Why won’t you discover the gratification of experiencing it for yourself – (A shot.) Good God, what was that? (Ducks.) Even in peacetime you never got any more adventurous than a first night.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: I’ve never presented myself as a hero.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: From your last little article, entertaining as always, people must have got the distinct impression that’s what you were.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: Entertainment is one thing. God, what was –
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: It’s nothing, just a small calibre mortar.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: You do have such a command of the technicalities! Now is that the one that goes tsee-tsee?
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: Not a clue! It goes teeoo-teeoo!
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: I’ll have to change that bit in my article –know what, I’ll go back so I can send it off early. It’s still got to be okayed.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: We can’t show ourselves up. The officers already take the piss. We’re spoon fed. They give us soft soap and we put our names to it. The Boss lies and we underwrite it. What sort of life is that?
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: Well none of it fits my bill at all. I’m going to talk to the divisional commander, see what’s up on the theatrical front.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: Theatrical front? What? – Oh, right.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: At least I’d be in my own field there. I’ll remind him over dinner this evening. Military duty simply doesn’t suit me.
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: A bed of roses à la Ganghofer isn’t for the likes of us. No stage-managed skirmishes. You know his last visit to the Tyrolean front left seventeen of our men dead and wounded by our own shell cases, the greatest tribute paid to the press so far in this world war!
WAR CORRESPONDENT 2: (A great crash is heard.) For God’s sake!
I thought – it’s almost – like the voice – of the Boss, Moriz Benedikt!
WAR CORRESPONDENT 1: It’s our big gun, Big Bertha. Maybe discretion is the best - (They both run off, waving a white handkerchief.)
 These two could be played by the two journalists we have already met.
 City in southern Austria, now very close to both the Italian and Slovenian borders.
 Alice Schalek (1874-1956), New Free Press journalist, the only woman war correspondent in the Kriegspressequartier; novelist and travel writer; also wrote under the pseudonym Paul Michaely.
 Ludwig Ganghofer (1855-1920), German writer and poet, one of Kaiser Wilhelm’s favourite authors.