Helmut Schmidt's wife Hannelore is in Brazil studying jungles, and the West German chancellor told her on the phone this week that she need not hurry back.
This tidbit was disclosed here to demonstrate that although Schmidt faces the threat of being unseated next week, he remains calm and not at all convinced that his conservative opponents can muster the votes in parliament Friday to replace him.
There are still many uncertainties in the political maneuvering to keep Schmidt from despairing.
It is not yet clear whether Hans-Dietrich Genscher, the Free Democratic leader who had been the chancellor's foreign minister, will be able to keep his small, divided party together long enough to deliver the votes that would bring down Schmidt's government.
It also remains to be seen whether Christian Democratic opposition leader Helmut Kohl has the votes in parliament to make him chancellor and whether Franz Josef Strauss, leader of Bavaria's Christian Social Union -- which is formally allied with the Christian Democrats -- will accept Genscher as a coalition partner.
Eight days after Schmidt forced the breakup of his left-center coalition by risking a call for early national elections, the drama in Bonn has come to a standstill. Talks among Kohl, Strauss and Genscher -- reported to have made substantial progress so far, especially on a new budget and economic policy -- have ceased for the weekend.
Final agreement on programs and appointments for a new Bonn administration now awaits the results Sunday of elections in the central West German state of Hesse.
A key will be the vote received by the Free Democrats. A percentage point up or down for that borderline party could make an important difference in Bonn.
Political developments in Hesse foreshadowed the split in Bonn. Free Democrats at the state level broke with the Social Democrats in June, ending a 12-year coalition. They announced that they would seek a new partnership with the Christian Democrats after the state elections.
Initially conceived as a prologue for Genscher's break with Schmidt, the Hesse race is being watched as a test of public reaction to Genscher's move to the right.
The bitterness and emotion that accompanied the Bonn coalition divorce have spilled over into the Hesse contest, shaking up the campaign in its final week and making all parties uncertain about the outcome.
The Social Democrats are still expected to lose their 35-year hold on the state to the conservatives, adding another win to a string of Christian Democratic victories in state elections in recent years. But capitalizing on Schmidt's lingering popularity, the Social Democrats launched a blitz publicity drive this week declaring that a vote for them in Hesse was a vote to save Schmidt in Bonn. This slogan appears to have rallied fresh support for the party.
Echoing, too, Schmidt's sharp attacks on Genscher as a traitor and political opportunist, the Hesse Social Democrats have taken a very hard line against their former partners. Posters condemning the "treachery in Bonn" have been put up to discredit Genscher's party and drive it below the 5 percent minimum constitutionally necessary for representation in the state assembly.
The Free Democrats are in political disarray. Left-wing party members, defiantly opposed to a new alliance with Kohl -- or at least to the speed at which Genscher is negotiating one without first seeking grass-roots backing -- held a rump convention today and passed a resolution demanding Genscher's resignation.
Earlier this week, a demand by four regional Free Democratic caucuses for a special national congress to consider the change in coalitions forced the party leadership to schedule one Oct. 16 in Duesseldorf.
If the Free Democrats in Hesse clear the 5 percent hurdle--a big "if"--Genscher can be expected to silence his critics. If not, the outcry from his party's left wing, charging Genscher with leading the party to ruin by his maneuvering, will probably grow louder. This intraparty strife could erode the resolve of Free Democratic deputies who have indicated support up to now for a new center-right alliance with the Christian Democrats.
A Free Democratic defeat in Hesse could also be used by Strauss to try to draw more concessions from Genscher in the unfinished coalition talks. By making it difficult for Genscher to negotiate terms acceptable to his party, Strauss could block a deal with the Free Democrats.
This would allow Schmidt to govern until early new elections could be held, which is what Strauss preferred, anyway. He figures the conservatives could gain an absolute majority if elections came soon.
As uncertainty grows here about whether the move to oust him will succeed, Schmidt is credited with a shrewd gambit. His surprise decision to try to force new elections this year caught Genscher and the Free Democrats off guard, revived the fighting spirit of Schmidt's own Social Democratic Party and appears to have kindled strong public interest. Four out of five West Germans say they back the chancellor's election call.