Now, after a succession of beautiful sunny days in the mental hospital, Švejk was to be subjected to round the clock persecution. Police inspector Braun arranged a meeting with Švejk with all the cruelty of the Roman Emperor Nero at his loveliest. Hard, as they did when they said: “Throw the bastard Christians to the lions,” Inspector Braun said: “Lock him up!”
Not a word more or less. Only the eyes of police inspector Braun flashed a strange, yet perverse delight.
Švejk bowed and said proudly: “I am ready, gentlemen. I think locked up means the same as a cell, and one is as bad as the other.”
“Aren’t we getting a little expansive,” said the policeman. Švejk said: “I am completely humble and grateful for everything you do for me.”
In the cell a man sat pensively on the bunk. He sat listlessly and it was evident in his countenance he did not believe the grinding of the key in the cell door meant that it was opening to freedom.
“My compliments, sir,” said Švejk, sitting down next to him on the bunk, “do you happen to have the time?” “The clock is not my master,” said the thoughtful man.
“It’s not so bad here,” continued Švejk, making conversation, “this bunk is made of polished wood.”
The serious man did not answer. He stood up and began to walk quickly in a small space between the door and bunks, as if hurrying to save something.
Švejk meanwhile observed with interest the graffiti on the walls. There was an inscription in which an unknown prisoner promised to high heaven to have a fight to the death with the police. The text ended: “You’ll get it good”. Another prisoner wrote: “Kiss my ass, cocksuckers.” Still another simply stated the fact: “I was locked up here June 5, 1913 and was treated decently. Josef Mareček businessman from Vršovice.” And there was one shattering its depth: “Have mercy, almighty God. . . ” And under it:” Kiss my a__ .” The letter “a” was crossed out and on the side written in capital letters ‘COAT TAIL’. In addition, a poetic soul wrote the verse: “By the stream saddened I sit, the sun hides behind the mountains, on the shining ridge, where dear Milka dwells.”
The man who was running back and forth by the door, as if he wanted to win the marathon, stopped and panting sat down again at his old place, put his head in his hands and suddenly shouted: “Let me out!”
“No, they will not let me,” he spoke for himself “let me get out of here. I’ve been here since six o’clock this morning.”
In a fit of communicativeness he stood up and asked Švejk: “Do you happen to be wearing a belt I could use to do myself in?”
“That I do for you gladly,” answered Švejk, undoing his belt, “I have never seen anybody locked up hanging on a belt – only it’s annoying,” he continued looking all around, “that there is nothing to fasten on. The window handle won’t hold you. Unless you hang kneeling, by the bunk, as that monk did in the monastery of Emmaus, who hanged himself from the crucifix over some young Jewess. I love suicides, so get it on.”
Švejk thrust the belt into the hand of the gloomy man. He looked at the belt and tossed it into a corner and began to weep, rubbing his tears with his black hands, and shrieking, gasping: “I have kids, I’m here for drunkenness and immoral life, Jesus, my poor woman, what I will say at the office? I have kids, I’m here for drunkenness and immoral life,” and so on and so on.
Finally, after he calmed down a bit, the man went to the door and began to kick it and pound it with his fist. Behind the door were heard footsteps and a voice: “What do you want?”
“Let me out!” he said with a desperate voice. “Where?” was the question from the other side. “To the office,” said the unhappy father, husband, officer, drunk and libertine.
There was laughter, laughter and then ghastly silence in the hall as steps again moved away.
“It seems to me the guy must hate you when he laughs like that,” said Švejk, while the hopeless man again sat down beside him. “That kind of guard when he is angry, can take power, and he can get even angrier, and do anything he wants to you. Sit quietly, if you don’t want to hang, and wait and see how things develop. If you are an official, married, and if you have little ones , it is, I admit, horrible. You’re probably reckoning that they will fire you if I’m not mistaken.”
“I don’t know,” he sighed, “because I can’t remember what I was doing, I just know that I was kicked out of some place and that I wanted to go back there to light a cigar. But it started out very nicely. The head of our department was celebrating his saint’s day and invited us to a wine bar, then we went into a second, a third, a fourth, the fifth, the sixth, seventh, to the eighth, the ninth… ”
“You want me to help you count?” asked Švejk. “I understand this one. I was once in twenty-eight different places in one night. But I swear, I never had more than a maximum of three beers in any one.”
“In short,” said the hapless slave, who celebrated his department head’s name day so spectacularly, “when we had moved through about a dozen different places, we noticed that we had lost the chief, although we had tied a piece of string to him and led him along like a dog. So we went back to look for him everywhere until finally we lost one another and I found myself in one of the cafes at night in Vinohrady, a very decent place where I drank some liquor straight from the bottle. What I did then, I do not remember. I just know that two policemen brought me here and both reported to the desk sergeant that I was drunk, behaved indecently, hit a lady, slashed up a stranger’s hat that I took off the peg with a pocket knife, chased away the girl band, accused the head waiter in front of everybody of stealing twenty crowns, broke the marble table top where I was sitting, and intentionally spat into the black coffee of a gentleman unknown to me at the next table. That’s all I did, at least I can’t remember anything else. But I’m not a troublemaker! And believe me, I’m a good, intelligent man who thinks of nothing else except his family. What does all this mean? ”
“Was it a lot of work to break this marble slab,” Švejk asked him with interest, “or did you break iit with one blow?”
“All at once,” said the intelligent gentleman.
“Then you’re lost,” said Švejk thoughtfully. “They’ll show that you prepared for it by working out. And the coffee, the gentleman, where you spit, was it without rum or rum?”
And he did not wait for an answer, explaining:
“If it was with rum, it will be worse, because it’s expensive. In court, everything counts, it all gets put together to make it amount at least to a crime”
“The Court…,” the dutiful family man whispered despondently, and hanging his head fell into that unpleasant state in which a person is eaten by remorse. *
“Do they know at home,” he asked Švejk, “that you are locked up, or will they have to wait to find out from the newspaper?”
“You think it will be in the papers?” naively asked this human sacrifice to the feast day of a superior.
“Absolutely certain,” was the direct answer, because Švejk never had a habit of hiding something in front of others. “The story about you will give all readers of newspapers a tremendous kick. I myself love to read the box about drunks and their jackpots. Recently in the Chalice a guest didn’t do anything else except that he himself broke a glass over his head. He threw it into the air and stood under it. They took him, and in the morning we read about it. Or in Bendlovce I gave one to a mortician and he slapped me back. To be reconciled, they had us both arrested, and now it was in the afternoon rags. Or if that counselor broke two coasters in the Cafe Corpses, think it was investigated? The next day he was in the papers. The only thing you can do, once you are in prison, is send a correction to the newspapers about the report which was published about you, stating that it does not concern you, and that the persons of that name are not even relatives, and have no connection with you, and you must write home to tell them about the correction and have them cut it out cut out and keep it so you can read it once you are released – are you cold? ” asked Švejk, concerned when he saw that the intelligent gentleman was shaking. “We have had a little to too much cool weather at the end of summer.”
“I’m done for,” wept Švejk’s companion, “I’ll never get promoted.”
“No, never,” said Švejk, perfectly willing to agree. “If he wants to punish you, not take you back at the office, when you’ve done your time, I don’t know whether you’re going to find another place anytime soon, because any employer, even if you wanted to work collecting dead animals off the street, would require Probity. You’ll be paying for those moments of pleasure, for sure. And how are your wife and kids going to live while you’re sitting in the clink? Or will she have to go begging and teach the children the usual vices? ”
There was sobbing:
“My poor little ones, my poor wife!”
The conscienceless penitent stood up and talked about their little children: There are five; the oldest is twelve years old and is in the Boy Scouts. He drinks only water and should be an example to his father, who misbehaved for the first time in his life.
“The Boy Scouts?” exclaimed Švejk. “I’ll tell you about the Boy Scouts. One time in Mydlovary in Zlivi, Deep district, district marshal Ceske Budejovice, just when we were there with the Ninety-first on exercises, the farmers from around organized a hunt for Scouts in the municipal forest, who were all over the place in there. They caught three. The smallest of them, when he was being tied up, wailed and squeaked and pleaded so much that that we hardened soldiers couldn’t stand looking at it and took off. While the the three Scouts were being tied down they bit eight peasants. After being beaten with rods they confessed to the Mayor that there wasn’t one meadow in the area that hadn’t been flattened by the Scouts sunbathing, And they insisted that the acre of rye near Ražic that burned just before the harvest, burned by chance, when they were roasting a deer on a spit, which they killed by creeping up on it with knives in the municipal forest. In their lair in the woods they found over half a quintal of bones of poultry and wild life, a tremendous amount of cherry pits, lots of green apple cores and all such good things.”
The poor father of the Scout was not to be appeased.
“What have I done?” he lamented, “I have ruined my reputation.”
“Indeed you have,” said Švejk with his innate sincerity, “After what happened, you have destroyed the reputation of a lifetime, because it will be all over the papers, and even people you know will add something to it. That’s the way it always goes, and nothing can be done about it. There are at least ten times more people the world with destroyed reputations than those with a clean reputation. Not to worry. It is unappreciably unimportant. ”
In the hallway sounded strong steps, the key rattled in the lock, the door opened and a policeman called Švejk’s name.
“Excuse me,” said Švejk chivalrously, “I’ve only been here since twelve o’clock noon, but this gentleman has been here since six o’clock in the morning. I’m in no hurry.”
Instead of answering, the strong hand of the police officer pulled Švejk into the hallway and silently brought him up the stairs to the first floor.
In the second room sat the Police Commissioner at his desk, Mr. fat genial countenance, who said to Švejk:
“So you are therefore the Švejk? And how did you get here?”
“In the ordinary way,” answered Švejk; “I came here in a procession of policemen, because I didn’t think it was very nice of them to make me leave the mental hospital without lunch. I don’t like being treated like a kicked-out slut.”
“You know what, Švejk,” said the Commissioner benignly, “The thing is that here, on Salmovce, why do we have to be angry with you? It will not be better if you send to police headquarters?”
“You, as the saying goes,” said Švejk satisfied, “are master of the situation. A walk over to police headquarters now in the evening is quite a nice little walk.”
“I’m glad that we are agreed,” the police commissioner said cheerfully. “Is not better if we agree? That’s true, Švejk?”
“I also tremendously like to take advice,” said Švejk; “I will, believe me, Commissioner, I will never forget your kindness.”
Bowing respectfully, he left with a police officer for the guardroom and a quarter of an hour later Švejk had already been seen on the corner of Ječná Street and Karlovo Square in procession with a second police officer, who had under his arm a voluminous book with the German inscription Arrestantenbuch, heading for the police station.
At the corner of the Spálené Street Švejk and his escort met with a bunch of people who were thronging around a poster.
“It is the manifesto of His Imperial Majesty declaring war,” said a police officer to Švejk.
“I predicted it,” said Švejk, “but in the mental institution they still know nothing about it, although they should have first-hand knowledge.”
“What do you mean?” asked the policeman to Švejk.
“Because there are so many officers locked up,” said Švejk, and when they came to the boisterous, shoving crowd in front of the proclamation, Švejk shouted:
“Emperor Franz Josef! This is one war we will win!”
Someone from the enthusiastic crowd ran his hat over his ears, and accompanied by a crowd of people, the Good Soldier Švejk stepped through the door of police headquarters:
“We will certainly win this war, I repeat it again, gentlemen!,” said Švejk, saying thus goodbye to the crowd who escorted him.
And somewhere, at the distant end of history, Europe suffered from the truth that tomorrow would destroy the plans of today.
* Some writers use the term “they are gnawed by remorse”. I do not consider this usage entirely fitting. A tiger eats a man and does not gnaw.
Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války
Švejk na policejním ředitelství v Salmově ulici
Translation Copyright (c) 2015, William J. Spurlin
All rights reserved.