The Good Soldier Švejk Intervenes in the Great War
“So they killed our Ferdinand,” said the cleaning woman to Mr. Švejk, who left military service years ago, when he was finally declared an imbecile by a military medical board, and who made a living selling dogs, ugly mongrel monstrosities whose pedigrees he forged.
Apart from this occupation he suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and lubricated his right knee with opodeldoc.
“Which Ferdinand, Mrs Müller?” he asked, continuing to massage his knees, “I know two Ferdinands. One is a clerk at the Prussian druggist’s and he drank a bottle of hair oil by mistake, and then I’ve known Ferdinand Kokoška, who collects dog shit. Neither one of them is any loss.”
“The Archduke Ferdinand, sir, from Konopiste, the fat, religious one.”
“Jesus Mary Mother of God,” exclaimed Švejk, “that’s good. And where did this happen to the Lord Archduke?”
“They bumped him off at Sarajevo, sir, with a revolver, you know. He went there with his Archduchess in a automobile.”
“Let’s see, Mrs Müller, in an automobile, of course. A gentleman like him can afford it, but he never imagines a drive like that can end badly. And in Sarajevo too. It’s in Bosnia, Mrs Müller. I expect the Turks did it. We have them, you know, in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We shouldn’t have taken it from them. So you see, Mrs Müller. The Archduke already knows the truth of God. Did he suffer long?”
“Mr. Archduke was done for on the spot, sir. You know, a revolver is not a toy. Recently there was a gentleman where I am from in Nusle who took a revolver and shot his whole family and also the building manager, who went to see what all the shooting was about on the third floor.”
“Some revolvers, Mrs Müller, you couldn’t shoot if you wanted to. But for His Imperial Highness they certainly bought something better, and I’d like to bet, Mrs Müller, the man who did this to him dressed up for the occasion nicely. You know, shooting His Imperial Highness – this is very hard work. It’s not like a gamekeeper shooting a poacher. The question is how to get to him. You can’t approach a lord dressed in rags or the cops will grab you. You have to go in a top hat.”
“They say there was more than one of them, sir”
“Absolutely, Mrs Müller, ‘said Švejk, finishing massaging his knees. “If you wanted to kill His Imperial Highness or the Emperor, you’d certainly need advice. More people have more sense. You get advice here, there, and then “go to meet the objective” as our national anthem says. The main thing is to watch for the moment when a gentleman like that goes past. I remember to this day Mr. Lucheni, who stuck our beloved Elizabeth with a file. He just walked up alongside her. You can be sure ever since no empress goes on a walk. A lot of other people are going to get it, too, Mrs Müller, mark my words, it’ll be the Tsar and Tsarina, and maybe, God forbid, even the Emperor himself, now that they’ve started with his uncle. He’s got a lot of enemies, the old gentleman, even more than Ferdinand. A man in the inn was telling us recently that time will come that these emperors would get it, one after the other, and that neither the State Prosecutor or anybody else would help them. Then he couldn’t pay his bill, the landlord called the police, and he punched the landlord and two cops. Then they took him away in the drunk wagon. Yeah, Mrs Müller, big things today. This is sure another loss for Austria. When I was in the army, an infantryman shot a captain. He loaded his rifle and went into his office. They told him that he shouldn’t be there, but he kept saying that he must speak to the captain. The captain came out and immediately gave him confined to quarters. But he raised his rifle and shot him in the heart. The bullet flew out of his back and damaged the office. Smashed a bottle of ink which messed up the official documents.”
“And what happened to that soldier?” asked Mrs Müller later, while Švejk was dressing.
“He hanged himself on his suspenders, said Švejk, cleaning his derby hat. “And they weren’t even his suspenders. He’d borrowed them from the warden; said that his pants were falling down. Was he going to wait until they shot him? You know, Mrs Müller, in a situation like that anyone would be in a tizzy. The warden was demoted and they gave him six months. But he didn’t do time. He ran away to Switzerland and today he’s a preacher in some church. Today there are very few honest people about, Mrs Müller. I can imagine that Archduke Ferdinand at Sarajevo misjudged that man who shot him. He saw a gentleman and thought: ‘That’s so nice; the man is giving me a cheer’. And yet he gave him bang! Did he give him one or several?”
“The newspaper says, sir, that his Imperial Highness was riddled like a colander. He emptied all his rounds into him.”
“It goes exceedingly quickly, Mrs Müller, terribly quickly. I would think that for such a thing they must have bought a Browning. It looks like a toy, but in two minutes you can shoot twenty archdukes with it, skinny or fat. Although, between you and me, Mrs Müller, a fat archduke is an easier target than a thin one. If you remember the time in Portugal they shot that king of theirs. He was a fat one, too. You know that kings do not do skinny. So I now I’m going to the inn, The Chalice, and if anyone comes here for that miniature pinscher, which I took an advance on, tell him I have it in my kennels in the country and that I just cropped its ears, and he must not be moved until his ears heal, or he will catch a cold. Would you please give the key to the building manager? ”
At The Chalice there was only one guest. It was the plainclothesman Bretschneider, an agent of the k.u.k. Staatspolizei. Palivec was washing up the glasses and Bretschneider was vainly endeavoring to engage him in serious conversation.
Palivec was known for his foul mouth; every second word of his was’ ass’ or ‘shit’. At the same time he was well read and told everyone to read what Victor Hugo wrote on the subject when he described the last answer the Old Guard of Napoleon gave to the British at the Battle of Waterloo.
“It’s a glorious summer” Bretschneider, embarking on serious conversation.
“It’s all shit,” said Palivec, putting the glasses in the cabinet.
“They’ve done a job on us in Sarajevo,” Bretschneider said with faint hope.
“Sarajevo?” asked Palivec, “Do you mean the wine bar at Nusle? There’s fighting every day at Nusle, you know.”
“Sarajevo in Bosnia, sir. They’ve just shot Archduke Ferdinand. What do you think about that?”
“I don’t mess with these things, don’t be mistaken, and if they say I do they can kiss my ass,” said Pavlicec politely, lighting his pipe, “It could bust anybody’s back to get mixed up in a thing like that. I’m a working man and when someone comes along to have a beer I fill up his glass. But Sarajevo, politics or the late lamented Archduke are nothing. For us, there is nothing about that that doesn’t lead straight to Pankrác.”
Bretschneider lapsed into silence and looked disappointedly around the empty inn.
“There once was a picture of the Emperor,” he said again after a while, “just where that mirror is now hanging.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” replied Palivec “hung in there and got shit on by flies, so I put it in the basement. You know, somebody could make a remark about it and there could be trouble. Do I need it?’
“In Sarajevo it must have been a pretty ugly, Mr. Landlord.”
Palivec answered this crafty direct question extremely cautiously:
“At this time of year it’s scorching hot in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When I served there, they had to put ice on our lieutenant’s head.”
“Which regiment did you serve in, Mr. Innkeeper?”
“Such a little thing to remember – I never cared about such bullshit, and I’ve never bothered my head about it,” said Palivec, “curiosity killed the cat.”
Plainclothesman Bretschneider finally relapsed into silence and his grim face only lightened with the arrival of Švejk, who came into the inn and ordered a dark beer with this note:
“In Vienna today they are too sad.” Bretschneider’s eyes gleamed with hope; he said briefly
“There are ten black flags on the Konopište.”
“There should be twelve,” said Švejk, as he drank.
“Why do you think twelve?” asked Bretschneider.
“To make it a dozen. A round number is always better, and dozens always come cheaper,” answered Švejk.
There was a silence, which Švejk himself broke with a sigh:
“So now he is with God; may he have the eternal truth and glory of God. He did not live to be Emperor. When I was serving in the army a general once fell off his horse and killed himself without any fuss. They wanted to help him back on the horse, seat him up, and the wonder of it was that he was already completely dead. And he was about to be promoted to field marshal. It happened at a review. These reviews never come to any good. In Sarajevo there was a parade. I remember once at a parade I was missing twenty uniform buttons and they put me in solitary for fourteen days, and for two days I lay like Lazarus, tied up to a stake. But discipline in the army must be, otherwise why would anyone bother at all? Our Lieutenant Makovec always told us : “Discipline, you stupid jerks, must be, otherwise you’d be climbing the trees like monkeys, but the army will make you guys human beings, you morons.” And isn’t that true? Imagine a park, say at Charles Square, and on every tree hanging one soldier without discipline. I always was afraid of that.”
“In Sarajevo,” Bretschneider resumed, “the Serbs did it.”
“You’re wrong,” said Švejk, “It was the Turks, because of Bosnia and Herzegovina.”
And Švejk expounded his views on Austrian foreign policy in the Balkans: The Turks lost in 1912 in a war with with Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. They wanted Austria to help them, and when this did not happen, they shot Ferdinand.
“Do you like Turks?” Švejk turned to Palivec, “Do you like those heathen dogs? I hope you don’t.”
“A guest is a guest,” said Palivec, “never mind the Turk. For us entrepreneurs politics doesn’t matter. Pay for your beer in the bar and run off at the mouth as much as you want. This is my principle. If our Ferdinand was done in by Serb or Turk, Catholic or Moslem, anarchist or Young Czech, I don’t care about anything.”
“Very well, sir innkeeper,” said Bretschneider, who was abandoning hope that the two could be caught, “but admit that it’s a great loss for Austria.”
Švejk replied for the landlord:
“A loss, there’s no denying. A shocking loss. Ferdinand will not be replaced by some minor idiot. Only he ought to have been still fatter.”
“What do you mean?” Asked Bretschneider, coming alive.
“What do I mean?” Švejk answered happily. “Just this: If he had been fatter, he would certainly have suffered a stroke back when he was chasing those old women in Konopište when they were gathering brush for firewood on his estate, and he would not have had to die a shameful death. Just imagine, an uncle of the emperor, and they shot him after all. It stinks to high heaven. It’s a shame. The newspapers are full of it. Years ago down in České Budějovice a cattle dealer, Břetislav Ludvik, was stabbed in the market in some petty squabble. He had a son Bohuslav, and wherever he came to sell his pigs, anyone buying anything from him and everybody else would say, ‘This is the son of that guy; he’ll probably also be stabbed:’ He ended up jumping off the bridge in Krumlov into the river and they had to pull him out and resuscitate him. They had to pump water out of him and he ended up dying in the arms of the doctor when he gave him an injection.”
“You do make strange comparisons,” said Bretschneider significantly, “First you talk about Ferdinand and then about a cattle dealer.”
“No, not me,” pleaded Švejk, “God save me: I would never compare somebody to anybody. The landlord knows me. Would I ever compare anyone to anybody else? I just wouldn’t want to be in the skin of that Archduke’s widow. What’s she going to do? The children are orphans and that estate in Konopište is without a master. Marry a new Archduke? What’s in it for her? Go with him to Sarajevo again and be widowed a second time? It was in Zliv near Hluboka years ago a ranger in the game park there, he had such an ugly name – Pinďour. Poachers shot him and he left a widow and two toddlers. A year later she married another gamekeeper, Pepíka Šavlovic from Mydlovary. They shot him too. Then she married a third time to yet another gamekeeper, and said: ‘Third time lucky. If it doesn’t work out, I don’t know what I’ll do.` Can you believe, they shot him too, and she already had six children with those gamekeepers. She even went to the office of the Prince at Hluboka to complain that about those gamekeepers and the misery they put her in. So they recommended this guy Jareš, a water superintendent at the dam at Ražicka, to her. And what do you think? He drowned fishing the lake, and she had two children by him. Then she took a pig gelder from Vodňan, and one night he hit her on the head with an ax and ended up going away voluntarily. Then when he was at the district court in Pisek waiting to be hanged he bit the priest’s nose and said he did not regret anything, and he said something very ugly about His Imperial Majesty.”
“And you know what he said?” Bretschneider asked, his voice full of hope.
“I can’t tell you, because no one dared repeat it. But it’s apparently something so dreadful and horrible that one officer of the court went out of his mind, and they still keep him in isolation to keep it from coming out. That was not just a common insult the to emperor made when someone is drunk.”
“And what insults are made to the emperor when someone is drunk?” asked Bretschneider.
“Please, gentlemen, change the subject,” said Palivec, “You know, I don’t like it. Some things are said and then, I’m sorry, man.”
“What insults are made to the emperor when someone is drunk?” Švejk repeated. “All sorts. Get smashed, play the Austrian national anthem and see what you say. You’ll think up so much about the Emperor, that if only half true, it would be enough to disgrace him all his life. But the old gentleman really does not deserve it. I’ll say this: his son Rudolf lost at an early age, in full manhood. His wife Elizabeth stabbed with a file. Then he lost his brothers. Jan Ort, disappeared; the Emperor of Mexico, shot in a fortress somewhere up against a wall. Now in his old age they shoot his uncle. This chap needs iron nerves. And then some drunken bastard starts to swear at him. If war broke out today, I’ll volunteer and serve His Imperial Majesty until the last drop of blood.”
Švejk drank well and continued:
“Do you really think the Emperor’s going to leave this situation as-is? I know him a little better than that. There will be war with the Turks. You killed my uncle and so I’ll smack you in the jaw. War is certain. Serbia and Russia will help us in that war. It’s going to be a blood bath.”
Švejk in this prophetic moment looked beautiful. His simple face, smiling like a full moon, beamed with enthusiasm. To him, everything was so clear.
“Could be,” he went on to describe the Future of Austria, “that if we have war with Turkey the Germans will attack us, because the Germans and the Turks stick together. They are such monsters, without equal in the world. But we can ally with France, which has since ‘71 been gunning for Germany. That’s what I’m telling you. Mark my words when the war comes.”
Bretschneider stood up and said solemnly:
“Better not tell me, come with me into the hallway, there I’ll tell you something,”
Švejk went with the plainclothesman into the hallway, where he was waiting for a surprise when his acquaintance showed him a badge and said that he was arresting him immediately and taking him to police headquarters. Švejk tried to explain that the gentleman must be mistaken, that he was completely innocent and that he had not uttered a single word that might offend anyone.
Bretschneider said to him that he had actually committed several crimes, including high treason.
“I’ve had five beers and a croissant with sausage. Now give me one more slivovice and I must go, because I’m under arrest.”
Bretschneider showed Palivec his badge, looked at him and asked: “Are you married?”
“And can your wife conduct business for you during your absence?”
“All right, sir innkeeper,” said Bretschneider gaily, “Call your wife here, and in the evening they’ll come for you.”
“Don’t worry,” consoled Švejk, “I’m going there too, and only for high treason.”
“But what about me?” lamented Palivec. “I was so careful.”
Bretschneider smiled and said triumphantly:
“After all, you said that flies shit on the Emperor. This’ll knock any Emperor out of your head.”
As Švejk left The Chalice, led by Bretschneider, he asked, with his usual good natured smile, when they came out on the street:
“Do I have to get off the sidewalk?”
“I think when I’m under arrest, I have no right to walk on the sidewalk.”
When they arrived at the door of police headquarters, Švejk said, “So the time went by quite nicely. Do you often go the Chalice?”
And while they were ushering Švejk into reception, back at The Chalice Palivec handed the inn over to his weeping wife, consoling her in his own peculiar way:
“Don’t cry; what can they do to me because of some shit image of the Emperor?”
Thus intervened the Good Soldier Švejk in the World War in his own sweet, charming way. It will interest historians that he saw far into the future. If the situation subsequently developed otherwise than he had expounded at the Chalice we must bear in mind that he had no preparatory training in diplomacy.
Osudy dobrého vojáka Švejka za světové války
1. Zasáhnutí dobrého vojáka Švejka do světové války
Translation Copyright (c) 2015, William J. Spurlin