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Jaroslav Hašek:

The Good Soldier Švejk Intervenes in the Great War

 

‘And so they’ve killed our Ferdinand,’1 said the charwoman to Mr Švejk, who had left military service years before, after having been finally certified by an army medical board as an imbecile, and now lived by selling dogs — ugly, mongrel monstrosities whose pedigrees he forged.

Apart from this occupation he suffered from rheumatism and was at this very moment rubbing his knees with Elliman’s embrocation.

‘Which Ferdinand, Mrs Müller?’ he asked, going on with the massaging. ‘I know two Ferdinands. One is a messenger at Průša’s, the chemist’s, and once by mistake he drank a bottle of hair oil there. And the other is Ferdinand Kokoška who collects dog manure. Neither of them is any loss.’

‘Oh no, sir, it’s his Imperial highness, the Archduke Ferdinand, from Konopiště, the fat churchy one.’

‘Jesus Maria!’ exclaimed Švejk. ‘What a grand job! And where did it happen to His Imperial Highness?’

‘They bumped him off at Sarajevo, sir, with a revolver, you know. He drove there in a car with his Archduchess.’

‘Well, there you have it, Mrs Müller, in a car. Yes, of course, a gentleman like him can afford it, but he never imagines that a drive like that might finish up badly. And at Sarajevo into the bargain! That’s in Bosnia, Mrs Müller. I expect the Turks did it. You know, we never ought to have taken Bosnia and Herzegovina from them.2 And so you see, Mrs Müller. His Imperial Highness now rests with the angels. Did he suffer long?’

‘His Imperial Highness was done for at once, sir. You know, a revolver isn’t just a toy. Not long ago there was a gentleman in Nusle, where I come from, who fooled about with a revolver too. And what happened? He shot his whole family and the porter too who came up to see who was doing the shooting there on the third floor.’

‘There are some revolvers, Mrs Müller, that won’t go off even if you bust yourself. There are lots of that type. But for His Imperial Highness I’m sure they must have bought something better. And I wouldn’t mind betting, Mrs Müller, that the chap who did it put on smart togs for the occasion. Potting at an Imperial Highness is no easy job, you know. It’s not like a poacher potting at a gamekeeper. The question is how you get at him. You can’t come near a fine gentleman like that if you’re dressed in rags. You’ve got to wear a topper, so the cops don’t nab you beforehand.’

‘They say there were a lot of them, sir.’

‘Well, of course, Mrs Müller,’ said Švejk, finishing massaging his knees. ‘If you wanted to kill His Imperial Highness or for that matter even His Imperial Majesty the Emperor, you’d certainly need advice. Several heads are wiser than one. One chap advises you this, another that, and then “the deed is crowned with success”, as our national anthem says. The main thing is to watch out for the moment when a gentleman like that rides past. Just like old Luccheni, if you remember, who stabbed our late lamented Elizabeth3 with a file. He just went for a stroll with her. Who’s going to trust anybody now? After that there’ll be no more strolls for empresses! And a lot of other persons’ll have it coming to them too, you know. You mark my words, Mrs Müller, it’ll be the turn of the Tsar and the Tsarina next and maybe, though God forbid, even of His Imperial Majesty the Emperor, now they’ve started with his uncle.4 He’s got a lot of enemies, the old gentleman has. Even more than Ferdinand. Not long ago a gentleman was telling us in the pub that a time would come when all these emperors would get done in one after the other, and all the king’s horses and all the king’s men wouldn’t save them. After that he hadn’t any money to pay his bill and the landlord had to have him arrested. And he hit the landlord across the jaw once and the policeman twice. So after that they took him away in a drunks’ cart to sober him up again. Well, Mrs Müller, what a world we live in, to be sure! What a loss for Austria again! When I was in the army an infantryman once shot a captain. He loaded his rifle and went into his office. They told him he had no business there, but he went on insisting he must speak to the captain. The captain came out and at once gave him “confined to barracks!” But he took up his rifle and bang it went, plum through the captain’s heart. The bullet flew out of his back and damaged the office into the bargain. It smashed a bottle of ink which messed up the official documents.

‘Oh, goodness, and what happened to that soldier?’ asked Mrs Müller later, while Švejk was dressing.

‘He hanged himself on his braces,’ said Švejk, cleaning his bowler. ‘And what’s more they weren’t even his. He’d borrowed them from the warder on the excuse that his trousers were falling down. Do you think he should have waited until they shot him? You know, Mrs Müller, in a situation like that anyone would be in a flap. They reduced the warder to the ranks because of it and gave him six months. But he didn’t sit them out. He ran away to Switzerland and today he’s a preacher of some church or other. Today there are very few honest people about, Mrs Müller. I can imagine that His Imperial Highness, the Archduke Ferdinand, made a mistake in Sarajevo about that chap who shot him. He saw a gentleman and thought, “He must be a decent fellow who’s giving me a cheer.” And instead of that he gave him bang! bang! Did he give him one bang or several, Mrs Müller?’

‘The newspaper says, sir, that His Imperial Highness was riddled like a sieve. He emptied all his cartridges into him.’

‘Well, it goes jolly quickly, Mrs Müller, terribly quickly. I’d buy a Browning for a job like that. It looks like a toy, hut in a couple of minutes you can shoot twenty archdukes with it, never mind whether they’re thin or fat. Although, between you and me, Mrs Müller, a fat archduke’s a better mark than a thin one. You may remember the time they shot that king of theirs in Portugal? Lie was a fat chap too. After all, you wouldn’t expect a king to be thin, would you? Well, now I’m going to the pub, The Chalice, and if anyone comes here for that miniature pinscher, which I took an advance on, tell them I’ve got him in my kennels in the country, that I’ve only just cropped his ears, and he mustn’t be moved until they heal up, otherwise they’ll catch cold. Would you please give the key to the house-porter.’

 

There was only one guest sitting at The Chalice. It was the plain-clothes police officer, Bretschneider, who worked for the State Security. The landlord, Palivec, was washing up the glasses and Bretschneider was vainly endeavouring to engage him in serious conversation.

Palivec was notorious for his foul mouth. Every second word of his was ‘arse’ or ‘shit’. But at the same time he was well read and told everyone to read what Victor Hugo wrote on this subject when he described the last answer Napoleon’s Old Guard gave to the British at the Battle of Waterloo.5

‘Well, it’s a glorious summer!’ said Bretschneider, embarking on his serious conversation.

‘Shit on everything!’ answered Palivec, putting the glasses away into a cupboard.

‘It’s a fine thing they’ve done to us at Sarajevo,’ said Bretschneider with a faint hope.

‘Which Sarajevo?’ asked Palivec. ‘Do you mean the wine cellar at Nusle? They’re always fighting there, you know. Of course it’s Nusle.’

‘At Sarajevo in Bosnia, Mr Palivec. They’ve just shot His Imperial Highness, the Archduke Ferdinand, there. What do you say to that?’

‘I don’t poke my nose into things like that. They can kiss my arse if I do!’ Palivec replied politely, lighting his pipe. ‘Nowadays, if anyone got mixed up in a business like that, he’d risk breaking his neck. I’m a tradesman and when anyone comes in here and orders a beer I fill up his glass. But Sarajevo, politics or the late lamented Archduke are nothing for people like us. They lead straight to Pankrác.’6

Bretschneider lapsed into silence and looked disappointedly round the empty pub.

‘Hallo, there used to be a picture of His Imperial Majesty hanging here once,’ he started up again after a while. ‘Just where the mirror hangs now.’

‘Yes, you’re right,’ Palivec replied. ‘It did hang there, but the flies used to shit on it, so I put it away in the attic. You know, somebody might be so free as to pass a remark about it and then there could he unpleasantness. I don’t want that, do I?’

‘In Sarajevo it must have been a pretty ugly business, Mr Palivec.’

This crafty direct question evoked an extremely cautious answer from Palivec: ‘At this time of the 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 Palivec?’

‘I can’t possibly remember anything so unimportant. Bloody nonsense of that sort never interested me and I’ve never bothered my head about it,’ answered Palivec. ‘Curiosity killed a cat.’

Bretschneider finally relapsed into silence. His gloomy face only lit up on the arrival of Švejk who came into the pub, ordered a dark black beer and remarked: ‘Today they’ll be in mourning in Vienna too.’

Bretschneider’s eyes gleamed with hope, and he said laconically:

‘On Konopiště there are ten black flags.’

‘There should be twelve,’ said Švejk, after he had taken a swig.

‘What makes you think twelve?’ asked Bretschneider.

‘To make it a round number. A dozen adds up better, and dozens always come cheaper,’ answered Švejk.

There was a silence, which Švejk himself broke with a sigh: ‘And so he’s already lying with God and the angels. Glory be! He didn’t even 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 onto his horse, to lift him up, but to their surprise he was completely dead. And he was going to be promoted Field Marshal. It happened at a review. These reviews never come to any good. In Sarajevo there was a review too. I remember once at a parade like that I had twenty buttons missing from my uniform and they sent me into solitary confinement for a fortnight, where I lay for two days trussed up like Lazarus. But in the army you must have discipline, otherwise why would anyone bother at all? Our Lieutenant Makovec always used to say: “There’s got to be discipline, you bloody fools, otherwise you’d be climbing about on the trees like monkeys, but the army’s going to make human beings of you, you god-forsaken idiots.” And isn’t that true? Just imagine a park, let’s say at Charles Square, and on every tree an undisciplined soldier! It’s enough to give you a nightmare!’

‘At Sarajevo,’ Bretschneider resumed, ‘it was the Serbs who did it.’

‘You’re wrong there,’ replied Švejk. ‘It was the Turks, because of Bosnia and Herzegovina.’ And Švejk expounded his views on Austrian foreign policy in the Balkans. In 1912 the Turks lost the war with Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. They had wanted Austria to help them, and when this didn’t happen, they shot Ferdinand.

‘Do you like the Turks?’ said Švejk, turning to Palivec. ‘Do you like those heathen dogs? You don’t, do you?’

‘One customer is as good as another,’ said Palivec, ‘never mind a Turk. For tradesmen like us politics doesn’t enter into it. Pay for your beer, sit down in my pub and jabber what you like. That’s my principle. It’s all the same to me whether our Ferdinand was done in by a Serb or Turk, Catholic or Moslem, anarchist or Young Czech.’7

‘All right now, Mr Palivec,’ resumed Bretschneider, who was again beginning to despair of catching either of them out, ‘but all the same you’ll admit that it’s a great loss for Austria.’

Švejk replied for the landlord: ‘Yes, it’s a loss indeed, there’s no denying it. A shocking loss. You can’t replace Ferdinand by any twopenny-halfpenny idiot. Only he ought to have been still fatter.’

‘What do you mean?’ Bretschneider livened up.

‘What do I mean?’ Švejk answered happily. ‘Just this. If he’d been fatter then of course he’d certainly have had a stroke long ago, when he was chasing those old women at Konopiště when they were collecting firewood and picking mushrooms on his estate, and he wouldn’t have had to die such a shameful death. Just imagine, an uncle of His Imperial Majesty and shot! Why, it’s a scandal! The newspapers are full of it. Years ago in our Budějovice a cattle-dealer called Břetislav Ludvík was stabbed in the market place in a petty squabble. He had a son called Bohuslav, and wherever that lad came to sell his pigs, no one wanted to buy anything from him and everyone said: “That’s the son of that chap who was stabbed. He’s probably a first-class bastard too!” There was nothing for him to do but to jump into the Vltava from that bridge at Krumlov, and they had to drag him out, resurrect him, pump water out of him, and of course he had to die in the arms of the doctor just when he was giving him an injection.’

‘You do make strange comparisons, I must say,’ said Bretschneider significantly. ‘First you talk about Ferdinand and then about a cattle-dealer.’

‘Oh, no, I don’t,’ Švejk defended himself. ‘God forbid my wanting to compare anyone to anybody else. Mr Palivec knows me very well. I’ve never compared anyone to anybody else, have I? But I wouldn’t for the life of me want to be in the skin of that Archduke’s widow. What’s she going to do now? The children are orphans and the family estate at Konopiště has no master. Marry a new Archduke? What would she get out of that? She’d only go with him to Sarajevo again and be widowed a second time. You know years ago there was a gamekeeper in Zliv near Hluboká.8 He had a very ugly name — Pinďour.9 Some poachers shot him, and he left a widow and two little babes. Within a year she married another gamekeeper, Pepík Šavel from Mydlovary. And they shot him too. And then she married a third time, again a gamekeeper, and said: “Third time lucky. If it doesn’t succeed this time, then I don’t know what I shall do.” Well, of course, they shot him too, and with all these gamekeepers she had six children altogether. She even went to the office of His Highness the Prince at Hluboká and complained that she’d had trouble with those gamekeepers. And so they recommended her a fellow called Jareš10 who was a water bailiff in the watch tower at Ražice. And, can you imagine it? He was drowned when they were fishing the lake out. And she had two children by him. And then she took a pig-gelder from Vodňany and one night he hit her over the head with his axe and went and gave himself up voluntarily. And when they hanged him afterwards at the district court at Písek he bit the priest’s nose and said he didn’t regret anything. And he also said something extremely nasty about His Imperial Majesty.’

‘And you don’t happen to know what he said?’ Bretschneider asked hopefully.

‘I can’t tell you, because no one dared repeat it. But I’m told that it was something so dreadful and horrible that one of the magistrates went mad, and they keep him to this very day in solitary confinement, so that it shan’t get out. It wasn’t the usual sort of insulting remark which people make about His Imperial Majesty when they’re tight.’

‘And what sort of insulting remark do people make about His Imperial Majesty when they’re tight?‘ asked Bretschneider.

‘Now come, gentlemen, please change the subject,’ said Palivec. ‘You know, I don’t like it. Somebody might talk out of turn and we’d be sorry for it.’

‘What sort of insulting remarks do people make about His Imperial Majesty when they’re tight?’ Švejk repeated. ‘All kinds. Get drunk., have the Austrian national anthem played and you’ll see what you start saving! You’ll think up such a lot about His Imperial Majesty, that if only half of it were true it would be enough to disgrace him all his life. But the old gentleman really doesn’t deserve it. Just think His son Rudolf11 — lost in tender years, in full flower of his manhood. His wife Elizabeth — stabbed with a file. And then Jan Orth — also lost. His brother, the Emperor of Mexico12 — put up against a wall and shot in a fortress somewhere. And now again in his old age they’ve shot his uncle. A chap needs iron nerves for that. And then some drunken bastard starts to swear at him. If the balloon went up today I’d go as a volunteer and serve His Imperial Majesty to my last drop of blood.’

Švejk took a deep draught of beer and continued:

‘Do you really think His Imperial Majesty is going to put up with this sort of thing? If so, you don’t know him at all. There’ll have to be a war with the Turks. “You killed my uncle and so I’ll bash your jaw.” War is certain. Serbia and Russia will help us in it. There won’t half be a blood bath.’

Švejk looked beautiful in this prophetic moment. His simple face, smiling like a full moon, beamed with enthusiasm. Everything was so clear to him.

‘It may be,’ he said, continuing his account of Austria’s future, ‘that if we have war with the Turks the Germans’ll attack us, because the Germans and the Turks stick together. You can’t find bigger bastards anywhere. But we can ally ourselves with France which has had a down on Germany ever since 1871. And then the balloon’ll go up. There’ll be war. I won’t say any more.’

Bretschneider stood up and said solemnly:

‘You don’t need to. Just come along with me into the passage. I’ve got something to say to you there.’

Švejk followed the plain-clothes police officer into the passage where a little surprise awaited him. His drinking companion showed him his eaglet13 and announced that he was arresting him and would take him at once 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 capable of offending anyone.

However, Bretschneider told him that he had in fact committed several criminal offences, including the crime of high treason.

Then they returned to the pub and Švejk said to Palivec:

‘I’ve had five beers, a couple of frankfurters and a roll. Now give me one more slivovice and I must go, because I’m under arrest.’

Bretschneider showed Palivec his eaglet, stared at him for a moment and then asked:

‘Are you married?’

‘I am.’

‘And can Madam carry on the business for you during your absence?’

‘She can.’

‘Then it’s all right, Mr Palivec,’ said Bretschneider gaily. ‘Call your wife here, give the business over to her, and in the evening we’ll come for you.’

‘Take it easy,’ Švejk consoled him. ‘I’m only going there for high treason.’

‘But what am I going for?’ moaned Palivec. ‘After all, I’ve been so careful.’

Bretschneider smiled and said triumphantly:

‘Because you said the flies shitted on His Imperial Majesty. They’ll certainly knock His Imperial Majesty out of your head there.’

And so Švejk left The Chalice under the escort of the plain-clothes police officer. When they went out into the Street his face lit up with its good-natured smile and he asked:

‘Should I step down from the pavement?’

‘What do you mean?’

‘I thought as I’m under arrest I’ve no right to walk on the pavement.’

When they passed through the door of police headquarters Švejk said:

‘Well, the time passed very pleasantly for us there. Do you often go to The Chalice?’

And while they were escorting Švejk to the reception office Palivec at The Chalice handed over the running of the pub to his weeping wife, consoling her in his own inimitable way:

‘Don’t cry, don’t howl. What can they do to me because of some shit on a picture of His Imperial Majesty?’

And thus it was that the good soldier Švejk intervened in the great 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 it at The Chalice we must bear in mind that he had never had any preparatory training in diplomacy.

 

(The Good Soldier Švejk, part I, chap. 1)

Translation from the Czech by Cecil Parrott, 1973


1. The Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of the Austrian Emperor, Franz Joseph, was assassinated with his wife at Sarajevo by the Serbian nationalist, Gavrilo Princip, in 1914.

2. After the Russo-Turkish war of 1877—8 Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina. They remained under Turkish suzerainty until 1908 when Austria-Hungary annexed them.

3. The Empress Elizabeth of Austria was stabbed by an anarchist in 1898 in Switzerland.

4. In fact Franz Ferdinand was the Emperor’s nephew.

5. When the British Commander called upon Marshal Cambronne to surrender he is reputed to have said: ‘Merde! The guard dies but does not yield.’

6. The Prague prison.

7. A member of the Czech National Liberal Party led by Dr Kramář, later to be the first Premier of the Czechoslovak Republic.

8. Famous estate of Prince Schwarzenberg in Southern Bohemia.

9. ‘Little cock’.

10. Hašek’s grandfather was called Jareš and was a water bailiff.

11. Rudolf, the son of the Emperor Franz Joseph and heir to the throne, died mysteriously at his hunting lodge of Mayerling.

12. Archduke Johann gave up his Hapsburg title and called himself Johann Orth. Ferdinand Maximilian, the brother of the Emperor, was crowned Emperor of Mexico. He was taken prisoner and executed in 1867.

13. The two-headed eagle was the warrant of the Austrian State Security.




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