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GOOD SOLDIER ŠVEJK ACTS TO INTERVENE

IN THE WORLD WAR

 

"So they’ve done it to us," said the cleaning woman to Mr. Švejk. "They’ve killed our Ferdinand."

Švejk had been discharged from military service years ago when a military medical commission had pronounced him to be officially an imbecile. Now, he was making his living by selling dogs, ugly mongrel mutants, that he sold as purebreds by forging their pedigrees. In addition to this demeaning vocation, Švejk also suffered from rheumatism and was just now rubbing his aching knees with camphor ice.

"Which Ferdinand, Mrs. Müller?" he asked. "I know two Ferdinands. One is the pharmacist Průša’s delivery boy, who drank up a whole bottle of hair potion once by mistake. And then, I know one Ferdinand Kokoška, who collects dog turds. Neither one would be much of a loss."

"But Mr. Švejk! They killed the Archduke Ferdinand, the one from Konopiště, the fat one, the religious one."

"Jesusmaria!" yelled Švejk. "That’s big! And where did it befall him, the royal archduke?"

"They killed him in Sarajevo, Mr. Švejk. They shot him with a revolver as he was riding with that archduchess of his in an automobile."

"There you have it, Mrs. Müller, in an automobile. Well, yes. A lord like that can afford it, so it doesn’t even cross his mind that such a ride in an automobile can have an unfortunate ending. And in Sarajevo on top of it. That’s in Bosnia, Mrs. Müller. It was probably the Turks who did it. Well, we shouldn’t have taken that Bosnia and Hercegovina from them.

"He is then, the royal archduke, resting in the truth of the Lord already. Did he suffer long?"

"The royal archduke was done for right away, Mr. Švejk. You know, a revolver like that’s not child’s play! Not long ago, a man from Nusle, near where I live, was also playing with a revolver. And, he blasted away the whole family. Right on the third floor of an apartment building there. Nusle is truly one of the toughest neighborhood’s in Prague! He even shot the resident custodian, who went to take a look at what all the shooting was about."

"Some revolvers, Mrs. Müller, won’t go bang no matter what you do. You can lose your mind trying to make them work. There are a lot of such weapons. But, surely they bought something better for the royal archduke. You know, taking a shot at a royal archduke is really a tough job. It’s not like a poacher taking a shot at the game warden. The problem is how to get to him. You can’t go hunting a lord like that in rags. You’ve got to have a top hat on so the police won’t pick you up before you can do it."

"They say there was more than one of them, Mr. Švejk."

"That goes without saying Mrs. Müller," he replied as he finished massaging his knees. "If you wanted to kill the royal archduke or the lord emperor, then you would surely consult somebody. More people means more brains. This one will advise this, and that one that, and then ‘the job will succeed,’ just as our anthem says.

"The main thing is to lie in wait for the right moment. Perhaps you remember that anarchist, Luccheni, who ran our Empress Elizabeth through with a file. He was just walking with her. You can’t trust anyone! Since then, no empresses will go out for a stroll. And this fate awaits many others. You’ll see, Mrs. Müller. They’ll even get to that Russian czar and his wife. And could be, God forbid, even to our Lord Emperor himself, since they have already started with his nephew. The old man has a lot of enemies, even more than Ferdinand.

"Just the other day, a fellow at the pub was saying that the time will come that those emperors will be dropping dead, one by one, and that even all the work of their state prosecutors won’t be able to save them. However, the thirsty gent saying this didn't have enough to pay his bill, so the pubkeeper called the police. When they tried to arrest him, he punched the pub owner and did a pretty good job on the cop. They had to tie him up and take him away in the police wagon after they knocked him out. Yes, Mrs. Müller, it’s hard to believe the things that happen nowadays. It’s all a big loss for Austria.

"When I was serving in the army, an infantryman there shot a captain. He loaded a rifle and went to the office. They told him that he had no business there. But, he kept insisting he needed to see the captain. The captain finally came storming out and ordered him confined to the barracks right away. The soldier aimed his rifle and shot the captain right through the heart. The bullet flew out of the captain’s back and still managed to do damage in the office. It broke open a bottle of ink that then spilled onto some official documents."

"And what happened to that soldier?" Mrs. Müller asked after a while, as she watched Švejk dress.

"He hung himself with suspenders," answered Švejk, brushing off his felt hat. "And the suspenders weren’t even his. He borrowed them from the prison guard by telling him that his pants were falling down. What was he supposed to do? Wait until they shot him?

"You know Mrs. Müller, everyone’s head spins in a situation like that. The prison guard was demoted and given six months in jail. But he didn’t do all of his time. He ran off to Switzerland and today he is a preacher of some church denomination there.

"Nowadays, there are few straight shooters, Mrs. Müller. I imagine the old Archduke Ferdinand in that Sarajevo misjudged the man who shot him. He saw someone dressed as a gentleman and said to himself: ‘There’s a fine, upstanding citizen! He’s chanting that I should live long.’ And then, that properly dressed gentleman blew him away. Did he shoot him once or several times?"

"The newspaper says, Mr. Švejk, that the royal archduke looked like a sieve. They emptied the gun and hit him with all the bullets."

"It happens fast, Mrs. Müller, terribly fast. For something like that, I’d buy a Browning. It looks like a toy. But in two minutes you can mow down twenty archdukes, thin ones or fat ones. Although, between you and me Mrs. Müller, you’ll hit a fat archduke more likely than a thin one.

"Remember that time in Portugal when they mowed down their own king? He also was fat like that. It’s not surprising. After all, you know a king is not going to be skinny.

"I’m going to The Chalice pub now. And, if anybody comes for that pooch I took a down payment for, tell him it’s in my kennel in the country. And tell him that I recently clipped the pooch’s ears, so it can’t be transported right now. It might get sick.

"Oh. And please leave my key with the custodian."

 

 

There was only one customer sitting at ‘The Chalice’ pub. He was a neighborhood patrolman named Bretschneider, on loan and working undercover for the state security police. The pub’s owner, Palivec, was washing his porcelain coasters and Bretschneider was trying, in vain, to engage him in conversation.

Palivec was well known for his foul mouth. Every other word of his was butt or shit. Still, he was a well-read foul mouth and was currently urging everyone he met to read Victor Hugo’s description of the tough answer Napoleon’s Old Guard gave to the English at Waterloo.

"We’re having a nice summer, aren’t we?" asked Bretschneider.

"It’s all worth shit," replied Palivec, putting his coasters away.

"They sure did it to us nicely in Sarajevo," Bretschneider continued, hoping to instigate a political discussion.

"What Sarajevo?" asked Palivec. "That wine bar in Nusle? They fight every day there. That’s Nusle, you know."

"The Sarajevo in Bosnia, mister pubkeeper, where they shot the royal Archduke Ferdinand dead! What do you say to that?"

"I don’t get myself mixed up in such things," Palivec answered politely, while lighting his pipe. "Everybody can kiss my ass with stuff like that. Getting messed up in stuff like that nowadays can get you hanged. I’m a small businessman. When somebody comes in and orders a beer, then I draw it for him. But some Sarajevo --politics-- some archduke, that is nothing to me. It hold’s no promise, except maybe a trip to the Pankrác prison."

Bretschneider quietly stared across the deserted pub. After awhile, he said out loud:

"At one time, a picture of our Lord Emperor used to hang here. Right over there where that mirror is now."

Yeah, you’re right," said Palivec, "it used to hang there. And the flies kept shitting on it, so, I put it in the attic. You know, that all I would have needed was for some busybody to dare to make some kind of comment. It could have resulted in some unpleasant difficulties. I don’t need that kind of trouble."

"It’s most likely that business in Sarajevo was pretty nasty, eh Mr. Palivec?"

The crass sneakiness of the patrolman’s question prompted the pub owner to answer most carefully:

"You must remember that, around this time in Bosnia and Hercegovina, it is usually terribly hot. When I served in the military there, every so often, we had to put ice on our lieutenant’s head."

"Which regiment did you serve with, mister pubkeeper?"

"I don’t remember such details. I was never interested in such bullshit and couldn’t care less," Palivec replied. "Too much curiosity is detrimental."

The undercover patrolman became silent. His gloomy expression improved only upon the arrival of Švejk, who sauntered into the pub and ordered a dark beer.

"They’re sad in Vienna today," said Švejk, hoisting his black-colored beer, "and in mourning, too,"

Bretschneider’s eyes began to sparkle with hope as he said to Švejk:

"At the Konopistì, there are 10 black pennants flying."

"There should be 12 of them," said Švejk, taking another sip from his beer.

"Why do you think 12?" asked Bretschneider.

"To facilitate counting," answered Švejk. "It’s easier to count. And, in dozens, things always come more cheaply."

Silence reigned again at The Chalice, until Švejk broke it with an audible sigh and began to speak:

"So, he is there already. In the truth of the Lord. May the Lord God give him eternal glory. He did not even live to be Emperor. When I was serving in the military, one of our generals fell off his horse. He died so calmly, the men didn’t even know he was dead. They tried to boost him back into the saddle and were shocked that he was totally dead. He was soon to be promoted to Field Marshall. It happened during a parade review of the troops. These reviews never lead to any good. In Sarajevo, I hear there was also some kind of troops parade.

"Once, during a parade review, they caught me missing twenty buttons on my uniform, as I remember. They locked me up in solitary for two weeks because of it. For two days, I was laying still, like Lazarus, with my hands and feet tied up behind by back. But, I agree there has to be discipline in the military, otherwise nobody would take anything seriously, or fear anything. Our lieutenant, Makovec, he would always tell us: ‘Discipline must be enforced, you stupid guys! Otherwise, you would all be climbing the trees like monkeys. However, military service will turn you all into humans, you stupid idiots!’ And isn’t that the truth? Imagine a park. Say, Karlák here in Prague. And, in every tree, you see a soldier without discipline. That’s what I always feared most."

"In Sarajevo," said Bretschneider, returning to his favorite subject, "it was the Serbs who killed the Archduke."

"You are mistaken," retorted Švejk. "The Turks did it on account of Bosnia and Hercegovina."

He then expounded on his view of Austria’s international policy in the Balkans. The Turks, he noted, had lost their territories to Serbia, Bulgaria and Greece. The Turks had wanted Austria to help them maintain control, Švejk explained, and because Austria didn’t help them, the Turks shot Ferdinand.

"Do you like Turks?" Švejk asked, turning to Palivec. "Do you like those pagan dogs? Hey, I’m sure you’ll say that you don’t."

"A guest is a guest," Palivec replied. "He may even be a Turk. For us small businessmen, politics has no currency. Pay for your beer and sit in the pub and babble all you want. That is my principle. Whether it was a Serb or a Turk who shot our Ferdinand, or a Catholic, Mohammedan, anarchist, or Young Czech, it’s all the same to me."

Bretschneider was once again becoming discouraged, and losing hope that either of the two could be hooked into disloyal conversation. Still, he tried once again:

"Very well, mister pubkeeper," he ventured. "But, you will admit that it was a great loss for Austria."

Instead of Palivec, Švejk answered:

"A loss it is. That cannot be denied. A terrible loss. Ferdinand can’t be replaced by some dimwit. If only he had been a bit fatter than he was."

"How do you mean that?" asked Bretschneider, his hopes suddenly revived.

"How do I mean that?" Švejk echoed the policeman calmly. "Only this: Had he been fatter, he would surely have been hit with a stroke before this. Maybe, when he was chasing after those old broads collecting mushrooms and twigs at his estate at Konopistì. He didn’t have to die such a shameful death. Think about it. A nephew of the Lord Emperor and they shoot him dead. Now, that’s scandalous. The newspapers are full of it.

"Years ago, by us in Budìjovice, during one of those petty arguments in the marketplace, some guys stabbed a livestock dealer named Bøetislav Ludvík. He had a son Bohuslav. But, after that, whenever the son came to sell pigs, nobody bought anything from him. Everybody would say, ‘That’s the son of that shyster who was stabbed. He’s got to be a crook, too.’ He jumped right into the Vltava River from that bridge in Krumlov. They pulled him out and tried to revive him. They pumped water out of him. They went through all that, but he died anyway in the doctor’s arms from an injection he gave him."

"You sure come up with some odd comparisons," Bretschneider said. "You speak first about Ferdinand, then about a livestock dealer."

"But I don’t," said Švejk defensively. "God spare me from wanting to compare anybody to somebody else. This pubkeeper knows me. Look, will you tell him that I have never compared anybody to somebody else? I just wouldn’t want to be in the skin of the widow left by the Archduke. What is she gonna do? The children are orphans. The Lord’s estate in Konopistì is without a master. And to have to be married again to some new archduke? What’s in it for her? She’ll go with some new archduke to Sarajevo again, and, she’ll be widowed a second time.

"Years ago, there was a gamekeeper in Zliv by Hluboká. He had the ugly name of Pinďour (Littlepecker). Poachers shot him dead and he left a widow with two children. A year later she married a gamekeeper again. His name was Pepík Savel and he was from Mydlovary. And, they shot him dead for her, too. She married for the third time. Again, she took a gamekeeper for a husband and said: ‘Three times lucky. But, if it doesn’t work out this time, I don’t know what I’ll do.’ You bet they did it to her again and shot him dead, as well. By now, she bore, altogether, six children with these gamekeepers.

"She went all the way to the office of the Count of Hluboká to complain that she had suffered nothing but heartbreak with those gamekeepers. So, they recommended Jares, who worked as a fishpond warden from a cottage at Ražice. And, what would you say if I told you they drowned him while he was fishing out the pond? She’d had two more children with him. Finally, she married a gelder from Vodòany who whacked her with an ax one night. He turned himself in voluntarily. While they were hanging him at the district courthouse in Písek, he bit off the priest’s nose and said he had no remorse for anything. He also said something very ugly about the Lord Emperor."

"Do you know what he said about him?" Bretschneider asked, his voice full of hope.

"I can’t tell you that because no one dared to repeat it. But, it was, it is said, something so dreadful and horrible that a court administrator, who was there, lost his mind over it. Until this day, so it is said, they keep him in isolation, so that it won’t come out. It was not just a common insult to the Lord Emperor, the kind that is made when someone is drunk."

"And what kind of insult is made to the Lord Emperor when someone is drunk?" asked Bretschneider.

"Gentlemen, please turn the page!" thundered Palivec the pub owner. "You know I don’t like it. Someone could blabber out anything and be sorry for it later."

"What kind of insults are made about the Lord Emperor when someone is drunk?" repeated Švejk. "All kinds. Get drunk and have them play the national anthem, and, you’ll see what you will start saying. You will make up so much stuff about the Lord Emperor that, if only half of it were true, it would be enough for him to live in shame for the rest of his life. But, the old man really doesn’t deserve it.

"Think about it. He lost his young son Rudolf when he was at the height of his manly vitality. His wife Elizabeth, they ran through with a file. He lost Jan Orth. Next, they shot his brother who was the Emperor of Mexico. Shot him dead, up against a wall in some fortress. Now, in his old age, they blast his nephew. Given all that, a man better have nerves of steel. And then, out of the blue, some drunk decides to start calling him names. If something were to break out today, I would volunteer to serve the Lord Emperor until my body was torn to pieces."

Švejk took a long swig of his beer and then continued:

"You think the Lord Emperor will let this go? Then, you don’t know him well enough. There must be war with the Turks. They’ve killed the royal nephew, so we must go and kick their ass. A war is guaranteed. Serbia and Russia will help us in that war. It will be a rumble."

Švejk looked radiant in this moment of prophecy. His simpleton-like face shone brightly. Everything was clear to him.

"Could be," he said, continuing his exposition of the future of Austria, "that, in case of a war with the Turks, the Germans will attack us, because the Germans and the Turks stick together. They are double-crossers without equal in all the world. But, we can unite with France. It has been waiting for an excuse to fight Germany since 1871. And, that’ll get things going then for sure. There will be war and I'll say no more."

Bretschneider stood up and proclaimed with both pleasure and gravity:

"You don’t have to say anymore. Come with me to the hallway. I’ll tell you something there."

Švejk followed the undercover patrolman into the hallway. To his surprise, this friendly man, who had been drinking beer right next to him just moments ago, turned over the lapel of his coat and showed him his "little eagle," the badge of the state security police. He announced that he was arresting him and would immediately take him to headquarters. Švejk tried to explain that there must be some mistake, that he was totally innocent, that he had not uttered one word which could have offended anyone.

Bretschneider told him, however, that he had really committed several criminal offenses, one of which constituted the crime of high treason.

They returned to the pub and Švejk spoke in the direction of Mr. Palivec:

"I’ve had five beers and a roll with a sausage. Now, give me a quick shot of slivovitz, because I have to go right away. I’m under arrest."

Bretschneider showed Palivec his "little eagle." Then, he stared at him for a moment and asked:

"Are you married?"

"I am."

"And, can your wife run the business during your absence?"

"She can."

"Then, all right, Mr. pubkeeper," Bretschneider said with glee. "Call your wife here. Turn the place over to her, because we’ll be coming by tonight to pick you up."

"Don’t let it make you feel too bad," Švejk said, attempting to console him. "I’m being taken in for high treason."

"But why me?" lamented Mr. Palivec. "I was so careful."

Bretschneider flashed a wry smile, then victoriously stated:

"You’re going in because you said that the flies were shitting on the Lord Emperor. They will, no doubt, manage to knock any such thoughts of the Lord Emperor out of your head."

Švejk left the Chalice pub in custody of the undercover patrolman. Once outside, he asked the following question with a broad, good-hearted smile on his face:

"Should I get off the sidewalk?"

"Why so?"

"I’m thinking that, since I’m under arrest, I don’t have the right to walk on the sidewalk."

When they arrived at the gates of the police headquarters, Švejk spoke:

"The time went by quite nicely for us. Do you come to The Chalice often?"

 

 

While Švejk was being processed at the police station, Palivec was transferring management of the pub to his weeping wife, and trying to soothe her in his own peculiar way.

"Don’t cry, don’t bawl. What can they do to me on account of a Lord Emperor’s picture being full of shit?"

And, so it was, that the good soldier Švejk intervened in the World War in his own lovable, charming manner. Historians will be interested to know that he saw far into the future. If the situation later developed differently, from how he had predicted it at The Chalice, we have to keep in mind that he hadn't been specifically trained in the diplomatic arts.