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The Good Soldier Švejk

Jaroslav Hašek

Drunkard, malingerer, oaf and possible genius – the story of Czech soldier Švejk and his misadventures in the First World War is one of the most hilarious and subversive satires on war ever written.

‘Listen, Švejk, are you really God’s prize oaf?’ ‘Humbly report, sir,’ Švejk answered solemnly. ‘I am!’

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The Good Soldier Švejk Intervenes in the Great War

‘And so they’ve killed our Ferdinand,’ 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. 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 Elizabeth 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. 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, but 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? He 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 plainclothes 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.

‘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?’


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