The Good Soldier Svejk Chapter 1.

Schweik, the Good Soldier, Intervenes in the Great War.

"So they’ve killed Ferdinand," said the charwoman to Mr. Schweik who, having left the army many years before, when a military medical board had declared him to be chronically feebleminded, earned a livelihood by the sale of dogs—repulsive mongrel monstrosities for whom he forged pedigrees. Apart from this occupation, he was afflicted with rheumatism, and was just rubbing his knees with embrocation.

"Which Ferdinand, Mrs. Muller?" asked Schweik, continuing to massage his knees. "I know two Ferdinands. One of them does jobs for Prusa the chemist, and one day he drank a bottle of hair oil by mistake ; and then there’s Ferdinand Kokoska who goes round collecting manure. They wouldn’t be any great loss, either of ’em."

"No, it’s the Archduke Ferdinand, the one from Konopiste, you know, Mr. Schweik, the fat, pious one."

"Good Lord !" exclaimed Schweik, "that’s a fine thing. And where did this happen?"

"They shot him at Sarajevo with a revolver, you know. He was riding there with his Archduchess in a motor car."

"Just fancy that now, Mrs. Muller, in a motor car. Ah, a gentleman like him can afford it and he never thinks how a ride in a motor car like that can end up badly. And at Sarajevo in the bargain, that’s in Bosnia, Mrs. Muller. I expect the Turks did it. I reckon we never ought to have taken Bosnia and Herzegovina away from them. And there you are, Mrs. Muller. Now the Archduke’s in a better land. Did he suffer long?"

"The Archduke was done for on the spot. You know, people didn’t ought to mess about with revolvers. They’re dangerous things, that they are. Not long ago there was another gentleman down our way larking about with a revolver and he shot a whole family as well as the house porter, who went to see who was shooting on the third floor."

"There’s some revolvers, Mrs. Muller, that won’t go off, even if you tried till you was dotty. There’s lots like that. But they’re sure to have bought something better than that for the Archduke, and I wouldn’t mind betting, Mrs. Muller, that the man who did it put on his best clothes for the job. You know, it wants a bit of doing to shoot an archduke ; it’s not like when a poacher shoots a gamekeeper. You have to find out how to get at him ; you can’t reach an important man like that if you’re dressed just anyhow. You have to wear a top hat or else the police’d run you in before you knew where you were."

"I hear there was a whole lot of ’em, Mr. Schweik."

"Why, of course, there was, Mrs. Muller," said Schweik, now concluding the massage of his knees. "If you wanted to kill an archduke or the Emperor, for instance, you’d naturally talk it over with somebody. Two heads are better than one. One gives one bit of advice, another gives another, and so the good work prospers, as the hymn says. The chief thing is to keep on the watch till the gentleman you’re after rides past. . . . But there’s plenty more of them waiting their turn for it. You mark my words, Mrs. Muller, they’ll get the Czar and Czarina yet, and maybe, though let’s hope not, the Emperor himself, now that they’ve started with his uncle. The old chap’s got a lot of enemies. More than Ferdinand had. A little while ago a gentleman in the saloon bar was saying that there’d come a time when all the emperors would get done in one after another, and that not all their bigwigs and suchlike would save them. Then he couldn’t pay for his drinks and the landlord had to have him run in. And he gave him a smack in the jaw and two to the policeman. After that they had to strap him down in the police ambulance, just to bring him to his senses. Yes, Mrs. Muller, there’s queer goings-on nowadays ; that there is. That’s another loss to Austria. When I was in the army there was a private who shot a captain. He loaded his rifle and went into the orderly room. They told him to clear out, but he kept on saying that he must speak to the captain. Well the captain came along and gave him a dose of C.B. Then he took his rifle and scored a fair bull’s eye. The bullet went right through the captain and when it came out the other side, it did some damage in the orderly room, in the bargain. It smashed a bottle of ink and the ink got spilled all over some regimental records."

"And what happened to the private?" asked Mrs. Muller after a while, when Schweik was getting dressed.

"He hanged himself with a pair of braces," said Schweik, brushing his bowler hat. "And the braces wasn’t even his. He borrowed them from a jailer, making out that his trousers were coming down. You can’t blame him for not waiting till they shot him. You know, Mrs. Muller, it’s enough to turn anyone’s head, being in a fix like that. The jailer lost his rank and got six months as well. But he didn’t serve his time. He ran away to Switzerland and now he does a bit of preaching for some church or other. There ain’t many honest people about nowadays, Mrs. Muller. I expect that the Archduke was taken in by the man who shot him. He saw a chap standing there and thought : Now there’s a decent fellow, cheering me and all. And then the chap did him in. Did he give him one or several?"

"The newspaper says, Mr. Schweik, that the Archduke was riddled with bullets. He emptied the whole lot into him."

"That was mighty quick work, Mrs. Muller, mighty quick. I’d buy a Browning for a job like that. It looks like a toy, but in a couple of minutes you could shoot twenty archdukes with it, thin or fat. Although between ourselves, Mrs. Muller, it’s easier to hit a fat archduke than a thin one. You may remember the time they shot their king in Portugal. He was a fat fellow. Of course, you don’t expect a king to be thin. Well, now I’m going to call round at The Flagon and if anybody comes for that little terrier I took the advance for, you can tell ’em I’ve got him at my dog farm in the country. I just cropped his ears and now he mustn’t be taken away till his ears heal up or else he’d catch cold in them. Give the key to the house porter."

There was only one customer at The Flagon. This was Bretschneider, a plainclothes policeman who was on secret service work. Palivec, the landlord, was washing glasses and Bret-schneider vainly endeavoured to engage him in a serious conversation.

"We’re having a fine summer," was Bretschneider’s overture to a serious conversation.

"All damn rotten," replied Palivec, putting the glasses away into a cupboard.

"That’s a fine thing they’ve done for us at Sarajevo," Bret-schneider observed, with his hopes rather dashed.

"What Sarajevo’s that?" inquired Palivec. "D’you mean the wineshop at Nusle? They have a rumpus there every day. Well, you know what sort of place Nusle is."

"No, I mean Sarajevo in Bosnia. They shot the Archduke Ferdinand there. What do you think of that?"

"I never shove my nose into that sort of thing, I’m hanged if I do," primly replied Mr. Palivec, lighting his pipe. "Nowadays, it’s as much as your life’s worth to get mixed up in them. I’ve got my business to see to. When a customer comes in and orders beer, why I just serve him his drink. But Sarajevo or politics or a dead archduke, that’s not for the likes of us, unless we want to end up doing time."

Bretschneider said no more, but stared disappointedly round the empty bar.

"You used to have a picture of the Emperor hanging here," he began again presently, "just at the place where you’ve got a mirror now."

"Yes, that’s right," replied Mr. Palivec, "it used to hang there and the flies left their trade-mark on it, so I put it away into the lumber room. You see, somebody might pass a remark about it and then there might be trouble. What use is it to me?"

"Sarajevo must be a rotten sort of place, eh, Mr. Palivec?"

Mr. Palivec was extremely cautious in answering this deceptively straightforward question :

"At this time of the year it’s damned hot in Bosnia and Herzegovina. When I was in the army there, we always had to put ice on our company officer’s head."

"What regiment did you serve in, Mr. Palivec?"

"I can’t remember a little detail like that. I never cared a damn about the whole business, and I wasn’t inquisitive about it," replied Mr. Palivec. "It doesn’t do to be so inquisitive."

Bretschneider stopped talking once and for all, and his woebegone expression brightened up only on the arrival of Schweik who came in and ordered black beer with the remark :

"At Vienna they’re in mourning to-day."

Bretschneider’s eyes began to gleam with hope. He said curtly :

"There are ten black flags at Konopiste."

"There ought to be twelve," said Schweik, when he had taken a gulp.

"What makes you think it’s twelve?" asked Bretschneider.

"To make it a round number, a dozen. That’s easier to reckon out and things always come cheaper by the dozen," replied Schweik.

This was followed by a long silence, which Schweik himself interrupted with a sigh :

"Well, he’s in a better land now, God rest his soul. He didn’t live to be Emperor. When I was in the army, there was a general who fell off his horse and got killed as quiet as could be. They wanted to help him back on to his horse and when they went to lift him up, they saw he was stone dead. And he was just going

to be promoted to field marshal. It happened during an army inspection. No good ever comes of those inspections. There was an inspection of some sort or other at Sarajevo, too. I remember once at an inspection like that there was twenty buttons missing from my tunic and I got two weeks’ solitary confinement for it, and I spent two days of it tied up hand and foot. But there’s got to be discipline in the army, or else nobody’d care a rap what he did. Our company commander, he always used to say to us : ’There’s got to be discipline, you thickheaded louts, or else you’d be crawling about like monkeys on trees, but the army’ll make men of you, you thickheaded boobies.’ And isn’t it true? Just imagine a park and a soldier without discipline on every tree. That’s what I was always most afraid of."

"That business at Sarajevo," Bretschneider resumed, "was done by the Serbs."

"You’re wrong there," replied Schweik, "it was done by the Turks, because of Bosnia and Herzegovina."

And Schweik expounded his views of Austrian international policy in the Balkans. The Turks were the losers in 1912 against Serbia, Bulgaria, and Greece. They had wanted Austria to help them and when this was not done, they had shot Ferdinand.

"Do you like the Turks?" said Schweik, turning to Palivec. "Do you like that heathen pack of dogs? You don’t, do you?"

"One customer’s the same as another customer," said Palivec, "even if he’s a Turk. People like us who’ve got their business to look after can’t be bothered with politics. Pay for your drink and sit down and say what you like. That’s my principle. It’s all the same to me whether our Ferdinand was done in by a Serb or a Turk, a Catholic or a Moslem, an Anarchist or a young Czech Liberal."

"That’s all well and good, Mr. Palivec," remarked Bretschneider, who had regained hope that one or other of these two could be caught out, "but you’ll admit that it’s a great loss to Austria."

Schweik replied for the landlord :

"Yes, there’s no denying it. A fearful loss. You can’t replace Ferdinand by any sort of tomfool. Still, he ought to have been a bit fatter."

"What do you mean?" asked Bretschneider, growing alert.

"What do I mean?" replied Schweik composedly. "Why, only just this: If he’d been fatter, he’d certainly have had a stroke earlier, when he chased the old women away at Konopiste, when they were gathering firewood and mushrooms on his preserves there, and then he wouldn’t have died such a shocking death. When you come to think of it, for him, the Emperor’s uncle, to get shot like that, oh, it’s shocking, that it is, and the newspapers are full of it. But what I say is, I wouldn’t like to be the Archduke’s widow. What’s she going to do now? Marry some other archduke? What good would come of that? She’d take another trip to Sarajevo with him and be left a widow for the second time. A good many years ago there was a gamekeeper at Zlim. He was called Pindour. A rum name, eh? Well, he was shot by poachers and left a widow with two children. A year later she married another gamekeeper from Mydlovary. And they shot him, too. Then she got married a third time and said : ’All good things go by threes. If this turns out badly, I don’t know what I shall do.’ Blessed if they didn’t shoot him, too, and by that time she’d had six children with all those gamekeepers. So she went to the Lord of the Manor himself at Hluboka and complained of the trouble she’d had with the gamekeepers. Then she was advised to try Jares, a pond keeper. Well, you wouldn’t believe it, but he got drowned while he was fishing and she’d had two children with him. Then she married a pig gelder from Vodnany and one night he hit her with an axe and gave himself up to the police. When they hanged him at the assizes in Pisek, he said he had no regrets and on top of that he passed some very nasty remarks about the Emperor."

"Do you happen to know what he said?" inquired Bretschneider in a hopeful voice.

"I can’t tell you that, because nobody had the nerve to repeat it. But they say it was something pretty awful, and that one of the justices, who was in court at the time, went mad when he heard it, and they’re still keeping him in solitary confinement so as it shouldn’t get known. It wasn’t just the ordinary sort of nasty remark like people make when they’re drunk."

"What sort of nasty remarks about the Emperor do people make when they’re drunk?" asked Bretschneider.

"Come, come, gentlemen, talk about something else," said the landlord, "that’s the sort of thing I don’t like. One word leads to another and then it gets you into trouble."

"What sort of nasty remarks about the Emperor do people make when they’re drunk?" repeated Bretschneider.

"All sorts. Just you have too much to drink and get them to play the Austrian hymn and you’ll see what you’ll start saying. You’ll think of such a lot of things about the Emperor that if only half of them were true, it’d be enough to disgrace him for the rest of his life. Not that the old gentleman deserves it. Why, look at it this way. He lost his son Rudolf at a tender age when he was in the prime of life. His wife was stabbed with a file ; then Johann Orth got lost and his brother, the Emperor of Mexico, was shot in a fortress up against a wall. Now, in his old age, they’ve shot his uncle. Things like that get on a man’s nerves. And then some drunken chap takes it into his head to call him names. If war was to break out to-day, I’d go of my own accord and serve the Emperor to my last breath."

Schweik took a deep gulp and continued :

"Do you think the Emperor’s going to put up with that sort of thing? Little do you know him. You mark my words, there’s got to be war with the Turks. Kill my uncle, would you? Then take this smack in the jaw for a start. Oh, there’s bound to be war. Serbia and Russia’ll help us. There won’t half be a bust-up."

At this prophetic moment Schweik was really good to look upon. His artless countenance, smiling like the full moon, beamed with enthusiasm. The whole thing was so utterly clear to him.

"Maybe," he continued his delineation of the future of Austria, "if we have war with the Turks, the Germans’ll attack us, because the Germans and the Turks stand by each other. They’re a low lot, the scum of the earth. Still, we can join France, because they’ve had a grudge against Germany ever since ’71. And then there’ll be lively doings. There’s going to be war. I can’t tell you more than that."

Bretschneider stood up and said solemnly :

"You needn’t say any more. Follow me into the passage and there I’ll say something to you."

Schweik followed the plainclothes policeman into the passage

where a slight surprise awaited him when his fellow-toper showed him his badge and announced that he was now arresting him and would at once convey him to the police headquarters. Schweik endeavoured to explain that there must be some mistake ; that he was entirely innocent ; that he hadn’t uttered a single word capable of offending anyone.

But Bretschneider told him that he had actually committed several penal offences, among them being high treason.

Then they returned to the saloon bar and Schweik said to Mr. Palivec :

"I’ve had five beers and a couple of sausages with a roll. Now let me have a cherry brandy and I must be off, as I’m arrested."

Bretschneider showed Mr. Palivec his badge, looked at Mr. Palivec for a moment and then asked :

"Are you married?"


"And can your wife carry on the business during your absence?"


"That’s all right, then, Mr. Palivec," said Bretschneider breezily. "Tell your wife to step this way ; hand the business over to her, and we’ll come for you in the evening."

"Don’t you worry about that," Schweik comforted him. "I’m being run in only for high treason."

"But what about me?" lamented Mr. Palivec. "I’ve been so careful what I said."

Bretschneider smiled and said triumphantly :

"I’ve got you for saying that the flies left their trade-mark on the Emperor. You’ll have all that stuff knocked out of your head."

And Schweik left The Flagon in the company of the plainclothes policeman. When they reached the street Schweik, fixing his good-humoured smile upon Bretschneider’s countenance, inquired :

"Shall I get off the pavement?"

"How d’you mean?"

"Why, I thought now I’m arrested I mustn’t walk on the pavement."

When they were passing through the entrance to the police headquarters, Schweik said :

"Well, that passed off very nicely. Do you often go to The Flagon?"

And while they were leading Schweik into the reception bureau, Mr. Palivec at The Flagon was handing over the business to his weeping wife, whom he was comforting in his own special manner :

"Now stop crying and don’t make all that row. What can they do to me on account of the Emperor’s portrait where the flies left their trade-mark?"

And thus Schweik, the good soldier, intervened in the World War in that pleasant, amiable manner which was so peculiarly his. It will be of interest to historians to know that he saw far into the future. If the situation subsequently developed otherwise than he expounded it at The Flagon, we must take into account the fact that he lacked a preliminary diplomatic training.