The Good Soldier Svejk Chapter 12.

Religious Debate.

It used to happen that for days at a time Schweik saw nothing of the custodian of warriors’ souls. The Chaplain divided his time between his duties and his frolics, and on the very rare occasions when he came home, he was bedraggled and unwashed, like a tomcat miaowing on his trips across the house tops.

When he did get back, if he was capable of speech, he would talk to Schweik, before dropping off to sleep ; his favourite topics being high aims, enthusiasm, the pleasures of the mind. Sometimes he tried to recite poetry and to quote passages from Heine.

Schweik cooperated with the Chaplain in one more field mass, this time for the Engineers. By mistake another chaplain, a former catechist and an extremely pious man, had been invited to attend. He eyed his colleague with amazement when the latter offered him a gulp of cognac from the field flask, which Schweik always took with him to religious functions of this kind.

"It’s a good brand," said Otto Katz. "Have a drink and then go home. I’ll see to this business myself, because I need a breath of fresh air. I’ve got a bit of a headache to-day."

The pious chaplain departed, shaking his head dubiously, and Katz, as usual, fulfilled his task with consummate skill.

This time it was a mixture of wine and soda water which was transformed into the blood of the Lord, and the sermon was longer, every third word being "and so forth" or "assuredly."

"To-day, soldiers, you are going to the front, and so forth. Now you are turning your thoughts to God and so forth, assuredly. You do not know what will befall you, and so forth and assuredly."

And from the altar "and so forth" and "assuredly" continued to be heard in tones of thunder, alternating with God and all the saints.

In his excitement and the verve of his oratory, the Chaplain referred to Prince Eugene of Savoy as a saint who would protect them when they were building bridges across rivers.

Nevertheless, the field mass concluded without any untoward incident. It was agreeable and entertaining. The Engineers enjoyed themselves very much.

On the way back an attempt was made to stop them from taking the folding altar with them into a tram car.

"I’ll give you a wallop over the head with this holy contraption," remarked Schweik to the conductor.

When at last they reached home, they discovered that somewhere on their way they had lost the tabernacle.

"That doesn’t matter," said Schweik. "The Early Christians polished off their mass without a tabernacle. If we was to advertise our loss, the honest person who found it would expect us to stump up. If it was money we’d lost, I don’t suppose there’d be any honest person to find it, though there are people like that

still knocking about. In the regiment I used to be in there was a soldier, a damn fool like that, who found 600 crowns in the street one day, and the newspapers called him an honest fellow, which properly blackened his character. Everybody kept out of his way and his girl gave him the chuck. When he went home on leave, his pals kicked him out of the bar parlour where they were having a jollification. He began to look very seedy, and in the end he threw himself under a railway train. Then there was a tailor down our street, and one day he found a gold ring. He was warned not to take it to the police, but he didn’t take any notice. At the police station they were very nice to him, and said that somebody had already reported the loss of a gold ring with a brilliant, but when they had a look at the stone, they said : ’Why, my good fellow, that’s glass ; that’s not a brilliant. How much did you get for the brilliant? We’ve met honest fellows like you before.’ Afterward it turned out that there was another man who’d lost a gold ring with a sham brilliant, a family heirloom, but the tailor spent three days in quod for getting excited and abusing the police. He got a reward of ten per cent., according to the regulations, and that came to one crown twenty hellers, because the sham jewellery was only worth twelve crowns, and he chucked this reward into some chap’s face and this chap had him up for slander and the tailor had to pay an extra fine of ten crowns.

"It strikes me that nobody’s going to bring back our tabernacle, even though it’s got the regimental badge on the back of it, because nobody wants to be mixed up with military doings. They’d rather throw it into the river, so as not to have any bother."

In the evening they had a visitor. This was the pious army chaplain who also wished to officiate at the mass for the pioneer detachment the next morning. Once he had been a catechist. He had a slight limp, the result of an encounter with the father of a pupil whose ears he had boxed for evincing doubts about the Holy Trinity. Now he had come to lead his colleague on to the right path and to take him seriously to task. He began the proceedings by the remark :

"I’m surprised you have no crucifix hanging here. Where do you pray from your breviary? Why, not the single image of a

saint adorns the walls of your room. What’s that you’ve got above the bed?"

Katz smiled.

"That’s Susanna in the Bath, and the naked female underneath is an old friend of mine. On the right is a bit or Japanese art representing a geisha in bed with an old samurai. An uncommon little thing, isn’t it? My breviary’s in the kitchen. Schweik, bring it here and open it at page 3."

Schweik departed, and from the kitchen could be heard the popping of a cork, three times in succession.

The pious chaplain was aghast when three bottles made their appearance on the table.

"That’s light sacramental wine, my dear fellow," said Katz. "First-rate quality. The flavour is something like Moselle."

"I have no intention of drinking," announced the pious chaplain obdurately. "I have come to take you seriously to task."

"You’ll find that a dry job, my dear fellow," said Katz. "Have a drink and I’ll listen. I’m a very tolerant person and quite capable of seeing the other man’s point of view."

The pious chaplain took a sip and his eyes started out of his head.

"A deuced good drop of wine, eh, my dear fellow?" said Katz.

The pious chaplain said coldly :

"I observe that you are in the habit of using profane language."

"That’s just a habit," replied Katz. "Sometimes I actually catch myself being blasphemous. Schweik, fill up his Reverence’s glass. I wouldn’t mind betting that when you’ve been in the army as long as I have, you’ll do the same. Drink up, my dear fellow."

The former catechist sipped mechanically. It was evident that he wanted to say something, but could not. He was collecting his thoughts.

"My dear fellow," continued Katz, "cheer up; don’t look so down in the mouth, as if you were going to be hanged in five minutes. Drink up. That’s it. Do you feel better now? Tell me, do you hold progressive views about hell? Are you keeping abreast of the spirit of the age? You know the idea. Instead of the usual cauldrons of sulphur for miserable sinners, there are Papin’s di-

gesters and high-tension boilers, the sinners are fried in margarine, the spits are driven by electricity, steam rollers squash the sinners flat for millions of years at a time, the gnashing of teeth effect is produced by dentists with special apparatus, the wailing is reproduced by gramophone and the records are sent up to paradise to amuse the righteous. In paradise there are appliances for spraying eau de Cologne and the Philharmonic Orchestra plays Brahms for such a length of time that you’d rather be in hell or purgatory. Drink up, my dear fellow. Schweik, give him some cognac. He doesn’t seem to be well."

When the pious chaplain had recovered himself somewhat, he whispered :

"Religion is a matter for solemn deliberation. If a man does not believe in the Holy Trinity -"

"Schweik," said Katz, interrupting him, "give his Reverence another glass of cognac to bring him round."

The pious chaplain saw spots before his eyes and he restored himself with another glass of cognac, which went to his head. Blinking his eyes, he asked Katz :

"Don’t you believe in the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary? Don’t you even believe in God? And if you don’t believe, why are you an army chaplain?"

"My dear fellow," replied Katz, slapping him familiarly on the back, "the government has decided that soldiers need God’s blessing before proceeding to die in battle, and as an army chaplain’s job is a decently paid occupation which doesn’t involve overwork, I find it a jolly sight better than running about on parade grounds or going to manÅ“uvres. I used to get orders from my superiors, but now I do what I like. I represent someone who doesn’t exist and I’m a little tin god all on my own. If I don’t choose to forgive a man his sins, why, I just don’t, even if he begs me on his bended knees. I’m bound to say that there’s precious few of ’em who’d go to those lengths."

"I’m fond of God," announced the pious chaplain, beginning to hiccough. "I’m very fond of Him. Give me a little wine.

"I respect God," he then continued. "I respect and esteem Him highly. There’s nobody I respect as much as Him."

He brought his fist down on the table and made the bottles rattle.

"God," he said, "is a sublime, a super-terrestrial being. He is honourable in all His ways. He is a radiant phenomenon—nobody will ever persuade me of the contrary. I respect St. Joseph, too ; in fact, I respect all the saints, except St. Serapion. He’s got such an ugly name."

"He ought to apply to have it altered," suggested Schweik.

"I’m fond of St. Ludmilla and St. Bernard," continued the ex-catechist. "He’s saved lots of travellers on the St. Gothard. He carries a bottle of cognac round his neck and searches for people who’ve got lost in the snow."

The entertainment now took a new turn. The pious chaplain began to talk at random.

"I esteem the innocents. Their feast day is on December 28th. I detest Herod. If a hen sleeps, you can’t get newly-laid eggs."

He burst out laughing and began to sing : " ’God the holy, God the mighty.’ " But he immediately broke off and, turning to Katz, asked him sternly, as he stood up :

"You don’t believe that we celebrate the ascension of the Virgin Mary on August 15th?"

The entertainment was now in full swing. Further bottles made their appearance and from time to time the voice of Katz was heard :

"Say you don’t believe in God, or I won’t fill up your glass any more."

It looked as if the persecution of the Early Christians had been resumed. The ex-catechist was warbling a song about the martyrs in the Roman arena, and then yelled :

"I believe in the Lord God, I will not deny Him. Let me have my wine. I can send for some myself."

At last they put him to bed. Before he fell asleep, he raised his right hand, as if he were taking an oath, and declared :

"I believe in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. Bring me a breviary."

Schweik shoved into his hand some book or other, the result being that the pious chaplain went to sleep with Boccaccio’s Decameron in his arms.