The Good Soldier Svejk Chapter 13.

Schweik Administers Extreme Unction.

Otto Katz sat meditating upon a circular which he had just brought from the barracks. It was a set of instructions from the War Office :

For the duration of the war the Minister of War cancels the regulations hitherto in force concerning the administration of extreme unction to the troops and issues the following instructions to army chaplains:

1. Extreme unction is abolished at the front.

2. Troops who are seriously ill or wounded are not permitted to proceed to the base for the purpose of extreme unction. Army chaplains are obliged to hand such persons over immediately to the appropriate military authorities for further action.

3. In military hospitals at the base extreme unction can be administered collectively on the basis of an M. O.’s certificate, as long as such extreme unction is not in the nature of an encumbrance to the military body concerned.

4. In special cases the O. C. military hospitals at the base can allow individuals to receive extreme unction.

5. Army chaplains are obliged, if called upon by the O. C. military hospitals at the base, to administer extreme unction to individuals designated by the commanding officer.

The Chaplain then once more read the communication informing him that on the next day he was to proceed to the military hospital in Charles Square for the purpose of administering extreme unction to the seriously wounded.

"Look here, Schweik," shouted the Chaplain, "isn’t this a dirty trick? As if I was the only army chaplain in the whole of Prague. Why don’t they send that pious chap who slept here a few days ago? We’ve got to go and administer extreme unction, and I’ve quite forgotten how to do it."

"Then we’ll buy a catechism, sir. It’s sure to be there," said Schweik. "That’s a sort of guide for sky pilots. At the Emaus monastery there used to be a jobbing gardener, and when he wanted to become a lay preacher and they gave him a cowl to save his clothes from getting torn, he had to buy a catechism to learn how to make the sign of the cross, who’s the only one to be saved from original sin, what a pure conscience is, and other little trifles like that. Then he went and sold half the cucumbers in the monastery garden without telling them about it, and he left the monastery in disgrace. When I met him, he said : T could have sold the cucumbers even if I’d never set eyes on the catechism.’ "

When Schweik arrived with the copy of the catechism which he had bought, the Chaplain perused it and said :

"I say, extreme unction can be administered only by a priest and with oil which has been consecrated by a bishop. So, you see, Schweik, you can’t administer extreme unction. Just read the bit to me about how the extreme unction is done."

Schweik read :

"It is administered thus : The priest anoints the sick person on the various organs of his senses, at the same time uttering this prayer :

’By this holy unction and by His goodly mercy may God forgive you for all your transgressions by sight, hearing, smell, taste, speech and touch.’ "

"I’d like to know, Schweik," remarked the Chaplain, "what transgression can be committed by touch. Can you explain that to me?"

"Lots of things, sir. For instance, you may touch somebody else’s pocket. Or, again, at dances—you know the sort of thing I mean."

After further philosophical speculations on this subject, the Chaplain said :

"Well, anyway, we need oil, consecrated by a bishop. Here’s ten crowns. Go and buy a bottle. They don’t seem to have any of the stuff in the military stores."

So Schweik set off on his quest for the oil consecrated by a bishop. He called at several grocers’ shops but as soon as he said, "I want a bottle of oil consecrated by a bishop," they burst out laughing or else hid themselves in alarm behind the counter. Schweik kept a straight face the whole time. Next he decided to try his luck in the chemists’ shops. In the first one they had him put outside by a dispenser. In the second they wanted to telephone for an ambulance. In the third the manager told him that Polâk & Co., in Long Street, oil and colour merchants, would be sure to have in stock the oil he was after.

And, true enough, Polâk & Co., in Long Street, proved to be a smart firm. They never let a customer leave the shop without satisfying his requirements. If anyone wanted copaiba balsam they served him with turpentine, and that did just as well.

When Schweik arrived and asked for ten crowns’ worth of oil, consecrated by a bishop, the manager said to the assistant :

"Give him half a pint of hempseed oil, number 3."

And as the assistant was wrapping the bottle up in a piece of paper, he said to Schweik in a strictly mercantile voice :

"It’s first-rate quality. Should you require any brushes, varnish or lacquers, let us have your orders. You can rely on being served to your best satisfaction."

Meanwhile the Chaplain was recapitulating in the catechism

what he had forgotten at the seminary. He took a great fancy to the highly sagacious phrases which made him laugh heartily. Thus : "The term ’extreme unction’ is derived from the circumstance that this unction is usually the last or extreme of all unctions which the Church administers to man," Or: "Extreme unction may be received by every Christian Catholic who is seriously ill and has reached years of discretion." Or : "The patient should receive extreme unction, if possible, while he is still in full possession of his senses."

Then an orderly arrived with a packet containing a communication to notify the Chaplain that on the next day the administration of extreme unction at the hospital would be attended by the "Society of Genteel Ladies for the Religious Training of Soldiers." This society consisted of hysterical old women and it supplied the soldiers in hospital with images of saints and tales about the Catholic warrior who dies for his Emperor. On the cover of the book containing these tales was a coloured picture, representing a battlefield. Corpses of men and horses, overturned munition wagons and cannon with the limber in the air, were scattered about on all sides. On the horizon a village was burning and shrapnel was bursting, while in the foreground lay a dying soldier, with his leg torn off, and above him an angel descended with a wreath bearing this inscription on a piece of ribbon: "This day thou shalt be with Me in paradise." And the dying soldier smiled blissfully, as if they were bringing him ice cream.

When Otto Katz had read the contents of the communication, he spat and muttered to himself :

"I’m going to have a hell of a time again to-morrow."

He knew that gang, as he called them, from St. Ignatius’ Church, where some years before he had delivered sermons to the troops. At that time he used to take a lot of trouble over his sermons, and the society had a pew behind the colonel. It consisted of two lanky females dressed in black, with a rosary, who had once come up to him after the sermon and had talked for two hours on end about the religious training of soldiers, until it had got on his nerves, and he said to them : "Excuse me, ladies ; the

colonel’s waiting for me to play a rubber of two-handed bridge with him."

"Well, there’s the oil," said Schweik solemnly, on his return from Polâk & Co. "Hempseed oil, number 3, first-class quality. There’s enough to anoint a whole blessed battalion. A reliable firm, that. They sell varnish, lacquers and brushes, too. Now all we want is a bell."

"What’s the bell for, Schweik?"

"We’ve got to keep ringing it on our way to the hospital, so as the people can take off their hats to us, seeing as how we’re carrying this hempseed oil number 3 along with us, sir. That’s always done, and plenty of people have been shoved into quod for being disrespectful about it and not taking off their hats. Why, down at Zizkov there was a parson who once gave a blind man a good hiding for not taking off his hat on one of these jobs, and he got shoved into quod on top of that because at the police court it was proved that he was only blind and not deaf or dumb, so that he could hear the bell ringing all right. So, if you don’t mind, sir, I’ll go and fetch a bell this very minute."

The Chaplain agreed, and half an hour later Schweik returned with a bell.

"I got it from the front door of a pub, The Cross Tavern. For about five minutes it was touch-and-go, and I had to wait a long time first, because people kept passing by."

"I’m just going out for a drink, Schweik. If anyone comes, tell them to wait."

After about an hour a gray-headed elderly man arrived. His bearing was erect and his expression severe. His whole appearance was sheer doggedness and malice. He looked as if he had been sent by fate to destroy our wretched planet and to wipe out every trace of it in the universe.

His speech was uncouth, curt and churlish.

"Not at home? Gone out for a drink? I’ve got to wait? All right, I’ll wait till to-morrow morning. He can afford drinks, but pay his debts, oh dear no ! A fine parson, and no mistake !"

He spat in the kitchen.

"I say, don’t spit there !" protested Schweik, gazing with interest at the stranger.

"I’ll spit again, I’m dashed if I won’t," said the dogged and churlish gentleman, spitting again on the floor. "An army chaplain, too. Disgraceful !"

"If you’ve been properly brought up," demurred Schweik, "you’d better drop the habit of spitting in other people’s houses. Or perhaps you think that because there’s a war on, you can do what you like. You’ve got to behave properly and not like a hooligan. You’ve got to be polite, you’ve got to keep a civil tongue in your head and not start any of your bully-ragging tricks here, you blithering idiot. You ought to be in the army."

The severe gentleman rose from his chair, began to shake with excitement and shouted :

"How dare you! Do you mean to say that I’m not a gentleman? What am I, then? Tell me that."

"You’re a lousy swine," replied Schweik, looking him full in the face. "You spit on the floor as if you was in a tram or a train or some other public place. I’ve always wondered why they have notices hanging up everywhere to say that spitting on the floor is prohibited, and now I see that it’s for the benefit of chaps like you. I expect you’re pretty well known everywhere."

The severe gentleman began to turn red in the face and tried to retaliate with a flood of invective against Schweik and the Chaplain.

"Have you quite finished your speechifying?" asked Schweik calmly (when he ended up with : "You’re a fine pair of blackguards. Like master, like man"), "or would you like to add a few words before I kick you downstairs?"

As the severe gentleman had now so exhausted his powers that no suitable term of abuse occurred to him, he held his peace, and Schweik therefore assumed that it would be useless to wait for any supplementary remarks. Accordingly, he opened the door, placed the severe gentleman in the doorway with his face to the passage, and achieved a goal kick of which the champion player of a champion international football team need not have been ashamed.

And the movement of the severe gentleman downstairs was accompanied by Schweik’s voice :

"The next time you pay a visit to well-bred people, just see that you behave yourself properly."

The severe gentleman walked up and down outside for a long time, awaiting the return of the Chaplain.

Schweik opened the window and watched him.

At last the Chaplain arrived, took the visitor into his room and sat down opposite him.

Schweik silently brought a spittoon in and placed it in front of the visitor.

"What’s that you’re doing, Schweik?"

"Beg to report, sir, that there’s already been a little unpleasantness with this gentleman about spitting on the floor."

"You can go, Schweik. We have some business to attend to."

Schweik saluted.

"Beg to report, sir, I’m going."

He went into the kitchen and a very interesting conversation then ensued.

"You’ve come about that note of hand, I suppose?" the Chaplain asked his visitor.

"Yes, and I hope -"

The Chaplain sighed.

"Man often is reduced to such a plight that the only thing left to him is hope. How lovely is that tiny word ’hope,’ one of the three things which uplift man from the chaos of life. Faith, hope, charity."

"I hope, sir, that the money due -"

"Assuredly," the Chaplain interrupted him, "and let me repeat once more that the word ’hope’ strengthens man in his struggle with life. Nor need you either lose hope. How fine it is to have a definite ideal, to be a pure, innocent creature who lends money on a note of hand and hopes that he will get it back in due course! To hope, unremittingly to hope that I will pay you 1,200 crowns, when I have scarcely a hundred in my pocket."

"Then you -" stammered the visitor.

"Yes, then I -" replied the Chaplain.

The visitor’s face once more assumed a dogged and malicious aspect.

"Sir, this is fraud," he said, rising from the chair.

"Calm yourself, my good sir."

"This is fraud," shouted the visitor stubbornly. "You have misused my confidence."

"Sir," said the Chaplain, "a change of air would certainly do you good. It’s too stuffy here."

"Schweik," he shouted into the kitchen, "this gentleman would like to go out into the fresh air."

"Beg to report, sir," said the voice from the kitchen, "that I’ve thrown this gentleman out once already."

"Then do it again !" came the order which was uttered quickly, sharply and curtly.

"It’s a good thing, sir," said Schweik, on his return from the passage, "that we settled up with him before he had a chance of kicking up a row here."

"Yes, Schweik, you see what happens to a man who does not honour a priest," said the Chaplain, smiling. "St. Chrysostom said : ’He who honours a priest honours Christ ; he who humiliates a priest humiliates Christ the Lord, whose deputy the priest is.’ We must get everything ready for to-morrow. Fry some eggs with ham, brew some claret punch, and then we’ll devote ourselves to meditation, for, as it says in the evening prayer : ’By God’s mercy all snares of the enemy have been turned aside from this dwelling.’ "

There are some people who will not take No for an answer. The man who had twice been ejected from the Chaplain’s flat was one of them. Just as supper was ready there was a ring at the bell. Schweik went to the door, came back a moment later, and announced :

"He’s here again, sir. I’ve shut him up in the bathroom for the time being, so as we can have our supper in peace."

"That was wrong of you, Schweik," said the Chaplain. "A guest’s a guest, you know. In ancient times they used to have freaks to amuse them at banquets. Bring him in and let him amuse us."

Schweik came back presently with the pertinacious gentleman, Who was staring gloomily in front of him.

"Take a seat/’ said the Chaplain affably; "we’re just finishing

supper. We’ve had lobster, salmon, and now we’re having a peck at some fried eggs and ham. We can afford to do ourselves well when people lend us money."

"I hope you are not making fun of me," said the gloomy man. "This is the third time to-day I’ve been here. I hope that now everything is going to be put right."

"Beg to report, sir," remarked Schweik, "that there’s no choking this chap off. He’s like a fellow named Bousek from Libeń. Eighteen times he got chucked out of Exner’s, and every time he went back because he said he’d forgotten his pipe. He crawled back through the window, through the door, out of the kitchen, over the wall into the saloon bar, across the cellar into the taproom, and I expect he’d have got through the chimney if the fireman hadn’t cleared him off the roof A chap who can stick to it like that might have been an M. P. or even a cabinet minister. They did what they could for him."

The persistent man, as if he were taking no notice of Schweik’s remarks, repeated obstinately: "I want to have things clear and I must ask you to hear what I have to say."

"Your wish shall be granted," said the Chaplain. "Speak your mind, my dear sir. Speak as long as you like, and meanwhile we will continue our feast. I hope that won’t prevent you from telling your story. Schweik, serve the next course."

"As ybu are aware," said the persistent man, "there is a war on. I lent you this money before the war, and if there were no war, I should not insist on payment. But I have had some distressing experiences."

He took a notebook from his pocket and continued :

"I’ve got it all here in black and white. Lieutenant Janata awed me 700 crowns, and then went and fell in action on the Drina. Lieutenant Prasek was taken prisoner on the Russian front, and he owes me 2,000 crowns. Captain Wichterle, who owed me a similar amount, got killed at Rawa Ruska by his own troops. Lieutenant Machek was taken prisoner in Serbia, and he owes me 1,500 crowns. And there are more people like that. One gets killed in the Carpathians without paying me his I. O. U., another gets taken prisoner, another gets drowned in Serbia, another dies in hospital in Hungary. Now you realize my fears that this war

will ruin me unless I put my foot down firmly. You may object that you are in no immediate danger. Just look here."

He thrust his notebook beneath the Chaplain’s nose :

"Here you are : Chaplain Matyas died in the isolation hospital at Brno a week ago. It’s enough to drive a man off his head. He owed me 1,800 crowns, and then he goes into a cholera ward to administer extreme unction to a man whom I don’t know from Adam."

"He was only doing his duty, my dear sir," said the Chaplain. "I am going on the same errand to-morrow."

"Into a cholera ward, too," remarked Schweik. "You can come along with us, to see what it means to sacrifice your life."

"Sir," said the persistent man, "you can take my word for it that I’m in a tight corner. Is this war being waged only to dispatch all my creditors into the next world?"

"When you get called up and go to the front," observed Schweik once more, "the Chaplain and me’ll celebrate a mass asking the Lord to let the first shell blow you to pieces."

"This is no laughing matter, sir," said the dauntless one to the Chaplain. "Kindly ask your servant not to interfere in our business and let us get the matter settled."

"Look here, sir," said Schweik, "just you say the word and I won’t interfere in your business. Otherwise I shall go on sticking up for your interests, as it’s right and proper for a soldier to do. This gentleman’s absolutely right. He wants to get away from here alone. I’m not fond of scenes, either. I’m all for good manners, I am."

"Schweik, I’m beginning to get sick of this," said the Chaplain, as if unaware of the visitor’s presence. "I thought this fellow was going to amuse us by telling us funny stories, but he wants me to order you not to interfere, although you’ve twice come into contact with him. On the very evening before an important religious ceremony, when I ought to be directing my whole mind to God, he comes and worries me with some absurd tale about a paltry twelve hundred crowns, prevents me from searching my conscience, turns my thoughts away from God, and wants me to tell him once more that I won’t give him anything. I refuse to say another word to him. I don’t want this sacred evening to be

spoilt. Schweik, tell him yourself : ’The Chaplain won’t give you a brass farthing.’"

Schweik fulfilled the order, yelling the words into the victim’s ear.

The persistent visitor, however, remained seated.

"Schweik," said the Chaplain, "ask him how much longer he thinks he’s going to dawdle about here?"

"I won’t budge an inch until I get my money," declared the dauntless one obdurately.

The Chaplain stood up, went to the window and said :

"Then in this case I leave him to you, Schweik. Do with him whatever you think fit."

"Come along, sir," said Schweik, grabbing the visitor by the shoulder. "Three’s a lucky number."

And he repeated his previous performance with dispatch and elegance, while the Chaplain drummed the funeral march on the window pane.

The evening which was devoted to meditation comprised several stages. The Chaplain was so devout and fervid in his approach to God that at midnight the sound of song could still be heard from his quarters :

"When we were marching away All the girls wept with dismay."

And the good soldier Schweik was singing in chorus with him.

There were two persons who were looking forward eagerly to the afternoon’s extreme unction ceremony in the military hospital : an old major and a bank manager, a reserve officer. They had both been shot through the stomach in the Carpathians and were now lying side by side. The reserve officer considered it his duty to receive the offices for the dying because his superior officer was anxious to obtain extreme unction. He thought it would be an act of insubordination not to obtain extreme unction also. The devout major was prompted by cunning, as he supposed that a prayer of faith will heal the sick. But in the night before the extreme unction was to be administered, they both died, and

when the Chaplain arrived with Schweik in the morning, they were lying beneath a shroud, with their faces blackened like all those who die of strangulation.

"We did things in style, too, sir, and now they’ve spoiled everything," grumbled Schweik, when they were told in the office that the two officers no longer needed any attention.

And they really had done things in style. They had driven in a cab, Schweik had rung the bell and the Chaplain had held a bottle of oil wrapped up in a cloth, with which he had solemnly blessed all the passers-by who had raised their hats.

It is true that there were not many of them, although Schweik had done his best to make a huge din with the bell.

A few urchins ran after the cab, and one of them perched himself on the back of it, whereupon his comrades yelled in chorus : "Whip behind ! Whip behind !"

Schweik brandished the bell, the cabman cracked his whip behind, in Vodickovâ Street a house porter’s wife, a member of the Marian congregation, galloped up and overtook the cab, received a blessing while on the run, made the sign of the cross, spat, and returned panting to her former place.

The sound of the bell caused the greatest concern to the cabman’s nag, which it evidently reminded of bygone years, because the animal kept looking round, and from time to time made efforts to dance on the cobbles.

This is what Schweik was referring to, when he said that they had done things in style. The Chaplain went into the office to settle the financial side of the extreme unction and supplied the pay-corps sergeant with an account showing that the military exchequer owed him 150 crowns for consecrated oil and travelling expenses.

Then ensued a dispute between the officer in charge of the hospital and the Chaplain, in the course of which the Chaplain banged his fist on the table several times and remarked : "Don’t run away with the idea that extreme unction can be had for nothing. When an officer of the dragoons is detailed for stable duty on a stud farm, he’s paid allowances. I’m sorry those two didn’t live long enough for extreme unction. It would have meant fifty crowns more."

Schweik meanwhile waited downstairs in the guard room with the bottle of holy oil, in which the soldiers evinced a keen interest. One of them expressed the view that this oil would be very good for cleaning rifles and bayonets with. One young soldier from the Moravian highlands, who still believed in the Lord, said that wasn’t the way to talk about such things, and sacred mysteries shouldn’t be dragged into the discussion. We must, he said, live in hope, like Christians. An old reservist looked at the raw recruit and retorted :

"Damn fine hopes ! All you can hope is to have your head blown off by a shell. We’ve been diddled. One day there was a clerical bloke came here and talked about the peace of God that was spreading over the earth, and how God objects to war but wants everyone to live in peace like brothers. Oh, yes, not half ! And the minute the war broke out, they started praying in all the churches for victory. The way they talk, anyone’d think the Lord was a kind of super-brass-hat who’s managing the whole blessed show. I’ve seen plenty of funerals in this hospital and the arms and legs they’ve cut off taken away by the cartload."

"And they bury the soldiers naked," said another soldier, "and then another chap puts on the old uniform, and then another, and so it goes on."

"Until we win," observed Schweik.

"You’re a fine one to talk about winning," retorted a corporal from a corner. "Your job is to get to the front, into the trenches, and then at ’em for all you’re worth, past the barbed wire, the mines and the machine guns. It’s easy to talk when you’ve got a cushy job at the base."

"I think it’s a bit of all right to have a bayonet shoved through you," said Schweik, "and it’s not so bad to be shot through the belly. But what’s better still is when a shell blows you up and you see how your legs and your guts have got separated from you. And it strikes you as so queer that you die before anyone can explain it to you."

The young recruit sighed from the depths of his heart. He was filled with distress at having got mixed up in a ghastly muddle which meant that he was to be slaughtered like an ox in the shambles. What was it all for?

Another soldier, a schoolmaster in civil life, seemed to have read his thoughts, for he remarked :

"There are scientists who say that war is due to sun spots. Whenever a sun spot makes its appearance, some disaster or other is bound to happen. The capture of Carthage -"

"Oh, you shut up and keep all that scientific muck to yourself," interposed the corporal. "The best thing you can do is to sweep the room out. You’re on fatigue duty to-day. We don’t care damn-all about sun spots. I wouldn’t take a dozen of ’em, not if they was offered to me as a gift."

"These here sun spots are jolly important," intervened Schweik. "Once there was a sun spot and on that very same day I got an awful walloping in a pub down at Nusle. Ever since then, if I have to go anywhere, I always have a look in the papers to see whether another spot’s been spotted, so to speak. And if it has, why, I don’t go nowhere, no, not me, thanks all the same. When that volcano blew up the whole of the island of Martinique, there was a professor chap wrote in the Narodni Politika that he’d been warning readers for quite a long time about a big sun spot. Only the Narodni Politika didn’t get to the island in time, and so the people on the island got done in."

Meanwhile, upstairs, in the office, the Chaplain had met one of the ladies belonging to the "Society for the Religious Training of Soldiers," a repulsive old harridan, who from early morning used to parade the hospital, distributing images of saints which the sick and wounded soldiers threw into the spittoons. On her rounds she irritated everyone by her nonsensical chatter, the purport of which was that they should repent of their sins and become better men, in order to receive eternal salvation after death.

When conversing with the Chaplain, she was livid as she told him how the war, instead of making the soldiers nobler, was turning them into brutes. The convalescents downstairs put out their tongues and called her a frump and a canting old geezer.

"Das ist wirklich schrecklich, Herr Feldkurat, das Volk ist verdorben,"1she said. And she went on to expound her idea of

1"Oh, it’s shocking, Chaplain, how depraved they are."

the religious training which soldiers should receive. A soldier could not fight gallantly for his emperor unless he believed in God and was religiously minded. Then he did not fear death, because he knew that paradise was in store for him. She continued to drivel in this way and she evidently meant to stick to the Chaplain, who, however, took his leave in a most ungallant spirit.

"We’re going home, Schweik," he shouted into the guard room. On the homeward journey they didn’t do things in style.

"Another time somebody else can go and do their extreme unction for them, and welcome," said the Chaplain. "Upon my word, it’s a fine thing for a man to have to haggle with them before he can get his money for every blessed soul he wants to save. A pack of damned chartered accountants, that’s what they are."

And, noticing that Schweik was carrying the bottle of consecrated oil, he growled :

"The best thing you can do with that oil is to clean my boots with it. And your own as well."

"I’ll try it on the lock, too," added Schweik. "It creaks something terrible when you come home at night."

And so ended the administration of extreme unction which didn’t come off.