The Good Soldier Svejk Chapter 15.

The Catastrophe.

Colonel Kraus, who also had a handle to his name, to wit, Von Zillergut, from a village near Salzburg which his ancestors had stripped bare in the Eighteenth Century, was an estimable booby. Whenever he gave an account of anything, he confined himself to concrete details, and stopped every now and then to ask whether his hearers all understood the most elementary terms, as : "So, as I was just saying, gentlemen, there was a window. You know what a window is, don’t you?" Or: "A road with ditches along both sides of it is called a highway. Yes, gentlemen. Do you know what a ditch is? A ditch is a sort of cavity

dug by a gang of labourers. It’s a deep gutter. Yes, that’s what it is. And they dig it out with shovels. Do you know what a shovel is?"

He had a mania for explaining things and he indulged in it with the enthusiasm of an inventor telling people about the apparatus he has made.

"A book, gentlemen, consists of several quarto sheets of paper, cut into various sizes, covered with print and arranged in proper order, bound and pasted together. Yes. Do you know what paste is, gentlemen? Paste is used for sticking one thing to another."

He was so immoderately idiotic that officers gave him a wide berth, in order not to be informed that the pavement separates the street from the roadway and that it consists of a raised stretch of stonewalk alongside the house fronts. And a house front is that part of a house which we see from the street or the pavement. We cannot see the back part of a house from the pavement, as we can immediately ascertain for ourselves if we step into the roadway.

This interesting fact he was prepared to demonstrate on the spot. And he would stop officers to embark on interminable conversations about omelettes, sunlight, thermometers, puddings, windows and postage stamps.

The, remarkable thing was that such an imbecile as this should have gained comparatively rapid promotion. During manœuvres he performed regular miracles with his regiment. He never got anywhere in time, he led the regiment in column formation against machine-gun fire, and on one occasion several years previously, during the imperial manœuvres in southern Bohemia, he and his regiment had got completely lost. They turned up in Moravia, where they wandered about for several days, after the manœuvres were all over.

Once at a banquet in the officers’ club, when a conversation was started on the subject of Schiller, Colonel Kraus von Zillergut, without the slightest warning, held forth as follows :

"Well, gentlemen, yesterday I saw a steam plough, driven by an engine. Just imagine, gentlemen, an engine, or, rather, not one engine but two engines. I saw smoke, I went nearer, and there was an engine, and on the other side another one. Now, gentle-

men, don’t you think that was ridiculous? Two engines, as if one wasn’t enough."

He lapsed into silence, but after a moment announced :

"If the benzine gets used up, the motor car comes to a standstill. It must be so. I saw the thing happen yesterday. And then people talk a lot of twaddle about persistence of forces. Isn’t it ridiculous?"

He was extremely devout. He often went to confession, and since the outbreak of the war he had prayed regularly for the success of Austria and Germany. He always flew into a temper when he read in the paper that more prisoners had been captured. He would bellow :

"What’s the good of taking prisoners? Shoot the lot. No mercy. Pile up the corpses. Trample on ’em. Burn every damned civilian in Serbia alive. Every man Jack of ’em. And finish the babies off with bayonets."

Having finished his class work at the training school for volunteer officers, Lieutenant Lukash went for a walk with Max.

"I hope you don’t mind me telling you, sir," said Schweik solicitously, "but you got to be careful with that dog, or he’ll run away. I expect he’s fretting a bit after his old home, and if you was to untie him, he might take his hook. And if I was you I wouldn’t take him across Havlicek Square, because there’s a butcher’s dog always hanging about round there and he’s a terror, he is. The minute he sees a strange dog on his beat, he gets that angry, thinking the other dog’s going to sneak some of his grub. And he don’t half bite."

Max frisked about merrily and got under the lieutenant’s feet, entangling his leash in the officer’s sword and altogether displaying extreme delight at being taken for a walk.

They went out into the street and Lieutenant Lukash made for the Prikopy. He had an appointment with a lady at the corner of Pańska Street. He was engrossed in official thoughts. What was he to lecture about to the volunteer officers the next day? How is the elevation of a given hill determined? Why is the elevation always measured above the sea level? How can the simple elevation of a hill from its base be determined from the elevation

above the sea level? Confound it, why on earth did the War Office include such rot in its syllabus? That’s all very well for the artillery. Besides, there are the general staff maps. If the enemy is on Hill 312, there’s no point in wondering why the elevation of the hill is measured above the sea level or in calculating how high it is. You just look at the map, and there you are."

He was disturbed from these reflections by a stern "Halt !" just as he was approaching Panskâ Street. At the same instant the dog tried to scuttle away from him, lead and all, and gleefully barking, it hurled itself upon the man who had shouted "Halt !"

The lieutenant found himself face to face with Colonel Kraus von Zillergut. He saluted and apologized to the Colonel for not having noticed him earlier.

"An officer of lower rank, sir," thundered Colonel Kraus, "must always salute officers of higher rank. That is a regulation which, I believe, is still in force. And there is another thing. Since when have officers been in the habit of promenading in the streets with stolen dogs? Yes, with stolen dogs, I said. A dog which belongs to someone else is a stolen dog."

"This dog, sir -" began Lieutenant Lukash.

"Belongs to me, sir," said the Colonel, interrupting him curtly. "That’s my dog Fox."

And Fox alias Max remembered his old master, and completely repudiated his new one. He left Lieutenant Lukash in the lurch and began to jump up at the Colonel with every appearance of delight.

"To walk about with stolen dogs, sir, is incompatible with an officer’s honour. You didn’t know? An officer cannot purchase a dog unless he has convinced himself that he can do so without fear of any untoward consequences." Colonel Kraus continued to bellow as he stroked Max, who now basely began to snarl at the lieutenant and to show his teeth, as if saying to the Colonel : "Give it him hot!"

"Would you consider it right, sir," continued the Colonel, "to ride on a stolen horse? Didn’t you read my advertisement in Bohemia and the Prager Tageblatt about the loss of my Pomeranian? You didn’t read the advertisement that your superior officer put into the papers?"

The Colonel banged the fist of one hand into the palm of the other.

"Upon my word, what are these young officers coming to? Where’s their sense of discipline? A colonel puts advertisements in the paper and they don’t read them."

"By Jove, wouldn’t I like to land him a couple across the jaw, the silly old buffer !" thought Lieutenant Lukash to himself as he looked at the Colonel’s whiskers, which reminded him of an orang-outang.

"Just step this way a moment," said the Colonel. So they walked along together, engaged in a highly pleasant conversation:

"When you get to the front, you won’t be able to get up to tricks of that sort. I’ve no doubt it’s very nice to lounge about at the base and go for walks with stolen dogs. Oh yes ! With a dog belonging to your superior officer. At a time when we are losing hundreds of officers every day on the battle fields. And catch them reading advertisements. Not they! Why, damn it all, I might go on advertising for a hundred years that I’ve lost a dog. Two hundred years, three hundred years !"

The old colonel blew his nose noisily, which in his case was always a sign of great indignation, and said :

"You can continue your walk."

Whereupon he turned on his heel and departed, savagely slashing his riding whip across the ends of his greatcoat.

Lieutenant Lukash crossed the road, and there again he heard that yell of "Halt !" The Colonel had just stopped an unfortunate infantry reservist who was thinking of his mother and had not noticed him.

With his own hands the Colonel conducted him into barracks for punishment, calling him a blithering jackass.

"What am I to do with that fellow Schweik?" thought the lieutenant. "I’ll bash his jaw in, but that’s not enough. Why, if I was to slice him into strips, it would be too good for a skunk like him."

And disregarding his appointment with the lady, he wrathfully made his way home.

"I’ll murder that blighter, that I will," he said to himself, as he got into a tram.

Meanwhile the good soldier Schweik was engrossed in a conversation with an orderly from the barracks who had brought a number of documents for the lieutenant to sign and was now waiting.

Schweik treated him to coffee and the pair of them were telling each other that Austria would get the worst of it. Almost every word they uttered would have brought them to the gallows for high treason if they had been overheard.

"The Emperor must be off his chump by now," announced Schweik. "He never was what you’d call brainy, but the war will about put the lid on it."

"He’s off his chump all right," assented the soldier from the barracks, "absolutely barmy. Why, I don’t suppose he even knows there’s a war on. I shouldn’t be surprised if they jibbed at telling him about it. And if his signature’s on the manifesto to the country, why it’s been faked. They had it printed without telling him. By this time I expect his mind’s an absolute blank."

"He’s done for," added Schweik with the air of a man who knows. "They have to feed him like a baby. A few days ago there was a chap in a pub telling us he’s got two wet nurses."

"I wish it was all over," sighed the soldier from the barracks. "If they’d only give us a good hiding, perhaps we’d have a little peace."

And they continued their conversation in this strain, till Schweik dismissed Austria once and for all :

"This silly, rotten country ought to be done away with," to which he added :

"I won’t half be glad when I get to the front."

Then they recalled the wars of long ago, and Schweik pointed out that when stinkpots were thrown into a besieged castle, it was no picnic to fight with all those smells about. He would probably have made more such profound remarks, if at that point the conversation had not been interrupted by the return of Lieutenant Lukash.

He glared ferociously at Schweik, signed the documents and,

having dismissed the messenger, beckoned Schweik to follow him into the next room. The lieutenant’s eyes flashed fire. Sitting down on a chair, he gazed at Schweik and meditated on the beginning of the slaughter.

"First of all I’ll land him a couple across the mouth," he reflected ; "then I’ll bang his nose in and pull his ears. After that, we’ll see."

And he found himself confronted by the kindly and guileless eyes of Schweik, who interrupted the calm before the storm, as follows :

"Beg to report, sir, you’ve lost your cat. She ate up the boot polish and now she’s gone and kicked the bucket. I threw her into the cellar—the next one, that is. You’ll have a job to find another Angora cat like that. She was a nice little animal, that she was."

"What am I to do with him?" was the question which darted across the lieutenant’s mind. "Good God, what an utter imbecile he looks !"

And Schweik’s good-natured, guileless eyes beamed with a blend of tenderness and complacency at the thought that all was well, and nothing had happened, and even if anything had happened, all was well just the same.

Lieutenant Lukash jumped up, but he did not hit Schweik as he had originally intended. He brandished his fist under his nose and bellowed.

"You stole that dog, Schweik."

"Beg to report, sir, that you went for a walk with Max this afternoon, so I couldn’t have stole him. I thought it was funny when you came back without him, and it struck me at the time that something was up. That’s what’s called a situation. I knew a bag maker named Kunesh and he could never go for a walk with a dog without losing him. Generally he left him in some pub or other, or someone stole him or borrowed him and never brought him back, or -"

"Schweik, you misbegotten numskull, for God’s sake hold your tongue. Either you’re a thorough-paced rascal or else you’re a champion, double-dyed, blithering idiot. But I warn you, don’t try any of your tricks on me. Where did you get that dog from? How did you get hold of him? Do you know that he belongs to

Our colonel? Tell me the truth. Did you steal him or didn’t you?"

"Beg to report, sir, I didn’t steal him."

"Did you know he was stolen?"

"Beg to report, sir, yes, I knew that, sir."

"Then, Schweik, you prize ass, you thickheaded booby, you lousy skunk, I’ll shoot you, by heaven I will. Are you really such a blithering idiot?"

"Beg to report, sir, I am, sir."

"Why did you bring me a stolen dog? What did you palm the brute off on me for?"

"I wanted to please you, sir."

And Schweik’s eyes gazed kindly and tenderly at the lieutenant, who dropped into a chair and lamented :

"My God, what have I done to have this bloody fool inflicted on me?"

He sat there in silent resignation and felt too limp even to give Schweik a smack in the face. At last he rolled a cigarette and without knowing why, he sent Schweik for the Bohemia and the Prager Tageblatt so that he could read the Colonel’s advertisement about the stolen dog.

Schweik returned with the newspapers opened at the advertisement page. His face was beaming and he announced with the utmost joy:

"Here it is, sir. The Colonel gives a grand description of that stolen Pomeranian. It’s a fair treat to read it, that it is. And on top of that he offers a reward of a hundred crowns to anyone who brings the dog back to him. Generally they only offer fifty crowns reward. I knew a man who earned his living that way. He’d steal a dog, then look in the lost, stolen or strayed advertisements and go to the owner’s address. Once he stole a fine black Pomeranian and as the owner didn’t advertise, he thought he’d put an advertisement in the papers himself. So he had a whole five crowns’ worth, and at last some fellow came along and said it was his dog that he’d lost, but he thought it wouldn’t be any use looking for the animal because he didn’t trust people’s honesty. But now he could see that there were a few honest people left and he was very glad of it. And he said that it was against his principles to reward honesty, but as a slight token of his appreciation he’d give him a

copy of his book on cultivating flowers in home and garden. My friend took this black Pomeranian by the hind legs and hit this chap on the head with him. Ever since that time he’s given up advertising in the papers. He’d rather sell the dogs to the knacker if nobody wants to advertise for ’em."

"You go and lie down, Schweik," ordered the lieutenant. "You’d go on drivelling away till the morning, if I’d let you."

He also went to bed, and in the night he dreamed that Schweik had stolen also the horse belonging to the heir apparent, had brought it to him, and that during an inspection the heir apparent had recognized the horse when he, the unfortunate Lieutenant Lukash, was riding on it in front of his company.

In the morning the lieutenant felt as if he had been on the spree all night, in the course of which he had been knocked about. He was weighed down by a nightmare feeling which he could not shake off. Then, exhausted by his horrible dream, he fell into a doze from which he was aroused by a knocking at the door. Schweik’s good-humoured face peeped in, and he asked when he was to wake the lieutenant up.

The lieutenant moaned :

"Get out, you blithering jackass. This is too terrible for words."

And when he was up and Schweik brought him his breakfast, the lieutenant was taken aback by another of Schweik’s questions :

"Beg to report, sir, would you like me to get you a dog, sir?"

"I’ll tell you what, Schweik. I’ve a damned good mind to send you before a court-martial," said the lieutenant with a sigh, "but they’d only let you off, because I’ll bet they’ve never come across such a ghastly idiot as you. Look at yourself in the glass. Doesn’t it make you feel sick to see what a blithering jackass you look? You’re the most appalling freak of nature I’ve ever seen. Now, be frank about it, Schweik. Don’t you hate the sight of your own face?"

"Beg to report, sir, I do. In this glass I look sort of lopsided, like. This glass wasn’t properly cut. That’s like the curved glass they used to have at the Fun Palace, and when you looked at yourself in it, it made you want to spew. Mouth like that, head

like a bilge pail, belly like a bombardier when he’s boozed. Oh, a regular fright, I tell you, sir."

The lieutenant turned away, sighed and came to the conclusion that this would be a fitting moment to attend to his coffee rather than to Schweik, who, however, was already pottering about in the kitchen. Lieutenant Lukash could hear him singing :

"We soldiers, we’re a jolly crew, The girls all love us, that they do, We draw our pay, by night and day And everywhere we get our way."

"You seem to get your way all right, you blighter," muttered the lieutenant and spat with disgust.

Schweik’s head suddenly appeared in the doorway.

"Beg to report, sir, they’ve come for you from the barracks. You’ve got to go at once to the Colonel. An orderly’s just brought the message."

And he added confidentially :

"It may be something to do with that dog."

"I know all about it," said the lieutenant, when the orderly was about to deliver his message.

He said it dejectedly and departed, with a withering glance at Schweik.

This was not an orderly-room affair, but something far worse. The Colonel was sitting very glumly in his armchair when the lieutenant entered his office.

"Two years ago," said the Colonel, "you applied to be transferred to the 91st regiment at Budejovice. Do you know where Budejovice is? On the Vltava, yes, the Vltava, and the Ohre or some such river flows into it just there. The town is large and, if I may say so, cheerful, and if I am not mistaken there is an embankment alongside the river. Do you know what an embankment is? It’s a sort of rampart, built up above the water. Yes. However, that’s neither here nor there. We once had manœuvres in the neighbourhood."

The Colonel was silent for a while and then, staring into his ink pot, passed on to another subject.

"You’ve upset that dog of mine. He won’t eat anything. Look, there’s a fly in the ink pot. Funny that a fly should fall into the ink pot in the winter. It’s the result of slack discipline."

"Out with it, for God’s sake, you bloody old idiot," thought the lieutenant.

The Colonel stood up and paced to and fro in his office.

"I have given much thought to the question of how I ought to deal with you so that this may not occur again, and I remembered that you applied to be transferred to the 91st regiment. The supreme command informed me quite recently that there is a considerable shortage of officers in the 91st regiment, because they have all fallen victims to the Serbians. I give you my word of honour that within three days you will be in the 91st regiment at Budejovice, where drafts are being formed. You need not thank me. The army needs officers who -"

And being now at a loss as to what he should say next, he looked at his watch and remarked :

"It’s half past ten. It’s high time for me to be off to the orderly room."

This concluded their pleasant chat, and the lieutenant heaved a sigh of profound relief as he left the office and proceeded to the officers’ training school, where he announced that within a day or two he would be going to the front and was therefore arranging a farewell party.

On his return home he said to Schweik portentously :

"Schweik, do you know what a draft is?"

"Beg to report, sir, when you’re on draft it means you’re going to be sent to the front."

"Exactly, Schweik," said the lieutenant solemnly, "and so allow me to inform you that you are going on draft with me. But don’t you imagine you’ll be able to get up to any of your silly tricks there. Well, are you glad?"

"Beg to report, sir, I’m as glad as I can be," replied the good soldier Schweik. "It’ll be a grand thing if you and me was to fall together fighting for the Emperor and his family."