The Good Soldier Svejk Chapter 3.

Schweik Before the Medical Authorities.

The clean, cosy cubicles of the county criminal court produced a very favourable impression upon Schweik. The whitewashed walls, the black-leaded gratings and the fat warder in charge of prisoners under remand, with the purple facings and purple braid on his official cap. Purple is the regulation colour not only here, but also at religious ceremonies on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

The glorious history of the Roman domination of Jerusalem was being enacted all over again. The prisoners were taken out and brought before the Pilâtes of 1914 down below on the ground floor. And the examining justices, the Pilâtes of the new epoch,

instead of honourably washing their hands, sent out for stew and Pilsen beer, and kept on transmitting new charges to the public prosecutor.

Here, for the greater part, all logic was in abeyance and it was red tape which was victorious, it was red tape which throttled, it was red tape which caused lunacy, it was red tape which made a fuss, it was red tape which chuckled, it was red tape which threatened and never pardoned. They were jugglers with the legal code, high priests of the letter of the law, who gobbled up accused persons, the tigers in the Austrian jungle, who measured the extent of their leap upon the accused according to the statute book.

The exception consisted of a few gentlemen (just as at the police headquarters) who did not take the law too seriously, for everywhere you will find wheat among the tares.

It was to one of these gentlemen that Schweik was conducted for cross-examination. When Schweik was led before him, he asked him with his inborn courtesy to sit down, and then said :

"So you’re this Mr. Schweik?"

"I think I must be," replied Schweik, "because my dad was called Schweik and my mother was Mrs. Schweik. I couldn’t disgrace them by denying my name."

A bland smile flitted across the face of the examining counsel.

"This is a fine business you’ve been up to. You’ve got plenty on your conscience."

"I’ve always got plenty on my conscience," said Schweik, smiling even more blandly than the counsel himself. "I bet I’ve got more on my conscience than what you have, sir."

"I can see that from the statement you signed," said the legal dignitary, in the same kindly tone. "Did they bring any pressure to bear upon you at the police headquarters?"

"Not a bit of it, sir. I myself asked them whether I had to sign it and when they said I had to, why, I just did what they told me. It’s not likely I’m going to quarrel with them over my own signature. I shouldn’t be doing myself any good that way. Things have got to be done in proper order."

"Do you feel quite well, Mr. Schweik?"

"I wouldn’t say quite well, your worship. I’ve got rheumatism and I’m using embrocation for it."

The old gentleman again gave a kindly smile. "Suppose we were to have you examined by the medical authorities."

"I don’t think there’s much the matter with me and it wouldn’t be fair to waste the gentlemen’s time. There was one doctor examined me at the police headquarters."

"All the same, Mr. Schweik, we’ll have a try with the medical authorities. We’ll appoint a little commission, we’ll have you placed under observation, and in the meanwhile you’ll have a nice rest. Just one more question : According to the statement you’re supposed to have said that now a war’s going to break out soon."

"Yes, your worship, it’ll break out at any moment now."

"And do you ever feel run down at all?"

"No, sir, except that once I nearly got run down by a motor car, but that’s years and years ago."

That concluded the cross-examination. Schweik shook hands with the legal dignitary and on his return to the cell he said to his neighbours :

"Now they’re going to have me examined by the medical authorities on account of this murder of Archduke Ferdinand."

"I’ve already been examined by the medical authorities," said one young man, "that was when I was had up in court over some carpets. They said I was weak-minded. Now I’ve embezzled a steam-threshing machine and they can’t touch me. My lawyer told me yesterday that once I’ve been reported weak-minded I can make capital out of it for the rest of my life."

"I don’t trust the medical authorities," remarked a man of intelligent appearance. "Once when I forged some bills of exchange I went to a lecture by Dr. Heveroch, and when they nabbed me I pretended to have an epileptic fit, just like Dr. Heveroch described it. I bit the leg of one of the medical authorities on the commission and drank the ink out of an inkpot. But just because I bit a man in the calf they reported I was quite well, and so I was done for."

"I am not afraid of their examination," declared Schweik. "When I was in the army, I was examined by a veterinary surgeon and I got on first rate."

"The medical authorities are a rotten lot," announced a small,

misshapen man. "Not long ago they happened to dig up a skeleton on my field and the medical authorities said the skeleton had been murdered by some blunt instrument forty years previously. Now I’m only thirty-eight, but they locked me up, though I’ve got a birth certificate, a certificate of baptism and a copy of the entry in the parish register."

"I think," said Schweik, "that we ought to look at everything fair and square. Anybody can make a mistake, and the more he thinks about a thing, the more mistakes he’s bound to make. The medical authorities are human beings, and human beings have got their failings. That’s like once at Nusle, just by the bridge, a gentleman came up to me one night when I was on my way home and hit me over the head with a horsewhip and when I was lying on the ground he flashed a light on me and said : ’I’ve made a mistake, that’s not him.’ And it made him so wild to think he’d made a mistake that he landed me another whack across the back. It’s just in the course of nature for a man to keep on making mistakes till he’s dead. That’s like the gentleman who found a mad dog half-frozen one night and took it home with him and shoved it into his wife’s bed. As soon as the dog got warm and came to, it bit the whole family, and the youngest baby that was still in the cradle got torn to pieces and gobbled up by it. Or I can give you another example of a mistake that was made by a cabinetmaker who lived in the same house as me. He opened the church at Podol with his latchkey, thinking he was at home, undressed in the sacristy, thinking it was the kitchen, and lay down on the altar, thinking he was at home in bed and he covered himself over with some of those counterpanes with scripture texts on them and he put the gospel and other sacred books under his head to keep it propped up. In the morning the verger found him and when he came to his senses, he told him in quite a cheerful sort of way that it was a mistake. ’A fine mistake,’ said the verger, ’seeing as now we’ve got to have the church consecrated all over again because of it.’ And here’s another example I can give you of a mistake made by a police dog at Kladno. A wolf hound belonging to a Sergeant Roter, whom I daresay you’ve heard of. This Sergeant Roter used to train these dogs and make experiments on tramps, till at last all the tramps began to give the

Kladno district a wide berth. So he gave orders that the gendarmes must run in any suspicious person at all costs. Well, one day they ran in a fairly well-dressed man whom they found sitting on the stump of a tree in the woods. They at once snipped off a piece of his coat tails and let the police dogs have a sniff at it. Then they took the man into a brick works outside the town and let the trained dogs follow his tracks. The dogs found him and brought him back. Then the man had to climb a ladder into an attic, vault over a wall, jump into a pond, with the dogs after him. In the end it turned out that the man was a Czech radical M. P. who had taken a trip to the woods, through being so sick and tired of parliament. That’s why I say that people have their failings, they make mistakes, whether they’re learned men or just damned fools who don’t know any better. Why, even cabinet ministers can make mistakes."

The commission of medical authorities which had to decide whether Schweik’s standard of intelligence did, or did not, conform to all the crimes with which he was charged, consisted of three extremely serious gentlemen with views which were such that the view of each separate one of them differed considerably from the views of the other two.

They represented three distinct schools of thought with regard to mental disorders.

If in the case of Schweik a complete agreement was reached between these diametrically opposed scientific camps, this can be explained simply and solely by the overwhelming impression produced upon them by Schweik who, on entering the room where his state of mind was to be examined and observing a picture of the Austrian ruler hanging on the wall, shouted : "Gentlemen, long live our Emperor, Franz Josef the First."

The matter was completely clear. Schweik’s spontaneous utterance made it unnecessary to ask a whole lot of questions, and there remained only some of the most important ones, the answers to which were to corroborate Schweik’s real opinion, thus :

"Is radium heavier than lead?"

"I’ve never weighed it, sir," answered Schweik with his sweet smile.

"Do you believe in the end of the world?"

"I have to see the end of the world first," replied Schweik in an offhand manner, "but I’m sure it won’t come my way tomorrow."

"Could you measure the diameter of the globe?"

"No, that I couldn’t, sir," answered Schweik, "but now I’ll ask you a riddle, gentlemen. There’s a three-storied house with eight windows on each story. On the roof there are two gables and two chimneys. There are two tenants on each story. And now, gentlemen, I want you to tell me in what year the house porter’s grandmother died?"

The medical authorities looked at each other meaningly, but nevertheless one of them asked one more question :

"Do you know the maximum depth of the Pacific Ocean?"

"I’m afraid I don’t, sir," was the answer, "but it’s pretty sure to be deeper than what the river is just below Prague."

The chairman of the commission curtly asked, "Is that enough?" But one member inquired further:

"How much is 12897 times 13863?"

"729," answered Schweik without moving an eyelash.

"I think that’s quite enough," said the chairman of the commission. "You can take this prisoner back to where he came from."

"Thank you, gentlemen," said Schweik respectfully, "it’s quite enough for me, too."

After his departure the three experts agreed that Schweik was an obvious imbecile in accordance with all the natural laws discovered by mental specialists.

The report submitted to the examining judge contained, among other remarks, the following passage :

The undersigned medical authorities base themselves upon the complete mental deficiency and congenital cretinism of Josef Schweik who was brought before the above-mentioned commission and who expressed himself in terms such as "Long Live our Emperor Franz Josef the First," a remark which completely suffices to demonstrate Josef Schweik’s state of mind as an obvious imbecile. The undersigned commission therefore makes the following recommendations: I. The proceedings against Josef Schweik should be suspended. 2. Josef Schweik should be removed to a mental clinic for observation purposes and to ascertain how far his mental state is dangerous to his surroundings.

While this report was being drawn up, Schweik was explaining to his fellow-prisoners: "They didn’t worry about Ferdinand. All they did was to crack some jokes with me about radium and the Pacific Ocean. In the end we decided that what we’d talked to each other about was quite enough, and then we said good-bye."

"I trust nobody," remarked the little misshapen man on whose field they had dug up a skeleton. "They’re all a pack of shysters."

"If you ask me, it’s just as well they are," said Schweik, lying down on the straw mattress. "If all people wanted to do all the others a good turn, they’d be walloping each other in a brace of shakes."