The Good Soldier Svejk Chapter 5.

Schweik at the Commissariat of Police.

Schweik’s bright sunny days in the asylum were followed by hours laden with persecution. Police Inspector Braun arranged the meeting with Schweik as brutally as if he were a Roman hangman during the delightful reign of Nero. Just as they used to say in harsh tones: "Throw this rascal of a Christian to the lions," Inspector Braun said : "Shove him in clink."

Not a word more or less. But as he said it, the eyes of Inspector Braun shone with a strange and perverse joy.

Schweik bowed and said with a certain pride : "I’m ready, gentlemen. I suppose that clink means being in a cell and that’s not so bad."

"Here, not so much of your lip," replied the police officer, whereupon Schweik remarked :

"I’m an easy-going sort of chap, and grateful for anything you do for me."

In the cell a man was sitting on a bench, deep in meditation. He sat there listlessly, and from his appearance it was obvious that when the key grated in the lock of the cell he did not imagine this to be the token of approaching liberty.

"Good-day to you, sir," said Schweik, sitting down by his side on the bench. "I wonder what time it can be?"

"Time is not my master," retorted the meditative man.

"It’s not so bad here," resumed Schweik. "Why, they took the trouble to plane the wood this bench is made of."

The solemn man did not reply. He stood up and began to walk rapidly to and fro in the tiny space between door and bench, as if he were in a hurry to save something.

Schweik meanwhile inspected with interest the inscriptions daubed upon the walls. There was one inscription in which an anonymous prisoner had vowed a life-and-death struggle with the police. The wording was : "You won’t half cop it." Another had written : "Rats to you, fatheads." Another merely recorded a plain fact : "I was locked up here on June 5, 1913, and got fair treatment." Next to this some poetic soul had inscribed the verses :

I sit in sorrow by the stream. The sun is hid behind the hill. I watch the uplands as they gleam, Where my beloved tarries still.

The man who was now running to and fro between door and bench, as if he were anxious to win a Marathon race, came to a standstill, and sat down breathless in his old place, sank his head in his hands and suddenly shouted :

"Let me out !"

Then, talking to himself: "No, they won’t let me out, they won’t, they won’t. I’ve been here since six o’clock this morning."

He then became unexpectedly communicative. He rose up and inquired of Schweik :

"You don’t happen to have a strap on you so that I could end it all?"

"Pleased to oblige," answered Schweik, undoing his strap. "I’ve never seen a man hang himself with a strap in a cell."

"It’s a nuisance, though," he continued, looking round about, "that there isn’t a hook here. The bolt by the window wouldn’t hold you. I tell you what you might do, though. You could kneel down by the bench and hang yourself that way, like the monk who hanged himself on a crucifix because of a young Jewess. I’m very keen on suicides. Go it !"

The gloomy man into whose hands Schweik had thrust the strap looked at it, threw it into a corner and burst out crying, wiping away his tears with his grimy hands and yelling the while. "I’ve got children! I’m here for drunkenness and immorality! Heavens above, my poor wife! What will they say at the office? I’ve got children! I’m here for drunkenness and immorality," and so ad infinitum.

At last, however, he calmed down a little, went to the door and began to thump and beat at it with his fist. From behind the door could be heard steps and a voice :

"What do you want?"

"Let me out," he said in a voice which sounded as if he had nothing left to live for.

"Where to?" was the answer from the other side.

"To my office," replied the unhappy father, husband, clerk, drunkard and profligate.

Amid the stillness of the corridor could be heard laughter, dreadful laughter, and the steps moved away again.

"It looks to me as if that chap ain’t fond of you, laughing at you like that," said Schweik, while the desperate man sat down again beside him. "Those policemen are capable of anything when they’re in a wax. Just you sit down quietly if you don’t want to hang yourself, and wait how things turn out. If you’re in an office, with a wife and children, it’s pretty bad for you, I must admit. I suppose you’re more or less certain of getting the sack, eh?"

"I don’t know," sighed the man, "because I can’t remember what I did. I only know I got thrown out from somewhere and

I wanted to go back and light my cigar. But it started all right. The manager of our department was giving a birthday spree and he invited us to a pub, then we went to another and after that to a third, a fourth, a fifth, a sixth, a seventh, an eighth, a ninth . . ."

"Wouldn’t you like me to count for you?" asked Schweik. "I’m good at figures. I was once in twenty-eight pubs. But I’m bound to say I never had more than three drinks in any of them."

"To cut a long story short," continued the unfortunate clerk whose manager had celebrated his birthday in such magnificent style, "when we’d been in about a dozen different taprooms, we discovered that we’d lost our manager, although we’d tied him with a piece of string and took him with us like a dog. So we went to have a look for him and the end of it was that we lost each other till at last I wound up in a night club, quite a respectable place, where I drank some liqueur or other straight from the bottle. I can’t remember what I did after that ; all I know is, that at the commissariat here, when they brought me in, the two police officers reported that I was drunk and disorderly, that I’d been guilty of immoral conduct, that I’d struck a lady, that I’d jabbed a pocketknife through somebody else’s hat that I’d taken from the hatrack. Then I’d chased the ladies’ orchestra away, accused the headwaiter in front of everyone of stealing a twenty crown note, smashed the marble slab of the table where I was sitting, and spat into the black coffee of a stranger at the next table. That’s all I did as far as I can remember. And I can assure you that I’m a steady, intelligent man whose only thoughts are for his family. What do you think of that? I’m not one of the rowdy sort."

Schweik did not reply, but inquired with interest :

"Did you have much trouble in smashing that marble slab, or did you splash it at one blow?"

"At one blow," replied the man of intelligence.

"Then you’re done for," said Schweik mournfully. "They’ll prove that you must have trained yourself to do it. And the stranger’s coffee you spat in, was it with rum or without rum?"

And without waiting for an answer, he proceeded to explain:

"If it was with rum, that makes matters worse, because it

costs more. In court they reckon up every item, and add them together, so as to make the most of it."

"In court . . ." whispered the conscientious family man dejectedly, and hanging his head he lapsed into that unpleasant state of mind when a man is gnawed by his conscience.

"And do they know at home," asked Schweik, "that you’ve been locked up, or are they waiting till it gets into the papers?"

"You think it’ll be in the papers?" guilelessly inquired the victim of his manager’s birthday.

"It’s a dead certainty," was the downright answer, for it was not Schweik’s way to hide anything from his fellow-men. "This prank of yours is going to be a fair treat for newspaper readers. I myself like reading the drunk-and-disorderly bits. Not long ago at The Flagon there was a customer who smashed a glass with his head. He chucked it up into the air and then stood underneath it. They ran him in, and on the very next morning we read about it in the papers. Another time I gave an undertaker’s mute a smack in the eye and he gave me one in return. To stop the row they had to run us both in, and the afternoon editions had all about it. Another time at The Dead Man there was a councillor who smashed two glasses. Do you think they hushed it up? Not they—the next day it was reported in all the papers. All you can do us to send from prison a letter to the newspapers saying that the report published about you doesn’t refer to you and that you’re no relation of the person of that name and have no connection with him. Then you must write home to tell them to cut your letter out of the paper and keep it, so that you can read it when they let you out of quod."

Noticing that the man of intelligence was shivering, Schweik asked, full of concern :

"Do you feel cold?"

"It’s all up with me," sobbed Schweik’s companion. "I’ve got no chance of promotion now."

"That you haven’t," agreed Schweik readily, "and if they don’t take you back at the office when you’ve served your sentence, I bet it won’t be easy for you to find another job. Whatever job it is, even if you wanted to work as a knacker’s assistant, you’d have to show them some testimonials. Ah, that little spree

of yours is going to be an expensive business ! And what’s your wife and children going to live on while you’re doing time?"

The man sobbed :

"My poor children, my poor wife !"

Then the wayward penitent stood up and started talking about his children. There were five of them ; the eldest was twelve and he was a boy scout. He drank nothing but water and he ought to have been an example to his father who for the first time in his life had been guilty of such shocking conduct.

"A boy scout!" exclaimed Schweik. "I like hearing about boy scouts. Once when I was in camp for my annual training with the 91st the local farmers started chivvying some boy scouts in the woods where there was regular swarms of them. They collared three. When they were tying up the smallest of the lot, he kicked up such a hullabaloo, bellowing and snivelling so much that we hardened veterans couldn’t stand the sight of it and we made ourselves scarce. While these three scouts was being tied up, they managed to bite eight of the farmers. Afterward in their den in the woods they found piles and piles of gnawed bones of poultry and game, a whole lot of cherry stones, bushels of unripe apple cores and other titbits like that."

But the boy scout’s unhappy father was not to be comforted.

"What have I done?" he wailed. "My reputation’s ruined."

"That it is," said Schweik, with his native frankness, "after what’s happened you’re bound to have a ruined reputation for the rest of your life, because when your friends read about it in the papers, they’ll add to it. That’s the way it always happens, but don’t you take it to heart. There’s at least ten times more people with ruined and damaged reputations than those with a clean record. That’s a mere fleabite."

Heavy steps could be heard in the passage, the key grated in the lock, the door opened and the police officer called Schweik.

"Excuse me," said Schweik chivalrously, "I’ve only been here since twelve o’clock, but this gentleman’s been here since six o’clock this morning. And I’m not in any hurry."

There was no reply to this, but the police officer’s powerful hand dragged Schweik into the corridor, and conveyed him upstairs in silence to the first floor.

In the second room a commissary of police was sitting at a table. He was a stout gentleman of good-natured appearance. He said to Schweik :

"So you’re Schweik, are you? And how did you get here?"

"As easy as winking," replied Schweik. "I was brought here by a police officer because I objected to them chucking me out of the lunatic asylum without any lunch. What do they take me for, I’d like to know?"

"I’ll tell you what, Schweik," said the commissary affably. "There’s no reason why we should be cross with you here. Wouldn’t it be better if we sent you to the police headquarters?"

"You’re the master of the situation, as they say," said Schweik contentedly. "From here to the police headquarters’d be quite a nice little evening stroll."

"I’m glad to find that we see eye to eye in this," said the commissary cheerfully. "You see how much better it is to talk things over, eh, Schweik?"

"It’s always a great pleasure to me to have a little confab with anyone," replied Schweik. "I’ll never forget your kindness to me, your worship, I promise you."

With a deferential bow and accompanied by the police officer he went down to the guard room, and within a quarter of an hour Schweik could have been seen in the street under the escort of an-other police officer who was carrying under his arm a fat book inscribed in German : Arrestantenbuch.

At the corner of Spâlenâ Street Schweik and his escort met with a crowd of people who were jostling round a placard.

"That’s the Emperor’s proclamation to say that war’s been declared," said the policeman to Schweik.

"I saw it coming," said Schweik, "but in the asylum they don’t know anything about it yet, although they ought to have had it straight from the horse’s mouth, as you might say."

"How d’you mean?" asked the policeman.

"Because they’ve got a lot of army officers locked up there," explained Schweik, and when they reached a fresh crowd jostling in front of the proclamation, Schweik shouted:

"Long live Franz Josef ! We’ll win this war."

Somebody from the enthusiastic crowd banged his hat over

his ears and so, amid a regular concourse of people, the good soldier Schweik once more entered the portals of the police headquarters.

"We’re absolutely bound to win this war. Take my word for it, gentlemen," and with these few remarks Schweik took his leave of the crowd which had been accompanying him.

And somewhere from the far distances of history there descended upon Europe the realization that the morrow can shatter the plans of to-day.