The Dial (Third Series)/Volume 75/The Injured One

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The Dial (Third Series), vol. 75  (1923) 
The Injured One
by Karel Čapek, translated by Percy Beaumont Wadsworth

THE The Dial logo.jpg DIAL

december 1923



Translated From the Czech by P. Beaumont Wadsworth

VOJTECH slept soundly (it was a November night when it is good for a man to be in his bed) when suddenly somebody knocked at his window with a stick. There was still a moment for the sleeper to finish his dream, in which the knocking played a certain rôle, both decisive and confused, and then he awoke. And again, again. The sleeper pulled the blankets over his ears and decided not to hear anything. But again the stick rattled on the pane in a sharp and peremptory manner. Vojtech jumped out of bed, opened the window, and saw, down below on the path, a man, muffled up to the throat.

“What do you want here?” he cried, putting into his voice his most violent anger.

“Make me some tea,” replied a hoarse voice from below.

The sleeper recognized his brother and woke up at last. The bitter cold night seized him by the chest.

“Wait a moment,” he called down. He turned on the light, and began to dress himself. As he dressed he remembered that he had not spoken to his brother for two years because they had quarrelled over a legacy. He was so surprised suddenly at his coming that he forgot to put on his boots. Sitting with one boot in his hand he shook his head. But why has he come? Evidently something has happened to him, he finally decided, threw on his clothes, and rushed to the window again. But his brother was not standing there now; he was already at the corner of the street, going away; perhaps the waiting beneath the window had been too long for him. Then Vojtech rushed down the passage, opened the front door, and ran after him. His brother was walking away hastily and without looking back.

“Karel,” shouted Vojtech, as he ran; and he was sure that his brother heard him, but that he would neither stop nor slacken his pace. So he ran after him and shouted in agitation:

“Karel, what are you doing. Karel . . . wait . . . wait for me!” Karel went on his way quickly. Shivering with cold, half-dressed, and excited, Vojtech stopped. Just at that moment he felt the rain. Karel went on. Suddenly he turned, and with the same quick steps, came straight to his brother. It was so unexpected, that for the life of him Vojtech did not know what to say. They had quarrelled for two years. He was a stubborn man. Now he stands here with flashing eyes, biting his lip. . . .

“So you won’t give me any tea,” Karel reproached him, angrily and darkly.

“But . . . of course I will . . . with pleasure,” and Vojtech breathed with relief, “I only wanted a moment . . . come back at once, I’ll boil some for you immediately.”

“So at last,” snapped Karel, bitterly.

“But, my God,” Vojtech ejaculated. “What then! You might have come long before this. I’ll . . . immediately, whatever . . . if you want something to eat . . . I’ll always be glad . . ., you’ve only got to tell me.”

“Thank you, only a drop of tea.”

“I’ve bacon from Moravia, man, do you know that? Or eggs. But I don’t even know what time it is! It’s such a long time since we saw each other, Karel, isn’t it? Would you like some wine?”


“What do you want then? Only tell me. Lookout . . . be careful . . . here are the stairs!”

“I know.”

At last Vojtech got him into the house. He laughed and chattered and offered him various things. Apologizing, “You know I’m only an old bachelor,” gathered together some cigarettes for him, cleared the chairs, hardly noticing that he himself was doing all the talking. But all the time there stuck in his mind the watchful, restless, inquisitive thought: something has happened to him.

Meanwhile Karel sat clouded and absent. A heavy silence was in the room.

“Something has happened to you?” Vojtech broke out.


Vojtech shook his head. He did not know his brother in this mood. The smell of wine and of women came from him. And yet he is a married man. He has a young wife, mild as a sheep, meek and pretty. For years he has stayed at home, a man of commonsense and authority, a domestic machine, an example of a well-ordered life, a little hard, methodical, precise, and esteeming himself immensely. Once he had been seriously ill; and ever since that time had based his life on an amazingly regular, healthy plan, as if life itself were worthy to be, day by day, redeemed by order and self-control. And now he sits there, sullen, darkly sober, like a man who is just awakening after a night of debauchery. He is sitting there with an expression unspeakably strained and hard, chewing something painfully. Do you not see how cruel it is, what is happening to him! It was three o’clock in the morning. Vojtech struck his forehead.

“My God, that tea,” he remembered, running with housewifely eagerness and anxiety to the kitchen. He shivered with cold. Wrapping himself in a blanket like an old woman, he boiled the water above a blue spirit-flame, much pleased that he could perform some mechanical action. He prepared the cups and the sugar, satisfying himself with the familiar tinkling of the things. Through a chink he looked into the room, and there, see, his brother is standing at the open window, as though he were listening to the roaring of the weirs on the Vltava, a bright and clear voice wrapped in the cold rustling of the rain as in a veil.

“Aren’t you cold?” asked Vojtech.


Vojtech stood at the door in a yearning mood. Here on the one side, a quiet, dark hole, a warm drink, a joy to be at home, a pleasure to entertain someone; and there, on the other side, a window, wide-open, filled with the majestic voice of the river and the darkness, for perhaps the night itself is rushing over the Vltava weir, such is its roar; and at the window, a tall, erect man, incredibly queer, strangely excited. Your own brother whom you do not recognize. Vojtech stood on the threshold as though on the boundary of two worlds: his own intimate world, and that of his brother, which seemed extraordinarily vast and terrible at this moment. But he knew that he would be initiated into it, that his brother had come in order to tell him something extremely important. He was afraid of it. He was almost terrified of it; while he listened with microphonic attention to the hissing of the spirit-lamp and the wide roaring of the river.

Like a mother Vojtech brings the hot red tea to the table with the question—“Only tell me . . . do you want something to eat?”—at the same time bringing out bacon and cakes, asking his brother to eat, running round like a woman, like a sympathetic old woman. Karel only drank a little of the tea, and then it seemed that he had forgotten his thirst.

“You see,” he began, and was silent. He sits there with his face pressed into his palms, forgetting that he wanted to speak.

Suddenly he rose.

“Listen, Vojtech,” he began again, “I wanted to say this . . . Our quarrel was stupid. I beg of you, don’t think that I care about the money. Perhaps you did think so. It’s all the same to me, but it’s not true. I only wanted things put in order. And then . . . I haven’t such a great interest in money,” he shouted, excitedly, snapping his fingers. “Not such an interest. Nor, if it comes to that, in anything. I can do without the lot.”

Vojtech thawed at once. Deeply moved, he broke in, assuring him that he had not thought about the matter for a long time, that they had both made a mistake, and God knows what else. . . .

But Karel did not listen to him.

“Be quiet,” he said, “I don’t want to talk about it at all. It’s quite irrelevant, anyhow. I only wanted . . . to ask you,” he went on, somewhat irresolutely, “to do something for me. To tell my wife that I’ve resigned my position.”

“But why . . . why?” cried Vojtech, astonished. “Aren’t you going back to her?”

“Not just at this moment, do you understand? And perhaps not at all . . . oh, besides it does not matter. She can go to her parents if she’s unhappy. I only want peace. I must begin to do something. I have such a plan. But the details do not matter for the moment. The main thing is that I must be alone, do you understand?”

“I don’t understand anything. What’s the matter at your office?”

“Nothing . . . a stupid affair. It’s all the same to me now, what was there and what will be there. Do you think that it makes me unhappy?”

“Then what is upsetting you?”

“It’s nothing. It’s quite unimportant in any case. I don’t think about it at all. On the contrary. I’m very happy . . . very happy, Vojtech.” He turned to his brother confidentially: “I beg of you, tell me the truth, but frankly. Do you think that I’m fit to be an official? What do you think?”

“I . . . I . . . I don’t know,” stammered Vojtech.

“I only want to say, you see, that if you know me a little from old times, would you think that it is sufficient for me? That I could be satisfied with it? Or perhaps I haven’t the right or the need to live otherwise. Do you think it’s true?“

“I don’t think so at all,” said Vojtech, unwillingly and without certainty, trying, at a glance, to catch the whole, regular, clearly limited life of his brother; the life which he had sometimes grudged him, the life in which he had never had close interest.

“Perhaps, we can say, it was so,” Karel continued, reflecting. “Or it was sleeping in me. Do you know, I have not even known it myself, but now, Vojtech, I know it only too well.”

“What do you know so well?”'

“And all for what,” Karel waved his hand in the air, absorbed in his own thoughts.

Vojtech hesitated for a moment.

“Listen, Karel,” he began, “something has happened to you. You are angry or you are upset and . . . and perhaps without reason. Tell me first, what has happened to you. Perhaps it might be put right. Surely we can do something about it. And that you will not return to your wife or to your office is all nonsense. You are not seriously thinking of it . . . are you?”

Karel stood up and laughed.

“That’s enough,” he said, and began to walk up and down the room. Then he looked round, stood before the pictures, and recognized all the permanent things. . . . “Vojtech, poor man,” he began mockingly, “so you live here? And alone? And have you enough room for your whole life, your whole life? Look here, suppose you were to marry! As I have done! To take such a good wife. And if she were to slave for you as if you were a tyrannical child. And if you were her little boy, because she is afraid of having children, and has no children. To have such a nest with pillows . . . as I have! Why man, you don’t know what happiness is!”

“You wrong your wife,” protested Vojtech, quietly.

“I really wrong her,” answered Karel. '“And more than that, I am quite tired of her. I’ve had enough of her. You can tell her that, but tell her also that I know how I wrong her. Tell her that she was a perfect example of an official’s wife. Oh, God, it is almost a crime! Just imagine it. It is quite certain that she waited for me to-night. The whole evening she keeps the fire bright, looks at the thermometer, lays the table, and waits. Imagine it, she has no idea yet. Even now she waits, shudders, and sits on the bed, puzzled. . . . Until in the morning you will come to her and say: ‘Madam, your husband has run away.’”

“I shall not say it!”

“But you must say it. ‘He ran away because he became loathsome to himself. He became terribly tired of all that he knew about himself. Just think of it, madam, suddenly he found in himself an unknown soul, something worse, strange and furious, and he wants to begin to do something with it. He can’t sleep with you now, because your husband was quite another person; he was just a domestic idiot, who drank warmed beer, and whom you loved.” Just tell her that, Vojtech, do you understand? Say to her: ‘Madam, he hates warmed beer, he hates you yourself, because last night he drank iced and burning wine and was unfaithful to you. He found a whore and he would return to her.’ . . . Ah, man,” Karel passed at once from the solemn dictatorial voice to a passionate half-audible tone, “it was dreadful at this girl’s. If you could only see the misery! Good God, man, what conditions! Her feet were wet and cold as ice. It was impossible to warm them. I must return there because of all the misery. If you could only see how she lives! It can’t be altered by charity, either, you see she spends it all on drink. But someone should be with her. . . .

“Karel,” said Vojtech, hoarsely.

“Wait, don’t interrupt.” Karel defended himself, “It’s not only that. That’s only an unimportant thing. I didn’t think about women at all at the beginning. But tell me, Vojtech, tell me, can a man return to the pillows and the warm curtains after seeing such misery? You know our home, Vojtech, I’d choke there with shame and disgust. My wife couldn’t understand that. I know she is good; please be silent, at least about this. I didn’t want to begin with that; it’s only an example, and it happened after . . .

“After what?”

“After I had made a decision. Wait, you don’t know anything at all yet. Everything began quite differently. It began . . . when I was still an official at the office . . . in short, in short, there was a row in the office. . . . And I,” terribly excited, Karel struck the table with his palm, “I was in the right, and that was enough.”

“What kind of a row was it?” Vojtech asked carefully.

“Oh, it was nothing, a mere stupidity. Nothing worth talking about. Only such an impulse, you see. But a man feels quite trodden on and can’t defend himself. As though you were a dish-cloth. So I remained in the office, and went through the books and files, and see, I was proved to be in the right. Someone else must have made the mistake, but who? It is quite strange how little it matters to me now; but at the moment I was wriggling like a worm and had decided to kill myself.”

'“Karel!” Vojtech cried.

“You, you must be silent,” Karel ordered as though drunk, pointing a trembling finger at him, “you are also like this. All the evening I tramped the streets. I wouldn’t go home. I condemned myself. I was tired and only longed to get drunk. I found a certain vinarna, you know the kind—but such a place. I never saw anything like it, music and girls, and so much dirt—amazing. I have forgotten for the moment who was sitting with me there. One had terrible sore fingers, her nails were dropping off. Perhaps it was from some venereal disease, do you think so?”

“Why do you ask?”

“Because she drank steadily from my glass. I couldn’t prevent her. But now it’s all the same to me. Then there was someone I spoke to the whole evening; I’ve no idea who it was. It seemed to me that they had all come there just as I had, the men and the prostitutes, all of them. Perhaps they will all commit suicide because they are so unhappy, and that’s the reason they went there. It seemed to me that I had something in common with them, but in some other deeper sense than, for instance, with the men in my office. It was as though I perhaps would have to sell matches and be old and lousy in the place of that match-seller; or that my own nails might drop off painfully; or that I might prostitute myself; or steal in the night as they do. Just imagine, Vojtech, for instance, this thought. It came into my head that as I was sitting there the end of the world had come outside, and that nothing remained but that vinarna and the people in it; prostitutes, drunkards, street-singers, thieves, diseased people, and that they alone were mankind. That there were neither churches nor palaces, neither philosophy nor art, neither fame nor states, but only those twenty outcasts. Can you imagine such a thing?”

“But tell me more.”

“Hm. There’s nothing more. I only thought of what I should do in such a case. For instance, what should I do with all my files, my position, and my knowledge? Indeed, man, none of these things would give pleasure to any of them, nor could I directly represent the nobility or the rejection of Man. It would be neither an example nor a picture of anything. If I were to play the harp or weep, it would be a hundred or a thousand times better, do you understand what I mean?”


“So you see, Vojtech, that’s why I’ve come to you, because I knew that you’d understand. It has made my life quite clear to me. I lived uselessly. Even for me, even for me, it was all for nothing. Perhaps it was useful for the State; but the State is only something official . . . the State, perhaps, is the duty on wine, but it is neither the wine nor the vinarna, neither the scabby drunkard nor the diseased waitress. These are the facts, do you understand? Man must follow the facts and not only give orders. . . . In short, it became loathsome for me at once. Really, Vojtech, an official is a man who obeys and forces other men to obey also, and that is all he does. A higher official, as I was, doesn’t know at all whether men are ill or what is the matter with them. Disease, misery, and ugliness must be seen, otherwise you know nothing. But if you could only see it, and always see it, and do nothing else, even that in itself would be a great service to mankind. You are made unhappy, mad, and ill by it, and that is more, much more than if you are merely sitting, sound and happy among the cushions. And that’s how it is.”

At that moment Vojtech found it extremely pleasant only to listen. Completely muffled up, with his knees under his chin, squatting in a woollen blanket, he was like a child who is as much charmed by the voice and gestures as by the words of the speaker.

“Go on, further,” he asked.

“Further,” Karel pondered, “what was there further? When I’d decided not to return to the office again it made me very happy. The idea of killing myself had already gone. On the contrary, I saw that I should begin afresh, that it is the beginning of a new life. That was such an amazing feeling, and life had never seemed so beautiful to me. I walked through the town again, not thinking at all about what I ought to do. But everywhere around me and even behind the walls of the houses I felt something quite new. And just because it was so beautiful for me I recognized that I had reached something both splendid and true. Certainly, Vojtech, inspiration is the greatest happiness. It cannot be expressed. It is just as though you are talking to God; or as if your mind were suddenly to comprehend the whole universe, the earth, the stars, mankind, and even the people of the past. Such is this happiness. Afterwards this girl met me and invited me home; and I went to see if that amazing, that supernatural beauty, could endure in such . . . such horror. And Vojtech, would you believe it? By degrees I became freer. When I saw her misery it was as though I had received wings. If to-day I could see all the horror and misery in the world I should be still happier and more certain of myself. I must recognize many more things because it makes a man free. Are you asleep?”

“I’m not asleep.”

“The more a man sees of misery the more he has in common with the world of men. I have found the feeling of unity. It is not altogether sympathy. It is enlightenment and ecstasy; not regret, but enthusiasm. You yourself . . .” (thus he preached, standing, his hand outstretched, possessed completely by the drunkenness which had previously been overcome by the ecstasy) . . . “you yourself see every pain then and discover every disease and degradation and feel that it is your own. You yourself are poor and miserable, thief and prostitute, drunkard and despairing. You are what you see. And then you only long to carry all misery and every disease, to take all the rejection upon yourself; you desire and thirst after this to satisfy yourself. You will not give to charity because that will not wipe out old wrongs; but you will be poor yourself. You yourself must be equally poor to wipe them out. You must be diseased, drunk, pursued, insulted, muddied, and morally low. You must reach the heights. You must reach the highest heights. Enough, you knew enough. Forget all. Now you must learn. But Vojtech,” turning suddenly with extraordinary kindness, “you want to go to bed, don’t you?”

“No. Not at all,” Vojtech assured him, eagerly.

“Go and lie down. I must write something. Go and sleep, please, you would only be in my way.”

“No, Karel,” said Vojtech, “I shall not sleep; but you can write. I shall only lie down so that I shan’t be in your way; but afterwards I have something to tell you.”

“That’s all right, only sleep,” repeated Karel, and sat down at the table, burying his head in his hands.

Stretched out quietly on the bed Vojtech fell to thinking about what he should say to his brother. He was puzzled and yet full of pity. He searched for some peculiarly kind words that would be like bright glances. Careful words like those we use to a sick person. Something with which he could both please and repay. With half, closed eyes he looked at his brother. He was bending over the table as though he were studying. He always used to study so hard and stubbornly. He always used to have such passionate pleasures which he would overcome by studying. He was so ambitious and yet so rash. The young drinker who stopped drinking altogether one day because he had decided to do so. Or he would decide to get up at five o’clock in the morning. Then he would get up and study while Vojtech, voluptuous and warmth-loving as a cat, snored between the blankets. “Vojtech, Vojtech, get up, it’s seven o’clock.” Vojtech pretends not to hear. But meanwhile he hears the scratching of a pen on paper, and is rather pleased that some living being is so near to him. For nothing in the world would he open his eyes. He did not wish to interrupt his dream. But it is not really a dream (Vojtech smiled) it actually happened to me when I was perhaps in the Fourth Class: some boys of the Seventh Class, Karel’s school-chums, took me into a vinarna—let me see, it was Kislinger and Dostalek, but he’sdead. . . . Now Vojtech hears a woman singing: “And I am Esmeralda, the true daughter of the South, Esmeralda, Esmeralda . . .” He likes it, but he is afraid that they will turn him out, and makes himself small so that no one should see him. He hides himself behind the table and only looks at the girl who is serving the wine. With upraised arms she arranges her hair and sings softly. Now she speaks to someone, bending down to his face, kneeling, with one knee on the chair, look, a red garter under the other knee. Vojtech does not know what to do with his eyes. He is ashamed of them, and only watches, jealously. . . . And now she sees me, my God! Now she comes straight over to him, lurching a little, leans right across the table, and looks at him, very intently, with mysterious flashing eyes. She is humming a love-song, and laughs, quietly and kindly. Vojtech feels her damp breath on his lips and is on the point of weeping with shame and love.

He would like to say something, but he does not know what; nor does she. Therefore she only whispers the love-song and gazes into his eyes with a very intimate, clear look. What did she want from me? Why did she say nothing? Actually there are no boys here any more, only Karel, sitting and writing on foolscap paper, saying to himself: now you must study. Vojtech pretends to hear nothing, study what you like, he thinks, only let me sleep now.

When Vojtech awoke it was broad daylight. He was puzzled to find himself lying in bed, half-dressed, then he remembered a little and looked for Karel. Karel lay on the sofa, sleeping. His cheeks drooped, tired to the point of pain, and he seemed aged. Then Vojtech, silently, in order not to awaken him, searched for what he had written. He found a letter in a sealed envelope, tore it open, and read:

“Dear Sir,

Owing to my illness I resign my position and request my release without pension.

X. X., late Councillor”

Vojtech shook his head and searched further. In the waste-paper basket there were several crushed, cancelled, and torn pieces of paper. He opened them and read:

“Dear Sir,

Please compare the file which was taken from me with the enclosure B3, volume M23, with the dictation of the Minister in the same place, and also with the copy of the letter from the 17.9. in the same place, to make sure that the wrong decision which was taken was not my fault, but that I received incorrect material from that document. You can see yourself, although you are so young, that the Minister wrongly—”

And here the letter was crossed in evident anger and crushed. The next paper had apparently to carry the beginning of some essay; there was only: “If you want to become a philosopher you must—”

Even this paper was crushed and torn, perhaps after his long sleeplessness. Vojtech put all the poor papers together carefully, and with a quivering, pitying pain, looked at his sleeping brother. You see, he is already grey about the temples; his eyes are swollen, and he seems to be ill. Vojtech gazed at him thoughtfully; then he silently finished his dressing, locked the door behind him, and ran to his brother’s office. He had some acquaintances there, and it was easy for him to discover what had happened yesterday.

In the afternoon the Minister had come rushing into the Department, almost beside himself with rage. “It is a wretched thing,” he shouted, the moment he entered the door, “whoever has done this is either a fool or a dishonest person.” He did not say it in so many words, but he hinted at it, still worse. “And who did this?” he shouted, waving a document. Everyone shook with fear. Then Karel said: “It is my file,” and wanted to defend himself. “Be silent, sir,” roared the Minister, as he tore the document and threw it on to the table of the youngest official in the Department, his favourite: “Correct it, sir.” And he slammed the door behind him. Everyone remained as if they were petrified. Karel, pale and apparently as mechanical as a doll, closed his desk, and departed without a word. At five o’clock he returned and worked while all the others went home. After all no one really believed that he had made such a mistake; but he did not wish to speak to any one.

Then Vojtech, almost with force, penetrated to the Minister, a terrible, explosive man; and in half an hour he appeared in the doorway, red, exhausted, but with triumphant eyes. The Minister himself even accompanied him to the door to shake his hand again. Vojtech rushed home, and found Karel sitting frowning on the sofa, slack with fatigue, and encompassed within a ring of his own thoughts.

"Karel," he announced triumphantly, "you ought to go to your Minister."

"I will not go," said Karel, absently.

"You will go, because . . . because he will apologize to you. He begs you to go to him so that he may express his sorrow, and his confidence in you. And his esteem." Vojtech remembered, hastily, the words already prepared.

"Why did you go there?" Karel asked with some heaviness. "It is quite useless. I will not do that, and I will . . . I will have peace, Vojtech. I feel so much better. Leave me alone, please. I am concerned with things much more important . . ."

There was a discordant silence. Vojtech, in despair, bit his nails.

"And what then, tell me, do you really wish to do?" he asked finally.

"I don't know," said Karel, with disgust, beginning to pace up and down the room.

Someone rang the bell. It was a chauffeur.

“The Minister has sent his car for the Councillor,” he announced at the door.

Karel made a sudden movement and searched the eyes of his brother suspiciously: is it not a pre-arranged comedy? But he only saw naïve surprise.

Then something absurdly emotional flooded him, an emotion which overpowers a man when he receives small trifles, unexpectedly. Tears came into his eyes. He flushed and turned to the window. Just below gleamed the body of a beautiful car.

"Very well then," he said, hesitatingly, "I'll go."

And then began suddenly to hurry. Even Vojtech helped him hurriedly and in confusion, so that they had scarcely time to say good-bye to each other.

When Vojtech stepped to the window the street was already empty; and because he felt desolate and a little sad, he went to announce to Karel’s wife the news that her husband would return.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1927.

The author died in 1938, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.