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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Jan Neruda (1834–1891)

A Fiendish Plot

From “How Austria was Saved”

ON August 20, 1849, at half past twelve o’clock in the afternoon, Austria was to be destroyed. This had been determined at a meeting of the Pistol Club. I cannot now recall the exact offense Austria had been committing, but I do know that we reached our decision after mature deliberation. There was no hope. The die was cast. The carrying out of the edict was left to Ziska, Prokop the Bald, Prokop the Small, and Hus. These personages were, as a matter of fact, myself, Joseph Rumpel, son of a butcher, Franz Dick, son of a cobbler, and Anton Hochmann, who was attending school in Prague at the expense of his peasant brother. The historical names here cited were not chosen by chance, but were assigned according to merit. I was Ziska, for I was the blackest man of them all, spoke most energetically, and appeared at the very first meeting of the club (held in a garret at Rumpel’s) with a black bandage over one eye, which caused a general sensation. Now, this black bandage I had to wear at all our meetings. It was not very pleasant to have to do it, but then, the others had to live up to their names too.

The plan had been laid with diabolical foresight. For a whole year we put every Kreutzer we could spare into the treasury of the club, so that at last it contained eleven Gulden. For five Gulden we bought a pistol, which, the salesman assured us, was “the genuine article.” We passed the pistol from hand to hand at our meetings (which, since the beginning of the holidays, were held daily), and assured each other that it was “the genuine article.” Altogether we were very careful. We admitted no new members into our club for fear of treason. We four were enough. With the other six Gulden we might have purchased another pistol and thus doubled our armament, but we had set the money aside for gunpowder, of the cost of which we had no glimmering. For our plan one pistol sufficed. Another possession of the club was a porcelain pipe, which, at the meetings, little Prokop smoked in the name of us all. It was an excellent pipe; a goblet and a spear were depicted on it; but we could assign it no part for the great day.

I publish our plan here, in order that it may win due admiration.

Our grand purpose was the destruction of Austria; the first necessity, the possession of Prague. The taking of the Belvedere was to be the means by which we were to become masters of Prague, for in that position we thought that we could not be bombarded; and we were going to storm the fortress at noon. If you consider that from time immemorial sudden surprises in war have been carried out at midnight, and that therefore all sentinels are most vigilant then, you will appreciate the devilish cunning of our innovation. Now, at that time—namely, noon—the citadel was guarded by only six or eight soldiers. Very stealthily we were to approach, we four, throw ourselves upon the sentinel, overpower him, take his gun, and then break into the guard-house, dispose of the other guards, and take their weapons. Only the second detachment of guards would then remain; they would probably yield, and then we could bind them. Should they not yield, it was their own affair if they had to be killed. Then we were to take a cannon to the gate, and cry from the battlements that the revolution had begun. Of course, a lot of soldiers would come from outside the citadel; but they would not be able to scale the walls, and once a minute we would open the gate, fire off a cannon, and slam the gate to again. The soldiers who came first would thus be annihilated; the others would probably surrender, for the revolution would receive encouragement at all hands. Then we would sally forth, unite with the citizens of Prague, and liberate all political prisoners.

The rest was as simple and natural as the growing of grass. In the first battle we would defeat the army, wiping it out completely in the second. Then we would conquer Vienna, and destroy Austria. The Hungarians would help us. Then we would destroy the Hungarians.