The War with the Newts, by Karel Čapek

Chapter 3

Mister Povondra Reads the Papers Again

There’s nothing that makes the passage of time more obvious than seeing our children grow! Where’s little Frank now, who we left (so recently, it seems!) on the tributaries on the left bank of the Danube?

“Where’s our Frank got to?” grumbled Mr. Povondra as he opened his evening paper.

“You know, same as always,” said Mrs. Povondra, bent over her sewing.

“Out chasing after girls again, is he?” said Mr. Povondra disapprovingly. “Damn boy! Nearly thirty years old, he is, and never spends a single evening at home!”

“He certainly gets through his socks fast enough,” sighed Mrs. Povondra as she drew another worn-out sock over the wooden last. “Now what am I going to do with this one?” she said as she contemplated a large hole on the heel that resembled the outline of Ceylon. “Better just throw it out, I suppose,” she thought critically, but nonetheless, after further strategic considerations, she stuck her needle decisively in at Ceylon’s southern coast.

A dignified homely peace reigned for a while, the sort the Povondras were so fond of; there was only the rustle of the newspaper and the fast-moving needle and thread to answer it.

“Have they got him yet?” asked Mrs. Povondra.

“Who?”

“That murderer, the one who killed that woman.”

“I can’t be bothered with this murderer of yours,” grumbled Mr. Povondra with distinct contempt. “I’ve been reading here about how tensions have erupted between China and Japan. That’s a serious matter, that is. It’s always a serious matter out there.”

“I don’t think they’re ever going to catch him now,” Mrs. Povondra opined.

“Who?”

“That murderer. They don’t often catch them when they murder women.”

“Japan doesn’t like it that China’s been regulating the Yellow River. That’s politics, that is. For as long as the Yellow River keeps playing up they’ll keep on having floods and famines in China, and that keeps China weak. Pass me the scissors, mother, I’ll cut this one out.”

“What for?”

“‘Cause it says here they’ve got two million newts working on the Yellow River.”

“That’s a lot, isn’t it!”

“I should say so. Mind you, girl, I’m sure it must be America that’s paying for it. Why would the Mikado want to put his own newts in there - And look at this!”

“What is it?”

“The Petit Parisien says here that France won’t like it at all. And I sure they won’t. I wouldn’t like it either.”

“What wouldn’t you like, dear?”

“For Italy to extend the island of Lampedusa. That’s a very important strategic position, that is. Italy would be able to threaten Tunis from there.  And the Petit Parisien says that Italy wants to turn the island into a first class marine fortress, that there are sixty thousand armed newts already there - Just think of that! Sixty thousand; that’s three divisions, mother. There’s something going to happen down there in the Mediterranean if you ask me. Have a look yourself; I’ll cut it out for you.”

In the meantime Ceylon had disappeared under the industrious needle of Mrs. Povondra and reduced itself to no more that the proportions of Rhodes.

“And there’s England, too, don’t forget,” Mr. Povondra considered. “They’re going to have their troubles, too. In the House of Commons they’ve been taking about how Great Britain will be left behind all the other states where water constructions are concerned. They say all the other colonial powers are building new shorelines and reclaiming new land all the time while the British government is too conservative and won’t trust the newts. And that’s quite true, mother. Very conservative they are, the English. I knew someone once who worked at the British embassy, and he would never let our Czech sausage past his lips, not for the life of him. Said they didn’t eat it in England so he wouldn’t eat it here. I’m not surprised other countries are getting ahead of them.” Mr. Povondra nodded his head earnestly. “And there’s France extending its coastline out by Calais. So now there’s panic on in England that the French might start shooting at them across the Channel if the Channel gets any narrower. That’s what it comes to. There’s nothing to stop them extending their own coast off Dover and then they should shoot at France.”

“Why would they want to do that, dear?” asked Mrs. Povondra.

“You don’t understand these things. These are military matters. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was some trouble there. And if not there it’ll be somewhere else. It stands to reason, mother, with all these newts the world situation is entirely different. Entirely different.”

“Do you think there’s going to be a war?” asked Mrs. Povondra uneasily. “I wouldn’t want our Frank to get mixed up in any war.”

“War?” thought Mr. Povondra. “It’d have to be a world war so that the world powers could divide the sea between themselves. We’ll stay neutral, though. Somebody has to stay neutral so that they can supply arms and all that to the others. That’s how it works,” concluded Mr. Povondra. “But you women don’t understand these things.”

Mrs. Povondra pressed her lips together and, with a few quick strokes of her needle, finished the elimination of Ceylon from young Frank’s sock. “And just think,” said Mr. Povondra with hardly suppressed pride, “this dangerous situation wouldn’t have arisen if it hadn’t been for me! If I hadn’t let that sea captain in to see Mr. Bondy that time then the whole course of history would have been different. There are other doormen who wouldn’t have let him in, but I said to myself, I’ll take on that responsibility. And now look, you’ve even got countries like England and France having trouble because of it! And there’s still no knowing what might happen next.” Mr. Povondra drew vigorously on his pipe. “That’s how it is, my love. The papers are full of stories about the newts. Here’s another one, look,” Mr. Povondra put down his pipe, “it says here that newts have attacked some village near the city of Kankesanturai in Ceylon; seems the natives had been going out and killing them. The police and a squad of the local militia were called in,” read Mr. Povondra read, “and then there was a proper shooting match between the newts and the people. Several of the soldiers were injured . . .” Mr. Povondra put down his paper. “I don’t like the sound of that, mother.”

“Why’s that, then?” asked Mrs. Povondra as she carefully and contentedly clicked the scissors over the place where the island of Ceylon had been. “After all, there’s nothing there!”

“I don’t know about that,” exclaimed Mr. Povondra as he stood up and began to pace anxiously up and down the living room. “I don’t like the sound of that at all. Newts and people shooting at each other; you can’t have that sort of thing going on.”

“Maybe these newts were just trying to defend themselves,” laughed Mrs. Povondra as she put the socks away.

“Exactly,” grumbled Mr. Povondra uneasily. “If these horrors start trying to defend themselves things are going to turn bad. It’s the first time they’ve done that . . . . Oh my God, I don’t like the sound of that!” Mr. Povondra stopped pacing and stood in thought. “I don’t know but . . . maybe I should never have let that sea captain in to see Mr. Bondy!”

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/c/capek/karel/newts/chapter15.html

Last updated Thursday, March 13, 2014 at 21:34