The answer somewhat cooled me down and, having hesitatingly inquired as to its practical value, I was again told only that it meant great joy to be a kona for this was what gave the true boeto. When I asked what the boeto was, he replied that to win the boeto was joy and happiness.
So this way I did not become much wiser and, instead of joy I felt a certain amount of embarrassment, which, however, I did not dare to voice.
Later I realized that boeto was the very same kind of empty word as ketni; an action was ketni, because it had to be done in a certain way — and conversely, it had to be done in a certain way because it was ketni. It was this vicious circle that constituted the main feature of their confused twaddling, this arguing with no point of reference to connect their world with the co-ordinates of the outside world.
Being exposed to their whims, however, I did not venture to argue but, pretending even to be pleased, I cautiously asked what kind of conduct was necessary to receive the grace of the boeto. Zemoeki reassured me that he would arrange everything and left. Before long he returned with a companion who, as I came to know later, was called Zeremble.
Zemoeki and Zeremble then called me away to arrange and carry out my initiation. We crossed the vast yard and entered a distant building. The upper part of the door was boarded up so that we had to bend down. I had not the slightest idea why they had made it like this.
Now we stepped into a very strange room, where none of the furniture was in its proper place or position. I saw a table which had only a frame with no top, but which was nevertheless fitted out with a back like that of a chair. From the bare frame, there hung on strings yellow pebbles on the backs of which the stains of different paints could be seen trickling down.
Another table stood with its legs upwards covered with some strange sheet, which, however, could not be used for either a bed-sheet or a tablecloth as it had holes punched all over and thick bass ropes intertwined over and over through the holes with yellow pebbles on the ends.
Behind the table there was a chair. This had a serrated seat so that the thighs of anyone sitting on it would have been in the greatest danger; its back was three times larger than necessary with irregular carving all the way up. Thorns were driven through its seat, making it impossible to sit on.
In general the whole room gave the impression that vandals had spoiled everything to make it unusable, or that I had entered the den of destructive spirits.
Fear and horror gripped my heart; I had strange forebodings. I cautiously asked Zemoeki: "What has happened here?"
Zemoeki opened his eyes wide. At first he did not understand why I asked and it was only with considerable incredulity that I came to know that the devastation had not been perpetrated by an enemy army but by the owners themselves. When I asked why, he replied, "Because it is so kipu."
Another new word they had concocted in order to justify another piece of nonsense.
Of course, instead of quieting me, the fact that the destruction had been done by themselves gave rise to even more terrible forebodings concerning my future.
A few minutes later a door opened in the background and an odd-looking man entered. From his knees the copper cubes, already mentioned, hung down. So he, too, was a betik. Over his shoulders he wore a large piece of glaring cloth which, with a little benevolent imagination, could have been taken for a raincoat by those with some common sense and it would seem that they had pierced and torn it everywhere and hung scraps of glass from it so that it could not be used for such a purpose.
Now the betik tied two huge baking sheets underneath his soles, came up to me and murmuring unintelligible words, hit me on the head with a hollow tin ball.
Laughter bubbled up inside me at these stupidities but seeing that the others did not laugh at all but were touched and solemn when Baking-sheet-soles made his appearance, I stifled my own laughter, too, and, although it was difficult, contrived to adopt a solemn countenance.
When the ceremony was finished everybody gathered around me. They scratched my posterior and were very delighted at my becoming a kona which, as they had said, meant great joy, for I had thus won the true boeto.
The pleasure slowly spread into me as well, as I really felt relief at having managed to accomplish the boeto so smoothly. After what had happened previously, I had been prepared for much worse.
Unfortunately my pleasure was somewhat premature, as the Reader will see. But I must not anticipate.
Having left the betik I could not suppress a smile. I recalled my little son who was happy and clapped his hands when he was given a piece of cake and I imagined the puzzled little face he would have made at such words as: "Be glad, my son, because you have become a kona and won the boeto." He would obviously have drawn some conclusions as to the mental condition of his father. How deep is the darkness in which, compared even to the children of the glorious British monarchy, these miserable adults live!
On the way home I seriously asked Zemoeki what I profited from becoming a kona, but I insisted that he say something factual and not merely to keep mentioning the boeto.
Their demented brains are so deeply involved in their fantasies that at first he did not even understand my question. He kept on asserting that all the anebas to which the kona, boeto, ketni, kipu and other fantasticalities belonged constituted full reality, for it was these which sustained mankind; without these we could not even live, and anyone who did not feel the anebas was a bivak to whom it would be in vain to explain all these. And a bivak was a lost man, devoid of all content.
After a long struggle I succeeded in more or less bringing him round to the dull but solid ground of the natural world, so that at last he groaned out the first fact.
"From now on, you, too, have the right to participate in the buku."
"What does that mean?"
"You have the right to beat the kemons if they draw their hideous circles on the wall or outrage the square."
"How is it possible to outrage a geometric figure?"
"They break the corners off, or draw diagonals into it."
I was somewhat embarrassed.
"Well, and what else?" I asked after a short interval.
"What do you mean by 'and what else'? Would you be able to tolerate the fact that they draw diagonals into the square?"
To tell the truth I would have, but the intonation made me surmise that it was advisable to say no. I did my best to protest against this insinuation, declaring that I would immediately tear the intestines out of anyone who drew diagonals into the square.
This resolute attitude visibly restored my shaky reputation. Zemoeki regained his composure and stated that I was a brave man, although I did not have the slightest idea why. I also learned that I was worthy of being taken by the nose by the betik, which according to them was a very good thing, as it happened only to exceedingly brave konas.
I was, however, much more interested in fighting as a new danger, but when I inquired about it he said: "It is not fighting. It is buku."
"But you have just said that we have to beat the kemons. Why is it not a fighting if we are to beat each other?"
"Not each other. The kemons."
"And the kemons the konas..."
"Well, then why not each other?"
"Because we do not beat each other, only the kemons, and that is quite another matter. This is buku, which is pervaded by the boeto. Fighting is a nasty thing which a ketni man will not commit; the buku is, however, to make one better and nobler, as well as to develop solidarity and respect for each other."
I inquired twice but it became clear that I had not misunder stood him. It is their faith that they respect each other and keep together if they thrash each other!
It took me some minutes to collect my thoughts. It was not as if I had any doubt as to the value of my "privileges", but because the greatest problem of the sane mind among the crazy is how to manifest itself so that it should not be struck dead and yet speak reasonably. I got into trouble several more times on account of the attribute of common sense whereby it can walk straight with ease, but when it tries to limp it falls. The Behins sometimes seemed to me quite talented in the way they limped.
The gentle Reader should not be surprised. Once I had a case — I was called to a patient who showed insanity symptoms. He replied to questions with a completely confused mixture of sounds. When, for instance, I asked how he was, he said in answer something like, "Balevi abargetine trendad homagrido."
Of course, I reported in my institute that the patient talked disconnectedly. They asked what I meant by disconnected talk. I tried to demonstrate but was forced to realize that I was not able to improvise meaningless heaps of letters and sounds. (By the way, while devising the above example, my mind doggedly sought words that made sense. The patient, however, had gabbled it all out without thinking.)
So I said in reply to Zemoeki that from the point of view of the kona the most expedient way of taking revenge on the villainous kemons would be simply not to care for the square. Let them mutilate it and draw diagonals into it as they please. If we did not react, they would eventually become enraged.
Zemoeki and Zeremble looked at each other in consternation and stated that my only excuse could be my being a novice, for to speak of the anebas with such cynicism was a great sin, and by my words I exposed myself to the suspicion of aligning myself with the kemons.
The fruitless struggle truly wore out my brain. I curbed my rebellious common sense attitude with difficulty and promised that I should try to acquire some feeling for the anebas.
My greatest anxiety, however, was to avoid the danger of fighting, so I asked: "How does the buku usually commence?"
"The villainous kemons," answered Zemoeki, "burst into our rooms and break up the electric cookers, at which every decent kona, too, makes his way into the rooms of the kemons and breaks their cookers up. But it may also happen that the provocative behaviour of the kemons gives rise to our righteous indignation they force us into the buku and then we break up their cookers first and they in turn ours."
Suddenly I realized with dismay why my cooker was in such a state of disrepair. I only asked why this mutual terrible destruction had to take place.
"Well, we must certainly defend the hearth, mustn't we?" he answered in the most natural tone in the world.
With this we parted and with a heavy heart I retired to rest. Finally I resolved that in the future I simply would not mix with them so that by making myself independent I should bear it until I got free of them one way or another without trouble. Fortunately there were the wise Hins who handed in my meal every day, and for my own part, I would lock myself up in my room and not spend more time in the open than was strictly necessary, and even then I would not communicate with them.
Oh, if I had had the slightest idea of what might follow, the soothing sleep that soon overcame me would by no means have come to my eyes.
For the insanity of the Behins is the most terrible of all the dangerous epidemics. While with us only accidental infection is known, here I had to become familiar with the idea of infection by force. One cannot isolate oneself! They follow and compel one to rave with them. It is in vain for the sane mind to try diverting itself; it promises in vain to be silent and against its better judgement it will watch their suicidal dance without a helping word. Madness is a generally binding rule here.
For if it were only belief in the anebas and other freaks that was at issue, one could carry it off by approving everything. But no! Their madness imposes actual physical suffering on everyone, from which there is no escape. This I myself was obliged to experience sadly the next day. The very next day, when I got my dinner through the wall.
No sooner had I sat down to it, than Zemoeki entered with a radiant face together with his two companions, and let me know that I was once more to be the recipient of great pleasure.
At this my teeth were set on edge and I broke into a sweat. Not without reason. Zemoeki announced that the Council of Betiks had permitted me to partake of the boeto and deliver up my spirituality.
With this he blindfolded his two companions; they felt their way to my food, covered it with another handkerchief and simply took it away.
I looked after them dumbfounded. I wanted to say I could not starve, but as any word about eating would have been kave and would only have shocked him, I explained to Zemoeki stammering and in a devious way that without spirituality I felt I would die.
Zemoeki replied benevolently that spirituality was acknowl edged to be no more than the burden of life while to every decent and honest kona the boeto was not a blow; why this was how spirituality got to the betik, by which it purified the contaminations and became the bikru's material manifestation. Thus I served the kona, kipu and ketni as well, so it meant pleasure and honour to my own self if I partook of the graces of the boeto.
I could not help it — this delight did not satisfy me. Why, my life was at stake!
I did not let Zemoeki go, but made him sit down, and asked him to find some way for me to partake of spirituality, as after all it could not be denied that everybody retained some relationship with it.
The intimate conversation also untied Zemoeki's tongue, and he confessed to me in a whisper that he, too, partook of it daily and promised to be of help if I would only treat what he told me as confidential.
Having assured him of my discretion, we talked the matter over thoroughly and he suggested that if I wished to partake of spirituality, I should perform some useful work as I could not expect the betiks to feed me gratis.
This surprised me immensely as it was known to all that the food was handed in by the Hins, so that practically everybody was a parasite; if, however, we still had wanted to distinguish between Behin and Behin then it was only the betiks who could have been called parasites, who simply took away my spirituality.
When I broached the matter, however, I got a resentful answer as if I had taken their spirituality away and he stated that, on the contrary, as the bee got the honey from the bee-keeper, so we, too, got our spirituality from the betik.
I could not believe my ears; I thought he confused the words by accident, but .as it turned out, they actually professed that the bee-keeper gave the honey to the bees, and in a similar way everyone owed a debt of gratitude to his spirituality-giving betik, and I should just contemplate where it would lead if the betiks were to cease functioning one day and everyone would die of hunger.
To this I answered that the Hins provided the spirituality, against which he strongly protested. And when I asserted that I had seen it being handed in with my own eyes, he replied that it would be good for me to dispense with referring to my eyes. A true kona could not say such a kave thing, we had to believe that it was the betik who gave it, besides man had not only eyes but also bruhu and this was more important.
The bruhu, too, signifies something non-existent. With words, of course, only existing things can be described, so I cannot relate anything on its own merit, only as to when they use it.
Well, the bruhu was the final cause of the whole of this unnatural way of life and conception.
The damaged chair is needed because it is kipu, you must wail vake because it is ketni, the square must not be violated, as it is aneba. And if sane minds question why the ketni, kipu and aneba are necessary at all, they will reply, "Because man has bruhu". This bruhu needs only things which for man himself are unnecessary.
According to this, the supposition that the bruhu as ultimate cause should be translated as paranoia would seem obvious; the illness of the Behins, however, went beyond the symptoms of paranoia, to say nothing of the fact that they kept mentioning the bruhu not as a state but as something self-existent, even as something which existed and at the same time did not exist. For when I asked what the bruhu was like, they looked at me shocked and called me bivak, but could not describe its form.
Zemoeki offered benevolently to be of help to me in securing a useful occupation, and until then would let me have some of his own spirituality.
Indeed, a few days later he took me to a betik. On Zemoeki's advice, with my left hand on my head, I held one of my feet with my right hand, and surpassing even his yell, wailed vake- vake, at which the betik, with regard to Zemoeki's person, received me very cordially, and, calling me kaleb, inquired after the growth of my nose and was pleased to state that he was willing to employ me as beratnu, although many outstanding konas had competed for this position, including some who had already given evidence of their feeling for the anebas by tearing out the guts of several kemons.
So with this I took up my post.
For what I had to do from then on, I blush with shame as I write. I accept that my Readers will despise me, a British subject, for sinking so low, and I cannot be silent about it as it is my firm resolution to speak out plainly and sincerely about everything in accordance with the true facts as is worthy of an English gentleman, even though the truth may be disadvantageous to me.
By way of excuse I have only to mention that I had to keep my post as otherwise I would have exposed myself to starvation. To reassure my fellow-countrymen, I further declare that I did not forget my duty to my country among the Behins either, and in my humiliating situation I never disclosed my background — whenever I was asked about it I always declared myself American. Hoping by my correct conduct I have succeeded a little in conciliating my beloved compatriots, I will try to describe my work. This entailed two tasks. The first was that every third day the Behins slung a queer piece of cloth — punched to rags — over my shoulders and I had to carry a shining square over the yard while a baking-sheet-soled betik walked before me with a tin-box in his hands. A strange melody was played around me on musical instruments, some device generated putrid gas and finally I had to set on fire a suit of very good clothes.
My other task was the distribution of the yellow pebbles. This meant that I had to collect yellow pebbles which on certain days I carried in the tin box already mentioned in front of the betik. They rattled noisily. The betik stepped beside me and hitting the side of the box with a pebble twice motioned to me to distribute the pebbles. And I opened the lid and gave one to everybody. At this in an ecstasy of joy people grabbed their right foot up intone hand, cried vake- vake and squeezing the pebbles under their arms, dispersed.
Although this mummery in itself was exceedingly farcical and outdid the most bizarre carnival, the most ludicrous thing was the explanation-these unfortunates believed that the pebble they squeezed under their arm was nourishing; they were even convinced that it was this which maintained life, the human body, and they praised the betik for it. The meal, as we already know, was despised by public opinion, although everyone ate it. (The word "spirituality" was only to sooth their consciences.)
But with this we have not yet reached the limit of their absurd behaviour. With this went also the belief that only those pebbles were nourishing whose box the betik had touched. When I gathered them from the ground they were not yet nourishing, and they became nourishing only when placed under the arm. They would not swallow them, however, and even touching them to the mouth was forbidden as it would have amounted to an outrage of the pebble. So far as they were concerned it was possible to "outrage" a pebble for, as we know, eating and the mouth were shameful things. I myself saw a lawsuit against a Behin who was accused of eating bread and butter with the pebble under his arm. And with the most serious expressions they heard a crowd of witnesses who refuted that it could have occurred this way. The Behin, however, was still convicted as it had been proved that, with the pebble under his arm, he mentioned "bread and butter", by which therefore the pebble had already suffered wrong. Even this was proscribed as, on such occasions, even to think of spirituality was not permitted.
This madness of squeezing a pebble worked on my mind and once I ventured to state in front of Zemoeki that perhaps it was not nourishing after all. In evidence I referred to the fact that no living organism in the world took nourishment this way. Zemoeki in return explained to me that the pebble theory was verified by precisely this fact. As man had bruhu, he did not belong to the common living organisms of the world, so it was self-evident that he had different needs. I answered that as I had become acquainted with human anatomy at Oxford University, from his stomach to every single hair, each of man's organs needed food and not pebbles. Zemoeki, however, warned me that I again referred to my eyes and experience, which was not good, and warmly recommended that I should beware of casting doubt upon pebble-nourishment as that, too, was an aneba, and the Behins were very particular about their bruhu, and they had taken bloody revenge for such blasphemy on more than one lamik.
So again I heard the baleful word lamik at the mention of which I was to draw my knife, and of whose meaning I still had no idea.
At this moment Zemoeki painfully yelled vake- vake and as I looked up I saw my own Baking-sheet-soled approaching, before whom a Behin walked and watered the grass.
Of course, I myself also snatched my foot up, and we attempted to outvie each other in wailing until the creature passed out of sight. Then I asked why the grass had been watered before him but Zemoeki could only answer that he was a betik.
In reply to my question as to why the betik needed wet grass, he answered again, "Because he is a betik."
I gazed at him with a puzzled expression and he explained that there were even more betik betiks, too, in front of wham two or three Behins watered because they were still more betik.
After all this I dared to venture only quite softly and timidly that watering was perhaps not the most useful occupation.
"I would have you know," he said, "you are not in a position to assert any such thing."
"Because you are a beratnu and a beratnu must not say things like that."
Thus it was not because the assertion was not true, but because I was a beratnu.
So I thought it better to keep silent and continued distributing the yellow pebbles.
Later I had the opportunity to see the most fantastic offices that can be imagined. From among them the Rust Measuring and Record Office bear special mention though in a later chapter.
From among the posts, I feel that I must mention that of the figure-guards. One of the trees in the yard had a shining tin square wired to the top. Under this tree two Behins permanently idled their time away in shifts. They kept guard lest any of the depraved kemons should throw stones at or use insulting language to the tin.
The common-sense reaction would have been to throw the whole rubbish into the dustbin so that there should be nothing to be pelted and guarded, but such a straight and reasonable opinion I naturally no longer dared to put forward. Instead I merely asked Zemoeki whether it would not have been better if these guards did some work, which might be of more service to the welfare of the kona. Zemoeki resentfully put me wise to the fact that it was they who did the most honest and useful work possible for the benefit of the kona.
I fell silent and, wishing to emphasize my appreciation of his remarks, said that it was gratifying that the workers met with such a recognition.
But in vain. Among the Behins you cannot say anything which does not offend some monomania. Now I was scolded for having called the elak figure-guards workers.
By the way, for my own work I received money, the existence of which I had totally forgotten since being among the Hins. With the money I was to go to the Nourishing and Life-Giving Office, where I could buy spirituality, but considerably less than I had got from the Hins, as the bulk of the food was eaten up by the betiks. Here in the place of confiscation and distribution I saw in the end the most real occupation. They at least concerned themselves with existing materials, even though they did- so in a wretched and wicked manner.
I became much less well nourished, and so I met once more the other concept which I had forgotten whilst among the Hins — as if it had not existed: the idea of financial difficulties. I began to see things from the materialistic point of view again only with the revival of this. Because I admit that until my food was taken away I had not given a thought as to how the others were fed.
Now I came to know that there were many hungry people among them, from whom even the clothes due to them had been taken away — they were even driven out of their room, so that many of them dwelt in the open air. I repeat, there is no escape from the insanity of the Behins. One cannot remain aloof: they follow one. They take one's food and clothes away, and it would be in vain to nod assent and let them do so, so that they should just permit one to retire into a part of the yard like a hermit to grow potato and fruit. That is not permitted either. The only mode of life is to join them and actively take part in their suicidal dance of death.
The freedom of private life cannot even be mentioned. They take one along with them. They rob, torture and compel one to betray one's sobriety daily; and one cannot have a minute's rest as the bedlam is ceaselessly seething in the background and swishing its whip chases after one to cause suffering.
As I have already mentioned, the new clothes were confiscated, too. Some of them were worn out by the betiks while the others they tore and punched to rags as they could "use" them only in that condition. Apart from this and with my heart aching, I had to set a suit of clothes on fire every third day while holding the square of shining tin on high. And the Behins got only cast-off clothes and even these they had to wear for years whilst before their very eyes brand-new fine suits were burnt and torn, to which they vaked as they believed that without this destruction they would have gone naked.
I should have liked once to tell Zemoeki my opinion but having already had the bitter experience that they regarded anyone who tried to improve their life as their enemy, I inquired only as to why the burning of the clothes under the square was necessary. "The boeto," was the answer. "By this we win the telerays of the bikru for the buku against the kemons and the circle."
I could not prevent myself from remarking that in that case I still did not hold the buku an expedient affair; but lest he should accuse me of aligning myself with the kemons, I hurriedly added that I wanted to take sides neither with the konas nor with the kemons but was of the opinion that it would be best if there were neither square nor circle, if nobody quarrelled about words, if it were not necessary to take people's spirituality and clothes on account of the boeto, if the two behas made peace with each other, if the concepts beha and aneba were abolished, and if by working together we might be able to produce much more spirituality — thus everybody would be able to live better and the betiks would not have had less either, in fact their part, too, would increase.
Believe it or not, it was then that they railed against me most furiously. They would rather have suffered me taking sides with the kemons, but sanity they could not stand. They said I would do well to mind my words as they dangerously resembled that madness shown by some so forthright that they had been burnt alive.
At my question as to why it was a crime they replied, "Plunging the world into blood, flame and poverty can only be a sufficiently heinous crime!"
They announced that only incensed lunatics showed these desires to eradicate the boeto, ketni, kipu and everything they valued as the splendid feats of civilization which they were then enjoying. And if I wanted to know who they were, well then, I should know! The lamiks!
This was how I came to know the meaning of the word regarded as the most dreadful of all slander, and for which one must immediately stab the slanderer. It was the sane mind that they called lamik, as I had in fact guessed up till then but now I was sure of it.
I fell silent. I had been thinking for a long time how I could help them out of their grinding poverty without touching upon their suicidal idiocies.
Eventually I said that I did not want to hurt the anebas, and I felt that the square and the buku should remain, but on. the other hand it would be expedient to assign the many beratnus, waterers and confiscators to the fields to produce corn, honey and fruit, whereby we could acquire much more spirituality.
"Impossible," answered Zemoeki. "Because if the beratnu does not carry the square and the waterer does not water, each will lose his spirituality."
I could not help it, I did not understand a single word of it, I believed he did not know what I had said, and to make myself understood I spoke about how many more flats there would be if everyone were ordered to build houses rather than have so many living in one room with so many others, some even spending the night under the stars.
Instead of replying, Zemoeki took me by the arm and led me to the house which I had seen on the day of my arrival, with one half of it built and the other pulled down. Now the only novelty in it was that they were rebuilding the demolished part and in the meantime pulling down the part that had been built.
"Do you see," Zemoeki said, "how wisely the k o n a sees to it tits members should have a flat?" I had already been itching to know the secret of this strange house and taking this opportunity I asked why they pulled the other half down. He gave the same reply, however, as the mason had earlier.
"So as not to cause homelessness."
I timidly remarked that the best help against homelessness would be the existence of flats. I don't know what was so ridiculous about this, but Zemoeki laughed very heartily, called me a poor bivak and declared that I seemed not to be aware of the elements of the science of housing economy either, which even to the most uneducated Behin is a well-known thing. I tried to remain calm and asked him politely to enlighten me on the Behins' science of housing economy. We set down on a bench and Zemoeki began to talk.
He related that once, in olden times, the Behins had built houses, setting out from the erroneous belief that with this they would relieve the housing shortage. Material justice, however, demanded that from among the homeless only those should receive a flat who had participated in the building.
Accordingly the builders were given a fancy printed certificate by virtue of which they had the right to stay for a month.
At the beginning, of course, they were given the certificate in vain, because only some of the builders could receive a flat, but as the building progressed, more and more people had a roof over their head. So for the time being, everything seemed to be in order.
However, when the building programme had been carried out, the dwellers, one after the other, had to be turned out into the yard as they did not build any more and so did not receive new certificates for the months to come. So the scholars came to know that building resulted in homelessness.
I tried to contradict this by saying that if the houses were ready why did they continue to demand monthly certificates from the builders and why did they not let them stay for ever.
Zemoeki replied that it would have been unjust, and that it was lamik to demand a flat for a man who did not work any more. However, he admitted that the problem was extremely grave and to solve it the kona had employed many scholars with good salaries, who racked their brain about it day and night. They also propounded the scientific law of housing economy as follows.
"Flat displaces man."
The solution, however, was still not found for a long time, as the problem was double-edged: while building was in progress there were certificates but no flats, when they were finished there were flats but no certificates. In the beginning they tried to overcome the difficulty by building still more flats, and while these were being built the builders could remain in their old places. This way, however, more and more flats remained unoccupied with which they could do nothing.
Everybody had already surmised that flat-building work was useful for the public only if it did not give rise to flats. So they realized that people were to be given employment so that they could reside in them. The flats, however, were to be pulled down immediately in order to avoid catastrophic homelessness.
"But then it is not actually building," I said.
"Of course not! This is still needed! This is the kona's wise provision for its members. The kona puts mattock in the hands of its members lest they should remain homeless. This is why we have to hold the kona in high esteem."
I was becoming more and more convinced that some strange force was pushing these people away from reality and logic. Indeed, they wanted to be crazy. Why? Reality is so simple and obvious, and the mad raving dances demand complicated care and torment the body and soul and still they choose the latter.
I must crave the pardon of the subjects of the civilized British monarchy for burdening them with the description of such nonsense. But let it be said by way of excuse that when I contrast their ways and ideas with those of my own enlightened country, which would not only refuse to accept such things but would not even understand them, I believe I am serving a patriotic purpose, because I wish to teach my beloved countrymen to value and appreciate the life-shaping force of the English soil and the sober English economic approach.
To prove my words I wish to mention one more of the idiosyncrasies in Behin economic thinking and mathematical ignorance, the reading of which will certainly fill my beloved fellow countrymen with the proud consciousness of intellectual superiority. There were one thousand two hundred konas in the settlement and they received just as many food portions. The Nourishing and Life-Giving Office, of course, confiscated the portions. The betiks, however, gave only as much money to the people as enabled them to buy nine hundred portions, and three hundred were left over. These were purchased by the betiks and their entourage as they got much more money.
This is, however, only an ugly and inhuman deed, and it is not about this I wish to speak but about their mathematical absurdities.
Once it was resolved that people's wages were to be decreased. The decrease took place accordingly, and the next day instead of nine hundred portions only seven hundred and fifty could be purchased. The one hundred and fifty portions left over were not bought by the rich either, after all they too had only one stomach each.
People dizzily staggered around with rumbling stomachs and the food became putrid while hived away in the Nourishing and Life-Giving Office. In sensible Europe this is unbelievable. The measure adopted after it, however, was even more peculiar. A man in his senses would on such an occasion-having come to realize his miscalculation-either distribute the rest among the hungry or raise the salary of the people.
Unbelievable though it may appear, the betiks ordered that the food left over should be thrown away.
I myself did not want to believe this act of vandalism until I saw it with my own eyes. But when I did see it, I advised them benevolently that if they could do nothing with spirituality they should not take it away from the Behins.
But they explained to me that that could not be done, as it would have been equal to robbery, and would mean violent interference in the private lives of those whose freedom was the basic principle of the Behin civilization. And for the rest, they recommended that I should refrain from such lamik statements.
But the best is yet to come! When I asked them why they threw away the food, they said it was because there was too much of it!
And we have not yet reached the true heights of the ridiculous!
It was their firm conviction that they starved because there was too much food! And for their follies they blamed not themselves but the circumstances: if they were to improve these they hoped that this would enable them to fill their stomachs.
This therefore represented the mathematics of the Behins!
I think after all this it will be no surprise that they were rather weak at the exact sciences, too — or rather they knew chemistry and physics, but did not dare to admit that they knew.
"How is it possible at all?" the civilized Reader may ask, who has been accustomed in Europe to the idea that in scientific knowledge there is nothing to be ashamed of, and that it may well do one credit!
To tell the truth I myself do not understand this, so I would rather acquaint the Reader with boetology without further comment.
I discovered the existence of this strange doctrine once while I was standing in the yard. Someone came up against me backwards and banged into me. He stepped on my foot so that I drew in my breath with pain.
The Behin, however, kept on backing without a word of apology.
"If you don't mind, could you not kindly look forwards?" I grumbled with annoyance, but he replied imperturbably, "Today the moon is full."
I did not know what he was talking about and would not have even cared, had I not seen on the very same day at least two hundred people backing who would not have taken a single step forwards for all the world!
Finally I asked Zemoeki. He laughed heartily and reassured me that I should not bother with it. "They are stupid idiots," he said, "who believe that if they do not back at full moon they will lose the grand-boeto."
I was sincerely surprised and stated with great pleasure to myself that this was the first reasonable opinion I had heard from Zemoeki. My pleasure, however, soon diminished as Zemoeki continued.
"Of course, not a word of it is true. Every man in his senses knows that the only formula for winning the grand-boeto is that we should not drink water over which a bat has flown."
I no longer dared to laugh but merely continued inquiring and in the course of our conversation the following fantastic things came to light.
The Behins in general believed that the clouds solidified into a stone-hard condition from time to time. Then a very strange being ran into them from above and split them asunder. The sound of their being split was the rumbling of thunder.
As to the nature of this strange being opinions differed widely. They were not exactly sure of his physical appearance either. According to some, he split the clouds with his horn, according to others, with his foot. This was hotly debated. The Reader, however, would be quite wrong in believing that either of the parties attempted to present any positive proof of their view. If I asked why it was so and not otherwise, someone would reply that because anyone who interpreted it differently lost the grand-boeto. And of this everyone was afraid.
Of course about the grand-boeto, too, they had no definite idea. It was my own experience that they did not know a single thing about those very notions which they themselves had invented. Gravitational acceleration they were familiar with; about the attributes of the grand-boeto they continuously disputed. If they invented it, then why not in such a way as would suit them? I could at least make out that the loss of the grand-boeto was some sort of disease, but not exactly. I could perhaps call it a disaster, but why it was a disaster they themselves did not know. I was often told about some person that he or she had already lost the grand-boeto, but I could discover neither financial nor physical defects in them. I hasten, therefore, to tell the Reader who tries to meditate upon the disadvantages of the loss of the grand-boeto, that it is in vain. Their words have no meaning. They are afraid of the words themselves.
It was all the more surprising for me to learn that the hornians and the footians committed homicide more than once because of their theory and fought long and bloody struggles in order that people should imagine not one image but another. There were even people who were capable — in spite of the knife pointed at their breast — of declaring that the cloud-rifter did not thunder with his horn but with his foot, and preferred to die rather than wisely leave it at that.
What the sense was in impressing such mental games on others is just as mysterious as what the sense was in the whole thing in the first place.
The Reader may already be annoyed at hearing so much nonsense but I have to announce that I have not yet reached the end — and this is the point. These people well knew the nature of thunder! When I tried to explain to Zemoeki that thunder is the sound following the electric discharge between clouds, he reassured me smilingly that everyone knew that.
So I asked why they still spoke about the cloud-rifter.
"Because the cloud-rifter exists," he replied.
When I drew his attention to the contradiction in his words he said that I seemed to have no sense of boetology, which was a gross fault anyway. "Boetology is true because we must say it's true and man, being a rational creature, necessitates that he should consider things not only in their stark reality but to see them on a higher plane, too. Anyone who is not imbued by boetology has nothing to distinguish him from the brute beast which simply grazes on grass and runs out of the burning stable guided by blind instinct."
I remarked that it was precisely our being rational creatures that required us to try to find the proper image of things, but he severely rebuked me, telling that the proper picture of things was what boetology taught, as it was needed by man. Even with the most careful recollection of my studies at Oxford, I could not remember of any thesis according to which the human organism would have needed boetology; but not feeling inclined to start an unnecessary debate with lunatics, I asked him instead to tell me why we needed it.
"Because this makes the Behin Behin," he answered proudly.
Of the truthfulness of that I myself was already deeply convinced, but I did not understand why it was necessary to boast of it. He expounded that boetology was such a firm point onto which the vacillating might always hold, preventing one from taking the wrong way and leading one to a haven of refuge. "Both individual and society are in need of a point of support. Without it we grope about in darkness helplessly; and without this pillar, society, too, would collapse."
Concerning the solidity and necessity of this point of support I still had, of course, some doubts but lest I should jeopardize my position by further fruitless dispute I asked him instead to explain to me what connection boetology had with backing.
At this I got to know that there were several different commonly held views of the nature of the cloud-rifter as there were concerning what form he took.
One group suggested that the cloud-rifter lived in a cave and smiled ceaselessly. This they propounded as an eternal truth; and the betiks, too, tolerated and even approved it.
The other group asserted that the cloud-rifter was sometimes angry, namely when the Behin did not go backwards when the moon was full. Such Behins lost the grand-boeto. This also, was of course an eternal truth and was taught to the children as such and was approved by the betiks.
According to a third group one could walk any way one liked but it was not permitted to drink water over which a bat had flown; otherwise the cloud-rifter would become angry and the Behin concerned lost the grand-boeto.
And these three diametrically opposed ideas passed for eternal truths recognized by the betiks. And into the bargain, by the same betiks!
And this is where we come to the crux of the matter.
All these were not only tolerated but supported. If, however, somebody had dared to say that nobody knew anything for certain about the nature and attributes of the cloud-rifter, that there was no common view, that we should therefore not create for ourselves uncertain notions but remain within the physically discovered fields of nature, he became designated as lamik, his contagious ideas subversive to civilization, the propagators of which were severely punished, and it was declared that anyone who gave credit to the false doctrines would lose the grand-boeto.
I beg the Reader not to slam the book down. I write every word from my travel notes and may I lose salvation if I tell one single lie.
The most foolish event in the course of my being a beratnu, however, was the bileving of the ear-betik, in which I, too, had to participate to rattle the pebbles.
Grotesque though this bileving may seem, I feel the book of my travels would not be complete without it.
The bileving of the ear-betik took place as follows. Two enormous chained copper cubes were hung on the ears of a betik, then two Behins took his feet, another two his hands and dangling like this they carried him about the yard where the whole madhouse gathered together. From his ears the copper cubes dangled and yet he smiled. Including myself, several waterers went in front, then peculiar grotesque figures came. There was one from the nose of whom long oakum hung, the other held a holed brick on his stretched palm and each of them was smothered under piles of fine clothes while the ragged crowd howled frantically. Many fell prostrate and then jumped up; some took their shoes off, slammed them down and then threw them into the air, and from the throats inarticulate monkey-like sounds gargled forth.
Any minute I was afraid they would strike us dead — which would not have surprised me in the least. I learned only later that the crowd had been howling not from anger but with joy.
And when I asked the reason for such rejoicing over this ugly and repellent caricature of natural human dignity, they replied, "Why, there is only one ear-betik and he bilevs only once in every eight years!"