To make what follows readily comprehensible I must emphasize that although the disease of the Behins showed the characteristics of an epidemic, nonetheless, as a physician, who both at Oxford University and during fifteen years of practice,. had acquired no small amount of experience, I can definitely claim that this strange disease is not inheritable.
Or to express it more precisely, only the susceptibility to the, Behinic disease is hereditary, which, however, without the presence of harmful circumstances would never break out in., acute symptoms.
But — as the Reader already knows — the Behins do not tolerate sanity among them and, in the same way as they endeavoured to force me, too, into madness, there is no escape for the child born with a sane mind either.
Nobody can withdraw himself from intellectual degeneration. No sooner has the child learned to speak than they place their hands on his heart and try to confuse his clear sight, in which area, I must admit, they have acquired quite extensive knowledge. Their methods were so refined as to be almost admirable and sometimes I had to admit with sincere amazement that if all these efforts had been spent not on spoiling the child but on training him usefully then perhaps they would have constituted the most perfect society in the world.
It was astounding how much energy they devoted to this. The child is sent to a special institute for degeneration, where they keep on reiterating the most fantastic figments of the imagination until his natural sense becomes confused, he sees everything in a false light, and once he has completely lost his natural judgement, they call him a skoro Behin.
My Readers may imagine how useless such a skoro Behin is in life. I dare say that in a reasonable society they could not be employed in any job.
Let us imagine, for example, the consequences of such a skoro Behin — who holds food to be contemptible — getting into a food store! Or what devastation would be perpetrated in a tailor's shop by those who hold clothes torn to rags and weighed down by stones more valuable than intact comfortable clothes, to say nothing of the bloody battles which would break out because one table is round and another is square.
Well, I have to record that not only was the skoro Behin not removed from work but was considered even more fit for it than the clear and unspoiled mind, and what is more, the more confused were the concepts he had about the world the greater was the respect he enjoyed, and the higher were the posts he received. And anyone in whom the. proper faculty of judgement still flickered was excluded from work as being useless. And it was worse in a case where the person concerned had not sufficiently asserted the appropriate figments of the imagination. For if he dared to profess what was, in fact, reality they even punished him.
Several times I racked my brain as to what would happen if the wise Hins did not provide for them, and came to the conclusion that this upside-down society would die of starvation within a very short space of time; it would even beat itself to death. It is nonsense to wage war against nature and mathematics. I may say, it is only after seeing the Behin statesmen that one can really appreciate and value one's country and her wise administration.
It occurred to me how much the educated citizens of my country had been shocked by the systematic and wanton crippling of Chinese women's feet. I had no idea what they would say if they heard that there is a part of the earth, darker than darkest Asia, where not the feet but the head of man, his God-given common sense itself, is crippled so as to be unusable! With crippled feet one can live, but if our feet, hands, tongue and all our senses obey the unnatural orders of a crippled mind, life can be no more than a series of grotesque and inexpedient sufferings where death follows as a salvation.
It was true that these unfortunates also felt suffering and pleasure in reverse, but is it possible to imagine a body whose health would develop by rejecting food and not by consuming it?
The Reader may ask where I learned all this. My reply is that I had to acquaint myself with the institution of the skoro. As early as the fourth day of my being a beratnu the betik sent me to the skoro to distribute yellow pebbles to the children.
Taking the tin box which held the pebbles with me, I set off. I reached a building surrounded by a high stone wall. This had been built by the Behins, so the Reader may imagine what a rickety construction it was.
What caught my eye first in the yard was a long board structure consisting of about fifty privy closets. I thought at least a thousand children must be enclosed here, only I did not know where, because apart from these I saw only a small barn-like building.
Entering, I found fifty children all crammed together. There was no room for a single person more; the air was intolerable. Over the entrance was nailed a large, shining square. All over the walls hung pictures the sense of which I was unable to fathom. One of them depicted a Behin corpse with his bowels, hanging out on which another Behin with bloodshot eyes was dancing. Another showed a man lying on the grass with the blood oozing from his battered head. He was smiling and in his hand he held a square under which was written: "Oh! what a pleasure!"
In one picture something bulged under a cloth, beneath which the edge of a dish showed, and below this was written: "Ugh!" I saw pictures of damaged furniture and clothes. A chair had one leg missing and into its back a bent nail was driven; a table had a hole punched in it through which a broom-stick was thrust from the upper end of which hung a mutilated earthenware pot, a chunk of limestone and a dead rat. Below this picture was written: "Kipu."
Between the children the proko walked looking daggers. He was an adult whose calling was to reiterate the figments of the imagination to the children until they believed them. Their methods reminded me of an old acquaintance of mine who had trained his dog so that if he threw a slice of paper to it saying, "It's very good," the dog would snatch it and swallow it, whereas if he tossed a bit of meat to it and said, "Ugh, what a terrible taste," the dog would turn away from it. (I wonder incidentally what would have happened to the dog population if people of such mentality had led them.) But even in my wildest dreams I would not have imagined that such a result could be achieved with thinking human brain, as well. On the other hand it was probable that the Behins, who for many centuries had systematically been crippling their brain, were susceptible to the Behinic disease from the very first minute of their birth.
The proko just walked to and fro among the children and sometimes cried out: "Kricc!"
At this the children had to jump up, place their left hand on the middle of their back and with the right hand reach under their right knee and take hold of their left ear.
When I asked him why the children had to be forced into such strange positions, he replied that they had to become accustomed to complying with regulations!
Then he yelled something at the children at which the whole flock painfully broke into the vake- vake.
I opened the tin box and handed over the yellow pebbles to him.
The proko took them, poured them onto a table in a heap, went away and then returned with a covered plate. Under the cloth I noticed the most delicious sweets.
This he placed next the pebbles and called upon the children one by one. Whoever reached out for the plate was hit on the hand by the proko so that it immediately turned blue whereupon the other children had to threaten him with their fists and shout: "kave!" Whoever reached out for a pebble was scratched by the proko on the posterior while the rest of the children smiled and said: "ketni."
After the distribution of the pebbles he commenced to tell the children how this gift should be appreciated and how the Behins had attained this for themselves with so much sacrifice and bloodshed.
He then launched into a long story of the Behins' past, which I shall impart to the Reader in a nutshell only.
He related that the past of the Behins consisted of three main eras.
At the beginning there was the primitive or cruel age, this was followed by the transitional or half-raw age, then the modern or perfect age ensued.
Many centuries ago, in the primitive or cruel age, the butuks trampled and practised extortion upon the people. From the neck of the butuks an enormous horseshoe hung at the back and the people not only did not take it off, but respected them. (The children laughed loudly at these words.) Belki then was effected by people putting their finger into each other's ear when meeting. (The children laughed even more loudly.) And it was considered kipu if they sewed patches on clothes. (Uproarious laughter.)
But there came a certain Behin named Zecheche, who termed the butuks base conjurers, the ketni and kipu humbug and phantasm, and demanded the rule of reason.
The butuks captured him and skinned him alive. But Zecheche already had many followers, and for fifty years bloodshed was uninterrupted. Finally the Zechechists expelled the butuks and assumed the leadership of the Behins. From here began the transitional or half-raw age.
However, peace did not last long as the new governing body, whose members called themselves bataks, began to oppress the people within a short space of time just like the butuks had done before then. They took everything away from the people and gave nothing in exchange. From the belt of the bataks a piece of lead hung on a wire and the people, instead of overthrowing them respected them and cringed before them. (At this the children almost burst with laughter.) The belki was to scratch each other's knee, and if somebody smeared a piece of linen with different coloured stains they called it kipu. (The children were convulsed with laughter.)
And it was then that the great Zachacha came who named the bataks base conjurers, whereas of the ketni and kipu he courageously stated that these were humbug and phantasm, and demanded the rule of reason.
The bataks captured Zachacha, had his bowels torn out alive and thrown to the dogs, then set out to slaughter his followers with the most exquisite cruelty. (At these words the children burst into tears.)
However, the number of Zachacha's followers was on the increase. A sea of blood followed for sixty years, in the course of which several bataks were captured. They were tied up, had their teeth torn out one by one, their tongues were burnt out, and they were then impaled. (The children jumped up, clapped and rejoiced.)
In the end the Zachachists won. This was the start of the modern or perfect age, when leadership came into the hands of the elak betiks from whose knees the honourable bilevs hang, and whose wisdom ensures the rule of reason. And since then, everybody may have an equal share of the yellow pebbles, whether he be betik, beratnu, proko or simple waterer. (The children jumped up and vaked.)
He also spoke of some Zuchuchu, who was in those days strongly organizing the people against order and peace, did not blush to call the honourable betiks sanctimonious pickpockets, instigated rebellion against the ketni and the kipu, and demanded that not the chair but the wardrobe should be studded with thorns, the belki should be performed by pulling the ear, and rule should be taken over by the biteks. And all this he did with reference to reason, although obviously only a demented fool could speak in this way, and would, sooner or later receive his due punishment. (The children gave expression to their abhorrence, and shaking their fists demanded that Zuchuchu's eyes should be burnt out.)
I may say that not even the most daring grand guignol fantasy gave birth to a blood-curdler more horrible than what these rabid people had actually carried through. And, instead of spitting into a pistol-barrel in their nausea and shooting themselves in the head, they were even glad that they had perpetrated and achieved all this. (Nobody knew what, they merely referred to "the perfect age".)
Sometimes I, too, had nightmares, and it occurred to me that' I thought I was dreaming. At such times, gathering all my strength I wanted to wake up, and after a lengthy strain I contrived to awaken myself — into another dream, which brought perhaps even more horrible pictures than the former one. And I only discovered much later, that it, too, was a dream, at which I made efforts again and awoke — into the third. And each time I woke up I believed that that was the final and irrevocable waking state.
They will never awaken.
I may say during the whole lecture I was covered with goose-pimples and deeply felt that it would be the nicest and noblest salvation for the Behins if someone with a single blow of his fist were to sweep away this ulcer from the clean face of the cosmos.
Later I asked Zemoeki why they spoiled the innocent souls of children with such monstrosities. He replied that they did so in order that the children should advance in morality and be able to follow all this as an example!
But let us return to our subject.
The proko finished his tale and announced that boetology lesson would follow — to be held by the venerable beratnu.
I was already afraid that it might again be me who would have to perform some capital nonsense, in the middle of which I would be certain to break down, but fortunately something else happened.
The children stood up, split into two groups and, leaving the middle desks empty, took their places at the two sides of the room. Now two beratnus entered and the proko left.
When the beratnus came in the children began to beat their foreheads with their fists and began to vake with so much pain, that a stranger not versed in the circumstances might well think that parricides were repenting and expiating their sins.
With this the two beratnus stood before the two groups and began to explain their themes simultaneously.
One proclaimed that whoever drank water over which a bat had flown would lose the grand-boeto. With such a person one was forbidden to make friends because he also infected anyone who spoke to him. And it was especially forbidden to drink from the glass of such a man.
The other expounded that one might only walk backwards when the moon was full, and must not make friends with any man who walked forward at that time, as he might infect one. The shoes of such a man had to be thrown into the fire.
Both declared that the other was teaching specially concocted lies, it was not permitted to listen to him, as everyone of his words was contagious. And they declared in unison : "Children, be pious!"
At this the two groups burst into an uproar like a wasps' nest, they jumped out of the desks, fell upon each other and a fierce fight commenced. Some had their glasses broken into pieces, from others their shoes were removed and ripped apart, and the whole time they abused each other with such obscene insults that I cannot relate them to the Reader.
The two beratnus watched the horrible scene without moving a muscle — then, to my profound surprise, they left arm in arm, in the greatest harmony.
My feet remained rooted to the spot and I gazed after them agape.
It was only when the door had closed behind them that I was able to move. I ran after them and in a trembling voice asked why it was necessary to tell the children such things as had led to these events.
They stared at me as if I had come from Mars.
"The children's character has to be improved," one of them said. "Otherwise we would all grow coarse and turn into cannibals."
In my confusion I could hardly even mutter that after this I by no means understood the connection between the two lectures and the present warm friendship.
They smiled at each other.
"We both serve the same noble purpose, even if in different ways," they said. "But now we are in a hurry."
Fortunately the proko came and called me back to the children.
Here a new surprise awaited me.
The proko first of all pulled the ear of one child because he had stuck out his tongue at another. He warned them to be meek, and have consideration for each other. He called his children good-for-nothing jackanapes, to whom the kind beratnu had talked in vain.
Then he announced that geometry was to follow.
Although I did not understand how this serious and exact science fitted in here, I heaved a sigh of relief that I would at last hear something sensible. Before long, however, everything became clear.
He spoke of the circle. But as soon as he started my mouth and eyes gaped in astonishment. The proko said that the circle had two foci and that the sum of the radius-vectors was constant, which are — as is well known to all — characteristics of the ellipse.
It was already on the tip of my tongue to enlighten him concerning his mistake when he added that the circle had one more rule — that it was forbidden to say of it that the points of the circumference are at an equal distance from the centre.
Now I was utterly confused. If they knew what the circle was, why was it forbidden to say that?
All the same I did not dare to interrupt, and asked Zemoeki only the next day. He explained that the circle had not to be called round because it was the kemons' symbol.
And when I referred to geometric reality which remained unchanged anyway, he responded that there were not only geometric realities in the world, but also anebas and this was more important. A true kona could not call the circle round.
Simple mathematical and geometrical truths, which are known to and openly, even proudly, voiced by a school child, they denied. And the most interesting point was that they did not do it out of conviction either — their conviction was precisely the opposite — but because "this is what must be said". The Behins told lies not only to others, but also to themselves, and it was so deeply rooted in them that they would have struck anyone dead who uttered what was otherwise known to everyone.
I also asked Zemoeki whether he believed all this. He confessed that he did not, but it was still necessary to teach things in such a way because even though he himself was an intelligent man, if the mass had learned of the circle as round, it would entail the greatest upheaval. I asked why, but he could not give any explanation. He spoke of some matters needing to be as firm as a rock, a principal support, of some sort of order that needed to be ensured and, of course, of the bruhu possessed by the Behin, in brief of everything that had nothing to do with geometry, but not a single word about what I had asked. Therefore I asked him again to speak on the subject but in vain, he said that that was what he had spoken about, and that I had not understood
But let us come back to the affairs of the skoro! After this elliptical lecture the children took out exercise books, and the proko ordered them to write about the manufacture of concrete. The children set about their task. They wrote, and approximately ten minutes later he collected the exercise books, read them through and finally chose one.
"This is the best," he said and handed it to me.
I cast a glance at it and saw with amazement that the child had written over two whole pages nothing except "vake betik vake betik vake betik..."
I thought that I must be mistaken and turned over the leaves of the exercise book, but there I found earlier scripts, too, under such titles as "How to attend upon the catarrhous patient", "Description of the planets in the solar system", "How to work out the area of the triangle". And after every title the repetition of vake betik, page after page, coloured only occasionally with such phrases as "ugh spirituality", "perish kemon" or "vake kona!". Unbelievable.
After this the proko explained some strange, foreign words to the children, which, however, did not concern their crazy ideas but the things of everyday life: table, chair, hand, foot, house; in short, all kinds of objects.
I wondered why it was necessary to know a language spoken by nobody. To my question the proko replied that it was necessary for a skoro Behin to know it. Of course, I in turn asked why he was supposed to know it, and he replied further that it was because the non-skoro Behins did not know the skoro language.
Then he explained immeasurable quantities of nonsense: if we walk near somebody who is younger than ourselves by more then seven years we are to keep our palm on our nape; in the yard we have to proceed on tiptoe; on a plank one must put down the heel first; on which days of the month we are compelled to comb our hair forward, and on which days we have to paint our ears yellow.
When I asked him of the aim of such things, he replied that they are needed because a non-skoro Behin would not behave like this.
Presently the proko announced that everybody might leave, at which, together with the children, we departed from the institute for degeneration.
In the yard I begged his pardon for having to leave for a minute, and was about to enter one of the closets, the proko, however, jumped after me and snatching my hand shouted at me, "Unfortunate one, what do you want?!"
I was compelled to name my needs but he did not let me go.
"But you must understand that in this closet they do only nasty things!"
I replied in confusion that although I was aware of the somewhat nasty function of the closet, we were all frail human beings and my bladder was ready to burst.
"That's why I'm telling you," he continued shouting. "Do you know what this closet is for? For spirituality!"
It was in such a way that I came to know that each child had a separate closet and he was permitted to have his lunch only after shutting himself up in it.
And when I asked him the reason for this, he referred again to the ketni. By whatever else could they justify customs that could not possibly be justified by the sound mind, except by such airy imaginings? Because it is ketni! It was a rule, but incalculable and stupid. A soft-headed product of imagination which I cannot even approach in English.
Puzzled and in the greatest confusion I was looking around and was just about to ask where the lavatory was when suddenly. I witnessed a disgusting sight.
The children then swarmed out, and no sooner had they,, arrived in the yard than they unbuttoned their garments one after the other and before the proko's very eyes they emptied their bladders without any sense of shame. I was just about to warn the proko, the word was on the tip of my tongue, when I saw that he himself followed the children's example without any scruples.
I turned away in shame and could not stifle my opinion of their loathsome habit. He, however, did not let himself be disturbed in the least in the performance of his bodily function and asked in surprise why it was necessary to be ashamed about it.
"It is a matter of propriety," I replied, in English of course.
"What is propriety?"
I became sincerely perplexed. I looked for words, and it was then that I realized that these poor devils had no word for propriety either. The Reader may imagine in what a difficult situation I was. I could not even approach it by translating it into a language that was really created for mad fancies which did not exist in nature.
It is characteristic that when I nevertheless did try to give an explanation he replied that it was certainly no more than a stupid chimera without any real sense.
What else could I expect of lunatics?
Disgusted to the core I hastened to bid him pricc- prucc and left, to do my duty at home, and shut myself up to get away from their maddening tortures until my next day's "work".
However, fate, or more exactly insanity, did not let me get away with only that number of adventures that day.
As I passed through the gate a child in the heat of play escaped from one of his mates and, while running, banged up against me with full impetus. I took him up angrily.
"Open your eyes, sonny!"
The child gazed at me uncomprehendingly.
"What?" he asked.
"Your eyes! Look where you're going when you are running!"
"What's wrong with my eyes?"
I was almost about to scold him thinking that he intended to annoy me, but with the most serious expression the child asked me to explain to him what the eye was.
"These two shining balls above your nose," I told him, pointing at them.
"And why should I open them?"
"So that you can see."
"To see with the emerald stone?" he said in surprise.
I already saw that the child had no knowledge of his eyes and, in spite of all my annoyance, I explained in a few words that they were not emerald stones, but eyes, with which we saw. The child, however, only laughed, then suddenly turned and run to the proko.
"Vake! Vake!" he wailed out of breath. "This man says that the emerald stones are my eyes and I am to see with them."
I did not bother with him any more, I wanted to start on my way, but the proko with a few leaps was suddenly before me, grasped me, dragged me aside, and fell upon me excitedly.
"Why spoil this innocent little one?"
"Don't deny it! The child would not say by himself that he has eyes and that they are to see with ! He could have learned that only from you!"
The blood froze in my veins. I did not deny that it was I who had said "so. I simply asked why that was spoiling.
"Don't you think it is spoiling if the child becomes acquainted.. with his organs prematurely? Is it not spoiling if he comes to know what is to be done with them?"
I protested against this most resolutely. I said there was no real sense in it, the child would come to know anyhow what his eyes were for, the organs could not be used for any other purpose anyway, and if we concealed it, the results might only be dangerous for the child, while he could only benefit from knowing his organs. Teaching should even commence with such things so that the child should get acquainted with his own body. Otherwise how could he protect his health?
"Oh you base creature! Is that not danger for you if this tender creature opens his eyes and wants to see with them?" I was already very angry and could no longer keep my temper. I suggested that if he was mad he should have himself treated but should not molest reasonable people in the street. One word led to another, many of the passers-by gathered around me to whom I complained of the base insult. They, however, whether the Reader believes me or not, did not warn my attacker to calm down, but went so far as to turn upon me, and I could only escape by speedily racing away from the lunatics. They shouted after me even then that I had spoilt the bruhu of the child!
Later I also asked Zemoeki the reason for this nonsense, but he again spoke of some order, ketni, seedling and foundation stone, and I received no answer to my question. So I still do not know what crime I committed. then, and I believe that any sober English citizen would remain in a similar state of uncertainty.
This permanent uncertainty and dread developed a very strange feeling in me, which of course is unknown in reasonable Great Britain, and for this very reason let me mention it, first of all for my neuropathologist colleagues, as a matter of information.
Step by step the feeling was overcoming me that I was the one who was worth nothing and could be used for nothing. There was something which they all knew. I was the only one unable to learn it, because I was without some particular faculty. They had some special feature which belonged only to them and which I did not possess, so that in this respect they were superior to me. Although inwardly I felt a resistance against these idiocies, I believed more and more that it was to conceal my own inability, and that this resistance was actually a contempt for myself.
To cast some light on this feeling, I may perhaps compare it to the feeling one has on looking into a river for a long time — after a while, it appears as if the river were the fixed point and it is oneself that is moving. When I arrived here, seeing their self-mortifying stupidities, I was filled with a certain self-confidence and was convinced that my reasonable help was needed nowhere more urgently than here in their circle. However, I had to experience that the more general was the truth which I said the more heated attacks I had to suffer; and if on this or that occasion they did not hurt me, there was one thing I could never achieve and that was to make them understand two times two. Natural realities that a primitive animal knew instinctively, they could not conceive of. The reply to my words was always the repetition over and over of chimeras and non-existent fixed ideas. Between the word they heard and their brain there was simply no connection.
This barren hopelessness, stubborn and firmly embedded clichés, but mainly the frantic persecution of common sense convinced me that I was the ignorant, insignificant and stupid one. Wherever I stepped I always came up against phantoms, while logic and the obvious natural truths were not accepted here as a form of communication.