Study of Beelzebub's Tales

Chapter.Page

Karapet

 

1 The Arousing of Thought

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Wait! Wait!… This process, it seems, is also ceasing, and in all the depths of my consciousness, and let us meanwhile say “even beneath my subconsciousness,” there already begins to arise everything requisite for the complete assurance that it will entirely cease, because I have remembered another fragment of life wisdom, the thought of which led my mentation to the reflection that if I indeed acted against the advice of the highly esteemed Mullah Nassr Eddin, I nevertheless acted without premeditation according to the principle of that extremely sympathetic—not so well known everywhere on earth, but never forgotten by all who have once met him—that precious jewel, Karapet of Tiflis.

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It can’t be helped…. Now that this introductory chapter of mine has turned out to be so long, it will not matter if I lengthen it a little more to tell you also about this extremely sympathetic Karapet of Tiflis.

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First of all I must state that twenty or twenty-five years ago, the Tiflis railway station had a “steam whistle.”

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It was blown every morning to wake the railway workers and station hands, and as the Tiflis station stood on a hill, this whistle was heard almost all over the town and woke up not only the railway workers, but the inhabitants of the town of Tiflis itself.

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The Tiflis local government, as I recall it, even entered into a correspondence with the railway authorities about the disturbance of the morning sleep of the peaceful citizens.

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To release the steam into the whistle every morning was the job of this same Karapet who was employed in the station.

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So when he would come in the morning to the rope with which he released the steam for the whistle, he would, before taking hold of the rope and pulling it, wave his hand in all directions and solemnly, like a Mohammedan mullah from a minaret, loudly cry:

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“Your mother is a——, your father is a——, your grandfather is more than a——; may your eyes, ears, nose, spleen, liver, corns…” and so on; in short, he pronounced in various keys all the curses he knew, and not until he had done so would he pull the rope.

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When I heard about this Karapet and of this practice of his, I visited him one evening after the day’s work, with a small boordook of Kahketeenian wine, and after performing this indispensable local solemn “toasting ritual,” I asked him, of course in a suitable form and also according to the local complex of “amenities” established for mutual relationship, why he did this.

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“As you drink wine not as people do today, that is to say, not merely for appearances but in fact honestly, then this already shows me that you do not wish to know about this practice of mine out of curiosity, like our engineers and technicians, but really owing to your desire for knowledge, and therefore I wish, and even consider it my duty, sincerely to confess to you the exact reason of these inner, so to say, ‘scrupulous considerations’ of mine, which led me to this, and which little by little instilled in me such a habit.”

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“Formerly I used to work in this station at night cleaning the steam boilers, but when this steam whistle was brought here, the stationmaster, evidently considering my age and incapacity for the heavy work I was doing, ordered me to occupy myself only with releasing the steam into the whistle, for which I had to arrive punctually every morning and evening.

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“The first week of this new service, I once noticed that after performing this duty of mine, I felt for an hour or two vaguely ill at ease. But when this strange feeling, increasing day by day, ultimately became a definite instinctive uneasiness from which even my appetite for ‘Makhokh’ disappeared, I began from then on always to think and think in order to find out the cause of this. I thought about it all particularly intensely for some reason or other while going to and coming from my work, but however hard I tried I could make nothing whatsoever, even approximately, clear to myself.

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“It thus continued for almost two years and, finally, when the calluses on my palms had become quite hard from the rope of the steam whistle, I quite accidentally and suddenly understood why I experienced this uneasiness.

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“The shock for my correct understanding, as a result of which there was formed in me concerning this an unshakable conviction, was a certain exclamation I accidentally heard under the following, rather peculiar, circumstances.

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“One morning when I had not had enough sleep, having spent the first half of the night at the christening of my neighbor’s ninth daughter and the other half in reading a very interesting and rare book I had by chance obtained and which was entitled Dreams and Witchcraft, as I was hurrying on my way to release the steam, I suddenly saw at the corner a barber-surgeon I knew, belonging to the local government service, who beckoned me to stop.

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“The duty of this barber-surgeon friend of mine consisted in going at a certain time through the town accompanied by an assistant with a specially constructed carriage and seizing all the stray dogs whose collars were without the metal plates distributed by the local authorities on payment of the tax and taking these dogs to the municipal slaughterhouse where they were kept for two weeks at municipal expense, feeding on the slaughterhouse offal; if, on the expiration of this period, the owners of the dogs had not claimed them and paid the established tax, then these dogs were, with a certain solemnity, driven down a certain passageway which led directly to a specially built oven.

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“After a short time, from the other end of this famous salutary oven, there flowed, with a delightful gurgling sound, a definite quantity of pellucid and ideally clean fat to the profit of the fathers of our town for the manufacture of soap and also perhaps of something else, and, with a purling sound, no less delightful to the ear, there poured out also a fair quantity of very useful substance for fertilizing.

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“This barber-surgeon friend of mine proceeded in the following simple and admirably skillful manner to catch the dogs.

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“He somewhere obtained a large, old, and ordinary fishing net, which, during these peculiar excursions of his for the general human welfare through the slums of our town, he carried, arranged in a suitable manner on his strong shoulders, and when a dog without its ‘passport’ came within the sphere of his all-seeing and, for all the canine species, terrible eye, he without haste and with the softness of a panther, would steal up closely to it and seizing a favorable moment when the dog was interested and attracted by something it noticed, cast his net on it and quickly entangled it, and later, rolling up the carriage, he disentangled the dog in such a way that it found itself in the cage attached to the carriage.

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“Just when my friend the barber-surgeon beckoned me to stop, he was aiming to throw his net, at the opportune moment, at his next victim, which at that moment was standing wagging his tail and looking at a bitch. My friend was just about to throw his net, when suddenly the bells of a neighboring church rang out, calling the people to early morning prayers. At such an unexpected ringing in the morning quiet, the dog took fright and springing aside flew off like a shot down the empty street at his full canine velocity.

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“Then the barber-surgeon so infuriated by this that his hair, even beneath his armpits, stood on end, flung his net on the pavement and spitting over his left shoulder, loudly exclaimed:

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“‘Oh, Hell! What a time to ring!’

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“As soon as the exclamation of the barber-surgeon reached my reflecting apparatus, there began to swarm in it various thoughts which ultimately led, in my view, to the correct understanding of just why there proceeded in me the aforesaid instinctive uneasiness.

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“The first moment after I had understood this there even arose a feeling of being offended at myself that such a simple and clear thought had not entered my head before.

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“I sensed with the whole of my being that my effect on the general life could produce no other result than that process which had all along proceeded in me.

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“And indeed, everyone awakened by the noise I make with the steam whistle, which disturbs his sweet morning slumbers, must without doubt curse me ‘by everything under the sun,’ just me, the cause of this hellish row, and thanks to this, there must of course certainly flow towards my person from all directions, vibrations of all kinds of malice.

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“On that significant morning, when, after performing my duties, I, in my customary mood of depression, was sitting in a neighboring ‘Dukhan’ and eating ‘Hachi’ with garlic, I, continuing to ponder, came to the conclusion that if I should curse beforehand all those to whom my service for the benefit of certain among them might seem disturbing, then, according to the explanation of the book I had read the night before, however much all those, as they might be called, ‘who lie in the sphere of idiocy,’ that is, between sleep and drowsiness, might curse me, it would have—as explained in that same book—no effect on me at all.

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“And in fact, since I began to do so, I no longer feel the said instinctive uneasiness.”