Doctor Scribble in Hell - A Word of Introduction

01 - snowman

Words of Introduction such as these are thoroughly tiresome, as everybody knows, and are seldom read by anyone. Yet, alas and alack, how can I do without them! For I did not think up these wondrous tales myself, but took them carefully from the secret chronicles of the city of Kaunas. They were originally written, as you will soon see, by a very strange and extraordinary chronicler.

If you have ever been in the great city hall of Kaunas, then you surely remember the secret oak door hidden away at the very top of the tower. Today, it is true, the room behind that door is empty and unused. If sometime, just by chance, you should open that creaky door, old cobwebs would come falling down on your head, you would hear a weird squeaking noise coming from the shadow of the stove, and frightened mice would dart across the dusty floor. But in earlier days the chronicles of the city hid themselves away in this room where they could slumber undisturbed among piles of ledgers, official documents, faded photographs and confidential letters, all yellow with age. After burrowing through this huge heap of paper, you might have discovered a certain dusty and scarcely legible manuscript comprised of loose sheets gathered into a leather binding. And there on the cover the red insignia of Kaunas would have been emblazoned, showing a white bull bearing a cross between his horns--for this would be none other than the secret chronicle of the city.

If you had been thoughtful enough to offer the caretaker some tobacco and had chatted with him for a while, you might have found out even more important things about that enigmatic chronicle.

It so happens that it was written many years ago in the days when the city hall caretaker was himself just a boy. At that time, one wonderfully white winter, the children built a fine snowman right beside the city hall door. They placed a blue cap on his head and it was the caretaker who stuck his grandfather's old chewed-up pipe between the snowman’s teeth. From then on the snowman proudly kept watch by the glass door of the city hall and sometimes, when nobody was looking, he conversed with the dogs that passed by. You see, they knew all of the news of the city, and the snowman was interested in everything since he had a very sensitive heart.

At this point the city hall caretaker would invariably hesitate and busy himself with his pipe. Then you would have to become amazed, show great interest, and urge him to continue with words like these:
"You don't say! And I always thought snowmen had hearts of ice! Did you really say a sensitive heart? I hope he didn’t fall in love!”

The caretaker would then blush and sigh, blowing a great cloud of blue smoke from his pipe as though he meant to hide his face in it.

"Yes, indeed, that's just what he did, he fell in love. He secretly fell in love with the lilac that grew next to him," and the embarrassed caretaker would timidly open the window and, pointing with his pipe stem, show you the slender tree rustling near the city hall.

"After that the snowman would mysteriously disappear every night, If you came by the sleeping city hall at night and took a look around the empty square, you’d have a surprise in store for you, because the only things in sight would be the shadows of the silent houses and the slumbering chimneys, too lazy even to smoke. There would not be the slightest trace of the snowman! But if by chance you happened to glance up, you would see something quite out of the ordinary -- a mysterious light gleaming in the window of the archive room. There, in the light of the trembling candle flame, the snowman would sit with a wrinkled brow, composing the secret chronicle of the city. Every night he would slowly climb the creaking stairs of the tower leaving his snowy footprints on the carpet, sit down in a soft chair and, taking a goose quill, write down all of the exceptional and noteworthy incidents which had occurred during that time in Kaunas.

Here the caretaker of the city hall would ceremoniously open the chronicles to the first page and, in a deep voice, read the snowman’s first words.

"These secret chronicles are very rare and important, because fairy tales of all kinds are written down in them, thus setting them apart from other less secret chronicles. I have searched through the entire archive room, and, to tell the truth, I have not found a single chronicle which has given the appropriate attention to fairy tales, the only things which make life worth living. An entirely cold description of life is, of course, not a complete one, for the most important part of life is the fairy tale. All of us love the fairy tale princess; all of us search for the unreachable fairy tale castles; and we all die with fairy tale lands still reflected in our eyes.

“When I first looked around the city square with these coal lump eyes of mine, I saw only damp black trees, coach horses stiffened by the cold, and the frozen sun. I thought that such desolation was the whole world. But soon I heard the dogs talking about spring and flowery meadows and singing birds and trees that adorn themselves with heavy, deliriously fragrant blossoms. That wondrous summer world seemed like a fairy tale to me. Yes, it will forever remain a fairy tale to me, because I will never see it or live in it. I am just a snowman. I can only long for those inaccessible fairy tale lands.”

Having read this far, the caretaker carefully closed the chronicle and continued his peculiar story:
Those mysterious chronicles were written down during the whole course of the winter, despite the soft snow that fell on the tower of the city hall and the black winds that blew between the chimneys which were red from the cold.

But the spring was slowly coming. The rays of the sun got warmer and warmer as they were reflected from the snowy sidewalks and the glass door of the city hall, and the lilac waited with ever more longing for her beloved spring, wishing to adorn herself like a bride with her most beautiful blossoms.

And the enamored snowman, overjoyed with the happiness of the lilac tree, waited for the spring too, even though he had a feeling that he would die on the first day of its coming. Every night he climbed the stairs to the archive room with heavier and heavier sighs, because his cold joints could not stand the warm wind which so intoxicated the lilac.
And spring was coming closer and closer.

On the last night of winter several snowmen came running to the city hall, pulling a sleigh on which rode their friends who were just beginning to melt and so were unable to walk by themselves.

02-snowman-maps

“Hurry up or you’ll melt!” they urged their brother with frightened voices. "Let's hurry farther north; spring is just around the corner! The first violets have already sprouted on the banks of the Nemunas! Let’s hurry, before it’s too late."

But the snowman only shook his snowy head.

"I’ll stay here," he said sadly.  "I have yet to finish my last fairy tale."

You see, he wouldn’t think of parting from his lilac--he so much wanted to see her in full bloom.

So he slowly climbed to the archive room and started writing, opening the window from time to time and glancing fondly at the lilac. She was delirious with happiness. Her long slender branches trembled as she reached toward the sky, as though wishing to embrace the warm spring wind, and she whispered something. Then tears flowed down the snowman's cold cheeks and he returned to his chronicles.

And while writing he fell asleep.

The next morning--and it was a sunny spring day, the lilac’s first buds were opening, and children were running to and fro in the street, joyfully shouting--on that morning the last drops of snow were dripping from the city hall roof. The shadows of the returning birds fluttered in the narrow streets of the old section of town--and it was a day full of rejoicing when the mayor himself opened the door of the archive room. In the soft chair sat the melted snowman, having dropped the goose quill from his hand and collapsed under his blue cap--only his old pipe was still smoldering. The astonished mayor stopped in the doorway, his heart heavy with sadness, and from the pipe rose a last wisp of smoke, momentarily recalling the snowman's bluish shadow and then vanishing in the dark corner of the archive room.

That day the dogs came running to the door of the city with their tails wagging happily, looking for the snowman to tell him the joyful news of the arrival of spring: but the snowman never appeared in Kaunas again.  All that remains to us are the fairy tales that he wrote down, which I, with the consent of the city hall caretaker, have copied exactly and, changing not a word, now submit to you to read.

A note from Algis:

This introduction was lovingly translated from Lithuanian into English by Robert and Aldona Page, who knew my father well. Robert read this as a eulogy for my father at his funeral. My father tragically died at the age of 43.

Daktaras Kripstukas Pragare (Doctor Scribble in Hell) - copyright Julius Kaupas, Dalia Kaupiene Auguniene
English translation copyright Aldona and Robert Page