Chapter 8: The Development of the Composite Animal

Chapter 8

The Development of the Composite Animal


“In such a way our termitary has been formed; in the same way individuals have undergone wonderful changes in order to form group organs. In every termitary, there is a brain, a stomach, a liver and sexual organs which insure the propagation of the race. They have legs and arms for gathering food; they have a mouth. If natural selection continues to operate, the final result could be a termitary which moves across the veld!
If you make a small, round vertical hole with a stick, for instance in the round termitary made by Eutermes- and then isolate the wound with a sharp circular cut to the skin, the termites begin to repair the wound. What you have done causes in many cases a curious reflex. The termites begin abnormal building. Instead of repairing the cells and passages and growing a new skin over the wound, they build a tower.
The stimulus is believed to be the entry of sunlight. If a base is too small, the tower topples over, again and again, as soon as it reaches a certain height, and just as often, the termites reconstruct it. The tower is not only unnecessary to the termitary, but actually a distinct disadvantage.
It is a disturbing influence which throws the normal course of life of the organism into disorder. It is similar to the growth of a cancer.”
Eugene Marais, The Soul of the White Ant

Boers in South America
I was at an impasse. Things were not the way I first imagined and with the recent revelations concerning Marais, I was bothered. Was it possible that Marais had indeed left South Africa, the veld and everything that he knew, abandoning the termitary of his construction? Had he picked up his mound of Earth that had been shaped from bits of the grassland, his sweat, his anguish and toil and then, transported it to an unknown terrain? Marais had once said that not all species allow the power of movement. A lower form of animal could not survive such a change, for its instinct binds it to its environment the way it keeps the penguin in the sea, the klipspringer to the mountains and the springbok to the plains. And yet, I was to believe that he had crossed an ocean and participated in this deceitful ruse with Gustav Preller, uprooting himself from the ground that he knew. I could not help but envision Marais as the bloodstream within the composite animal in the veld much like he envisioned the termites’ functions in the composite animal of the mound. But Marais was a more complex form of animal, I suppose and considering his weaknesses, I wondered how fit he would be for travel.
The Boers, however, are made of hearty stock, having already survived the first wave of migration to South America shortly after the Boer War; wingless travelers that had arrived in a land short on water. They came still determined to live according to their will, without reprimand from trespassers and impervious to the impositions of the Vereeniging Treaty that ended the War, a so-called peace treaty which would become the impetus of greater injustices in years that followed. These Boer survivors of the British concentration camps, which the Germans had first criticized and then, in turn would later replicate, were already accustomed to hardship. They had found their way to Argentina, a land that would later shelter the malefactors of a future war.
Once they landed, the Boers were offered large drills to aid their efforts to secure a water supply. The Boers were a race of farmers, their name synonymous with the word ‘farmer.’ They were called what they do. However, the name Boer represented more than a trade of a people; it embodied a people who not only worked the land but also had an innate spiritual connection to the soil. They instinctively tilled the soil and brought forth abundance. However, as they drilled into the Earth in search of water it wasn’t water that they secured, but oil. Since mineral rights belonged to the state, the Boers made no material profit from the oil they brought forth. They continued to plough the ground whilst singing Afrikaner verses, laying the seeds and then waiting and reaping in another season. While the immigrant sheep grazed the land, oil was suckled from beneath their hooves from the subterranean caverns; a dark milk that would both nourish and destroy the generations to come.
Marais’ South African termites were able to build their termitaries on dry land. They erected
towers 20 feet high and 9 feet in circumference changing the landscape of the terrain with the very presence. Their mounds altered the nutritional value as well improved vegetation and herbivore concentration in the area and often, the termite mounds were noticeable markers for valuable minerals beneath the soil. But they were not without weaknesses. If you were to pierce the skin of a termitary, as soon as the sunlight pierced through its skin, the termites would begin rebuilding it, often in an abnormal way. Termites do not build a new skin as one might expect. They construct distorted towers often with unstable bases and rebuild and rebuild even though it might be at a disadvantage to the colony. As the towers fall over again and again they continue to rebuild, moving as automatons. It doesn’t occur to them to mend the gash in the skin and address the source of the pain or the light that has leaked through searing their blind eyes. Instead, an unnecessary tower to the sky is built, far removed from the realities of the Earth and its mortal woes. The complete organism is then thrown into disorder, much like a cancer breeding on itself.
Illustration from The Soul of the White Ant
This brought to mind Maeterlinck for he is rarely far from my thoughts. His delicate skin had been pierced as young lad causing his first wounds and then later the sun of Georgette shone through, illuminating his frailties. He constructed his own disadvantageous ivory towers to the sky, armoring himself with layers of mortar, shielding himself from the dangerous elements. His lofty aspirations of thought and mind had no root in the reality of the other Earthly sods that tread upon the soil, ripe with smell, with dirt beneath their nails. A disorder can be created from such an abnormal building, a disorder capable of manifesting Cancer.
Such a Cancer developed in the Georgette’s breast and as a result, it ended her life. I cannot logically annex Maeterlinck and his disadvantageous tower to Georgette but maybe there is some connection between the two that I had not yet considered. Or perhaps I was simply in need of a higher explanation of her illness as I recall her final days at Chalet Rose. When the time was drawing closer, I hastened to her side.
Renee Dahon Maeterlinck w/ Maeterlinck at Villa Orlamonde
Due to many circumstances, including her illness, Georgette had been unable to flee when the War broke out in France. Maeterlinck and his wife, Renee had, of course, secured passage to the United States after first being hosted by the prime Minister of Portugal, Dr. Salazar. Maeterlinck had been forewarned that he was high up on the Gestapo list due to his anti-German writing during and after the First World War. It had been crucial for him leave France. This was not the case for Georgette, whose life posed no threat to the invaders. She was managing her own invasion within her body while staying in Cannet near Cannes at a small home she shared with her lover Margaret Anderson and her friend and housekeeper, Monique. Since Monique had been unable to gain a VISA that allowed her to go to the states, the threesome toughed it out, shuffling about from place to place, avoiding advancing dangers while the Great Battle of Georgette raged within of her breast.
It was in 1941 and all hope was at last lost. Margaret and Monique at this point were exhausted and distraught over the agony of pain that Georgette suffered and the coming loss of their friend. Morphine was unavailable to Georgette and the only balm she had were the comforts of the teachings of Gurdjieff and the music that lived in her heart. It was during her final days that I was able to appear to Georgette, just as I would appear to Maurice 8 years later. It was the end of her grand adventure.
“Mon ami, is that you, dear Golaud? Or am I having a death hallucination?”
I approached her on all fours not wishing to startle her and cause a premature departure. The pallid odor of death surrounded her and momentarily pestered my nose. I licked her fragile hand that had purpled with age and disease but somehow retained an air of delicacy and expression, which was a trademark of her days on stage. As I rose to my hind feet she gasped in delight.
“You have changed, somehow, Golaud.”
“My bipedalism is not the only difference, Georgette.”
“How right I was to give you the moniker, Golaud, the Superdog. You never ceased to amaze. But dear one, after so many hours coaching you to say, Maman, enticing you with treats and kisses, why do you choose to speak now at this untimely hour? Why do you appear out of nothing?”
I hesitated to tell her the truth, which she probably was already aware.
“To place my snout upon your lap, to have my ear scratched and to beg a piece of meat from your plate. While some things have changed, others have not.”
Georgette cast her eyes down, unsure of what I knew and what I didn’t.
Georgette LeBlanc at her home
“But as you can see, darling Golaud, much more has changed with me. I am the human manifestation of the Riddle of the Sphinx. I have passed the phases of crawling on all fours, then upon two legs and then three with a cane. Now I cannot stand upon my two feet. To add to the mix, my voice has failed me and even Maeterlinck despises me. He has a new wife. She is my successor in the house and in the role of Mélisande, the role I adored almost as much as her creator. I am finished with men and for the past years lived with Margaret. She is my life now; as is Monique, who has never abandoned me, even in moments of poverty and starvation.”
“You must love her very much to change your life so dramatically.”
I knew nothing of the mechanics of love between women, having only observed passionate acts between Maeterlinck and Georgette, a sight well worth averting. I knew better than to inquire for about the logistics of their love-making. Pets must witness many things they don’t fully understand. Often in embarrassment I would offer a low moan of disapproval but my protests never stopped them. They would always carry on as if I was not even in the room. I was careful to not linger on this topic with Georgette, hoping we might change the subject. However, my confusion must have showed on my face.
“Any expression of passion is possible under the most challenging of circumstances. Must I bring to mind your odd fascination with the hind quarters of members of other species? Georgette gently laughed. “And, Golaud, if I am to be frank, your presence here disturbs me. It’s not that I am bothered that you visit me in this way. I just do not fully understand the form in which you appear to me. I see a dog, but something more than a dog: A disguise, a friend for sure, but still, a disguise to put me at ease, I imagine. I am not asking you to reveal all of your secrets but it doesn’t stop me from being curious. But regardless of whom you may be or how you came to be here, I am overjoyed to see your beautiful snout.”
As Georgette slowly reclined on the chaise and while she was moving is such a way that she was clearly coping with the pain of her illness, she somehow retained a spark of mirth in her eye. She was still present in the game that is life and despite her agony; she clung to her life, extracting every particle of vitiminal nutrient available to her. She was weary of body but not of spirit. She held within her the sort of spirit that would live on indefinitely and her countenance reflected it. Her drawn eyebrows curved in the shape of a reckless infinity symbol over her bright eyes. Between her eyes, her wisdom rested where the lines crossed.
“Do you see this rose, Golaud? It was gift from the brilliant composer, Reynaldo Hahn.”
Composer Reynaldo Hahn (1874-1947)
The dried red rose slumped in the vase on her nightstand. Her final outing in the world of music had been at the Casino de Cannes for a celebratory concert and as thrilled as she was to reunite with her dear colleague and friend, it was bittersweet. Years before, Georgette had made his song Infidélité famous. With her unique rendition she had dug deep into Gautier’s poetry and had captured the essence at the heart of the song as only a woman that had lived the song could. She had embodied Gautier’s wild rose that Hahn set to music. He presented a single rose to Georgette that night at the concert to express his unconditional love for her, for the courage she embodied and as a symbol of the passion for music that they shared. The three painful hours it took to arrange herself with her one free hand made the small gesture of the rose all the more palpable. And as the rose on the nightstand decayed next to Georgette, so did she.
“Recall the words of Gautier, Golaud: L'air est pur, le gazon doux ...
 Rien n'a donc changé que vous.” 
“Yes, the air is pure, the grass is soft. But dear Georgette, you have not changed. You should know that I’m not necessarily here for me as much as I am for you. I will sit at your feet as we did in the countryside upon that soft grass, breathing in the pure air so many years ago.”
It was heartbreaking to see Georgette suffer in this way. The more I tried to comfort her, the more I required comforting myself.
“You know, Golaud, I felt such guilt about the manner of your death. But as I lie here so wracked with pain, I only wish that you could do me the same service of putting me out of my misery as Maurice did for you. Although I was very angry with Maeterlinck at the time, I’ve come to understand that it was truly an act of mercy. I am joking just a little with you, Golaud, and do not wish you feel badly. I do not expect you to take any action on my behalf. I know that this pain that I feel is simply a manifestation of life, something I wanted for myself in some strange, deformed region of my mind. However, even at this late hour I find it incredible that there are times when I feel my cells rushing to the rescue of what rots inside of me. They still aim to save me. It’s miraculous what the body will do for itself when it is threatened. This inner war within me is near an end, however. And now, I am not sure if dying is winning or losing. Let’s just call it a draw.”
Georgette’s embrace of her suffering might seem to some like the performance of a diva, well accustomed to death scenes in large arenas but in this small intimate setting I sensed nothing but sincerity. She had died many times as Mélisande, Carmen and Thaïs and through the portal of her imagination had experienced her life slipping away and now she did not fear what was to come. She sang it like a song. Her suffering enhanced the sweetness of the relief she awaited and she dug deep inside facing every iota of pain with the same courage she had lived her life. Once the pain was released there would nothing but ecstasy for her. For her death would be the liberation of something immortal.
“What, then, would you like to say to me? You have a captive audience. I will not leave your side until it is time. What is it about you that you would like me know, something that maybe people do not know about you?”
“Haven’t you been keeping tabs on me, Golaud? It seems that once you were gone, you were gone forever, without a trace or sign of you to be found. I decided you must have been very angry with us.” Georgette reached over and caressed the back of my head where I had been shot by Maeterlinck, when he had put me out of my misery. I had barely remembered that day until she mentioned it. I remembered other things, like chasing after her bicycle and taunting lizards and begging food and other simple pleasures. The end for me was a blur, a moment of short-lived terror and it was over in a moment. I paid it no mind once it was over. I didn’t know why Georgette kept apologizing for it. For some reason I felt as if Georgette was diverting the conversation and stalling by bringing up old matters. It was unclear to me what she was hiding or waiting to say but I knew if I allowed her go through her steps in her own way she would arrive at the thing. She was gathering her courage again, so that she could be honest.
Renee Dahon
“I think what I would like to tell you this: I have been very wrong and naïve in this life. Now, this is nothing original. Who among us gets it right even 50 percent of the time? But, I realize that in my efforts to be unconventional, I may have done myself a huge disservice. My unconventional behavior was used as a means to amuse and to please and to challenge…to a fault. Tell me, what sort of woman would allow a younger woman to move into the house with her lover? What woman is actually so free from jealousy and sense that she would permit such a thing? How could this happen, you may wonder? I had talked myself into a corner with Maeterlinck, speaking ad nausea of such lofty ideals which were of course, too ideal to be real. I was old enough to know better but somehow I had permitted it; and had welcomed it, in fact. He had primed me; of course, in order to know what it was I was to say that would please him. And please him, I did. When Renee moved in, I knew she was a great distraction and in some ways I was grateful
Georgette and Renee spar
for she took up some of the slack for me in tending to Maurice. I was foolish in thinking, however, that our fated love was impervious to harm; that the machinations of a young actress wouldn’t be the thing of our destruction. But I was wrong. Did I not recall my own maneuvers? Did I believe I was the only capable of such intrigues? Put simply, I had forgotten to be a woman and instead I had chosen to be a goddess. I so believed in the things I had said to Maeterlinck, I had convinced him and myself that we were above being human. No wonder it ended. And in the end I didn’t fight. It was the one time that I didn’t fight. I believe that hurt him very much. He was a child acting out, trying everything to get the reaction he most wanted and I didn’t give it to him. In the end he sent me away.” 
“But Georgette, why didn’t you?”
“Why didn’t I, indeed? I believe I wanted to be free but didn’t have the wherewithal to free
myself. I wanted to see if the great Maeterlinck would survive without my influence, my catalyst to his brilliance. He spoke down to me so often that I had accepted his authority as truth. Yet, once I was gone, for a time he lost all direction, but I did not. I might have suffered and starved more but I never lost my art. His pride had never allowed any reference to my contributions to his work. When he included things I had actually wrote or said to him, I would be referred to as a “trusted friend” or “a wise colleague.” His Nobel Prize was all the authority it took to steal from me, from the South African or anyone else. Sometimes I wonder if he stole from others because I had taken the last bit of him that he had to offer. I had changed his course and bullied him to my way of thinking, writing with me in mind, according to my tastes and afterwards, there was no going back for him. He had lost his purity. There was no reclaiming the genius that was once there. I had taken it with me. And then, all he did was search for the words that he thought were his even if they were meant to be for another. But I believe that his heart knew the difference. His heart has been shackled in the tower of that castle for so long; I always thought it might just leap to its death one day. Or maybe he was like me and much of what he did was from the promptings of some internal dare. Just to see what might happen.”
Georgette sighed a long sigh and as she exhaled, her face softened and smoothed. She suddenly looked twenty years old. That she was 72 and dying seemed impossible. She was not capable of what mortals call aging, she transcended it.
I could hear Margaret shuffling her way inside with Monique, with the heavy trod of someone on the edge of a great misery. Georgette’s caretakers had returned with food and false cheer. They would pretend to be happy together for a little while longer until Georgette would finally slip away. The singer turned actress turned writer turned producer turned human had melded together into a person unrecognizable to many that had known her before; into herself. Margaret clasped Georgette’s hand and held it close to her chest. She leaned over and pressed her ear close to Georgette’s lips, who struggled to say one last thing before her war ended. A whisper escaped those lips so capable of music, poetry and of song and said,



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