Chapter 11: Uninherited Instincts
“In the termite we find three apparently different insects- the queens, the workers and the soldiers, being produced from one father and one mother who are completely different from two of the forms that their offspring take. If one did not actually know the contrary, one would believe the inmates of the termitary to be completely different insects.With the physical difference go special hereditary memories or instincts. The soldier is armed with the first hypodermic syringe made by Nature, which she eventually perfected in the poison fangs of the adder. In his polished head the termite soldier carries a little flask of poison and on his forehead a needle-like tube through which the sticky fluid is squirted. It uses this weapon only against threatening enemies or strangers.The worker has strong, well-made jaws and a glue-producing gland which it uses in its complicated building operations. As soon as it has reached adult status the worker begins to make gardens, care for and feed the king and queen, tend the hatching eggs, carry food, and partially digest it for the benefit of the whole community.”Eugéne Marais, The Soul of the White Ant
|Vintage poster for Imperial Airways|
“You and I meet again at the proper time. We are not free in our manifestations or our lives. Things happen of their own accord. Not possible be independent of cosmic force. There is cosmic force at hand. You go to South Africa. Remember. It is not the bone but the dog that you seek.”
Again: the dog and bone. I was sitting right there. Did Gurdjieff not see me? Did he not realize that Georgette was actually taking the dog with her? What dog would there be to dig up? Was the dog dead? Before I could muster up a low irritated growl, Gurdjieff ruffled my ears.
“You. Mongrel. I speak like metaphor. Don’t look so serious. You be happy I no give ride in car.” Gurdjieff chuckled pointing at his Citroën parked in the driveway. He had no idea how happy I was for that. Gurdjieff was a notoriously bad driver and it would have been awful to be entangled in some accident manifestation with him, especially since as I was to be free of him at last.
But before I could imagine that scenario too far, with a flare and puff from the horse’s nostrils, we lurched forward onto to the train station, down the long white gravel path that took us away from the Prieuré, the initiates, the farm, away from Gurdjieff and Margaret and all of the animals and the heavenly scents of lavender rising from the fields. As I jostled to-and-fro in the buggy, it suddenly occurred to me that this ride was the beginning of an adventure that could change everything. Had I been completely aware of the magnitude of that change prior to leaving, I am not sure I would have agreed to make the journey. A little ignorance can be a saving grace when standing on the edge of a precipice with trembling legs. For the moment I was but a passenger in a carriage, driven by a coachman being pulled by a horse. With my head resting in Georgette’s lap, she stroked my long ears to calm my nerves until we reached the train that would take us to Paris, the first leg our trip.
|Sketch of Maurice LeBlanc|
|Gurdjieff with his Citroën|
There may be neither rhyme nor reason to Maurice’s prediction of our arrival other than that he just simply knew. In the short time that I spent with Georgette in this life as Chippy, I was just beginning to understand the nature of her powers, which I did not discount. Often with Georgette, a phone call was rarely needed, nor a letter or a wire. Regardless of how well Maurice thought he knew Georgette, it was still rather astonishing to see him ready, primed for adventure with the spark of knowing something new and exciting was afoot. And he was not about to miss out. His only surprise that day was my arrival.
“But Georgette, I only expected you to arrive today! You never cease to provide an additional element of surprise. Who is this handsome companion of yours?”
Even without the compliment from Maurice, I immediately admired this dapper gentleman whose tufty mustache curved like a grin and funny enough, appeared much like my own. His snout was large, as well, and his jaw was jutted like a determined sheep herder. In a previous life it is quite possible that he may have had the honor of being Berger Picard; a rare and underrepresented breed. Since the war my breed had decreased in numbers and it was always relief to see one I might consider one of my own. I had been born of humble origins without the benefit of accreditation of breed and so I had no papers to with which to prove my heritage. And for this I had suffered the insult of being called a “mongrel” on more than one occasion. Gurdjieff had not been the first. It was my opinion that Maurice may have also been looked down upon due to his undocumented pedigree but despite his persnickety appearance, I could tell that in his heart he was a show winner through and through. The warmth of his hidden smile behind the fluff of his mustache superseded any hint of poor breeding.
“May I introduce you to the newest member of the LeBlanc family, Monsieur Chippy.”
“Chippy? Is this the name of your choice? How unusual for you, Georgette. Generally you choose human names like Adelaide, Louis or Achille or even the name from an opera or play, like Golaud. But Chippy? That is not to say that it doesn’t suit this spirited animal. A pleasure to meet you, Monsieur Chippy!” Maurice offered me his hand. Foregoing that altogether, I leapt onto his chest and licked his bushy face, which he accepted. Georgette pulled me down.
“Chippy, darling… we are in public. You must learn to behave as a Parisian and display a little retenue when you meet new people.” Georgette laughed. I could tell she was not serious in her rebuke but I sat upon my haunches, erect at her heel, if only to show that I was aware of the proper procedure. She patted my head and explained to Maurice. “After writing of the book about Maeterlinck’s dogs, I have become more self-conscious about the naming of my pets. As soon as we met, the name Chippy, naturally fell from my mouth, without any thought, like he had put it there himself. Many names, like Golaud or Adelaide, assign undue pressure onto animals and in retrospect, I fear may have scarred them. But with a name like Chippy, it gives a beast the freedom be who he is without the strain of an important name to live up to.”
I didn’t have the heart (or the means) to tell Georgette that Chippy was not necessarily the name of my choice as she imagined. And I won’t comment on how the name Golaud might have affected me previously. However, I might have preferred a more rustic name like Gaston or even Algernon. Algernon is taken from the French, aux gernons, which means with whiskers or bearded, a name of Norman descent that William the Conquer had given to his mustachioed companion, William de Percy, who had rightly rejected the clean shaven trend of his comrades, preferring to perhaps blend in with the locals upon arriving in England, a year after the Norman Conquest. And as a Berger Picard, a breed from Picardy in the Norman region, it would have made a delightful nom de guerre, a hat tip to the medieval fascination of Maeterlinck’s. But it was not to be. Instead, Chippy I shall be in this life. I should be thankful she didn’t try to be clever and name me after her former associate Debussy with the embarrassment of a name like Claude. That distinction should only be reserved to the likes of cats.
Maurice petted his younger sister’s head saying, “Feeling a bit like being a Chippy yourself, are you?”
Georgette embraced Maurice, holding onto him a bit longer than most of the other humans being greeted at the station. Instantly I liked this man and hoped he might have a treat to share. Forgetting that he had no way of knowing I would be there, I went to jump on him in my enthusiasm but was stopped by a slight tug at the neck, another reminder of the deportment that was expected. I had completely forgotten about the contraption around my neck that I had been told to think of like a man’s necktie, another pointless contraption of enslavement, certainly, but evidently it was something needed to be worn in polite society.
Before I could fully appreciate the many smells and sounds of the railway station at Gare du Nord, I was put inside a taxi that took us to Maurice’s home in the 16th arrondisement. This vehicle was much different from the carriage ride at the Prieuré. I was allowed to ride with my head outside of the window and in doing so, I found I was able to capture the air in my mouth. This sensation gave me the impression of flight and as ridiculous and cliché as it may sound, it was quite exhilarating! Since I hadn’t ridden in an automobile before, this was a new experience. I couldn’t tell you how I knew that I would enjoy such a thing but the moment it was offered and my backside was in place in the back seat, I knew it was for me. As the glass that was hiding within the door of the vehicle was cranked down to the low position, my head naturally assumed the position, hanging outside the window, my tongue flapping in the wind. Doing this created such an alarming amount of saliva that I was sure the taxi driver would be none too happy once ushered us out of the car and inspected the expressionist saliva mural on the side panel. The exhaust from the car and the array of smells of that landed onto my tongue and up my nostrils was so intoxicating that I was barely able to take note of much of anything that passed my nose or flew over my tongue. Georgette and Maurice made no mention of my brilliant discovery about the window and surprisingly, didn’t act as if what I was doing was all that original. I was nonplussed by their lack of acknowledgment. Did they not recognize that I was a pioneer of this new modern day behavior? Surely it had never been done before! Maybe one day this move would be known far and wide as The Chippy. And yet, somehow they still failed to recognize my innovation. When the taxi finally stopped, I stepped onto the solid ground, my legs trembling and although it elicited in me a sudden urge to urinate, I hoped that we would take many more rides just like this one.
That is all that I remember of the flight. When I awoke, my head was burrowed deeply in Georgette’s lap and we were in yet another automobile being driven to Pretoria. There was no sign of the metal prison from the aeroplane and I hoped I wouldn’t have the occasion to require that contraption again. When I recovered my senses, I felt as if I had been transported to another world, a world of arid heat, dusty roads and acrid animals scents whose fragrances I hadn’t had to pleasure to know. If someone had told me that I had been transported to another planet via a spaceship from the imagination of H.G. Wells, I would not question it. I have lived my entire life in France and have known only known the farm and the Prieuré. This new place had such an array unknown scents that I hoped I would be able to explore them all and mark many places with my scent, and in doing so, be able to say that Chippy had been here. For it is my instinct to leave a bit of myself behind.
The driver finally announced he was lost after it was apparent we had passed the same smells a couple of times. We stopped alongside the road and asked some dark-looking natives for directions. They were unable to offer much information but realizing we were far from home, offered us a few sweet potatoes they were carrying with them, which had been buried in the earth and roasted with hot coals. The three of us shared nibbles of this exotic delight that had been buttered and salted and the skins had been deliciously charred. As we snacked the driver examined his giant paper map spread over the hood of the vehicle. Once he appeared to have recognized the error of his way and he hurriedly began to refold the map but quickly gave up, handing the rumpled mess of a map to Maurice, who was better apt at arranging it back to its original form.
“There must be an easier method in which to find our way in a foreign land than a map that cannot seem to be able to organize itself,” sighed Georgette.
I rather agreed but I admit I had been preoccupied by the paper being whipped about in the car and was inclined to shake and shred it into a more workable form but I realized instantly I was only responding to a deeply rooted inclination I knew that I should resist. My resolve to behave was an indications that I was beginning to recover the drugging at the airport. As a consolation prize, I was offered a prime position by the open window.
After hours on the road we finally arrived in Pretoria. As a city it was not much to speak about after having just visited Paris and London. It had a sort of quaintness you might expect in a small town or perhaps even something you might expect to see in a movie Western. It had the standard sort of things like statues, buildings and people in a rush to go somewhere like you might see in any city. However, Pretoria appeared to be a place reticent to change; where the past had not yet submitted to the future. It was most evident in the streets as the automobiles and the horse-drawn carriages refractorily shared the lanes, each vying for dominance in a kind of insecure mistrust of evolution. I was not affected by this kind of man-made disagreement. My outlook as a dog was based on a different sort of priorities. For me, the preference of automobiles or horse carriages was more a matter of preference of the by-products of the vehicles; whether it is sniffing the ether from the pungent exhaust of the automobile or the aromas from solids and liquids and gases that came from the horses. Intermingled, the piquant cacophony of loud scents enlivened my senses and I hoped things would always remain as they were.
When we finally arrived at the guest house after days of travel, we all went into our respective rooms, I with Georgette and Maurice in an adjoining room. We all slept very deeply for what seemed like 2 days. When I finally awoke, it was morning. Upon waking, all I knew was intense hunger. I couldn’t tell you where I was or which day it was; the noise coming from my stomach was the alarm that had awakened me and the only time indicator I needed. It was time to eat! All I could think of was food. A tray had been brought up by a maid to Georgette and a dish made specifically for me was included on the tray. Whether it was baboon meat, rattlesnake or lion, I did not know. It had a unique flavor of wildness that reminded me of the jack rabbits I often caught on the farm at the Prieurè. The water had an odd metallic flavor to it due to the mineral richness of the land that was so desired by the new conquerors of the region.
|Georgette LeBlanc in the 1920s|
“Chippy, I see, is prepared for safari, whether he wants to or not, dear sister. A canteen strapped to his back would make an excellent addition that would be both practical and fashionable for any well-dressed canine.”
“You know that I must always dress for the role if I am to embody it. If Chippy were to wear a canteen, we must first mix a large Sidecar and fill the canister to the brim. That would make it both practical and fashionable and entertaining, do you not think?”
“Oh, no! You must remain sober. While you both were sleeping, dreaming your wild safari fantasies, no doubt, I have been utilizing all of the skills I’ve learned from my literary counterpart, Arséne Lupin and I’ve started putting a plan into action. Considering all of the skills we have between us, I think it’s best to let me handle the detecting and I’ll leave it to you and Chippy to be in charge of the disguises!”
I could only assume that Maurice’s gentle teasing was more directed at Georgette than at me for I had already been the brunt of a joke. Had he considered what great detecting my nose could do, he might not have made such an oversight. But perhaps, my feelings were just a little bruised due to the ridiculousness of my appearance.
I didn’t really mind the outfit I was fitted in, per se. I suppose if I possessed a shred of dignity I would probably be humiliated by it but truthfully it didn’t matter that much to me. I was able to overlook my own appearance for Georgette’s sake. From the very start, my life with Georgette had been about embracing the spirit of adventure and I accepted that if I was to be with Georgette, I was to do as Georgette. What we were doing in South Africa and why it was so important to drop everything and high tail it (please forgive my obvious pun) out of town was still unknown to me. It was most likely unknown to Maurice and Georgette, too; at least it seemed they had no specific idea in mind, just a general one. We were all on a mission of an unknown purpose, led only by an inclination that the three of us needed to be here. The predominant purpose we agreed upon at this juncture was to find Marais. After that it was anyone’s guess what might happen.
All I did know was that there had been rumors that Maeterlinck had plagiarized the work of this South African naturalist, there had been some discussion of a lawsuit and Maeterlinck was feigning ignorance in the whole matter. Georgette had said she had experienced Maeterlinck’s plagiarism firsthand. There was enough evidence to believe this was indeed a fact, but the reasoning behind Georgette’s swift departure from Gurdjieff suggested that the plagiarism was not her sole motivation. Some great force was behind her, propelling her to Marais and propelling us all along with her.
Quite understandably, my ears perked up at the word “sausage” but Georgette was only using the term metaphorically I assumed, the way Gurdjieff had. Humans and metaphors; they should learn to use them more empathetically when they are around the canine species. However, her comment did bring to mind of the old French proverb: Do not tie your dog to a leash of sausages. I didn’t understand the intent of the phrase when I first heard it, but it has been the inspiration of many of my dreams. One can only assume that if I were ever to bound to anything resembling sausage links, that shackle would most certainly be quickly consumed. My associative mind led me to yet another sausage link themed question: Was there something I was bound to? And if so, was it simply a sausage link that kept me trussed?
And like all trains of thought, it can be interrupted just at the moment of insight. Whatever the response I awaited slipped away before I could formulate it entirely.
“I, too, hold an undying gratitude to Arséne Lupin,” said Maurice. “He hath delivered me from the depths of poverty and obscurity. And although he is a creation that is somewhat brazenly borrowed from other characters, like, let’s say, Sherlock Holmes, for instance, I feel a slight shame for my part in the unmasking another alleged plagiarist as we search for the source of his material. Who among us does not knowingly or unknowingly creatively borrow from the ones before us?”
But before Maurice could continue on his own train of thought, Georgette dismissed his admission.
“Arséne Lupin is a very different character than Holmes. Holmes lacks the French panache, the savoire faire and as far as I know, he never flirted with the darker side of the law. With Arséne you never knew who he might be in the story since he is a master of disguise. He gives the reader another level of mystery to unravel by pondering who he might be in each story.”
“This is not to say that Sherlock didn’t explore his own dark side with the needle, with his addiction to morphine and cocaine. You are probably right. Perhaps embarking on this adventure to unmask Maeterlinck as a plagiarist has made me feel more self-conscious about my own dalliances with borrowing. I shouldn’t be bothering you with my guilty conscience, especially now. I always thought that my episode of Arséne Lupin Versus Herlock Sholmes was enough of a poke of fun at myself to relieve me of any guilt I might be harboring. My intention was only to include Sherlock Holmes as a playful gesture to my deliberate borrowing. It is a shame that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t share in my amusement and allow me to use the name. In retrospect, however, I rather prefer that it happened this way; for it portrays me, the writer, as a dastardly, lively character, which I quite enjoy, especially in middle age. But you know, Georgette, with every blessing there is curse. Since I have prostituted my art for the entertainment of the masses, and although it is easy work and I quite enjoy the royalties, it does leave me very little time or steam to create the masterpiece I dreamed of in my youth. Whether I ever have the notion to do that anymore, is questionable. Literature, for me, has been shelved for the time being. Sir Arthur might relate to me on this. Our gifts to humanity are simply the distractions we provide that quell the pains of being human. And I suppose that is more than enough in this life.”
“Remain an artist, Maurice, and you will find yourself in my position, needing assistance from a prostitute such as yourself. And I disagree with you entirely. There is a real art to Arséne Lupin, from the crafting of a mystery to the enticement of the reader. That you find it easy is an art unto itself. Hard labor does not insure that art will emerge. Often it is quite the opposite. And quite truthfully, after three long days of travel, there is nothing I would like more than to curl up in bed with Monsieur Lupin.”
“But Georgette, have you not had enough wolves in your bed, yet?”
Maurice and Georgette teased each other as only a close brother and sister could. However, I felt as if I had been left out of the joke, not fully comprehending the meaning behind their repartee. I did my best to appear as if I did, looking from one to the other and back again, panting, but the dull look in my eyes most likely betrayed me. For if there had been wolves in her bed, I would have most certainly have defended her; I failed to see the humor. And as I looked back to Georgette, I noticed a faraway look in her eyes. While Maurice had not committed a faux pas of any kind, without knowing it, he had reminded her of a time she thought she had forgotten.
Maurice changed the subject once a slight tinge of sadness flared in Georgette’s eyes, luckily making them oblivious to my lack of understanding of their jokes. I was quite impressed with Maurice’s sensitivity. He was capable of riding the ebb and flow of Georgette’s moods almost as well as I was. A Prima Donna’s moods, from what I understand, have been known to have higher peaks and lower valleys than most. Georgette was no exception to that generality but with maturity she had learned to not be nuisance about it, making great efforts to curtail their erratic natures. Maurice appreciated this about his sister and took great strides to protect her from ever having to be in the position of calming her inner storms.
“Getting back to the matter at hand and away from my erstwhile aspirations, we have had a bit of luck. I am hot on the trail of our target Eugéne Marais. It seems that he was in Waterberg while he was researching his treatise on termites. I have with a copy of his book in Afrikaans in my room if you are interested. Besides the termites, he has also studied the habits of an array of animals ranging from the black adder, the ape and has had the rare occasion of living with the baboons as one of them.”
“How fascinating! Is there anything else?”
“After Waterberg he seems to have traveled throughout the Transvaal stopping in various places like
Brooklyn and then Heidelberg. But he had to leave Heidelberg after a love
affair that had gone wrong. An unwanted pregnancy had to be dealt with
involving widow who would not marry lest she lose her endowment. This left him
brokenhearted. However, on the upside the plagiarism scandal has given Marais a
boost in popularity in the community. If anything, the news of having Madame
Maeterlinck here in town may be all you need to flush the animal from the
|Marais at his home in Brooklyn|
“Tell me Inspector LeBlanc, how did you come across such a wealth of information in such a short time, and while we were sleeping no less?!”
“Elementary, my dear Georgette.” Maurice laughed in spite of himself. A long pause enticed the two of us to lean in with the greatest amount of interest, intrigued by his deductive abilities, his swiftness of intellect, his collection of data. He was the possessor of some great knowledge, some tidbit of information and I drooled on his foot to show my pleasure.
Maurice stroked his bushy mustache as he leaned in.
“It seems,” he whispered conspiratorially, “the owner of this establishment is none other than Madame Sophie Uekermann!” Since Georgette and I didn’t understand the significance of that, Maurice offered another tidbit.
And what might be the significance of Madame Sophie Uekerman you may wonder?” Again he paused for dramatic effect, looking left and then right, teasing us still more with his hesitation.And wonder we did, a whimper escaped my lips in suspense. More drool dripped on Maurice’s
“Sophie Uekermann… is none other… than the sister of the man we seek. Eugene Marais! Applying my deductive gifts, I felt it would be most advantageous for us to start as close to the mark as possible. And in booking this guest house while we were in Paris, I knew it would give us the advantage.”
A self-satisfied attitude in a man is generally an unattractive feature. But on Maurice, his charms superseded any hints of arrogance as he seemed to take as much pleasure in his delivery as we did in his performance. Georgette knew bait when she saw it but lapped it up nonetheless, as did I.
“Then, pray tell, where might this elusive Madame Uekermann be? Have you spoken to her and has she revealed the whereabouts of her brother, Eugene?
“Madame Uekermann? Why, she was the woman that delivered the tray to your room!”
|Marais with his sister, Sophie and her son, Sonny|
“Mon Dieu! Had I known, I would have had so many questions to ask, the first being what were the ingredients in the sausages. It had a very unusual flavor. And my goodness, breakfasts are hearty here!”
“Not your typical caffe and crossiant, eh? The Boerwors are gamey and an acquired taste. However, they are as fresh as fresh mown lawns in summer. A hearty breakfast is just what was required as we travel through the terrain of the Transvaal. I have done a little reconnaissance during my morning promenade and have happened across much of the South African wildlife one could expect to read in an Attilio Gatti Boy’s Life article; Monkeys roaming the streets, pelicans flying overhead and over the ridge of the guest house on a small hill, or kobbie as they call it here, there is quite a magnificent termite mound. Never in my life have I seen such a structure and now that I’ve one for myself, I feel it is highly doubtful that Maeterlinck has ever gazed upon such a thing, much less excavate it. Sorry to say but now that I’ve seen a termitary with my own eyes, it makes me suspect Maeterlinck even more. I have no proof, of course; just a notion.”
“And Sophie Uekerman? What does she know of Marais?
“Madame Uekerman has served as the mother figure of Marais’ young son. After the death of his wife, Marais was unable to care for young Eugene. As a consolation, he was able to grow up close with his cousin, Sonny, who has become like a brother to him. Probably it was better to be far from the influences of his Father, who shares the same dire affliction to morphine as my inspiration, Herlock Sholmes. One can only hope for the boy’s sake, it was the right decision. But we are in luck. We are quite close to Marais. I’ve just discovered that he has been staying at the home of Gustav Preller, his friend and former newspaper associate.”
Georgette’s face was incredulous at the news. Why did Maurice take so long to spit out this information? Her eyes sparked into action like a charging knight with a sword in hand.
“So what are we waiting for? Take us to the home of Gustav Preller!”
As exciting as this all was to hear, I couldn’t help but feel as is this all seemed too easy and circumstantial to be true. That a man as elusive Marais, whose life seemed to be shrouded in mystery might be living not twenty minutes from this very spot just didn’t seem plausible. What sort of adventure would this be, with the mark in plain sight? The hunt ends just as it begins? Will we finish after only one day of searching? My nose told me that it wasn’t very likely. In a true adventure, this clue would only offer a starting point that would lead us to many unexpected twists and turns. All of my dog senses knew something was afoot but I decided to leave it to the humans to discover what that might be all by themselves. I could hardly alert them, even if I wanted to. A very deep part of me knew that during this adventure I was to only be a passenger in this carriage driven by Georgette and Maurice; that I was to remain silent and watch it unfold.
* * *
|Rondavel on Gustav Prellers property|
“Let’s go inside for more clues.”
Maurice made a move to stop her but knowing her as he did also realized that any effort to stop her would be futile. Georgette hiked up her khaki skirt, hoisted herself onto the low stone wall surrounding the home, swung her legs around and landed firmly on the other side of the wall only to find Maurice and myself at her side once she landed.
“There was a little entrance gate not 10 feet away. Did you not see it?”
“I prefer the road less traveled, the path of most resistance.”
Due to my height, I had not been able to fully see what was behind the amalgamation of stones that has been secured into place by a kind of mortar that had the scent of sand, soil and something else I could not identify right away but had the aroma of something very familiar to me; something so recognizable that as it hovered my moist nose, it tickled me so much I sneezed. However, as hard as I tried, I was unable place the scent in this new environment. Often something so close to home is often as plain as the nose on my face or on the tip of my tongue but for the moment this scent eluded me. I let the thought go for the moment as we began to explore further. Beyond the wall, the airy courtyard enclosed a smattering of small thatched roofed rondavels constructed in traditional African hut style. There was also a larger home set further away on the property, which I assumed was the main house. The small rondavels were self-contained, solid and cozy and seemed just the sort of place that Marais might like to retreat.
Georgette boldly approached one the rondavels, turned the knob of the door and before Maurice could stop her, push her way in. My own curiosity about the third smell, which seemed to heighten as we walked closer to the hut, overcame my better judgment as I followed Georgette inside.
“I really don’t think you should…” Maurice called out in a stifled whisper but soon he was fast on our heels, smiling his devilish grin when he was doing something he knew he shouldn’t.
Once inside, the elusive scent gripped me at my core, stifling my concentration. Assuming the job as a guard dog, it was now my task to remain alert if by chance we discovered. However I was so distracted by the clues from the aromas that hung about the gum pole beams, were infused in the walls and were so alarmingly pungent in the makeup of the floors. Then it came to me in an instant. The floor was made of cow dung! But of course, it was a smell so familiar I was unable to know it in such a different circumstance. As soon as I realized it my thoughts momentarily flew back to the Prieuré, and to the ailing Katherine Mansfield and then, inevitable back to that oaf, Gurdjieff. Of course the scent of cow dung would inevitably lead me back to Gurdjieff. However, I brushed the thought away with a swish of my tail, again, feeling so grateful we had been freed from his dastardly clutches. It bothered me that my olfactory senses had failed me so. Perhaps I had not recognized it at first because the dung had dried and hardened and had lost the reek that moisture and freshness bring it. But still, if there was ever a room for a Gurdjieffian healing; this was the place.“There is a not so unpleasant odor in this hovel.” Georgette remarked. “I find it refreshing. It
expands my lungs!”
“I believe the hut has been constructed with the use of cow dung. In one of Arséne Lupin’s exploits has to flee to India to escape his arch nemesis, Inspector Ganimard. He hides in a very similar kind of hut. I had little experience with the terrain or the living quarters of the region and it so happened that I was able to make the acquaintance of Rudyard Kipling at a consortium for writers while I was in London. He was kind enough to share his experiences of his travels with me and explained the housing and the reasoning behind constructing homes with such materials. The dung, called Gobar in India, is a natural anti-bacterial, an insect repellant, which is extremely important in these malaria prone regions. Within these walls you will find yourself safe from scorpions, centipedes and other small hazards, including termites, I might add. At the time of our meeting, I hadn’t realized that Kipling had fallen in so deeply into the South African Imperialist circle with the likes of Cecil Rhodes, Sir Alfred Milner and their lot or I might have avoided conversation altogether. However, I found him to be a nothing but gracious and willing to share information pertinent to my writing. Is it not ironic, though, that Marais might inhabit a cottage free of termites? It does excite the imagination, does it not?”
“You have a wealth of knowledge in that head of yours, Maurice. But look here; do you think these are Marais’quarters?”
Georgette freely rummaged through the perfectly ordered desk. On the top of the desk was a wooden box filled with a stack of white paper, ready at a moment’s notice when inspiration could not wait, a human skull was being used to hold writing instruments, pens smudged with black ink and also, a small framed picture of a young woman, presumably Marais’ deceased wife.
“Georgette, you must respect the privacy of the man.” But Maurice, too, could not hold himself back as he picked up a copy of the poem, Mabalêt, laid rather haphazardly on the nightstand next to the bed. He scanned the poem, which made very little sense to him, being written in Afrikaans. “From what I can tell this involves a young native girl, a crocodile and I don’t believe it ends well.”
The sight of the small single bed next to the nightstand by a framed window was reminiscent of the Van Gogh painting, Bedroom in Arles. Being of Dutch descent it was not surprising to find such a room in a Boer household but it was made odder to me because his little bed was encircled by a round room. I envisioned Marais’ thoughts bounding off the round light blue walls and how that contrasted the harsh angular lines the Van Gogh’s room, where he had descended into madness. I imagined Marais lying on the ash-singed bedspread, where he had so often fallen asleep smoking, his thoughts encircling his mind like the smoke from his cigarette entwining over him as he drifted into an intoxicated dream state, aided by the serum in his veins, the drug on which he thrived. How he must have suffered once the burning ash approached his fingers experiencing hallucinations of terror in anticipation of the burning ash, his senses heightened to an exaggerated state. As the sparks from the falling ash landed upon his night shirt, black holes were left in their wake having somehow been put out in the night. His black scarred nightshirt hung drably from the bedpost, musty with smoke, a testament of his anguish. From the smell of it, Marais had not been gone long, a week, maybe longer. But how was I to tell Georgette and Maurice?
They could only derive at that conclusion on their own, using their undependable senses, forced to rely solely on their faulty combined intellects and upon speculation. I would have to leave it to them to discover that Marais was long gone and had a good seven days lead on them, not that Marais necessarily knew it. He had been fleeing their pursuits without even being consciously aware that he was doing so. That he managed to evade them may have been some innate sense of avoidance, a subconscious self-preservation, unknowingly taunting them with his elusiveness.
“As fascinating as this all is and believe me, being a natural voyeur, there is little I like more than rummaging through another person’s belongings, it still does not bring us any closer to Marais. For all we know he has disappeared into the void of the wilderness and who is to say when he might reemerge again,” said Georgette as she opened and closed the drawers in Marais’ desk.
I hadn’t given Georgette enough credit. Her intuitive nature was at times alarmingly astute, rivaling the keenness of my nose and tongue and my ears. There were time she would just say things and it was as if she didn’t even know where or how the words came from her mouth. Maurice didn’t share the same instinct of internal knowing and he too, marveled at her mysterious abilities.
“Sometimes you frighten me, Georgette. I have learned long ago to stop questioning when you say such things for you tend to be right most of the time. But what are you doing now? Must you rummage through the man’s desk?”
Georgette’s hands scanned the bottom panel of the desk without the aid of watching, feeling her way around, stopped suddenly, retrieving a small white tablet that had been in the far left corner of the drawer.
“This one must have escaped Marais.” She held the pill for us to regard and stated dramatically, “If we are to find Marias, we must think like Marais!”
“Do not dare take that pill, Georgette! You do not know what it is or where it has been.”
|Silver holder for Marais' syringe/morphine tablets|
“Of course, I know what this is. This is morphine. It is Morpheus, the god of dreams that mimics human beings, who make gods and mortals fall asleep with the touch of the poppy leaf! Do you think that I have lived such a sheltered life not to know the room or the habits of a morphine addict and the culture that surrounds it? Do you not smell that hint of ammonia in his dressing gown? Morphine addicts’ skin excretes this smell. How could not have learned this from Herlock Sholmes?”
I must admit, I was impressed. I had thought it to be an additive in the detergent that caused the sour smell but leave it to Georgette, who had lived so long amongst the artistic denizens of Paris, the experimenters of morphine, of absinthe, the opium-addled poets of the left bank that depended so heavily on romantic escape only to be saddled with addictions that would destroy the thing that made them brilliant.
“This is not absinthe or even hashish, Georgette. This is a highly addictive substance, contrary to popular belief. Do you really want to risk taking that pill in a foreign land; far removed from trusted medical help should you need it? Pocket it if you must keep it. But for now let us use the faculties we have been given.”
Georgette yielded the pill to her brother, who placed the small tablet in a small tin within his vest pocket, shrugging in dismay that he had taken away to first bit of intrigue that had presented itself to her on this trip. She resisted every temptation screaming within her to just pop the pill in her mouth as an act of defiance to Maurice’s reprimand. It took every ounce of self-control to not do just that. Luckily for Maurice, Georgette had been studying self-restraint and intentional suffering with Gurdjieff, and had been coming to terms with the idea that each time she denied her automatic responses she spiritually grew. She took the opportunity to deny herself but not without some clarification.
“I do not have the addictive gene. I have experimented and found myself unaffected by all narcotics, sadly. I hope that I will never be in need of such a thing, for it will be of little use to me. However, it may come in handy later. Keep in safe where it is for now.”
“How old are you exactly? I will pretend that I didn’t hear of these particular exploits because it so ruins the image of the wholesome sister I once knew! Do you not trust your brother? Do you not trust that I would never allow you to come this far without having some system in mind? When have I ever let you down?”
|Hannie Preller later in life|
She whipped her broom to-and-fro, swinging wildly, in the process knocking over a table, the straw from the broom grazing Maurice’s head as he tried to stop her. Strands of greying blond hair dislodged themselves into a mad array from the tight knot had been pulled on her head when the door has burst open.
Finally Maurice was able to the catch one of the flailing arms and Georgette grabbed onto the broom while cautioning me with a stern warning to heel. Knowing the tone of her voice which meant business, my barking stopped immediately and without even knowing how I got there, my bottom was on the ground. My training would not allow me to do otherwise. I could not control the small huffs of air that escaped my snout as I resisted barking. Whimpering sounds enveloped my snout. But I held fast, not allowing myself to release a full bark or even a growl.
Maurice spoke to the woman in English, hoping that she might understand.
“Marais. Eugéne Marais. We are looking for Marais.”
The woman, breathing hard, began to calm down, understandable upset to find strangers in Marais’ home.
“Marais? What did he do now? He is not here.”
In her best American English than she learned while living in New York, Georgette managed to say, “I am Georgette LeBlanc or Madame Maeterlinck. You know Maurice Maeterlinck? I must find Eugéne Marais.”
“Maeterlinck? Did you say Maeterlinck? Have you come to steal from our Eugene again?”
Georgette should have thought twice before mentioning the name Maeterlinck. Any excuse for our presence, be it an ex-lover or even saying they were there to interview him for a magazine might have been a wiser choice. She would need some fast talking would have to happen soon. With a pointed finger the woman signaled to us a stern invitation to leave the rondavel. Once we were outside and the woman had collected herself, smoothing her hair back into the knot on her head, we were better able to explain who we were and why we were there. Before long and after profuse apologies, the woman brought tea into the courtyard and we were once again civil, but still somewhat guarded. We finally discovered that the woman was Hannie Preller, the woman of the house and wife of Gustav Preller.
|The Prellers with Marais (right)|
We had indeed missed Marais. He had left with the men of the house, including Gustav, their sons Carl, Bob and Gustav Junior, along with Carl’s best friend Piet Lub, their cook, Poul Molefe and an old friend of Gustav’s, Oswald Frank or as they called him Oom Wal. They had taken Gustav’s Nog-‘n-Nash six-seater vehicle, a rather tight fit for eight men, to the banks of Mogalakwena River in the Waterberg Region to hunt gnu.
“Shooting gnu?” Georgette gasped. “Maeterlinck would adore going on such an expedition. How he loved manly excursions and the slaughter of animals. It is ironic in a sense.”
“Oh no! Oom Eugéne goes to admire and observe the veld and its animals, which is not to say that he won’t eat the meat the men provide. He always brings his chessboard in an attempt to sway the others from card playing and gambling. And for entertainment they pipe in music from the wireless. They’re staying at Deadbeat. That is where you can find him.”
“Yes, Deadbeat. At Petrus Erasmus’ farm. After three long days of travels, there is no better name for a place. Am I not right? So your husband, Maurice Maeterlinck, he likes to hunt?” Hannie asked.
In an effort to keep Georgette from answering this question, Maurice described Georgette’s life with Maeterlinck as delicately as he could to a woman who appeared to live a life much less cosmopolitan than Georgette and whose manner suggested a life much more devout in the traditional sense than Georgette could barely recall ever living; save for her time when she and Maeterlinck lived at the Saint Wandrille Abbey when she had embraced the hermetic life, strolling through the monastery wearing an abbess’s habit while Maeterlinck roller-skated through the dank hallways and courtyards. That was the extent of Georgette’s pious life.
Maurice provided a basic sketch of Georgette’s relationship to Maeterlinck but skimmed over many of the details including: that they had never been legally married, for she was still legally married to the Spaniard and that her life with Maeterlinck had ended after sharing him, in the same household, with a younger woman for many years. And that now, Georgette was in a romantic arrangement with Margaret Anderson, had spent her life living wickedly on the stage and most recently, had joined what some would call an esoteric cult. Maurice wisely avoided all mention of these facts and cut right to the heart of the matter most relevant to Hannie.
“Monsieur Maeterlinck abandoned my sister about a decade ago for a new wife. You are mistaken if you believe we are here on his account. We both all think what Maeterlinck has done to Marais is dreadful and we wanted to see what could be done about it. Georgette is too humble to mention the acts of plagiarism that he has committed against her. Would it possible to find Marais? We wish to offer him a sincere apology and see what we can do to bring the issue to justice.”
I admit to wincing a bit at the mention of Georgette being humble. It was an interesting word to use especially where Georgette was concerned and I wondered if he was in a small way referencing Maeterlinck’s mystical essays, The Treasure of the Humble, which he had dedicated to Georgette in lieu of giving her credit for her work. Georgette aped her most angelic expression she could manage to solidify her role as victim in the eyes of Hannie Preller and it seemed to work.
“Then you are in luck. I have been summoned to ‘Deadbeat’ to provide meals that consist of something other than gnu meat. They have grown tired of it after having little else for a week. You are welcomed to join me but be forewarned, the accommodations are probably more rustic than you are accustomed. It is a long journey across rugged terrain and there are often dangers along the way. I am putting together supplies for tomorrow when my son will arrive to fetch me. Would you care to join us? Oom Eugéne will be invigorated that you are here on his behalf and that in itself will be a relief to Mr. Preller and myself. The ordeal of the plagiarism has wearied him so. I have feared for his life many times and have prayed to the Almighty that help would arrive. Praise his name that you are here.”
Maurice blanched as Hannie mentioned the words, “rustic accommodations.” The thought of sleeping under the stars without shelter and all of the discomforts he might encounter, far away from polite society, far away from the luxuries that Arséne Lupin had afforded him was as prominent as the mustache on his face. Somehow he managed a weak, “We would be delighted.”
Predictably, and without any need of consultation with her brother, Georgette had already made up her mind to go. It would have been useless to even attempt to dissuade her. For Georgette, this was all part of the grand adventure we were on together and there was no way she would stop now that we had come this far. We would finally meet the elusive Marais and hopefully, discover some more insight into the plagiarism and maybe this would help to shed some light on some of the information Winifred’s de Kok would write to Maeterlinck in her letter following Marais’ alleged suicide; for this was the real reason why I had come here as Chippy. At the very least, it might provide Georgette inspiration for a follow-up to her memoir, Souvenirs: My Life with Maeterlinck that she might entitle, something along the lines of, Souvenirs of My African Safari.
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