Chapter 12: The Mysterious Power Which Governs
The Mysterious Power Which Governs
“It is easy to understand why it is an advantage to the community for the sexual sense to be destroyed in all types. Even the sexual types (potential kings and queens), possess no sexuality while they remain in the termitary. Sex in such a community would have been a disturbing influence which would have suspended all protective and other work over long periods. In order to carry out the best labour, the workers and the soldiers had to become mere automata, governed by the psychological power of the queen. For the same reason, they lost their sight and other senses, which are the accompaniment of an individual psyche.The soldiers and workers, therefore, do not inherit any special instincts from their parents. It is the queen who inherits the power of transmitting the semblance of such instincts to the automatons who work for her.”Eugene Marais, The Soul of the White Ant
|Vintage Travel Poster|
There are times when I miss my former self. As Golaud, I had a different personality and different traits. On the whole I was more at ease, less inclined to nervousness and in general, I held myself with more of an air of dignity. The name, Golaud, also invites a more venerated response than the name, Chippy. With that being said, I admit that this particular expression of myself is quite suited to the functions I must perform for this experience. Honor and respect are not goals I need to fulfill in this lifetime. I may at times appear dumber than myself than I did as Golaud or even as the spirit of Golaud (as I appeared to Maeterlinck at the end of his life.) My dumb expression and my ridiculous name, still, can provide a kind of low expectation camouflage to the real me at my core. This, I hoped, was to my advantage.
It was as the spirit of Golaud all that long time ago in the future that I first discovered that things with Marais were not as I first assumed. The letter from Winifred de Kok was what first made me question Marais’ integrity and it spoiled the image I had of him as the victim, the Romantic poet, the Naturalist, and the Nationalist who possessed a heart set on justice. Winifred’s letter compelled me to return as Chippy, backtrack again with my four legs to find my way to Georgette to investigate all this for myself, of course, with the help of Georgette and Maurice. While I continued on my journey back to this past I couldn’t help but feel that all of this was leading me to something more than just answers about Marais. This inclination nagged at me but I was able to carry on with the notion that Marais was my sole reason for being here and leave it that. Anything more might have disrupted my nervous system, which in turn would have become a hindrance to any progress I might have made.
As we drove through the veld through the twists and turns of the unpaved roads on the way to Marais, I realize that my impression of him had changed as many times as we have jogged from left to right. And much like this road trip, where we lost our way on three occasions, requiring us to pull over and re-examine our course by flipping the map to the north and south and on its side. I felt myself somewhat adrift on this journey, forgetting at times why I even started it and questioning whether I should continue. Luckily, I was but a passenger in the car, unable to speak up and change the course of travel. I had no choice but to see this voyage to completion. My inner rebel struggled with this
notion as we drove
further down the road, while a strange anxiety built up inside of me. In
retrospect, perhaps my apprehension was due to the realization that when and if
we find Marais, my perception of him was likely to change once more and I wasn’t
sure my heart could take it. The closer we got to him, the stronger the
magnetism I felt. I sensed a hypnotic pull, taunting us, luring us to get
closer to Marais but a part of me resisted it, knowing I was acting irrationally.
I couldn’t shake the notion that it was Marais who had somehow emitted his
pulse through the ether and as it strengthened, my nervousness increased. Unfortunately
for my companions, this nervousness prompted us to make more stops along the
way to relieve myself. However, the relief from my bladder offered no respite
to my psyche.
All of this internal commotion inside of me was what started me thinking about how I missed my former self and wished to be free of the feelings I was experiencing. As Golaud I had the sturdiness that comes from being a French bulldog, and a true mongrel at that, and a confidence that seems to have been left along the wayside while we traveled past large expanses of wild grasses, past zebras and various types of elks, which I could never identify or distinguish one from the other, in this or in any life.
How interesting that I returned to Georgette with my tail between my legs once my ideal of Marais had been shattered, after feeling shamed by my own misjudgment; having lost the intellectual arrogance of a dog who had for so many hours observed Maeterlinck as he scribbled his tomes and drew his own arrogant conclusions, with me never so much as ever making a sound, without ever reprimanding Maeterlinck for his quiet solitude or for the conclusions he drew. I never suspected for a moment that Maeterlinck could ever be wrong. He was my god; that is, until I first heard of Marais. And it was Marais that caused me to question my god.
Perhaps my longing for my former self is in parallel kind of harmony with this feeling of mounting foreboding. Humans are known to feel remorse at the end of an era, after buying something they probably didn’t want or at the conclusion of a giant task that would no longer be part of their existence. Georgette was known to fall into despair after she finished a run of performances; the same could be said of Maeterlinck once he completed a book. As we moved closer to Marais, I sensed that my fear was not that my questions will not be answered; it was that they would. And I feared I wouldn’t like the answer to the question, this question that I had not been able to formulate yet. Soon, however, I knew this would all be over and then, I would have to set out again in search of another meaningful task. It’s like falling in love again after the end of an affair. With each liaison the will to initiate something new grows weaker. The search loses its sparkle. It is that fear of being unable to continue onto the next task that slowed me from completing the task and for some unknown reason I rejected the conclusion that at this moment I could not yet see. Sitting in the cocoon of the automobile, I was like a blind termite, receiving a signal I was unable to hear.
Throughout all of this travel on this road where Winter is Summer and Summer is Winter the incessant, deafening calls of the cicadas was unrelenting. The mating calls are produced by the muscular vibration of the males’ tymbals and then, they reflect the sounds from their abdomens to the females, who generally are compelled to heed the calls regardless of their will. As we grew closer to the sounds (and to Marais) the noisy excitement heightened in suspense of their eminent copulation. The Christmas beetles, as they are called here, weren’t seen by us travelers as we zipped past at an alarming forty miles per hour, but it occurred to me that they were able to watch us and detect our movements with the fives eyes they have in their head. It’s greedy to have so many eyes and to not be seen, only to watch, to call and to impel us to keep moving forward.
We then passed frightening, murky waters heavy with malaria-ridden mosquitoes, holding any number
of dangerous animals hiding from sight. The waters concealed the
crocodiles and the giant Piraiba catfish, which is known to menacingly growl
like a jaguar. Nor did we see the snakes that skirted over the shores after ingurgitating
a rabbit on its way to feed its young. As was drove further, my mind was unwillingly
slipping into a dream state, urged by the pulsations of the cicadas, the
whirring of the automobile engine and beating of my heart, which in my delirium
I believed to be the beating of Zulu djembe in the distance, mocking me, as I
was lured into a false sense of rhythmic security; Zulu women gyrated along
with the drums, provocatively enticing their men to the hunt, promising carnal rewards
when they returned. I fell into a kind of madness, feverish, panting in rhythm with
the pulse, wanting to run away and wanting to hide. I didn’t know what to do.
Then all at once the sounds stopped. The sudden silence caused a pain in my ears so extreme that I withdrew my head from the window and shook my head as if doing so might eliminate the discomfort in my ears. With a quiet whimper, I placed my head on Georgette’s lap and resting it between her thighs, a compartment both familiar and comforting.
“Chippy, you seem spooked. What is it, boy?”
Georgette’s intuition grasped the situation immediately. Georgette and Maurice had been drifting in-and-out of sleep in the back seat of the car while Hannie navigated from the passenger seat next to
Carl, her eldest son. Mosquitoes splattered the wind
shield of the Chrysler making it difficult to see the road ahead. In an effort
of clear their carcasses from the glass Carl ran the windscreen wipers but in
doing so, smeared the thick mess, creating an opaque smudge. The mosquitoes that
were left dead on the glass, suffering their final unfortunate plight, would be
prevented from having the chance of sucking the blood of some unsuspecting
mammal. They would also miss the chance to drive a person into madness by
hovering around their ears as their fate would see them sacrificed for the sake
of our journey. Their fate also prompted us to make another stop.
|Carl Preller with Fiancee and Marais|
Frustrated and unable to see what was ahead, Carl pulled over and cleaned the glass with a rag with some water while Hannie offered Georgette and Maurice bread and chutney to snack on and some jerky for me. They washed it all down with cool tea as I lapped up water from my bowl.
There had been little conversation during the ride. The quiet of the group was due to a few things: the exhaustion from the trip, the language barrier, and the distrust and discomfort from being around new people of a different nature and culture. They made efforts as best as they could but the conversations they shared were rather stiff and superficial. A stop would necessitate conversation and thanks to the sacrifices of the unfortunate mosquitoes, the impetus had been provided.
Once Maurice had taken me to do my business, we came back to find young Carl, lying on the hood of the grey Chrysler, smoking a cigarette with the brim of his suede Bush hat cocked to the side of his head, covering one of his eyes but leaving the other available, alert to the world and also, seeming to make sure not to miss anything amusing should it happen. He was a man who appeared to know fun, to like women and drink, much to the dismay of his Mother, Hannie. Unlike Hannie, he didn’t mind the grease that built up in his nails as he tinkered with cars and electronical contraptions nor did he mind where the social strata such labor placed him.
Georgette leered rather wantonly at him as he reclined, as she inspected his robust physique, appreciating the pulsation of his youth, paying no mind to his mother who was but a few steps away stretching her rigid legs, while she looked off into the distance at the long road ahead. Georgette was also not concerned with the rather large gap between her age to his as she fantasized about things she might enjoying doing with him.
“I thought you had given that up, sister.” Maurice whispered in her ear as we approached from behind.
“Give up? Who ever said that I have given this up? I’ve been merely examining my options and going with what presents itself to me in the moment. And at this moment, Carl is what is presenting itself and rather fetchingly I might add.”
Maurice chuckled at his sister, knowing that she was a creature of opportunity.
“Yes, do as you may. Do I need to remind you that Margaret awaits you in France?”
“I’m not going to do anything. Besides, Margaret is completely aware of my nature and accepts me as I am.”
“Then continue as you see fit but you might want to check your companion, Chippy. He seems to be a bit worse for wear. Something is troubling him.”
Georgette leaned over to examine me. She ruffled my fur and scratched behind my ears with her long nails but it didn’t help; nothing could then. Looking deeply into my eyes, she grabbed my snout, pressing the flesh of my nose with her thumbs and then moved my head back and forth like the defective windscreen wipers that had triggered our stop. She did what she could to cheer me up but I couldn’t shake the feeling of trepidation. It reminded me of the days when Maeterlinck would fall into a melancholy and Georgette and I would do whatever we could to pull him out of it, but to no avail. I can understand now why Maeterlinck’s moods would worsen when we tried. When there is nothing to do these attempts added to the frustration of being able to do nothing.
“Chippy, dear, have patience; we are almost there. Are you car sick? Truthfully, I don’t feel that much better myself. Once we arrive, I promise I’ll give you some of the gnu meat that I hear everyone’s become so weary of eating! I think I would like to try it for myself. Wouldn’t you too, Chippy? And what is a gnu anyhow? Is it a wildebeest or a yak, I really have no idea. I bet if we had access to the black truffles we gathered in Périgord, I’m certain that paired with the right wine, gnu would be divine! Don’t you think, sweet Chippy?”
Georgette’s own culinary babble distracted her from my anxiousness and brought her back to carnal things, of the Earth, fine wines, digging mushrooms, musty smells and of Carl.
“Oh, Carl! A moment please…” Georgette called out. “Do tell us what it’s like to eat gnu and please don’t say it’s like chicken! I often use that analogy myself when foreigners inquire about the taste of frog legs. You should know that that answer is a cheat. I fully admit it. And it offers no information pertinent to the question.”
Carl removed his hat and waved it in front of his face to cool himself.
“You haven’t lived until you’ve had gnu. It’s a clean meat, but it’s rough and chewy. We grind it up and put it in sausages. If you mix the gnu with a softer meat like ostrich or zebra, it makes for a good Boerwor.”
“Oh, the Boerwor! Why, yes! I’ve had those. Perhaps I had gnu meat at the guesthouse where we stayed.”
“Most likely, not. You’d be lucky if you did. However, with Boerwor you can never be sure. Sometimes it’s best not to know what goes into a sausage. That’s also what they say here about the making of laws. Best not to know what goes in them! Right?” Carl laughed. He had an easy laugh that was hearty without being forcefully so. Georgette admired his jovial nature. Maurice wagged a finger at her for he knew that she had taken a little too much delight in discussing sausages with the young man. It had been entirely intentional. She pushed the provocative envelope a bit further.
“I quite agree, but they are so delicious, I’m sure I could swallow one whole.”
Hannie’s face flushed. At first she was not sure what she had heard, but then realized what Georgette was saying she immediately called for the group to get back into the car, pushing Georgette into the back seat, like a punished child.
It did not deter Georgette for she quite enjoyed the rebuke. Maurice, however, was embarrassed by his sister’s behavior, especially since he warned her beforehand about minding her tongue.
“It’s just that I get bored on the road, Maurice. And all of this nature and fresh air excites my senses. I become hungry in many ways.” Georgette explained.
After another few hours on the road, the sky darkened and the road became narrower and more fraught with bumps and fallen branches. Carl’s driving slowed as the road ended from the window I could see a clearing. From the light of the automobile I was able to see rustic huts ahead that looked like they had sprung up overnight like mushrooms, quaint and simple but made with craftsmanship indicative to those who spend their lives working with their hands. After three long days on the road, we had finally arrived.
Everyone spilled out of the car; as if the arrival at the destination would make a great difference in the level of exhaustion we were all feeling. From behind one the huts, a stout, middle-aged man approached us. His face was clean shaven and pink, immaculately groomed for a man who seemed to materialize from the within the bush.
“At last! Reinforcements have arrived!” He applauded with both hands over his head, excited by the new arrivals.
Because Carl had wired ahead that other would be joining the group, the man was not surprised to see the 4 people, trudging toward the campsite. He held out his hand to Maurice with the same kind of jovial energy that Carl had, ignoring his wife’s arrival, tending only to the strangers.
“Welcome to Deadbeat! Now you know why it’s called that! I’m Gustav. Please join us at the campfire. We have been expecting you!”
|Hannie, Gustav, Carl, Gustav Jr. & Marais|
Feeling tired and hungry, a campfire and a dinner with gnu meat seemed just the thing the group needed. Two young men began unpacking the car, first taking the baggage and then the supplies as we made our way to campfire. As we approached the campfire for some unknown reason my anxiety began to mount again. The closer we got, the worse I began to feel as I smelled something familiar, a whiff of a particular brand of tobacco, a smell of alcohol, (of vodka to be more specific) of heavy cologne and of sardines. Then it occurred to me. At that moment had I been equipped with vocal chords I would have cried out at that moment, “Gurdjieff!”
I was unable to alert Georgette or Maurice and in their exhaustion they might not have believed it to be possible but there he was, in three dimensions sitting on a log, warming himself with the coolness of the night at the glowing campfire made from the darkest wood I had ever seen, burning hot and slow.
“Georgette, you are here! Why so long?”
I have never seen Georgette, or Maurice for that matter, so stunned as she was in that instant. I’ve seen her feign surprise and interest and then recover quickly with a humorous quip. I’ve seen her disgusted and angry but never in this life or any other have I seen her so truthfully stunned. So shocked was she that she had completely forgotten the person that she had traveled so long and so far to see. She had even forgotten Carl and his sausages. She was unable to recognize the man who sat on the Leadwood log, right next to Gurdjieff, as he stoked the fire with a poker, quiet and unremarkable. Perhaps she didn’t notice him because he was ordinary looking in the light of the campfire during the first hours of darkness when vision isn’t its best. Had the buildup and the hype of the man been too much or was I too, in a temporary state of shock at seeing Gurdjieff sitting there next to him? All Georgette could see was Gurdjieff, holding a stick with some kind of meat enflamed on the end of it. He spoke as if it was completely natural to be there, seeing her here in the wilderness of South Africa, like she and I and he had never left the Prieuré. I made a quick attempt to herd Georgette away from the fire and Gurdjieff and even the smoking meat but I knew it was to no avail.
Gurdjieff bit into the meat, without blowing it first, unconcerned with the heat, nor did he worry that he might burn his mouth without first testing it. Possibly he had no feelings in his mouth after all of the vodka he had been drinking, which from the smell of it, was quite a lot.
“You know, gnu tastes like chicken, but chewy. Like a chicken that been on some sort of dredged in something mineral-like, like blood. Maybe gunpowder, I taste.” Gurdjieff smacked his lips noisily, grinning idiotically, his mustache tips tickling his cheekbones as he chewed. I detested his overly styled whiskers twisting upward like a dastardly arch villain. He wasn’t done gloating.
“Gunpowder kills the animal and tenderizes the meat. Fascinating don’t you think? But where are my manners? Sit! Join us! Hello, mongrel. How was trip?”
I watched Gurdjieff sitting there as he spoke in his guttural, broken language, eating meat on a stick, taking swigs of vodka and I saw him as some kind of primal man; a cave man enjoying the fruits of the hunt, reveling in his catch.
Smug. That was the word I was looking for to describe Gurdjieff’s expression as his teeth tore into the gnu meat, gluttonously basking in the glow of the campfire as the juices from the meat dripped from his mouth, saturating his curled mustache. His expression was self-satisfied, like a duplicitous cat with a mouse in his mouth. Somehow he had beaten Georgette in a game that she didn’t even know she was playing. He had taught her a lesson; a lesson she didn’t even know she was partaking. Somehow in her shock, Georgette had found her way to the ground, sitting cross-legged in the dirt at the feet of Gurdjieff, staring up at him as if he sat upon a log altar, transfixed by his aura. He sat elevated just a few inches above her but seemingly elevated higher than he was. And then she started to laugh, without an ounce of hysteria, but more tickled by the surprise of seeing Gurdjieff, by his apparent ease of knowing her better than she knew herself. She was a good sport, probably embarrassed that her efforts had been so arduous and exhausting, that after like this wild goose chase she would be greeted by Gurdjieff who had hoarded a short cut for himself the entire time. And I hated to admit it; she was impressed.
“But if you knew where I was going, why did you not just tell me? You could have saved us so much time and expense!” Georgette asked.
“And miss the chance to provide you with a great shock? Shocks are the essence of growth. They propel you to next level. Without shock you never get anywhere, remaining forever in tension of leading tone in evolutionary scale, never resolving without impetus of third element. Your outlook never change without shock. I give you gift of unintentional intentional suffering, so that you might feast on rich ambrosia of the work. And gnu meat as prize!”
Gurdjieff laughed and as much as I wanted to refute what he was saying, and I could not completely disagree. It all fit together with the kind of swindler reasoning that was difficult to challenge, especially when caught off guard and exhausted. The man sitting on the log next to Gurdjieff, who I eventually surmised was Eugene Marais, had been quietly taking in the conversation, saying nothing, finally stood when he felt his interruption would not be rude. He offered his hand to Georgette.
“Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” was all he said.
|Stanley and Livingstone meet|
Marais quoted the famous greeting from Henry Morton Stanley to Dr. David Livingstone as depicted in the 1871 New York Herald article describing the quest to find the missing Scottish explorer, scientist and missionary, who had gone to the depths of Africa to discover the source of the Nile and in doing so had hoped to also bring the natives the three C’s: Christianity, Commerce and Civilization. Whether the words had indeed been spoken or whether the words had been a fabrication of creative journalism was difficult to determine but somehow, the words had survived. Marais had worked as a journalist and as a Boer Nationalist he understood the importance of sensationalism, storytelling and capturing the imagination of an audience. Regardless
of truth, Stanley’s words had lived on,
even when the source and the significance of the words had been forgotten by many.
Had Marais devised what he was going to say to Georgette as he sat on the log
next to Gurdjieff or was this something he said spontaneously, in the moment? I
wanted to know. Somehow it was important to know.
|Henry Morton Stanley|
How fitting that these were the words I first heard Marais speak. Like Livingstone Marais knew the rigors of the African terrain, had known the pains of malaria, had experienced great loss, and by my guess, would likely have an appreciation for a missionary such as Livingstone who had only been able to convert one man during his whole tour of duty. He had also failed to find the source of the Nile, his primary goal. But that was an endeavor so mythical that French writer Montesquieu once said, ‘It is not given to us mortals to see the Nile feeble and at its Source.’ A man like Marais would appreciate an existential goal, the spiritual struggle for the impossible. That Livingstone’s mission had been already achieved by John Hanning Speke over a decade prior made his quest that much feebler, much more feeble than the Nile at its Source could ever be. It had been Livingstone’s sole task to verify Speke’s findings; and he had even managed to fail at that. Marais seemed the kind of man that would appreciate such a man with an impotent dream.
Livingstone’s one convert, the chief of the Kwêna tribe in Botswana named Sechele, had converted most of his own tribe after Dr. Livingstone had been unable to influence them. Sechele did honor at least most of the European Christian values taught to him by Livingstone, save for his tendency towards polygamy and his rainmaking activities, which were forbidden. With more wives than Maeterlinck’s Bluebeard, Sechele, for a time, gave up five of his seven wives and was then baptized by Livingstone. And as to his rainmaking; Livingstone’s time with Sechele and his tribe oddly coincided with one of the worst droughts in history, making Sechele’s decision to stop making rain very unpopular.
A man like Marais was able to celebrate the failures of Livingstone while forgetting the tensions that had existed between Livingstone and the Boer people, which had prompted them to burn down his mission. The Boers had little love for missionaries who supplied the Kwêna with rifles and ammunition in exchange for their spiritual allegiance. A man like Marais might drop Livingstone’s name in the presence of Boers just to be contrary and to leave a person to ponder his intent.
Georgette accepted the hand Eugene Marais as he helped her back on her feet. She answered him quoting Dr. Livingstone’s response on that fateful day.
“Yes. I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.”
Marais smiled at Georgette’s awkward English, charmed that she able to recount the less famous response usually unknown or forgotten. He lingered as he held her hand, his deep set eyes penetrating her with a natural unforced intensity, weakening her resolve, causing her knees to soften. She blushed at his attentiveness. Georgette had experienced the attentions of men throughout her life and had relished her ability bend them to her will. She had mastered the art of accepting compliments while deflecting expectations, always being in control of a situation whatever the outcome, an outcome that she alone would predetermine. However, on this occasion, her response was legitimate and her control abandoned her.
|Georgette on holiday|
“And what do I owe the honor of such a long journey, Madame?” inquired Marais.
Before Georgette could answer Gurdjieff made a move to stand, making a half-baked excuse about the toilet, understanding that this particular meeting of the minds was solely for Georgette and Marais, needing no witnesses. Gurdjieff tugged at Maurice to join him.
“Come with me to facilities, Monsieur. You are Maurice LeBlanc, the brother, no? I like very much your Arséne Lupin. He scoundrel, like me; a rascal in search of truth, willing to grab truth by the scrotum and hang onto it, ripping it from the nadirs from where it is obscured, and revealing that truth only when it suit him and only…when it is conducive to evolution. Come. Let us speak of the crimes he commits and the value of his corruption and also of the crimes he solves. And then we will determine if indeed there is harmony.” Gurdjieff placed his arm around Maurice’s shoulder leading him away without waiting for an answer.
Maurice looked to me for help but at this juncture, I was unable to aid him. As much as I liked Maurice, my dislike of Gurdjieff was much stronger. I had spent enough time with Gurdjieff at the Prieuré and I was not about to relinquish my position with Georgette and Marais during their own fateful meeting. Being in close proximity to the meat was another factor that supported my stance to let Maurice deal with Gurdjieff on his own. Throughout all of the discussion between Gurdjieff and Maurice about crime and scoundrels, Marais had not let go of Georgette’s hand and she had not yet replied. It was she that first pulled her hand away from his, after pretending to stumble and then proceeded to take Gurdjieff’s place on the log. I was able to see through her bit of obvious stage craft. If Marais did, he didn’t reveal it.
“Monsieur Marais, the moment I heard that you had been the victim of Maeterlinck’s thieving pen, I decided that we must meet. I’m not sure if you know who I am or the relationship I’ve had with Maeterlinck, but I was compelled to come, compelled to meet you. The reason is still a mystery and unknown to me. But I am here, nonetheless.”
Because they were delivered so expertly, Georgette’s words seemed a trifle rehearsed. If Marais noticed her affectation, he did not declare it. As she spoke, Marais grilled the meat, methodically roasting it on a stick, turning it slowly, careful to cook the meat evenly. The stick had been partitioned like a trident and on each of the pointy branches were three slabs of meat doubled over in a loop and hanging over, its juices dripping in the campfire, sizzling as they hit the fire. Although I was terribly distracted by the smells that surrounded me, I did a little canine math in my head and I was able to calculate what I saw before me. What I grasped with great difficulty and self-control was that one piece of meat had been intended for Georgette, the second I assumed was for Marais and the third, I could only surmise would be for me. I only hoped that my findings were accurate. After the many discussions of gnu meat and its qualities, I felt it was only fair to allow me a taste. In fact, I was prepared to demand it if need be. All qualities of obedience and loyalty would be abandoned for a crucial moment so that I might achieve my own goal.
It might be considered in bad form to be so brazen but after of all of the anxiety leading up to our arrival and then, to make matters worse, finding Gurdjieff waiting for us, I had completely forgotten about food, and had lost my appetite temporarily. But now, with Marais at the helm, spinning and turning the three pronged stick, I became entranced and somewhat mesmerized by his simple movement. Drool escaped my lips as I savored the aroma of the cooking meat. My intense hunger had returned. With Marais’ unrelenting, dogged turning of the meat, I fell into a stupor. It appeared as if Marais had too for he had not responded to Georgette.
“Monsieur Marais, did you not hear me?”
“I apologize, Madame. I was deep in thought, considering what of you were saying. I was thinking
courageous woman you must be to come this far to meet me. You could have
written a letter or perhaps you could have ignored your inclination altogether.
But you didn’t. That you would set out on such a quest of the unknown and at
such a great expense to your purse and to possibly put yourself in danger…Well,
that is quite a very rare thing. For that reason alone, I am honored to be in
your presence and to make your acquaintance.”
|Marais with Dolf Erasmus and son at Pretoria Zoo|
The meat, by my estimation, appeared to be done. Without prodding Marais, he dislodged the meat from the prongs using a second stick and dropped it onto an enamel plate; the kind you might see in camping kits. From his pouch, he withdrew a fork and a knife that had been wrapped in a kind of leather envelope and began to cut the meat into small bites, slicing carefully, not discarding the tasty fatty parts but keeping them intact while listening to Georgette.
“Oh no, sir, the honor is all mine. You can’t imagine my dismay in hearing that Maeterlinck would have the audacity or the stupidity, even, to risk such an arrogant act of thievery. What was the man thinking? Did he not imagine that he might have been caught? Did he not respect the sanctity of the code of artists? I mean other than being just immoral, why risk losing the reputation he has spent his entire adult life fostering and all for a book about termites? I mean no respect to your work or to the termites for that matter. But when you spend your life writing about the great issues of life, why throw it all away for a book about termites?”
Marais held the tin fork with a bit of meat lanced on it ready, until he was sure that Georgette had finished her diatribe. Once he was sure that Georgette was done he hand fed her a piece of meat, his right hand holding the fork, his left cupping underneath to catch anything that might drip. The meat had been divided into the three partitions of the plate and once Georgette had the piece of meat in her mouth, Marais took a piece of meat from the second partition and expertly tossed it to me. As I had been more than suitably prepared for such an inevitability, I caught the meat in my mouth perfectly, snapping my chops shut so the meat might not be taken away from me and then I vigorously chewed the morsel, which to me tasted not really that much like chicken but more like a gamey beef. I could never trust Gurdjieff’s interpretations of taste. He was often too misguided by vodka.
Georgette chewed with her mouth open, foregoing all the protocols of proper dining. As the meat traveled from one side of her cheek to another, she continued to speak.
“And it’s not like he didn’t already have a tendency to borrow from others, I might add. At first I didn’t mind at all. I was quite complimented that the great Maeterlinck would deem my ideas worthy of his mighty pen. And more than that, his moods would become so unbelievably tragic when he suffered a dry spell, which truly was not that often as one might think, since he generally a font of words and ideas… and those moments are fewer and farther between as compared to likes of some of his colleagues, whom I won’t bother to mention but if I named names you would know those names very well, believe you me! This is not to say that Maeterlinck hadn’t been guilty of some creative borrowing, though. And his moods…did I mention how moody and distant he became when things were not going according to his will? I was at such a loss at times! Was it not better to keep my mouth shut and allow him his peace of mind? I suppose one never knows what to do in the moment, does one?”
Georgette swallowed the meat. Marais had already fed a piece of meat to himself and to me, respectively. Once Georgette had settled herself, Marais offered her another bite from his fork in the same manner as before. She stopped him briefly with a raised palm as she drank a swig of vodka from Gurdjieff’s bottle and then allowed Marais to feed her another bite. The lack of dinner decorum was unusual for Georgette who generally had impeccable table manners but neither she nor Marais made any mention of her lapse and she made no indication that she had even noticed her own faux pas.
Chewing as she spoke, the rotation began again like a sacred meat dance, first to Georgette, then to me and then Marais would give himself a bite, never apologizing for the intimacy of the shared fork or the potential transmission of germs originating from disparate continents that could potentially wreak havoc on systems unacquainted with each other. And in doing so a curious things happened. Georgette unburdened all of the things she had wanted to say to Maeterlinck and even herself, which she had kept inside, spewing it like a kind of vomit, all the while chewing, aggressively masticating the unyielding meat. Once she started unloading she could not stop.
“There had been whispers in the literary circles in Paris that Maeterlinck’s play, Monna Vanna, had
been highly, and I do
mean highly influenced by the Robert
Browning play Luria, which is not to
say that he didn’t bring his own Maeterlinckianness to the play, of course.
Forgive me, but I’m not above defending even my ex-lovers. It is a divine piece
of work by Maeterlinck, written specifically for yours truly, so I may be
partial, mind you. While the Browning work may have been a starting point,
Maeterlinck brought something very unique to the stage. I’ll give him that. And
when I performed the role, I would be lying if didn’t admit to absolutely
captivating the audience with his words, although quasi lifted, they somewhat retained
an essence of authentically Maeterlinck. That is something that cannot not be
stolen. It has been said that my influence was definitely a turning point for
Maeterlinck’s writing. Before I entered his life he typically wrote plays about
ethereal nymphs that silently bore the yoke of fate. By the time he wrote Monna Vanna, his female characters had
transformed into being fully realized women. They had been emancipated from the
previous narrow outlook he depicted before for Monna Vanna was, a woman reborn,
a woman with her own destiny. A woman like me, if I may be so bold!” Georgette said,
pounding her chest, her nostrils flaring as she demonstrated her point. And then
suddenly, her mood changed. She softened her voice and manner.
|Georgette LeBlanc as Mona Vanna|
“But, I fear in doing that, I may have shot myself in the foot. With my own emancipation from
bourgeois social norms, I allowed
Maeterlinck the freedom to live in what we call in Paris an open situation, where I was left with no
means to protect my position or myself. In other words, I so very cleverly
allowed another woman to live in the same house with us for years, all in
defense of some philosophy, which I cannot entirely recall at this moment,
either I or Maeterlinck had put into my head.”
|Renee Dahon and Georgette spar|
That was a mouthful. As Georgette swallowed she seemed unaffected by all that she had disclosed to Marais with her only reward having been pieces of meat. Yet, she sat ready, hand folded in her lap awaiting another piece. She had more to say and she required the fuel of meat to fortify her. She lost herself in her words, having given Marais bite sized portions of her truth. With her mouth gaping wide, she was ready for more meat. Suddenly the meat did not arrive. She sat suspended in anticipation, waiting to be fed. Instead of meat meeting her mouth, warm lips pressed against hers. Marais pulled her close, wrapped his wiry arms around here as she collapsed a bit in his arms, seeming relieved to find herself there.
She did not protest but instead, allowed him to kiss her and while he did so, I happened to notice that the plate had not been emptied. All three partitions still had some remnants of meat left and considering that Marais and Georgette appeared to be otherwise occupied and since Marais had taken the initiative of such an unexpected liberty with Georgette, I deemed it only appropriate to do the same with the remainder of the meat from not only my partition but also that allocated to Georgette and Marais. After all, it would be waste to let it to get cold on the enamel plate. I heard no reprimands as I gobbled up the meat but rather, I heard the sounds that I recalled hearing that night at the Prieuré coming from behind Gurdjieff’s door while I slept in the hall that night. Of course, I cannot be certain because I was otherwise occupied myself.
I finished the meat and I admit that I felt a bit sheepish about my lack of control but Georgette and Marais didn’t care. I had gotten away with it! Without a word being spoken between them they both stood up and walked toward a hut just a few feet away. They entered the hut together, leaving me outside, my belly full and content, only to speculate what might take place inside.
Coming soon! Chapter 13: The Water Supply
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