Chapter 15: The Queen in her Cell
The Queen in Her Cell
“That was the end of our observations. The council workers had occupied themselves with excavating and removing the breeding gardens in other rooms, but now the time given to us had ended.The queen was removed from her cell and taken away captive; and after that, the activities and life of this nest ceased for good.”
Eugene Marais, The Soul of the White Ant
May 6, 1949, Villa Orlamonde
I, Maurice Maeterlinck, have recently discovered that I had somehow metamorphosed into the body a dog, and lived for a time within the comfortable hide of a herding animal. To be more specific, I lived as a Berger Picard. It was a most satisfactory situation to be this particular breed of canine for I was able to gather the people around me so that might resolve the unrest in my soul. For what had only been a moment of my existence, that moment as pain seered through my heart and I teetered on the brink of death, I was allowed this journey to that time, surrounded by the people that most mattered to me and most defined my life. The shock of a heart attack allows for many things to happen both physically and spiritually and due to these phenomena, I was provided with an escape from the mind so that I might face the life I lived. Aided by my friend and companion, Golaud, who has been my liaison between the physical and non-physical planes, I am certain that he has arrived to assure a safe transition from this world to the next. Where that will take me? I do not know, although I can attest to having spent hours of my life in the pursuit of this sort knowledge, as I had hoped to have a grasp of what lies ahead before ‘the time’ actually comes. Now that the time is close, I care less for the particulars. As I write this last entry in my diary, I wish only to leave a small memento of my travels.
As Chippy, I had gone in search of Eugéne Marais, a man I had never met most likely as a means to ease some part of my conscience. And although I found him, at this writing I am as perplexed as I ever was about the nature of this man and the role that I played in his life. I will never know if my perceived actions were the thing that caused him to take his own life. Perhaps in even imagining that, I that I had given myself far too much credit. When I discovered there was a chance that the suicide never took place, through a miraculous event I went in search of absolution, thinking that if Marais hadn’t killed himself then perhaps I had gotten away with my small sin, even if it was only the perception of a sin that I had committed. But one never knows the effects of an action, good or bad. That I would mourn the death of a man I never knew with a comparable intensity to the mourning of my own stillborn child, of Georgette’s death and that of her kind brother, Maurice who died just 10 days following Georgette whilst fleeing France during the occupation, seems to indicate that we shared something significant with each other and not just our mutual interest in termites. And so, with that in mind the loss had been very profound for me. But still there is this mystery surrounding Marais which nags at me.
Before I could read any further, I considered it to be in the best interest of all to rip this diary entry
from his book. As I chewed on Maeterlinck’s words,
destroying the evidence of their existence, Maeterlinck stirred from his sleep.
The nurses had been coming in and out of the room and the deathly pall had
fallen over the Maeterlinck home as they all prepared for the inevitable final
|Cecil Alden's Illustration from' My Dog' by Maeterlinck|
“Is that you, Golaud? Finally you have come back. I have been waiting for you. There is so much to tell you. I went on the most incredible journey. I was a dog, like you. It was magnificent!”
“There is no question of that. It is great to be a dog.”
“And I saw a giraffe. It was as close to me as you are right now. I think I will be able to die soon. But what have you done with my diary? I was to leave a record of all that has happened to me.”
“Maeterlinck, some things are best kept private. And as much as I’d like to transport you to the River Styx, I can’t do that just yet. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but you are not done .”
“What could I possibly have left to do? Renee, the press and all of France and Belgium are awaiting the news of my death so that the great mourning may commerce. You have no idea what an ordeal it is to plan these things. The florists have all been by; priests have offered me last rites, which I have of course declined. And caterers are on standby. We really must not keep them all waiting. The relief I have in all of this is that I will not have to attend the ceremony.”
“Do not forget that you are a Count now. It is part of the job to keep them all waiting and be as inconvenient as possible. Have you not heard of Ladies in Waiting? Well, that’s all due to the Count. Did you not receive the notice about that?”
Maeterlinck’s almond-shaped eyes softened. My jokes were not meant to be insensitive; quite the contrary. I had returned to make light of his most tragic hour. In a home where the atmosphere had transformed to morbidity, Maeterlinck seemed to appreciate my attempts at humor. He had finally reached the moment that his life’s work had prepared him.
“Golaud, you are stalling and for what, I have no idea. I went on my journey of self-discovery, acknowledged my wrong doings, if we still must call it that, and I found all of the enlightenment I will achieve in this life and now… you are ruining my final act. The curtain is to come down and the audience is to clap and go home and forget everything they just witnessed. It would be as if you stepped on the train of Georgette’s gown during her curtain call. It just isn’t done!”
Unable to know what to do, I fidgeted and suggested, “Perhaps a game of cards.”
“You know, Golaud, that’s not half bad. If I were to live long enough I might write another play about a man trying to delay his demise by playing a game of cards. It can start with a dark quote from Revelations and be set during some dismal place like Scandinavia at the end of the Crusades. Somewhere in the distance, there would be a castle.”
Maeterlinck reached for his pen out of habit, ready to begin scribbling the skeleton of his idea. My brown paw stopped him.
“You have to leave some material for those that follow, Maeterlinck. And not to criticize, but chess might be a more poetic choice of game.”
Maeterlinck let go of the pen and sitting up in his bed with his hands in his lap he began to twiddle his thumbs, almost bored of waiting, the climax of his looming death ruined.
“You know, I can’t quite get over how different you seem to me as a bipedal dog. As I lay here dying, waiting for you, Golaud, wondering if you were to ever show up, something came to mind. Might you have seen the ridiculous depictions of dogs playing poker by that American, a kind of hack that
tried to capture the
styles of Cezanne and Georges de la Tour? It occurred to me that in this form
you would make an excellent model for the series of paintings. I thought of you
in the painting entitled, A Friend in
Need as the cheating bull dog that passes his card under the table. The
paintings reek of everything American and cheap but I can’t help but find them
very charming. In one painting they play poker and then in another, they are
playing pool. As war refugees, Renee and I had come across the work of the
artist. His name is Cassius Marcellus Coolidge! Now there’s a name whose
validity I question. It is said that he likes to be called Cash. As tacky as
the paintings are and I do mean tacky, I still cannot help but like them.”
|'A Friend in Need' by Cassius Marcellus Coolidge|
“Perhaps you misinterpret the motivation of the bull dog. The painting is called a Friend in Need, perhaps he is only trying to help his companion next to him. Maybe it is not cheating but instead, it is an abetment with a higher purpose. If I remember correctly, one bull dog is passing the card to another bull dog. Around the table are five hounds. If the bull dogs did not band together, I ask you,what chance would they have? They would have been eaten alive, losers in the game of cards. Who is to say what great consequence might befall them in losing such a game!”
“Of course, yes, I should have seen that. You are right. Two bull dogs would never be a match for five hounds.
“Which is not to say that I disagree… I do believe the paintings have a value beyond what art critics have failed to recognize. Perhaps it was a way for the artist to mock the upper classes, the Maeterlincks, if you will, of the world, for their excesses and attitudes.”
“If that is the case then the artist failed. I would have paid a high price and brought the painting back home to Nice to be hung in a place of honor in my study, albeit, away from polite society, if only as a reminder of my dear Golaud, who I had missed the instant that I saw the painting.”
“It is rare to hear you express your affections so openly, Maurice.” I am honored to I am the receiver of such a fine tribute.”
“It is true. I have become soft. As death draws nearer, time shortens and I sense I will not have the occasion to say the things I ought. It makes one appreciate all the life that one has,” said Maeterlinck.
“But you forget that my time has already come to an end and yet, I am able to express far more than I was able to when I was alive. You are so eager to close up shop and as grateful as I am to be the bearer of your affection, you are wrong in thinking you can tidy up your life with a few heartfelt words.”
“What are we waiting for then? I sense that one of the characters in the play has missed their cue, leaving the cast to stammer and improvise the conclusion. You appear as if you are embarrassed, Golaud. I must be right about that. In fact, I know that I am.”
|In rehearsal for the Blue Bird|
I had been caught. The best solution at this time was probable to fess up, although I hated the feeling that I had mucked up the moment by appearing unprepared.
“It’s just that some people are very unreliable and as much as I didn’t want to rely on this person, I had no choice in the matter. It was out of my control.”
“Oh. I see. I don’t like the sound of that.”
“I didn’t think you would.”
“As you might recall, this is one of the very reasons I stopped writing for the stage. There were always too many unpredictable elements involved. Even when I worked with marionettes, I found the puppeteers were often more temperamental than actors themselves, probably the result of wounds inflicted upon their amour-propre, for they were never held in high regard by others. It was as if they were gods pulling the strings on the beings they envied. Finally I had to give it all up and write essays.”
We both stopped talking, looking around the room, waiting for something to occur. It was becoming awkward. Eventually Maeterlinck finally broke the silence.
“It’s tiresome to wait like this. I’ve already said all of the goodbyes. To do it all over again would be excessive.”
“I quite agree. And starting anything new at this moment would be pointless. However, if we try to get wrapped in something then surely when it was most inconvenient, we would be interrupted. Was it not Edward Murphy who recently said that one should always assume and prepare for worst case scenarios?”
“They named the law of Murphy after him did they not? Murphy’s law… they call it. I’m not sure I’d like to be remembered as the man who always expects the worst, although I was never one to be overly optimistic, either. Am I wrong in thinking that if you expect the worst, that thing that you fear would most likely happen?”
“And sometimes it just shows up on its own whether you expect it or not,” said a voice booming from the other side of the opened door. The door was pushed open and in walked Gurdjieff, considerably older than Maeterlinck remembered him, dressed in white linen cloth with his customary red fez tilted eschew on his head. As relieved as I was that he had arrived, once he entered the room my short hairs on my neck stood up, somehow knowing that things would continue to be unpredictable. I’m not even sure how it was possible considering my state but the sensation occurred.
“Sorry to be late. I not account for a few worst case scenarios on way here. It’s good to see you, you mongrel Maeterlinck!” Gurdjieff laughed at his own joke. “It’s been years, at least for me. I see your Anubis has been keeping you company as you bide time. Golaud, is it not?”
Maeterlinck sat erect in his bed at the sight of Gurdjieff, shocked to see him appear before him, shocked that he would speak so casually and shocked that he would know who we both were.
“No, you didn’t imagine whole thing. You not think I keep promise to you?”
“What promise is that, Gurdjieff?” asked Maeterlinck.
Shaking his fat forefinger at Maeterlinck, Gurdjieff chided, “Ah, you still have that tone about you, that slight irritation at the sight of me. No. Do not change this. I like. As much as you hate me, you wait for me. Me… Gurdjieff! And now that I here, you hate yourself, I am certain. I am thing you wait for, thing that keep you from dying. Life is very humorous that way, is it not?”
“Hate is very strong word, Gurdjieff. I never knew you as a man. I have no reason to hate you.”
“No matter. You would have hated me and if you didn’t, I would have seen to it that you did. It’s the part I must play. I’m not certain that I don’t hate you, either.” His voice suddenly lowered to a raspy whisper, as if we were offering an aside in a theatrical play, “In a moment someone come inside and ask if there is anything we’d like. Ask for bottle of vodka and oily sardines. I would like to have this with you, if I may.”
No sooner did he say that did the nurse, Phoebe, appeared, a round and timid woman with an apologetic smile.
“Monsieur, I see you have a visitor. Is there anything I can bring?”
“Yes, Phoebe, the gentleman and I would like vodka and I believe you will find some tins of sardines in oil. Please bring those and three glasses.”
“Three glasses?” Phoebe asked with her chin tucked down. Since she was unable to see me in the room, the extra glass confused her. She was not a woman that had the luxury of imagination and so it was not in her nature to interpret the meaning of the extra glass.
“Yes, three. It’s better if you don’t ask,” explained Maeterlinck.
“And salt!” bellowed Gurdjieff.
“Bring some salt for Monsieur Gurdjieff and a few quartered lemons as well.”
Phoebe slipped out of the room, avoiding Gurdjieff’s gaze.
“Ah, you have lemon trees on your property? Those who have the lemons, make then, lemonade, eh? And Golaud, you join us for toast. We are to toast the life, the death and the afterlife and the spaces in-between. You can do, no?”
“I can manage,” I replied.
“And Maeterlinck, get out of that bed.” Gurdjieff grabbed the dressing gown hanging in the armoire, wrapped him in the gown and throwing Maeterlinck’s arm around him lifted him out of the bed placing him in a chair at the small table in the room. He brought a pair slippers to Maeterlinck and slipped them on his feet.
“See there, Golaud? I bring slippers for him. Is not your job, eh?” Gurdjieff laughed. “Is funny, no?”
“Yes, I can see the humor but I can’t seem to make myself laugh,” I replied.
|Another illustration from 'My Dog'|
“I am irritating man. I know this. But I only do this to get inside skin and move things along meridians. It a kind of spiritual chiropractic, if you will. My obnoxious personality; it is not who I am but this I know. It is the tool I use to shock people so they surrender obnoxious self that they insist they are.”
“I have a sense of what you mean, Gurdjieff. When you catch a person off guard… that is the means to find the truth of a person,” said Maeterlinck.
“You see, Golaud, this man…he very smart. He smart dog, too! I see that the moment my eyes fall on him. I say to myself, ‘Eh, Gurdjieff, who is this dog that is not a dog that is like man?’ But remember, I say this at you many years ago, the same thing and I say, too, how I speak often to myself!”
“But it wasn’t that long for me. It was beside the termitary and one of the last memories before I found myself here. And Chippy? Where is he? There’s a part of me that was him.”
“Dead. Like everybody. Georgette and Maurice LeBlanc, Golaud, Marais and now you and then me, in few months. I not far behind. Everybody dead. Is that not funny?”
“I see the humor in that but I can’t seem to make myself laugh,” said Maeterlinck.
“You and Golaud. What a pair!” Gurdjieff placed his palm on his forehead, as if enacting the parlor act of a fake Spiritualist medium, saying, “In the next life, I see you on a stage as a team mocking the audience somewhere in the hills of New York State. The place…it called…what is it…the Dogskills! No, wait a moment, I am wrong. The Catskills. That it!”
Before Maeterlinck or I could react to his insulting prophecy, Phoebe entered with a tray, eyes cast down, placing the tray on the table, doing her best to seem invisible.
“Thank you, Phoebe,” said Maeterlinck.
A quick curtsy had her out of the door. Once she had disappeared from the room Gurdjieff poured vodka in the three glasses and cracked open a tin of sardines.
“Come, Golaud. Sit,” commanded Gurdjieff. “We’re going to get smashed!”
Maeterlinck looked up, seemingly distressed, a lock of silver hair had curtained over his eye from his quick action. He knew there was nothing he could to change Gurdjieff’s mind. So he didn’t bother.
“Well, it’s not going to kill you, mongrel! Truth is, more sardines and vodka you live to be a hundred.
As soon as Maeterlinck and I downed the first shot of vodka, another was poured.
“The lemon …good call! It bring life to miserable sardines trapped in can. The zest of life is in that squirt of lemon,” exclaimed Gurdjieff.
Gurdjieff hungrily drizzled lemon over the fishes and with a small fork lanced a slop of sardines, shoving them into his mouth whole, chewing vigorously, completely immersed in his eating, paying no mind to Maeterlinck or myself. Once he swallowed, he poured yet another vodka and threw it back.
Pointing at the bottle Gurdjieff said, “Come now. You keep up! It’s mandatory.”
“I don’t understand what we are doing. Why are you here exactly?” asked Maeterlinck.
“You have questions. I here and help you find answers. Golaud here and he help you find questions.”
“And what are my questions?” asked Maeterlinck, quizzically.
“Exactly! That’s one. Is good start. We make this more interesting now. For each shot of vodka you drink I give you question. As Golaud is my witness,” Gurdjieff raised his hand in an oath. “I give for each drink… a question.”
A spectral spectator hardly makes for a good witness but I felt it was best not to interject just yet.
“I hardly think I am in any condition to imbibe myself with questions in this manner. If you were to offer me answers, I might consider your offer.”
“Answers? Who want answers? They dull, lifeless things. Is period at end of sentence, the fin at end of film. Answers are for cowards! But mongrels? Mongrels like you, me and even Golaud here, we need good questions. It question that opens up universe and allows it to breathe and expand.” Gurdjieff inhaled another shot of vodka to illustrate his point.
“And the purpose of the alcohol?” asked Maeterlinck.
“Alcohol draws the essence out to surface. Is elixir of truth, releaser of falsehoods. See? I give you answer. So boring! I try harder, make question.”
Maeterlinck poured himself a shot. I rested my paw on his hand as if to stop him, offering him a way out and a chance to spare his pride at the same time. I had no idea what Gurdjieff had in mind and I could only caution Maeterlinck. I feared that Gurdjieff had lost control, like a train that was going to continue speeding down the rails until it crashed. However, Maeterlinck did not heed my warning.
“No, Golaud. I know when a man is determined. It’s quite alright. What’s the worst that happen?”
“Now there is a question that can take you on a path!” said Gurdjieff.
Maeterlinck sipped the entire shot, stored it in his mouth for a moment and then swallowed it down all at once. His face grimaced with momentary discomfort, his eyes leaking tears from the jolt of the alcohol that he had become unaccustomed to in recent years.
“I match you drink for drink. This is no great feat, for alcohol has no effect on me. I cheat.”
Gurdjieff tossed back another drink.
“And my first question is?” asked Maeterlinck.
“What reason for meandering through time and space?”
“That’s a fair question. It’s probably not on the top of my list but I would imagine that the questions would become more pertinent as I become less sober. And the answer? Shall we allow it to hang suspended so that the universe will inhale it and expand?”
“That’s the idea! Have sardine or two while it hangs and then give me your answer.”
Maeterlinck pierced the fish with his fork, observing the oils that oozed from its silver skin and popped it in mouth, chewing delicately, pondering as he chewed. Once he swallowed he offered an answer.
|W.T. Benda art for Maeterlinck article, 'The Future of the Earth'|
“I believe it was an inner call from something deep inside of me, dealing with unfinished business and as well as my own nostalgic romanticizing of the past. I don’t know how it was achieved and I’ll spare you that question, but it was something that I wanted and need to do.”
Gurdjieff poured Maeterlinck another drink. Maeterlinck inhaled deeply, prepared himself and drank it quickly.
“Your next question is: Why you become dog?”
Maeterlinck considered the question and ate a few more sardines. His chewing was becoming a little looser and he was less fastidious in the manner of his chewing.
“And why would I become a dog? That’s a very good question.”
Maeterlinck looked to me, thinking that the answer lied somewhere within me. I shrugged, unable to provide an answer.
“The dog is the animal I most envy. It loves unconditionally, a trait I was never able to foster in my life. From my early years in Ghent, there was always an expectation to become something that befitted my place in society such as… well, a lawyer, no less. And then later at the Jesuit College, I developed a distinct distrust for authority and men in robes. Since that time I never lived a carefree life where I could just be as I was. My life was laid out for me. Even as I writer I was self-regulating. I had taken on the role of authority figure for myself. That I would inhabit the body a Berger Picard, a breed of dog from Picardy, the region of France whose lips graze the borders of Belgium, and since it is a thoroughfare I traveled many times, it makes good sense to embody a rare and rustic breed, that is so much like myself, one that is dwindling down in numbers and it’s a breed that possesses a sensitive yet belligerent temperament… to which I’ve always related. If I were to be a dog, I would be a
Berger Picard! Of course! It makes perfect
sense. With their connection to Earth and with their great insight they are the
directors of sheep’s minds and bodies; it’s an honor to walk in its skin. Why
would I not want to be such an animal? You, Gurdjieff, speak so often of
digging up the dog. I not only dug up the dog but I embodied it, did I not?”
|Berger Picard woodcut|
After all of the praise that had been heaped upon the Berger Picard, I slumped in my seat, downing another drink not because Gurdjieff had commanded me but because I felt momentarily overlooked.
“The French Bulldog is an excellent breed as well. We are known for our charm and adaptability; wonderful qualities don’t you think? You might have done well to inhabit one.” I felt foolish the moment I said this, knowing what a ridiculous suggestion I was making. I suppose pride is another characteristic trait of my breed and it’s not one I’m overly proud of.
“There is no reason to be jealous, Golaud. You were always a jealous dog and without cause. How could I even think of doing such a thing? My finest friend and companion and friend that I opened and closed many a door for over and over again, there is only one of you, the rarest of all breeds.”
I was embarrassed for calling attention to myself in this way but was thankful for the praise offered. At times my jealous nature comes from out of nowhere and need to be soothing like a rash requiring a balm. Luckily, just as soon as it occurs, it’s over. And then, without prompting, Maeterlinck took another drink. Gurdjieff followed suit.
“What is your next question, Gurdjieff?”
“That depends on how drunk you are.”
“I am the kind of drunk that would allow a reserved man such as myself to sing in a public bar with my mates.”
“If you are aware of it, then you have not reached the level of inebriation necessary. We move on to other questions. Here’s a good question: What sort of lover were you, Maeterlinck?”
As his former dog I could have answered that question myself. I have been privy to things I wish I could have forgotten. There had been times during my life with Georgette and Maeterlinck, I wished I had a hose that could be turned on them the way one might mating dogs. An Opera singer in the sack is worth two in the bush, twice as loud and is given to such dramatic gyrations completely unnecessary for the act. After witnessing their lovemaking, I would for hours be unable to look at either of them in the eye. I could have certainly spoken up but it was not the spirit of the game. Maeterlinck had to speak for himself.
|Georgette LeBlanc with Maeterlinck|
“Very easy question. I was a selfish but reliable lover, using lovemaking as a physical release and as a boost when my amour-prope had slumped. One might say that I got the job done. With Georgette and most of the others, I let them do as they pleased but initiated very little in the art of experimentation. I rarely left a lasting impression. I cared more for myself and what I needed from the alliance and thought little of what my partner might want or desire. At first it had been a blow to my ego that I would be replaced by females but if I were to be honest, Georgette always required so much more than I was ever willing to dredge up.”
“How very candid of you. I believe we approach essence of you now.”
Maeterlinck took another gulp of vodka, his face reddening, the tips of ears enflamed and his speech was becoming slurred but somehow Gurdjieff remained sober and unaffected by the alcohol.
“I understand that you, Gurdjieff, practice the ways of the tantra. I can’t say I even know what that means but my limited understanding is that is has to do with sexual practices and longevity.”
“Tantra in Sanskrit literally means ‘looms’ like in weaving. As a former rug merchant this idea appeals to me.”
“You sold rugs? Why did you do that?”
“I sell knowledge. All life is hidden in design. My rugs contained encoded texts, if you take the time to look for them. But this is no big news. I also sold false eyelashes too.”
“Was that a comment on how we all wear false masks, shading our eyes and others from the truth?”
“No. They make good money. Women buy ridiculous things to look like prostitute!” Gurdjieff hearty laugh filled the room.
I had been aware of the comedic trap he had set and it seemed that Maeterlinck knew he was being set up for a joke but given his increasing drunken state, he didn’t mind and he actually laughed a bit out loud.
“See? Laughing good. You too serious in life. Why you this way?”
“Is that the next question? Or is that additional lagniappe. Are we setting a question limit? I don’t even know the rules to this game.”
“You listen to that American radio show, Truth or Consequences? Contestant must tell truth or is necessary to perform stunt. If you don’t know answer, you must to make love to a skunk or something wonderful like that! Is not great? I hear this when I stay in America. America is crazy place.”
“We are doing this in the opposite way, Gurdjieff. I have been doing the stunt first. I don’t get the answer but a question, instead. In what sort of parlor game does the participant receive an answer in the form a question? That is ludicrous! I stayed in America for a time. They are friendly but for my taste, much too casual. However, if I was an American, I might have enjoyed being a cowboy. They are the poets of the plains.”
Maeterlinck and Gurdjieff had become sidetracked in their conversation and I found myself becoming more and more anxious as I realized that time was being frittered away by these two men. The alcohol was having an effect on Maeterlinck and he was becoming increasingly flip and outspoken. Was this haphazard or was this part of the grand scheme that Gurdjieff had devised? Although I had no ability to become drunk, the conversation, the questions, the lack of resolution was making me feel more and more intoxicated and unable to focus. I stood up from the table and walked around the room to gain my bearings while the two men came to terms with the procedures of their game.
Standing by the window that overlooked the vast Mediterranean Sea, I wondered why I was still present in the room with Maeterlinck at Villa Orlamonde. Since Gurdjieff had taken over all of the procedure, I was only here as a sidekick in this event and probably no longer necessary. I had suspected that he might hijack the situation but I do admit my part in allowing this to happen. Perhaps it was sheer laziness that permitted this to happen. What do I know of human closure? Why had Maeterlinck’s closure been assigned to me and I saw nothing wrong with passing the buck, especially when I know that I was in over my head.
|Villa Orlamonde, Nice|
It had been so much more straight forward with Georgette’s death. I understood my task and my role. Georgette was at the conclusion of her life and I was there to simply help her as she transitioned. But Maeterlinck was different. And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure what the hold up was. As Maeterlinck drank with Gurdjieff, I noticed that the light that had been coming in from the window was fading into darkness. This spring evening, generally, a time of beginnings, would be the beginning of the end for Maeterlinck and then, another beginning for him. Earlier in the day Maeterlinck had instructed the gardeners about the spring planting, and had arranged for the seeds that would sprout after he was gone.
In the same way I had been preparing Maeterlinck for his grand voyage, placing seeds for Gurdjieff to sow. Like a Master of Ceremonies he was able to sweep in at the last bit, offer a conclusion the show, thank the audience and then take all of the credit for himself. And now, with Maeterlinck, drunk on vodka, they argued the modus operandi of his debriefing, if that is the correct term for what was happening. Was this not what we were doing? He was at the end of his assignment of this lifetime. He had come in like a spy and had reported everything he witnessed to an invisible ear and now he spoke to his superior, his editor, if you will, and hashed it out for the last time. The more they spoke and the drunker Maeterlinck became, the less I felt I had anything to do with this. And maybe it was for the best.
“You know what they once called me?”
“What’s that Maeterlinck?”
“I was called the Belgian Shakespeare. You think someday someone will be called the American Maeterlinck?” Maeterlinck tried to stand. Failing he clasped his hands over his heart reciting, “’All the world’s a stage and all the men and women… and dogs… merely players; They have their exits and their entrances and one man in his time plays many parts.’ That, Gurdjieff… was Shakespeare. Ever hear of him? Not Maeterlinck… but Shake-speare.” Maeterlinck slurred.
“Is that so? Never heard of him. Was he a hack?”
“A hack? He was a hack and a crib too. That line was stolen from a play by Richard Edwarde, written the year Shakespeare was born. The line goes: Pythagorus said that the world was like a stage. Wherein many play their parts; the lookers-on, the sage. You know where he went wrong? Shakespeare, I mean. He gave Pythagorus credit. Now nobody remembers that …or Richard Edwarde. Shakespeare was a bastard like me. AND we are to play our parts are we not and take the words, shape them into our own and by doing so, and allow them to be remembered.”
Gurdjieff sat quietly allowing Maeterlinck to have his say, not expressing an opinion. Maeterlinck took another drink.
“Gurdjieff, give me another question. Pour me a drink, too. I can’t make the drink go into the vessel anymore. I am sufficiently sloshed.”
“No. Really. I can’t barely hold myself up anymore or my glass! Maybe I’m dying now. Finally! But we have to finish the thing. And ‘the plays the thing, wherein I’ll catch the KING!’ And this ghost, Golaud, the namesake of murderer of Pelléas, came to haunt me with the death of Marais, a suicide they say. Get me Marais’ skull that he kept upon his desk and I can recite, alas, poor Yorick, I knew him! Horatio, a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy. Killed by my pen. When they say the pen is mightier than the sword, not a Shakespeare quote, that… but from a play by Robert Bulwer Leyton who in turn borrowed heavily from Robert Burton in The Anatomy of Melancholy who most likely borrowed it from another. We’re all a bunch of bastards, putting our names all over things. To thine own self be true. Dammit!”
“Why do you believe you killed Marais?” asked Gurdjieff.
“I don’t know. He killed himself is what I was told or that he had fled to South America, according to that woman, de Kok, what have you… I don’t know what happened to Marais and I have no idea why his death was to be my responsibility. That he felt wronged by me cannot be the sole reason for his suicide. I am to take the blame for his choices?”
“Perhaps it was an opportunity. Not literally question but intention was that way.”
“Your inflection was raised at the end. That is good enough for me. I’m not sure what opportunity it might provide except as an excuse to end one’s life, a neatly packaged scapegoat for a lifetime of reasons. Although no one has dared finger me directly, I’ve often felt the weight of a thumb print pressure upon my head, that lingering doubt, the pendulating sword of Damocles dowsing for a culprit. The opportunity that you allude to might be for me to examine my own heart, my frailties and my conscience. But that is not enough for me to accept blame. That is the only opportunity that I can derive. I do not wish to spend my last hours pouring through The Life of The White Ant to prove my innocence.”
“What then would put your mind at ease?”
Maeterlinck took another drink, inhaled and held his breath for a moment, allowing one of his last breaths to circulate his body, following the path it had traveled for so many years.
“I just can’t accept that he did it. And I’m not buying the South America excuse, either. Something is rotten in Denmark! Something about all of this bothers me and yet, it feels strangely familiar at the same time. It doesn’t add up. I know Marais was a paradox and such a human is difficult to predict. But the truth, whatever it may be, is buried with him, if he is indeed dead. The depths of this mystery delves into the Earth as deep as a termite in drought laden Africa searching for water.”
“Maeterlinck you tell good stories. Tell me, what is story of Marais?”
“Marais is the stuff of a Maeterlinck play it is true, the dark brooding Maeterlinck of my youth that believed that we are but pawns to the element of the mistress Fate. Fate, like a metal, can be hard and unyielding to our pathetic interferences and hammering. Georgette led me to believe in something else for a time, allowing me to think that through enlightenment I might transcend Fate. But how does one know if one is enlightened? If you find it and know it, once it is known then it has already passed. This thing is elusive and something I will not grasp in this lifetime. Marais and I walked along some similar paths, having met somewhere within the termitary, my role as a literary authority and his, as a lovable crack pot. As Chippy, I could not help but love him, wishing that that I might have been more like him in many ways. But his end is what mystifies me. But if I were to write his ending to this story and if it were up to me to tell it, his ending would go something like this:
‘And as Eugéne Marais closed his copy of The Life of the White Ant, he held the book close to his
“As my Grandmother used to say, The princess stepped on a piece of tin. The tin bent and the story ent.”
“It’s the best I can do under the circumstances.”
“Dig deeper into the termitary. It is there where you will find the water. It was Marais that said, ‘Circumstances may make the termite’s work useless and vain; in cases where the simplest insect, individually controlled, would shrink from its purpose, the termite will carry on. It must follow the path along which seems to have been predetermined.’ What was in the cards for Marais? I ask you, mongrel, think like dog, dig into Earth, bring me your meaty bone and his collection of bones.”
“He was killed, was he not?”
“Why would he be killed? Who would do this!?”
Gurdjieff urged Maeterlinck with his booming voice, the fumes from his breath awoke his mind. Suddenly, sober, Maeterlinck understood everything at once.
“Hannie Preller. Like many things that happened in this world, her act was random and senseless. A scorched sheet from a cigarette he had left burning as he slept drove her back into his room with a shotgun where she shot him twice, having first missed his heart and then aimed the gun into his mouth, silencing him forever. Gustav, having returned home finding his wife splattered with Marais’ blood, concocted a story that would both save his wife and propel his cause. He dragged Marais and laid him beneath the Karreeboom tree, which seeped like a weeping willow and he then, placed the gun beside him. If I were to write the story that is how it would go.”
“But truth is stranger than fiction, no?”
“Yes, but sometimes we can arrive at the truth by expanding fiction, by delving deep into termitary and boring down into the subterranean passages where the water dwells. Perhaps I am wrong and I am willing to be wrong. But this is the story with which I choose to adhere.”
“Not so drunk anymore, eh Maeterlinck. Truth have sobering effect, no? This is why I cannot be drunk. I am awake and I remember myself. For this, I cannot tell myself the story of myself that is false. Maeterlinck, you remember now. Yes?”
|Maurice Maeterlinck's desk at Villa Orlamonde|
Maeterlinck drank another shot of vodka, realizing that he was at the end of his story. It was not fate that brought him to this moment as he once had feared. He had escaped fate, missing it by the hair of a dog. And as he slipped away from life and as Gurdjieff faded from view, I knew the time had come to take Maurice with me.
I cannot say whether Gurdjieff heard what Maurice said as we vaporized into mist. But in the story that I tell, he did.
“Yes, I remember,” said Maurice as he slipped into the next. Gurdjieff did not answer him for there was no need.
And after that, the activities and life of the nest ceased for good.