BOYHOOD WITH GURDJIEFF
As IF BY some settling process, Miss Madison's directorship became, automatically, something that we managed to live with without further difficulty. There was too much work to be done, ordinary labor to keep the school functioning, for anyone to care very much about rules and regulations, or about how the work was accomplished. Also, there were too many people there, and the physical set-up was too big, for Miss Madison (who had not given up her never-ending gardening) to be able to observe each of us constantly and individually. The only other incident in which Miss Madison and I found ourselves in conflict that summer -- sufficient conflict to come to Mr. Gurdjieff's attention -- was the incident of the Japanese garden.
At some time in the past, long before I had been at the Prieure, one of Mr. Gurdjieff's projects had been to build what he had called a "Japanese Garden". An island had been created in the woods, using water from the ditch that ran through the property. A small, six- or eight-sided oriental-looking pavilion had been built on the island, and a typical Japanese, arched bridge led to the island proper. It looked rather typically oriental, and was a pleasant place to retire to on Sundays when we were not on duty at one of our usual tasks. One of the students -- an adult American man -- went there with me one Sunday afternoon; he was a recent arrival at the Prieure and, if I remember correctly, our reason for being there was that I was serving as his guide to the physic layout of the school. It was the usual practice at that time for one of the children to walk all over the seventy-five acres of the grounds with new arrivals, showing them the various vegetable gardens, the Turkish bath, the location of current projects, and so on.
My companion and I stopped to rest at the Japanese garden and he, as if sneering at the garden, told me that while it might be "Japanese" in intention, it was completely ruined by the presence, just in front of the door to the little pavilion, of two plaster busts, one on either side of the door, of Venus and Apollo. My reaction was immediate and angry. Also, in some curious way, I felt that the criticism of the busts was a personal criticism of Gurdjieff's taste. With mixed motives and considerable daring, I told him that I would remedy the situation and promptly threw the two busts into the water. I remember feeling that, in some obscure way, I was defending Gurdjieff's honor and his taste by doing so.
Miss Madison, whose sources of information had always been a puzzle to me, learned of this. She told me, horrified, that this willful destruction of the busts could not pass unnoticed and that Mr. Gurdjieff would be informed of what I had done immediately upon his return from Paris.
As his next return from Paris was on a weekend, he was accompanied by several guests who came with him in his car, plus a good many additional guests who had come in their own cars or by train. As was customary on the days that he returned from his trips, the entire student-body assembled after dinner in the main salon of the Chateau. In the presence of everyone (it was rather like a stockholders' meeting) he received a formal report from Miss Madison covering the general events that had transpired during his absence. This report was then followed by a summary, from Miss Madison, of whatever problems had arisen that she felt needed his attention. She sat beside him, on this occasion, little black book firmly open on her lap, and talked to him earnestly, but not loudly enough for us to hear, for a short time. When she had finished, he waved her to a chair and asked whoever had destroyed the statues in the Japanese garden to step forward.
Embarrassed by the presence of all of the students as well as a number of distinguished guests, I stepped forward with a sinking heart, furious with myself for my abandoned gesture. At that moment, I could think of no justification for what I had done.
Gurdjieff, of course, asked me why I had committed this crime, and also whether I realized that the destruction of property was, in fact, criminal? I said that I realized that I should not have done it but that I had done it because the statues were of the wrong period and civilization, historically, and that they should not have been there in the first place. I did not involve the American in my explanation.
With considerable sarcasm, Gurdjieff informed me that while my knowledge of history might be impressive, I had, nonetheless, destroyed "statues" that had belonged to him; that he, personally, had been responsible for placing them there; that, in fact, he liked Greek statues in Japanese gardens -- at any rate in that particular Japanese garden. In view of what I had done, he said that I would have to be punished, and that my punishment would consist of giving up my "chocolate money" (his term for any child's "spending money'" or "allowance") until the statues were replaced. He instructed Miss Madison to find out the cost of equivalent replacements and to collect that amount from me, however long it might take.
Mostly because of my family situation -- Jane and Margaret had almost no money at the time, and certainly none to give to us-I had no so-called "chocolate money"; at least, I had none on what could be called a regular basis. The only spending money I ever had at that time was occasional money that my mother would send to me from America -- for my birthday or for Christmas, or sometimes for no obvious reason. At that particular moment, I had no money at all, and I was also sure that the statues would be hideously expensive. I foresaw an eternity of handing over whatever money might come my way in order to pay for my rash act. It was a horrible prospect, particularly as I had had a birthday only a few months earlier and Christmas was several months in the future.
My dismal, moneyless future came to an abrupt end when I received a completely unexpected cheque for twenty-five dollars from my mother. Before turning the cheque over to Miss Madison, I learned from her that the "statues" were common, plaster casts, and would only amount to about ten dollars. Even that amount was not easy for me to part with. The twenty-five dollars might have to last me at least until Christmas.
At the next assembly, Miss Madison informed Mr. Gurdjieff that I had given her the money for the new' "statues" -- he refused even to understand the word "bust" -- and asked whether she should replace them.
Gurdjieff thought this question over for some time and then, finally, said "No". He called me over to him, handed me the money which she had given to him, and said that I could keep it, on the condition that I would share it with all the other children. He also said that while I had been wrong in destroying his property, he wanted me to know that he had thought about the whole question and that I had been right about the impropriety of those particular "statues" in that place. He suggested that I could have -- although I was not to do so now -- replaced them with the proper type of statue. The incident was never mentioned again.