BOYHOOD WITH GURDJIEFF
IN THE NATURAL course of events, since Mr. Gurdjieff was engaged in writing books, it was necessary for him to employ a typist. He did not set about this in any ordinary manner, but he employed, with great fanfare, a young German woman he had discovered somewhere in his travels. For several days before hcr arrival we heard about her. Elaborate preparations were made for her coming, including finding the proper room for hcr, the acquisition of a typewriter, arrangements for suitable working space, and so on. Gurdjieff praised her attributes to all of us, told us how lucky he had been to find this perfect person "for my purposes", and we awaited her arrival with great anticipation.
When she did arrive, she was introduced to all of us, a dinner was served in her honour, and the whole process was very festive -- she was given what we called the "royal treatment", and she responded to it whole-heartedly, taking herself as seriously as Gurdjieff seemed to take her. It turned out that her major, magnificent accomplishment was that she could type, as Gurdjieff repeatedly told us in complete amazement, "without even looking at key on typewriter."
No secretary or typist has, I feel sure, ever been accorded such treatment because of her ability to use the touch system. As if to prove to us all that this ability actually existed, the young woman installed herself at a table on the terrace, in full view of all of us as we came and went to and from our work, and remained there -- typing merrily -- all summer long, except on rainy days. The clicking of her typewriter resounded in all of our ears.
My first contact with her, and in fairness to her I must admit to a strong anti-German prejudice, having grown up on stories of German atrocities during World War I, was one evening when I was doing my own washing in the courtyard in back of the house after work. She did not know me, except by sight, and, assuming that I was French, called to me from a window overlooking the courtyard, asking me in heavily accented French where she could obtain what she called some "Savon Lux" ; she managed to convey to me that she needed this to wash her stockings. I said, in English, which I knew she understood and spoke much better than French, that I assumed she could buy it at the local epicerie about half a mile distant. Her response was to toss some coins down to me and to tell me that she would appreciate my getting her some at once.
I picked up the money, went up the stairs and handed it to her. I said that I thought I should explain to her that there were no errand boys at the Prieure and that no one had, so far, told me that she was any exception to the general rule that everyone did their own personal work, which included personal shopping. She said, with a "charming" smile, that she was sure that no one would have any objection to my performing this errand for her since she was, as perhaps I did not yet realize, engaged on very important work for Mr. Gurdjieff. I explained that I, too, was engaged on similar work; that I took care of him and his rooms and did my own errands as well.
She seemed amazed, and after a moment's reflection said that she would straighten out the matter with Mr. Gurdjieff -- that there must be some misunderstanding, at least on my part, concerning her function at the school. I did not have to wait very long for further developments. A "coffee summons" came from his room only a few minutes later.
When I arrived at his room with the coffee, the typist, as I had expected, was sitting with him. I served the coffee and then Mr. Gurdjieff turned to me with one of his "winning" smiles: "You know this lady?" he asked.
I said that, yes, I knew her.
He then said that she had spoken to him and that he under stood that she had asked me to perform an errand for her and that I had refused. I said that it was true and that, besides, everyone else performed their own errands.
He agreed that this was so, but said that he had not had time to instruct her about everything and that he would appreciate it very much if, on this one occasion and as a favour to him, because she was very important to him, I would be kind enough to do what she asked. I was baffled and even angry, but I said, of course, that I would. She handed me the money and I went to the store and bought her soap. I assumed that, however I might feel, he had a good reason for asking me to do the errand for her and decided that the incident was closed. Perhaps she was actually "special" in some way that I had not realized; Gurdjieff, at least, appeared to think she was.
I was furious, however, when after I had given her the soap ant! her change, she gave me a tip and said that she was sure that I now realized that she had been right in the first place, and that she hoped Mr. Gurdjieff's action had made it clear to me. I smouldered, but managed to hold my tongue. I also managed not to mention it to Mr. Gurdjieff when I saw him, but I continued to smoulder.
Several days later, on a weekend, a number of guests arrived. Gurdjieff welcomed them at his usual little table near the lawns, in front of the terrace where the typist was at work. I brought coffee for all of them and served it. He indicated, with a gesture, that I was not to leave, and then proceeded to tell the assembled guests that he could hardly wait to show them his new marvels, his two wonderful new acquisitions: an electric icebox and a "touch typist". He then told me to lead the way to the pantry where the new refrigerator had been installed, and the guests were properly mystified upon being shown an ordinary model Frigidaire which, as Gurdjieff put it, "all by self can make ice", even, "without my help" -- a true product of the genius of the western world. This inspection completed, we all went back to the terrace to inspect the second marvel who, also "without my help and even without looking at keys", was able to type his book. The typist stood up to greet him but Gurdjieff, without introducing her, told her to sit down. Then, at his command, she typed "without even looking at keys" but gazing triumphantly off into space.
Gurdjieff stood among his guests, gazing at her with unbounded admiration, speaking of her as another product of the "genius" of the western world. I was, actually, fascinated by the ability to use the touch system on a typewriter and my own interest and admiration were unfeigned. Gurdjieff suddenly, looked in my direction and smiled an enormous, broad smile, as if we shared some huge joke together, and then told me to collect the coffee cups.
It was not until much later that evening, in his room, that he referred to the typist once more. He spoke first of the "electric icebox" -- "only have to put in plug and instantly box make noise of humming and begin produce ice." He smiled at me again, conspiratorially. "Is so with German lady. I like plug -- I tell type, and she also begin make noise and produce not ice, but book. Wonderful American invention."
I almost liked her then, and would have been happy to do her errands from that time on. I could not refrain from saying so, and Gurdjieff nodded at me, looking pleased. "When you help typing lady, you help me, like giving oil to machine which keep working; this wonderful thing."