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BOYHOOD WITH GURDJIEFF

CHAPTER 4

My new work as "chair-carrier" or, as I thought of it then, "guardian," took a great deal of my time. I was excused from all other duties with the one exception of the never-ending lawns. I was able to keep up with my mowing, but I had to do most of it before Mr. Gurdjieff appeared in the morning, or after he had retired to his room in the latter part of the afternoon.

I have never known whether or not there was any truth to his story of partial blindness. I assumed it was true, because I always believed him implicitly -- he seemed unable to tell anything other than the truth, although his way of telling it was not always direct. It has been suggested to me, and it also occurred to me, that this job of chair-carrier and guide was invented on my account, and that he made up the story of blindness as an excuse. I doubt this if only because it would have given me an exaggerated importance, which is a thing that I cannot imagine Gurdjieff doing. I was important enough, simply because I had been selected, without any additional reasons.

In the weeks that followed -- probably a month in all -- I carried that armchair for miles each day, usually following him at a respectful distance. I was sufficiently convinced of his blindness because he frequently wandered from the path, and I would have to drop the chair, run to his side, warn him of whatever danger existed -- such as the possibility, often imminent, of his walking directly into the little ditch that ran through the property -- and then rush back to the armchair, pick it up, and follow him again.

The work that he directed at that time involved everyone at the school. There were several projects going on at once: building a road, which meant hammering stone with iron mallets to produce the proper size rocks; clearing an area of woodland by removing entire acres of trees as well as their stumps and roots with shovels and pick-axes. In addition to such special projects, the usual duties of gardening, weeding, picking vegetables, cooking, housekeeping, etc., continued incessantly. Whenever Mr. Gurdjieff inspected a given project for any length of time, I would join in with the other workers until he was ready to proceed to another one or to return to the house.

After about a month, I was relieved of my chair-carrying assignment and went back to regular lawn-mowing, and my turn at other regular duties: working in the kitchen one day a week, standing my regular day of duty at the concierge to open the door and answer the telephone.

During my period of following him, I had had to fit my lawn-mowing in, as I have said, when I could, and it was with some consternation -- since I had momentarily forgotten about the hill which I was eventually to scythe weekly --  that I found that when I got back to regular work, I had, without perceptible effort, achieved the goal he had set for me. At the moment of this discovery, one evening after tea when I had finished the fourth lawn that day, Mr. Gurdjieff was seated conveniently on a bench -- not at his usual table -- facing the lawns. I put the lawn mower away, and came back to the terrace and walked in his direction disconsolately. While I had never loved the lawns, the prospect of my next job made me feel sentimental about them. I stopped at what I thought of as a respectful distance from him and waited. I was wavering between telling him, and putting it off until some future time.

It was some time before he turned in my direction, as if angry with my presence, and asked me sharply if I wanted something. I nodded and went up to stand beside him. I said, quickly: "I can mow all the lawns in one day, Mr. Gurdjieff."

He frowned at me, shook his head, puzzled, and then said: "Why you tell me this?" He still seemed angry with me.

I reminded him of my new "job" and then asked him, almost tearfully, if I should start on that the following day.

He stared at me for a long time then, as if unable to remember or even to understand what I was talking about. Finally, with a brusque, affectionate, gesture, he pulled me roughly towards him and forced me down on the bench next to him, keeping his hand on my shoulder. Once again he smiled at me with that distant, incredible smile -- I have referred to it as "benevolent" before -- and said, shaking his head, "Not necessary work in field. You have already done this work."

I looked at him, confused, and greatly relieved. But I needed to know what I was to do -- continue with the lawns?

He thought about this for some time and then asked me how much longer I was going to be there. I told him that I was supposed to go back to America for the winter in about one month. He thought about this and then said, dismissing the subject as if it were unimportant now, that I would simply work in the group at the usual duties; gardening when I wasn't on kitchen or concierge duty. "Will have other work for you if you come back next year," he said.

Although I spent another month there that year, the summer seems to me to have ended at that moment. The rest of the time was like a void: uneventful and undramatic. Those of us, that is the children, who worked along with the adults in the gardens were able to make enjoyable games of picking fruit or vegetables, catching mole-crickets, slugs and snails, weeding here and there will little interest or devotion to our tasks. It was a happy place for children: we lived safely within the confines of a rigorous discipline with definite limits, and the framework -- except for the long hours -- was not hard on us. We managed to fit in a great deal of play and childish intrigue while the tireless adults looked at us indulgently with half-closed eyes.

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