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Mr. Know-All

W.S. Maugham


Once I was going by ship from San-Francisco to Yokohama. I shared my cabin with a man called Mr. Kelada. He was short and of a sturdy build, cleanshaven and dark-skinned, with a hooked nose and very large liquid eyes. His long black hair was curly. And though he introduced himself as an Englishman I felt sure that he was born under a bluer sky than is generally seen in England. Mr. Kelada was chatty. He talked of New York and of San Francisco. He discussed plays, pictures and politics. He was familiar. Though I was a total stranger to him he used no such formality as to put mister before my name when he addressed me. I didn't like Mr. Kelada. I not only shared a cabin with him and ate three meals a day at the same table, but I couldn't walk round the deck without his joining me. It was impossible to snub him. It never occurred to him that he was not wanted. He was certain that you were as glad to see him as he was glad to see you. In your own house you might have kicked him downstairs and slammed the door in his face.

Mr. Kelada was a good mixer, and in three days knew everyone on board. He ran everything. He conducted the auctions, collected money for prizes at the sports, organized the concert and arranged the fancy-dress ball. He was everywhere and always. He was certainly the best-hated man in the ship. We called him Mr. Know-A11, even to his face. He took it as a compliment. But it was at meal times that he was most intolerable. He knew everything better than anybody else and you couldn't disagree with him. He would not drop a subject till he had brought you round to his way of thinking. The possibility that he could be mistaken never occurred to him.

We were four at the table: the doctor, I, Mr. Kelada and Mr. Ramsay.

Ramsay was in the American Consular Service, and was stationed at Kobe. He was a great heavy fellow. He was on his way back to resume his post, having been on a flying visit to New York to fetch his wife, who had been spending a year at home. Mrs. Ramsay was a, very pretty little thing with pleasant manners and a sense of humour. She was dressed always very simply, but she knew how to wear her clothes.

One evening at dinner the conversation by chancedrifted to the subject of pearls. There was some argu- ment between Mr. Kelada and Ramsay about the value of culture and real pearls. I did not believe Ramsay knew anything about the subject at all. At last Mr. Kelada got furious and shouted: "Well, I know what I am talking about. I'm going to Japan just to look into this Japanese pearl business. I'm in the trade. I know the best pearls in the world, and what l don't know about pearls isn't worth knowing."

Here was news for us, for Mr. Kelada had never told anyone what his business was.

Ramsay leaned forward.

"That's a pretty chain, isn't it?" he asked pointing to the chain that Mrs. Ramsay wore.

"I noticed it at once," answered Mr. Kelada. "Those are pearls all right."

"I didn't buy it myself, of course," said Ramsay. "I wonder how much you think it cost."

"Oh, in the trade somewhere round fifteen thousand dollars. But if it was bought on Fif th Avenue anything up to thirty thousand was paid for it."

Ramsay smiled. "You'll be surprised to hear that Mrs. Ramsay bought that string the day bef ore we left New York for eighteen dollars. I'll bet you a hundred dollars it's imitation."


"But how can it be proved?" Mrs. Ramsay asked.

"Let me look at the chain and if it's imitation I'll tell you quickly enough. I can afford to lose a hundred dollars," said Mr. Kelada.

The chain was handed to Mr. Kelada. He took a magnifying glass from his pocket and closely examined it. A smile of triumph spread over his face. He was about to speak. Suddenly he saw Mrs. Ramsay's face. It was so white that she looked as if she were about to faint'. She was staring at him with wide and terrified eyes. Mr. Kelada stopped with his mouth open. He flushed deeply. You could almost see the effort he was making over himself. "I was mistaken," he said. "It's a very good imitation." He took a hundred-dollar note out of his pocket and handed it to Ramsay without a word. "Perhaps that'll teach you a lesson," said Ramsay as he took the note. I noticed that Mr. Kelada's hands were trembling.

The story spread over the ship. It was a fine joke that Mr. Know-All had been caught out. But Mrs. Ramsay went to her cabin with a headache.

Next morning I got up and began to shave. Suddenly I saw a letter pushed under the door. I opened the door and looked out. There was nobody there. I picked up the letter and saw that it was addressed to Mr. Kelada. I handed it to him. He took out of the envelope a hundred-dollar note. He looked at me and reddened.

"Were the pearls real?" I asked.

"If I had a pretty little wif e I shouldn't let her spend a year in New York while I stayed at Kobe," said he.


Art for Heart's Sake'

R. Goldberg


"Here, take your juice," said Koppel, Mr. Ellsworth's servant and nurse.

"No," said Collis P. Ellsworth.

"But it's good for you, sir!"

"The doctor insists on it."

Koppel heard the front door bell and was glad to leave the room. He found Doctor Caswell in the hall downstairs.

"I can't do a thing with him," he told the doctor." He doesn't want to take his juice. I can't persuade him to take his medicine. He doesn't want me to read to him. He hates TV. He doesn't like anything!"

Doctor Caswell took the information with his usual professional calm. This was not an ordinary case. The old gentleman was in pretty good health for a man of seventy. But it was necessary to keep him from buying things. His financial transactions always ended in failure, which was bad for his health.

"How are you this morning? Feeling better?" asked the doctor. "I hear you haven't been obeying my orders."

The doctor drew up a chair and sat down close to the old man. He had to do his duty. "I'd like to make a suggestion," he said quietly. He didn't want to argue with the old man.

Old Ellsworth looked at him over his glasses. The way Doctor Caswell said it made him suspicions. "What is it, more medicine, more automobile rides to keep me away from the office?" the old man asked with suspicion. "Not at all," said the doctor. "I've been thinking of something different. As a matter of fact I'd like to suggest that you should take up art. I don't mean seriously of course," said the doctor, "just try. You'll like it."

Much to his surprise the old man agreed. He only asked who was going to teach him drawing. "I've thought of that too," said the doctor. "I know a student from an art school who can come round once a week. If you don't like it, after a little while you can throw him out." The person he had in mind and promised to bring over was a certain Frank Swain, eighteen years old and a capable student. Like most students he needed money. Doctor Caswell kept his promise.

He got in touch with Frank Swain and the lessons began. The old man liked it so much that when at the end of the f irst lesson Koppel came in and apologised to him for interrupting the lesson, as the old man needed a rest, Ellsworth looked disappointed.

When the art student came the following week, he saw a drawing on the table. It was a vase. But something was definitely wrong with it.

"Well, what do you think of it?" asked the old man stepping aside.

"I don't mean to hurt you, sir...", began Swain.

"I see," the old man interrupted, "the halves don't match. I can't say I am good at drawing. Listen, young man," he whispered. "I want to ask you something before Old Juice comes again. I don't want to speak in his presence."

"Yes, sir," said Swain with respect.

"I've been thinking... Could you come twice a week or perhaps three times?"

"Sure, Mr. Ellsworth," the student said respectfully.

"When shall I come?"

They arranged to meet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

As the weeks went by, Swain's visits grew more frequent. The old man drank his juice obediently. Doctor Caswell hoped that business had been forgotten forever.

When spring came, Ellsworth painted a picture which he called "Trees Dressed in White." The picture was awful. The trees in it looked like salad thrown up against the wall. Then he announced that he was going to display it at the Summer Show at the Lathrop Gallery. Doctor Caswell and Swain didn't believe it. They thought the old man was joking.

The summer show at the Lathrop Gallery was the biggest exhibition of the year. All outstanding artists in the United States dreamt of winning a Lathrop prize.

To the astonishment of all "Trees Dressed in White" was accepted for the Show.

Young Swain went to the exhibition one af ternoon and blushed when he saw "Trees Dressed in White"

gi l 'B0 ii di of the strange picture, Swain rushed out. He was ashamed that a picture like that had been accepted for the show.

However Swain did not give up teaching the old man. Every time Koppel entered the room he found the old man painting something. Koppel even thought of hiding the brush from him. The old man seldom mentioned his picture and was usually cheerful.

Two days before the close of the exhibition Ellsworth received a letter. Koppel brought it when Swain and the doctor were in the room. "Read it to me," asked the old man putting aside the brush he was holding in his hand. "My eyes are tired from painting."

The letter said: "It gives the Lathrop Gallery pleasure to announce that Collis P. Kllsworth has been awarded the First Landscape Prize of ten thousand dollars for his painting "Trees Dressed in White".

Smain became dumb with astonishment. Koppel dropped the glass with juice he was about to give Ellsworth. Doctor Caswell managed to keep calm. "Congratulations, Mr. Ellsworth," said the doctor. "Fine, fine... Frankly, I didn't expect that your picture would win the prize. Anyway I've proved to you that art is more satisfying than business."

"Art is nothing. I bought the Lathrop Gallery," said the old man highly pleased with the effect of his deception.



Date: 2015-01-11; view: 3374

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