It is pretty generally admitted that Geoffrey Chaucer, the eminent poet
of the fourteenth century, though obsessed with an almost Rooseveltian
passion for the new spelling, was there with the goods when it came to
profundity of thought. It was Chaucer who wrote the lines:
The lyfe so short, the craft so long to lerne,
Th' assay so hard, so sharpe the conquering.
Which means, broadly, that it is difficult to paint a picture, but a
great deal more difficult to sell it.
Across the centuries Paul Boielle shook hands with Geoffrey Chaucer.
'So sharpe the conquering' put his case in a nutshell.
The full story of his wanderings with the masterpiece would read like
an Odyssey and be about as long. It shall be condensed.
There was an artist who dined at intervals at Bredin's Parisian Cafe,
and, as the artistic temperament was too impatient to be suited by
Jeanne's leisurely methods, it had fallen to Paul to wait upon him. It
was to this expert that Paul, emboldened by the geniality of the
artist's manner, went for information. How did monsieur sell his
pictures? Monsieur said he didn't, except once in a blue moon. But when
he did? Oh, he took the thing to the dealers. Paul thanked him. A
friend of him, he explained, had painted a picture and wished to sell
'Poor devil!' was the artist's comment.
Next day, it happening to be a Thursday, Paul started on his travels.
He started buoyantly, but by evening he was as a punctured balloon.
Every dealer had the same remark to make--to wit, no room.
'Have you yet sold the picture?' inquired Jeanne, when they met. 'Not
yet,' said Paul. 'But they are delicate matters, these negotiations. I
use finesse. I proceed with caution.'
He approached the artist again.
'With the dealers,' he said, 'my friend has been a little unfortunate.
They say they have no room.'
'I know,' said the artist, nodding.
'Is there, perhaps, another way?'
'What sort of a picture is it?' inquired the artist.
Paul became enthusiastic.
'Ah! monsieur, it is beautiful. It is a woodland scene. A beautiful
'Oh! Then he had better try the magazines. They might use it for a
Paul thanked him effusively. On the following Thursday he visited
divers art editors. The art editors seemed to be in the same unhappy
condition as the dealers. 'Overstocked!' was their cry.
'The picture?' said Jeanne, on the Friday morning. 'Is it sold?'
'Not yet,' said Paul, 'but--'
'Bah!' said Jeanne, with a toss of her large but shapely head.
By the end of the month Paul was fighting in the last ditch, wandering
disconsolately among those who dwell in outer darkness and have grimy
thumbs. Seven of these in all he visited on that black Thursday, and
each of the seven rubbed the surface of the painting with a grimy
thumb, snorted, and dismissed him. Sick and beaten, Paul took the
masterpiece back to his skylight room.
All that night he lay awake, thinking. It was a weary bundle of nerves
that came to the Parisian Cafe next morning. He was late in arriving,
which was good in that it delayed the inevitable question as to the
fate of the picture, but bad in every other respect. M. Bredin,
squatting behind the cash-desk, grunted fiercely at him; and, worse,
Jeanne, who, owing to his absence, had had to be busier than suited her
disposition, was distant and haughty. A murky gloom settled upon Paul.
Now it so happened that M. Bredin, when things went well with him, was
wont to be filled with a ponderous amiability. It was not often that
this took a practical form, though it is on record that in an exuberant
moment he once gave a small boy a halfpenny. More frequently it merely
led him to soften the porcine austerity of his demeanour. Today,
business having been uncommonly good, he felt pleased with the world.
He had left his cash-desk and was assailing a bowl of soup at one of
the side-tables. Except for a belated luncher at the end of the room
the place was empty. It was one of the hours when there was a lull in
the proceedings at the Parisian Cafe. Paul was leaning, wrapped in the
gloom, against the wall. Jeanne was waiting on the proprietor.
M. Bredin finished his meal and rose. He felt content. All was well
with the world. As he lumbered to his desk he passed Jeanne. He
stopped. He wheezed a compliment. Then another. Paul, from his place by
the wall, watched with jealous fury.
- Ксения Ибрагимова