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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesMoon And Sixpence - Chapter 48
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Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 48 Post by :imported_n/a Category :Long Stories Author :W. Somerset Maugham Date :March 2011 Read :3185

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Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 48

It is here that I purposed to end my book. My first idea was
to begin it with the account of Strickland's last years in
Tahiti and with his horrible death, and then to go back and
relate what I knew of his beginnings. This I meant to do,
not from wilfulness, but because I wished to leave Strickland
setting out with I know not what fancies in his lonely soul
for the unknown islands which fired his imagination. I liked
the picture of him starting at the age of forty-seven,
when most men have already settled comfortably in a groove,
for a new world. I saw him, the sea gray under the mistral and
foam-flecked, watching the vanishing coast of France, which he
was destined never to see again; and I thought there was
something gallant in his bearing and dauntless in his soul.
I wished so to end on a note of hope. It seemed to emphasise
the unconquerable spirit of man. But I could not manage it.
Somehow I could not get into my story, and after trying once
or twice I had to give it up; I started from the beginning in
the usual way, and made up my mind I could only tell what I
knew of Strickland's life in the order in which I learnt the facts.

Those that I have now are fragmentary. I am in the position
of a biologist who from a single bone must reconstruct not
only the appearance of an extinct animal, but its habits.
Strickland made no particular impression on the people who
came in contact with him in Tahiti. To them he was no more
than a beach-comber in constant need of money, remarkable only
for the peculiarity that he painted pictures which seemed to
them absurd; and it was not till he had been dead for some
years and agents came from the dealers in Paris and Berlin to
look for any pictures which might still remain on the island,
that they had any idea that among them had dwelt a man of consequence.
They remembered then that they could have bought for
a song canvases which now were worth large sums, and they
could not forgive themselves for the opportunity which had
escaped them. There was a Jewish trader called Cohen, who had
come by one of Strickland's pictures in a singular way.
He was a little old Frenchman, with soft kind eyes and a pleasant
smile, half trader and half seaman, who owned a cutter in
which he wandered boldly among the Paumotus and the Marquesas,
taking out trade goods and bringing back copra, shell, and pearls.
I went to see him because I was told he had a large black
pearl which he was willing to sell cheaply, and when I
discovered that it was beyond my means I began to talk to him
about Strickland. He had known him well.

"You see, I was interested in him because he was a painter,"
he told me. "We don't get many painters in the islands, and I
was sorry for him because he was such a bad one. I gave him
his first job. I had a plantation on the peninsula, and I
wanted a white overseer. You never get any work out of the
natives unless you have a white man over them. I said to him:
`You'll have plenty of time for painting, and you can earn a
bit of money.' I knew he was starving, but I offered him good wages."

"I can't imagine that he was a very satisfactory overseer,"
I said, smiling.

"I made allowances. I have always had a sympathy for artists.
It is in our blood, you know. But he only remained a few
months. When he had enough money to buy paints and canvases
he left me. The place had got hold of him by then, and he
wanted to get away into the bush. But I continued to see him
now and then. He would turn up in Papeete every few months
and stay a little while; he'd get money out of someone or
other and then disappear again. It was on one of these visits
that he came to me and asked for the loan of two hundred
francs. He looked as if he hadn't had a meal for a week, and
I hadn't the heart to refuse him. Of course, I never expected
to see my money again. Well, a year later he came to see me
once more, and he brought a picture with him. He did not
mention the money he owed me, but he said: `Here is a picture
of your plantation that I've painted for you.' I looked at it.
I did not know what to say, but of course I thanked him, and
when he had gone away I showed it to my wife."

"What was it like?" I asked.

"Do not ask me. I could not make head or tail of it. I never
saw such a thing in my life. `What shall we do with it?'
I said to my wife. `We can never hang it up,' she said.
`People would laugh at us.' So she took it into an attic and
put it away with all sorts of rubbish, for my wife can never
throw anything away. It is her mania. Then, imagine to
yourself, just before the war my brother wrote to me from
Paris, and said: `Do you know anything about an English
painter who lived in Tahiti? It appears that he was a genius,
and his pictures fetch large prices. See if you can lay your
hands on anything and send it to me. There's money to be
made.' So I said to my wife. `What about that picture that
Strickland gave me?' Is it possible that it is still in the
attic?' `Without doubt,' she answered, ` for you know that I
never throw anything away. It is my mania.' We went up to the
attic, and there, among I know not what rubbish that had been
gathered during the thirty years we have inhabited that house,
was the picture. I looked at it again, and I said:
`Who would have thought that the overseer of my plantation on
the peninsula, to whom I lent two hundred francs, had genius?
Do you see anything in the picture?' `No,' she said, `it does not
resemble the plantation and I have never seen cocoa-nuts with
blue leaves; but they are mad in Paris, and it may be that
your brother will be able to sell it for the two hundred
francs you lent Strickland.' Well, we packed it up and we sent
it to my brother. And at last I received a letter from him.
What do you think he said? `I received your picture,' he said,
`and I confess I thought it was a joke that you had played on me.
I would not have given the cost of postage for the picture.
I was half afraid to show it to the gentleman who
had spoken to me about it. Imagine my surprise when he said
it was a masterpiece, and offered me thirty thousand francs.
I dare say he would have paid more, but frankly I was so taken
aback that I lost my head; I accepted the offer before I was
able to collect myself.'"

Then Monsieur Cohen said an admirable thing.

"I wish that poor Strickland had been still alive. I wonder
what he would have said when I gave him twenty-nine thousand
eight hundred francs for his picture."

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Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 49 Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 49

Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 49
I lived at the Hotel de la Fleur, and Mrs. Johnson, theproprietress, had a sad story to tell of lost opportunity.After Strickland's death certain of his effects were sold byauction in the market-place at Papeete, and she went to itherself because there was among the truck an American stoveshe wanted. She paid twenty-seven francs for it."There were a dozen pictures," she told me, "but they wereunframed, and nobody wanted them. Some of them sold for asmuch as ten francs, but mostly they went for five or six.Just think, if I had bought them I should be a rich woman

Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 47 Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 47

Moon And Sixpence - Chapter 47
I have tried to put some connection into the various thingsCaptain Nichols told me about Strickland, and I here set themdown in the best order I can. They made one another'sacquaintance during the latter part of the winter following mylast meeting with Strickland in Paris. How he had passed theintervening months I do not know, but life must have been veryhard, for Captain Nichols saw him first in the Asile de Nuit.There was a strike at Marseilles at the time, and Strickland,having come to the end of his resources, had apparently foundit impossible to earn the small sum he