The Portrait

A Londoner who cherishes every vestige of the cockney, WOLF MANKOWITZ graduated from Cambridge University and within six years established himself as one of the leading dealers in wedgwood. Now in his late twenties, he writes as he pleases, dividing his time between authoritative studies of the Cortland vase, plays for the London theater, and fiction. His two latest novels. Make Me an Offer and A kid lor Two Farthings, are being filmed. Atlantic readers will recall his story, ’"The Finest Pipe Maker in Russia.’ in the November issue. We look forward to publishing a number of his other stories in the months ahead.

by WOLF MANKOWITZ

NOT very many strangers came to my great-grandfather’s village, but when it happened, everyone knew and avoided them — not that they felt unfriendly, but because usually strangers came from the police or the army or the tax collectors, and who wants to talk to such people?

So, early one spring, a stranger arrived in the village and tried to start conversations, without anyone answering more than “Yes” or “No,” and sometimes even less. Now this stranger carried a box on his back and wore his beard trimmed close to his face. He was a big man, too, and what with his red neck and the black beard he looked like a bull. He walked about the village the whole day, sometimes pulling out a book to write something, and smiling at people when they unsmiling hurried past him, until at last be began to feel that perhaps no one liked him very much. Just as he came to this conclusion he happened to be walking past my great-grandfather’s workshop.

My great-grandfather bent over his bench working a piece of wood into the shape of a pipe bowl. Though he didn’t look up, he saw the stranger; and furthermore, he saw the stranger take out his book and write something in it. As he wrote, the stranger looked up every so often at my great-grandfather’s workshop until my great-grandfather decided that even if the man watching him was a tax collector he should at least know what he was going to get into trouble for. So he put down his chisel and went outside.

The stranger watched him as he walked up to the gate slowly. My great-grandfather considered meanwhile which would be the best way to address the foreigner. Should he call him plain “Sir” or “Your Lordship” or what? But before he could decide, the man ran up the path toward him. He clapped his arms round my great-grandfather and shouted right in his ear, “I have searched Russia for this face!”

And the stranger embraced my great-grandfather before anything could be done to stop him, still shouting, “My God — this is the face I have been looking for!”

By this time my great-grandfather realized he was dealing with a madman; so, doing his best not to make things worse, he got himself out from his grip and walked back a few paces. The madman stood there with his arms stretched out, a stupid smile on his face, looking like a bull smiling, and he said happily, “I never expected to find such a face in such a village as this, never.”

Though he didn’t quite see why a face such as his shouldn’t be found in his own village, my greatgrandfather decided not to argue with the madman about that. Instead he said to him, “If you don’t mind my asking you, what are you embracing me for?" To which the man replied, “I have always known this face in my mind. Only now for the first time I have seen it.”

Which made my great-grandfather think, “Who wants to argue with a madman?” though he said, “Well, I’m glad you like it, but if you don’t want to buy a pipe now I’ll go back to my workshop.” And he turned to go back into his workshop.

Before he could walk more than two or three yards the man rushed up to him and shouted again as at first, “You must let me have it!”

By now my great-grandfather was getting a little annoyed, because he was always a man with a quick temper. Once he lost his temper with anyone it was not such a good thing for that person. But still he kept polite and said to the madman, “ Please. You only just now said to me that you liked my face and you didn’t want to buy a pipe. Now you want it. Either you want to buy a pipe or you do not want to buy a pipe. I don’t mind which.” And he pushed the man’s hand off his shoulder.

But the madman wouldn’t go. Again he said, “You must let me have it. You must give me your face.”

This was altogether too much for my greatgrandfather. He turned away saying, “Please do me a favor and stop making jokes with me. I am a poor man with work to do.”

Yet still the madman — he must have been really mad —wouldn’t leave him alone. He shouted — he was always shouting — “I only mean you should let me paint a picture of you.”

My great-grandfather, who had never seen a picture of himself, stopped with his back toward the madman — who was perhaps not so mad after all. He thought of a picture of himself which everyone could see and recognize and point at and say, “Look at that! Isn’t it him to the very life? You know who that is? He is the finest pipe maker in all Russia. Why shouldn’t there be a picture of him?” After thinking which he turned round and asked, “Why should you want to paint me? And how much would you charge?”

The madman, who was (as you can tell) really an artist, answered very quickly, “Believe me, my good sir, it would be a pleasure and a privilege for me to paint your portrait for nothing.”

Which made my great-grandfather wonder whether there was something else behind it after all. But when he told the artist, “I wouldn’t be able to have a painted image made in my own house. I’m a religious man, you must realize,” the artist said, “You shouldn’t worry about that. I will paint the picture here in your own front yard and everyone in the village shall see it, and then with your permission I will take it back to the city for other people to see.”

So my great-grandfather said to himself, If people want to see my painted picture and this madman wants to paint my picture, why should I make so many people disappointed? After all, this madman is no fool. Hasn’t he picked me from among everyone in the village? And he replied to the man, “All right, then. I give you my kind permission to paint me.”

To which the artist answered, very excited, “Thank you, thank you. Let us begin now.”

My great-grandfather, never having had his portrait painted before, said, “All right, then. Paint.” And he turned for the third time to go back into the house. But the artist explained to him that he had to sit still for a while, and after a lot of fuss they brought out a small piece of wood for putting the paints on, and all the other things which he used for painting. There were so many of these things I haven’t got the time to tell you all about them. But what does it matter? However many things there were they were needed for painting my great-grandlaiher s portrait.

2

THE artist, who was a quick workman, finished the painting in a couple ol hours, and all the time my great-grandfather kept asking him, “Well, is it finished? How much longer?”

But the artist was so polite, and told him so many times that this was the face he had been looking for everywhere, that my great-grandfather sat more or less still the whole time, thinking about how the village would be surprised, and what the rabbi would say, and how jealous Reb Sholem Pinsk would be that the artist had not asked him if his face could be painted. Of course, my greatgrandmother was also there, standing near my great-grandfather hoping that the artist might be painting her into the picture as well. As for my young grandfather, he had run to all the houses telling them what was happening, so that more and more people crowded round the artist as be sat on his little stool painting. My young grandfather stood in the front of the crowd shouting out, “Now lie’s painting the nose. Now he’s painting the eye,”and so on, until the artist had finished, when my grandfather shouted out, “Now he’s finished! ”

Then the whole crowd, which had been watching very quietly, breathed out together, and no wonder, because the painting was the first one which had ever been made in the village, and what do you think? It looked exactly like my great-grandfather even to the eyes, one of which was brown while the oher was blue. Reb Sholem Pinsk, however, was speaking in a loud high voice, saying: —

“Such excitement over a little picture like this! In Pinsk everyone is painted, not little like this, but big — almost as big as a house.”

But no one took any notice because Reb Sholem was the only one who had seen pictures in Pinsk or anywhere else, and no one believed that he bad been to Pinsk anyhow.

When my great-grandmother saw the picture she was at first very upset because she wasn ‘t in it. She said, “How could he leave me out? Wasn t I standing there right beside the bench?

Still, when she saw all! the other women looking at the picture first up close and after from a little distance away, she decided it was indeed a proud moment for her. She stood beside the picture for the whole time it was in the yard with the crowd around it, smiling to everyone and bowing her head as if she had painted it herself. Oh, there was no doubt about it, the picture was very fine indeed, although my young grandfather was in the back yard having a fight with a boy who said it looked like the Tsar Nicholas himself. Everyone agreed the picture was a wonderful likeness except Reb Sholem. who kept asking: —

“Will anyone fell me whose picture this is? It is no doubt a very fine likeness, but surely it is no one in this village.”

However, who listened to him? They were all standing around my great-grandfather waiting there to shake him by the hand, to congratulate him and wish him long life. Everyone told the artist how clever he was, and the rabbi asked him if he wasn’t grateful to God for such a gift to be breathed into his hands, to which the artist replied that he most certainly was very grateful. Then Reb Sholem asked him how much a man could earn in the city making pictures like this, to which the artist replied, “No money could buy a picture like this.”

My great-grandfather smiled, and poured out brandy for everyone, while my young grandfather looked round to see if any more of the boys felt like saying the picture was a bad likeness.

Well, the artist stayed in the house of my greatgrandfather that night, as guest of honor, though the picture was left in the workshop because, as the rabbi pointed out, even such a good picture as this was in a sense a graven image and could not be kept in an orthodox house. My great-grandmother made a special borscht which was so thick it could be cut in slices, and there were plenty of potatoes as well. After everyone else had gone to bed, the artist stayed up talking with my great-grandfather. They finished another bottle of brandy, though what they talked about I do not know, because my grandfather was asleep on top of the stove at the time and consequently did not hear, and therefore was not able to tell me.

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THE next day the artist went. Everyone saw him off from the village. Afterward they spent days talking about what an honor it was for the village that my great-grandfather had been painted. Pity the artist took the picture away with him. It was wrapped up in cloth my great-grandmother cut from one of her best petticoats. A picture like that could only be wrapped in the best. It was nice that after the artist had left and my great-grandmother looked about the house, she could find nothing missing, which may have been because she had hidden away the silver sticks for the candles used on holidays and Friday evenings, and there was nothing else to steal in the house except the hens, which she then counted and found all present. It was, however, this artist and what happened to the silver candlesticks which he did not steal that brought the great shame of his life on my greatgrandfather. This shame was not to fall for several months, but it did fall, and when it fell it was a very great shame indeed.

What happened was this. Later on in the same year that my great-grandfather had his portrait painted, my young grandfather was sent to the market to buy some fish cheap. This market was held in the village over the hill where they were celebrating a holiday called Lent in which for some reason or other everyone goes crazy and cals fish the whole time. There was therefore a lot of fish on sale, though there were also stalls with fruit, vegetables, and even a few selling spindles —— which they make out of soft wood which grows in the forests near my great-grandfather’s village — and a stall with toys. Still almost all the stalls sold fish. Which means, since the peasants can catch their own fish, that it will be sold cheaply. So my young grandfather was sent over there to buy some fish, although when he returned out of breath and red in the face, he had, strange to say, brought no fish with him. When my great-grandmother asked where the fish was, he couldn’t answer, he was so excited and out of breath. Even when she asked him for the second time, “So where is the fish, you little loafer?” he still found it hard to reply, though in the end he managed to answer: —

“In the market there is a stall covered with pictures of my father.” At which my great-grandmother could hardly believe her ears. She put on her best shawl, and told my grandfather: —

“If this is only one of your stories I shall see to it that you are sorry for it. Telling your mother stories!” But he replied to her, “Come and see for yourself then. I am telling you — a stall is covered with big and small pictures of my father.” And he led my great-grandmother back to the market at a terrible pace.

When she got there my great-grandmother walked through the crowds looking all round, my grandfather following, eating an apple which he had found near a stall which happened to be selling apples. When he was about to eat the core, my great-grandmother stopped, turned round, and said to him, “Can I see this stall with pictures anywhere? Am I blind?”

My grandfather was so annoyed at not being believed the whole time, he threw away what was left of the apple core (there was very little), swallowed what was in his mouth, and shouted: —

“How do you expect to find it? Are you leading me or am I leading you? If you will only let me show the way instead of running everywhere like a squirrel, I will show you this stall with pictures of my father on it.” He was very annoyed.

Then he ran ahead so fast that my great-grandmother had trouble keeping sight of him. At last she saw him stop at a little stall at the end of the market. She hurried toward it promising herself she would see he had some of the nonsense knocked out of him even if he had told her the truth for a change. But she stopped before she got up to him. She stopped because on a large banner hung across the stall was a big ikon. And the face of the ikon — God should have forbidden it — was the faced my pious great-grandfather.

She was even more shocked when, on coming closer to the stall, she found that all the faces of all the ikons on the stall were the face of my greatgrandfather. Big ikons or little ones, there was no difference in the faces, and each one of them had the name of a different saint written underneath it, though of course they were not different saints, they were all ray great-grandfather.

Well, my great-grandmother blushed for shame. That a pious man like my great-grandfather should have a thing like this happen to him! She didn’t wait to ask the orthodox man who kept the stall any questions. She ran straight back to the workshop to tell my great-grandfather, though she remembered to shout as she passed my grandfather that he should buy some fish.

While his mother was away my grandfather went back to the apple stall to see if he could find any more apples. On the way he met a friend, and they decided that my grandfather should find apples while his friend asked the peasant whose stall it was and how much he would take for six pounds of apples. After they had done this, the friend explaining at length to the peasant that the apples were too dear, they went to a quiet part of the market and ate the apples which my grandfather had carried away in the legs of his trousers, which were tied at the outside with string.

Meanwhile my great-grandmother was explaining what she had seen to my great-grandfather, who was (as you might expect) struck dumb by the news, He was unable to think, so full was his mind of big and small ikons, all with his face painted on them. He also saw with his mind’s eye Reb Sholem Pinsk holding these ikons close to his face to see them properly, then looking round and laughing and rubbing his hands, telling everyone in the world about this great shame that had fallen upon my great-grandfather. After watching such things in his mind for so long that my greatgrandmother thought he was never going to answer, he pulled on his coat and rushed out of the house without a word.

My great-grandfather hurried to the market, found the stall, and stood dumbly looking at the ikons. While he wondered what to do, my grandfather was still eating apples with his friend, and already they were beginning to feel slight pains in the stomach though they still went on eating. My great-grandfather at last decided that all he could do was buy the ikons and bury them, he was about to speak to the orthodox man who kept the stall when the man said to him: —

“Haven’t I met you somewhere, in Lutzen perhaps? I seem to know your face. Yes, yes, it is Mendel the Carrier, surely.”

My great-grandfather said no, he was not Mendel the Carrier. He was in fact a pipe maker, and he would like to buy all the ikons on the man’s stall. The man looked in amazement and said: —

“What should an orthodox man with such side curls be doing with all these images, and anyhow, can any man be so religious as to want so many ikons?”

My great-grandfather said to him not to mind, that he wanted to make presents to all the peasants who were his customers, and that the man should make him a fair price for all the ikons. Well, naturally they argued for a long time, the man explaining that he had paid a big price for them but that’s how he was in business — he always paid too much for his goods; still, seeing as my great-grandfather was such a generous fellow, he would only ask him for six rubles for the whole lot complete.

“What? Six rubles? Am I made of money?” inquired my great-grandfather.

The man said all right, it was a terrible loss to him but he would take five rubles. Eventually, when my great-grandfather offered him two rubles, he said it was robbery but he would take three rubles and a pipe. All my great-grandfather had to do now was to find three rubles, and from where was he going to get so much money? A man can work a whole week and keep a family on a ruble, so where was he going to get three rubles from? There was only one man who could spare so much money in the village — Asher the Moneylender; but you think Asher was a moneylender because he was fond of giving people money? No. Asher always had to have something as security before be could give any money, and what did my greatgrandfather have which might be a security for three rubles? I have already mentioned them. He had a pair of silver candlesticks for the Sabbath and for holidays.

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Now a man may sell his animals or his piece of land or his cherry trees. He may even pawn his book if he has one, or his wife’s beads or anything else be likes, but he may not pawn his silver candlesticks. he may not pawn them because they are not really his. They belong to his father, and to his son and to his son’s son, and how will he keep the Sabbath without his candlesticks, where will his wife put the cuddles so that she can light them when the sun goes down, and everyone can sit around the table, and say prayers, and eat supper with the candles burning on the table, and people passing outside seeing the light from the candles and everyone looking forward to worshiping God and doing no work the next day? Obviously a man can’t pawn or sell his silver candlesticks. Without them his carry-on can fall to pieces. But in spite of this my great-grandfather was thinking about pawning his candlesticks. He asked himself which * was the greater shame, to do that or to be in every peasant’s hut under false pretense’s as Saint This and Saint That. While he could work to get back the candlesticks, what could he do to make up for being a saint under false pretenses in the peasants’ huts?

So he regretfully wrapped up the candlesticks in his coat and went out to pawn them, leaving my great-grandmother crying in the kitchen. He knew Asher never spoke about who came to him for money, but the whole way over to Asher’s house he saw himself on pieces of wood hanging up in the corners of cottages all over Russia with lights burning in front of him and peasants praying to him. Believe me, it was far better to pawn the candlesticks, even if it was the greatest shame that ever fell upon my great-grandfather.

After he had seen Asher the Moneylender and argued about how much the candlesticks were worth, and had been offered a ruble, then two rubles, he finally took three and a half rubles, promising to pay Asher back four because this, after all, was how Asher made his living. My greatgrandfather then rushed back to the market, where the orthodox man had already tied up all the ikons into a big parcel. He gave the parcel to my greatgrandfather and said to him:—

“For such a man as you who will spend money to make the peasants happy, I have a special gift.” And he handed him a little crucifix which he swore was made out of wood from the original cross.

All this time my grandfather was still with his friend, and as they rubbed their stomachs they said what rotten apples the peasants sold, and how they made a mistake to bother to steal them. My greatgrandfather didn’t notice them but took the parcel home, putting the little crucifix in his pocket. He took the ikons into his workshop to wait until night came when he could bury them. Meanwhile, my great-grandmother still cried in the kitchen, lamenting the loss of the candlesticks, for how could my great-grandfather ever pay Asher back, and why had such a shame fallen upon the family and upon the whole village?

All day my great-grandfather would not eat. He spoke to no one and did no work. At last he came to the conclusion that somehow or other he must get his money back for the ikons — he simply couldn’t afford to bury three rubles and the family candlesticks. But how to do it? He thought and thought and at last came to a solution. He sat up all night caning small faces out of soft wood. Though they weren’t very good likenesses of anyone, you could see they were faces. These he nailed onto the ikons, and then packed the whole lot up again. He would take them the very next day to the market and sell them — a brilliant plan of campaign.

WRich is what he did. But when he got to the market and set out the ikons, none of the peasants fancied them. My great-grandfather stood there with my young grandfather, feeling more and more certain he would never get back the candlesticks, and my great-grandmother would cry in the kitchen for years without stopping. He got so tired of waiting to sell an ikon, even one, that he went off for a glass of brandy to help him forget his troubles. He drank two or three brandies, but with each drink he only felt his troubles more and more. He began to sing a song to cheer himself up, but in spite of the fact it was a drinking song and consequently very happy, he began to cry a little, the tears dropping onto his beard. At last he decided he was wasting more money sitting there drinking only to get more miserable. He left the inn and found his way back to where my young grandfather was looking after the ikons.

When he finally got there my great-grandfather rubbed his eyes in amazement. What should he see but my young grandfather lying on the ground sleeping, with not a single ikon left. My greatgrandfather knew at once they had all been stolen, he had done right to get more miserable. It was his great bad luck to have only such a boy as my grandfather to leave in charge of things. He pushed him with his foot, shouting: —

“You fool, you! What have you done with all the ikons? You have let them get stolen while you sleep.”

My young grandfather jumped up and shouted right back, “What do you think this is, then?” He shook his pockets and they jingled like mad. Then he took money out of them and gave it to my great-grandfather.

When my great-grandfather realized that the candlesticks were saved, he wept over my grandfather and blessed him, and finally asked him how this miracle had happened. My grandfather explained, “I hung the ikons upside down one by one. A religious peasant may not see a saint treated like that. They bought to save them from being hung upside down,”

Still weeping my great-grandfather thanked God for such a son and went at once to Asher the Moneylender.

But at the same time, although everything came out all right in the eleventh hour, it was a shame on the family that even for a day the Sabbath candlesticks should be in pawn.