John Bondone set a painting on the wall with some of his other work. It had already been sold, with the rest of his paintings, to Wilhelm Apollinaire, for an enormous amount of money. Wilhelm had shown an interest in John’s work from the time John was still honing his skill in college. He had given John the offer of unlimited funding, in exchange for the first opportunity to buy all of his future work, which must be no less than one painting every six months. Years later, the contract still stood, but Wilhelm had been presented with one painting every six days, not every six months, and he had bought all of them. Thus John became rich, and Wilhelm filled a warehouse with his work.
John looked at his work and smiled. The painting showed a man standing at the top of a high mountain, looking down at the empty valley below. The path he had trod, marked by the grass ground into mud by his boots and the trees cut down to stumps by his knife, was still visible in the side of the mountain as he looked down from its peak. The man looked tired, as from an immense effort, and proud, as of a great accomplishment. Wilhelm had never liked paintings like this. He paid more for paintings of heroes winning victories on a battlefield, or for anything where one man won something in front of others.
John turned regretfully from his paintings to the pile of mail on his kitchen table. He had been so eager to finish his painting that he had not opened his letters yet. He dropped the first two letters in the garbage, but he opened the third. It was an invitation from Wilhelm to a showing at the city gallery. The front of the invitation was one of John’s paintings, his favorite, a self-portrait that he had made after discovering a new way of combining acrylic paints. But it bore Wilhelm’s signature.
John arrived at the gallery with his hair disarranged and his clothes sweaty, as if he had been sprinting. In fact, he had taken a taxi to the gallery, but had been so upset that his body produced this condition. He charged up the stairs leading into the gallery and found Wilhelm standing at the entrance. Giving the man the same look that he would give a convicted rapist, he stumbled into the gallery, saw one of his paintings – and immediately became very calm.
Wilhelm approached him from behind and whispered in his ear. “John, you should not have been so humble. If you had put your signature on your paintings, I could not have done this.”
John answered him. “No, my humility is what saved me. Look more closely, thief.”
And in the bottom corner of the painting, in very small letters, was the name, “John Bondone.”