Contest entry - a story of great deeds and lesser actions done well
Once upon a few years still to come, in a land quite near to here, a man had a dream, a huge, monumental and awe-inspiring dream. He decided that he, Arnold Quixote, would lead a team of colonists to settle on a suitable planet recently discovered in the Andromeda constellation.
Fortunately for Arnold, the anti-grav drive had been invented a couple of years before the birth of his dream so the journey had become quite feasible. Calculations pointed to the voyage lasting no more than about thirty years. Not so fortunately, Arnold was not the richest man on earth and the cost of building a craft to transport his colonists was well beyond his means. He would have to achieve the feat by appealing for public donations.
Arnold was no mean fund raiser and he inspired people with explanations of his dream and how it could be realised. For a while the money flowed in steadily, mounting every day closer towards his estimate of the total cost.
And then the donations came to an abrupt stop. Investigation revealed that Arnold had actually exhausted the charitable urges of humanity. People still yearned to contribute but they were, if I may coin a phrase, flat broke. Things were even more desperate than might appear since Arnold had been spending money as it came in, employing people to design the craft and train volunteer colonists, prepare the actual creation of the ship and plot out the route. The threat of bankruptcy hung over Arnold’s growing corporation.
Salvation came unexpectedly from a most unlikely quarter. A shadowy and little known trust fund, The Koos van Velderman Fund for Magnificent Endeavours (KaVome for short) stepped forward and offered to pay the balance to ensure the project’s completion. Arnold was wary of the strings that might be attached to such a magnanimous offer and he set his secretary to researching the background of the fund. Within the set seven day deadline for acceptance of the offer, the secretary reported back.
He opened with this statement. “I have examined everything that is known about KaVome and it turns out that history is the key to this riddle. It all begins with how the fund came to be in existence.” There was a lot of waffling after this but, ultimately, he began to tell the following story.
Many centuries ago there lived an artist, a painter by the name of Koos van Velderman. He was a Dutchman and, like others of his ilk, he painted reality with amazing clarity and precision. His preferred subjects tended to be scenes of ordinary life among the common people and this proved to be his undoing. The fashion in his time was for painters to create portraits of important people, to illustrate events of significant import and to imagine classical scenes of gods lying around in Elysian Fields. No one wanted poor Koos’ depictions of menial life and he became trapped in a terrible circle of consequence: because he was unable to sell his work, he remained unknown and, because he was unknown, no rich patrons came knocking at his door. He lived a life of precarious poverty as a result, surviving on the support of friends and relatives. Somehow he avoided having to sell his house thanks to a few local businesses taking pity on him and buying the odd painting or two.
Koos lived a happy enough life, painting the things around him that he found most beautiful, and when he had grown old and began to think of his death, he decided on a scheme to allow him one last chance of immortality. Knowing that fashion is a creature of infinite and endless change, he foresaw that, in time, the taste for the high and mighty would fade away and be replaced by an interest in the real glories of daily life - the very things he had spent a lifetime preserving in paint. When that happened, his paintings would be worth millions (of guilders or whatever currency you prefer).
Gathering his friends around him, Koos used the last of his money to set up a trust fund to hold his collection of paintings until they became valuable. Those leaders of local businesses who had helped him were appointed as trust managers and one of them made available a warehouse for storage of the collection (which now consisted of thousands of paintings). Everyone involved was quite satisfied with the arrangement and, being Dutch, they agreed not to spread news of the trust abroad.
Two years later, Koos died. The neighbourhood mourned their local artist briefly, then returned to their usual round. The fund (now rejoicing under the magnificent name abbreviated to KaVome) faded into the background to spend over a hundred years in silent and invisible inaction. The Netherlands became even richer as trade prospered and spread.
In time it became clear that old Koos had been correct in his estimation of fashion. Grandiose and overstated paintings of dignitaries and classical dreams fell out of favour and the market turned its thoughts toward common life, so much more suited to a country that now enjoyed freedom and prosperity. KaVome began to sell its paintings, just a few at first but in greater numbers as prices held and increased. The fund was becoming rich.
After another century had passed, the warehouse had been emptied and the local banks bulged with the savings of KaVome. It was only then that the fund began to invest, judiciously and carefully (the managers were still Dutch after all). The banks groaned with the extra weight of gold that poured into their vaults from KaVome. But still the fund kept quiet and never spent any of the cache apart from salaries and general upkeep.
Another couple of hundred years and we arrive in the time of Arnold and his gargantuan dream. Only now does KaVome step forth from the shadows and make its generous offer of funding to the project. It may seem that this was an unlikely gesture coming from so secretive and fabulously rich a foundation but a quick survey of the articles outlining the terms in which the fund had been set up allays all suspicions.
Everything had been foreseen by the talented and now esteemed Koos van Velderman. The sole aim of the trust had been decided as to “wait until the greatest adventure ever undertaken by mankind begins and then to put all the considerable weight of the fund behind the project in order to bring it to fruition.” There had always been general agreement that Arnold Quixote’s dream was the greatest adventure of all and the fund managers did not disagree (remember that they were Dutch and not given to rash decisions therefore). The contract of funding was signed and preparations for interstellar travel went ahead full speed.
No need to go into the matter of success or failure of the dream. These I leave to the imagination of you, dear reader, since our purpose is already achieved. This little story within a story is surely the clearest demonstration that…
If you cannot do great things, do small things in a great way.
-- Napoleon Hill
Word Count: 1,201