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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Justus van Maurik (1846–1904)

The Commercial Traveler

“OH, I beg a thousand pardons! It is indeed stupid of me to come in unannounced, but——”

We were sitting over our breakfast, when a short, hurried knock sounded at the door. I called out, “Come in!” and saw before me an entire stranger, who, with an embarrassed smile, said the words set down above.

I went to meet him, and said courteously, “Perhaps you are mistaken in the number, or do you really wish to see me?”

“I beg a thousand pardons!” he repeated, stepped back a little, and added, “The servant showed me in. I asked whether the master was at home, and she gave me to understand that I would find you in the drawing-room. But I know now how the mistake arose. You have only moved in here recently, have you not?”

“Only two weeks ago.”

“Aha, I thought so. You will permit me to explain myself. Before you, Mr. Zyrok, an intimate friend of mine, lived here; and so, whenever I passed through town, I was accustomed to call on him, and to walk straight in. I dare say you were surprised.”

“Well, yes, I was. But the mistake is a perfectly natural one. Your friend Zyrok has moved to the Heerengracht.”

“Ah, indeed? He told me nothing about it. But forgive me for having disturbed you. Heerengracht, you said?”


“I’ll go there at once. He probably expects me, because his Pontac must be nearly used up.”

“I beg your pardon?” I thought I had not understood.

“His Pontac, I said—vintage of ’78. He can’t have much left. But, to be sure, I have forgotten to introduce myself. I am the representative of the wine-merchants, Kolik & Co., of The Hague. For years I have furnished my friend with the most excellent wines, and so you understand——”

Oh, yes! I began to understand. Here was a sly fellow indeed, one who knew how to utilize every opportunity.

It occurred to me now that the very day before this I had had a large sign with my name on it fastened to my door. I approached the door, and said, somewhat curtly, “To err is human——”

“To be sure, and therefore you will forgive me. But since chance has brought me into your house, you will permit me to recommend my firm to you. Perhaps you need some fine old Pontac or Larose——”

“I am very sorry—I am supplied with everything.”

He did not permit me to finish, but went on with an engaging smile:

“I do not for a moment question the excellence of your cellar, but I should merely like to venture the remark that our Batailly Pontac is a very different thing from the Pontac ordinarily furnished by wine-merchants. The initiated can tell the difference!”

“Allow me to inform you that, on account of my health, I very seldom drink wine.”

“Indeed? That is very strange. To-day most physicians are of the opinion that a good glass of red wine is excellent—especially our Pontac—even surpassed, perhaps, by our Pomys Agassæ, vintage of ’84. Such a bouquet! And it is recommended by all physicians——”

“Possibly; but since I suffer from rheumatism, I drink——”

“Little or no wine. And you make a mistake, a very great mistake. Rheumatism is a disease that originates in the blood, and nothing cleanses the blood so thoroughly as a glass of our old red wine. Forty-five bottles for forty-eight florins—delivered at your house. But if you were thinking of buying a cheap table wine, I could recommend our Baour Lénéjac with a good conscience; it is pure and strong, yet light. It is quite absurdly cheap—only thirty-seven florins a keg. My friend Zyrok is crazy over it, and I had to promise to keep a supply of it for him. But since you, on account of your health, are in absolute need of something pure and unadulterated, I would let you have a small keg—only as a sample, of course.”

“It is very good of you, but I really cannot make use of your offer.”

I approached the door in the hope of getting rid of the philanthropic gentleman. But my hope was short-lived.

“For your own sake I wish you had taken the Baour, but perhaps our Beaujolais would be more to your taste. Do you know Beaujolais?”


I began to grow impatient. I put my hand on the knob of the door, and said, “My time is limited, and I must beg you——”

“I understand thoroughly, nor do I wish to detain you. Only I wish to call your attention to the fact that we alone keep this Beaujolais. It has a bouquet, an aroma—you cannot imagine it. Something like Burgundy, but lighter. May I send you a sample? I do not wish to persuade you to take a barrel. Heaven forbid! Our firm is far too famous to be obliged to praise its wares. But this Beaujolais is so excellent that I should like to have had your judgment on it. But let me send you a small assortment: one dozen bottles Baour, one dozen Pontac, one dozen Lénéjac, and one Pomys. Then you will see for yourself how excellent our wines are. The head of our firm has vineyards near Kreuznach, so if you need Rhine wine you may get it at its very source.”

“You are certainly invaluable!” I exclaimed.

“What do you mean?” he asked courteously.

“Invaluable to your firm. I have never seen such perseverance.”

“That is my trade,” he said dryly. “But how about port wine? We have a splendid brand—white port. No other firm in Holland has it.”

“Thank you, I don’t need any port.”

“Madeira, perhaps?”

“Nor that either.”





“Marsala des Princes? Or a magnificent Tokay?”

“Sir, I have no more time to waste with you!”

I glanced at the half-open door.

“Yes, you are right. It would be discourteous to keep you any longer, but it would be equally unpardonable if I failed to call your attention to our white Bordeaux: Graves, Haut Sauternes, Château Yquem, Muscatel——”

I was growing more and more impatient. I would never get rid of the man by normal methods. Then I had a sudden inspiration. Slowly I closed the door.

“Do you happen to know a Mr. Johannes Gram at The Hague?” I said.

“To be sure! How should I fail to know the author of so many excellent stories and sketches? By the way, he is a connoisseur. He knows a good glass of wine!”

“Is he a customer of yours?”


“I thought so.”


“I’ll tell you. Do you know Mr. Schootmanns?”


“Yes, the well-known Schootmanns?”

“Oh, him? Of course. A capital fellow. I thought you said Schottmann. But the well-known Schootmanns—he drinks Burgundy—Graves. Would you like to try that?”

“Well—so I was right when I said that in his comedy, The Well-known Schootmanns, Graves must have drawn his characters from real life.”

“What! a comedy?”

“Yes, and a charming piece. My not being able to get rid of you involuntarily made me think of the play; and since you assure me that Schootmanns really exists, it is quite clear that the author took you as his model for the character of the typically persistent commercial traveler.”

My visitor looked taken aback at last. He twirled his little mustache, and stammered:

“I’m really sorry, very sorry——”

I opened the door. He was outside at last. The fresh air seemed to revive him and to give him back his power of speech, for just as I was about to close the door he turned to me with a smile:

“Oh, yes, I forgot the champagne. We have an excellent brand, Marquis de——”

I heard no more, for I slammed the door so hard that all the lamps and windows in the building rattled.

I never saw the representative of Kolik & Co. again.