Simeon de Witt

Simeon de Witt

by Ezra Ames, 1804

Lifting the heavy curtains requires the hands of two servants every morning. But lifted they must be! Simeon needs every second of daylights to draw his maps. He dresses before the sun rises, so that not even a minute is wasted. He’s even ticked off having to pose for this portrait.

“Don’t they know who I am,” he silently mumbles. (Even though it’s silent, he still mumbles.) “Well,” he starts to reason, and dangerously, “this guy must know I’m important if he’s painting my portrait. Given his acknowledgement of my position, why does he insist on wasting my daylight?”

A servant might discern, through Simeon’s closed mouth, his tongue rolling around his teeth. A thoughtful man, or a deep thinker. But no. He’s debating with himself about his own importance. That may seem a cruel judgment to make of  a man. In fact, it very likely is cruel. Tragically, it is also accurate. Though de Witt would shrink in shame if this whimsical inner debate were expressed to others, he nonetheless had it. That is to say, he thought those thoughts. And for that, he is guilty.

A special nod should be directed toward the man though, for controlling his tongue.

The servants, lacking the perspective of an imaginative and dishonest omniscient narrator, know nothing of de Witt’s inner thoughts. His curtains rise every morning before the sun, without the faintest grumble.

There is one servant, the one that wakes first to bake the day’s bread, that secretly delights in the softness of the curtains as they rise. He leans in close, every day, pretending to get a good stance to pull the cord. He could pull the curtain’s cord with one hand. He just likes the soft velvet.

The other servant, also called Simeon, once spun the globe violently, thinking the master would not rise at such an ungodly hour. This was his first week on the job, of course. He joked about working in the dark and having only seen the sunrise, “going the other direction.” Showing off, he spun the globe hard and slammed his down on it as a brake. The slap sound that motion produced summoned Mr. de Witt. He threw his pen like a javelin, but the thing didn’t have enough weight to do anything but spin and drop to the floor, well before it could hit the other Simeon. The servant retrieved the pen from the floor, bowed, and delivered to the master, who tapped it on his servant’s head and said, “Do not touch … see to it, young man,” he sneered, “that you do not extend an unsolicited hand to my globe ever again. It is very expensive and I made it myself, so I could make another but I do not wish to. That is not to say that my chosen profession bores; quite the contrary…” With his head bowed, the servant was able to snicker unobserved at the bizarre lecture his new boss was punishing him with.

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