Punch, October 21, 1903


[“At a Sunday school at Wellington, Somerset, some weeks ago each of the boys was presented with a strong cigar, and they were promised that if they attended regularly they would be presented with cigarettes. On the following Sunday each boy present received a packet of ten or a dozen.”—Daily Mail.]

There was a timid knock at the study door. The head boy, absorbed in a novel, took no notice. The knock was repeated, louder but still nervous.

“Come in,” he growled, taking his meerschaum from his mouth.

It was the house master. He sidled into the study and sat down, looking nervous and uncomfortable, on the extreme edge of a chair.

“Well?” said the head of the house, “what is it now?”

“Er—how nice your study looks, Brown. What a pretty tobacco-pouch. May I examine it? Thank you, thank you. Very nice, very nice.”

“Come to the point. What do you want?”

The master cleared his throat, and hesitated for a moment.

“The fact is, Brown,” he said, speaking rapidly,—“well, to put it briefly, were you thinking of coming over to school this afternoon?”

“What the—well, I’m—well, this takes it. Isn’t the staff of St. Asterisk’s capable of minding its own business for a single day with an effort?”

“Well, the fact is, Brown, that it—er—well, really, you know, it is almost my business. The headmaster has sent over to ask me to find out if possible what are your plans for this afternoon. I think, you know, really I think he would like to see you there to-day. You have not been to the form-room for nearly three weeks now.”

“Oh, I can’t,” said the head of the house, yawning. “It’s such a beastly bore sitting there on beastly hard uncomfortable forms with no cushions or anything. Won’t some other day do?”

“Well, to-day would be very convenient if you could manage it. The sixth form are going to do Homer for the first hour. I know you like Homer, Brown. That master of description, that expert in vigour!”

“Homer,” said the head of the house succinctly, relighting his pipe, “is rot.”

“But it will only last for an hour, and then you will do Aristophanes. You must enjoy Aristophanes, Brown. What verve! What wit! What esprit! Do come, Brown.”

“Aristophanes,” said the head of the house, “is a man I particularly bar. His wit is simply puerile, and would disgrace a Surrey-side music-hall. If that’s the best you can offer me, I certainly shan’t think of coming.”

“But it isn’t all. The headmaster told me to tell you that he had just got a new brand of tobacco, and he wanted you to try it.”

“Ah,” said Brown, with awakening interest. “That so? What is it?”

“He called it ‘Belgravia Mixture.’ ”

“Muck,” said the head of the house, briefly. “You’d much better run along now. Good-bye.”

Then the house master played his ace of trumps.

“He also told me to tell you that a friend of his had sent him a box of really good cigars, splendid cigars, and if you will come, he will put the box on his desk, and you can have as many as you like.”

“H’m. Cigars. What brand?”

“Cabanas. A special crop.”

“In that case,” replied the head of the house thoughtfully, “I’m not half sure I won’t look in. Yes, you can tell him to expect me some time between three and four, unless it rains.”

“Oh, thank you,” said the house master joyfully, “he will be pleased. How good you are to us, Brown!”

“Not at all,” the head of the house murmured, picking up his book; “shut the door after you.”




Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 125 of Punch.




“BOYS GIVEN CIGARETTES FOR GOING TO SUNDAY SCHOOL. It is scarcely conceivable that in these days, when this habit of cigarette smoking among children has so grown that it has to be checked by penal Acts in some States of America, cigarettes should be held out as an inducement for boys to attend Sunday School. Such, however, is the case at All Saints’ Sunday School, Wellington, in Somerset, the Vicar of which is the Rev. R. Lowman Land. Some Sundays ago each of the boys was presented with a strong cigar and they were promised that if they attended regularly, and induced others to come, that they would all be presented with cigarettes. The attendance the following Sunday increased nearly a hundred per cent, and soon after they were smoking. Nearly all the lads were altogether too young to be encouraged in the habit. The parents of the boys were not consulted on the matter.” – (Abridged) (North Devon Journal, October 8, 1903)


John Dawson