Vain Tale—No. DCXLVII.


Vanity Fair (UK), April 23, 1903


THE porter came to the door of the carriage and said that the boxes were all in. After which he stood gazing pensively at the roof of the station as if it interested him.

The millionaire felt in his pockets. He was pleased with things to-day. He had just completed the promotion of the European, Asiatic, and East African Ham Sandwich and Pork Pie Supply Company, Limited; which he anticipated would transfer quite a considerable sum of money to his own pockets from those of the widow and orphan. It was a theory of his that the widow and the orphan had quite enough troubles in normal circumstances without having to bear those which were the inevitable attendants of wealth. He always did his very best to prevent them from becoming rich.

“Er, porter,” he said, “fact is, I’ve nothing but sovereigns.”

The porter murmured something about a sovereign being good enough for the likes of him; but the millionaire pretended not to hear him. “Let us effect a compromise,” he said, genially. “Here is a cigar. I paid half-a-crown for it. Take it, and with it my blessing.”

Now, the porter was a man with ideas above his station. His station—not that it signifies—was Victoria. It had always been his ambition to smoke a really good cigar. He remembered his father telling him as a boy the story of a friend of his who knew a man who had once smoked a cigar. He grasped the proffered weed gratefully; and the train bore the millionaire away into the unknown.

That night, when he reached home, the porter smoked his cigar. At the first whiff a look of reverential awe passed over his face. He laid his cigar down and went softly upstairs. Ten minutes later he reappeared, dressed in his Sunday clothes. His hair shone with pomatum; his face was practically spotless, and even his hands were not so grimy as they had been. He felt that this was not a cigar to be smoked heedlessly and without respect. It was an event. When he had finished he called his little boy to him, patted him (gently) on the head, and said that if he ever had a penny to spare he might possibly give it to him, though he refused to bind himself by any definite promise. Then he went to bed without kicking his wife. It was a red-letter day in the annals of the household.

On the following evening the porter felt a strange craving within him. He came to the most natural conclusion, and as soon as work was over sped blithely to the bar-room of the Green Leopard. But, strange to say, when, at twelve-thirty, he was ejected by an indecently muscular barman, the craving still remained. At one-thirty a local policeman found our hero recumbent on a doorstep, and very promptly gathered him in. The charge, originally “Drunk and incapable,” was altered to “Drunk and disorderly,” on the guardian of the law sustaining a severe blow au derrière from our hero’s boot.

A fortnight afterwards the porter came out of prison—a changed man, a man with but one object in life. His object was to smoke such another cigar as the one which he had received from the millionaire.

His life was now not altogether a happy one. He felt discontented. Once he had been content with his pipe. Now shag had ceased to charm, and plug filled him with positive loathing.

Time rolled on.

The porter met a stout old gentleman in a lonely road. The stout old gentleman looked prosperous and wealthy, so the porter knocked him down and jumped on him. Subsequently he went through his pockets. The stout old gentleman had no money, and the only thing that was in his cigar-case was a visiting-card. The porter was rather sorry that he had been so hasty. At the trial the Judge remarked that he had much pleasure in sentencing the porter to the maximum penalty permitted by the law. He said he wished he could make it more. The porter begged him not to apologise. The newspapers called him a Hooligan, and several other stout old gentlemen wrote indignant letters asking why we did not flog these dastardly ruffians. A wideawake journalist, with his finger on the public pulse, wrote a series of articles on the “cat.” Two years afterwards the porter came out of prison again. The craving for a good cigar was worse than ever. He blew up a bank with dynamite (stolen), in the hope of obtaining funds sufficient for his purpose. All that he found was a button. It was an excellent button, but of very little use to a person not in the habit of contributing to the weekly offertory. He returned to prison; by request.

Twenty years afterwards he emerged once more. The craving had by this time become simply terrible. He arrived at the conclusion that life without half-crown cigars was not worth living. As he strolled along the Embankment, he ran against a man. “I know that face,” he said; “you are the millionaire! Give me a cigar—a half-crown cigar. Quick!”

“Alas!” said the millionaire, “cigars are no longer in my line. Something went wrong with the European, Asiatic, and East African Ham Sandwich and Pork Pie Supply Company, Limited, and the police would have it that it was my fault. I have just come out of Portland. Dull place, Portland.”

“Beastly. I have just come out of Dartmoor. Bad place, Dartmoor.”

“Awful. I was just strolling along looking for a clean bit of water to jump into.”

“So was I. How would this do?”

“Capitally. After you, Sir.”

Then two splashes told that two more people had solved the Overcrowding of London Problem.



Published unsigned in Vanity Fair; entered by Wodehouse in Money Received for Literary Work.