THE HERO AND HIS PRICE.
Punch, July 19, 1905
[The Globe suggests that, owing to the inconvenience caused by the difficulty of hitting upon a suitable reward for one’s rescuer when one is saved from death or accident, there should be a scale of payment for heroes.]
In Mr. Justice Motley’s court yesterday, John Smith, describing himself as a hero, claimed the sum of fifteen shillings from Thomas Brown as payment for services rendered on the 16th ult. Mr. Robinson, K.C., counsel for the plaintiff, briefly set forth the facts of the case. On the afternoon of the day in question the plaintiff, who was a well-known rescuer, was walking by the River Thames near Henley, when he observed defendant struggling in the water. He proceeded to dive in and bring him safely to shore. On plaintiff’s demanding the usual fee (fifteen shillings and a cigarette) defendant had refused to admit his claim. It was more in the interest of his profession than for personal reasons that plaintiff, who was a wealthy man, had brought the action. If rescued men were allowed to evade their obligations in this manner, the profession of rescuing could not continue, and hundreds of deserving workers would be thrown into the ranks of the unemployed.
Examined by Mr. Jones, K.C., counsel for the defence, Mr. John Smith said that it was quite true that he was a wealthy man. He had been a hero for some years.
Mr. Jones. And it is a well-paid profession?
The Plaintiff. Not ill-paid. For an ordinary rescue—that is to say, if the rescuer is in his ordinary clothes—fifteen shillings is the reward. If he is in his Sunday clothes, the fee is higher. Thus, if he dives in to save a man with his frock-coat on and wearing patent-leather boots he receives a guinea and an invitation to High Tea, naming his own day. But if he happens to be wearing brown boots with his frock-coat, the invitation to High Tea is not enforced. In the eyes of the law, patent-leathers are more costly than brown boots.
Mr. Justice Motley. What boots it?
[Hysterics in Court. Officer X 45 becomes limp with laughter.
Mr. Jones. On this occasion how were you dressed?
The Plaintiff. In my ordinary clothes.
Mr. Jones. How was your attention first attracted to the defendant’s position?
The Plaintiff. I am always on the look-out. It is my profession.
Mr. Justice Motley. In fact, with you it is a case of look out and hook out, eh?
[Paroxysms of laughter.
Mr. Jones. You are not the John Smith who pushed a little boy into the Pond in 1899 in order to earn the fee for rescuing him?
The Plaintiff. I am not. I never rescue boys. It is not worth a busy man’s while. Amateur heroes do it, I believe; but while the rate of payment is only seventeen-and-six per half-dozen no professional will touch them.
The defendant then entered the box.
Mr. Jones. Is it true, Mr. Brown, that on the afternoon of the 16th of last month the plaintiff pulled you out of the river?
The Defendant. Yes, confound him!
Mr. Justice Motley. He found you.
Mr. Jones. Why are you annoyed?
The Defendant. Well, I was just beginning a bathe. I’d been looking forward to it all day. And no sooner had I got in than this fellow drags me out, making me swallow pints of water on the way.
Mr. Jones. You did not need his services?
The Defendant. Not a bit.
Mr. Jones. The plaintiff asserts that you were in obvious distress. He says you were splashing violently.
The Defendant. I was practising the Trudgeon stroke.
Mr. Jones. You were not sinking?
The Defendant. Not a bit of it.
Mr. Justice Motley. You can take a man to water, but you can’t make him sink.
[Loud laughter, during which Mr. Punch’s Representative was carried out in a state of collapse.
Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 129 of Punch.
The Trudgen stroke was named after English swimmer John Trudgen (1852–1902); the erroneous alternate spelling trudgeon is common enough to be mentioned in the original edition of the OED.