THE LAST INSTANCE.
Punch, April 1, 1903
“The journalistic profession,” said Tebbit, “is full of perils. Have you heard about Smythe?”
I said that I had not heard about Smythe. Tebbit needed no further encouragement.
“It is my painful task to inform you,” he said, “that Smythe, though still living in a sort of way, is for all practical purposes no more. He is going to be married.”
“Married!” I gasped. “Smythe! The perfect bachelor, the chaffer at Cupid, the mocker at matrimony, the detester of domesticity! Surely you are thinking of another Smythe. You have mistaken the name.”
“No,” said Tebbit, “there is, alas, no mistake. She is a Mrs. Robinson.”
“Tell me all,” I said. “What were you saying about the perils of journalism?”
And Tebbit explained.
“Smythe,” he said, “after roughing it for four years at Oxford, came down without, of course, the remotest notion of what he intended to do for a living. The Civil Service was out of the question. Smythe was a man of parts, but his talents did not lie in that direction. Finally, after he had rejected the Army as philistine and commerce as bourgeois, he consented to a compromise. He was to think the matter over, and in the meanwhile to read for the Bar.
“It was while he was reading for the Bar—at the Millennium Palace of Varieties—that he met a college friend of his. Over a social beaker they discussed the position. The friend suggested that Smythe should take to journalism. It was the finest profession in the world, he said. All that you had to do was to write articles and send them to different papers, and the editors sent them back by return of post. In fine, a game closely resembling Ping-pong, only easier. A child of ten could master it in five minutes.
“Smythe was immensely taken with the idea. He became a journalist, and shortly afterwards got the post of ‘Aunt Jane’ on a paper called The Cosy Corner. His business was to answer correspondence, much of which dealt with the subject of proposals of marriage. How should they be made? How should they be rejected?”
“Well?” I said.
“Well,” said Tebbit, “for some time these presented no difficulty to Smythe. During his University career it had been a sort of hobby of his to propose to at least one of his partners at every dance he attended. I remember once remonstrating with him for this, as being opposed to his known bachelor principles. But he replied, with some show of reason, that as his personal appearance was curious rather than striking there was no danger, and it all helped to make conversation. In this way he had gathered some very useful facts about the whole art of refusing a proposal of marriage. As for the question of how such proposals should be made, he held definite views on the subject, and his male correspondents never went empty away.
“After a time it occurred to him that it might be profitable if he collected these fugitive papers, and published them in book form. Spoopendyke and Brown took the book, paid him a magnificent royalty, and asked for more. He was to write a companion volume, entitled More Refusals, on his own terms. Smythe accepted the offer, drew up a list of terms in a large and liberal spirit, and set to work to collect material.
“To all attempts on the part of his friends to dissuade him he paid no attention. You see he had been paid in advance, and long since spent the money. A week ago he told us that one more instance would complete the volume. He said he was determined to make it a good one. He was, in my opinion, intoxicated with success. Otherwise there is no accounting for his criminal rashness in proposing to Mrs. Robinson. We all did our best to save him.”
“Alas, poor Smythe!” I sighed.
“And the most pitiful part of the whole business,” said Tebbit, “is that the unhappy man actually appears now to enjoy his position. And”—here Tebbit completely broke down—“he—he’s threatened to send me a piece of the wedding-cake!”
Unsigned story as printed; credited to P. G. Wodehouse in the Index to Vol. 124 of Punch.