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The World’s Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906.

Antonio Ribot y Fontseré (1813–1871)

Eccentric Britons

From the Periodical “La Risa”

I ONCE knew an Englishman who was poorer than a retired Spanish sublieutenant, and more parsimonious than an old-clothes man. If, perchance, he managed to lay hold of a couple of pennies, he would put aside three halfpence for possible contingencies, and satisfy his wants with the remaining halfpenny. It happened, one day, that he was fortunate enough, with the assistance of an intelligent Newfoundland dog, which, by the way, he loved like a brother, to save from drowning a nobleman’s daughter who had fallen into the Thames. Ten years afterward he unexpectedly received from the girl’s father a gift of two hundred thousand pounds sterling. If this joyful announcement produced any change in the mind of the beneficiary, it certainly could not be read in his countenance. On the following day his creditors called on him in a body to offer their congratulations; but what was their astonishment to see him lying on the floor of his room bathed in his own blood, dead! Near the body they found a letter containing these words:
  • “No one is responsible for my death, nor yet for my misfortune. In the act of self-destruction I was happy. I possessed health and riches. Nevertheless, I wanted to kill myself, in the first place, because it was my pleasure so to do, and, in the second place, because since infancy it has been my dearest wish to have a capital of one hundred thousand pounds sterling, and I now find myself in possession of double that sum. I leave half of my wealth to my Newfoundland dog, in order that he may gratify to the top of his bent his taste for tunny-fish, of which he is passionately fond; and the other half I leave to him who shall take upon himself the responsibility of purchasing tunny-fish for my dog.
  • (Signed)GREY.”
  • It is hardly necessary to state that all those who found the last will and testament of the defunct expressed themselves as delighted to fulfil its conditions. It was noteworthy, however, that the dog, which was present during the reading of his master’s letter, that affected him so directly, did not give vent to the least manifestation of joy. This indifference of the dog attracted a great deal of attention in London, and even caused excitement, especially on the Stock Exchange. The will of the defunct was declared invalid, and, in order to avoid complications, the two hundred thousand pounds sterling were returned to the coffers of their original owner.

    The noble lord, who thus found himself in possession of a sum he had considered gone forever, thought of no better way of using it than to satisfy a caprice, the result of which was to make him famous throughout the United Kingdom as an eccentric. He proposed a wager to a wealthy merchant that he could not sell two hundred sovereigns, offering them for sale one at a time during a period of six hours on one of the most busy thoroughfares of the capital. This proposition caught the merchant, as it would have caught any one, and he accepted the wager, which was for nothing less than two hundred thousand pounds sterling, perfectly convinced that it was impossible for him to lose.

    They chose a court holiday, on which immense crowds passed over Westminster Bridge on their way to St. James’. The merchant and the nobleman placed themselves at one end of the bridge, holding between them a large coffer filled with sovereigns. “Pounds sterling for sale!” cried the merchant in a loud voice; and the lord for his part did nothing else but laugh; for such were the stipulated conditions. The people passed on with such words as, “Great heavens! what an absurdly simple trick! Sovereigns for sale! What sort of coins do you think they are?”

    The merchant was in despair. A casual stroller took up one of the sovereigns and looked at it closely, but at last, noticing the laughter that the lord pretended he could not repress, threw back the coin, saying, “They are a very good imitation, but they don’t deceive me.”

    “Pounds sterling for sale!” shouted the merchant unceasingly, but the more he repeated the phrase, the more the public cried out upon what they considered an outrageous fraud directed against their pockets. The performance lasted from nine in the morning until three in the afternoon, the merchant shouting and the lord laughing.

    The end of it was that the former lost his bet.

    Only two sovereigns were sold, and even those were believed bad by the student who bought them, his object being to get them exchanged in some of his low haunts. When he found that they were taken without question, he hurried back to Westminster at the top of his speed to purchase more, but he arrived too late; the lord and the merchant had disappeared. This did not surprise the student, because he knew that such good and cheap wares could be disposed of in a moment; but he bitterly regretted having neglected to profit by a chance that would have enriched him at small cost.