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Another Ruined Trade

Punch, November 11, 1914

A little humor about civilians in World War I.

I had secured an empty compartment. Something in my blood makes me rush for an empty compartment. I suppose it is because I am a Briton, yet it was another Briton who intruded upon my privacy.

At the first glance I saw that he would talk to me about the — well, what do you expect? I can always tell when men want to talk about it. Would that I had the same subtle instinct when they wish to borrow money! I was ready for him. If he said, “Have you heard?” I was going to answer, “About the Secretary of State for War ordering Lord Fisher to be imprisoned in the Tower as a spy? Why, my brother-in-law told me all about it last week.”

Instead he put his hand on my knee and asked, “Are you a German?”

“Unless I am descended from Hengist or Horsa,” I replied, “there isn’t an atom of culture in me.”

“Then I can confide in you. A disturbance is advancing in this direction from Eastern Europe.”

“You mean that the Crown Prince is retreating towards us from Poland?”

“No,” he snapped. “And another disturbance is coming from the vicinity of Iceland.”

“Good heavens! This is too much. At my time of life how am I to learn how to pronounce Pzreykjavik.”

“Let me tell you what I prophesy for the next few days. Saturday will be bright.”

“Splendid! A cheerful week-end will do us all good.”

“Sunday will be gloomy, and on Monday will come the downfall.”

“William’s or ours?”

“Accompanied by strong south-westerly winds, rising to a gale, and a rapid fall of the barometer. So now you know. My mind is easy. I have told someone. I have been cruelly censored — only allowed to predict just wet or fine from day to day. I felt that I must tell someone. The Censor and Count Zeppelin between them were killing me.”

I pitied the agony of the professional weather forecaster. I promised to respect his confidence. I left the carriage proud of the fact that I was one of the two men in England who knew what Saturday’s weather would be. That is why I left my umbrella at home while apparently every other man took his out. It is also the reason why my new topper was ruined. And now I wonder whether the prophet was mistaken, or whether at the last moment he detected signs of culture in me and lied.


Punch, or “The London Charivari,” was a British humor (sorry, ‘humour’) magazine that ran from 1841 until 2002. It still has a Web site and cartoon library.

We were not able to find information about the authors of individual stories, so this author will have to remain anonymous. Project Gutenberg has the complete text of many Punch magazines, and you can find this issue here.


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