The Millionaire's Telegram

The Millionaire's Telegram  (1896) 
by Barry Pain

Extracted from To-day Magazine, 28 March 1896, p. 231. A sketch.


by Barry Pain.

In an office of palatial size and magnificently appointed, sat Eugene Vandergould, by profession a millionaire. The clock on his table—a tiny enamel toy, fitted with historical associations, and worth far more than its weight in gold—whispered in a soft, sweet voice that it was eleven o'clock. In a fit of irritation, he flung the clock into the fireplace, and once more bent his attention on the papers before him. There were two of them, both in his own handwriting. The first ran:—

"Mrs. Vandergould, The Hall, Dollington. Find I can be back to dinner after all. Am taking special train, reaching Dollington at seven. Send carriage to meet it. Am bringing Henry with me."

Once more counted the words. There were thirty-two of them, and a telegram of thirty-two words costs one shilling and fourpence instead of the normal sixpence. A spasm of pain passed over the millionaire's face, and he turned hurriedly to the second paper. It was as follows —

"Vandergould, Hall, Dollington. Find can return dinner. Taking special. Arrive Dollington seven. Send carriage meet. Bringing Henry."

He sighed.

Yes, it was better — much better. It had brought it down to seventeen words, but seventeen words cost eightpence halfpenny, and a telegram can be sent for sixpence. "Can be!" he exclaimed. "It must be — it shall be! It shall be got down to twelve words, if I die in the attempt."

A clerk knocked and entered. A Royal Duke had called to see Eugene Vandergould by appointment. The millionaire stamped his foot impatiently.

"Tell him," he said, "that I'm sorry, but I can't see him. I am particularly busy this morning. He can call again on Wednesday if he likes."

He buried his head in his hands, and ground his heel into the priceless Persian carpet. Light broke at last. The word Hall in the address was inessential, and could be struck out. A few more moments' thought, and light broke again. "Arrive seven" would do just as well as "arrive Dollington seven." He had got it to fifteen words now. Three more words cut out, and his task would be accomplished.

His secretary entered, white to the lips. An important cable had arrived from the manager of the mine, belonging to a company of which Vandergould was a director. The cable ran—

"Mine flooded. All the gold stolen during night. Hands have struck. Entire machinery burned down. But am doing my best."

"I do wish," said Vandergould, "you wouldn't bother me with these trifles when I'm busy."

Only three more words to go! If he could have struck out "Send carriage meet," the thing would have been done. But he could not take it for granted that the carriage would meet him in any case. He had given general instructions that it was never to meet him unless ordered; that little walk from the station to his house was often the only exercise that he got in the day, and he valued that exercise for his health's sake.

At one o'clock, when Vandergould entered an adjoining room for luncheon, the telegram still stood at fifteen words. He ate little, and kept the copy of the telegram before him.

At five o'clock in the afternoon it was impossible to wait any longer. The telegram now ran—

"Vandergould, Dollington. Shall return dinner by special, arriving seven, with Henry. Send carriage."

It was thirteen words—just one word too many. He summoned a clerk, and told him to have it sent off.

"It will be," he seemed to speak with difficulty, "it will be sixpence halfpenny." His face was distorted with mental anguish and his prolonged effort at compression of style. The clerk had hardly shut the door before a pistol-shot rang through the building.

They found Vandergould dead on the floor, killed by his own hand.


At the inquest the clerk gave evidence that the deceased had sent a telegram of thirteen words, which might have been brought down to ten.

A juror asked if he was sure of this.

The coroner said that if it was so, it practically settled the case.

The clerk read the telegram as given him. He then pointed out that it might have run—

"Vandergould, Dollington. Arriving by special, seven, with Henry. Send carriage." The words "Shall return dinner" were immaterial, as the sense of them would be understood from the fact that he was arriving at seven.

The coroner said that it could be hardly necessary to take up the time of the jury with further evidence, and they at once returned a verdict of "Temporary insanity."

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.

The longest-living author of this work died in 1930, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 92 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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