I think it was in 1906 that in one of the principle cities in India the son of a rich man became ill. He had high fever and delirium and in his insensible state he was constantly talking in a language which was some kind of English but which ... Read more of The Boy Possessed at Scary Stories.caInformational Site Network Informational
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When My Wife Is Asleep And All The House Is Still








Perhaps the heading of this paper will deceive some readers into
thinking that I smoke nowadays in camera. It is, I know, a common jest
among smokers that such a promise as mine is seldom kept, and I allow
that the Arcadians tempt me still. But never shall it be said of me with
truth that I have broken my word. I smoke no more, and, indeed, though
the scenes of my bachelorhood frequently rise before me in dreams,
painted as Scrymgeour could not paint them, I am glad, when I wake up,
that they are only dreams. Those selfish days are done, and I see that
though they were happy days, the happiness was a mistake. As for the
struggle that is supposed to take place between a man and tobacco, after
he sees smoking in its true colors, I never experienced it. I have not
even any craving for the Arcadia now, though it is a tobacco that should
only be smoked by our greatest men. Were we to present a tin of it to
our national heroes, instead of the freedom of the city, they would
probably thank us more. Jimmy and the others are quite unworthy to smoke
it; indeed, if I had my way they would give up smoking altogether.
Nothing, perhaps, shows more completely how I have severed my bonds than
this: that my wife is willing to let our friends smoke in the study, but
I will not hear of it. There shall be no smoking in my house; and I have
determined to speak to Jimmy about smoking out at our spare bedroom
window. It is a mere contemptible pretence to say that none of the smoke
comes back into the room. The curtains positively reek of it, and we
must have them washed at once. I shall speak plainly to Jimmy because I
want him to tell the others. They must understand clearly on what terms
they are received in this house, and if they prefer making chimneys of
themselves to listening to music, by all means let them stay at home.

But when my wife is asleep and all the house is still, I listen to the
man through the wall. At such times I have my brier in my mouth, but
there is no harm in that, for it is empty. I did not like to give away
my brier, knowing no one who understood it, and I always carry it about
with me now to remind me of my dark past. When the man through the wall
lights up I put my cold pipe in my mouth and we have a quiet hour
together.



I have never, to my knowledge, seen the man through the wall, for his
door is round the corner, and, besides, I have no interest in him until
half-past eleven P.M. We begin then. I know him chiefly by his pipes,
and them I know by his taps on the wall as he knocks the ashes out of
them. He does not smoke the Arcadia, for his temper is hasty, and he
breaks the coals with his foot. Though I am compelled to say that I do
not consider his character very lovable, he has his good points, and I
like his attachment to his brier. He scrapes it, on the whole, a little
roughly, but that is because he is so anxious to light up again, and I
discovered long ago that he has signed an agreement with his wife to go
to bed at half-past twelve. For some time I could not understand why
he had a silver rim put on the bowl. I noticed the change in the tap
at once, and the natural conclusion would have been that the bowl had
cracked. But it never had the tap of a cracked bowl. I was reluctant
to believe that the man through the wall was merely some vulgar fellow,
and I felt that he could not be so, or else he would have smoked his
meerschaum more. At last I understood. The bowl had worn away on one
side, and the silver rim had been needed to keep the tobacco in.
Undoubtedly this was the explanation, for even before the rim came I was
a little puzzled by the taps of the brier. He never seemed to hit the
wall with the whole mouth of the bowl, but of course the reason was that
he could not. At the same time I do not exonerate him from blame. He is
a clumsy smoker to burn his bowl at one side, and I am afraid he lets
the stem slip round in his teeth. Of course, I see that the mouth-piece
is loose, but a piece of blotting-paper would remedy that.

His meerschaum is not such a good one as Jimmy's. Though Jimmy's
boastfulness about his meerschaum was hard to bear, none of us ever
denied the pipe's worth. The man through the wall has not a cherry-wood
stem to his meerschaum, and consequently it is too light. A ring has
been worn into the palm of his left hand, owing to his tapping the
meerschaum there, and it is as marked as Jimmy's ring, for, though Jimmy
tapped more strongly, the man through the wall has to tap oftener.

What I chiefly dislike about the man through the wall is his treatment
of his clay. A clay, I need scarcely say, has an entirely different tap
from a meerschaum, but the man through the wall does not treat these two
pipes as if they were on an equality. He ought to tap his clay on the
palm of his hand, but he seldom does so, and I am strongly of opinion
that when he does, it is only because he has forgotten that this is not
the meerschaum. Were he to tap the clay on the walls or on the ribs of
the fireplace he would smash it, so he taps it on a coal. About this
there is something contemptible. I am not complaining because he has
little affection for his clay. In face of all that has been said in
honor of clays, and knowing that this statement will occasion an outcry
against me, I admit that I never cared for clays myself. A rank tobacco
is less rank through a church-warden, but to smoke the Arcadia through a
clay is to incur my contempt, and even my resentment. But to disbelieve
in clays is one thing and to treat them badly is another. If the man
through the wall has decided, after reflection and experiment, that his
clay is a mistake, I say let him smoke it no more; but so long as he
does smoke it I would have it receive consideration from him. I very
much question whether, if he reads his heart, he could learn from
it that he loves his meerschaum more than his clay, yet because the
meerschaum cost more he taps it on his palm. This is a serious charge
to bring against any man, but I do not make it lightly.

The man through the wall smokes each of these three pipes nightly,
beginning with the brier. Thus he does not like a hot pipe. Some will
hold that he ought to finish with the brier, as it is his favorite, but
I am not of that opinion. Undoubtedly, I think, the first pipe is the
sweetest; indeed, I feel bound to make a statement here. I have an
uneasy feeling that I never did justice to meerschaums, and for this
reason: I only smoked them after my brier was hot, so that I never gave
them a fair chance. If I had begun the day with a meerschaum, might it
not have shown itself in a new light? That is a point I shall never be
able to decide now, but I often think of it, and I leave the verdict
to others.



Even though I did not know that the man through the wall must retire at
half-past twelve, his taps at that hour would announce it. He then gives
each of his pipes a final tap, not briskly as before, but slowly, as if
he was thinking between each tap. I have sometimes decided to send him a
tin of the only tobacco to smoke, but on the whole I could not undertake
the responsibility of giving a man whom I have only studied for a few
months such a testimonial. Therefore when his last tap says good-night
to me, I take my cold brier out of my mouth, tap it on the mantelpiece,
smile sadly, and go to bed.






Previous: My Last Pipe



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