My Smoking-table





Had it not been for a bootblack at Charing Cross I should probably never

have bought the smoking-table. I had to pass that boy every morning. In

vain did I scowl at him, or pass with my head to the side. He always

pointed derisively (as I thought) at my boots. Probably my boots were

speckless, but that made no difference; he jeered and sneered. I have

never hated any one as I loathed that boy, and to escape him I took to

going round by the Lowther Arcade. It was here that my eye fell on the

smoking-table. In the Lowther Arcade, if the attendants catch you

looking at any article for a fraction of a second, it is done up in

brown paper, you have paid your money, and they have taken down your

address before you realize that you don't want anything. In this way I

became the owner of my smoking-table, and when I saw it in a brown-paper

parcel on my return to my chambers I could not think what it was until

I cut the strings. Such a little gem of a table no smokers should be

without; and I am not ashamed to say that I was in love with mine

as soon as I had fixed the pieces together. It was of walnut, and

consisted mainly of a stalk and two round slabs not much bigger than

dinner-plates. There were holes in the centre of these slabs for the

stalk to go through, and the one slab stood two feet from the floor, the

other a foot higher. The lower slab was fitted with a walnut tobacco-jar

and a pipe-rack, while on the upper slab were exquisite little recesses

for cigars, cigarettes, matches, and ashes. These held respectively

three cigars, two cigarettes, and four wax vestas. The smoking-table

was an ornament to any room; and the first night I had it I raised my

eyes from my book to look at it every few minutes. I got all my pipes

together and put them in the rack; I filled the jar with tobacco, the

recesses with three cigars, two cigarettes, and four matches; and then

I thought I would have a smoke. I swept my hand confidently along the

mantelpiece, but it did not stop at a pipe. I rose and looked for a

pipe. I had half a dozen, but not one was to be seen--none on the

mantelpiece, none on the window-sill, none on the hearth-rug, none being

used as book-markers. I tugged at the bell till William John came in

quaking, and then I asked him fiercely what he had done with my pipes. I

was so obviously not to be trifled with that William John, as we called

him, because some thought his name was William, while others thought it

was John, very soon handed me my favorite pipe, which he found in the

rack on the smoking-table. This incident illustrates one of the very few

drawbacks of smoking-tables. Not being used to them, you forget about

them. William John, however, took the greatest pride in the table, and

whenever he saw a pipe lying on the rug he pounced upon it and placed

it, like a prisoner, in the rack. He was also most particular about the

three cigars, the two cigarettes, and the four wax vestas, keeping them

carefully in the proper compartments, where, unfortunately, I seldom

thought of looking for them.






The fatal defect of the smoking-table, however, was that it was

generally rolling about the floor--the stalk in one corner, the slabs

here and there, the cigars on the rug to be trampled on, the lid of the

tobacco-jar beneath a chair. Every morning William John had to put the

table together. Sometimes I had knocked it over accidentally. I would

fling a crumpled piece of paper into the waste-paper basket. It missed

the basket but hit the smoking-table, which went down like a wooden

soldier. When my fire went out, just because I had taken my eyes off it

for a moment, I called it names and flung the tongs at it. There was a

crash--the smoking-table again. In time I might have remedied this; but

there is one weakness which I could not stand in any smoking-table. A

smoking-table ought to be so constructed that from where you are sitting

you can stretch out your feet, twist them round the stalk, and so lift

the table to the spot where it will be handiest. This my smoking-table

would never do. The moment I had it in the air it wanted to stand on its

head.



Though I still admired smoking-tables as much as ever, I began to want

very much to give this one away. The difficulty was not so much to know

whom to give it to as how to tie it up. My brother was the very person,

for I owed him a letter, and this, I thought, would do instead. For a

month I meant to pack the table up and send it to him; but I always put

off doing it, and at last I thought the best plan would be to give it to

Scrymgeour, who liked elegant furniture. As a smoker, Scrymgeour seemed

the very man to appreciate a pretty, useful little table. Besides, all

I had to do was to send William John down with it. Scrymgeour was out

at the time; but we left it at the side of his fireplace as a pleasant

surprise. Next morning, to my indignation, it was back at the side of

my fireplace, and in the evening Scrymgeour came and upbraided me for

trying, as he most unworthily expressed it, to palm the thing off on

him. He was no sooner gone than I took the table to pieces to send it

to my brother. I tied the stalk up in brown paper, meaning to get a box

for the other parts. William John sent off the stalk, and for some days

the other pieces littered the floor. My brother wrote me saying he had

received something from me, for which his best thanks; but would I tell

him what it was, as it puzzled everybody? This was his impatient way;

but I made an effort, and sent off the other pieces to him in a hat-box.



That was a year ago, and since then I have only heard the history of

the smoking-table in fragments. My brother liked it immensely; but

he thought it was too luxurious for a married man, so he sent it to

Reynolds, in Edinburgh. Not knowing Reynolds, I cannot say what his

opinion was; but soon afterward I heard of its being in the possession

of Grayson, who was charmed with it, but gave it to Pelle, because it

was hardly in its place in a bachelor's establishment. Later a town man

sent it to a country gentleman as just the thing for the country; and it

was afterward in Liverpool as the very thing for a town. There I thought

it was lost, so far as I was concerned. One day, however, Boyd, a friend

of mine who lives in Glasgow, came to me for a week, and about six hours

afterward he said that he had a present for me. He brought it into my

sitting-room--a bulky parcel--and while he was undoing the cords he told

me it was something quite novel; he had bought it in Glasgow the day

before. When I saw a walnut leg I started; in another two minutes I was

trying to thank Boyd for my own smoking-table. I recognized it by the

dents. I was too much the gentleman to insist on an explanation from

Boyd; but, though it seems a harsh thing to say, my opinion is that

these different persons gave the table away because they wanted to get

rid of it. William John has it now.





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