The Romance Of A Pipe-cleaner





We continued to visit the _Arcadia_, though only one at a time now,

and Gilray, who went most frequently, also remained longest. In other

words, he was in love again, and this time she lived at Cookham.

Marriot's love affairs I pushed from me with a wave of my pipe, but

Gilray's second case was serious.



In time, however, he returned to the Arcadia Mixture, though not until

the house-boat was in its winter quarters. I witnessed his complete

recovery, the scene being his chambers. Really it is rather a pathetic

story, and so I give the telling of it to a rose, which the lady once

presented to Gilray. Conceive the rose lying, as I saw it, on Gilray's

hearth-rug, and then imagine it whispering as follows:



A wire was round me that white night on the river when she let him take

me from her. Then I hated the wire. Alas! hear the end.



My moments are numbered; and if I would expose him with my dying sigh,

I must not sentimentalize over my own decay. They were in a punt, her

hand trailing in the water, when I became his. When they parted that

night at Cookham Lock, he held her head in his hands, and they gazed in

each other's eyes. Then he turned away quickly; when he reached the punt

again he was whistling. Several times before we came to the house-boat

in which he and another man lived, he felt in his pocket to make sure

that I was still there. At the house-boat he put me in a tumbler of

water out of sight of his friend, and frequently he stole to the spot

like a thief to look at me. Early next morning he put me in his

buttonhole, calling me sweet names. When his friend saw me, he too

whistled, but not in the same way. Then my owner glared at him. This

happened many months ago.






Next evening I was in a garden that slopes to the river. I was on his

breast, and so for a moment was she. His voice was so soft and low as

he said to her the words he had said to me the night before, that I

slumbered in a dream. When I awoke suddenly he was raging at her, and

she cried. I know not why they quarrelled so quickly, but it was about

some one whom he called 'that fellow,' while she called him a 'friend of

papa's.' He looked at her for a long time again, and then said coldly

that he wished her a very good-evening. She bowed and went toward a

house, humming a merry air, while he pretended to light a cigarette made

from a tobacco of which he was very fond. Till very late that night I

heard him walking up and down the deck of the house-boat, his friend

shouting to him not to be an ass. Me he had flung fiercely on the floor

of the house-boat. About midnight he came downstairs, his face white,

and, snatching me up, put me in his pocket. Again we went into the punt,

and he pushed it within sight of the garden. There he pulled in his pole

and lay groaning in the punt, letting it drift, while he called her his

beloved and a little devil. Suddenly he took me from his pocket, kissed

me, and cast me down from him into the night. I fell among reeds, head

downward; and there I lay all through the cold, horrid night. The gray

morning came at last, then the sun, and a boat now and again. I thought

I had found my grave, when I saw his punt coming toward the reeds. He

searched everywhere for me, and at last he found me. So delighted and

affectionate was he that I forgave him my sufferings, only I was jealous

of a letter in his other pocket, which he read over many times,

murmuring that it explained everything.



Her I never saw again, but I heard her voice. He kept me now in a

leather case in an inner pocket, where I was squeezed very flat. What

they said to each other I could not catch; but I understood afterward,

for he always repeated to me what he had been saying to her, and many

times he was loving, many times angry, like a bad man. At last came a

day when he had a letter from her containing many things he had given

her, among them a ring on which she had seemed to set great store.

What it all meant I never rightly knew, but he flung the ring into

the Thames, calling her all the old wicked names and some new ones.

I remember how we rushed to her house, along the bank this time, and

that she asked him to be her brother; but he screamed denunciations at

her, again speaking of 'that fellow,' and saying that he was going

to-morrow to Manitoba.



So far as I know, they saw each other no more. He walked on the deck

so much now that his friend went back to London, saying he could get

no sleep. Sometimes we took long walks alone; often we sat for hours

looking at the river, for on those occasions he would take me out of the

leather case and put me on his knee. One day his friend came back and

told him that he would soon get over it, he himself having once had

a similar experience; but my master said no one had ever loved as he

loved, and muttered 'Vixi, vixi' to himself till the other told him not

to be a fool, but to come to the hotel and have something to eat. Over

this they quarrelled, my master hinting that he would eat no more; but

he ate heartily after his friend was gone.



After a time we left the house-boat, and were in chambers in a great

inn. I was still in his pocket, and heard many conversations between him

and people who came to see him, and he would tell them that he loathed

the society of women. When they told him, as one or two did, that they

were in love, he always said that he had gone through that stage ages

ago. Still, at nights he would take me out of my case, when he was

alone, and look at me; after which he walked up and down the room in

an agitated manner and cried 'Vixi.'



By and by he left me in a coat that he was no longer wearing. Before

this he had always put me into whatever coat he had on. I lay neglected,

I think, for a month, until one day he felt the pockets of the coat for

something else, and pulled me out. I don't think he remembered what was

in the leather case at first; but as he looked at me his face filled

with sentiment, and next day he took me with him to Cookham. The winter

was come, and it was a cold day. There were no boats on the river. He

walked up the bank to the garden where was the house in which she had

lived; but the place was now deserted. On the garden gate he sat down,

taking me from his pocket; and here, I think, he meant to recall the

days that were dead. But a cold, piercing wind was blowing, and many

times he looked at his watch, putting it to his ear as if he thought it

had stopped. After a little he took to flinging stones into the water,

for something to do; and then he went to the hotel and stayed there

till he got a train back to London. We were home many hours before he

meant to be back, and that night he went to a theatre.



That was my last day in the leather case. He keeps something else in

it now. He flung me among old papers, smoking-caps, slippers, and other

odds and ends into a box, where I have remained until to-night. A month

or more ago he rummaged in the box for some old letters, and coming upon

me unexpectedly, he jagged his finger on the wire. 'Where on earth did

you come from?' he asked me. Then he remembered, and flung me back among

the papers with a laugh. Now we come to to-night. An hour ago I heard

him blowing down something, then stamping his feet. From his words I

knew that his pipe was stopped. I heard him ring a bell and ask angrily

who had gone off with his pipe-cleaners. He bustled through the room

looking for them or for a substitute, and after a time he cried aloud,

'I have it; that would do; but where was it I saw the thing last?' He

pulled out several drawers, looked through his desk, and then opened the

box in which I lay. He tumbled its contents over until he found me, and

then he pulled me out, exclaiming, 'Eureka!' My heart sank, for I

understood all as I fell leaf by leaf on the hearth-rug where I now lie.

He took the wire off me and used it to clean his pipe.





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