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.





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