This story is being posted out of sequence because I wrote it in an hour while on the bus and enjoyed it so much I couldn’t wait to share it
The Curious Incident Involving Uncle Victor’s Pipe On An Evening In December
I well remember the evening of the third of December 18__
The family was gathered, as was customary, in the card room.
Aunts Mathilda and Jemima were engaged in a hand of whist and cousin Bets was idly prodding at the pianoforte.
Myself, Papa, Mama and Uncle Victor were sat beside the fireplace discussing the Willis family’s new trap and other such trifles.
In such a small town as ours, we made great use of any item which might be considered news, as events of any interest at all were infrequent in their occurence. And so, despite all present being well-versed in the colour and canopy of the trap, the striking chestnut which drew it, and other such minutia we listened most attentively to Uncle Victor’s pontifications as though it were some divine revelation.
“I daresay they shall find the suspension a great comfort on those days the road is frozen,” my uncle speculated as he puffed heartily on his pipe.
At this point I feel it behooves me to lay out for you a brief background of Uncle Victor, pipe and all, for they are key to my tale and I should imagine you would find the events far easier to envisage thus.
He was well advanced in years, five decades and counting to his credit. A stout man, ruddy cheeked from exposure and with a halo of wiry grey hair which floated untamed about his crown. He went clean-shaven, somewhat peculiar for the time but I shall lay out for you the reason why forthwith.
In my uncle’s youth he had travelled extensively in the wilder areas of the world, places untamed by Church or other measures of civilized society. On one such trip down through Mongolia towards the Orient, he had acquired a personal treasure of much sentimental value to him, the particulars of which you shall soon be made aware of.
On this trip, embarked upon sometime in his third decade, before he had met and wooed Aunt Jemima-he had been relatively late to marriage, finding the world altogether too fascinating to be tied down to one place while his knees were still good and his back strong; one could speculate on the existence of byblows gotten upon women the globe over but Uncle Victor steadfastly refuses to engage in any such talk so any such conjecture must remain exactly that.
But I digress…where was I? Ah. His journeys had taken him down through Europe and into darkest Africa.
A land much shrouded in mystery even in these days of noble missionaries and bold adventurers, it holds secrets the likes of which give a man chills to imagine. And even so, mark my words, our most peculiar and deviant imaginings will barely scratch the surface of the true horrors that await civilized man’s encountering them in his attempt to modernize this sphere floating in the Heavens which we make our home. I tell you, sir, I shall not confront such nightmarish wonders as those if I have any say in the matter.
Given Papa’s booming trade in salt and other such basic commodities, I fancy the say shall be mine; although my allowance is more modest than it might otherwise be were Papa a more generous man, it suffices to keep me a gentleman at leisure. And so, although it is certainly within my means to plumb those depths of human habitation as might be found on aforementioned dark continent, I am able to remain indisposed to doing so.
Ah yes. Uncle Victor.
In his encounter with one particularly backwards tribe, whose gastronomic proclivities are best left unimagined (the old boy claims to have sampled the local cuisine and has the audacity to liken it to especially sweet pork, but I refuse to believe I taste of swine, sir. I refuse!), he acquired a trinket in a game of chance with the tribe’s medicine man. I have to say, hand on heart, I rather doubt my uncle played fair. After all, he had introduced the game to them in the first place and had no reason not to favour his own chances. This trinket was a pipe, and were you to ask me if it was the selfsame pipe upon which he puffed so heartily that peculiar December evening, why you would be entirely incorrect sir! No indeed, the pipe he smoked habitually was a very fine (ivory blah blah blah). The very notion that he would ever take tobacco through some filthy old medicine man’s pipe is laughable! I shudder to think of the taste such a stem would carry and I daresay pipe cleaning was a much neglected ritual…
This pipe my Uncle Victor had-we shall be generous and say-won was an especially grotesque example of smoking paraphenalia. It was carved out of ivory to resemble some small, deformed skull. The story the medicine man fed my uncle and which he gleefully recollects given half a chance is that it was an actual skull, taken from an imp which the medicine man had summoned from some nether realm for the purpose of turning its promptly severed head into a pipe bowl. It would supposedly grant visions of the future when select sacred herbs were smoked in it. Of course this is most probably hogwash but there is no denying this tribe was especially bounteous and as the Good Book says, there are more things under Heaven…
Apparently the visage upon this skull retaind a degree of malicious intelligence even bereft of flesh, so much so that my uncle traded it off at the first opportunity, so discomfitting was it to own. The old buzzard truly is a little unhinged, which probably goes some way to explaining why he spent so many years gallivanting in the wilds instead of finding himself a cosy niche to occupy; to each their own as befits their means I suppose.
I forget what he obtained in exchange but I have no doubt he got the better of the bargain.
Your pardon, my thoughts tend to wander when I’ve a measure of brandy or two to my credit.
So! He is clean shaven, because years of smoking a pipe had turned his rather impressive mustachios a rather unsettling shade of yellow. Rather than bear such an undignified look, he shaves. Imagine that! Being forced to forgo the latest trends in fashionable appearance for the sake of a tobacco habit.
He sat there…oh of course, the curio he obtained in exchange for the pipe was an exquisite cameo of some ancient Oriental empress, all ivory and jade, a delightful piece. It was the wooing gift he gave dear Aunt Jemima that finally convinced her to accept his courtship and, eventually, to marry him. Fancy my forgetting that. As I say, once the drink gets in me my wits truly do go every which way.
So yes, he sat there by the fire, puffing and pontificating, and my goodness but what should happen other than that the bowl of his lovely (blah blah blah) pipe popped right off the stem! It fell directly into his lap and set him bounding out of his chair, cursing and slapping at his groin to remove the burning contents of the pipe bowl. Oh, but we had a jolly old laugh at his expense. A little mean perhaps but it was quite the sight, let me tell you. We never did determine why his pipe should have fractured in such a particular manner at just that time, it was most curious.