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Chapter 22

HOW HEROES SMOKE.


On a tiger-skin from the ice-clad regions of the sunless north recline the heroes of Ouida, rose-scented cigars in their mouths; themselves gloriously indolent and disdainful, but perhaps huddled a little too closely together on account of the limited accommodation. Strathmore is here. But I never felt sure of Strathmore. Was there not less in him than met the eye? His place, Whiteladies, was a home for kings and queens; but he was not the luxurious, magnanimous creature he feigned to be. A host may be known by the cigars he keeps; and, though it is perhaps a startling thing to say, we have good reason for believing that Strathmore did not buy good cigars. I question very much whether he had many Havanas, even of the second quality, at Whiteladies; if he had, he certainly kept them locked up. Only once does he so much as refer to them when at his own place, and then in the most general and suspicious way. "Bah!" he exclaims to a friend; "there is Phil smoking these wretched musk-scented cigarettes again! they are only fit for Lady Georgie or Eulalie Papellori. What taste, when there are my Havanas and cheroots!" The remark, in whatever way considered, is suggestive. In the first place, it is made late in the evening, after Strathmore and his friend have left the smoking-room. Thus it is a safe observation. I would not go so far as to say that he had no Havanas in the house; the likelihood is that he had a few in his cigar-case, kept there for show rather than use. These, if I understand the man, would be a good brand, but of small size--perhaps Reinas--and they would hardly be of a well-known crop. In color they would be dark--say maduro--and he would explain that he bought them because he liked full-flavored weeds. Possibly he had a Villar y Villar box with six or eight in the bottom of it; but boxes are not cigars. What he did provide his friends with was Manillas. He smoked them himself, and how careful he was of them is seen on every other page. He is constantly stopping in the middle of his conversation to "curl a loose leaf round his Manilla;" when one would have expected a hero like Strathmore to fling away a cigar when its leaves began to untwist, and light another. So thrifty is Strathmore that he even laboriously "curls the leaves round his cigarettes"--he does not so much as pretend that they are Egyptian; nay, even when quarrelling with Errol, his beloved friend (whom he shoots through the heart), he takes a cigarette from his mouth and "winds a loosened leaf" round it.


If Strathmore's Manillas were Capitan Generals they would cost him about 24s. a hundred. The probability, however, is that they were of inferior quality; say, 17s. 6d. It need hardly be said that a good Manilla does not constantly require to have its leaves "curled." When Errol goes into the garden to smoke, he has every other minute to "strike a fusee;" from which it may be inferred that his cigar frequently goes out. This is in itself suspicious. Errol, too, is more than once seen by his host wandering in the grounds at night, with a cigar between his teeth. Strathmore thinks his susceptible friend has a love affair on hand; but is it not at least as probable an explanation that Errol had a private supply of cigars at Whiteladies, and from motives of delicacy did not like to smoke them in his host's presence? Once, indeed, we do see Strathmore smoking a good cigar, though we are not told how he came by it. When talking of the Vavasour, he "sticks his penknife through his Cabana," with the object, obviously, of smoking it to the bitter end. Another lady novelist, who is also an authority on tobacco, Miss Rhoda Broughton, contemptuously dismisses a claimant for the heroship of one of her stories, as the kind of man who turns up his trousers at the foot. It would have been just as withering to say that he stuck a penknife through his cigars.


There is another true hero with me, whose creator has unintentionally misrepresented him. It is he of "Comin' thro' the Rye," a gentleman whom the maidens of the nineteenth century will not willingly let die. He is grand, no doubt; and yet, the more one thinks about him, the plainer it becomes that had the heroine married him she would have been bitterly disenchanted. In her company he was magnanimous; god-like, prodigal; but in his smoking-room he showed himself in his true colors. Every lady will remember the scene where he rushes to the heroine's home and implores her to return with him to the bedside of his dying wife. The sudden announcement that his wife--whom he had thought in a good state of health--is dying, is surely enough to startle even a miser out of his niggardliness, much less a hero; and yet what do we find Vasher doing? The heroine, in frantic excitement, has to pass through his smoking room, and on the table she sees--what? "A half-smoked cigar." He was in the middle of it when a servant came to tell him of his wife's dying request; and, before hastening to execute her wishes, he carefully laid what was left of his cigar upon the table--meaning, of course, to relight it when he came back. Though she did not think so, our heroine's father was a much more remarkable man than Vasher. He "blew out long, comfortable clouds" that made the whole of his large family "cough and wink again." No ordinary father could do that.

Among my smoking-room favorites is the hero of Miss Adeline Sergeant's story, "Touch and Go." He is a war correspondent; and when he sees a body of the enemy bearing down upon him and the wounded officer whom he has sought to save, he imperturbably offers his companion a cigar. They calmly smoke on while the foe gallop up. There is something grand in this, even though the kind of cigar is not mentioned.


I see a bearded hero, with slouch hat and shepherd's crook, a clay pipe in his mouth. He is a Bohemian--ever a popular type of hero; and the Bohemian is to be known all the world over by the pipe, which he prefers to a cigar. The tall, scornful gentleman who leans lazily against the door, "blowing great clouds of smoke into the air," is the hero of a hundred novels. That is how he is always standing when the heroine, having need of something she has left in the drawing-room, glides down the stairs at night in her dressing-gown (her beautiful hair, released from its ribbons, streaming down her neck and shoulders), and comes most unexpectedly upon him. He is young. The senior, over whose face "a smile flickers for a moment" when the heroine says something na´ve, and whom she (entirely misunderstanding her feelings) thinks she hates, smokes unostentatiously; but though a little inclined to quiet "chaff," he is a man of deep feeling. By and by he will open out and gather her up in his arms. The scorner's chair is filled. I see him, shadow-like, a sad-eyed, blasÚ gentleman, who has been adored by all the beauties of fifteen seasons, and yet speaks of woman with a contemptuous sneer. Great, however, is love; and the vulgar little girl who talks slang will prove to him in our next volume that there is still one peerless beyond all others of her sex. Ah, a wondrous thing is love! On every side of me there are dark, handsome men, with something sinister in their smile, "casting away their cigars with a muffled curse." No novel would be complete without them. When they are foiled by the brave girl of the narrative, it is the recognized course with them to fling away their cigars with a muffled curse. Any kind of curse would do, but muffled ones are preferred.


James M. Barrie