Blog by Robert M. Boughton
Copyright © Reborn Pipes and the Author except as cited
It is my belief, Watson, founded upon my experience, that the lowest and vilest alleys in London do not present a more dreadful record of sin than does the smiling and beautiful countryside. — From Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,” in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1892)
NOTE: I owe the singular logic and chronicle of this story to the author of a French blog upon which I had the good fortune and immense pleasure of discovering, quite by chance, in the course of a search for other, more mundane instruction on Dunhill pipes. The credit for the blog, almost hidden at the bottom of the page, attributes the work to “pipephil,” whose nationality and working name being identical to that of a certain devoted and well-known researcher of pipes and their histories, I can only surmise is one and the same. This story is based on an unequal blending of fact and fiction and might better be approached as the latter. Acknowledgement to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) is likewise in order, and, if prevailing opinion of this willing suspension of disbelief warrants, apologies. Names have been changed to protect the real and imagined
(Being a reprint from the personal blogs of JAMES BOSWELL)
CHAPTER I. MR. SHERRINFORD CAVISH
At the age of twenty-six, early in the year of 1989, I was considered an old man to be commencing studies as an undergraduate at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces and was branded non-traditional, a distinction which stirs not a grain of animosity in my mind. The principal difference between the average teenager fresh from the crucible of high school and myself, during my first semester of courses prescribed for those desiring to specialize in journalism, was my already appreciable experience in the workforce I sought to continue. I had under my belt a solid grounding in the old school style of newspaper writing, owing to an early tossing into the cesspool when I was a mere fifteen-year-old. Already I was squared away in the requisite determined and, when necessary, obdurate nature to survive the initial condescending underestimation of my ability to recognize obfuscation when I heard it. These traits were of invaluable help in eliciting a modicum of legitimate answers from the police officers, politicians and other authorities who became the salt and pepper on the main fare of official reports that fed my regular police and city hall beats.
Quartered at first in one of the better dormitories and accustomed to taking my meals at the campus cafeteria, an establishment that over-favored a form of creamed chipped beef on toast that exemplified the military term for that menu item which I will for the sake of good form abbreviate as S.O.S., I straight away took up the tobacco pipe. As well as soothing my nerves and allowing an air of contemplation conducive to my studies, the pipe expelled the unfortunate after taste of the gruel the school called food. Pipes were also a family tradition on the paternal side, and so I embraced them with alacrity. Smoking, of course, was prohibited in the dormitories, but I dismissed the absurdity as did all but a poignant minority of the other inhabitants.
Finding disagreeable the cramped suite of rooms that allowed no privacy and which I shared with three adolescent males who were more interested in beer kegs, parties and all of the other inclinations wholly natural to youngsters, I reached the inevitable conclusion that I must secure a more mature roommate off-campus. The very same night, while strolling the university grounds taking the long course to the student union building, where I had planned to brush up on the Associated Press Style Book tucked under an arm, and puffing contentedly on the single pipe I then owned, I heard my name called from nearby.
“Boswell! James Boswell!”
Glancing in the direction of the greeting, I found the young man smiling and waving at me vaguely familiar, but only a name came to mind.
“Beall!” I said, relieved to have no need to fumble with that social awkwardness.
Trapped, I found myself engaged in small talk.
“Wherever have you been hiding?” Beall asked. “I haven’t seen you in dog’s years!”
Not caring for the suggestion that I in any way skulk and thinking that dogs tend to age with rather unfortunate rapidity, I was off-put before I could answer but endeavored to be civil.
“Off fighting the good fight, Beall,” I said. “Just at the moment I’m considering how to move out of my dormitory but can’t afford a place of my own on my income.”
Where I met Beall and why the devil I let slip my need for a proper roommate eluded me, and I would have kicked myself had that colloquial expression been possible. With all the delicacy I can muster, I found young Beall to be a nice enough fellow but rather insipid and a bit too friendly. I braced in anticipation of his putting himself forward as a candidate, and indeed, having among other faults a distressing clutching habit, he seized me by an arm.
“Why, I have just the person for you! I’ve known him forever, and he’s absolutely perfect!”
Not caring a bit for the sound of any of that and being dubious of Beall’s judgment, my aversion to conspicuous rudeness prevented me from declaring so. By my own fault, therefore, Beall, still clutching my arm, compelled both of us at once in a straight line toward the north edge of the campus, obviously the direction of the friend’s place of residence. I managed with some dexterity to dislodge my arm from his grip and counted myself fortunate beyond words that the mysterious dwelling was within easy walking distance. My subsequent introduction to the man who, though five years my junior, was gifted with the most singular and brilliant deductive powers I have ever encountered, can only be attributed to fate.
When at last we found ourselves on the step and the door to the apartment opened, I had the first dreaded look at my proposed new roommate. The appearance of Mr. Sherrinford Cavish was altogether the opposite of my preconceived image. Standing three inches taller than six feet in height, Cavish towered over Beall, whom I had spent most of our walk struggling to devise a means of escaping, and had several inches on me. His stature had none of the typical lankiness associated with very tall men and was instead complemented by a husky but fit build. He wore an expensive powder blue dress shirt with the top two buttons undone, medium brown wool slacks appropriate for the season that appeared to be tailored, leather loafers with tassels and no jewelry whatsoever, not even a watch. His longish brown, wavy and un-brushed hair, wild, for lack of a better word, was the oddest feature I noted. The old, blackened clay pipe between his lips seemed a natural extension of his mouth and the highest testament thus far of his suitability as a fellow lodger. Then, ignoring poor Beall beside me altogether, his sharp blue and acute eyes narrowed and took in the whole of me with a glance. I admit I was more than a little disconcerted by the scrutiny I thought rude. His greeting astounded me.
“Have you been a reporter for any publications I may have read?”
The ensuing dumfounded silence prompted the otherwise meek and silent Beall, who still stood to my side, to remark, “Yes, he’s always like that.”
“Ah! But you’re here about the room for rent, no doubt eager to quit the dreary conditions of the dormitories,” Cavish said before I answered, astounding me once again.
The man who introduced himself to me by his full first and last name the moment I stepped inside his apartment pursed his lips in a peculiar grin I have come to know well. One corner of his mouth rose a tad and the other fell. Initially viewing the practice as a sort of conceited smirk, I soon came to recognize it as an outward sign of the constant processing of simultaneous and unfathomable amounts of complex mental data related to the unparalleled fields of study of which Cavish can only be described as an expert. Well into that first night, I learned of a comparative few of these, but our mutual fondness for pipes and shared interest in matters of crime were enough for me. That grin of his meant that Cavish was in good spirits, working out the various enigmas he undertakes to solve for his own odd pleasure and at the request of others. He calls them cases, but to me they are worse than giant white table puzzles. Cavish invariably examines each piece with pure logic and science as his only tools. On my word, I do believe he relishes scrambling the parts of the puzzles his clients – again, as he calls them – believe they have put together. To Cavish, each piece of the puzzle must be probed from both sides and every angle regardless of how closely it may seem to fit.
“Excuse me,” I said, no longer able to contain my curiosity, “but how did you know I was a reporter?”
Cavish looked me in the eye. “Elementary,” he said. “Even without the well-thumbed AP guide under your arm the conclusion is inescapable. Your red-striped Oxford with its frayed button collar doesn’t go with the ruffled tan corduroy blazer and dark brown elbow patches, as well as the mismatched light blue cord pants. And that ancient polyester tie is enough to give an epileptic a fit. Who but a reporter dresses in that style? Then there are the light smudges of news print on your fingers and the cuffs of your shirt sleeves, not to mention the small note pad and flowy pen in your front coat pocket, icing on the cake, as it were.”
However accurate the conclusions Cavish reached, I still wondered if his lack of tact might be distasteful after all but resisted the urge to do an about-face and march out.
“Very well, then, what about the fact that I live in a dormitory?”
“Good God, man!” he said with alarming drama. “Only a new student living in the dorms, regardless of age, would eat all of his meals in the cafeteria.” Reading my face like a newspaper headline, he interrupted the protest I was about to make. “My exhaustive research of every restaurant menu in Cruces tells me that none of them serves creamed chipped beef such as that which caused the spot on your tie. I’m happy to say the dish is unique to that venue.”
In this disturbingly fascinating manner was I introduced to the deductive skills of Mr. Sherrinford Cavish.
“Interesting pipe,” Cavish said as he saw me to the door, speaking of the bulldog of which I was rather proud. “An Italian no-name, I see. Well, we’ll have to do something about that.”
The following morning, ignoring my petty misgivings as to my new roommate, I fled the dormitory. I confess with some remorse that I left my affable yet erstwhile fellow cellmates understandably dazed and confused, not to mention sad in a manner that was touching, to see me depart.
CHAPTER II. WHAT THE MAIL HAD TO SAY
Sooner than later, I learned of the flipside of the unusual grin I noted. When Cavish was without a case, he fell into periods of deep broodings and profound depressions that lasted until some new mystery he deemed worthy of his time presented itself. At the low point of one of these bouts of sheer, unbearable boredom, a piece of mail arrived that Cavish was too despondent to consider. I took the liberty of cutting open the end for him and found a single small photograph of a smoking pipe in utter ruin, accompanied by a letter imploring Cavish to investigate the matter and some pages printed from a website.
Reading the letter to my lackluster friend did not even make him stir. Knowing the somewhat perverse delight Cavish takes in the most dreadful horrors this world has to offer, and also taking into consideration his deep love of smoking pipes, I concluded the only hope of rousing him from the lethargic stupor in which he was trapped might be the sight of the desecrated pipe. I tossed the photograph and printout on his chest that might have been that of a corpse. As I turned away, I heard Cavish sit up on the couch. Turning back to face him the next instant, I saw him hunched over his laptop on the coffee table cluttered with many documents only he was permitted to touch. Moving so that I could watch over his shoulder, I noticed he had pulled up the website from which the printout was made so that he could read the entire text in its original French, which he spoke fluently in addition to Latin, German, Dutch, Italian and Iranian, to name those I have identified.
“The game is afoot!” Cavish said with refreshed vigor. I shook my head and sighed with no small amount of relief as he stood and began pacing in excitement. I, on the other hand, needed a break and decided I deserved one for the part I played in reviving him. Retiring to the comfort of my armchair, I took up an elegant new briar wood prince possessing the tightest vertical grain that I found at my local shop and filled it with a handy Balkan blend. Already, I had a fine beginning of a collection thanks to a certain compulsion to acquire more and more that I blamed on the bad influence Cavish had on me. Indeed, the compulsion verged on a disorder.
CHAPTER III. CES PIPES PAS COMME LES AUTRES
The masthead of the site, Cavish translated, read “These Pipes Like No Others.” Succumbing to an uncontrollable urge, I wagered the Dunhill displayed in the blog and photograph just arrived in the mail was clearly well smoked and previously lightly enjoyed. * I shall savor for the rest of my life the rare flash of utter incredulity on my friend’s face that dissolved back into his typical working countenance of gravest contemplation when he deduced I had to be joking.
“She is extraordinary,” Cavish said, almost in a whisper. I took a moment to realize he was speaking of the pipe. “The outer simplicity obscures an inner complexity.”
“No doubt,” I said for the sake of good manners.
Still pacing about the room, Cavish recited the entire text of the blog from memory after his single reading of it online. In the interest of brevity, I will paraphrase the key points of interest in the blogger’s quite stylish and eloquent narrative detailing his theories relating to the cause of the Dunhill’s destruction. The general theme as stated in the second sentence was that, whatever act of brutality indeed brought about the end of the pipe’s days of usefulness to anyone, the once noble but now wretched thing was murdered. Counting myself an aficionado of tobacco pipes, I appreciated the writer’s dramatic use of personification.
When the gruesome remains were discovered, two immediate types of suspects were considered, the more likely being a lone assassin acting on his own insane motives, and the other a terrorist group. The latter theory raised the possibility of a political link, perhaps the Front de Lutte Anti-Tabac (F.L.A.T.), in English the Fight Against Tobacco Front. Whoever ended the pipe’s life, the blogger concluded, chose Dunhill rather than any other brand for the general regard of the old British house as perhaps the world’s most iconic maker. The impact of the act of extreme violence would therefore engender outrage and consternation among pipe enjoyers everywhere.
“It is quite a two-pipe problem, and I beg that you won’t speak to me for thirty minutes,” Cavish said in characteristically blunt form. Even with what I knew of his machine-like reasoning ability, I was impressed with the time in which he expected to solve the mystery.
CHAPTER IV. THE TRUTH UNRAVELED
I can only conjecture that Cavish chose a striking natural finish Dunhill Canadian as his own way of paying respect to the victim. In silence, as requested, and as unobtrusively as possible, I watched while he loaded the pipe with Dunhill White Spot, an English blend not available in this country that he somehow managed to acquire, no doubt through one of his many private sources. He lay back in the chair, stretching his legs out before him and crossing his ankles as was his habit when formulating his inscrutable conclusions. After savoring the one fill, he repeated the process. When the last of the smoke trailed off, I glanced at the clock and observed the prescribed half-hour had passed to the minute. My friend sat bolt upright and, his eyes glinting through narrow slits, stood. I waited with greater than average anticipation for him to begin.
“The deplorable annihilation of this ill-fated Dunhill billiard was not an act of murder, as conjectured by the blogger with eloquence that was nevertheless the product of typical human emotion,” Cavish said in an even tone that belied the passion I alone knew him well enough to detect from the deliberate choice of such strong terms.
“That much I myself concluded,” I replied.
“Indeed, as you well know, the inherent inanimateness of the briar wood forming the chief constituent of the whole, by definition, precludes the possibility of homicide.”
“Indeed,” I muttered for lack of anything more substantial to contribute.
“Nor was this the work of any terrorist organization, the blogger’s brio, however excessive, notwithstanding.”
“Oh? How so?”
“Contrary to popular misconception, terrorists are not as secretive as they would have us believe,” Cavish stated in the form of a thesis. “Why else would they invariably claim credit for their foul and pusillanimous deeds sparked by a sense of impotence?” Knowing the last part was only rhetorical punctuation, I waited for him to continue. “No such communication has been attempted.”
“I see,” I said. “But wait, Cavish. There is one thing I still cannot comprehend.”
“Only one?” he asked, again not expecting a direct response but with the annoying twist of his mouth that so infuriated me at times.
“Yes, for the moment at least, only one,” I said in a pointless attempt to defend my honor that was not lost on the great detective.
“Pray tell, my dear Boswell, let’s hear the singular point of your confusion.”
Once more, I knew enough of the man to recognize a note of reconciliation, however feeble I thought it. “What about the Frenchman’s keen observation that in order to burn briar, how did he put it, ‘extraordinary temperatures are needed which cannot be reached in the combustion of even a dry tobacco’?”
“Aha!” Cavish exclaimed, triumphant. “There you have it! Once again, you see, yet you do not observe. Any careless smoker can burn a pipe made of any material, briar by no means excluded, even to the point of creating a hole through the bowl. One sees such uncouth damages all the time. Just ask anyone who restores smoking pipes for a living.”
Cavish continued before I could register a protest.
“The operative word is burn, which is altogether different than incinerate, the latter being the choice our French blogger doubtless meant. Based on my study of the incineration points of thousands of wood types, I can tell you with authority that briar can only be reduced to ashes, that being the definition of incinerate, at temperatures sometimes exceeding 1,292 degrees Fahrenheit.”
“Quite so,” Cavish went on. “As you will recollect from the photograph, the Dunhill, though burned more severely than any other specimen I have ever seen, which is no trivial claim, and to the point where evenly spaced horizontal cracks encircle the bowl through to the chamber, the pipe is nowhere near disincorporation into a pile of ashes.”
“Amazing, Cavish! Simply amazing! But what does it all mean?”
“It means, my obtuse friend, that the theory of some person or persons unknown filling the Dunhill with a fuel or other accelerant, intent on exploding or vaporizing the pipe, is erroneous.”
Bringing to bear the full powers of my brain to determine possible explanations, all I achieved was a pulsating headache.
“I surrender, Cavish! How on Earth was the Dunhill destroyed, and by whom?”
Cavish has described himself as a high-functioning sociopath, a self-diagnosis with which I would not have argued until that moment. The years I have known him, it was the first time he displayed what I would call a normal sign of humanity, the instance being a profound sense of grief manifested in his entire physical demeanor. I was almost overwhelmed by a foreboding of some cataclysmic doom. When he did speak at last, he sounded tired, but his usual veil of absolute self-control, dispassion and supreme objectivity was again in place.
“Never indulge in the delusion that the whole of mankind is not, in its most base state of consciousness, a species unequaled for its most natural instincts of callous cruelty and neglect for the welfare of others,” he said, pausing as though in emphasis of his perceived status of being separate from the rest of the world. I wanted to disagree but held my tongue, letting Cavish expand on his point. Whether he was aware of the repeated use of personal pronouns usually reserved for beings endowed with life, I could not say. “Have no doubt, Boswell, she was tortured for some years. Indeed, her neglect would be criminal were she, to employ a deliberate contradiction in terms, more that a work of art. I agree with our French friend, the blogger, that the Dunhill was desecrated, and should like to believe his assertion that the act was premeditated.”
Unable to bear the ensuing silence longer, I prompted him. “But?”
“Premeditation, my dear Boswell, implies a certain amount of forethought. The atrocities committed against the once beautiful and vibrant example of skilled craftsmanship, created with the sole purpose of providing pleasure to a man, demonstrate the wanton kind of thoughtless, careless disregard for all but the self.”
“Really, Cavish, I think you’re being too harsh,” I interjected.
“In that case, Boswell, why did you acquire so many new pipes of which you could scarcely keep track? I seem to recall your frequent agitation lest one of them end up falling to the floor, from wherever you happened to set it down, and breaking. You even went to some expense to commission your carpenter friend to fashion an exceedingly large, elaborate cabinet made more of glass than wood, and filled with separate beveled holders so that you could display even more pipes than you already own. Whatever possessed you to go to this trouble?”
My blood beginning to boil, I replied in hardly contained anger, “Because I care for them! And besides, I got the idea for the cabinet from your own!”
“Quite so!” Cavish said with such pleasure he even let slip the rarest of smiles. I must say that took the wind out of me, and I felt quite the fool. My good friend had tricked me again.
“Point taken,” I conceded with a sheepish grin. “But when are you going to reveal the identity of the scoundrel who so monstrously destroyed the excellent Dunhill?”
Cavish turned and resumed his former languid position in the armchair. I stood there awaiting his solution to the puzzle while he loaded his pipe once more and leaned back, puffing away with a peculiar air of satisfaction.
“The culprit, Boswell, was no monster or group of terrorists. The person who snuffed out the life of the Dunhill billiard was a common pipe smoker, one who considers these delightful instruments of divine contemplation to be as disposable as a Bic lighter.”
I was flabbergasted. “Then you have no idea who did it?”
“Thankfully, no, or else I would have to track him down wherever he might live, if indeed he still does, and give him some lessons. But I can say for certain that the unknown perpetrator of this loathsome deed prefers cigars to pipes.”
“How can you possibly deduce that?”
“Elementary,” Cavish said. “He used a cigar torch to light his pipe.”
I took a seat in my chair across from him, sighed and filled my well-tended pipe, thinking the end of this mystery a bit disappointing, but pleased the case was closed.
“She is still a beautiful pipe,” Cavish said in a quiet tone. “She shall always be the woman to me.”
I will leave my changing of name to the deductive powers of any readers who may be devotees of the great consulting detective, Sherlock Holmes. The simplest way to sum up my little homage to the genius of the character and writing of the many Holmes adventures is to quote a funnier Holmesian anecdote, by Thomas Cathcart, another great author, who is still alive at 78.
Holmes and Watson are on a camping trip. In the middle of the night Holmes wakes up and gives Dr. Watson a nudge. “Watson,” he says, “look up in the sky and tell me what you see.”
“I see millions of stars, Holmes,” says Watson.
“And what do you conclude from that, Watson?”
Watson thinks for a moment. “Well,” he says, “astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I see that God is all-powerful, and we are small and insignificant. Uh, what does it tell you, Holmes?”
“Watson, you idiot! Someone has stolen our tent!”
* I owe the wry comments of two friends on the Smokers Forums UK, where I posted the graphic photograph of the horribly abused Dunhill, a note of gratitude for the inspiration of these words.