Everything promised well for my week-end with Charles. The weather was warm and sunny, I was bringing my golf clubs down with me, and I had just discovered (and meant to put into practice) an entirely new stance which made it impossible to miss the object ball. It was this that I was explaining to Charles and his wife at dinner on Friday, when the interruption occurred.
“By the way,” said Charles, as I took out a cigarette, “I’ve got a cigar for you. Don’t smoke that thing.”
“You haven’t let him go in for cigars?” I said reproachfully to Mrs. Charles. I can be very firm about other people’s extravagances.
“This is one I picked up in Portugal,” explained Charles. “You can get them absurdly cheap out there. Let’s see, dear; where did I put it?”
“I saw it on your dressing-table last week,” said his wife, getting up to leave us. He followed her out and went in search of it, while I waited with an interest which I made no effort to conceal. I had never heard before of a man going all the way to Portugal to buy one cigar for a friend.
“Here it is,” said Charles, coming in again. He put down in front of me an ash-tray, the matches and a–and a–well, a cigar. I examined it slowly. Half of it looked very tired.
“Well,” said Charles, “what do you think of it?”
“When you say you–er–picked it up in Portugal,” I began carefully. “I suppose you don’t mean—-” I stopped and tried to bite the end off.
“Have a knife,” said Charles.
I had another bite, and then I decided to be frank.
“Why did you pick it up?” I asked.
“The fact was,” said Charles, “I found myself one day in Lisbon without my pipe, and so I bought that thing; I never smoke them in the ordinary way.”
“Did you smoke this?” I asked. It was obvious that something had happened to it.
“No, you see, I found some cigarettes at the last moment, and so, knowing that you liked cigars, I thought I’d bring it home for you.”
“It’s very nice of you, Charles. Of course I can see that it has travelled. Well, we must do what we can with it.”
I took the knife and started chipping away at the mahogany end. The other end–the brown-paper end, which had come ungummed–I intended to reserve for the match. When everything was ready I applied a light, leant back in my chair, and pulled.
“That’s all right, isn’t it?” said Charles. “You’d be surprised if I told you what I paid for it.”
“No, no, you mustn’t think that,” I protested. “Probably things are dearer in Portugal.” I put it down by my plate for a moment’s rest. “All I’ve got against it at present is that its pores don’t act as freely as they should.”
“I’ve got a cigar-cutter somewhere, if—-“
“No, don’t bother, I think I can do it with the nut-crackers. There’s no doubt it was a good cigar once, but it hasn’t wintered well.”
I squeezed it as hard as I could, lit it again, pressed my feet against the table and pulled.
“Now it’s going,” said Charles.
“I’m afraid it keeps very reticent at my end. The follow-through is poor. Is your end alight still?”
“It’s a pity that I should be missing all that. How would it be if we were to make a knitting-needle red-hot and bore a tunnel from this end? We might establish a draught that way. Only there’s always the danger, of course, of coming out at the side.”
I took the cigar up and put it to my ear.
“I can’t hear anything wrong,” I said. “I expect what it really wants is massage.”
Charles filled his pipe again and got up. “Let’s go for a stroll,” he said. “It’s a beautiful night. Bring your cigar with you.”
“It may prefer the open air,” I said. “There’s always that. You know we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that the Portuguese climate is different from ours. The thing’s pores may have acted more readily in the South. On the other hand, the unfastened end may have been more adhesive. I gather that though you have never actually met anybody who has smoked a cigar like this, yet you understand that the experiment is a practicable one. As far as you know this had no brothers. No, no, Charles, I’m going on with it, but I should like to know all that you can tell me of its parentage. It had a Portuguese father and an American mother, I should say, and there has been a good deal of trouble in the family. One moment”–and as we went outside I stopped and cracked it in the door.
It was an inspiration. At the very next application of the match I found that I had established a connection with the lighted end. Not a long and steady connection, but one that came in gusts. After two gusts I decided that it was perhaps safer to blow from my end, and for a little while we had in this way as much smoke around us as the most fastidious cigar-smoker could want. Then I accidentally dropped it; something in the middle of it shifted, I suppose–and for the rest of my stay behind it only one end was at work.
“Well,” said Charles, when we were back in the smoking-room and I was giving the cigar a short breather, “it’s not a bad one, is it?”
“I have enjoyed it,” I said truthfully, for I like trying to get the mastery over a thing that defies me.
“You’ll never guess what it cost,” he chuckled.
“Tell me,” I said. “I daren’t guess.”
“Well, in English money it works out at exactly three farthings.”
I looked at him for a long time and then shook my head sadly.
“Charles, old friend,” I said, “you’ve been done.”