Wit and Humor of America, The Vol 07



Gracious! You're not going to smoke again? I do believe, my dear, that you're getting to be a regular, etc., etc. (Voice from across the reading table.)

A slave to tobacco! Not I. Singular, the way you women misuse nouns. I am, rather, a chosen acolyte in the temple of Nicotiana. Daily, aye, thrice daily—well, call it six, then—do I make burnt offering. Now some use censers of clay, others employ censers of rare white earth finely carved and decked with silver and gold. My particular censer, as you see, is a plain, honest briar, a root dug from the banks of the blue Garonne, whose only glory is its grain and color. The original tint, if you remember, was like that of new-cut cedar, but use—I've been smoking this one only two years now—has given it gloss and depth of tone which put the finest mahogany to shame. Let me rub it on my sleeve. Now look!

There are no elaborate mummeries about our service in the temple of Nicotiana. No priest or pastor, no robed muezzin or gowned prelate calls me to the altar. Neither is there fixed hour or prescribed point of the compass towards which I must turn. Whenever the mood comes and the spirit listeth, I make devotion.

There are various methods, numerous brief litanies. Mine is a common and simple one. I take the cut Indian leaf in the left palm, so, and roll it gently about with the right, thus. Next I pack it firmly in the censer's hollow bowl with neither too firm nor too light a pressure. Any fire will do. The torch need not be blessed. Thanks, I have a match.

Now we are ready. With the surplus breath of life you draw in the fragrant spirit of the weed. With slow, reluctant outbreathing you loose it on the quiet air. Behold! That which was but a dead thing, lives. Perhaps we have released the soul of some brave red warrior who, long years ago, fell in glorious battle and mingled his dust with the unforgetting earth. Each puff may give everlasting liberty to some dead and gone aboriginal. If you listen you may hear his far-off chant. Through the curling blue wreaths you may catch a glimpse of the happy hunting grounds to which he has now gone. That is the part of the service whose losing or gaining depends upon yourself.

The first whiff is the invocation, the last the benediction. When you knock out the ashes you should feel conscious that you have done a good deed, that the offering has not been made in vain.

Slave! Still that odious word? Well, have it your own way. Worshipers at every shrine have been thus persecuted.

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