I have smoked a pipe for as long as I can remember; most likely since I was about ten years of age. Until the Legion I smoked cheap disposable clay pipes until France when I ended up with my first briar pipe. In north Africa I experienced my first briar and when passing through Turkey on the way to the Crimea I purchased a simple meerschaum pipe. Of them all I enjoyed the meerschaum most but it was the most expensive and most difficult to procure.
In the Crimea I lost a friend who willed me his Swiss briar. It is precious to me and I still use it. It smokes well even now though it has began to smoke a little too hot and I may well need to retire it. There are many pipe fitters in this part of the country as well as quality mass produced pipes sold in hardware and apothecary shops.
Quality tobacco is plentiful now that the war has ended. I believe the finest comes from the south. North Carolina tobacco in particular is quite fine. But local Minnesota and Iowa tobacco is quite fine as well. During the war we traded coffee and newspapers for twists of tobacco. It was almost always good tobacco. I would typically smoke two to three bowls a day. I knew others who never took their pipe from their mouth.
In the south tobacco was everywhere and everyone used it on daily basis. Women smoked their fine porcelain pipes that would break in a strong breeze. If they did not smoke a pipe they often chewed tobacco instead which is a heartily unpleasant sight. The well off tend to favor cigars, but they are too expensive for my taste. Some Texans would roll cigarillos but I firmly believe that a rather effete practice, though I would never say that out loud. Since the war the use of the cigarillo has spread to the point where few would call it an effete practice. I personally believe it to be a passing craze that will not take hold.
Just give me my pipe and a sifter of fine Cognac or Scotch and life is bearable at even the worst times.
For the better part of my life I have been an outsider looking in. From my earliest memories in the orphanage, the house as a boy of all works, the Dutch army I did not belong. When in the Legion after several years I began to feel like I belonged only long enough to see cholera and the Russians take all but one of my friends. Then the new men arrived and I was once again on the outside looking in. Even after leaving the Legion and my journey to America I have never felt that I fit in. Perhaps such is fitting for a man as I. I am an unapologetic thief and killer. I have killed many men in my life, most have been enemy soldiers but there have been a few that were the law to discover the particulars I might face some tough questions. I will answer to God for those when the time comes but I feel no guilt for them.
The guilt I feel is that of a man who has survived. I feel the loss of men who died in battle beside me, fell to disease or accident. I feel bad for those men who have fallen to my bayonet or under the sites of my weapon. They were men who had the courage of their convictions, the integrity to stand the fire of battle.
I am a man who respects courage and fighting men. I am a soldier who recognizes courage and as a soldier I have the experience to understand it. A man with the courage and integrity to stand in the line of battle with the chaos of battle surrounding him has my respect. Those men who stand back hiding behind words… I will not honor by calling them men. I care little for newspaper men, politicians, lawyers, gentlemen generals or other such charlatans. They are men who make a living by their words and I dare say few garner an honest day’s wage in the entire span of their lives.
I am certain there are honest men among them but I have a difficult time ever remembering one. The law of averages says there must be some among them; I look forward to the day when I meet one.
So I walk through the journey that is life and wonder where I should be. I have yet to find my place. I feel like that bird of prey sitting on a tree limb watching and caring little what anyone else thinks of him. I am content to stand alone with nothing beside me but my rifle and my wife. This woman who has called me husband has been the only person to make me feel welcome in a very long time. She bakes her wonderful bread and does not look upon me as scum; instead she looks to me with love. Love, an emotion I cannot with clear conscience say that I understand. I have been dead and cold inside for so long that I do not think I can ever truly understand love. But this woman, my wife, claims me as hers and I willingly accept that. I will not allow others to hurt or insult her for she has done something few others ever have; she has viewed me as worthwhile. It is she who has given me a touch of humanity and who has treated me as someone worth knowing.
There are those that talk of her skin which is of an odd shade to their eyes. I think they are a bit mad as she is quite beautiful. I have seen beautiful women of every color and creed imaginable and do not understand how someone can look at a skin color as a detriment. What does that say of them when an admitted thief and killer is not offended by skin color? When the fools annoy me I merely imagine their lifeblood coursing across my hands and smile. For it is the woman they look down upon as somehow less than they that keeps them alive. God will reward her for those whose lives her presence has spared. But when it comes time for the Angel of Death to bring me before God… we shall see.