The single event that would set into motion a course of decisions and actions that would ultimately bring about the destruction of the house of MacClellen occurred on 17 November 1869.
I, William MacClellen, had just completed my studies as a fourth year medical student. I had passed my boards and exams and some of my cohort and I had our mind set on revelry. We found ourselves at a small tavern just off university grounds in Staffordshire.
After more than a few pints and songs of loves lost we retired to a long common table. I was seated at the end of the table across from a man of the mines. So stained was his skin with the grit and grime from the mines, his original complexion could not be discerned. His 3 fingered left hand deftly handled his mug while he incessantly tapped out the rhythm to an old sea shanty. Paying him little mind we took to the leaf.
My mates and I were faithful brothers of the briar, our pipes well broken by late nights of nose warming in cold libraries. My pipe of choice was a conglomeration of a short stemmed churchwarden and a Haiti, a French shape closely resembling a Bulldog. Grabbing my pouch from my vest pocket, I noticed the miner across from me pull a pipe from his right inside pocket. Through the gap created by his absent middle digits I spied the most monstrous smoking instrument. I hesitate to call it a pipe, although I suppose that is what it most resembled. Deep, dark burgundy in color, a shape so strange I would call it shapeless. If pressed I would have to say it looked a bit like a lobe from a child’s liver, though diseased and hardened. A stem jutted out of the only place a stem could have jutted out.
The pipe looked entirely repulsive, yet I could not look away. I was drawn, like flies to honey, to this…this monstrosity. After a bit of hesitation the miner allowed me to look more closely at his pipe, but closer inspection yielded little more than the glimpse I had stolen from across the table. Surprisingly, however, the pipe seemed to sit in my hand as if carved specifically for me.
Under a spell not of this world I packed the pipe with my latakia heavy blend. The miner smiled a stained, knowing smile as I brought fire to bear. I charred my plug and tamped, then lit again. The sweet spirits that escaped the foul vessel were unparalleled in my experience. This was my leaf. I expected the familiarity of the old blend that had seen me through many autumns, but I was met with something altogether alien. The smallest sip would yield such overwhelmingly pleasant exhilaration I wished not to let it escape my mouth.
Once I came to my senses I demanded to know the origin of this otherworldly pipe. He claimed that there were none like it. I pressed to find that it was the liver of a Norwegian Gnome that had been brined then cured and preserved. I offered him large sums of money and trade for transfer of ownership but he would not yield. “You can hunt one yourself, but you will pay dearly for it” he croaked as he snatched the still burning pipe from my hands. With that he took his leave, and the rest of mine with him.
My being was consumed with curiosity. Every mortal fiber longed for another sweet draw on that monstrous pipe. My dreams were filled with images of gnomes and wild fantasies of fire and earth.
The next morning I woke to rain and the single thought of the pipe. Being a man of science I had never entertained such fantastic whimsy. Liver of gnome? Gnome? I made my way briskly to the library where research on the chthonic beings consumed 3 days and nights of my life. I discovered their reticence in all endeavors human. I learned that they move through dirt as man through air. Famed metallurgists they were regarded by one author as the most technologically gifted of the elves. Finally I learned that they were known to be avid pipe smokers all. Their pipe smoking actually being one of the few times they could be seen or even captured above ground.
My studies turned to pinpointing their locations. The European continent was dotted with tales throughout. From Greece and Troy to Scandinavia and the British Isles, the legends spread, even sightings in the new world.
I am fortunate enough to be a man of vast resources. My grandfather was lord of all of the land from Dunnottar Castle west to Loch Lochy and south along the Firth of Tay. These are rich lands and the house of MacClellend has been prosperous for ages. My wife, Magdelena hails from Cornwall with nobility in her blood for centuries.
I assumed the fortunes and responsibilities of my birthright in 1867 at age 33. While I completed my studies, I employed a dear boyhood friend and accountant called Wallace. He was honest and well paid so I worried not about my family fortune under his careful stewardship. He took residence in the west apartments of the castle, and never wanted for anything.
These fortunes afforded me the opportunity to travel comfortably throughout the European continent in search of the gnomes. I logically thought that where there were gnomes (assuming they did indeed exist) these magical pipes would certainly be easily found; for although gnomes lived for hundreds of years, and were incredibly difficult to capture or kill, according to legends they did turn up dead or gravely injured from time to time.
I began my journey in Turkey and moved through the gypsy heavy Balkans north to Scandinavia. Wallace, having never left Scotland was taken ill several times by exotic foods, but his spirit never faltered. Magdelena pined for the hills and lochs of Scotland. Truly one of the nation’s adopted daughters.
My questions of gnomes were met by laughter in the cities and nothing but hearsay in the country. All the while I was depleting my family fortune on my quest. Wallace and Magdelena grew tired of my feverish disposition, and I felt the distance between myself and Magdelana as surely as I felt the closeness between her and Wallace. I cared not. I would find that gnome. I would have my pipe.
Alas, I returned to Scotland empty handed and depressed. I had exhausted all of my leads and was no closer to my goal.
As I took to dine, the cook, Luc had noticed my sour demeanor. We had employed the same French family as cooks for 3 generations and they were all masters of their craft. Luc came to my side and said quietly "I know of gnomes in America." He knew of my quest and told me stories of Arcadians living in New Orleans. A city steeped in mystery and tales of Voo-doo religions.
My vigor renewed, I called the bastard Wallace in from his new residence in the servants’ quarters to aid me in planning this final escapade. I required Luc's company on this trip as well. He claimed to know many people stateside that could aide us. Wallace protested like a dog no longer suitable for breeding, arguing that I had squandered the larger part of my estate on this foolish goose chase. I dismissed him and told him to make arrangements with haste; I planned to depart by weeks end. Magdelena would remain at the estate.
Not having Magdelena in tow, we were able to travel light. We traveled by steam ship across the Atlantic, and made our way through America to New Orleans. We did no searching en route. So convinced was Luc at our success, we were anxious and felt no need to waste time. The entire journey was uneventful, and rather than bore you with the menu or the appointments, I shall move to the chase.
We finally arrived by nightfall. Luc made arrangements for our accommodations and we bedded down till morning.
After breakfast we met with a group of gentlemen….grave diggers. I had thought all in New Orleans were laid to rest above ground upon their death, but I had been misinformed. The motley crew told us stories of small men popping from the earth and smoking their pipes. They often saw the gnomes as they each had tangible subterranean interests.
They assured us that unlike European gnomes, these beasts were considerably slower due to smoking the local perique leaves at full strength. The largest of the crew even claimed to see one of them fall asleep mid-bowl.
After much discussion, we decided tonight would be the night. We had a location with confirmed visual identification, and we knew they had weaknesses.
We spent the afternoon fashioning a trap of silk rope. Anything made from or grown in the earth was useless at trapping the gnome, as they could simply move right through it. As dusk fell, Luc, the impotent bastard Wallace and the rest of the crew moved into position near a graveyard just outside of town. Sure enough minutes before sunset no fewer than a dozen gnomes came to the surface and lit up. In my research I learned the older and more haggard the gnome, the harder the liver, the sweeter the smoke rendered from the pipe.
I spotted my prey. They smoked mainly out of pipes fashioned from something one of the grave diggers called Missouri Meerschaum. All that is, except my prey. He was smoking a great Danish horn shaped pipe of exquisite briar. Is it possible this gnome emigrated from the old world? Could I have a Danish or Scandinavian gnome in my midst. I reveled in the thought!
We waited until they were deep into their perique fueled stupor before we sprang into action. We were able to close the distance between us and our target to just a few meters. I believe Wallace soiled himself in fear. I carried with me a vial of ether, and my medical kit. If possible I wished to extract a small lobe of the liver while leaving the gnome alive to live out the rest of his days.
Luc threw a stick away from us to distract the Halfling. Spooked, the gnome dropped his pipe assumed a defensive posture. His back to us, we cast the silk net true and landed him. The gnome reeled and produced a small gleaming knife from his belt hurling it at Wallace. The blade connected true with his sternum and carved straight through to his aorta. Wallace was dead before he hit the ground. The Frenchmen barked orders to each other and I moved in with the ether soaked kerchief.
I wrapped my hand around his neck and applied the kerchief to his face and mouth. In that moment I felt an incredible searing pain as the gnome bit down with the force of a bear trap. I felt skin, sinew and finally bone give way. I recoiled, grasping my hand instinctively. The gnome wriggled to face me and spat two objects out at me. I didn’t have to look to realize that they were the 2 middle digits on my left hand.
Enraged I took a hammer and scalpel from my kit. The gnome was in a haze from the ether and the perique. I was able to land a blow squarely between the eyes rendering the foul beast unconscious and the conflict over.
In seconds I had the gnomes gut opened up and his liver in my hand. I had initially planned to take only enough for a billiard shaped pipe or perhaps a lovat, but in bitter retribution I took more than I had planned. Now my pipe will have a liver shank as well. The Gnome should survive the encounter, but life will be a bit more difficult for him.
In the end I lost a life long friend, 2 fingers on my left hand, and what remained of the house of MacClellend to my former wife, the hag Magdelena. But the pipe smokes magnificently.
copyright 2010 Robert Beck