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THE SMOKERS OF HASHISH
INTRODUCING ONE CHARLES EDGERTON
IT WAS A BRILLIANT morning in early summer.
The sky was that deep, vivid blue that is seen only in Mediterranean countries,
and the sea reflected its glory. The Rock of Gibraltar, thrusting its ugly but
imposing bulk towards the heavens, seemed fresher that morning, its outlines
were clearer and sharper, and the flowers and foliage that patched its steep
sides appeared to have taken on a more vivid hue, as if, during the night, they
had been washed and polished.
It made me feel particularly fit and
exuberant. I came downstairs and wandered into the garden, for my father, being
one of the great ones of the Rock, rejoices in the possession of one of these
rarities. Or, rather, I should have said that, residing in Casemate Barracks, he
enjoys, in common with the other tenants of the married quarters, the privilege
of stretching his legs, or lounging with a newspaper and a whisky and soda, in
the miniature tropical wilderness that looks down on to the Line Wall Road.
I lit a cigarette, and felt strong and happy,
and at peace with the world. Mutt, the Airedale, and his lady, Jeff, rushed
towards me like two small whirlwinds, and fiercely argued the point as to who
was to wish me “Good morning!” first. I treated them impartially, and we romped
like three kids until Mutt discovered a strange and intriguing smell that led
under a huge rhododendron, and went to investigate. Mutt not returning
immediately, Jeff also left to investigate, and I strolled to the edge of the
garden and made pleasant noises to a couple of the Governor’s cows that were
taking the air. Duty performed, I went back to the house in search of breakfast.
“Good morning, all,” I said brightly. “I’m
taking a holiday over the weekend. I’m buzzing over to Tangier.”
“Your life is one long holiday, my lad,”
growled my father. Being the Garrison Adjutant, the Superintendent of the Fire
Brigade, the Provost-Marshal, the Governor’s right-hand man, and all sorts of
other things besides— the general bottle-washer of the Rock, in fact—he has to
“Tangier?” said my sister. “What do you want
to go to Tangier for? It smells.”
My mother said nothing, but handed me my
coffee with a smile. A boy’s best friend is his mother.
“For adventure,” I replied with an airy
gesture. “For romance. To study the Near East at first hand. Maybe I’ll join the
The gallant Major snorted. “Not you! They have
to work in the Legion.”
My sister eyed me shrewdly.
“There’s some dirty work going on here. What’s
the attraction over there? Whom do we know over there, Mother?”
“I don’t know, I’m sure, my dear,” said my
mother, and went on to show that she did. “There’s only Colonel and Mrs.
“H’m! Adventure! Romance! Some sordid intrigue
with a tenth-rate Spanish dancer, I expect.”
“Darling,” said I pleasantly. “You’ve got a
mind like a sink—a tenth-rate sink!”
I got out of that corner rather better than I
thought I would.
Ten o’clock saw me on board the Gib-el-Musa,
amid a heterogeneous selection of Spaniards, Moors, Frenchmen, Negroes, and
animals, the latter chiefly fowls of the air in the shape of the common or
garden hen. And an hour or so later we dropped anchor off the terraced,
semicircular town of Tangier. Instantly we were besieged by a swarm of yelling,
excited, gesticulating natives, desirous of rowing us and our baggage ashore in
their crazy-looking little boats. In a very few minutes the majority of them
were aboard; and thus having us at their mercy they started to sell us things. A
patriarchal old gentleman with one eye shoved a large tray into my stomach, and
launched into a feverish tirade of abuse. At least that was how it seemed to me.
The tray contained an assortment of the tawdriest and most useless objets d’art
that ever came out of Birmingham. I did not want a mosaic-handled book mark,
neither had I any particular need for a “gold” inlaid dagger and sheath— “same
what famous Riffi chief used—nice man, Mister—bloody robber-chief!” Nor had I
any use for a hand-woven basket, made, so the patriarch Abraham swore by the
beard of the Prophet, by a great sheikh’s daughter, nor a Morocco-leather bag,
nor the sundry “genuine” Moorish brasswork with which he juggled wildly in front
of my nose, nor, in fact, anything that was his. I told him so, but apparently
he did not hear me, for he thrust about half a dozen things into my hands, and
announced with a wide, ingratiating grin that I could have the lot for “ten
dollars, Spanish, by damn!” He apologised profusely to himself for allowing
himself to be persuaded to take such a paltry sum, but informed me in a mixture
of mangled English, Spanish and Arabic that Allah had blessed him no less than
fourteen times, and that these fourteen blessings had to eat occasionally.
Just when things were getting a bit difficult
a long, bamboo rod with a spike on the end, on which was impaled an orange,
insinuated itself between the faces of Abraham and myself. A tin mug containing
a few copper coins was attached to the spike, and an excited voice from the
depths called my attention to the excellence and the cheapness of the orange. I
looked over the side of the Gib-el-Musa, and saw another villainous, bewhiskered
patriarch, who looked like that unfortunate prophet, Job, holding the other end
of the rod, and rocking dangerously in a dirty little boat. Abraham saw him
also, and took umbrage at this ungentlemanly canvassing of his own customer. He
seized the orange, spat on it, and violently hurled it at Job. That patriarch
countered by prodding Abraham in the stomach with the spike. Abraham dashed his
wares to the deck, tore at his beard, and advanced to the rail. During the
verbal battle that ensued I managed to sneak away. I think Abraham won on
points. He could talk faster and more incomprehensibly than Job.
I made my way through a screaming rabble to
the official tender, and along with the rest of the passengers who had the good
sense to use it was conveyed to the shore.
My sister was right. Tangier did smell. But it
had a charm and a mystery, it possessed that air of Eastern inscrutability that
contrasts so oddly with the shrill voluble Eastern peoples, that appealed to me.
One just lands at Tangier. There are no
Customs houses, no passport officials, and no medical officers. But there are
beggars, thinly disguised as porters, and street vendors innumerable. These
descended on us in a swarm, and deafened us with their clamour. The combined
stench was wonderful. The porters all but knocked us down in their endeavours to
wrest from us our parcels and suitcases. Those of us who managed to fight our
way through this front line of Tangier’s defences soon found ourselves in the
reserve trenches. We were surrounded by a host of smiling, smooth-shaven
gentlemen, who wore short but voluminous trousers, which revealed an expanse of
calf, sock-suspenders of various hues, and cheap cotton socks; light-coloured
Moorish slippers were on their feet, and they differed from the firing-line in
that they wore the short Moorish jacket and the fez. The porters had worn
anything from a filthy, buttonless, military tunic to a tattered remnant of a
These gentlemen were the guides. They were
quieter but more compelling. They were suave and unshakeable. They received
curses as if they were flowery compliments, and they practised a subtle form of
blackmail. They would attach themselves to you and follow you wherever you went,
pointing out places of interest the while. Look but once in the direction of the
pointing finger, shoot but the merest glance, and you are done for. That, to
them, constituted an engagement, and they would thereupon dog your footsteps
until, desperate, you threatened them with the policia, whereupon they would
lead you to the nearest pair of gendarmes—the Spanish police hunt in couples—and
demand payment for their services. Confronted by the cold eye of the Law, which
I verily believe was in partnership with these brigands, you would pay up and
look as pleasant as possible in the circumstances.
At least that was my experience, for one
Abdul, the son of the Camel-dealer—I think he must have been a blood-brother to
the daughter of the horseleech—fell on my neck, and greeted me like a long-lost
brother. To my passionate requests to be left alone, and my heartiest curses, he
turned a bland, smiling countenance, and a deaf ear. He shadowed me through the
great Bab-el-Marsa, the Gate of the Port, and along the main thoroughfare until,
turning a corner, we ran into a couple of gendarmes. I appealed to the Law. The
Law showed its white teeth in a dazzling smile, twirled its moustaches, shrugged
its shoulders, and advised me to pay the man, when I should be left in peace. So
I gave Abdul the son of the Camel-dealer his bloodmoney, and consigned him,
carriage paid, to perdition. Then I inquired of the Law the way to Colonel
The Colonel, it seemed, was well known, for
without hesitation I was told to continue straight on up to the Sok, pass down
through the market, and then turn to the left. The white villa just past a
little grove of olive trees was the Colonel’s residence. I thanked the
gendarmes, and they farewelled me as if I had been Royalty. The Spanish are the
politest people on earth.
I soon found I had made a mistake in parting
with Abdul. While he had been with me I had been free from other molestation,
but now I was beset by beggars. The halt, the maimed, and even the blind, marked
me as I passed. They came out of their holes like so many rats, and hobbled
after me, displaying festering sores, and wounds, and malformations that made
the heart sick, and called loudly for baksheesh, in the name of Allah, the
Merciful, the Compassionate, the Protector of the Poor. I distributed baksheesh,
which was another mistake, for when one left, two came from the shadows to take
his place. I began to look like a particularly noisy procession of the
unemployed, and perspired with embarrassment. Fortunately a camel-train came
along then, and I darted across the road and under the high-held neck of one of
these supercilious beasts, and thus managed to lose my ragged regiment.
I climbed the gentle slope up to the great
Sok, blindingly white beneath the brilliantly blue sky, and paused. An appalling
din smote my eardrums. The shouting of men, the screaming of women, the clang of
metal on metal, the neighing and stamping of horses, the thudding of
drums—beaten with the flat of the hand—the wailing of quaint, Eastern musical
instruments, the monotonous bleating of sheep and goats, the frenzied squawking
of fowls—these noises came rolling over the top of the hill in a vast, confused
wave of sound that was almost solid. I thought it was a riot, but I was wrong,
for on topping the rise I discovered it to be merely the market in action.
I stood there for a minute or two, drinking in
the colourful scene. A great dusty square of ground was covered with people,
produce, birds of the air, beasts of the field, bales of cloth of vivid hues,
stacks of copper and brassware, clothing, footwear, flowers, wine, bread, meat,
sticky-looking sweetmeats, all heaped together without order or method, as if
some gigantic hand had carelessly tossed them there. There were stalls with gay
canopies over them, stalls without canopies, and stalls that were merely boards
perched precariously on uneven-sized boxes, but the vast majority of the goods
lay in a heterogeneous jumble on the bare earth. Yelling, perspiring,
gesticulating vendors stood by their stock, arguing, blustering, hectoring,
whining, cajoling, while the grave-faced buyers wandered slowly to and fro, and
stroked their beards meditatively. On the fringes of the marketground were the
conjurers, the snakecharmers, the holy men, the musicians, and the ubiquitous
beggars. And over all rose the gleaming dome of the Sok, pure, serene and
I stood there, fascinated, until I became
aware of further activity on the opposite side of the road. A dozen or so mules
were standing about dejectedly, lazily swishing their tails at the myriads of
flies that buzzed round and about them. They were saddled and bridled after the
Moorish fashion—an ornate single rein, and a cloth saddle about the size and
shape of an exceedingly badly-stuffed mattress. Most of them were mounted by a
party of English visitors, and while I gazed at them, a splendid figure desisted
from his occupation of impassionately kicking one of these mules in the stomach,
and came over to me. He was the guide, escort and proprietor of the mules, and,
of course, his name was Abdul. He wore wide blue breeches, thrust into
riding-boots of soft Moorish leather, a short yellow jacket, embroidered with
red and silver, a scarlet cummerbund, and a fez of a deep shade of red that
clashed horribly with the cummerbund.
Wouldn’t I like a ride on one of his beautiful
mules? He was the best guide in Tangier. All the English patronised him. His
mules were the swiftest and most well-behaved. He took the longest and most
interesting ways. He was just making up a party to leave immediately. He was one
damgood guide. Wouldn’t I join the party?
No, I wouldn’t. And I was in a hurry.
Ah! but would the Colonel just look at the
beautiful mules. Fit for English officier to ride.
The newly gazetted Colonel intimated that he
had an urgent appointment elsewhere.
An appointment? Pouf! Allah was good! Tomorrow
was also a day. Abdul would take the English Colonel for good ride into the
desert. Maybe see a few bandits.
But the English Colonel had seen all the
bandits he wanted to that day, and said so in no unmeasured terms.
Abdul let forth a torrent of Arabic. A spindly
undersized youth led a mule up to us. Would the Colonel just glance at that
spirited animal? A noble steed. Not so fast as Arab horse, but more stamina,
gentler, and more sympathetic.
The Colonel glanced at the mule. The mule
showed no resentment. It yawned with boredom.
I supposed it was a mule?
Abdul invoked the beard of the Prophet. It was
the finest mule in Morocco. Never was there such a mule. It had once belonged to
Abd-el-Krim, the notorious Riffi chief, who had very nearly driven the Spanish
out of Morocco.
Then came a welcome interruption.
“What a liar you are, Algernon!” said a
pleasant, lazy voice. “That’s the story you told me about Ermyntrude here.” And
without the slightest break or change in tone: “Hullo, Bill!”
I looked round and up. A long lean man with a
smiling and very sunburnt face was sitting easily on a dejected-looking mule,
“Chiller!” I cried, and stretched up my hand
to him. “Chiller! What the devil are you doing here? I thought you were in Port
Chiller’s baptismal name is Charles, Charles
Edgerton, but I have never yet heard him called anything else but Chiller. Why,
I do not know; neither does Chiller himself. He is a traveller, an adventurer, a
sportsman, and a very fine gentleman. He knows the world as a man knows his own
home town, he knows the Mediterranean and its countries as you know your own
right hand; he understands—more, he can mix with—its peoples, and he speaks
fluently a dozen different languages and dialects. And here was this man,
sitting contentedly on a hired mule, about to be led by the nose by an ignorant
and avaricious professional guide, for all the world as if he were a raw,
excited, inquisitive weekend tripper.
“What on earth,” I repeated wonderingly, “are
you doing in this circus?”
“Just having a look round,” said my friend
lazily. “Ermyntrude and I are going places and seeing things, as they say in the
classics. . . . Hop on that bag of misery there and join us.”
“I’d love to,” said I, “but I can’t very well.
I’m on my way to old Colonel Stoddart’s place.”
“Ha!” observed Abdul, catching at a familiar
name. “We go past Colonel’s house. Then dam-fine ride round Tangier and
“Good word that, Abdul,” said Chiller,
admiringly. “Not that this untidy smell of a town has any subbubs, but it’s a
good word all the same. . . . No use going to the Colonel’s place before lunch,
Bill. They’re all out riding. Come on out with me, and we’ll go there to lunch.”
“Right oh!” said I, and I clambered
ungracefully on to the back of that peerless animal that had once belonged to