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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 growl.

“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 Foreign Legion.”

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. Stoddart.”

“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 djellab.

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 Stoddart’s house.

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 watchful.

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, presumably Ermyntrude.

“Chiller!” I cried, and stretched up my hand to him. “Chiller! What the devil are you doing here? I thought you were in Port Said!”

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 subbubs.”

“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 Abd-el-Krim.


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