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Eagle; while within range of a pea-shooter are three other taverns, the Home of Friendship, the Lord Lovat, and the Baltic—and the last-mentioned is at the corner of the very street. Or you may go another way, down Cable Street, till you arrive at a not particular invitinglooking thoroughfare, on a corner of which is inscribed 'To Rehoboth Chapel. From the end of this street you make out a dingy-looking little public house, called the Coal Whippers' Arms. The opium master's house is just handy—up a court.”
Tiger Bay—or, more properly speaking, Blue Gate fields—has been so often described that it will be needless here to say more respecting it than that it is as tigerish as ever; that the dens to which, every night of the year, drunken sailors are betrayed, swarm and flourish openly and defiantly in spite of the police. I discovered that my friend, in describing the street that rejoiced in a Rehoboth Chapel and a Coal Whippers' Arms as “not particularly inviting,” had done it no injustice. It is in the very heart of the Bay, and from end to end it presents an unbroken scene of vice and depravity of the most hideous sort. Almost every house is one of “ill-fame." It was not quite late enough for the tigresses to make themselves sleek and trim, preparatory to going on their customary prowl through their familiar hunting ground; and there they sat, or lolled, or squatted at their doors, blear-eyed and touzle-haired from last night's debauch. There, too, lounged, and smoked short pipes, and drank out of tavern measures the convenient resting-place of which was the window sills, the males of the tribe—the thieves and bullies, who, quiet enough now, would be wide awake and ready to show their quality when dark came, and the tavern gas was flaring. It was somewhat discouraging to find the mystic tree of celestial solace planted in such unpromising soil; but I comforted myself with the reflection that doubtless the eastern splendour of the opium-master's abode would shine the more brilliantly for the shabby setting. I entered the little public house, and, enquiring of the barmaid—who, all among the pots and glasses, and in fair view of several customers, was "changing her frock” as coolly as if she were in her private chamber—I was at once directed to the court where the opium-master resided. An awful little court it was, with a narrow arched entry, and pregnant with the peculiar odour of neglected gutters. The houses of the court were of the three rooms and a washhouse order; and, as directed, I applied at the third house of the left hand row.
There was no one at home but the opium-master's wife; but as she is English, I experienced no difficulty in making known to her my desire. She exhibited not the least amazement that one of her own countrymen should have a craving after the celestial luxury.
“I 'spect it won't be long before he's back," said she ; will you call again in a little while, or will you come
“I will stay till he comes in, if you have no objection,” said I ; whereupon she shut the outer door, and toiled slowly, like a person who is very ill, up the narrow, filthy little staircase. I followed her. There were not many stairs, but she mounted them so slowly that I had ample opportunity, ere we reached the mystic chamber, of making myself acquainted with the smell of that which, if all went well, I should presently enjoy the felicity of tasting.
I cannot say that the odour was appetizing. The filthy little house seemed full of some subtle sickening essence lurking on the stairs and under the stairs, and ascending in invisible vapours through the many chinks and holes in the rotten woodwork. It seemed likewise to lie on the handrail in the form of a fine dust, that instantly melted to some loathsome moisture the moment the hand was laid on it. There was a window, either open or broken, somewhere overhead, as I could tell by the downward draught; but this was not an unmitigated advantage, for it stirred the dull leadenlooking hair on the woman's head, and the sickening odour was instantly and most unmistakably increased. I have since been endeavouring to decide to what other familiar smell or mingling of smells the odour in question might best be likened, but not yet successfully. Treacle melted with glue over an open fire, and flavoured with singeing horse-hoof in a farrier's, might be something like it ; but after all the comparison is feeble. Arrived at a landing, the opium-master's wife pushed open a door. “Come in and take a cheer, Sir,” she said politely.
I went in, and unless I outlive memory I shall never forget the strange spectacle that was revealed. The room, at a rough guess, may have been eleven feet long and nine wide. An awfully dilapidated little den, the much-begrimed ceiling patched with rain leakage, and broken here and there, so that the laths were visible ; the walls black with smoke and grease; the shattered upper panes of the foul little window plastered with brown paper. There was a bedstead in the room-a bedstead so large that there was left but a yard or so of space between it and the fireplace-a “four-poster," amply hung about with some kind of flimsy material, the original colour of which it was impossible to guess. But the bedding was more remarkable than the bed
stead; for the bed was “made ” the wrong way—across the length of the bedstead instead of its width, with a long bolster; and it was covered, instead of a counterpane, with a huge breadth of fine Chinese matting. A table and three chairs, if I remember rightly, constituted the remainder of the furniture in the opium-master's smoking saloon, with a few gaudy prints on the walls, and the mantelshelf crowded with ornaments evidently of Oriental origin.
Having surveyed the furniture, I was at liberty to contemplate the opium-master's wife. I have said that she was English, but it was only by her speech that her nationality could be so readily decided. A small lean woman, with such a marvellous grafting of Chinese about her, that her cotton gown of English cut seemed to hang quite awkwardly on her sharp shoulders. Her skin was dusky yellow, and tightly drawn at the nostrils and the cheek bones; and evidently she had, since her marriage, taken such a thoroughly Chinese view of life, that her organs of vision were fast losing their European shape, and assuming that which coincided with her adopted nature. She was very ill, poor woman. It was killing her, she said, this constant breathing of the fumes of the subtle drug her husband dealt in. She didn't mind it, she had grown used to it, but it “told on her,” and lodged in her chest, and gave her a cough.
“ You mean that it is the smoke from your customers' pipes that affects you,” I remarked.
“There is no smoke from the pipes, it's too precious for that,” replied the woman. “Nobody ought to smoke opium-nobody knows how to smoke opium—who is as wasteful as that.” And she accompanied the severe observation with a shake of her head, and a glance that betokened her fathomless pity for a person in my benighted condition.
“Then how do the fumes, or the smoke, or whatever it is, get into your throat, ma'am ?" I inquired, humbly.
“It's the preparing of it chiefly,” said she, “which I'd better be doing now, if you have no objection.”
On the contrary, I was but too grateful for the opportunity of witnessing such a mystery. I was presently amazed, too, as well as thankful ; for, dropping on her hands and knees, she crawled a little way under the bedstead, and again emerged with a saucepan-a common iron saucepan, capable of holding perhaps two quarts. This was a painful stab at my reverence for opium. Had I seen a vessel of ancient porcelain, or even a brazen pipkin, it would not have been so shocking ; but a vulgar, smutty pot, such as potatoes are boiled in! I began to have doubts lest, after all, I had come to the wrong shop; but a searching question soon drew out clear evidence that I had been preceded in my visit by the illustrious travellers of whom I had heard. The woman placed the saucepan with the water in it on the fire, and then proceeded to fix on the mouth of it a sort of little sieve, the fine-woven meshes of which hung into the water. Then she shredded some cake opium, as sailors shred Cavendish for smoking, placed it on the sieve, and put on the brew to simmer.
I made no remark, for fear lest a further exposure of my ignorance might turn pity to downright contempt ; but a light dawned on me. This was the secret of my failures with the opium pipe! I had procured the very best sort from the druggists, and filled with it the most freely-drawing of meerschaums, but nausea had been the only result. I had been guilty of the gross barbarism of taking my opium raw! It should be cooked