Зображення сторінки
PDF
ePub

stewed in the manner that I have described; then the essence filters through the sieve, and falls to the bottom of the pot in the form of thinnish treacle, while what remains in the sieve is of no more account than common tea-leaves. The brew required some care, however ; and, as I contemplated the poor woman with her head over the pot stirring and kneading, I could understand how it happened that so much of the noxious fume got into her hair as well as her chest.

After a while the sound of ascending footsteps was heard on the stairs, and next moment the door was opened. “Here he is! I thought that he wouldn't be long,” said the woman. It was the opium-master; and he had brought home with him two customers of his own nation. Once again was I doomed to disappointment. I had pictured to myself an individual of commanding aspect, richly costumed as a mandarin; but here came a shabby, shambling, middle-aged Chinaman, into whose apparel, if I mistake not, vulgar corduroy entered, and who wore his pigtail over a sort of stableman's smock. He had on Chinese boots, however, and a Chinese cap, which, on seeing me, he removed, bowing with great cordiality and politeness, as gracefully as his lame leg would permit. He looked at his wife inquiringly, and uttered the word “Smoke?” and, on her nodding affirmatively, he again bowed and rubbed his dirty hands, and turned with what I knew from its tone to be a whisper of apology to his two friends.

It was plain that he was explaining to them that probably I had been waiting some time, and it would be no more than courteous to let me have my pipe at once. But they were of no mind to be put off. They were dirty, savage-looking villains, evidently fresh from shipboard, and sorely itching for an “opium drunk.” They

1 Doister.

wore knives at their waistbands, and their very pigtails seemed to stiffen in anger as they scowled on me. I hastened at once to declare that I was not in the least hurry, and would give up my turn quite cheerfully. They knew nothing of English, but the master did, and in his quaint clipped lingo thanked me, at the same time explaining that he possessed but two opium pipes. else we could all have been served at one and the same time. This little difficulty smoothed, the two dirty Chinamen, restored to good-humour, flung off their caps and leaped upon the bed with the agility and eagerness of cats bent on stealing fish from a dresser. They curled down on the mat counterpane, about three feet apart, and mowed and grinned at each other as they wriggled into a perfectly comfortable position, with their heads on the bolster.

Then, with much gravity, the opium-master commenced operations. Out of a cupboard he produced his tools—the two pipes, a sort of tinder-box of the oldfashioned pattern, a slender iron bodkin fixed in a little handle, and a small brass lamp. The pipes were not a bit like ordinary tobacco pipes. Let the reader imagine a sixteen inch length of dark-coloured bamboo, as thick as a man's forefinger, hollow, and open at one end. There was no "mouth-piece," except the wide, open bore; while, at the closed end, an inch or so from the extremity, was a screw hole. Into this was screwed the tiny bowl, made, I think, of iron, and shaped like a pigeon's egg. The opium-master lit the little brass lamp, and, stepping up on the bed, squatted tailorwise between his customers, with his tools ready at hand. The thing like a tinder-box contained the opium, but it was not, even after the stewing it had undergone, as yet ready for smoking; it had to be frizzled. It seemed to

be of about the consistency of treacle, and, dipping in the tip of the bodkin, he twiddled it round till he had secured a piece as large as a common grey pea. This he held in the flame of the lamp till it was done to his liking.

Then he clapped the precious morsel into the pipe that one of the expectant Chinamen was already greedily sucking, and, to all appearance, the ugly fellow was at once translated from earth to heaven. As the woman had previously informed me, the smoke that was drawn up through the stem was not blown out from the mouth

-it was swallowed or otherwise disposed of by internal machinery. Nothing but what seemed to be the thinnest possible thread of purple vapour escaped from the pipebowl; and, as the awful-looking being on the bed rapturously sucked and sucked, the thread became thinner, his face lit up with a strange light, and his pig-like eyes closed till but two mere streaks parted the lids—two streaks that glowed as though his eyes had turned to opals. While he was thus tasting felicity, the other villain was served, and presently there was a pretty pair. I never should have supposed the human countenance capable of wearing an expression so sensuous, so bestial and revolting. Faintly and more faintly still they sucked, till a gurgling sound in the pipe-stems announced that the opium in the bowl was spent; then the pipes fell from their lips, and they lay still as dead men. I couldn't bear to look at them. I felt as though I were assisting at some sacrifice with a strong flavour of brimstone about it; and felt quite relieved when I turned my eyes towards the fireplace, to observe the woman engaged in nothing more supernatural than gutting a haddock for her husband's supper.

In about ten or twelve minutes the hideous figures on the bed evinced signs of revival. Observing this, the opium-master, who was still squatted on the bed, hastened to roll up a couple of cigarettes of common tobacco, and lit them by taking a whiff at each, after which he handed them to the Chinamen, who rose from the couch yawning, and, like men only half awake, staggered towards the fire, and sat regarding it in silence. They were not going yet; they had come for a “drunk,” and would probably indulge in half-a-dozen more pipes before the evening was over.

Now the opium-master was at my service. I would have given more money than I had about me to have postponed my initiation in the art of opium smoking ; but the demon on the bed was politely beckoning me, and I dared not say him nay. With a tremulous heart I mounted the mattress, but was firm in my resolve to take my pipe sitting, and not reclining. Direful qualms beset me in a rapidly rising tide; but I was an Englishman, and the eyes of at least one of the sleepy barbarians by the fire were blinking on me. The dose was toasted, and I took the great clumsy pipe-stem between my jaws, and sucked as I had observed the Chinamen suck. I swallowed what I sucked, or desperately endeavoured to do so, and the result was precisely what might have been expected. Without doubt I was stupefied, or I never should have ventured on another pull. That did it! Before I ventured on my perilous expedition I had a vivid recollection of what came of smoking my first cigar; but that dismal remembrance is now quite eclipsed by one a hundred times more dreadful. “Sispince, please!” said the still polite opium master, extending his hand; but I hastily pressed on his acceptance the whole of the half-crown I had brought for the purpose, and was glad enough to find myself once more breathing the free and delicious air of Shadwell.

AN AMATEUR COMIC SINGING MATCH.

“An Amateur Comic Singing Match” is a friendly vocal contest, open to all comers on payment of a small entrance fee, and for the champion a prize, and perhaps a certificate of merit, such a one as would be of substantial use to him in the event of his being urged by daring ambition to take to real business on the music hall stage. The notion was not only original, but possessed all the elements that bespeak the generous soul, and, at the same time, the perfectly undimmed vision in the direction of personal profit. It was a clever conception, yet one the growth of which in such a mind can scarcely be regarded as miraculous. A hundred times, at least, must the enterprising gentleman in question have gazed with pride and sweet content on the crowd of intellectual faces directed in ecstasy towards some great and inimitable artist, and have observed the rapture with which, on the instant, every twitching mouth leaped, as it were, to meet the chorus to that popular and classical composition, “The Bloke wot Deals in Tripe.” He must have marked the facial contortions in which they, all unaware and involuntarily, followed the singer's performances—contortions that were the exact counterpart of those which were made by the “Bloke” himself, and in which indeed lay his chief talent and claim on public support. It must have been evident to the proprietor's observant eye that there were scores of young fellows,

« НазадПродовжити »