Hashish: A Smuggler's Tale (Penguin Classics)
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Nobleman, writer, adventurer and inspiration for the swashbuckling gun runner in the Adventures of Tintin, Henri de Monfried lived by his own account ‘a rich, restless, magnificent life’ as one of the great travellers of his or any age. Infamous as well as famous, his name is inextricably linked to the Red Sea and the raffish ports between Suez and Aden in the early years of the twentieth century. This is a compelling account of how de Monfried seeks his fortune by becoming a collector and merchant of the fabled Gulf pearls, then is drawn into the shadowy world of arms trading, slavery, smuggling and drugs. Hashish was the drug of choice, and de Monfried writes of sailing to Suez with illegal cargos, dodging blockades and pirates.
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turned their back on the railway line, we plunged anew into the mountains. From the foot of a valley hemmed in with hills, the little train climbed through a winding ravine up over the rounded shoulders of the hills to a great, wild moor. Not a single village was to be seen, or indeed any trace of human habitation. A vegetation of stunted bushes and rock plants grew as best it could among the chalky boulders, and covered the spurs of the mountains with a mantle of heath. Here and there we saw
victory or defeat depends on a straw. But when one is in the position in which I found myself, one is working in the darkness, guided only by impulses, instincts and feelings, and one has to be doubly vigilant, and not despise the smallest indication. At seven o’clock we went off to the station, this time in the sumptuous victoria of the ugly niece. The whole family kissed me good-bye, the niece with a dark blush showing through her oily skin. I promised to come back with my wife and children to
haycocks, hummocks and all the rest of it, such as I had vainly looked for two days before. Could I be forty miles farther south than my astronomical point indicated? My self-esteem as a sailor suffered a rude shock, but what bothered me most was the brutal snatching away of my illusions; I felt as if some malevolent hand had pushed us forty miles back in one second. All the same, I could have swom that my calculations were right. But in that case the mountains of Elba must have changed their
order to appear at ease, in which I could never be natural for one second. I met Stavro in the train, and he immediately began to talk about Gorgis. I praised him warmly, saying I had found him a very fine fellow, and he couldn’t resist running him down a little. ‘It’s a blessing I am there to arrange everything,’ he said, ‘for I am the one who discusses business with the Bedouins. I know how to manage them; and when somebody has to go out and be tossed about in the Gulf, it’s always me. And
without being haunted by fears of disaster. The same evening I set out for Alexandria. I wanted to see Jacques Schouchana (see Secrets of the Red Sea) and if possible sell him the pearls I had left. Last time I had seen him at Massawa he had given me his brother’s address. When I reached Alexandria I took one of these old horse-cabs at the station, and drove to it. It was a very fine jeweller’s shop in the Rue Sesostris, in the richest part of the town. I was received with great cordiality,