A Smoke of Manila

by Rudyard Kipling

[a short tale]

THE man from Manila held the floor. “Much care had made him very lean and pale and hollow-eyed.” Added to which he smoked the cigars of his own country, and they were bad for the constitution. He foisted his Stinkadores Magnificosas and his Cuspidores Imperiallissimos upon all who would accept them, and wondered that the recipients of his bounty turned away and were sad. “There is nothing,” said he, “like a Manila cigar.” And the pink pyjamas and blue pyjamas and the spotted green pyjamas, all fluttering gracefully in the morning breeze, vowed that there was not and never would be.

“Do the Spaniards smoke these vile brands to any extent?” asked the Young Gentleman travelling for Pleasure as he inspected a fresh box of Oysters of the East. “Smoke ’em!” said the man from Manila; “they do nothing else day and night.” “Ah!” said the Young Gentleman travelling for Pleasure, in the low voice of one who has received mortal injury, “that accounts for the administration of the country being what it is. After a man has tried a couple of these things he would be ready for any crime.”

The man from Manila took no heed of the insult. “I knew a case once,” said he, “when a cigar saved a man from the sin of burglary and landed him in quod for five years.” “Was he trying to kill the man who gave him the cigar?” said the Young Gentleman travelling for Pleasure. “No, it was this way: My firm’s godowns stand close to a creek. That is to say, the creek washes one face of them, and there are a few things in those godowns that might be useful to a man, such as piece-goods and cotton prints—perhaps five thousand dollars’ worth. I happened to be walking through the place one day when, for a miracle, I was not smoking. That was two years ago.” “Great Cæsar! then he has been smoking ever since!” murmured the Young Gentleman travelling for Pleasure.

“Was not smoking,” continued the man from Manila. “I had no business in the godowns. They were a short cut to my house. When half-way through them I fancied I saw a little curl of smoke rising from behind one of the bales. We stack our bales on low saddles, much as ricks are stacked in England. My first notion was to yell. I object to fire in godowns on principle. It is expensive, whatever the insurance may do. Luckily I sniffed before I shouted, and I sniffed good tobacco smoke.” “And this was in Manila, you say?” interrupted the Young Gentleman travelling for Pleasure.

“Yes, in the only place in the world where you get good tobacco. I knew we had no bales of the weed in stock, and I suspected that a man who got behind print bales to finish his cigar might be worth looking up. I walked between the bales till I reached the smoke. It was coming from the ground under one of the saddles. That’s enough, I thought, and I went away to get a couple of the Guarda Civile—policemen, in fact. I knew if there was anything to be extracted from my friend the bobbies would do it. A Spanish policeman carries in the day-time nothing more than a six-shooter and machete, a dirk. At night he adorns himself with a repeating rifle, which he fires on the slightest provocation. Well, when the policemen arrived, they poked my friend out of his hiding-place with their dirks, hauled him out by the hair, and kicked him round the godown once or twice, just to let him know that he had been discovered. They then began to question him, and under gentle pressure—I thought he would be pulped into a jelly, but a Spanish policeman always knows when to leave oflf—he made a clean breast of the whole business. He was part of a gang, and was to lie in the godown all that night. At twelve o’clock a boat manned by his confederates was to drop down the creek and halt under the godown windows, while he was to hand out our bales. That was their little plan. He had lain there about three hours, and then he began to smoke. I don’t think he noticed what he was doing: smoking is just like breathing to a Spaniard. He could not imderstand how he had betrayed himself and wanted to know whether he had left a leg sticking out imder the saddles. Then the Guarda Civile lambasted him all over again for trifling with the majesty of the law, and removed him after full confession.

“I put one of my own men under a saddle with instructions to hand out print bales to anybody who might ask for them in the course of the night. Meantime the police made their own arrangements, which were very comprehensive.

“At midnight a lumbering old barge, big enough to hold about a himdred bales, came down the creek and pulled up under the godown windows, exactly as if she had been one of my own barges. The eight ruffians in her whistled all the national airs of Manila as a signal to the confederate, then cooling his heels in the lock-up. But my man was ready. He opened the window and held quite a long confab with these second-hand pirates. They were all half-breeds and Roman Catholics, and the way they called upon all the blessed saints to assist them in their work was edifying. My man began tilting out the bales quite as quickly as the confederate would have done. Only he stopped to giggle now and again, and they spat and swore at him like cats. That made him worse, and at last he dropped yelling with laughter over the half door of the godown goods window. Then one boat came up stream and another down stream, and caught the barge stem and stem. Four Guarda Civiles were in each boat; consequently, eight repeating rifles were pointed at the barge, which was very nicely loaded with our bales. The pirates called on the saints more fluently than ever, threw up their hands, and threw themselves on their stomachs. That was the safest attitude, and it gave them the chance of cursing their luck, the barge, the godown, the Guarda Civile, and every saint in the calendar. They cursed the saints most, for the Guarda Civile thumped ’em when their remarks became too personal. We made them put all the bales back again. Then they were handed over to justice and got five years apiece. If they had any dollars they would get out the next day. If they hadn’t, they would serve their full time and no ticket-of-leave allowed. That’s the whole story.”

“And the only case on record,” said the Young Gentleman travelling for Pleasure, “where a Manila cigar was of any use to any one.” The man from Manila lit a fresh Cuspidore and went down to his bath.