The Gate of the Hundred Sorrows
by Rudyard Kipling
If I can attain Heaven for a pice, why should you be
—Opium Smoker's Proverb.
This is no work of mine. My friend, Gabral Misquitta, the half-caste,
spoke it all, between moonset and morning, six weeks before he died; and I
took it down from his mouth as he answered my questions. So:
It lies between the Coppersmith's Gully and the pipe-stem sellers'
quarter, within a hundred yards, too, as the crow flies, of the Mosque of
Wazir Khan. I don't mind telling any one this much, but I defy him to find
the Gate, however well he may think he knows the City. You might even go
through the very gully it stands in a hundred times, and be none the
wiser. We used to call the gully, "The Gully of the Black Smoke," but its
native name is altogether different of course. A loaded donkey couldn't
pass between the walls; and, at one point, just before you reach the Gate,
a bulged house-front makes people go along all sideways.
It isn't really a gate though. It's a house. Old Fung-Tching had it
first five years ago. He was a boot-maker in Calcutta. They say that he
murdered his wife there when he was drunk. That was why he dropped
bazar-rum and took to the Black Smoke instead. Later on, he came up north
and opened the Gate as a house where you could get your smoke in peace and
quiet. Mind you, it was a pukka, respectable opium-house, and not
one of those stifling, sweltering chandoo-khanas, that you can find
all over the City. No; the old man knew his business thoroughly, and he
was most clean for a Chinaman. He was a one-eyed little chap, not much
more than five feet high, and both his middle fingers were gone. All the
same, he was the handiest man at rolling black pills I have ever seen.
Never seemed to be touched by the Smoke, either; and what he took day and
night, night and day, was a caution. I've been at it five years, and I can
do my fair share of the Smoke with any one; but I was a child to
Fung-Tching that way. All the same, the old man was keen on his money:
very keen; and that's what I can't understand. I heard he saved a good
deal before he died, but his nephew has got all that now; and the old
man's gone back to China to be buried.
He kept the big upper room, where his best customers gathered, as neat
as a new pin. In one corner used to stand Fung-Tching's Joss—almost
as ugly as Fung-Tching—and there were always sticks burning under
his nose; but you never smelled 'em when the pipes were going thick.
Opposite the joss was Fung-Tching's coffin. He had spent a good deal of
his savings on that, and whenever a new man came to the Gate he was always
introduced to it. It was lacquered black, with red and gold writings on
it, and I've heard that Fung-Tching brought it out all the way from China.
I don't know whether that's true or not, but I know that, if I came first
in the evening, I used to spread my mat just at the foot of it. It was a
quiet corner, you see, and a sort of breeze from the gully came in at the
window now and then. Besides the mats, there was no other furniture in the
room—only the coffin, and the old joss all green and blue and purple
with age and polish.
Fung-Tching never told us why he called the place "The Gate of the
Hundred Sorrows." (He was the only Chinaman I know who used bad-sounding
fancy names. Most of them are flowery. As you'll see in Calcutta.) We used
to find that out for ourselves. Nothing grows on you so much, if you're
white, as the Black Smoke. A yellow man is made different. Opium doesn't
tell on him scarcely at all; but white and black suffer a good deal. Of
course, there are some people that the Smoke doesn't touch any more than
tobacco would at first. They just doze a bit, as one would fall asleep
naturally, and next morning they are almost fit for work. Now, I was one
of that sort when I began, but I've been at it for five years pretty
steadily, and it's different now. There was an old aunt of mine, down Agra
way, and she left me a little at her death. About sixty rupees a month
secured. Sixty isn't much. I can recollect a time, 'seems hundreds and
hundreds of years ago, that I was getting my three hundred a month, and
pickings, when I was working on a big timber-contract in Calcutta.
I didn't stick to that work for long. The Black Smoke does not allow of
much other business; and even though I am very little affected by it, as
men go I couldn't do a day's work now to save my life. After all, sixty
rupees is what I want. When old Fung-Tching was alive he used to draw the
money for me, give me about half of it to live on (I eat very little), and
the rest he kept himself. I was free of the Gate at any time of the day
and night, and could smoke and sleep there when I liked, so I didn't care.
I know the old man made a good thing out of it; but that's no matter.
Nothing matters much to me; and besides, the money always came fresh and
fresh each month.
There was ten of us met at the Gate when the place was first opened.
Me, and two Baboos from a Government Office somewhere in Anarkulli, but
they got the sack and couldn't pay (no man who has to work in the daylight
can do the Black Smoke for any length of time straight on); a Chinaman
that was Fung-Tching's nephew; a bazar-woman that had got a lot of money
somehow; an English loafer—Mac-Somebody I think, but I have
forgotten,—that smoked heaps, but never seemed to pay anything (they
said he had saved Fung-Tching's life at some trial in Calcutta when he was
a barrister); another Eurasian, like myself, from Madras; a half-caste
woman, and a couple of men who said they had come from the North. I think
they must have been Persians or Afghans or something. There are not more
than five of us living now, but we come regular. I don't know what
happened to the Baboos; but the bazar-woman she died after six months of
the Gate, and I think Fung-Tching took her bangles and nose-ring for
himself. But I'm not certain. The Englishman, he drank as well as smoked,
and he dropped off. One of the Persians got killed in a row at night by
the big well near the mosque a long time ago, and the Police shut up the
well, because they said it was full of foul air. They found him dead at
the bottom of it. So you see, there is only me, the Chinaman, the
half-caste woman that we call the Memsahib (she used to live with
Fung-Tching), the other Eurasian, and one of the Persians. The
Memsahib looks very old now. I think she was a young woman when the
Gate was opened; but we are all old for the matter of that. Hundreds and
hundreds of years old. It is very hard to keep count of time in the Gate,
and, besides, time doesn't matter to me. I draw my sixty rupees fresh and
fresh every month. A very, very long while ago, when I used to be getting
three hundred and fifty rupees a month, and pickings, on a big
timber-contract at Calcutta, I had a wife of sorts. But she's dead now.
People said that I killed her by taking to the Black Smoke. Perhaps I did,
but it's so long since that it doesn't matter. Sometimes when I first came
to the Gate, I used to feel sorry for it; but that's all over and done
with long ago, and I draw my sixty rupees fresh and fresh every month, and
am quite happy. Not drunk happy, you know, but always quiet and
soothed and contented.
How did I take to it? It began at Calcutta. I used to try it in my own
house, just to see what it was like. I never went very far, but I think my
wife must have died then. Anyhow, I found myself here, and got to know
Fung-Tching. I don't remember rightly how that came about; but he told me
of the Gate and I used to go there, and, somehow, I have never got away
from it since. Mind you, though, the Gate was a respectable place in
Fung-Tching's time where you could be comfortable, and not at all like the
chandoo-khanas where the niggers go. No; it was clean and quiet,
and not crowded. Of course, there were others beside us ten and the man;
but we always had a mat apiece, with a wadded woolen headpiece, all
covered with black and red dragons and things; just like the coffin in the
At the end of one's third pipe the dragons used to move about and
fight. I've watched 'em many and many a night through. I used to regulate
my Smoke that way, and now it takes a dozen pipes to make 'em stir.
Besides, they are all torn and dirty, like the mats, and old Fung-Tching
is dead. He died a couple of years ago, and gave me the pipe I always use
now—a silver one, with queer beasts crawling up and down the
receiver-bottle below the cup. Before that, I think, I used a big bamboo
stem with a copper cup, a very small one, and a green jade mouthpiece. It
was a little thicker than a walking-stick stem, and smoked sweet, very
sweet. The bamboo seemed to suck up the smoke. Silver doesn't, and I've
got to clean it out now and then, that's a great deal of trouble, but I
smoke it for the old man's sake. He must have made a good thing out of me,
but he always gave me clean mats and pillows, and the best stuff you could
When he died, his nephew Tsin-ling took up the Gate, and he called it
the "Temple of the Three Possessions"; but we old ones speak of it as the
"Hundred Sorrows," all the same. The nephew does things very shabbily, and
I think the Memsahib must help him. She lives with him; same as she
used to do with the old man. The two let in all sorts of low people,
niggers and all, and the Black Smoke isn't as good as it used to be. I've
found burned bran in my pipe over and over again. The old man would have
died if that had happened in his time. Besides, the room is never cleaned,
and all the mats are torn and cut at the edges. The coffin is
gone—gone to China again—with the old man and two ounces of
Smoke inside it, in case he should want 'em on the way.
The Joss doesn't get so many sticks burned under his nose as he used
to; that's a sign of ill-luck, as sure as Death. He's all brown, too, and
no one ever attends to him. That's the Memsahib's work, I know;
because, when Tsin-ling tried to burn gilt paper before him, she said it
was a waste of money, and, if he kept a stick burning very slowly, the
Joss wouldn't know the difference. So now we've got the sticks mixed with
a lot of glue, and they take half an hour longer to burn, and smell
stinky. Let alone the smell of the room by itself. No business can get on
if they try that sort of thing. The Joss doesn't like it. I can see that.
Late at night, sometimes, he turns all sorts of queer colors—blue
and green and red—just as he used to do when old Fung-Tching was
alive; and he rolls his eyes and stamps his feet like a devil.
I don't know why I don't leave the place and smoke quietly in a little
room of my own in the bazar. Most like, Tsin-ling would kill me if I went
away—he draws my sixty rupees now—and besides, it's so much
trouble, and I've grown to be very fond of the Gate. It's not much to look
at. Not what it was in the old man's time, but I couldn't leave it. I've
seen so many come in and out. And I've seen so many die here on the mats
that I should be afraid of dying in the open now. I've seen some things
that people would call strange enough; but nothing is strange when you're
on the Black Smoke, except the Black Smoke. And if it was, it wouldn't
matter. Fung-Tching used to be very particular about his people, and never
got in any one who'd give trouble by dying messy and such. But the nephew
isn't half so careful. He tells everywhere that he keeps a "first-chop"
house. Never tries to get men in quietly, and make them comfortable like
Fung-Tching did. That's why the Gate is getting a little bit more known
than it used to be. Among the niggers of course. The nephew daren't get a
white, or, for matter of that, a mixed skin into the place. He has to keep
us three of course—me and the Memsahib and the other
Eurasian. We're fixtures. But he wouldn't give us credit for a
pipeful—not for anything.
One of these days, I hope, I shall die in the Gate. The Persian and the
Madras man are terribly shaky now. They've got a boy to light their pipes
for them. I always do that myself. Most like, I shall see them carried out
before me. I don't think I shall ever outlive the Memsahib or
Tsin-ling. Women last longer than men at the Black Smoke, and Tsin-ling
has a deal of the old man's blood in him, though he does smoke cheap
stuff. The bazar-woman knew when she was going two days before her time;
and she died on a clean mat with a nicely wadded pillow, and the old man
hung up her pipe just above the Joss. He was always fond of her, I fancy.
But he took her bangles just the same.
I should like to die like the bazar-woman—on a clean, cool mat
with a pipe of good stuff between my lips. When I feel I'm going, I shall
ask Tsin-ling for them, and he can draw my sixty rupees a month, fresh and
fresh, as long as he pleases. Then I shall lie back, quiet and
comfortable, and watch the black and red dragons have their last big fight
together; and then.... Well, it doesn't matter. Nothing matters much to
me—only I wish Tsin-ling wouldn't put bran into the Black Smoke.