« PreviousContinue »
So does Gibraltar, but it is just as well, perhaps, not to twist the Lion's tail. We had no intention of doing so, and I don't see why they were so afraid of us. They wouldn't let us visit their shootinggalleries — the galleries where they keep their big guns, I mean; they wouldn't let us climb the Rock on the outside; they wouldn't even let us visit an old Moorish castle which stands about half-way up. Perhaps they thought we would spike their guns, or steal the castle, or blow up the Rock with infernal machines.
They did let us take carriages and drive along the main streets of the city, through a park or two and out to Europa Point, I think that was the place. We were interested, but not enthusiastic. After Madeira, one does not go mad over the beauties of Gibraltar. The vehicles were funny little affairs—Spanish, I suppose; the driver spoke the English of Gibraltar an English which nobody outside of Gibraltar, and only a few people there, can understand; the road was good; the flowers-bluebells, yellow daisies, dandelions and heliotrope—all wild—were profuse and lavishly in bloom everywhere along the way. Had we come direct to Gibraltar, we should have raved over these things like enough, and we did rave a little, but it was a sort of placid ecstasy. Military hospitals and barracks and officers' quarters are not the kind of scenery to excite this crowd.
It was different, though, when we got to Europa Point. There, on one side rose the great Rock abruptly from the sea, while before us stretched the Mediterranean, all blue and emerald and iridescent, like a great fire-opal in the sun. It was our first glimpse of the water along whose shores began the history and the religions of more than half the world. "The grand object of all travel is to see the shores of the Mediterranean,” said Dr. Johnson, and there were some of us who not until that moment, I think, fully grasped the fact that this object, this dream of a lifetime, was about to be accomplished.
The Patriarch forgot the Phænicians for a little and began to talk about Athens and of Mars Hill from which St. Paul had preached, though he added presently that it was quite certain St. Paul's grandfather had been a Phænician; the Diplomat quoted something about his soul being “far away sailing on the Vesuvian Bay”; the Porpoise began to meditate audibly how far it was in a straight line to Jerusalem; the Mill ground a quiet little grist about flannels she expected to wear in Egypt; even the Reprobates were subdued and thoughtful in the face of this watery theatre that had held the drama of the ancient world.
We drove back to the town, separated, and wandered about where fancy led us. Laura and I had a little business with the American consul, who is an example of what an American consul ought to be: a gentleman who is a consul by profession and not by party favor, being the third Sprague in line who has held the post. Through him we met a most interesting person, one who brought us in direct contact, as it were, with that old first party of Pilgrims to make the Oriental cruise. Michael Beñunes was his name, guide and courier to Mark Twain and his party, fortytwo years ago.
Beñunes must have been a handsome creature in those days; he is a handsome creature still — tall, finely featured, with flowing black hair — carrying his sixty-five years as lightly as wind-flowers-gay, voluble, enthusiastic-ready for the future, glorying in the past. He took us to a coffee-house and entertained us, and held us enthralled for an hour or more with his tide of eloquence and information. He told us of the trip he had made through Spain with the “Innocents”; of many other trips in lands near and far. He told us of the things in Gibraltar we had not seen--of the galleries and the monkey-pit; also, of the wonderful monkeys themselves who inhabit the Rock and are intelligent almost beyond belief-who refrain from speaking English only because they are afraid of having red coats and caps put on them and being made into soldiers.
Gibraltar was once a part of Africa, according to tradition, and the monkeys remained on the Rock when the separation took place. But guides know that a subterranean passage from the bottomless monkey-pit connects the Rock with Africa to this day; also that the monkeys travel back and forth through it and keep posted on warfare and new inventions, in preparation for a time when they shall be ready to regain their lost empire, and that sometimes at dusk, if one lies hidden and remains very quiet, he may overhear them discuss these things, as in the failing twilight they “walk together, holding each other's tails."
We could have listened all night to Beñunes, for he made the old time and still older traditions real to us. And perhaps Beñunes would have talked all night, for he declared—and we believed him—that he could talk for five hours without a break. Naturally I expected to pay the score in the coffee-house and to
make some special acknowledgment to Beñunes for his time. Not at all; he called the waiter with a flourish, threw down more than enough money and told him to keep the change, regretting volubly that we could not partake further of his hospitality. We should have the freedom of the city-of everythinghe said, when we came again. Ah me! I suspect there is only one Beñunes, and that he belongs to a time which will soon vanish away.
We went through the town-almost a closed town, because it was Sunday, and not an inviting town, I think, at best. Here and there were narrow streets that wound up or down, yet were only mildly seductive. But it is a cosmopolitan town—the most cosmopolitan town on earth, perhaps. Every kind of money is in use there every language is spoken.
“Picture postals twelve for a quarter!” was the American cry that greeted us at every turn. If we had been English it would have been “twelve for a shilling," or if German “zwölf für ein Mark,” no doubt. They do not mistake nationalities in Gibraltar—they have all kinds to study from. Moors we saw - black, barelegged, and gayly attired-a taste of the Orient we were about to enter—and if there were any nationalities we did not see in this motleythronged Mediterranean gateway I do not recall them now. We bought a few postal cards, and two fans with bull-fights on them, but unlike the Quaker City “Pilgrims ” we bought no gloves.
I did look at certain stylish young creatures who passed now and then, and wondered if one of them might not be the bewitching saleslady who had sold those gloves. And then I remembered: she would not be young and bewitching any more; she would be carrying the burden and the record of many years. Unlike the first “Pilgrims,” too, we did not hear the story of the “Queen's Chair.” That was worn out, at last, and exists to-day only in the guide-books. We drove over to Spanish Town by and by, but it was still less inviting over there, so we drove back, passed out through the great gates which close every evening