Page images
PDF
EPUB

kill a knight in those days. I suppose they wore consecrated armor and talismans, and were strengthened by special benedictions. And this all happened in 1565, after which La Valette decided to build a city, and on the 28th of March, 1566, laid the cornerstone of Valetta, our anchorage.

It is a curious place and interesting. When we landed at the quay our vehicles were waiting for us, and these were our first entertainment. They resembled the little affairs of Gibraltar, but were more absurd, I think. They had funny canopy topssquare parasol things with fancy edges—and there was no room inside for a tall man with knees. I was only partly in my conveyance, and I would have been willing to have been out of it altogether, only we were going up a steep hill and I couldn't get out without damage to something or somebody. Then we passed through some gates and entered the city.

I don't think any of us had any clear idea of what Malta was like. It is another of those places that every one has heard of and nobody knows about. We all knew about Maltese cats because we had cats more or less Maltese at home, and we had heard of the Knights of Malta and of Maltese lace. But some of us thought Malta was a city on the north shore of Africa and the rest of us believed it to be an island in the Persian Gulf.'

However, these slight inaccuracies do not disturb

There would seem to have been some sort of confusion of Malta with the city of Muscat. Perhaps the reader can figure out just what it was. It had something to do with domestic pets, I believe.

us any more. We have learned to accept places where and as we find them, without undue surprise. If we should awake some morning in a strange harbor and be told that it was Sheol, we would merely say:

“Oh yes, certainly; we knew it was down here somewhere. When can we go ashore?”

Then we would set out sight-seeing and shopping without further remark, some of us still serene in the conviction that it was an African seaport, the rest believing it to be an island in the Persian Gulf.

But there were no Maltese cats in Malta—not that I saw, and no knights, I think. What did strike us first was a herd of goats, goatesses I mean, being driven along from house to house and supplying milk. They were the mildest-eyed, most inoffensive little creatures in the world, and can carry more milk for their size than any other mammal, unless I am a poor judge. They did not seem to be under any restraint, but they never wandered far away from their master. They nibbled and loafed along, and were ready for business at call. They seemed much more reliable than any cows of my acquaintance.

But presently I forgot the goats, for a woman came along-several women and they wore a black headgear of alpaca or silk, a cross between a sunbonnet and a nun's veil-hooped out on one side and looped in on the other-a curious head-gear, but not a bad setting for a handsome face. And those ladies had handsome faces-rich, oval faces, with lustrous eyes -and the faldette (they call it that) made a background that melted into their wealth of atramentous hair.

We have not seen handsome native women before, but they are plentiful enough here. None of them are really bad - looking, and every other one is a beauty, by my standards.

We were well up into the city now, and could see what the place was like. The streets were not overwide, and the houses had an Oriental look, with their stuccoed walls and their projecting Arab windows. They were full of people and donkeys—very small donkeys with great pack baskets of vegetables and other merchandise—but we could not well observe these things because of the beggars and bootblacks and would-be guides, besides all the sellers of postal cards and trinkets.

It was worse than Madeira, worse than Gibraltar, worse even than Algiers. England ought to be ashamed of herself to permit, in one of her possessions, such lavish and ostentatious poverty as exists in Malta. When we got out of the carriages we were overwhelmed. They stormed around us; they separated us; they fought over us; they were ready to devour us piecemeal. Some of us escaped into shops-some into the museum—some into St. John's Cathedral, which was across the way.

Laura and I were among the last named, and we drew a long breath as we slipped into that magnificent place. We rejoiced a little too soon, however, for a second later we were nabbed by a guide, and there was no escape. We couldn't make a row in a church, especially as services were going on; at least, we didn't think it safe to try. It is a magnificent church—the most elaborately

decorated, I believe, in all Europe. Grand Master John L'Eveque de la Cassar, at his own expense, put up the building, and all Europe contributed to its wealth and splendor. Its spacious floor is one vast mosaic of memorial tablets to dead heroes. There are four hundred richly inlaid slabs, each bearing a coat of arms and inscriptions in colors. They are wonderfully beautiful; no other church in the world has such a floor. Napoleon Bonaparte, who was a greater vandal than a soldier, allowed his troops to rifle St. John's when he took possession of Malta in 1798. But there are riches enough there now and apparently Napoleon did not deface the edifice itself. .

The upper part of the Cathedral can only be comprehended in the single word “gorgeous." To attempt to put into sentences any impressions of its lavish ceiling and decorations and furnishings would be to cheapen a thing which, though ornate, is not cheap and does not look so. There are paintings by Correggio and other Italian masters, and rare sacred statuary, and there is a solid silver altar rail which Napoleon did not carry off because a thoughtful priest quickly gave it a coat of lampblack when he heard the soldiers coming.

The original keys of Jerusalem and several other holy places are said to be in one of the chapels, and in another is a thorn from the Saviour's crown, the stones with which St. Stephen was martyred, and some apostolic bones. These things are as likely to be here as anywhere, and one of the right hands of John the Baptist, encased in a gold glove, was here when Napoleon came. Napoleon took up the hand and

slipped off a magnificent diamond ring from one of the fingers. Then he slipped the ring on his own finger and tossed the hand aside.

“Keep the carrion,” he said.

They hate the memory of Napoleon in Malta to this day.

The ceiling of the church is a mass of gold and color, and there are chapels along the sides, each trying to outdo the next in splendor. I am going to stop description right here, for I could do nothing with the details.

I have mentioned that services were in progress, but it did not seem to interfere with our sight-seeing. It would in America, but it doesn't in Malta. There was chanting around the altar, and there were worshippers kneeling all about, but our guide led us among them and over them as if they had not existed. It seemed curious to us that he could do this, that we could follow him unmolested. We tried to get up some feeling of delicacy in the matter, and to make some show of reluctance, but he led us and drove us along relentlessly, and did not seem to fear the consequences.

We got outside at last and were nailed by a frowsy man who wanted to sell one grimy postal card of the Chapel of Bones. We didn't want the card, but we said he might take us to the chapel if he knew the way. Nothing so good as that ever came into his life before. From a mendicant seller of one wretched card, worth a penny at most, he had suddenly blossomed into the guide of two American tourists. The card disappeared. With head erect he led the way as one having received knighthood.

« PreviousContinue »