TWO UP-TOWN BLOCKS INTO SPAIN
There is nothing strikes the traveller in his approach to the rock of Gibraltar so much as its resemblance to the trade-mark of the Prudential Insurance Company. He cannot help feeling that the famous stronghold is pictorially a plagiarism from the advertisements of that institution. As the lines change with the ship's course, the resemblance is less remarkable; but it is always remarkable, and I suppose it detracts somewhat from the majesty of the fortress, which we could wish to be more entirely original. This was my feeling when I first saw Gibraltar four years ago, and it remains my feeling after having last seen it four weeks ago. The eye seeks the bold, familiar legend, and one suffers a certain disappointment in its absence. Otherwise Gibraltar does not and cannot disappoint the most exacting tourist.
The morning which found us in face of it was in brisk contrast to the bland afternoon on which we had parted from Madeira. No flocking coracles surrounded our steamer, with crews eager to plunge into the hissing brine for shillings or equivalent quarters. The whitecaps looked snow cold as they tossed under the sharp north wind, and the tender which put us ashore had all it could do to embark and disembark us upright, or even aslant. But, once in the lee of the rocky Africa breathed a genial warmth across the strait beyond which its summits faintly shimmered; or was it the welcome of Cook's carriages which warmed us so? We were promised separate vehicles for parties of three or four, with English-speaking drivers, and the promise was fairly well kept. The carriages bore a strong family likeness to the pictures of Spanish state coaches of the seventeenth century, and were curtained and cushioned in reddish calico. Rubber tires are yet unknown in southern Europe, and these mediaeval arks bounded over the stones with a violence which must once have been characteristic of those in the illustrations. But the English of our English-speaking driver was all that we could have asked for the shillings we paid Cook for him, or, if it was not, it was all we got. He was an energetic young fellow and satisfyingly Spanish in coloring, but in his eagerness to please he was less grave than I could now wish; I now wish everything in Spain to have been in keeping.
What was most perfectly, most fittingly in keeping was the sight of the Moors whom we began at once to see on the wharves and in the streets. They probably looked very much like the Moors who followed their caliph, if he was a caliph, into Spain when he drove Don Roderick out of his kingdom and established his own race and religion in the Peninsula. Moslem costumes can have changed very little in the last eleven or twelve hundred years, and these handsome fellows, who had come over with fresh eggs and vegetables and chickens and turkeys from Tangier, could not have been handsomer when they bore scimitars and javelins instead of coops and baskets. They had baggy drawers on, and brown cloaks, with bare, red legs and yellow slippers; one, when he took his fez off, had a head shaved perfectly bald, like the one-eyed Calender or the Barber's brother out of the Arabian Nights; the sparse mustache and short-forked beard heightened the verisimilitude. Whether they squatted on the wharf, or passed gravely through the street, or waited for custom in their little market among the hen-coops and the herds of rather lean, dispirited turkeys (which had not the satisfaction of their American kindred in being fattened for the sacrifice, for in Europe all turkeys are served lean), these Moors had an allure impossible to any Occidental race. It was greater even than that of their Semitic brethren, who had a market farther up in the town, and showed that a Jewish market could be much filthier than a' Moorish market without being more picturesque. Into the web of Oriental life were wrought the dapper figures of the red-coated, red-cheeked English soldiers, with blue, blue eyes and incredible red and yellow hair, lounging or hurrying orderlies with swagger-sticks, and apparently aimless privates no doubt bent 'upon quite definite business or pleasure. Now and then an English groom led an English horse through the long street from which the other streets in Gibraltar branch up and down hill, for there is no other level; and now and then an English man or woman rode trimly by.
The whole place is an incongruous mixture of Latin and Saxon. The strictly South-European effect of the houses and churches is a mute protest against the alien presence which keeps the streets so clean and maintains order by means of policemen showing under the helmets of the London bobby the faces of the native alguazil. In the shops the saleswomen speak English and look Spanish. Our driver, indeed, looked more Spanish than he spoke English.
His knowledge of our rude tongue extended hardly beyond the mention of certain conventional objects of interest, and did not suffice to explain why we could not see the old disused galleries of the fortifications. I do not know why we wished to see these; I doubt if we really did so, but we embittered life for that well-meaning boy by our insistence upon them, and we brought him under unjust suspicion of deceit by forcing him to a sort of time-limit in respect to them. We appealed from him to the blandest of black-mus-tached, olive-skinned bobby-alguazils, who directed us to a certain government office for a permit. There our application caused something like dismay, and we were directed to another office, but were saved from the shame of failure by incidentally learning that the galleries could not be seen till after three o'clock. As our ship sailed at that hour, we were probably saved a life-long disappointment.