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Mark Twain > Innocents Abroad > Chapter VII

Innocents Abroad

Chapter VII


A week of buffeting a tempestuous and relentless sea; a week of
seasickness and deserted cabins; of lonely quarterdecks drenched with
spray--spray so ambitious that it even coated the smokestacks thick with
a white crust of salt to their very tops; a week of shivering in the
shelter of the lifeboats and deckhouses by day and blowing suffocating
"clouds" and boisterously performing at dominoes in the smoking room at
night.

And the last night of the seven was the stormiest of all. There was no
thunder, no noise but the pounding bows of the ship, the keen whistling
of the gale through the cordage, and the rush of the seething waters.
But the vessel climbed aloft as if she would climb to heaven--then paused
an instant that seemed a century and plunged headlong down again, as from
a precipice. The sheeted sprays drenched the decks like rain. The
blackness of darkness was everywhere. At long intervals a flash of
lightning clove it with a quivering line of fire that revealed a heaving
world of water where was nothing before, kindled the dusky cordage to
glittering silver, and lit up the faces of the men with a ghastly luster!

Fear drove many on deck that were used to avoiding the night winds and
the spray. Some thought the vessel could not live through the night, and
it seemed less dreadful to stand out in the midst of the wild tempest and
see the peril that threatened than to be shut up in the sepulchral
cabins, under the dim lamps, and imagine the horrors that were abroad on
the ocean. And once out--once where they could see the ship struggling
in the strong grasp of the storm--once where they could hear the shriek
of the winds and face the driving spray and look out upon the majestic
picture the lightnings disclosed, they were prisoners to a fierce
fascination they could not resist, and so remained. It was a wild night
--and a very, very long one.

Everybody was sent scampering to the deck at seven o'clock this lovely
morning of the thirtieth of June with the glad news that land was in
sight! It was a rare thing and a joyful, to see all the ship's family
abroad once more, albeit the happiness that sat upon every countenance
could only partly conceal the ravages which that long siege of storms had
wrought there. But dull eyes soon sparkled with pleasure, pallid cheeks
flushed again, and frames weakened by sickness gathered new life from the
quickening influences of the bright, fresh morning. Yea, and from a
still more potent influence: the worn castaways were to see the blessed
land again!--and to see it was to bring back that motherland that was in
all their thoughts.

Within the hour we were fairly within the Straits of Gibraltar, the tall
yellow-splotched hills of Africa on our right, with their bases veiled in
a blue haze and their summits swathed in clouds--the same being according
to Scripture, which says that "clouds and darkness are over the land."
The words were spoken of this particular portion of Africa, I believe.
On our left were the granite-ribbed domes of old Spain. The strait is
only thirteen miles wide in its narrowest part.

At short intervals along the Spanish shore were quaint-looking old stone
towers--Moorish, we thought--but learned better afterwards. In former
times the Morocco rascals used to coast along the Spanish Main in their
boats till a safe opportunity seemed to present itself, and then dart in
and capture a Spanish village and carry off all the pretty women they
could find. It was a pleasant business, and was very popular. The
Spaniards built these watchtowers on the hills to enable them to keep a
sharper lookout on the Moroccan speculators.

The picture on the other hand was very beautiful to eyes weary of the
changeless sea, and by and by the ship's company grew wonderfully
cheerful. But while we stood admiring the cloud-capped peaks and the
lowlands robed in misty gloom a finer picture burst upon us and chained
every eye like a magnet--a stately ship, with canvas piled on canvas till
she was one towering mass of bellying sail! She came speeding over the
sea like a great bird. Africa and Spain were forgotten. All homage was
for the beautiful stranger. While everybody gazed she swept superbly by
and flung the Stars and Stripes to the breeze! Quicker than thought,
hats and handkerchiefs flashed in the air, and a cheer went up! She was
beautiful before--she was radiant now. Many a one on our decks knew then
for the first time how tame a sight his country's flag is at home
compared to what it is in a foreign land. To see it is to see a vision
of home itself and all its idols, and feel a thrill that would stir a
very river of sluggish blood!

We were approaching the famed Pillars of Hercules, and already the
African one, "Ape's Hill," a grand old mountain with summit streaked with
granite ledges, was in sight. The other, the great Rock of Gibraltar,
was yet to come. The ancients considered the Pillars of Hercules the
head of navigation and the end of the world. The information the
ancients didn't have was very voluminous. Even the prophets wrote book
after book and epistle after epistle, yet never once hinted at the
existence of a great continent on our side of the water; yet they must
have known it was there, I should think.

In a few moments a lonely and enormous mass of rock, standing seemingly
in the center of the wide strait and apparently washed on all sides by
the sea, swung magnificently into view, and we needed no tedious traveled
parrot to tell us it was Gibraltar. There could not be two rocks like
that in one kingdom.

The Rock of Gibraltar is about a mile and a half long, I should say, by
1,400 to 1,500 feet high, and a quarter of a mile wide at its base. One
side and one end of it come about as straight up out of the sea as the
side of a house, the other end is irregular and the other side is a steep
slant which an army would find very difficult to climb. At the foot of
this slant is the walled town of Gibraltar--or rather the town occupies
part of the slant. Everywhere--on hillside, in the precipice, by the
sea, on the heights--everywhere you choose to look, Gibraltar is clad
with masonry and bristling with guns. It makes a striking and lively
picture from whatsoever point you contemplate it. It is pushed out into
the sea on the end of a flat, narrow strip of land, and is suggestive of
a "gob" of mud on the end of a shingle. A few hundred yards of this flat
ground at its base belongs to the English, and then, extending across the
strip from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean, a distance of a quarter of
a mile, comes the "Neutral Ground," a space two or three hundred yards
wide, which is free to both parties.

"Are you going through Spain to Paris?" That question was bandied about
the ship day and night from Fayal to Gibraltar, and I thought I never
could get so tired of hearing any one combination of words again or more
tired of answering, "I don't know." At the last moment six or seven had
sufficient decision of character to make up their minds to go, and did
go, and I felt a sense of relief at once--it was forever too late now and
I could make up my mind at my leisure not to go. I must have a
prodigious quantity of mind; it takes me as much as a week sometimes to
make it up.

But behold how annoyances repeat themselves. We had no sooner gotten rid
of the Spain distress than the Gibraltar guides started another--a
tiresome repetition of a legend that had nothing very astonishing about
it, even in the first place: "That high hill yonder is called the Queen's
Chair; it is because one of the queens of Spain placed her chair there
when the French and Spanish troops were besieging Gibraltar, and said she
would never move from the spot till the English flag was lowered from the
fortresses. If the English hadn't been gallant enough to lower the flag
for a few hours one day, she'd have had to break her oath or die up
there."

We rode on asses and mules up the steep, narrow streets and entered the
subterranean galleries the English have blasted out in the rock. These
galleries are like spacious railway tunnels, and at short intervals in
them great guns frown out upon sea and town through portholes five or six
hundred feet above the ocean. There is a mile or so of this subterranean
work, and it must have cost a vast deal of money and labor. The gallery
guns command the peninsula and the harbors of both oceans, but they might
as well not be there, I should think, for an army could hardly climb the
perpendicular wall of the rock anyhow. Those lofty portholes afford
superb views of the sea, though. At one place, where a jutting crag was
hollowed out into a great chamber whose furniture was huge cannon and
whose windows were portholes, a glimpse was caught of a hill not far
away, and a soldier said:

"That high hill yonder is called the Queen's Chair; it is because a queen
of Spain placed her chair there once when the French and Spanish troops
were besieging Gibraltar, and said she would never move from the spot
till the English flag was lowered from the fortresses. If the English
hadn't been gallant enough to lower the flag for a few hours one day,
she'd have had to break her oath or die up there."

On the topmost pinnacle of Gibraltar we halted a good while, and no doubt
the mules were tired. They had a right to be. The military road was
good, but rather steep, and there was a good deal of it. The view from
the narrow ledge was magnificent; from it vessels seeming like the
tiniest little toy boats were turned into noble ships by the telescopes,
and other vessels that were fifty miles away and even sixty, they said,
and invisible to the naked eye, could be clearly distinguished through
those same telescopes. Below, on one side, we looked down upon an
endless mass of batteries and on the other straight down to the sea.

While I was resting ever so comfortably on a rampart, and cooling my
baking head in the delicious breeze, an officious guide belonging to
another party came up and said:

"Senor, that high hill yonder is called the Queen's Chair--"

"Sir, I am a helpless orphan in a foreign land. Have pity on me. Don't
--now don't inflict that most in-FERNAL old legend on me anymore today!"

There--I had used strong language after promising I would never do so
again; but the provocation was more than human nature could bear. If you
had been bored so, when you had the noble panorama of Spain and Africa
and the blue Mediterranean spread abroad at your feet, and wanted to gaze
and enjoy and surfeit yourself in its beauty in silence, you might have
even burst into stronger language than I did.

Gibraltar has stood several protracted sieges, one of them of nearly four
years' duration (it failed), and the English only captured it by
stratagem. The wonder is that anybody should ever dream of trying so
impossible a project as the taking it by assault--and yet it has been
tried more than once.

The Moors held the place twelve hundred years ago, and a staunch old
castle of theirs of that date still frowns from the middle of the town,
with moss-grown battlements and sides well scarred by shots fired in
battles and sieges that are forgotten now. A secret chamber in the rock
behind it was discovered some time ago, which contained a sword of
exquisite workmanship, and some quaint old armor of a fashion that
antiquaries are not acquainted with, though it is supposed to be Roman.
Roman armor and Roman relics of various kinds have been found in a cave
in the sea extremity of Gibraltar; history says Rome held this part of
the country about the Christian era, and these things seem to confirm the
statement.

In that cave also are found human bones, crusted with a very thick, stony
coating, and wise men have ventured to say that those men not only lived
before the flood, but as much as ten thousand years before it. It may be
true--it looks reasonable enough--but as long as those parties can't vote
anymore, the matter can be of no great public interest. In this cave
likewise are found skeletons and fossils of animals that exist in every
part of Africa, yet within memory and tradition have never existed in any
portion of Spain save this lone peak of Gibraltar! So the theory is that
the channel between Gibraltar and Africa was once dry land, and that the
low, neutral neck between Gibraltar and the Spanish hills behind it was
once ocean, and of course that these African animals, being over at
Gibraltar (after rock, perhaps--there is plenty there), got closed out
when the great change occurred. The hills in Africa, across the channel,
are full of apes, and there are now and always have been apes on the rock
of Gibraltar--but not elsewhere in Spain! The subject is an interesting
one.

There is an English garrison at Gibraltar of 6,000 or 7,000 men, and so
uniforms of flaming red are plenty; and red and blue, and undress
costumes of snowy white, and also the queer uniform of the bare-kneed
Highlander; and one sees soft-eyed Spanish girls from San Roque, and
veiled Moorish beauties (I suppose they are beauties) from Tarifa, and
turbaned, sashed, and trousered Moorish merchants from Fez, and long-
robed, bare-legged, ragged Muhammadan vagabonds from Tetuan and Tangier,
some brown, some yellow and some as black as virgin ink--and Jews from
all around, in gabardine, skullcap, and slippers, just as they are in
pictures and theaters, and just as they were three thousand years ago, no
doubt. You can easily understand that a tribe (somehow our pilgrims
suggest that expression, because they march in a straggling procession
through these foreign places with such an Indian-like air of complacency
and independence about them) like ours, made up from fifteen or sixteen
states of the Union, found enough to stare at in this shifting panorama
of fashion today.

Speaking of our pilgrims reminds me that we have one or two people among
us who are sometimes an annoyance. However, I do not count the Oracle in
that list. I will explain that the Oracle is an innocent old ass who
eats for four and looks wiser than the whole Academy of France would have
any right to look, and never uses a one-syllable word when he can think
of a longer one, and never by any possible chance knows the meaning of
any long word he uses or ever gets it in the right place; yet he will
serenely venture an opinion on the most abstruse subject and back it up
complacently with quotations from authors who never existed, and finally
when cornered will slide to the other side of the question, say he has
been there all the time, and come back at you with your own spoken
arguments, only with the big words all tangled, and play them in your
very teeth as original with himself. He reads a chapter in the
guidebooks, mixes the facts all up, with his bad memory, and then goes
off to inflict the whole mess on somebody as wisdom which has been
festering in his brain for years and which he gathered in college from
erudite authors who are dead now and out of print. This morning at
breakfast he pointed out of the window and said:

"Do you see that there hill out there on that African coast? It's one of
them Pillows of Herkewls, I should say--and there's the ultimate one
alongside of it."

"The ultimate one--that is a good word--but the pillars are not both on
the same side of the strait." (I saw he had been deceived by a
carelessly written sentence in the guidebook.)

"Well, it ain't for you to say, nor for me. Some authors states it that
way, and some states it different. Old Gibbons don't say nothing about
it--just shirks it complete--Gibbons always done that when he got stuck--
but there is Rolampton, what does he say? Why, be says that they was
both on the same side, and Trinculian, and Sobaster, and Syraccus, and
Langomarganbl----"

"Oh, that will do--that's enough. If you have got your hand in for
inventing authors and testimony, I have nothing more to say--let them be
on the same side."

We don't mind the Oracle. We rather like him. We can tolerate the
Oracle very easily, but we have a poet and a good-natured enterprising
idiot on board, and they do distress the company. The one gives copies
of his verses to consuls, commanders, hotel keepers, Arabs, Dutch--to
anybody, in fact, who will submit to a grievous infliction most kindly
meant. His poetry is all very well on shipboard, notwithstanding when he
wrote an "Ode to the Ocean in a Storm" in one half hour, and an
"Apostrophe to the Rooster in the Waist of the Ship" in the next, the
transition was considered to be rather abrupt; but when he sends an
invoice of rhymes to the Governor of Fayal and another to the commander
in chief and other dignitaries in Gibraltar with the compliments of the
Laureate of the Ship, it is not popular with the passengers.

The other personage I have mentioned is young and green, and not bright,
not learned, and not wise. He will be, though, someday if he recollects
the answers to all his questions. He is known about the ship as the
"Interrogation Point," and this by constant use has become shortened to
"Interrogation." He has distinguished himself twice already. In Fayal
they pointed out a hill and told him it was 800 feet high and 1,100 feet
long. And they told him there was a tunnel 2,000 feet long and 1,000
feet high running through the hill, from end to end. He believed it. He
repeated it to everybody, discussed it, and read it from his notes.
Finally, he took a useful hint from this remark, which a thoughtful old
pilgrim made:

"Well, yes, it is a little remarkable--singular tunnel altogether--stands
up out of the top of the hill about two hundred feet, and one end of it
sticks out of the hill about nine hundred!"

Here in Gibraltar he corners these educated British officers and badgers
them with braggadocio about America and the wonders she can perform! He
told one of them a couple of our gunboats could come here and knock
Gibraltar into the Mediterranean Sea!

At this present moment half a dozen of us are taking a private pleasure
excursion of our own devising. We form rather more than half the list of
white passengers on board a small steamer bound for the venerable Moorish
town of Tangier, Africa. Nothing could be more absolutely certain than
that we are enjoying ourselves. One can not do otherwise who speeds over
these sparkling waters and breathes the soft atmosphere of this sunny
land. Care cannot assail us here. We are out of its jurisdiction.

We even steamed recklessly by the frowning fortress of Malabat
(a stronghold of the Emperor of Morocco) without a twinge of fear.
The whole garrison turned out under arms and assumed a threatening
attitude--yet still we did not fear. The entire garrison marched and
counter-marched within the rampart, in full view--yet notwithstanding
even this, we never flinched.

I suppose we really do not know what fear is. I inquired the name of the
garrison of the fortress of Malabat, and they said it was Mehemet Ali Ben
Sancom. I said it would be a good idea to get some more garrisons to
help him; but they said no, he had nothing to do but hold the place, and
he was competent to do that, had done it two years already. That was
evidence which one could not well refute. There is nothing like
reputation.

Every now and then my glove purchase in Gibraltar last night intrudes
itself upon me. Dan and the ship's surgeon and I had been up to the
great square, listening to the music of the fine military bands and
contemplating English and Spanish female loveliness and fashion, and at
nine o'clock were on our way to the theater, when we met the General, the
Judge, the Commodore, the Colonel, and the Commissioner of the United
States of America to Europe, Asia, and Africa, who had been to the Club
House to register their several titles and impoverish the bill of fare;
and they told us to go over to the little variety store near the Hall of
Justice and buy some kid gloves. They said they were elegant and very
moderate in price. It seemed a stylish thing to go to the theater in kid
gloves, and we acted upon the hint. A very handsome young lady in the
store offered me a pair of blue gloves. I did not want blue, but she
said they would look very pretty on a hand like mine. The remark touched
me tenderly. I glanced furtively at my hand, and somehow it did seem
rather a comely member. I tried a glove on my left and blushed a little.
Manifestly the size was too small for me. But I felt gratified when she
said:

"Oh, it is just right!" Yet I knew it was no such thing.

I tugged at it diligently, but it was discouraging work. She said:

"Ah! I see you are accustomed to wearing kid gloves--but some gentlemen
are so awkward about putting them on."

It was the last compliment I had expected. I only understand putting on
the buckskin article perfectly. I made another effort and tore the glove
from the base of the thumb into the palm of the hand--and tried to hide
the rent. She kept up her compliments, and I kept up my determination to
deserve them or die:

"Ah, you have had experience! [A rip down the back of the hand.] They
are just right for you--your hand is very small--if they tear you need
not pay for them. [A rent across the middle.] I can always tell when a
gentleman understands putting on kid gloves. There is a grace about it
that only comes with long practice." The whole after-guard of the glove
"fetched away," as the sailors say, the fabric parted across the
knuckles, and nothing was left but a melancholy ruin.

I was too much flattered to make an exposure and throw the merchandise on
the angel's hands. I was hot, vexed, confused, but still happy; but I
hated the other boys for taking such an absorbing interest in the
proceedings. I wished they were in Jericho. I felt exquisitely mean
when I said cheerfully:

"This one does very well; it fits elegantly. I like a glove that fits.
No, never mind, ma'am, never mind; I'll put the other on in the street.
It is warm here."

It was warm. It was the warmest place I ever was in. I paid the bill,
and as I passed out with a fascinating bow I thought I detected a light
in the woman's eye that was gently ironical; and when I looked back from
the street, and she was laughing all to herself about something or other,
I said to myself with withering sarcasm, "Oh, certainly; you know how to
put on kid gloves, don't you? A self-complacent ass, ready to be
flattered out of your senses by every petticoat that chooses to take the
trouble to do it!"

The silence of the boys annoyed me. Finally Dan said musingly:

"Some gentlemen don't know how to put on kid gloves at all, but some do."

And the doctor said (to the moon, I thought):

"But it is always easy to tell when a gentleman is used to putting on kid
gloves."

Dan soliloquized after a pause:

"Ah, yes; there is a grace about it that only comes with long, very long
practice."

"Yes, indeed, I've noticed that when a man hauls on a kid glove like he
was dragging a cat out of an ash hole by the tail, he understands putting
on kid gloves; he's had ex--"

"Boys, enough of a thing's enough! You think you are very smart, I
suppose, but I don't. And if you go and tell any of those old gossips in
the ship about this thing, I'll never forgive you for it; that's all."

They let me alone then for the time being. We always let each other
alone in time to prevent ill feeling from spoiling a joke. But they had
bought gloves, too, as I did. We threw all the purchases away together
this morning. They were coarse, unsubstantial, freckled all over with
broad yellow splotches, and could neither stand wear nor public
exhibition. We had entertained an angel unawares, but we did not take
her in. She did that for us.

Tangier! A tribe of stalwart Moors are wading into the sea to carry us
ashore on their backs from the small boats.

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