A TALE OF THE SIEGE OF GIBRALTAR
BY COLONEL E. B. HAMLEY
[MAGA. December 1851.]
The note-book of my grandfather, Major Flinders, contains much matter
relative to the famous siege of Gibraltar, and he seems to have kept an
accurate and minute journal of such of its incidents as came under his
own observation. Indeed, I suspect the historian Drinkwater must have
had access to it, as I frequently find the same notabilia chronicled in
pretty much the same terms by both these learned Thebans. But while
Drinkwater confines himself mostly to professional matters—the state of
the fortifications, nature of the enemy’s fire, casualties to the
soldiery, and the like—and seldom introduces an anecdote interesting to
the generality of readers without apologising for such levity, my
grandfather’s sympathies seem to have been engrossed by the sufferings
of the inhabitants deprived of shelter, as well as of sufficient food,
and helplessly witnessing the destruction of their property.
Consequently, his journal, though quite below the dignity of history,
affords, now and then, a tolerably graphic glimpse of the beleaguered
From the discursive and desultory nature of the old gentleman’s style,
as before hinted, it would be vain to look for a continuous narrative in
his journal, even if it contained materials for such. But here and there
a literary Jack Horner might extract a plum or two from the vast
quantity of dough—of reflections, quotations, and all manner of
irrelevant observations, surrounding them. The following incidents,
which occurred at the most interesting period of the long and tedious
siege, appear to me to give a fair idea of some of the characteristics
of the time, and of the personages who figured in it; and accordingly,
after subjecting them to a process analogous to gold-washing, I present
them to the reader.
After a strict blockade of six months, reducing the garrison to great
extremity for want of provisions, Gibraltar was relieved by Sir George
Rodney, who landed a large quantity of stores. But about a year after
his departure, no further relief having reached them except casual
supplies from trading vessels that came at a great risk to the Rock,
their exigencies were even worse than before. The issue of provisions
was limited in quantity, and their price so high, that the families,
even of officers, were frequently in dismal straits. This has given rise
to a wooden joke of my grandfather’s, who although he seldom ventures on
any deliberate facetiousness, has entitled the volume of his journal
relating to this period of the siege, The Straits of Gibraltar. He
seems to have estimated the worth of his wit by its rarity, for the
words appear at the top of every page.
The 11th of April 1781 being Carlota’s birthday, the Major had invited
Owen (now Lieutenant Owen) to dine with them in honour of the occasion.
Owen was once more, for the time, a single man; for Juana, having gone
to visit her friends in Tarifa just before the commencement of the
siege, had been unable to rejoin her husband. In vain had Carlota
requested that the celebration might be postponed till the arrival of
supplies from England should afford them a banquet worthy of the
anniversary—the Major, a great stickler for ancient customs, insisted
on its taking place forthwith. Luckily, a merchant-man from Minorca had
succeeded in landing a cargo of sheep, poultry, vegetables, and fruit
the day before, so that the provision for the feast, though by no means
sumptuous, was far better than any they had been accustomed to for many
months past. The Major’s note-book enables me to set the materials for
the dinner, and also its cost, before the reader—viz. a sheep’s head,
price sixteen shillings (my grandfather was too late to secure any of
the body, which was rent in pieces, and the fragments carried off as if
by wolves, ere the breath was well out of it)—a couple of fowls, twenty
shillings (scraggy creatures, says my ancestor in a parenthesis)—a ham,
two guineas—raisins and flour for a pudding, five shillings—eggs (how
many, the deponent sayeth not), sixpence each—vegetables, nine and
sixpence—and fruit for dessert, seven and tenpence. Then, for wine, a
Spanish merchant, a friend of Carlota’s, had sent them two bottles of
champagne and one of amontillado, a present as generous then as a
hogshead would have been in ordinary times; and there was, moreover,
some old rum, and two lemons for punch. Altogether, there was probably
no dinner half so good that day in Gibraltar.
At the appointed hour, the Major was reading in his quarters (a
tolerably commodious house near the South Barracks, and at some distance
outside the town) when Owen appeared.
“You’re punctual, my boy; and punctuality’s a cardinal virtue about
dinner-time,” said my grandfather, looking at his watch; “three o’clock
exactly. And now we’ll have dinner. I only hope the new cook is a
“What’s become of Mrs Grigson?” asked Owen. “You haven’t parted with
that disciple of Apicius, I should hope?”
“She’s confined again,” said my grandfather, sighing; “a most prolific
woman that! It certainly can’t be above half-a-year since her last child
was born, and she’s just going to have another. ’Tis certainly not
longer ago than last autumn,” he added, musingly.
“A wonderful woman,” said Owen; “she ought to be purchased by the
Government, and sent out to some of our thinly-populated colonies. And
who fills her place?”
“Why, I’ll tell you,” responded the Major. “Joe Trigg, my old servant,
is confined too—in the guardroom, I mean, for getting drunk—and I’ve
taken a man of the regiment, one Private Bags, for a day or two, who
recommended his wife as an excellent cook. She says the same of herself;
but this is her first trial, and I’m a little nervous about it.”
“Shocking rascal that Bags,” said Owen.
“Indeed!” said my grandfather; “I’m sorry to hear that. I didn’t inquire
about his character. He offered his services, saying he came from the
same part of England as myself, though I don’t recollect him.”
“Terrible work this blockade,” said the Major after a pause. “Do you
know, if I was a general in command of a besieging army, I don’t think I
could find it in my heart to starve out the garrison. Consider now, my
dear boy” (laying his forefinger on Owen’s arm)—“consider now, several
thousand men with strong appetites, never having a full meal for months
together. And just, too, as my digestion was getting all right—for I
never get a nightmare now, though I frequently have the most delicious
dreams of banquets that I try to eat, but wake before I get a mouthful.
’Tis enough to provoke a saint. And as if this was not enough, the
supply of books is cut off. The Weekly Entertainer isn’t even an
annual entertainer to me. The last number I got was in ’79, and I’ve
been a regular subscriber these twelve years. There’s the Gentleman’s
Magazine, too. The last one reached me a year since, with a capital
story in it, only half-finished, that I’m anxious to know the end of;
and also a rebus that I’ve been longing to see the answer to. ‘The
answer in our next,’ says the tantalising editor. It’s a capital
rebus—just listen now. ‘Two-thirds of the name of an old novelist,
one-sixth of what we all do in the morning, and a heathen deity, make
together a morsel fit for a king.’ I’ve been working at it for upwards
of a year, and I can’t guess it. Can you?”
“Roast pig with stuffing answers the general description,” said Owen.
“That, you’ll admit, is a morsel fit for a king.”
“Pooh!” said my grandfather. “But you must really try now. I’ve run
through the mythology, all that I know of it, and tried all the old
novelists’ names, even Boccaccio and Cervantes. Never were such
combinations as I have made—but can’t compound anything edible out of
them. Again, as to what we do in the morning: we all shave (that is, all
who have beards)—and we yawn, too; at least I do, on waking; but it
must be a word of six letters. Then, who can the heathen deity be?”
“Pan is the only heathen deity that has anything to do with cookery,”
said Owen. “Frying-pan, you know, and stew-pan.”
My grandfather caught at the idea, but had not succeeded in making
anything of it, or in approximating to the solution of the riddle, when
Carlota entered from an inner room.
“I wish, my dear, you would see about the dinner,” said the Major; “’tis
a quarter past three.”
“Si, mi vida” (yes, my life), said Carlota, who was in the habit of
bestowing lavishly on my grandfather the most endearing epithets in the
Spanish language, some of them, perhaps, not particularly
applicable—niño de mi alma (child of my soul), luz de mis ojos
(light of my eyes), and the like; none of which appeared to have any
more effect on the object of them than if they had been addressed to
Carlota rung the bell, which nobody answered. “Nurse is busy with de
niña,” she said, when nobody answered it; “I go myself to de
cocina” (kitchen)—she spoke English as yet but imperfectly.
“There’s one comfort in delay,” said the Major; “’tis better to boil a
ham too much than too little—and yet I shouldn’t like it overdone
Here they were alarmed by an exclamation from Carlota. “Ah Dios!
Caramba! Ven, ven, mi niño!” cried she from the kitchen.
The Major and Owen hastened to the kitchen, which was so close at hand
that the smell of the dinner sometimes anticipated its appearance in the
dining-room. Mrs Bags, the new cook, was seated before the fire. On the
table beside her was an empty champagne bottle, the fellow to which
protruded its neck from a pail in one corner, where the Major had put it
to cool; and another bottle of more robust build, about half-full, was
also beside her. The countenance of Mrs Bags wore a pleasant and
satisfied, though not very intelligent smile, as she gazed steadfastly
on the ham that was roasting on a spit before the fire—at least one
side of it was done quite black, while the other oozed with warm grease;
for the machinery which should have turned it was not in motion.
“Caramba!” exclaimed Carlota, with uplifted hands. “Que
picarilla!”—(What a knave of a woman!)
“Gracious heavens!” said my grandfather, “she’s roasting it! Who ever
heard of a roast ham?”
“A many years,” remarked Mrs Bags, without turning her head, and still
smiling pleasantly, “have I lived in gentlemen’s families—” Here this
fragment of autobiography was terminated by a hiccup.
“And the champagne bottle is empty,” said Owen, handling it. “A nice
sort of cook this of yours, Major. She seems to have constituted herself
My grandfather advanced and lifted the other bottle to his nose. “’Tis
the old rum,” he ejaculated with a groan. “But if the woman has drunk
all this ’twill be the death of her. Bags,” he called, “come here.”
The spouse of Mrs Bags emerged from a sort of scullery behind the
kitchen—a tall bony man, of an ugliness quite remarkable, and with a
very red face. He was better known by his comrades as Tongs, in allusion
probably to personal peculiarities; for the length of his legs, the
width of his bony hips, and the smallness of his head, gave him some
distant resemblance to that article of domestic iron-mongery; but as his
wife called herself Mrs Bags, and he was entered in the regimental books
by that name, it was probably his real appellation.
“Run directly to Dr Fagan,” said the Major, “and request him to come
here. Your wife has poisoned herself with rum.”
“’Tisn’t rum,” said Bags, somewhat thickly—“’tis fits.”
“Fits!” said my grandfather.
“Fits,” doggedly replied Mr Bags, who seemed by no means disturbed at
the alleged indisposition of his wife—“she often gets them.”
“Don’t alarm yourself, Major,” said Owen, “I’ll answer for it she hasn’t
drunk all the rum. The scoundrel is half-drunk himself, and smells
like a spirit-vault. You’d better take your wife away,” he said to Bags.
“She can leave if she ain’t wanted,” said Private Bags, with dignity:
“we never comes where we ain’t wanted.” And he advanced to remove the
lady. Mrs Bags at first resisted this measure, proceeding to deliver a
eulogium on her own excellent qualities, moral and culinary. She had,
she said, the best of characters, in proof of which she made reference
to several persons in various parts of the United Kingdom, and, as she
spoke, she smiled more affably than ever.
“La picarilla no tiene verguenza” (the wretch is perfectly shameless),
cried Carlota, who, having hastily removed the ham from the fire, was
now looking after the rest of the dinner. The fowls, cut up in small
pieces, were boiling along with the sheep’s head, and, probably to save
time, the estimable Mrs Bags had put the rice and raisins destined for a
pudding into the pot along with them—certainly, as Owen remarked, a
bold innovation in cookery.
Still continuing to afford them glimpses of her personal history, Mrs
Bags was at length persuaded to retire along with her helpmate.
“What astonishing impudence,” said the Major, shutting the door upon
her, “to pretend to be a cook, and yet know no better than to roast a
Carlota, meanwhile, was busy in remedying the disaster as far as she
could; cutting the ham into slices and frying it, making a fricassee of
the fowls, and fishing the raisins out of the pot, exclaiming bitterly
all the while, in English and Spanish, against the tunanta (equivalent
to female scoundrel or scamp) who had spoilt the only nice dinner her
pobrecito, her niño, her querido (meaning my grandfather), had
been likely to enjoy for a long time, stopping occasionally in her
occupations to give him a consolatory kiss. However, my grandfather did
not keep up the character of a martyr at all well: he took the matter
really very patiently; and when the excellent Carlota had set the dinner
on the table, and he tasted the fine flavour of the maltreated ham, he
speedily regained his accustomed good-humour.
“It is very strange,” he said presently, while searching with a fork in
the dish before him, “that a pair of fowls should have only three wings,
two legs, and one breast between them.”
It certainly was not according to the order of nature; nevertheless the
fact was so, all my grandfather’s researches in the dish failing to
bring to light the missing members. This, however, was subsequently
explained by the discovery of the remains of these portions of the birds
in the scullery, where they appeared to have been eaten after being
grilled; and Mrs Bags’ reason for adopting this mode of cooking them was
also rendered apparent—viz. that she might secure a share for herself
without immediate detection.
However, all this did not prevent them from making the best of what was
left, and the Major’s face beamed as he drank Carlota’s health in a
glass of the remaining bottle of champagne, as brightly as if the dinner
had been completely successful.
“It is partly my fault, Owen,” said the Major, “that you haven’t a joint
of mutton instead of this sheep’s head. I ought to have been sharper.
The animal was actually sold in parts before he was killed. Old
Clutterbuck had secured a haunch, and he a single man, you know—’tis
thrown away upon him. I offered him something handsome for his bargain,
but he wouldn’t part with it.”
“We’re lucky to get any,” returned Owen. “Never was such a scramble. Old
Fiskin, the commissary, and Mrs O’Regan, the Major’s wife, both swore
the left leg was knocked down to them; neither would give in, and it was
put up again, when the staff doctor, Pursum, who had just arrived in a
great hurry, carried it off by bidding eightpence more than either. Not
one of the three has spoken to either of the others since; and people
say,” added Owen, “Mrs O’Regan avers openly that Fiskin didn’t behave
like a gentleman.”
“God knows!” said my grandfather, “’tis a difficult thing in such a case
to decide between politeness and a consciousness of being in the right.
Fiskin likes a good dinner.”
The dinner having been done justice to, Carlota removed the remains to a
side-table, and the Major was in the act of compounding a bowl of punch,
when there was a knock at the door. “Come in,” cried Carlota.
A light and timid step crossed the narrow passage separating the outer
door from that of the room they sat in, and there was another hesitating
tap at this latter. “Come in,” again cried Carlota, and a young girl
entered with a basket on her arm.
“’Tis Esther Lazaro,” said Carlota in Spanish. “Come in, child; sit here
and tell me what you want.”
Esther Lazaro was the daughter of a Jew in the town, whose occupations
were multifarious, and connected him closely with the garrison. He
discounted officers’ bills, furnished their rooms, sold them everything
they wanted—all at most exorbitant rates. Still, as is customary with
military men, while perfectly aware that they could have procured what
he supplied them with elsewhere at less expense, they continued to
patronise and abuse him rather than take the trouble of looking out for
a more liberal dealer. As the difficulties of the garrison increased, he
had not failed to take advantage of them, and it was even said he was
keeping back large stores of provisions and necessaries till the
increasing scarcity should enable him to demand his own terms for them.
His daughter was about fifteen years old—a pretty girl, with hair of
the unusual colour of chestnut, plaited into thick masses on the crown
of her head. Her skin was fairer than is customary with her race—her
eyes brown and soft in expression, her face oval, and her figure, even
at this early age, very graceful, being somewhat more precocious than an
English girl’s at those years. She was a favourite with the ladies of
the garrison, who often employed her to procure feminine matters for
them. Carlota, particularly, had always treated her with great
kindness—and hence the present visit. She had come, she said timidly,
to ask a favour—a great favour. She had a little dog that she loved.
(Here a great commotion in the basket seemed to say she had brought her
protégé with her.) He had been given to her by a young school friend
who was dead, and her father would no longer let her keep it, because,
he said, these were no times to keep such creatures, when provisions,
even those fit for a dog, were so dear. He was a very good little
dog—would the Señora take him?
“Let us look at him, Esther,” said Owen—“I see you have brought him
“He is not pretty,” said Esther, blushing as she produced him from the
basket. He certainly was not, being a small cur, marked with black and
white, like a magpie, with a tail curling over his back. He did not
appear at all at his ease in society, for he tried to shrink back again
into the basket.
“He was frightened,” she said, “for he had been shut up for more than a
month. She had tried to keep him in her bedroom, unknown to her father,
feeding him with part of her own meals; but he had found it out, and had
beaten her, and threatened to kill the dog if ever he saw it again.”
“Pobrecito!” (poor little thing) said the good Carlota—“we shall take
good care of it. Toma” (take this), offering him a bit of meat. But he
crept under her chair, with his tail so depressed, in his extreme
bashfulness, that the point of it came out between his forelegs.
Carlota would have made the young Jewess dine there forthwith, at the
side-table still spread with the remains of the dinner, for social
differences of position were lost in the general misery; but she refused
to take anything, only sipping once from a glass of wine that Carlota
insisted on making her drink of. Then she rose, and, having tied the end
of a string that was fastened to the dog’s collar to the leg of the
table, to prevent his following her, took her leave, thanking Carlota
“A Dios, Sancho!” she said to the little dog, who wagged his tail and
gave her a piteous look as she turned to go away—“A Dios, Sancho,”
she repeated, taking him up and kissing him very affectionately. The
poor child was ready to cry.
“Come and see him every day, my child,” said Carlota, “and when better
times come you shall have him again.”
Lazaro the Jew was seated towards dusk that evening in a sort of
office partitioned off by an open railing from a great store filled
with a most motley collection of articles. Sofas, looking-glasses,
washing-stands—bales of goods in corded canvass—rows of old boots
purchased from officers’ servants—window curtains lying on heaps of
carpeting and matting—bedsteads of wood and iron—crockery and
glass—were all piled indiscriminately. Similar articles had also
overflowed along the passage down the wooden steps leading to the square
stone court below, which was lumbered with barrels, packing-cases, and
pieces of old iron. This court was entered from the street, and an
arched door on one side of it, barred and padlocked, opened on a large
warehouse, which nobody except the Jew had set foot in for many months.
The Jew himself was a spare, rather small man, with a thin eager face,
small sharp features, and a scanty beard. Being by descent a Barbary
Jew, he wore the costume peculiar to that branch of his race—a black
skull-cap; a long-skirted, collarless, cloth coat, buttoned close, the
waist fastened with a belt; loose light-coloured trousers and yellow
slippers—altogether he looked somewhat like an overgrown Blue-coat Boy.
He was busied in turning over old parchment-covered ledgers, when an
Von Dessel was a captain in Hardenberg’s Hanoverian regiment. He was a
square, strong-built man, about forty, with very light hair, as was
apparent since the governor’s order had forbidden the use of powder to
the troops, in consequence of the scarcity of flour. His thick, white,
overhanging eyebrows, close lips, and projecting under jaw, gave
sternness to his countenance.
“Good afternoon, captain,” said the Jew; “what I do for you to-day,
“Do for me! By Gott, you have done for me already, with your cursed
Hebrew tricks,” said the captain. The German and the Jew met on a
neutral ground of broken English.
“I always treat every gentleman fair, sare,” said the Jew. “I tell you,
captain, I lose by that last bill of yours.”
“Der teufel! who gains, then?” said Von Dessel, “for you cut me off
thirty per cent.”
The Jew shrugged his shoulders.
“I don’t make it so, sare; the siege makes it so. When the port is open,
you shall have more better exchange.”
“Well, money must be had,” said the German. “What will you give now for
my bill for twenty pounds?”
The Jew consulted a book of figures—then made some calculations on
paper—then appeared to consider intently.
“Curse you, speak!” said the choleric captain. “You have made up your
mind about how much roguery long ago.”
“Captain, sare, I give you feefty dollars,” said the Jew.
The captain burst forth with a volley of German execrations.
“Captain,” said the Jew presently, “I like to please a gentleman if I
can. I give you one box of cigars besides—real Cubans—one hundred and
feefty in a box.”
The captain at this broke forth again, but checked himself presently on
the entrance of the Jew’s daughter, who now returned from the Major’s.
She advanced quietly into the room, made a little bow to the captain,
took off and laid aside her shawl, and, taking up some work, sat down
and began to sew.
Von Dessel resumed his expostulation in a milder tone. The Jew, however,
knew the money was necessary to him, and only yielded so far as to
increase his box of cigars to two hundred; and the captain, finding he
could get no better terms from him, was forced to agree. While the Jew
was drawing out the bills, the German gazed attentively at Esther, with
a good deal of admiration expressed in his countenance.
“I can’t take the money now,” said he, after signing the bills. “I am
going on duty. Bring it to me to-morrow morning, at nine o’clock.”
“I’m afraid I can’t, sare,” said Lazaro; “too much business. Couldn’t
you send for it, captain?”
“Not possible,” said the German; “but you must surely have somebody that
might bring it—some trustworthy person you know.” And his eye rested on
“There’s my dater, sare,” said the Jew—“I shall send her, if that will
“Good,” said the captain, “do not forget,” and quitted the room
He was scarcely gone when a pair with whom the reader is already
slightly acquainted, Mr and Mrs Bags, presented themselves. The effects
of their morning conviviality had in a great measure disappeared.
“Your servant, sir,” said Bags. The Jew nodded.
“We’ve got a few articles to dispose of,” pursued Mr Bags, looking round
the room cautiously. “They was left us,” he added in a low tone, “by a
“Ah!” said the Jew, “never mind where you got ’em. Be quick—show them.”
Mrs Bags produced from under her cloak, first a tin tea-kettle, then a
brass saucepan; and Mr Bags, unbuttoning his coat, laid on the table
three knives and a silver fork. Esther, passing near the table at the
time, glanced accidentally at the fork, and recognised the Flinders
crest—a talbot, or old English bloodhound.
“Father,” said she hastily, in Spanish, “don’t have anything to do with
that—it must be stolen.” But the Jew turned so sharply on her, telling
her to mind her work, that she retreated.
The Jew took up the tea-kettle, and examined the bottom to see that it
was sound—did the same with the saucepan—looked at the knives
narrowly, and still closer at the fork—then ranged them before him on
“For dis,” said he, laying his hand on the tea-kettle, “we will say one
pound of rice; for dis (the saucepan) two pounds of corned beef; for de
knives, a bottle of rum; and for de fork, six ounces of the best tea.”
“Curse your tea!” said Mr Bags.
“Yes!” said Mrs Bags, who had with difficulty restrained herself during
the process of valuation, “we doesn’t want no tea. And the things is
worth a much more than what you say: the saucepan’s as good as new, and
the fork’s silver—”
“Plated,” said the Jew, weighing it across his finger.
“A many years,” said Mrs Bags, “have I lived in gentlemen’s families,
and well do I know plate from silver. I’ve lived with Mrs Milson of
Pidding Hill, where everything was silver, and nothing plated, even to
the handles of the doors; and a dear good lady she was to me; many’s the
gown she give me. And I’ve lived with—”
Here the Jew unceremoniously interrupted the train of her recollections
by pushing the things from before him. “Take what I offer, or else take
your things away,” said he, shortly.
Mr and Mrs Bags grumbled considerably. The tea they positively refused
at any price: Mr Bags didn’t like it, and Mrs Bags said it disagreed
with her. So the Jew agreed to give them instead another bottle of rum,
a pound of onions, and two pounds of beef; and with these terms they at
length closed, and departed with the results of their barter.
During the altercation, a soldier of another regiment had entered, and
stood silently awaiting his turn to be attended to. He was a gaunt man,
with want written legibly in the hollows of his face and the dismal
eagerness of his eye. He now came forward, and with trembling hands
unfolded an old gown, and handed it to the Jew.
“’Tis no good to me,” said the latter, giving it back, after holding it
against the light; “nothing but holes.”
“But my wife has no other,” said the man: “’tis her last stitch of
clothes, except her petticoat and a blanket. I’ve brought everything
else to you.”
The Jew shrugged his shoulders and spread out his hands, in token that
he could not help it.
“I swear ’tis her last!” reiterated the man, as if he really fancied
this fact must give the garment as much value in the Jew’s eyes as in
“I tell you I won’t have it!” said the Jew, testily.
“Give me only a loaf for it, or but one pound of potatoes,” said the
soldier: “’tis more than my wife and four children have had among them
for two days. Half-rations for one, among six of us, is too hard to
“A pound of potatoes,” said the Jew, “is worth four reals and a
half—eighteenpence; your wife’s gown is worth—nothing!”
“Then take this,” said the man, beginning frantically to pull off his
uniform coat; “anything is better than starving.”
The Jew laughed. “What!” said he, “you think I don’t know better than to
buy a soldier’s necessaries, eh? Ah, ah! no such a fool, I think, my
friend. What your captain say?—eh?”
The man struck his hand violently on the table. “Then give me—or lend
me,” said he, “some food, much or little, and I’ll work for you every
hour I’m off duty till you’re satisfied. I will, Mr Lazaro, so help me
“I got plenty of men to work for me,” said Lazaro; “don’t want any more.
Come again, when you’ve got something to sell, my friend.”
The man rolled up the gown without speaking, then lifted it over his
head, and dashed it into the furthest corner of the store. He was
hurrying from the place, when, as if unwilling to throw away his last
chance, he turned back, gathered it up, and, thrusting it under his arm,
quitted the store with lingering steps, as if he even yet hoped to be
called back. No such summons reached him, however; but, immediately
after he was gone, Esther rose and stole softly down the stairs. She
overtook him at the street-door opening from the court before mentioned,
and laid her hand on his arm. The man turned and glared on her.
“What!—he’ll buy it, will he?” said he.
“Hush!” said Esther—“keep it for your poor wife. Look; I have no
money, but take these,” and she placed in his hand two earrings hastily
detached from her ears.
The man stood looking at her for a space, as if stupified, without
closing his hand on the trinkets that lay on the palm; then, suddenly
rousing himself, he swore, with tears in his eyes, that for this service
he would do for her anything on earth she should require from him; but
she only begged him to go away at once, and say nothing, lest her father
should overhear the transaction, who would certainly be angry with her
Bags and his wife had stopt in a corner of the court to pack up their
property in a commodious form for conveyance, and had witnessed this
scene in silence. As soon as the soldier had, in compliance with
Esther’s entreaties, disappeared, Bags came forward.
“And your father would be angry, would he, my dear?” said he.
“Oh, very—oh, so angry! Please don’t stop me,” she said, trying to pass
“And what’ll ye give me not to tell him, now?” asked Mr Bags. “Ain’t ye
got nothing for me?”
“No—oh, no—indeed, nothing. Do let me pass.”
“Yes, you have; you’ve got this, I think,” said Bags, snatching at a
silver-mounted comb glistening in her hair, which, thus loosened, all
fell down on her shoulders as she darted past him. “And now,” said Mr
Bags, inspecting his prize, “I think me and that ’ere cheating Jew is
quits for the silver fork. I’ll allow it’s plated now.”
Early the next morning (the 12th of April) a rumour went through the
town that an English fleet was signalled as in sight. The news roused
the starving people like electricity. The pale spectres of men that, on
the previous day, had stalked so gauntly through the dreary streets—the
wretched, sinking women, and children careworn as grandfathers—poured
forth, with something like a natural light in their hollow eyes, to
witness the joyful spectacle. The sea-wall of the city was like the
margin of a vast pool of Bethesda, thronged with hopeful wretches
awaiting the coming of the angel.
The streets were instantly deserted. Those who could not leave their
homes got on the housetops, but the great mass of the population spread
itself along the line-wall, the Grand Parade and Alameda, and the
heights skirting the chief slopes of the Rock. Moors and Jews, Spaniards
and English, citizens and soldiers, men, women, and children, of all
ages, grades, and nations, ranged themselves indiscriminately wherever
they could obtain a view of the sea.
For some time the wished-for sight was delayed by a thick fog that
spread itself across the Straits and the entrance of the bay. A murmur
rose from each successive rank of people that forced itself into a front
place on the line-wall. Terrible doubts flew about, originating no one
knew where, but gaining strength and confirmation as they passed from
mouth to mouth. On the summit of the Rock behind them the signal for a
fleet flew steadily from the mast at Middle Hill; but still in this, as
in all crowds, were some of little faith, who were full of misgivings.
Many rushed up to the signal-station, unable to bear the pain of the
delay. My grandfather noticed the Jew Lazaro among the throng, watching
the event with an anxious eye, though his anxiety was from the opposite
cause to that of most of the spectators. The arrival of supplies would
at once bring down the price of provisions, and rob him, for the
present, of his expected profits; and as each successive rumour obtained
credence with the crowd, his countenance brightened as their hopes fell,
and sank as they again emerged from despondency.
Not far from him was an old Genoese woman, wearing the quaint red cloak,
trimmed with black velvet, that old Genoese women usually wear in
Gibraltar. She hovered round the skirts of the crowd, occasionally
peering beneath an uplifted arm, or thrusting it between two obstructing
figures to catch a glimpse, though it was evident that her dim eyes
would fail to discern the fleet when it should come in view. Her thin
shrivelled features, relieved against her black hood, were positively
wolfish from starvation. She frequently drew one hand from beneath her
cloak, and gazed at something she held in it—then, muttering, she would
again conceal it. My grandfather’s curiosity was roused. He drew near
and watched for the reappearance of the object that so engrossed her. It
was a blue mouldy crust of bread.
The wished-for spectacle was at length revealed. “As the sun became more
powerful,” says Drinkwater, rising into positive poetry with the
occasion, “the fog gradually rose, like the curtain of a vast theatre,
discovering to the anxious garrison one of the most beautiful and
pleasing scenes it is possible to conceive. The convoy, consisting of
near a hundred vessels, were in a compact body, led by several
men-of-war—their sails just filled enough for steerage, while the
majority of the line-of-battle ships lay to under the Barbary shore,
having orders not to enter the bay, lest the enemy should molest them
with their fireships.”
Then rose a great shout—at once the casting-off of long-pressing
anxiety and the utterance of delight. Happy tears streamed down haggard
faces overgrown with hair, and presently men turned to one another,
smiling in the face of a stranger neighbour as in that of an old
friend, while a joyful murmur, distilled from many languages, rose
upward. Assuredly, if blessings are of any avail, the soul of Admiral
Darby, who commanded the relieving fleet, is at this moment in Paradise.
Friends and relations now began to search for one another in the crowd,
which broke quickly into knots, each contriving how to enjoy together
the plenty that was to descend upon them. My grandfather’s eye at this
juncture was again attracted by the old Genoese woman. When the crowd
shouted, she screened her eyes with her withered hand, and, with her
nostril spread, her chin fallen, in her eagerness gazed towards the
sea—but presently shook her head, discerning nothing. Then she plucked
by the arm a joyful Spaniard.
“Es verdad? Por Dios, es verdad?” she cried; “jura! jura!”—(Is it
true? Swear by Heaven it is true.)
“Si, si,” said the Spaniard, pointing; “es verdad” (’tis true). “You
may see them yourself.”
Instantly the old woman, for the last time, drew forth her treasured
crust, and began to devour it, muttering, as she tore away each
mouthful, “Mas mañana! mas mañana!” (I shall have more to-morrow—more
After the crowd had partially dispersed, Owen was returning to his
quarters to breakfast, when, as he paused to open the door, he heard a
voice he thought he knew crying out in affright in the rooms opposite,
where Von Dessel resided. Presently the door of the quarters was opened,
and the flushed and frightened face of Esther Lazaro appeared, as she
struggled to escape from Von Dessel, who held her arm.
“Señor, señor, speak to the gentleman!” she cried to Owen.
“Leetle foolish girl,” said Von Dessel, grinning a smile on seeing him;
“she frightens at nothing. Come in, child”—trying to shut the door.
“Why don’t you let her alone?” said Owen; “don’t you see she doesn’t
“Pouf!” said the captain. “We all have trouble with them sometimes—you
must know that well.”
“No, by Jupiter!” cried Frank Owen. “If I couldn’t gain them willingly,
they might go to the devil for me. But you hurt her—pray let her
go—you must indeed.”
“Do you mind your own affair,” said the captain, “and don’t meddle;”
and, exerting his strength, he drew Esther in, and partially succeeded
in shutting the door—she calling the while again on Owen to help her.
Frank stepped forward, and, putting his foot against the door, sent it
into the room, causing Captain Von Dessel, who was behind it, to stagger
back with some violence, and to quit his hold of Esther, who ran down
“Very good, sir,” said the captain, stalking grimly out of his room,
pale with rage. “You have thought right to interfere with me, and to
insult me. By Gott! I will teach you better, young man. Shall we say in
one hour, sir, in the Fives’ Court?”
Owen nodded. “At your pleasure,” said he, and, entering his own
quarters, shut the door.
Meanwhile my grandfather walked about with the telescope he had brought
with him to look after the fleet under his arm, enjoying the unusual
sight of happy faces around him. And he has remarked it as a singular
feature of humanity, that this prospect of relief from physical want
inspired a far more deep and universal joy than he had witnessed in any
public rejoicings arising from such causes as loyalty or patriotism
evinced at a coronation or the news of a great victory, or the election
of a popular candidate; and hence my grandfather takes occasion to
express a fear that human nature is, except among the rarer class of
souls, more powerfully and generally influenced by its animal
propensities than by more refined causes.
He was so engrossed with the philanthropic pursuit of enjoying the joy
of the multitude, and the philosophic one of extracting moral
reflections therefrom, that he quite forgot he had not breakfasted. He
was just beginning to be reminded of the circumstance by a feeling of
hollowness in the region of the stomach, and to turn his steps
homeward, when a light hand was laid on his arm. My grandfather turned,
and beheld the face of the young Jewess looking wistfully in his.
She began at first to address him in Spanish—the language she spoke
most naturally; but, quickly perceiving her mistake on hearing the
extraordinary jargon in which he replied (for it is a singular fact that
nobody but Carlota, who taught him, could understand my grandfather’s
Spanish), she exchanged it for his own tongue. She told him in a few
hurried words of the quarrel Owen had incurred on her account with Von
Dessel, and of the challenge she had overheard given by the latter,
beseeching the Major to hasten to prevent the result.
“In the Fives’ Court! in an hour!” said my grandfather. “When did this
Esther thought nearly an hour ago—she had been almost so long seeking
“I’ll go, child—I’ll go at once,” said the Major. “With Von Dessel,
too, as if he could find nobody else to quarrel with but the best
swordsman in the garrison. ‘Souls and bodies,’ quoted my grandfather,
‘hath he divorced three.’”
With every stride he took, the Major’s uneasiness was augmented. At any
time his anxiety would have been extreme while peril threatened Frank;
but now, when he was calculating on him as a companion at many a
well-spread table, when they might forget their past miseries, it
peculiarly affected him.
“To think,” muttered my grandfather, “that these two madmen should
choose a time when everybody is going to be made so happy, by getting
plenty to eat, to show their gratitude to Providence by cutting one
The danger to Owen was really formidable; for, though a respectable
swordsman, he was no unusual proficient in the graceful art, while his
opponent was not only, as my grandfather had said, the best swordsman in
the garrison, but perhaps the best at that time in the army. As a
student in Germany he had distinguished himself in some sanguinary
duels; and since his arrival in Gibraltar, a Spanish gentleman, a very
able fencer, had fallen beneath his arm.
“God grant,” said my grandfather to himself, as he neared the Fives’
Court, “that we may settle this without the perdition of souls. Frank,
my dear boy, we could better spare a better man!”
On attempting to enter the Fives’ Court he was stopped by the marker,
posted at the door. “It was engaged,” he said, “for a private match.”
“Ay, ay,” said my grandfather, pushing past him; “a pretty match,
indeed! Ay, ay—pray God we can stop it!”
Finding the inner door locked, the Major, who was well acquainted with
the locality—for, when he had nothing else particular to do, he would
sometimes mark for the players for a rubber or two—ascended the stairs
to the gallery.
About the centre of the court stood the combatants. All preliminaries
had been gone through—for they were stripped to their shirts—and the
seconds (one a German, the adjutant of Hardenberg’s regiment—the other,
one Lieutenant Rushton, an old hand at these affairs, and himself a
fire-eater) stood by, each with a spare sword in his hand. In a corner
was the German regimental surgeon, his apparatus displayed on the floor,
ready for an emergency. Rushton fully expected Owen to fall, and only
hoped he might escape without a mortal wound. Von Dessel himself seemed
of the same opinion, standing square and firm as a tower, scarcely
troubling himself to assume an attitude, but easy and masterly withal.
Both contempt and malice were expressed for his antagonist in his
half-shut eyes and the sardonic twist of the corners of his mouth.
“Owen, Owen, my boy!” shouted my grandfather, rushing to the front of
the gallery, and leaning over, as the swords crossed—“stop, for God’s
sake. You mustn’t fight that swash-buckler! They say he hath been fencer
to the Sophy,” roared the Major, in the words of Sir Toby Belch.
The combatants just turned their heads for a moment, to look at the
interrupter, and again crossed swords.
Immediately on finding his remonstrance disregarded, the Major descended
personally into the arena—not by the ordinary route of the stairs, but
the shorter one of a perpendicular drop from the gallery, not effected
with the lightness of a feathered Mercury. But the clatter of his
descent was lost in the concussion of a discharge of artillery that
shook the walls. Instantly the air was alive with shot and hissing
shells; and before the echoes of the first discharge had ceased, the
successive explosion of the shells in the air, and the crashing of
chimneys, shattered doors, and falling masonry, increased the uproar.
One shell burst in the court, filling it with smoke. My grandfather
felt, for a minute, rather dizzy with the shock. When the smoke cleared,
by which time he had partially recovered himself, the first object that
caught his eye was Von Dessel lying on the pavement, and the doctor
stooping over him. The only other person hurt was Rushton, a great piece
of the skin of whose forehead, detached by a splinter, was hanging over
his right eye. Von Dessel had sustained a compound fracture of the
thigh, while the loss of two fingers from his right hand had spoiled his
thrust in tierce for ever.
“What can be the matter?” said my grandfather, looking upward, as a
second flight of missiles hurtled overhead.
“Matter enough,” quoth Rushton, mopping the blood from his eye with his
handkerchief; “those cursed devils of Spaniards are bombarding the
The Major went up to Owen, and squeezed his hand. “We won’t abuse the
Spaniards for all that,” said he—“they’ve saved your life, my boy.”
Enraged at seeing their blockade evaded by the arrival of Darby’s fleet,
the Spaniards revenged themselves by directing such a fire upon
Gibraltar, from their batteries in the Neutral Ground, as in a short
time reduced the town to a mass of ruins. This misfortune was rendered
the more intolerable to the besieged, as it came in the moment of
exultation and general thanksgiving. While words of congratulation were
passing from mouth to mouth, the blow descended, and “turned to groans
The contrast between the elation of the inhabitants when my grandfather
entered the Fives’ Court, and their universal consternation and despair
when he quitted it, was terrible. The crowd that had a few minutes
before so smilingly and hopefully entered their homes, now fled from
them in terror. Again the streets were thronged by the unhappy people,
who began to believe themselves the sport of some powerful and
malevolent demon. Whole families, parents, children, and servants,
rushed together into the streets, making their way to the south to
escape the missiles that pursued them. Some bore pieces of furniture
snatched up in haste, and apparently seized because they came first to
hand; some took the chairs they had been sitting on; one man my
grandfather noticed bearing away with difficulty the leaf of a mahogany
table, leaving behind the legs which should have supported it; and a
woman had a crying child in one hand, and in the other a gridiron, still
reeking with the fat of some meat she had been cooking. Rubbish from the
houses began to strew the streets; and here and there a ragged breach in
a wall rent by the cannon afforded a strange incongruous glimpse of the
room inside, with its mirrors, tables, and drapery, just as the
inhabitants left them. Armed soldiers were hastening to their different
points of assembly, summoned by bugles that resounded shrilly amid the
din, and thrusting their way unceremoniously through the impeding masses
The house of the Jew Lazaro was one of the first that was seriously
injured. The blank wall of the great warehouse before mentioned, that
faced the street, had, either from age or bad masonry, long before
exhibited several cracks. A large segment, bounded by two of these
cracks, had been knocked away by a shot, and the superincumbent mass
falling in consequence, the great store, and all its hoarded treasures,
appeared through the chasm.
The Jew’s instincts had, at first, led him to save himself by flight.
But, on returning timorously to look after his property, the sight of
the ruined wall, and the unprotected hoards on which he had so securely
reckoned as the source of wealth, obliterated in his mind, for the time,
all sense of personal danger. Seeing a party of soldiers issuing from a
wine-house near, he eagerly besought them to assist him in removing his
property to a place of safety, promising to reward them largely for
their risk and trouble.
One of the soldiers thus appealed to was Mr Bags.
“Ho, ho!” said Mr Bags; “here’s a chance—here’s a pleasure, comrades.
We can help Mr Lazaro, who is always so good to us—this here Jewish
gentleman, that gives such liberal prices for our things.
Certainly—we’ll remove ’em all, and not charge him nothing.
Oh—oh—ah!” And, to give point to his irony, Mr Bags distorted his face
hideously, and winked upon his friends.
The idea of giving Lazaro any assistance was considered a capital joke,
and caused a great deal of mirth as they walked towards the store, to
which the Jew eagerly led the way.
“If there’s anything good to eat or drink in the store, we may remove
some of it, though it won’t be on our backs—eh, boys?” said Bags, as he
stept in advance, over a heap of rubbish, into the store.
“These first—these, my friends,” cried the Jew, going up to a row of
barrels, standing a little apart from the crowded masses of articles.
“Oh, these first, eh?” said Bags; “they’re the best, be they? Thank you,
Mr Lazaro; we’ll see what’s in ’em;” and, taking up a gimlet that lay
near, he proceeded to bore a hole in one of the barrels, desiring a
friend, whom he addressed as Tim, to tap the next one.
“Thieves!” screamed the Jew, on witnessing this proceeding, seizing
Bags’ arm; “leave my store—go out—let my goods alone!” Bags lent him a
shove that sent him into a corner, and perceiving liquor flowing from
the hole he had drilled, applied his mouth to the orifice.
“Brandy,” said he, as he paused for breath; “real Cognac. Comrades,
here’s luck to that ’ere shot that showed us the way in;” and he took
another diligent pull at the hole.
Meantime his comrades had not been idle; other barrels were opened, and
their contents submitted to a critical inspection.
The Jew tried various modes to induce them to relinquish their booty;
first threats—then offers of reward—then cajolery; and, at last,
attempted to interpose and thrust them from their spoil. He would
probably have experienced rough treatment in addition to the spoliation
of his goods, but for other interruption too potent to be disregarded. A
shot from the enemy entering the store, enfiladed a long line of
barrels, scattering the staves and their contents. The place was
instantly flooded with liquor—wine, molasses, spirits, and oil, ran in
a mingled stream, soaking the debris of biscuit and salt provisions
that strewed the floor. One soldier was struck dead, and Mr Bags only
escaped destruction by the lucky accident of having his head at that
moment apart from the barrel which had engrossed his attention, and
which was knocked to pieces.
The Jew, partly stunned by a wound in the forehead from the splinter of
a barrel, and partly in despair at the destruction of his property, came
to the entrance of the store, seating himself among the rubbish. Other
plunderers speedily followed the example of the marauding soldiers, but
he made no attempt to stop them as they walked past him. My grandfather,
passing at the time on his way home, was horrified at the sight of him.
Flour from a splintered barrel had been scattered over his face, and
blood from the wound in his forehead, trickling down, had clotted it on
his cheeks and scanty beard, giving him an aspect at once appalling and
disgusting. His daughter had waited at the door of the Fives’ Court till
she saw Owen come forth in safety, and had then availed herself of the
protection of the Major as far as her own home. Shrieking at the dismal
sight, she sprang forward and threw herself before the Jew, casting her
arms around him. This seemed to rouse him. He arose—looked back into
the store; and then, as if goaded by the sight of the wreck into
intolerable anguish, he lifted his clenched hands above his head,
uttering a sentence of such fearful blasphemy, that a devout Spaniard,
who was emerging from the store with some plunder, struck him on the
mouth. He never heeded the blow, but continued to rave, till, suddenly
overcome by loss of blood and impotent rage, he dropt senseless on the
My grandfather, calling some soldiers of his regiment who were passing,
desired them to convey him to the hospital at the South Barracks, and,
again taking the terrified and weeping Esther under his protection,
followed to see the unfortunate Jew cared for.
At the various parades that day Mr Bags was reported absent, being in
fact engaged in pursuits of a much more interesting nature than his
military duties. A vast field of enterprise was opened to him and other
adventurous spirits, of which they did not fail to avail themselves, in
the quantity of property of all kinds abandoned by the owners, in houses
and shops where locks and bolts were no longer a protection; and
although the firing, which ceased for an hour or two in the middle of
the day, was renewed towards evening, and continued with great fury, the
ardour of acquisition by no means abated.
About midnight a sentry on the heights of Rosia (the name given to a
portion of the rugged cliffs towards the south and near the hospital)
observed, in the gloom, a figure lurking about one of the batteries, and
challenged it. Receiving no answer, he threatened to fire, when Bags
came forward reluctantly, with a bundle in his hand.
“Hush, Bill,” said Bags, on finding the sentry was a personal
friend—“don’t make a row: it’s only me, Bags—Tongs, you know,” he
added, to insure his recognition.
“What the devil are you doing there, you fool?” asked his friend in a
surly tone—“don’t you know the picket’s after you?”
“I’ve got some little things here that I want to lay by, where nobody
won’t see ’em, in case I’m catched,” returned Bags. “Don’t you take no
notice of me, Bill, and I’ll be off directly.”
“What have ye got?” asked Bill, whose curiosity was awakened by the
proceedings of his friend.
“Some little matters that I picked up in the town,” returned Bags. “Pity
you should be on guard to-day, Bill—there was some pretty pickings.
I’ll save something for you, Bill,” added Bags, in an unaccountable
access of generosity.
The sentry, however, who was a person in every way worthy of the
friendship of Mr Bags, expressed no gratitude for the considerate offer,
but began poking at the bundle with his bayonet.
“Hands off, Bill,” said Bags; “they won’t abear touching.”
“Let’s see ’em,” said Bill.
“Not a bit on it,” said Bags; “they ain’t aworth looking at.”
“Suppose I was to call the sergeant of the guard,” said Bill.
“You wouldn’t do such a action?” said Bags, in a tone strongly
expressive of disgust at such baseness. “No, no, Bill, you ain’t that
sort of fellow, I’m sure.”
“It’s my dooty,” said the sentry, placing the butt of his musket on the
ground, and leaning his elbow on the muzzle. “You see that what you
said, Tongs, was very true, about its being hard upon me to be carrying
about this here damnable weppin” (slapping the barrel of the musket)
“all day for fourpence ha’penny, while you are making your fortin. It
is, Tongs, d——d hard.”
“Never mind; there’ll be plenty left to-morrow,” said Bags in a
“What shall we say, now, if I lets ye hide it?” said Bill, pointing to
the bundle. “Half-shares?”
“This ain’t like a friend, Bill,” returned Tongs, highly disgusted with
this ungenerous proposal. “Nobody ever knowed me interfere with a
comrade when I was on sentry. How long ago is it since I let ye stay in
my box an hour, till ye was sober enough to walk into barracks, when I
was sentry at the gate? Why, the whole bundle ain’t worth
eighteenpence—and I’ve worked hard for it.”
“Half-shares?” reiterated Bill, not melted in the least by the memory of
“No, by G——!” said Bags in great wrath.
“Serg——,” began Bill in an elevated voice, porting his arms at the
“Stop!” said Bags; “don’t call the sergeant. Half is better nor nothing,
if ye’re going to behave like that. We’ll say half, then.”
“Ah,” said Bill, returning to his former position—“I thought we should
agree. And now let’s see ’em, Tongs.”
Muttering still his disapprobation of this unworthy treatment, Bags put
his bundle on the stone embrasure of the battery, and began to unfold
Eighteenpence was certainly a low valuation. Bags appeared to have
visited a jeweller’s shop. Watches, rings, bracelets, gold chains, and
brooches glittered on the dingy surface of the handkerchief.
“My eye!” said Bill, unable to repress a low laugh of delight—“why,
we’ll turn bankers when we’ve sold ’em. Tongs and Co.—eh?” said Bill
with considerable humour.
Bags, however, told him he was altogether mistaken in his
estimate—most of the things were pinchbeck, he said, and the stones all
glass; and, to save Bill any trouble, he offered to dispose of them
himself to the best possible advantage, and bring his partner his share
of the proceeds, which would certainly be at least ninepence, and might
perhaps be half-a-dollar. This arrangement did not, however, meet the
approbation of the astute William, who insisted on dividing the spoils
by lot. But here, again, there was a slight misunderstanding, for both
fixed their affections on a gigantic watch, which never could have been
got into any modern pocket, and whose face was ornamented with paintings
from the heathen mythology. Both of them supposed, from the size and the
brilliancy of the colours, that this must be of immense value. Finding
they were not likely to come to a speedy arrangement on this point, they
agreed to postpone the division of the spoils till morning.
“I’ll tell ye where to put it, Bags,” said Bill. “These here guns in
this battery haven’t been fired for years, nor ain’t likely to be,
though they loaded ’em the other day. Take out the wad of this one, and
put in the bundle.”
Bags approved of the idea, withdrew the wad from the muzzle of the gun,
put in the bundle as far as his arm would reach, and then replaced the
“Honour bright?” said Bags, preparing to depart.
“Honour bright,” returned Bill; and Bags disappeared.
Nevertheless he did not feel sufficient confidence in the brightness of
his confederate’s integrity to justify his quitting the place and
leaving him to his own devices. He thought Bill might perhaps avail
himself of his absence to remove the treasure, or be guilty of some
other treachery. He therefore crept back again softly, till he got
behind a crag from whence he had a full view of the battery.
For some time Bill walked sternly to and fro on his post. Bags observed,
however, that he always included the gun where the deposit lay in his
perambulations, which became shorter and shorter. At last he halted
close to it, laid down his musket against the parapet, and, approaching
the muzzle of the gun, took out the wad.
At this moment a neighbouring sentry gave an alarm. The guard turned
out, and Bill, hastily replacing the wad, resumed his arms and looked
about for the cause of the alarm. About a mile out in the bay several
red sparks were visible. As he looked there were a corresponding number
of flashes, and then a whistling of shot high overhead told that the
guns from which they had been discharged had been laid too high. The
Spanish gunboats were attacking the south.
The drums beat to arms, and in a few minutes the battery was manned with
artillerymen. To the inconceivable horror of Bags and Bill, the whole
of the guns in the battery were altered in position, and a gunner took
post at the rear of each with a lighted portfire. Then a flushed face
might be seen, by the blue light of the portfires, rising from behind a
neighbouring piece of rock, the eyes staring, the mouth open in agonised
“Number one—fire!” said the officer in command, to the gunner in rear
of the gun in which Mr Bags had invested his capital.
“No, no!” shouted Bags, rising wildly from behind the rock.
The portfire touched the vent—there was a discharge that seemed to rend
Mr Bags’ heartstrings and blow off the roof of his skull—and the clever
speculation on which he had counted for making his fortune ended, like
many others, in smoke. He gazed for a moment out in the direction of the
flash, as if he expected to see the watches and rings gleaming in the
air; then he turned and disappeared in the darkness.
After a few ineffectual discharges, the Spaniards seemed to become aware
of the badness of their aim, and to take measures to amend it. Several
shot struck the hospital; and some shells falling through the roof,
exploded in the very wards where the sick lay. The unhappy Jew, Lazaro,
lying in a feverish and semi-delirious state from his former hurt and
agitation, was again struck by a splinter of a shell which burst in the
ward where the Major’s care had seen him deposited, blowing up the
ceiling and part of the wall. In the midst of the confusion, the Jew,
frantic with terror, rushed unrestrained from the building, followed
only by his daughter, who was watching by his bed. He was not missed for
some time, and the attempts to discover him, made after his
disappearance became known, were of no avail. A neighbouring sentry had
seen a white figure, followed by another crying after it, dash across
the road and disappear in the bushes; but the search made about the
vicinity of the spot failed in detecting any traces of them, and those
who troubled themselves to think of the matter at all, surmised that
they had fallen into the sea.
For some pages, my grandfather’s note-book is filled with memoranda of
singular casualties from the enemy’s shot, wonderful escapes, and hasty
moments of quietude and attempted comfort snatched “even in the cannon’s
mouth.” The fire from the Spanish batteries shortly reduced the town to
ruins, and the gunboats at night precluded all hope of peace and
oblivion after the horrors of the day. Dreams, in which these horrors
were reproduced, were interrupted by still more frightful nocturnal
realities. One of the curious minor evils that my grandfather notices,
as resulting from an incessant cannonade, to those not engaged in it
actively enough to withdraw their attention from the noise, is the
extreme irritation produced by its long continuance, amounting, in
persons of nervous and excitable temperament, to positive exasperation.
Some of the numerous incidents he chronicles are also recorded by
Drinkwater, especially that of a man who recovered after being almost
knocked to pieces by the bursting of a shell. “His head was terribly
fractured, his left arm broken in two places, one of his legs shattered,
the skin and muscles torn off his right hand, the middle finger broken
to pieces, and his whole body most severely bruised and marked with
gunpowder. He presented so horrid an object to the surgeons, that they
had not the smallest hopes of saving his life, and were at a loss what
part to attend to first. He was that evening trepanned; a few days
afterwards his leg was amputated, and other wounds and fractures
dressed. Being possessed of a most excellent constitution, nature
performed wonders in his favour, and in eleven weeks the cure was
completely effected. His name,” continues Mr. Drinkwater, with what
might be deemed irony—if the worthy historian ever indulged in that
figure of rhetoric—“is Donald Ross, and he” (i.e. the remaining
fragment of the said Donald Ross) “now enjoys his sovereign’s bounty in
a pension of ninepence a-day for life.” One might almost suppose that Mr
Hume had some hand in affixing the gratuity; but in those days there was
a king who knew not Joseph.
My grandfather appears to have had also an adventure of his own. During
a cessation of the cannonade, he was sitting one morning on a fragment
of rock, in the garden behind his quarters, reading his favourite
author. The firing suddenly recommenced, and a long-ranged shell,
striking the ground at some distance, rolled towards him. He glanced
half-absently at the hissing missile; and whether he actually did not
for a moment recollect its character, or whether, as was often the case
on such occasions, the imminence of the danger paralysed him, he sat
immovably watching it as it fizzed within a couple of yards of him.
Unquestionably in another three seconds my grandfather’s earthly
tabernacle would have been resolved into its original atoms, had not the
intrepid Carlota (who was standing near gathering flowers to stick in
her hair) darted on him, and, seizing him by the arm, dragged him behind
a wall. They were scarce under shelter when the shell exploded—the
shock laying them both prostrate, though unhurt but for a few
bruises—while the stone on which the Major had been sitting was
shivered to atoms. To the description of this incident in the Major’s
journal are appended a pious reflection and a short thanksgiving,
which, being entirely of a personal nature, I omit.
The stores landed from the fleet were in a very precarious position.
Owing to the destruction of the buildings, there were no means of
placing them where they might be sheltered at once from the fire of the
enemy and from rain. Some were piled under sails spread out as a sort of
roof to protect them, and some, that were not likely to sustain
immediate injury from the damp air of such a depository, were ordered to
be conveyed to St Michael’s Cave.
This cave is one of the most curious features of the Rock. Its mouth—an
inconsiderable opening in the slope of the mountain—is situated many
hundred feet above the sea. Within, it expands into a spacious hall, the
roof, invisible in the gloom, supported by thick pillars formed by the
petrified droppings of the rock. From this principal cavern numerous
smaller ones branch off, leading, by dark, broken, and precipitous
passages, to unknown depths. Along one of these, according to tradition,
Governor O’Hara advanced farther than ever man had gone before, and left
his sword in the inmost recess to be recovered by the next explorer who
should be equally adventurous. But whether it is that the tradition is
unfounded, or that the weapon has been carried off by some gnome, or
that the governor’s exploit is as yet unrivalled, the sword has never
been brought to light.
For the duty of placing the stores here, the name of Lieutenant Owen
appeared in the garrison orders. My grandfather having nothing
particular to do, and being anxious to escape as much as possible for a
short time from the din of the bombardment, offered to accompany Frank
in the execution of this duty.
The day was dark and gloomy, and the steep path slippery from rain, so
that the mules bearing the stores toiled with difficulty up the ascent.
At first, my grandfather and Owen indulged in cheerful conversation; but
shortness of breath soon reduced the Major to monosyllables, and the
latter part of the journey was accomplished in silence. Frequently the
Major paused and faced about, at once to look at the prospect and to
take breath. Far below, on his right, was seen the southern end of the
town, consisting partly of a heap of ruins, with here and there a rafter
sticking out of the mass, partly of roofless walls, among which was
occasionally heard the crashing of shot; but the guns that discharged
them, as well as those that replied from the town, were invisible from
this point. Directly beneath him the ground afforded a curious
spectacle, being covered with tents, huts, and sheds, of all sorts and
sizes, where the outcast population of the ruined town obtained a
precarious and insufficient shelter. The only building visible which
still retained its former appearance was the convent—the governor’s
residence—which was protected by bomb-proofs, and where working-parties
were constantly engaged in repairing the injuries. The bay, once thickly
wooded with masts and dotted with sails, was now blank and cheerless;
only the enemy’s cruisers were visible, lying under the opposite shore
Owen and my grandfather arrived at the mouth of the cave somewhat in
advance of the convoy. To their surprise a smoke was issuing from it;
and, as they approached nearer, their nostrils were greeted by an odour
at once savoury and spicy. Going softly up they looked in.
Mr Bags and a couple of friends were seated round a fire, over which was
roasting a small pig, scientifically butchered and deprived of his hair,
and hung up by the heels. The fire, in the absence of other fuel (of
which there was an extreme scarcity in Gibraltar), was supplied by
bundles of cinnamon plundered from the store of some grocer, and, as the
flame waxed low, Mr Bags took a fresh bundle from a heap of that
fragrant spice by his side, and laid it on the embers. Mrs Bags was
occupied in basting the pig with lard, which she administered from time
to time with an iron ladle.
Presently Mr Bags tapped on the pig’s back with his knife. It sent
forth a crisp crackling sound, that made my grandfather’s mouth water,
and caused Mr Bags to become impatient.
“Polly,” said he, “it’s my opinion it’s been done these three minutes. I
can’t wait much longer.”
And he cast a glance at the other two soldiers (in whom, as well as in
Bags, Owen recognised men of his company who had been reported absent
for some days, and were supposed to have gone over to the enemy), to
ascertain if their opinions tallied with his own on this point.
“It can’t be no better,” said one, taking hold of the pig’s neck between
his finger and thumb, which he afterwards applied to his mouth.
“I can’t abear my meat overdone,” said the third. “What I say is, let
them that likes to wait, wait, and let them that wants to begin, begin.”
So saying, he rose, and was about to attack the ribs of the porker with
“Do stop a minute—that’s a dear,” said Mrs Bags; “another bundle of
cinnament will make it parfect. I’ll give ye something to stay your
stomach;” and stepping to a nook in the wall of the cavern, where stood
a large barrel, she filled a pewter measure, and handed it to the
impatient advocate for underdone pork, who took a considerable dram, and
passed it to his companions.
“Cinnament’s better with pork nor with most things,” said Bags. “It
spoils goose, because it don’t agree with the inions, and it makes
fowls wishy-washy; but it goes excellent with pig.”
“What’s left in the larder?” asked one of the party.
“There’s a week’s good eating yet,” said Mrs Bags, “and we might make
it do ten days or a fortnight.”
“Well!” said the other, “they may say what they like about sieges, but
this is the jolliest time ever I had.”
“It’s very well by day,” said Bags, “but the nights is cold, and the
company of that ghost ain’t agreeable—I see’d it again last night.”
“Ah!” said his friend, “what was it like, Tongs?”
“Something white,” returned Bags in an awful whisper, “with a ghost’s
eyes. You may allays know a ghost by the eyes. I was just rising up, and
thinking about getting a drink, for my coppers was hot, when it comes
gliding up from that end of the cave. I spoke to you, and then I
couldn’t see it no more, because it was varnished.”
“Ghosts always varnishes if you speak,” said Mrs Bags. “But never mind
the spirit now—let’s look after the flesh,” added the lady, who
possessed a fund of native pleasantry: “the pig’s done to a turn.”
At this interesting juncture, and just as they were about to fall to,
the footsteps of the approaching mules struck on their ears. Owen went
to meet the party, and hastily selecting six men from it, advanced, and
desired them to secure the astounded convivialists.
On recovering from their first astonishment, Bags begged Owen would
overlook the offence; they were only, he pleaded, having a little
spree—times had been hard lately. Mrs Bags, as usual, displayed great
eloquence, though not much to the purpose. She seemed to have some idea
that an enumeration of the gentlemen’s families she had lived in, and
the high estimation in which she had been held in all, would really tell
powerfully in favour of the delinquents, and persevered accordingly,
till they were marched off in custody of the escort, when she made a
final appeal to my grandfather, as the last gentleman whose family she
had lived in—with what advantage to the household the reader knows. The
Major, who could not forgive the roasting of his ham, called her, in
reply, a “horrible woman,” but, at the same time, whispered to Owen that
he hoped the fellows would not be severely punished. “If we had caught
them after dinner,” said he, “I shouldn’t have pitied them so much.”
“Never mind them,” said Owen; “let us proceed to business. We must
select the driest spot we can find to put the stores in.”
[Here, by way of taking leave of Mr Bags, I may remark, that he
narrowly escaped being hanged as a plunderer—failing which, he was
sentenced by a court-martial to receive a number of lashes, which I
refrain from specifying, because it would certainly make the hair of a
modern humanitarian turn white with horror.]
“Come along, Major,” said Owen; “perhaps we may find more of these
scoundrels in the course of our researches.”
The Major did not move; he was earnestly regarding the carcass of the
pig, that steamed hissing above the embers.
“Queer idea that of the cinnamon fire,” said he. “I wonder how the meat
Owen did not hear him, having walked forward.
“Have you got a knife about you, Frank?” said the Major. “Do you know I
have a curious desire to ascertain the flavour. It may be a feature in
cookery worth knowing.”
Owen had not a knife, nor had any of the men, but one of them suggested
that the Major’s sword would answer the purpose.
“To be sure,” said the Major. “A good idea! I don’t see why swords
shouldn’t be turned into carving-knives as well as into pruning-hooks.”
So saying he drew it from the sheath, and, straddling across the fire,
detached a crisp brown mouthful from the pig’s ribs, and putting a
little salt on it, he conveyed it to his mouth.
“Excellent!” cried the Major. “I give you my word of honour, Owen, ’tis
excellent! The cinnamon gives it a sort of a——”
Here a second and larger mouthful interrupted the criticism.
“It must be very near lunch-time,” said the Major, pausing, sword in
hand, when he had swallowed it; then, pretending to look at his
watch—“Bless me, it only wants half-an-hour of it. Do you think this
business will take you long, Owen?”
“About a couple of hours,” said Owen.
“Ah, why, there you see,” returned the Major, “we shan’t get home till
long past lunch-time. I really don’t see why we shouldn’t take a snack
now. Nothing can be better than that pig. I only wish the woman had
dressed my dinner half as well. Corporal Hodson, would you oblige me
with a piece of that biscuit near you?” And, detaching a large fragment
of pork, he placed it on the biscuit, and sprinkling it with pepper and
salt, which condiments had not been forgotten in the gastronomic
arrangements of Mr Bags, he proceeded to follow Owen into the interior
of the cave, taking huge bites as he went.
The path slopes at first steeply downward from the mouth to the interior
of the cavern, where it becomes more level. Light being admitted only at
the entrance, the gloom of the interior is almost impenetrable to the
eye. The men had brought torches to assist them in their work, and, a
suitable spot having been selected, these were stuck on different points
and abutments of the rocky wall, when the party proceeded to unload the
mules at the entrance, conveying their burdens into the cave.
In the midst of the bustle and noise attending the operation, the little
dog given by Esther to Carlota, which had that morning followed the
Major, to whom it had speedily attached itself, began barking and
howling dismally in a dark recess behind one of the great natural
pillars before spoken of. As the noise continued, intermixed with
piteous whinings, one of the men took a torch from the wall, and stepped
forward into the darkness, to see what ailed the animal. Presently he
cried out that “there was a man there.”
My grandfather, who was next him, immediately followed, and five paces
brought him to the spot. The soldier who held the torch was stooping,
and holding it over a figure that lay on the ground on its back. In the
unshaven, blood-stained countenance, my grandfather, at first, had some
difficulty in recognising Lazaro the Jew. Some fiery splashes of pitch
from the torch dropping at the moment on his bare throat, produced no
movement, though, had he been living, they must have scorched him to the
On the body was nothing but the shirt he wore the night of his flight
from the hospital, but his legs were wrapt in a woman’s dress. Across
his breast, on her face, lay Esther, in her white undergarments—for the
gown that wrapt the Jew’s legs was hers. The glare of the torch was
bright and red on the two prostrate figures, and on the staring appalled
countenance of the man who held it—the group forming a glowing spot in
the vast, sombre, vaulted space, where dim gleams of light were caught
and repeated on projecting masses of rock, more and more faintly, till
all was bounded by darkness.
Years afterwards my grandfather would sometimes complain of having been
revisited, in dreams of the night, by that ghastly piece of Rembrandt
The rest quickly flocked to the spot, and Esther was lifted and found to
breathe, though the Jew was stiff and cold. Some diluted spirit, from
the cellar of Bags, being poured down her throat, she revived a little,
when my grandfather caused two of the men to bear her carefully to his
house; and the body of the Jew, being wrapt in a piece of canvass, was
placed on a mule and conveyed to the hospital for interment.
Medical aid restored Esther to consciousness, and she told how they came
to be found in the cave.
Her father, on leaving the hospital, had fled by chance, as she thought,
to this cave, for he did not reach it by the usual path, but climbed,
in his delirious fear, up the face of the rock, and she had followed him
as well as she could, keeping his white figure in sight. They had both
lain exhausted in the cave till morning, when, finding that her father
slept, she was on the point of leaving him to seek assistance. But,
unhappily, before she could quit the place, Bags and his associates
entered from their plundering expedition into the town, and, frightened
at their drunken language, and recognising in Bags the man who had
robbed her of her comb, she had crept back to her concealment. The party
of marauders never quitted the cavern from the moment of establishing
themselves in it. They spent the day in eating, drinking, singing songs,
and sometimes quarrelling. Twice, at night, she ventured forth; but she
always found one of them asleep across the entrance, so that she could
not pass without waking him, and once one of them started up, and seemed
about to pursue her—doubtless Bags, on the occasion when he thought he
saw a ghost. Nevertheless, she had mustered courage twice to take some
fragments of food that were lying near the fire, leaving each time a
piece of money in payment; and she had also taken a lighted candle, the
better to ascertain her father’s situation. He had never spoken to her
since the first night of their coming, and, during all these dark and
weary hours (for they were three nights and two days in the cavern),
she had remained by him listening to his incoherent mutterings and
moans. The candle had showed her that he had lost much blood, from the
wound in his forehead breaking out afresh, as well as from the other
received in the hospital, though the latter was but a flesh wound. These
she had bandaged with shreds of her dress, and had tried to give him
some of the nourishment she had procured, but could force nothing on him
except some water. Some hours, however—how long she did not know, but
it was during the night—before Owen’s party found her, the Jew had
become sensible. He told her he was dying; and, unconscious of where he
was, desired her to fetch a light. This she had procured in the same way
as before, lighting the candle at the embers of the fire round which
Bags and his friends reposed. Then the Jew, who seemed to imagine
himself still in the hospital, bid her say whom, among those she knew in
Gibraltar, she would wish to have charge of her when he was no more;
and, on her mentioning Carlota, had desired her to take pen and paper
and write his will as he should dictate it. Pen she had none, but she
had a pencil and a scrap of paper in her pocket, and with these she
wrote, leaning over to catch the whispered syllables that he with
From this paper it would appear that the Jew had some fatherly feelings
for Esther concealed beneath his harsh deportment towards her. I can
describe the will, for I have often seen it. It is written on a piece of
crumpled writing-paper, about the size of a bank-note, very stained and
dirty. It is written in Spanish; and in it the Jew entreats “the Señora,
the wife of Sr. Don Flinder, English officer, to take charge of his
orphan child, in requital whereof he leaves her the half of whatsoever
property he dies possessed of, the other half to be disposed of for the
benefit of his daughter.” Then follows a second paragraph, inserted at
Esther’s own desire, to the effect that, should she not survive, the
whole was to be inherited by the aforesaid Señora. It is dated “Abril
1781,” and signed in a faint, straggling hand, quite different from the
clear writing of the rest—“José Lazaro.”
Esther would now have gone, at all hazards, to obtain assistance, but
the Jew clutched her arm, and would not permit her to quit him. He
breathed his last shortly after, and Esther remembered nothing more till
she came to herself in the Major’s house. The paper was found in her
Some days after this event, my grandfather went with Owen into the town,
during a temporary lull in the enemy’s firing, to visit the house of
Lazaro, in order to ascertain whether anything valuable was left that
might be converted to Esther’s benefit. They had some difficulty in
finding the exact locality, owing to the utter destruction of all the
landmarks. The place was a mass of ruins. Some provisions and goods had
been left by the plunderers, but so mixed with rubbish, and overflowed
with the contents of the casks of liquor and molasses, as to be of no
value even in these times of dearth.
Owen, poking about among the wreck, observed an open space in the middle
of one of the shattered walls, as if something had been built into it.
With the assistance of my grandfather’s cane, he succeeded in dislodging
the surrounding masonry, already loosened by shot, and they discovered
it to be a recess made in the thickness of the wall, and closed by a
small iron door. At the bottom was lying a small box, also of iron,
which they raised, not without difficulty, for its weight was
extraordinary in proportion to its dimensions. This being conveyed to my
grandfather’s, and opened, was found to contain more than six hundred
doubloons (a sum in value about two thousand pounds), and many bills of
exchange and promissory notes, mostly those of officers. The latest was
that of Von Dessel. These the Major, by Esther’s desire, returned to the
persons whose signatures they bore.
Esther never completely recovered from the effects of her sojourn in the
cave, but remained always pale and of weak health. My grandfather took
good care of her inheritance for her, and on leaving Gibraltar, at the
conclusion of the siege, invested the whole of it safely for her
benefit, placing her, at the same time, in the family of some
respectable persons of her own religion. She afterwards married a
wealthy Hebrew; and, in whatever part of the world the Major chanced to
be serving, so long as she lived, valuable presents would constantly
arrive from Gibraltar—mantillas and ornaments of jewellery for Carlota,
and butts of delicious sherry for my grandfather. These, however, ceased
with her death, about twenty years afterwards.
This is, I believe, the most connected and interesting episode to be
found in the Major’s note-book; and it is, I think, the last specimen I
shall offer of these new “Tales of my Grandfather.”
As a child I used to listen, with interest ever new, to the tale of the
young Jewess, which the narrator had often heard from the lips of
Carlota and her husband. St Michael’s cave took rank in my mind with
those other subterranean abodes where Cassim, the brother of Ali Baba,
who forgot the words “Open Sesame,” was murdered by the Forty Thieves;
where Aladdin was shut by the magician in the enchanted garden; and
where Robinson Crusoe discovered the dying he-goat. And when, at the
conclusion of the tale, the scrap of paper containing the Jew’s will was
produced from a certain desk, and carefully unfolded, I seemed to be
connected by some awful and mysterious link with these departed actors
in the scenes I had so breathlessly listened to.