The Historic Island of Malta
( Originally Published 1903 )
WE were due to arrive at Valletta, the chief Maltese port, on a Monday morning, and on the Sunday afternoon previous there was a short prayer-meeting on the forcastle head for the soldiers and sailors. One of the Georgia recruits addressed the meeting, and his talk was helpful to all of us. When the service was over, one of the Congressmen who had been present, suggested that if we all wanted something interesting to read we should turn to the twenty-seventh and twenty-eighth chapters of Acts, where we would find an account of how St. Paul was shipwrecked on this very Island of Malta which we were going to visit on the morrow. At his request I read these chapters to the crowd, and everyone was interested. It would be a fascinating story to read at any time, and it was especially interesting because the McClellan herself was nearing the historic island.
We anchored off the island before daylight, and about seven o'clock in the morning we passed through the narrow harbor entrance and anchored alongside several British men-of-war. There were cruisers and battleships and torpedo boats on every side, and we counted no less than thirty-two ships of all sorts belonging to the British navy. When we saw the forts, too, at the harbor entrance, we were willing to admit that Malta is quite well defended, and that England doesn't pro-pose to lose her most important naval station. I think the harbor of Valletta is the most picturesque that I saw on the way to Manila. The city was built up on every side, and one could hardly discern the open sea at all. The water being very calm, large numbers of small boats came out from shore with innumerable things to sell to the sailors and passengers. Mr. Casey said they were called " bum-boats," and that we would find them in every harbor of the East. They deal in tobacco and cigars, fruit, shirts and underwear, and certain varieties of canned goods. In Malta they dealt chiefly in lace, for which the Island is famous.
It kept we masters-at-arms busy trying to keep the bum-boat people off the ship. They not only swarmed up the gangway, but very often they climbed up the sides of the vessels, and were showing their goods to the passengers before we knew it. We were kept running from one end of the ship to the other, chasing the pedlers away. The officers were fearful that they would enter the staterooms and rob the passengers. Those fears were well grounded, as I discovered later, when I had my camera stolen in one of the ports, and found that it had been carried off by a native.
Among the Maltese
I was anxious to go ashore in Malta as soon as possible, for it had been arranged that the Eddy boys and I were to visit the sights together. Timmie was to go along, too, if he could get away at the same time. When we saw what a nuisance the pedlers were going to be, we gave up all thoughts of the outing, but good Mr. Casey insisted that we go ahead and carry out our plans. He said he would be responsible for the order of the ship. " I've been here before, my boys," said he, " and I know yell have a good time. Go ahead and enjoy yerselves, and come back at eleven o'clock, so that I can get a nap before mornin'." We thanked him for his continued kindness, and as he promised to make it all right with Captain Linder, we started off without waiting to ask permission.
When we landed at the custom-house we found that we could get a carriage for about twenty-five cents an hour. This was so cheap that we decided to be luxurious for once and hire one for the day. Howard Eddy said that he would rather visit the scene of St. Paul's shipwreck than any other place, so we ordered the driver to take us there. It was a considerable distance from the port, but everything we saw was so new and interesting that we didn't notice the length of the drive. I had once visited Rome, so the architecture wasn't altogether different from what I had seen before, but I have never been in a place where the street-life was more picturesque. The Maltese costumes were similar to those of the peasants of South Italy, made up of brilliant colors and in graceful fashion. The people we met seemed to be industrious, and it is said that Malta is one place on earth where a Jew cannot earn a living. The Maltese can beat the Jew merchant at his own game.
When we reached the inlet called St. Paul's Bay, we found a statue erected to commemorate the event which took place there, so people evidently believe that it is the exact place. They say the coast-line has changed somewhat since the day of the Apostle, but it still looks as if the wreck might very easily have taken place in the way the Bible describes it. We found an American boy about ten years' old swimming near the statue. The beach was stony and the water was dirty, so we were surprised to see him bathing in such a place. " We saw a much better beach than this not far back," I said, " and you ought to go there to swim." He gave me a pitying glance. " You don't reckon I'm swimmin' just for fun? " he asked. " I'm swimmin' here so's I can tell the fellers at home that I've swum in the place where St. Paul was wrecked, and which the Bible tells about." I had no more to say after this explanation, as such a triumph will surely repay the boy for the hurt his feet received. Kenneth Eddy was so taken with the idea of bathing that he insisted that we find a place to try it. We walked down to the shore a piece and finally discovered a sandy stretch which looked very tempting. So we undressed and enjoyed a good swim in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. I felt worried all the time we were in for fear there might be an undertow or even quicksand, but we didn't discover anything of the sort. It was all delightfully pleasant, and we felt that this good sea-bath was alone worth a visit to Malta.
After our swim, we had the driver take us to an old church which is constructed over a cave. This cave is said by the Maltese to be the identical one in which the Apostle lived during the three months he spent as a missionary in the island, and when we entered it we felt as if we were truly in holy atmosphere. I suppose there is no way of proving that this is really the cave of St. Paul, but the natives have faith enough in it to have constructed a very beautiful church as a monument. As we boys stood within the four limestone walls of the sacred dungeon, we were deeply impressed with a sense of the sacrifices which were made by the Disciples of Christ in order that we might know the blessings of Christianity.
A Visit to the Chapel of Bones
After the cave the boys decided they wanted to visit the famous Chapel of Bores. We had been told that there was in Valletta a church constructed entirely of skeletons, and we thought this could hardly be possible. When we entered the place, however, we saw that this was true of the interior, at least. The walls and ceiling were built entirely of grinning skulls, and there were thigh-bones piled along the walls to a height of several feet. In the altar itself there were several complete skeletons. " Well, I never," said Timmie, after he had looked around. " This beats all I ever heard tell of. It would be enough to give a man the Pm, jams to come in this here place after dark ! " I thought to myself that it wouldn't be a cheerful place in which to attend church on Sunday. Howard Eddy said he'd never go to church at all if he belonged to that parish. One of the Congressmen, who happened to visit the place at the same hour with us, explained that these bones and skulls had all belonged to the crusaders who started from Malta to the wars in Palestine. When they were killed they were brought back to the island for burial, and years afterward their bodies had been dug up and the bones used to build this chapel. Over the altar there was an inscription in Latin. Howard Eddy knew sufficient of the classics to be able to translate it, and it read as follows : "The world is a theatre. Life is really a tragedy. Every earthly thing is a personification of vanity. Death breaks and dissolves the illusion and is the boundary of all earthly things. Let those who visit this place ponder over these maxims, pray for perpetual rest for the dead lying herein, and carry with them a lively remembrance of death. Peace be with you."
British and American Soldiers
None of us cared to remain very long in this gruesome place, so we went out into the warm, lively streets and enjoyed ourselves. We agreed that we were more interested in life than in death, and sat ourselves down in front of a cafe to have what they called a " lemon squash." It was simple lemonade, in fact, but the English predominate in Malta and give their names to things. Kenneth Eddy professed to a great admiration for everything English, and especially for English soldiers. He asserted that they were usually better trained than the Americans, and Timmie almost exploded with wrath. " Why," he exclaimed, " look at the Revolution and the War of 1812! What are you talking about? " They carried on a heated argument, much to the amusement of various Englishmen in the cafe, and in the end Kenneth certainly triumphed. Some English soldiers were talking to a party of recruits from our transport just across the street when Captain Logan walked by. The English Tommies were off the sidewalk in a moment, with their hands saluting. The poor recruits made never a move and didn't notice the Captain any more than if he were not there. We saw Captain Logan stop, and his face grow red. He looked at the recruits in disgust for a minute, and then he opened up with such a broadside of strong language that we blushed unconsciously, He compared the recruits to the genteel Englishmen. " Those men," he said, " have no orders to salute the officer of a foreign army, but they did it out of courtesy, while you stand here like blockheads. You ought to be ashamed of yourselves, and I hope you'll take some lessons in discipline from your English friends while we're in port here."
The good Quartermaster walked off in high dudgeon, while the recruits looked after him with dark faces. The English soldiers had nothing to say. " There," said Kenneth triumphantly, " I told you so. There's an exhibition of comparative discipline in the two armies. I couldn't have had it better if it had been made to order." Timmie had to shut up for the time being, but of course it wasn't fair to compare inexperienced recruits with trained regulars.
There were some interesting exhibits of armor in one of the Government buildings in Valletta, and we boys examined them carefully. We were all longing for the days of the crusades when there were knights in armor and battles worth talking about. " It must have been great," said Howard, "to ride an armored horse and fight with spears instead of guns," Kenneth sneered. " I guess you would have had to get up your muscle before you could do much in armor," he said. " If you ever fell off your horse you would be as helpless as a babe." Howard let this remark pass without reply because he was used to such taunts from his younger and stronger brother. We passed from one room into another, and each seemed more interesting than the last. This building had been erected centuries before, and each apartment had been the scene of some historic event. We had heard so little of Malta previous to our visit, that we had no idea of its wonderful history and the great men who had been its rulers. We discovered that it had been owned by nearly every great nation known to history, first by the Phoenicians, then by the Greeks, the Romans, the French and now it belonged to England. " If it's going to pass continually to the greatest known power," said Timmie, " Malta will soon belong to the United States of America. We would find it very convenient as a coaling station for our warships on their way from New York to Manila."
We had supper in the evening at a native restaurant. The meat cost us only about twenty cents each, and we had a regular course dinner, beginning with soup and fish, and ending with dessert and coffee. Everything tasted good, and we decided to patronize the little eating-place-every time any of us were ashore. When we had finished our meal, we walked arm-in-arm through the lively streets of Valletta. We had no coats with us and carried our hats in our hands. We whistled every American tune we knew, from " The Star-Spangled Banner " to " Yankee Doodle," and occasionally we regaled the Maltese with such popular songs as " Hello, My Honey," and Rosey, You ah Ma Posey." I'm sure the natives thought we were tipsy, even though Timmie and I were wearing our official caps, and they didn't seem to appreciate the musical beauty of " rag-time."
At ten o'clock I told Timmie that we must get back to the transport so that Mr. Casey could go to bed, and Howard and Kenneth were so tired that they were ready to go, too. We all agreed that we had spent a fine day and that Malta was the best place we'd found yet on the voyage. " I imagine, though," said philosophical Timmie, " that we'll think every place we visit is the ` best yet.' "