Pleasantly we traversed the almost tideless waters of the Mediterranean,
the great inland sea of Europe.
We generally had a fair wind; but in our tacks southward and northward
more than once we sighted the shores of Europe on one side, and those of
Africa on the other.
The routine of transport life varied but little, so every passing sail
became an object of speculation and interest. Day by day, and
frequently night after night, we walked with the same person on the same
side of the quarter-deck, turning short round at the taffrail aft, and
at the break forward, to resume the same pace, without making a remark,
for all our mutual ideas had been interchanged over and over again, and
no tie remained, save that of being comrades, weary and worn alike,
though each had his own thoughts, the mental orbit in which his soul
revolved, and these were, perhaps, three thousand leagues astern.
Every probable and possible phase of the war we had dissected and
discussed, and the future excitement that was to come we contrasted
impatiently with the quiet, inglorious monotony of the present, while
the swift clipper cleft the classic waters of the Mediterranean.
The monotony on board was once varied by a trivial practical joke played
by M’Goldrick, the paymaster, on the colonel and some of the English
officers, who had been deriding Scottish cookery. He produced at dinner
a valuable preserve, which he had previously had carefully soldered up
in a tin case, by the armourer’s aid, and which he had compounded with
the joint assistance of the ship’s cook and my man, Pitblado.
It was duly boiled, and produced at table in its tin case as a scarce
and rare Parisian decoction—_Farina d’avoine au fromage_, or some such
name; and after being partaken of by Beverley, Studhome, and the rest,
was pronounced excellent, though it proved, after all, to be only a very
ill-made Scotch haggis.
In the Mediterranean we were frequently impressed by the extreme
blueness of the water. It seemed to have a purer and deeper tint than
we had ever seen it wear even in higher latitudes, especially when the
weather was fine, and light scattered clouds were floating through the
About a fortnight after passing “old Gib,” the outline of Malta and its
sister isle, the abode of Calypso, rose from the morning sea on our lee
bow; and during the whole of a lovely day our eyes were strained in that
direction, watching that rocky shore of so many great and glorious
memories—the last stronghold of Christian chivalry—the link between
Britain and her Indian empire—our “halfway house” to the Bosphorus—with
all its cannon bristling as the mistress of the Mediterranean and
As we drew nearer, our field-glasses enabled us to trace the rocky
outline of the greater isle—the hilly range of which is only about a
hundred feet higher than the dome of St. Paul’s—and the steep, rugged
coast to the north-east, beyond which lie the _casals_, or villages of
the lank, yellow-visaged, black-bearded, and malicious-looking Maltese,
concerning whom I do not mean to afflict my reader with either a
description or a dissertation.
The evening gun flashed redly from the Castle of St. Elmo, and the
harbour lights of Valetta were sparkling brightly amid the golden
evening haze, as we ran into the harbour, round which a thousand or more
pieces of cannon were bristling on battery and platform, and on coming
to anchor found that we were only a pistol-shot astern of the _Ganges_,
which had on board Wilford’s troop of ours, and which had come in two
days before us.
We were only to wait the refilling of our tank with fresh water, of
which, being a horse transport, we required an unusual quantity; and now
our poor nags were neighing in concert in the hold, for, as Captain
Binnacle termed it, “they smelt the land.”
No officer or soldier was permitted to go on shore, unless on duty, for
already Malta was crowded with troops, so much so that the 93rd
Highlanders were actually bivouacking in a burying-ground. But these
orders did not prevent us from visiting our comrades in the _Ganges_; so
Binnacle sent off his gig, with the colonel, Studhome, Sir Harry
Scarlett, and me.
We found that all were well on board, and had suffered no casualties,
save the loss of four horses by disease. Unlike us, however, they had
been favoured by that remarkable illumination known in those waters as
St. Elmo’s light, which had shone on their main-topgallant mast for a
space of three feet below the truck in the night, when they were off the
volcanic isle of Pantalaria.
My old friend Fred Wilford received us with warmth and welcome. Thus
far our voyages had been equally unmarked by danger or adventure.
In the cabin we found Berkeley, reading one of the London morning
papers, which was only a week or so old. It had come by the steam
packet from Marseilles. He addressed a few remarks, in his usual
languid way, to the colonel and to Scarlett, made a pencil-mark on his
paper, as if half casually, and tossing it on the cabin table, retired,
with his strange smile and lounging gait, on deck.
Under other circumstances I should most probably have been awaiting him
at the hotel of M. Dessin, at Calais, for the purpose of giving him a
morning airing on the beach, with the chance of myself being carried
back on a shutter, perhaps, to that famous room, in which, as all the
travelling world know, Lawrence Sterne and Walter Scott have slept. But
fate or duty had arranged it otherwise; so here we were, quietly smoking
cheroots in the harbour of Valetta. But his voice and presence recalled
all the baseness of his conduct at the Reculvers, and the bitterness of
the time when he involved me in disgrace with Louisa Loftus—a double
piece of treachery for which I had yet to demand satisfaction.
Curious to see the paragraph which had such interest for him, I took up
his paper, and my eye fell at once upon the following paragraph:—
“THE NEW PEERAGE.—Our readers will be glad to perceive that, by last
night’s _London Gazette_, a right honourable lord, long known in the
world of fashion, and latterly in political circles, has been raised to
a marquisate, by the title of Marquis of Slubber de Gullion and Viscount
Gabey of Slubberleigh. Rumour adds that, lest the newly-won honours
perish, the noble marquis is about to lead to the altar the only
daughter and heiress of one of the greatest of our English families—the
fair maid of Kent.”
I knew well that the closing words could only refer to Louisa Loftus. I
had seen her but a few days before this piece of impertinent twaddle had
been penned, and the memory of our parting hour, and the expression of
her eyes, came vividly before me; but we were far separated now, and it
is difficult to describe how deeply the tenor of that paragraph stung
The drums were beating in barrack and citadel, and the trumpets were
sounding tattoo in the transports, as we were rowed back to our vessel.
Studhome and the colonel were chatting gaily, and Scarlett was humming a
waltz, as he pulled the stroke-oar and thought of past days at Oxford.
I alone was silent and sad.
From violet and purple, the tints of the later evening—the gloaming, as
we call it in Scotland—passed into blue and amber, and the lights of
Valetta rose over each other, glittering in tiers along the slope on
which the city is built, with all its “streets of stairs,” which Byron
The band of an infantry regiment was playing in Citta Nuova, and softly
the strains of the music came across the rippling water, over which the
blue and amber tints were swiftly spreading, while in its depths the
stars were shining, and all the shipping were reflected downwards.
Lights glittered gaily all round the harbour; the ramparts of St. Elmo
and of Ricazoli, with the mass of the cathedral, where the knights of
the Seven Nations sleep in their marble tombs, and where hung of old the
silver keys of Acre, Rhodes, and Jerusalem, stood in bold outline
against the ruddy, but deepening, twilight sky.
The scene was lovely and stirring withal; but my heart and thoughts were
far away from Malta, as we were rowed back between crowded transports,
and huge, silent frigates and line-of battle ships, to the _Pride of the
My good friend, Jack Studhome, who knew the cause of my too apparent
depression, made light of the matter, and endeavoured, in his own
fashion, to soothe and console me while we took a whiff together on
deck, before turning in for the night.
“Consider, Norcliff,” said he; “Lady Louisa Loftus, sole heiress of
“Ay, there’s the rub, Jack—sole heiress. I would rather that she had
not a shilling in the world.”
“Our chances were more equal then.”
“Hear me out. Sole heiress of Lord Chillingham—all save his titles!
What should, what could, tempt her—already too, in the face of her
engagement with you—to throw herself away on old Slubber, who might be
her grandfather? Where would be her gain?”
“The title of marchioness, with vast estates,” said I bitterly. “In my
case, my dear fellow, she would only be Lady Louisa Loftus, wife of a
very poor captain of lancers.”
“But those newspaper rumours are frequently such impertinent falsehoods.
Remember that, if their authors get their columns filled, they care
little with what it may be, for a newspaper must contain daily the same
amount of words, whether it give news or not. So with messieurs the
editors, it is anything for the nonce. Their best productions are in
the press to-day, and too often, perhaps, we don’t know where to-morrow;
so put not your trust in this, Norcliff. And now to bed. We have stable
duty at seven, A.M., to-morrow,” concluded Studhome.
Next morning, Captain Binnacle, who had been on shore at Valetta,
brought off with him the mail, which came from London _viâ_ Marseilles,
and by it I received a welcome letter from Sir Nigel.
It was long and hurried; but was filled chiefly with hunting
intelligence. Had Cora written—and why did she not?—I might have had
more interesting tidings.
He had bought a couple of hunters from Lord Chillingham but feared they
wouldn’t do in such a stone-wall county as Fife; and he had secured a
new huntsman—such a tip-top fellow! He had hunted all the counties on
the Welsh border—could tell the pedigree of a hound at a glance—was
perfect in his work, and rode under ten stone. Sir Hubert himself was
but a sham when compared to him, and he was sure to figure some day in
the columns of _Bell’s Life_.
I had full permission to draw for whatever I required; but I scanned the
letter in vain for the name of Louisa. Slubber’s was spoken of only
twice. Indeed, my hearty old uncle viewed that noble peer of the realm
with no small contempt.
“I am still at Chillingham Park, with our kind friends; but I must be
home in Scotland for the Lanarkshire steeple-chase on Beltane day.
There will be some queer jockeyship in the mounts, I fear. Four miles
distance will be the run, including thirteen stone walls, four rough
burns, two water leaps, and six-and-twenty most infernal fences. I know
the course well—by Gryffwraes and Waterlee. (All this stuff, thought I,
and not one word of Louisa!) Old Slubber is to be made a marquis, it
seems, so the countess talks nothing but ’peerage’—Douglas and Debrett,
Lodge, and Sir Bernard Burke. It is all noble ’shop,’ and we poor
commoners have not the shadow of a chance!
“Slubber is an old humbug; I am as old as he is, perhaps; but I don’t
wear my hat in the nape of my neck, or use goloshes and an
umbrella—never had one in all my life. I don’t mount my horse with the
aid of a groom, and ride him as if I was afraid he’d take it into his
head to run up a tree. I don’t take dinner pills and Seltzer water on
the sly from the butler; and my stomach, thank God, is not like his—a
more delicate piece of machinery than Cora’s French watch; for I can
take a jolly curler’s dinner of salt beef and greens, and can rush my
horse at a six-foot wall neck and neck with the lightest lad in your
“So why he’s made a marquis, the devil, and that Scoto-Russian, Lord
Aberdeen, on whose policy he always gobbles like a turkey-cock, only
Sir Nigel’s ridicule of Slubber consoled me a little for his omitting
the dear name of Louisa. I knew that it was my regard for her that
inspired his chief dislike for the lord. But why was the good-hearted
baronet so vituperative? Was the senile peer really likely to become a
successful lover? Save by the side of his mistress, a lover is never