said his vows,” Ser Denys Mallister said. “Tollett
Against these arguments Sir A. Ball placed the following considerations. It had been long his conviction that the Mediterranean squadron should be supplied by regular store-ships, the sole business of which should be that of carriers for the fleet. This he recommended as by far the most economic plan in the first instance. Secondly, beyond any other it would secure a system and regularity in the arrival of supplies. And, lastly, it would conduce to the discipline of the navy, and prevent both ships and officers from being out of the way on any sudden emergency. If this system were introduced, the objections to Malta, from its great distance, &c., would have little force. On the other hand, the objections to Minorca he deemed irremovable. The same disadvantages which attended the getting out of the harbour of Valetta, applied to vessels getting into Port Mahon; but while fifteen hundred or two thousand British troops might be safely entrusted with the preservation of Malta, the troops for the defence of Minorca must ever be in proportion to those which the enemy may be supposed likely to send against it. It is so little favoured by nature or by art, that the possessors stood merely on the level with the invaders. Caeteris paribus, if there 12,000 of the enemy landed, there must be an equal number to repel them; nor could the garrison, or any part of it, be spared for any sudden emergency without risk of losing the island. Previously to the battle of Marengo, the most earnest representations were made to the governor and commander at Minorca by the British admiral, who offered to take on himself the whole responsibility of the measure, if he would permit the troops at Minorca to join our allies. The governor felt himself compelled to refuse his assent. Doubtless, he acted wisely, for responsibility is not transferable. The fact is introduced in proof of the defenceless state of Minorca, and its constant liability to attack. If the Austrian army had stood in the same relation to eight or nine thousand British soldiers at Malta, a single regiment would have precluded all alarms as to the island itself, and the remainder have perhaps changed the destiny of Europe. What might not, almost I would say, what must not eight thousand Britons have accomplished at the battle of Marengo, nicely poised as the fortunes of the two armies are now known to have been? Minorca, too, is alone useful or desirable during a war, and on the supposition of a fleet off Toulon. The advantages of Malta are permanent and national. As a second Gibraltar it must tend to secure Gibraltar itself; for if by the loss of that one place we could be excluded from the Mediterranean, it is difficult to say what sacrifices of blood and treasure the enemy would deem too high a price for its conquest. Whatever Malta may or may not be respecting Egypt, its high importance to the independence of Sicily cannot be doubted, or its advantages as a central station, for any portion of our disposable force. Neither is the influence which it will enable us to exert on the Barbary powers to be wholly neglected. I shall only add, that during the plague at Gibraltar, Lord Nelson himself acknowledged that he began to see the possession of Malta in a different light.
Sir Alexander Ball looked forward to future contingencies as likely to increase the value of Malta to Great Britain. He foresaw that the whole of Italy would become a French province, and he knew that the French Government had been long intriguing on the coast of Barbary. The Dey of Algiers was believed to have accumulated a treasure of fifteen millions sterling, and Buonaparte had actually duped him into a treaty, by which the French were to be permitted to erect a fort on the very spot where the ancient Hippo stood, the choice between which and the Hellespont, as the site of New Rome, is said to have perplexed the judgment of Constantine. To this he added an additional point of connection with Russia, by means of Odessa, and on the supposition of a war in the Baltic, a still more interesting relation to Turkey, and the Mores, and the Greek islands. It had been repeatedly signified to the British Government, that from the Morea and the countries adjacent, a considerable supply of ship timber and naval stores might be obtained, such as would at least greatly lessen the pressure of a Russian war. The agents of France were in full activity in the Morea and the Greek islands, the possession of which, by that Government, would augment the naval resources of the French to a degree of which few are aware who have not made the present state of commerce of the Greeks an object of particular attention. In short, if the possession of Malta were advantageous to England solely as a convenient watch-tower, as a centre of intelligence, its importance would be undeniable.
Although these suggestions did not prevent the signing away of Malta at the peace of Amiens, they doubtless were not without effect, when the ambition of Buonaparte had given a full and final answer to the grand question: can we remain at peace with France? I have likewise reason to believe that Sir Alexander Ball, baffled, by exposing an insidious proposal of the French Government, during the negotiations that preceded the recommencement of the war--that the fortifications of Malta should be entirely dismantled, and the island left to its inhabitants. Without dwelling on the obvious inhumanity and flagitious injustice of exposing the Maltese to certain pillage and slavery from their old and inveterate enemies, the Moors, he showed that the plan would promote the interests of Buonaparte even more than his actual possession of the island, which France had no possible interest in desiring, except as the means of keeping it out of the hands of Great Britain.
But Sir Alexander Ball is no more. The writer still clings to the hope that he may yet be able to record his good deeds more fully and regularly; that then, with a sense of comfort, not without a subdued exultation, he may raise heavenward from his honoured tomb the glistening eye of an humble, but ever grateful Friend.
It was in the early days of April; Bernard Longueville had been spending the winter in Rome. He had travelled northward with the consciousness of several social duties that appealed to him from the further side of the Alps, but he was under the charm of the Italian spring, and he made a pretext for lingering. He had spent five days at Siena, where he had intended to spend but two, and still it was impossible to continue his journey. He was a young man of a contemplative and speculative turn, and this was his first visit to Italy, so that if he dallied by the way he should not be harshly judged. He had a fancy for sketching, and it was on his conscience to take a few pictorial notes. There were two old inns at Siena, both of them very shabby and very dirty. The one at which Longueville had taken up his abode was entered by a dark, pestiferous arch-way, surmounted by a sign which at a distance might have been read by the travellers as the Dantean injunction to renounce all hope. The other was not far off, and the day after his arrival, as he passed it, he saw two ladies going in who evidently belonged to the large fraternity of Anglo-Saxon tourists, and one of whom was young and carried herself very well. Longueville had his share--or more than his share--of gallantry, and this incident awakened a regret. If he had gone to the other inn he might have had charming company: at his own establishment there was no one but an aesthetic German who smoked bad tobacco in the dining-room. He remarked to himself that this was always his luck, and the remark was characteristic of the man; it was charged with the feeling of the moment, but it was not absolutely just; it was the result of an acute impression made by the particular occasion; but it failed in appreciation of a providence which had sprinkled Longueville's career with happy accidents--accidents, especially, in which his characteristic gallantry was not allowed to rust for want of exercise. He lounged, however, contentedly enough through these bright, still days of a Tuscan April, drawing much entertainment from the high picturesqueness of the things about him. Siena, a few years since, was a flawless gift of the Middle Ages to the modern imagination. No other Italian city could have been more interesting to an observer fond of reconstructing obsolete manners. This was a taste of Bernard Longueville's, who had a relish for serious literature, and at one time had made several lively excursions into mediaeval history. His friends thought him very clever, and at the same time had an easy feeling about him which was a tribute to his freedom from pedantry. He was clever indeed, and an excellent companion; but the real measure of his brilliancy was in the success with which he entertained himself. He was much addicted to conversing with his own wit, and he greatly enjoyed his own society. Clever as he often was in talking with his friends, I am not sure that his best things, as the phrase is, were not for his own ears. And this was not on account of any cynical contempt for the understanding of his fellow-creatures: it was simply because what I have called his own society was more of a stimulus than that of most other people. And yet he was not for this reason fond of solitude; he was, on the contrary, a very sociable animal. It must be admitted at the outset that he had a nature which seemed at several points to contradict itself, as will probably be perceived in the course of this narration.
He entertained himself greatly with his reflections and meditations upon Sienese architecture and early Tuscan art, upon Italian street-life and the geological idiosyncrasies of the Apennines. If he had only gone to the other inn, that nice-looking girl whom he had seen passing under the dusky portal with her face turned away from him might have broken bread with him at this intellectual banquet. Then came a day, however, when it seemed for a moment that if she were disposed she might gather up the crumbs of the feast. Longueville, every morning after breakfast, took a turn in the great square of Siena-- the vast piazza, shaped like a horse-shoe, where the market is held beneath the windows of that crenellated palace from whose overhanging cornice a tall, straight tower springs up with a movement as light as that of a single plume in the bonnet of a captain. Here he strolled about, watching a brown contadino disembarrass his donkey, noting the progress of half an hour's chaffer over a bundle of carrots, wishing a young girl with eyes like animated agates would let him sketch her, and gazing up at intervals at the beautiful, slim tower, as it played at contrasts with the large blue air. After he had spent the greater part of a week in these grave considerations, he made up his mind to leave Siena. But he was not content with what he had done for his portfolio. Siena was eminently sketchable, but he had not been industrious. On the last morning of his visit, as he stood staring about him in the crowded piazza, and feeling that, in spite of its picturesqueness, this was an awkward place for setting up an easel, he bethought himself, by contrast, of a quiet corner in another part of the town, which he had chanced upon in one of his first walks--an angle of a lonely terrace that abutted upon the city-wall, where three or four superannuated objects seemed to slumber in the sunshine-- the open door of an empty church, with a faded fresco exposed to the air in the arch above it, and an ancient beggar-woman sitting beside it on a three-legged stool. The little terrace had an old polished parapet, about as high as a man's breast, above which was a view of strange, sad-colored hills. Outside, to the left, the wall of the town made an outward bend, and exposed its rugged and rusty complexion. There was a smooth stone bench set into the wall of the church, on which Longueville had rested for an hour, observing the composition of the little picture of which I have indicated the elements, and of which the parapet of the terrace would form the foreground. The thing was what painters call a subject, and he had promised himself to come back with his utensils. This morning he returned to the inn and took possession of them, and then he made his way through a labyrinth of empty streets, lying on the edge of the town, within the wall, like the superfluous folds of a garment whose wearer has shrunken with old age. He reached his little grass-grown terrace, and found it as sunny and as private as before. The old mendicant was mumbling petitions, sacred and profane, at the church door; but save for this the stillness was unbroken. The yellow sunshine warmed the brown surface of the city-wall, and lighted the hollows of the Etruscan hills. Longueville settled himself on the empty bench, and, arranging his little portable apparatus, began to ply his brushes. He worked for some time smoothly and rapidly, with an agreeable sense of the absence of obstacles. It seemed almost an interruption when, in the silent air, he heard a distant bell in the town strike noon. Shortly after this, there was another interruption. The sound of a soft footstep caused him to look up; whereupon he saw a young woman standing there and bending her eyes upon the graceful artist. A second glance assured him that she was that nice girl whom he had seen going into the other inn with her mother, and suggested that she had just emerged from the little church. He suspected, however--I hardly know why--that she had been looking at him for some moments before he perceived her. It would perhaps be impertinent to inquire what she thought of him; but Longueville, in the space of an instant, made two or three reflections upon the young lady. One of them was to the effect that she was a handsome creature, but that she looked rather bold; the burden of the other was that--yes, decidedly--she was a compatriot. She turned away almost as soon as she met his eyes; he had hardly time to raise his hat, as, after a moment's hesitation, he proceeded to do. She herself appeared to feel a certain hesitation; she glanced back at the church door, as if under the impulse to retrace her steps. She stood there a moment longer-- long enough to let him see that she was a person of easy attitudes-- and then she walked away slowly to the parapet of the terrace. Here she stationed herself, leaning her arms upon the high stone ledge, presenting her back to Longueville, and gazing at rural Italy. Longueville went on with his sketch, but less attentively than before. He wondered what this young lady was doing there alone, and then it occurred to him that her companion--her mother, presumably--was in the church. The two ladies had been in the church when he arrived; women liked to sit in churches; they had been there more than half an hour, and the mother had not enough of it even yet. The young lady, however, at present preferred the view that Longueville was painting; he became aware that she had placed herself in the very centre of his foreground. His first feeling was that she would spoil it; his second was that she would improve it. Little by little she turned more into profile, leaning only one arm upon the parapet, while the other hand, holding her folded parasol, hung down at her side. She was motionless; it was almost as if she were standing there on purpose to be drawn. Yes, certainly she improved the picture. Her profile, delicate and thin, defined itself against the sky, in the clear shadow of a coquettish hat; her figure was light; she bent and leaned easily; she wore a gray dress, fastened up as was then the fashion, and displaying the broad edge of a crimson petticoat. She kept her position; she seemed absorbed in the view. "Is she posing--is she attitudinizing for my benefit?" Longueville asked of himself. And then it seemed to him that this was a needless assumption, for the prospect was quite beautiful enough to be looked at for itself, and there was nothing impossible in a pretty girl having a love of fine landscape. "But posing or not," he went on, "I will put her into my sketch. She has simply put herself in. It will give it a human interest. There is nothing like having a human interest." So, with the ready skill that he possessed, he introduced the young girl's figure into his foreground, and at the end of ten minutes he had almost made something that had the form of a likeness. "If she will only be quiet for another ten minutes," he said, "the thing will really be a picture." Unfortunately, the young lady was not quiet; she had apparently had enough of her attitude and her view. She turned away, facing Longueville again, and slowly came back, as if to re-enter the church. To do so she had to pass near him, and as she approached he instinctively got up, holding his drawing in one hand. She looked at him again, with that expression that he had mentally characterized as "bold," a few minutes before--with dark, intelligent eyes. Her hair was dark and dense; she was a strikingly handsome girl.
"I am so sorry you moved," he said, confidently, in English. "You were so--so beautiful."
She stopped, looking at him more directly than ever; and she looked at his sketch, which he held out toward her. At the sketch, however, she only glanced, whereas there was observation in the eye that she bent upon Longueville. He never knew whether she had blushed; he afterward thought she might have been frightened. Nevertheless, it was not exactly terror that appeared to dictate her answer to Longueville's speech.