The “Falcon” was not a fast vessel, seldom making, under favorable circumstances, more than eight knots an hour. She carried sixteen guns, twelve of which were eighteen-pounders. It had been intended that the “Falcon” should only stay a few hours at Gibraltar, proceeding immediately she had taken in a fresh supply of coal. The engineers, however, reported several defects in her machinery, which would take three or four days to put in order.
Jack was pleased at the delay, as he was anxious to set his foot for the first time ashore in a foreign country, and to visit the famous fortifications of the Rock. The first day he did not ask for leave, as he did not wish to presume upon his being the first lieutenant’s relation.
Charles Hethcote differed widely from the typical first lieutenant of fiction, a being as stiff as a ramrod, and as dangerous to approach as a polar bear. He was, indeed, a bright, cheery fellow, and although he was obliged to surround himself with a certain amount of official stiffness, he was a great favorite among officers and crew.
It was not till the third day of his stay that Jack, his seniors having all been ashore, asked for leave, which was at once granted. Young Coveney, too, had landed on the previous day, and Hawtry, whom Jack was inclined to like most of his shipmates, now accompanied him. They had leave for the whole day, and, as soon as breakfast was over, they went ashore.
“What a rum old place!” Hawtry said, as they wandered along the principal street. “It looks as Spanish as ever. Who would have thought that it had been an English town for goodness knows how long?”
“I wish I had paid a little more attention to history,” Jack said. “It makes one feel like a fool not to know such things as that when one comes to a famous place like this. Look at that tall fellow with the two little donkeys. Poor little brutes, they can scarcely stagger under their loads. There is a pretty girl with that black thing over her head, a mantilla don’t they call it? There is a woman with oranges, let’s get some. Now, I suppose, the first thing is to climb up to the top of the Rock.”
With their pockets full of oranges, the boys started on their climb, which was accomplished in capital time. From the flagstaff they enjoyed the magnificent view of the African coast across the straits, of Spain stretching away to their right, of the broad expanse of the blue Mediterranean, and of the bay with its ships, and the “Falcon” dwarfed to the dimensions of a toy vessel, at their feet. Then they came down, paid a flying visit to the various fortifications and to the galleries, whence the guns peer out threateningly across the low, sandy spit, known as the neutral ground.
When all this was finished, it was only natural that they should go to the principal hotel and eat a prodigious luncheon, and then Hawtry proposed that they should sally out for a ramble into Spain.