My Short Stories

14.The Mouth of the Mediteranean

by Charlie Dimech

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A  Lamp Post.
 
The morning beam entered gently into the walled enclosure of the flagstoned street, piercing the air quietly and  peacefully with a faded light. A lone robin sang a sweet melody, and the earths new day was formed.
Spilling out from the sheltered seclusion of the street, the sunlight drew a weary traveller to the unobscured and open world of the dockyard area of the town.
After a sleepless night of hard drinking in the town's only cafe, the company only of a lighted lamp post between the hours of closing time and daylight, the day which brought renewal, he felt well, all the above considered, his mind absorbed with the task at hand.
He had  had a twelve hour sleep the day before and this was sufficient to shake off the shadows of the past and free him for his secret, solitary mission.
 No one else  would he trust. The mission was  delicate. It came  close to the bone, close to the powderkeg of a people's emotions and only needed a slight , careless nudge to set  off  the emotional accumulation of the last two hundred years of a nations history. Even more ,its history was a continuous strand  which could not be broken going back 6000 years, and he knew the mission touched  an exposed nerve of that history. There was no question. He had to be secretive. There was no alternative, he had to be silent.
The thought crossed his mind; Napoleon conquered all of Europe and the Far East and these peasant islanders conquered him ....  he was  touching the very same nerve that triggered the revolt and the sucessful overthrowal of Napoleon in their island,200 years previously; a revolt which repercussions caused his eventual defeat on the world stage.
These islanders had courage and conviction. They defeated all comers, Ottoman, Napoleon, Nazi, Muzzolini, Britain and many others, even Japan economically; all the worlds empire, at a time and for a reason of their own choosing, aligning themselves with these same empires also when it suited them.
 
Don't play with fire.
 
But could he resist this incredible island nation? So small that not even a map of Mediteranean Europe could give its outline.
 
He continued to reflect, in awe of the quiet majesty bestowed on Malta by its history in a world which had always sailed into its fine harbours, the maritime crossroads between east and west  - out of necessity, duty or desire.
 
Their Phoenician heritage connected them well with the sea, and those that sailed thereon, who were always welcomed  with friendliness when they came in peace.
 
On a lonley outpost they had survived not the centuries merely but millenia. Carthage itself had disappeared as well as Phoenica but that great heritage was evident still in the sole remaining spoken  and written Phoenician dialect left in the world ... Maltese.
 
As he stood on the dock he several times shook his head, in wonder at the profound nature of these islands. It was  a mystery, nurtured by the silent mist of history for the Maltese of old wrote nothing down....
 
The decision not to tread on their toes became firmly fixed in his mind, challenging him to view his adventure in a contextually deeper and richer framework.
 
He was after the "Orient." the flagship of Napoleons fleet. But this was more than the sheer adventure of a treasure hunt. For the "Orient" contained some of the rich treasures of the Maltese cultural and religious history. These were priceless items - from a priceless past, held so dearly by the Maltese people they had beseiged, defeated and laid waste the French armies within 6 months s of their 'visit' to the island, when they had had enough of their looting.
 
 Now he was searching for it.
 
The "treasure map" seemed genuine enough, drawn up by the offical surveyor on board Nelson's flagship immediately after the "Orient" had gone down under bombardment from the British Fleet.
The battle was the famous "Battle of the Nile."
 
Cane Toad.
 
In the north of Australia  where many Maltese had settled particularly after WWII sugar cane is grown over a wide area and many Maltese are still involved in the production of this crop.
On his farm in his spare time a fellow, Mizzi, built a harvester which outranked anything else on the market. This fellow, a Maltese, gained a monopoly for his machine known as the Mizzi Harvester in one of the sugar growing states of the USA.
 
It was here that Ernest Spellbinder bought one of the Mizzi Harvesters which he nicknamed 'Cane Toad' after the animal of the same name which was causing problems in the sugar growing areas of Northern Australia. It was then that he first became aware of the Maltese connection.
 
On his travels to Australia Spellbinder came into contact with another expatriot from Malta who lived in Melbourne roughly 2000kms from the sugar cane and curiously enough who was also named Mizzi.
 He also had invented or rather reinvented something - an inherently stable helicopter based on the Stanley Hiller version of a famously simple,  and consequently inexpensive self-propelled rotor (incorporating small, wing tip mounted jet engines). One application was as an asset to farms dependant on or who could benefit from aerial work and transport. Spellbinder was intrigued by these connections, and made up his mind to take a holiday in Malta.
 
During this visit he took up scuba diving on the many reefs and shipwrecks around the islands and became a convert not just to diving, but the islands themselves learning much about the islands folklore. Hence the "Orient" became a curiosity which intrigued him. Until then it had still lain at the bottom of the bay. French descriptions of the battle also pin-pointed the probable location and he decided to try and find it.
 
There existed also the possibility of the return of the artifacts to the Maltese people themselves from their Egyptian resting place. An exchange not from Malta, but from Britain was also a possibility in lieu of the circumstances of a British fleet involved in the sinking. The Rosetta Stone in the British Museum came to mind. The Egyptian government had long been negotiating for the return of these precious items. The Maltese government might be precipitous in this exchange.
 
A hornets nest once stirred would make his attempted discovery and possible recovery practically untenable so he kept his little adventure to himself until he had left the islands.
 
He stood there in the dockyard area and breathed in the fresh salt air. Something  he would grow  accustomed to....he set sail on that cool Spring afternoon and lost track of time as he sailed well out of sight of land.
 
Lilac Blooms.
 
After several days sailing the boat drew to a stop near the centre of Aboukir Bay, the mouth of the Nile. Permission for the dive had already been granted by the relevant Egypian government authorities.
Spellbinder surmised from his maps that the battle probably took place a couple of hunded metres off shore, with a surprise attack from Nelsons fleet on the Napoleonic fleet, which had just anchored several hours earlier.

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