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´╗┐Title: A Knight of the White Cross: A Tale of the Siege of Rhodes
Author: Henty, G. A. (George Alfred), 1832-1902
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "A Knight of the White Cross: A Tale of the Siege of Rhodes" ***

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A KNIGHT OF THE WHITE CROSS


By G.A. Henty



PREFACE.


MY DEAR LADS,

The order of the Knights of St. John, which for some centuries played
a very important part in the great struggle between Christianity and
Mahomedanism, was, at its origin, a semi-religious body, its members
being, like other monks, bound by vows of obedience, chastity, and
poverty, and pledged to minister to the wants of the pilgrims who
flocked to the Holy Places, to receive them at their great Hospital--or
guest house--at Jerusalem, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and to
defend them on their passage to and from the sea, against attack by
Moslems. In a comparatively short time the constitution of the order was
changed, and the Knights Hospitallers became, like the Templars, a
great military Order pledged to defend the Holy Sepulchre, and to war
everywhere against the Moslems. The Hospitallers bore a leading share
in the struggle which terminated in the triumph of the Moslems, and the
capture by them of Jerusalem. The Knights of St. John then established
themselves at Acre, but after a valiant defence of that fortress,
removed to Crete, and shortly afterwards to Rhodes. There they fortified
the town, and withstood two terrible sieges by the Turks. At the end
of the second they obtained honourable terms from Sultan Solyman, and
retiring to Malta established themselves there in an even stronger
fortress than that of Rhodes, and repulsed all the efforts of the Turks
to dispossess them. The Order was the great bulwark of Christendom
against the invasion of the Turks, and the tale of their long struggle
is one of absorbing interest, and of the many eventful episodes none
is more full of incident and excitement than the first siege of Rhodes,
which I have chosen for the subject of my story.

Yours truly, G. A. Henty



CHAPTER I The King Maker


A stately lady was looking out of the window of an apartment in the
Royal Chateau of Amboise, in the month of June, 1470. She was still
handsome, though many years of anxiety, misfortune, and trouble, had
left their traces on her face. In the room behind her, a knight was
talking to a lady sitting at a tambour frame; a lad of seventeen was
standing at another window stroking a hawk that sat on his wrist,
while a boy of nine was seated at a table examining the pages of an
illuminated missal.

"What will come of it, Eleanor?" the lady at the window said, turning
suddenly and impatiently from it. "It seems past belief that I am to
meet as a friend this haughty earl, who has for fifteen years been the
bitterest enemy of my House. It appears almost impossible."

"'Tis strange indeed, my Queen; but so many strange things have befallen
your Majesty that you should be the last to wonder at this. At any rate,
as you said but yesterday, naught but good can come of it. He has done
his worst against you, and one can scarce doubt that if he chooses he
has power to do as much good for you, as in past times he has done you
evil. 'Tis certain that his coming here shows he is in earnest, for
his presence,--which is sure sooner or later to come to the ears of the
Usurper,--will cause him to fall into the deepest disgrace."

"And yet it seemed," the queen said, "that by marrying his daughter
to Clarence he had bound himself more firmly than ever to the side of
York."

"Ay, madam," the knight said. "But Clarence himself is said to be alike
unprincipled and ambitious, and it may well be that Warwick intended to
set him up against Edward; had he not done so, such an alliance would
not necessarily strengthen his position at Court."

"Methinks your supposition is the true one, Sir Thomas," the queen said.
"Edward cares not sufficiently for his brother to bestow much favour
upon the father of the prince's wife. Thus, he would gain but little
by the marriage unless he were to place Clarence on the throne. Then
he would again become the real ruler of England, as he was until Edward
married Elizabeth Woodville, and the House of Rivers rose to the first
place in the royal favour, and eclipsed the Star of Warwick. It is no
wonder the proud Earl chafes under the ingratitude of the man who owes
his throne to him, and that he is ready to dare everything so that he
can but prove to him that he is not to be slighted with impunity. But
why come to me, when he has Clarence as his puppet?"

"He may have convinced himself, madam, that Clarence is even less to
be trusted than Edward, or he may perceive that but few of the Yorkists
would follow him were he to declare against the Usurper, while assuredly
your adherents would stand aloof altogether from such a struggle.
Powerful as he is, Warwick could not alone withstand the united forces
of all the nobles pledged to the support of the House of York. Thence,
as I take it, does it happen that he has resolved to throw in his lot
with Lancaster, if your Majesty will but forgive the evil he has done
your House and accept him as your ally. No doubt he will have terms to
make and conditions to lay down."

"He may make what conditions he chooses," Queen Margaret said
passionately, "so that he does but aid me to take vengeance on that
false traitor; to place my husband again on the throne; and to obtain
for my son his rightful heritage."

As she spoke a trumpet sounded in the courtyard below.

"He has come," she exclaimed. "Once again, after years of misery and
humiliation, I can hope."

"We had best retire, madam," Sir Thomas Tresham said. "He will speak
more freely to your Majesty if there are no witnesses. Come, Gervaise,
it is time that you practised your exercises." And Sir Thomas, with his
wife and child, quitted the room, leaving Queen Margaret with her son to
meet the man who had been the bitterest foe of her House, the author of
her direst misfortunes.

For two hours the Earl of Warwick was closeted with the queen; then he
took horse and rode away. As soon as he did so, a servant informed Sir
Thomas and his wife that the queen desired their presence. Margaret was
standing radiant when they entered.

"Congratulate me, my friends," she said. "The Star of Lancaster has
risen again. Warwick has placed all his power and influence at our
disposal. We have both forgiven all the past: I the countless injuries
he has inflicted on my House, he the execution of his father and so many
of his friends. We have both laid aside all our grievances, and we stand
united by our hate for Edward. There is but one condition, and this I
accepted gladly--namely, that my son should marry his daughter Anne.
This will be another bond between us; and by all reports Anne is a
charming young lady. Edward has gladly agreed to the match; he could
make no alliance, even with the proudest princess in Europe, which would
so aid him, and so strengthen his throne."

"God grant that your hopes may be fulfilled, madam," the knight said
earnestly, "and that peace may be given to our distracted country! The
Usurper has rendered himself unpopular by his extravagance and by the
exactions of his tax collectors, and I believe that England will gladly
welcome the return of its lawful king to power. When does Warwick
propose to begin?"

"He will at once get a fleet together. Louis, who has privately brought
about this meeting, will of course throw no impediment in his way; but,
on the other hand, the Duke of Burgundy will do all in his power to
thwart the enterprise, and will, as soon as he learns of it, warn
Edward. I feel new life in me, Eleanor. After fretting powerless for
years, I seem to be a different woman now that there is a prospect of
action. I am rejoiced at the thought that at last I shall be able to
reward those who have ventured and suffered so much in the cause of
Lancaster."

"My hope is, madam, that this enterprise will be the final one,--that,
once successful, our dear land will be no longer deluged with blood,
and that never again shall I be forced to draw my sword against my
countrymen."

"'Tis a good and pious wish, Sir Thomas, and heartily do I join in it.
My married life has been one long round of trouble, and none more than I
have cause to wish for peace."

"There is the more hope for it, madam, that these wars have greatly
diminished the number of powerful barons. It is they who are the authors
of this struggle; their rivalries and their ambitions are the ruin of
England. Save for their retainers there would be no armies to place in
the field; the mass of people stand aloof altogether, desiring only to
live in peace and quiet. 'Tis the same here in France; 'tis the powerful
vassals of the king that are ever causing trouble."

"'Tis so indeed, Sir Thomas. But without his feudal lords how could a
king place an army in the field, when his dominions were threatened by a
powerful neighbour?"

"Then it would be the people's business to fight, madam, and I doubt not
that they would do so in defence of their hearths and homes. Besides,
the neighbour would no longer have the power of invasion were he also
without great vassals. These great barons stand between the king and
his subjects; and a monarch would be a king indeed were he able to rule
without their constant dictation, and undisturbed by their rivalry and
ambitions."

"That would be a good time indeed, Sir Thomas," the queen said, with a
smile; "but methinks there is but little chance of its coming about, for
at present it seems to me that the vassals are better able to make or
unmake kings, than kings are able to deprive the great vassals of
power; and never since Norman William set foot in England were they more
powerful than they are at present. What does my chance of recovering our
throne rest upon? Not upon our right, but on the quarrel between Warwick
and the House of Rivers. We are but puppets that the great lords play
against each other. Did it depend upon my will, it should be as you
say; I would crush them all at a blow. Then only should I feel really a
queen. But that is but a dream that can never be carried out."

"Not in our time, madam. But perhaps it may come sooner than we expect;
and this long war, which has destroyed many great families and weakened
others, may greatly hasten its arrival. I presume until Warwick is ready
to move naught will be done, your Majesty?"

"That is not settled yet. Warwick spoke somewhat of causing a rising
in the north before he set sail, so that a portion at least of Edward's
power may be up there when we make our landing."

"It would be a prudent step, madam. If we can but gain possession of
London, the matter would be half finished. The citizens are ever ready
to take sides with those whom they regard as likely to win, and just as
they shout at present 'Long live King Edward!' so would they shout 'Long
live King Henry!' did you enter the town."

"This may perhaps change the thought that you have entertained, Sir
Thomas, of making your son a Knight of St. John."

"I have not thought the matter over, madam. If there were quiet in the
land I should, were it not for my vow, be well content that he should
settle down in peace at my old hall; but if I see that there is still
trouble and bloodshed ahead, I would in any case far rather that he
should enter the Order, and spend his life in fighting the infidel than
in strife with Englishmen. My good friend, the Grand Prior of the Order
in England, has promised that he will take him as his page, and at
any rate in the House of St. John's he will pass his youth in security
whatsoever fate may befall me. The child himself already bids fair to
do honour to our name, and to become a worthy member of the Order. He is
fond of study, and under my daily tuition is making good progress in the
use of his weapons."

"That is he," the prince said, speaking for the first time, "It was but
yesterday in the great hall downstairs he stood up with blunted swords
against young Victor de Paulliac, who is nigh three years his senior. It
was amusing to see how the little knaves fought against each other;
and by my faith Gervaise held his own staunchly, in spite of Victor's
superior height and weight. If he join the Order, Sir Thomas, I warrant
me he will cleave many an infidel's skull, and will do honour to the
langue of England."

"I hope so, prince," the knight said gravely. "The Moslems ever gain in
power, and it may well be that the Knights of St. John will be hardly
pressed to hold their own. If the boy joins them it will be my wish that
he shall as early as possible repair to Rhodes. I do not wish him to
become one of the drones who live in sloth at their commanderies in
England, and take no part in the noble struggle of the Order with the
Moslem host, who have captured Constantinople and now threaten all
Europe. We were childless some years after our marriage, and Eleanor and
I vowed that were a son born to us he should join the Order of the White
Cross, and dedicate his life to the defence of Christian Europe against
the infidel. Our prayers for a son were granted, and Gervaise will enter
the Order as soon as his age will permit him. That is why I rejoice at
the grand prior's offer to take him as his page, for he will dwell in
the hospital safely until old enough to take the first steps towards
becoming a knight of the Order."

"I would that I had been born the son of a baron like yourself," the
prince said earnestly, "and that I were free to choose my own career.
Assuredly in that case I too would have joined the noble Order and
have spent my life in fighting in so grand a cause, free from all the
quarrels and disputes and enmities that rend England. Even should I some
day gain a throne, surely my lot is not to be envied. Yet, as I have
been born to the rank, I must try for it, and I trust to do so worthily
and bravely. But who can say what the end will be? Warwick has ever
been our foe, and though my royal mother may use him in order to free my
father, and place him on the throne, she must know well enough that he
but uses us for his own ends alone, and that he will ever stand beside
the throne and be the real ruler of England."

"For a time, Edward," the queen broke in. "We have shown that we can
wait, and now it seems that our great hope is likely to be fulfilled.
After that, the rest will be easy. There are other nobles, well nigh as
powerful as he, who look with jealousy upon the way in which he lords
it, and be assured that they will look with a still less friendly eye
upon him when he stands, as you say, beside the throne, once your father
is again seated there. We can afford to bide our time, and assuredly it
will not be long before a party is formed against Warwick. Until then
we must bear everything. Our interests are the same. If he is content
to remain a prop to the throne, and not to eclipse it, the memory of
the past will not stand between us, and I shall regard him as the weapon
that has beaten down the House of York and restored us to our own, and
shall give him my confidence and friendship. If, on the other hand,
he assumes too much, and tries to lord it over us, I shall seek other
support and gather a party which even he will be unable successfully to
withstand. I should have thought, Edward, that you would be even more
glad than I that this long time of weary waiting for action is over, and
that once again the banner of Lancaster will be spread to the winds."

"I shall be that, mother. Rather would I meet death in the field than
live cooped up here, a pensioner of France. But I own that I should feel
more joy at the prospect if the people of England had declared in our
favour, instead of its being Warwick--whom you have always taught me to
fear and hate--who thus comes to offer to place my father again on the
throne, and whose goodwill towards us is simply the result of pique and
displeasure because he is no longer first in the favour of Edward. It
does not seem to me that a throne won by the aid of a traitor can be a
stable one."

"You are a foolish boy," the queen said angrily. "Do you not see that by
marrying Warwick's daughter you will attach him firmly to us?"

"Marriages do not count for much, mother. Another of Warwick's daughters
married Clarence, Edward's brother, and yet he purposes to dethrone
Edward."

The queen gave an angry gesture and said, "You have my permission to
retire, Edward. I am in no mood to listen to auguries of evil at the
present moment."

The prince hesitated for a moment as if about to speak, but with an
effort controlled himself, and bowing deeply to his mother, left the
room.

"Edward is in a perverse humour," the queen said in a tone of much
vexation to Sir Thomas Tresham, when Gervaise had left the room.
"However, I know he will bear himself well when the hour of trial
comes."

"That I can warrant he will, madam; he has a noble character, frank and
fearless, and yet thoughtful beyond his years. He will make, I believe,
a noble king, and may well gather round him all parties in the state.
But your Majesty must make excuses for his humour. Young people are
strong in their likes and dislikes. He has never heard you speak aught
but ill of Warwick, and he knows how much harm the Earl has done to your
House. The question of expediency does not weigh with the young as with
their elders. While you see how great are the benefits that will accrue
from an alliance with Warwick, and are ready to lay aside the hatred of
years and to forget the wrongs you have suffered, the young prince is
unable so quickly to forget that enmity against the Earl that he has
learnt from you."

"You are right, Sir Thomas, and I cannot blame Edward that he is unable,
as I am, to forget the past. What steps would you advise that I myself
should take? Shall I remain passive here, or shall I do what I can to
rouse our partisans in England?"

"I should say the latter, madam. Of course it will not do to trust to
letters, for were one of these to fall into the wrong hands it might
cause the ruin of Warwick's expedition; but I should say that a cautious
message sent by word of mouth to some of our old adherents would be of
great use. I myself will, if your Majesty chooses to entrust me with the
mission, undertake to carry it out. I should take ship and land in the
west, and would travel in the guise of a simple country gentleman,
and call upon your adherents in all the western counties. It would be
needful first to make out a list of the nobles who have shown themselves
devoted to your cause, and I should bid these hold themselves and their
retainers in readiness to take the field suddenly. I should say no word
of Warwick, but merely hint that you will not land alone, but with a
powerful array, and that all the chances are in your favour."

"But it would be a dangerous mission, Sir Thomas."

"Not greatly so, madam. My own estates lie in Sussex, and there would be
but little chance of my recognition, save by your own adherents, who may
have seen me among the leaders of your troops in battle; and even that
is improbable. At present Edward deems himself so securely seated on
the throne that men can travel hither and thither through the country
without being questioned, and the Lancastrians live quietly with the
Yorkists. Unless I were so unfortunate as to meet a Yorkist noble who
knew that I was a banished man and one who had the honour of being in
your Majesty's confidence, I do not think that any danger could possibly
arise. What say you, wife?"

"I cannot think that there is no danger," Lady Tresham said; "but even
so I would not say a word to hinder you from doing service to the cause.
I know of no one else who could perform the mission. You have left my
side to go into battle before now, and I cannot think that the danger
of such an expedition can be as great as that which you would undergo
in the field. Therefore, my dear lord, I would say no word now to stay
you."

She spoke bravely and unfalteringly, but her face had paled when Sir
Thomas first made the proposal, and the colour had not yet come back to
her cheeks.

"Bravely spoken, dame," the queen said warmly. "Well, Sir Thomas, I
accept your offer, and trust that you will not be long separated from
your wife and son, who will of course journey with me when I go to
England, where doubtless you will be able to rejoin us a few days after
we land. Now let us talk over the noblemen and gentlemen in the west,
upon whom we can rely, if not to join our banner as soon as it is
spread, at least to say no word that will betray you."

Two days later Sir Thomas Tresham started on his journey, while the
queen remained at Amboise eagerly awaiting the news that Warwick had
collected a fleet, and was ready to set sail. Up to this point the Duke
of Clarence had sided with Warwick against his brother, and had passed
over with him to France, believing, no doubt, that if the Earl should
succeed in dethroning Edward, he intended to place him, his son-in-law,
upon the throne. He was rudely awakened from this delusion by Charles of
Burgundy, who, being in all but open rebellion against his suzerain,
the King of France, kept himself intimately acquainted with all that was
going on. He despatched a female emissary to Clarence to inform him
of the league Warwick had made with the Lancastrians, and the intended
marriage between his daughter Anne and the young prince; imploring him
to be reconciled with his brother and to break off his alliance with the
Earl, who was on the point of waging war against the House of York.

Clarence took the advice, and went over to England, where he made his
peace with Edward, the more easily because the king, who was entirely
given up to pleasure, treated with contempt the warnings the Duke
of Burgundy sent him of the intended invasion by Warwick. And yet a
moment's serious reflection should have shown him that his position was
precarious. The crushing exactions of the tax gatherers, in order to
provide the means for Edward's lavish expenditure, had already caused
very serious insurrections in various parts of the country, and his
unpopularity was deep and general. In one of these risings the royal
troops had suffered a crushing defeat. The Earl Rivers, the father, and
Sir John Woodville, one of the brothers, of the queen had, with the Earl
of Devon, been captured by the rebels, and the three had been beheaded,
and the throne had only been saved by the intervention of Warwick.

Thus, then, Edward had every reason for fearing the result should the
Earl appear in arms against him. He took, however, no measures whatever
to prepare for the coming storm, and although the Duke of Burgundy
despatched a fleet to blockade Harfleur, where Warwick was fitting out
his expedition, and actually sent the name of the port at which the Earl
intended to land if his fleet managed to escape from Harfleur, Edward
continued carelessly to spend his time in pleasure and dissipation,
bestowing his full confidence upon the Archbishop of York and the
Marquis of Montague, both brothers of the Earl of Warwick.

The elements favoured his enemies, for early in September the Duke of
Burgundy's Fleet, off Harfleur, was dispersed by a storm, and Warwick,
as soon as the gale abated, set sail, and on the 13th landed on the
Devonshire coast. His force was a considerable one, for the French king
had furnished him both with money and men; on effecting his landing
he found no army assembled to oppose him. A few hours after his
disembarkation, he was joined by Sir Thomas Tresham, who gave him the
good news that the whole of the west was ready to rise, and that in a
few days all the great landowners would join him with their retainers.
This turned out to be the case, and Warwick, with a great array, marched
eastward. Kent had already risen, and London declared for King
Henry. Warwick, therefore, instead of marching thither, moved towards
Lincolnshire, where Edward was with his army, having gone north to
repress an insurrection that had broken out there at the instigation of
Warwick.

Lord Montague now threw off the mask, and declared for King Henry. Most
of the soldiers followed him, and Edward, finding it hopeless to oppose
Warwick's force, which was now within a short march of him, took ship
with a few friends who remained faithful, and sailed for Holland.
Warwick returned to London, where he took King Henry from the dungeon in
the Tower, into which he himself had, five years before, thrown him, and
proclaimed him king.

On the day that this took place Dame Tresham arrived in London with her
son. The queen had found that she could not for the present cross, as
she was waiting for a large French force which was to accompany her.
As it was uncertain how long the delay might last, she counselled her
friend to join her husband. The revolution had been accomplished without
the loss of a single life, with the exception of that of the Earl
of Worcester, who was hated for his cruelty by the people. Edward's
principal friends took refuge in various religious houses. The
queen, her three daughters, and her mother, fled to the sanctuary at
Westminster. All these were left unmolested, nor was any step taken
against the other adherents of the House of York. Warwick was now
virtually King of England. The king, whose intellect had always been
weak, was now almost an imbecile, and Margaret of Anjou was still
detained in France. Sir Thomas Tresham went down to his estates in Kent,
and there lived quietly for some months. The Duke of Clarence had joined
Warwick as soon as he saw that his brother's cause was lost; and as
the Duke had no knowledge of his changed feelings towards him, he
was heartily welcomed. An act of settlement was passed by Parliament
entailing the Crown on Henry's son Edward, Prince of Wales, and in case
of that prince's death without issue, on the Duke of Clarence. On the
12th of March following (1471) Edward suddenly appeared with a fleet
with which he had been secretly supplied by the Duke of Burgundy, and,
sailing north, landed in the Humber. He found the northern population by
no means disposed to aid him, but upon his taking a solemn oath that
he had no designs whatever upon the throne, but simply claimed to be
restored to his rights and dignities as Duke of York, he was joined by
a sufficient force to enable him to cross the Trent. As he marched south
his army speedily swelled, and he was joined by many great lords.

Warwick had summoned Henry's adherents to the field, and marched
north to meet him. When the armies approached each other, the Duke of
Clarence, who commanded a portion of Henry's army, went over with his
whole force to Edward, and Warwick, being no longer in a position to
give battle, was obliged to draw off and allow Edward to march unopposed
towards London. The citizens, with their usual fickleness, received him
with the same outburst of enthusiasm with which, five months before,
they had greeted the entry of Warwick. The unfortunate King Henry was
again thrown into his dungeon in the Tower, and Edward found himself
once more King of England.

Sir Thomas Tresham, as soon as he heard of the landing of Edward, had
hastened up to London. In his uncertainty how matters would go, he
brought his wife and son up with him, and left them in lodgings, while
he marched north with Warwick. As soon as the defection of Clarence
opened the road to London, he left the Earl, promising to return in
a few days, and rode to town, arriving there two days before Edward's
entry, and, purchasing another horse, took his wife and son down to
St. Albans, where leaving them, he rejoined Warwick. In a few days the
latter had gathered sufficient forces to enable him to risk the fortunes
of a battle, and, marching south, he encamped with his army on the
common north of Barnet. Edward had come out to meet him, and the two
armies slept on Easter Eve within two miles of each other.

Late in the evening Clarence sent a messenger to the Earl, offering to
mediate, but the offer was indignantly refused by Warwick.

In the darkness, neither party was aware of the other's precise
position. Warwick was much stronger than the king in artillery, and had
placed it on his right wing. The king, in his ignorance of the enemy's
position, had placed his troops considerably more to the right than
those of Warwick's army. The latter, believing that Edward's line was
facing his, kept up a heavy cannonade all night upon where he supposed
Edward's left to be--a cannonade which was thus entirely futile.

In the morning (April 14th) a heavy mist covered the country and
prevented either force from seeing the other's dispositions. Warwick
took the command of his left wing, having with him the Duke of Exeter.
Somerset was in command of his centre, and Montague and Oxford of his
right.

Edward placed himself in the centre of his array, the Duke of Gloucester
commanded on his right, and Lord Hastings on his left.

Desirous, from his inferiority in artillery, to fight out the battle
hand to hand, Edward, at six o'clock in the morning, ordered his
trumpets to blow, and, after firing a few shots, advanced through the
mist to attack the enemy. His misconception as to Warwick's position,
which had saved his troops from the effects of the cannonade during the
night, was now disadvantageous to him, for the Earl's right so greatly
outflanked his left that when they came into contact Hastings found
himself nearly surrounded by a vastly superior force. His wing fought
valiantly, but was at length broken by Oxford's superior numbers, and
driven out of the field. The mist prevented the rest of the armies from
knowing what had happened on the king's left. Edward himself led
the charge on Warwick's centre, and having his best troops under his
command, pressed forward with such force and vehemence that he pierced
Somerset's lines and threw them into confusion.

Just as Warwick's right had outflanked the king's left, so his own
left was outflanked by Gloucester. Warwick's troops fought with great
bravery, and, in spite of the disaster to his centre, were holding their
ground until Oxford, returning from his pursuit of the king's left, came
back through the mist. The king's emblem was a sun, that of Oxford
a star with streaming rays. In the dim light this was mistaken by
Warwick's men for the king's device, and believing that Oxford was far
away on the right, they received him with a discharge of arrows. This
was at once returned, and a conflict took place. At last the mistake was
discovered, but the confusion caused was irreparable. Warwick and
Oxford each suspected the other of treachery, and the king's right still
pressing on, the confusion increased, and the battle, which had been so
nearly won by the Earl, soon became a complete defeat, and by ten in the
morning Warwick's army was in full flight.

Accounts differ as to the strength of the forces engaged, but it is
probable that there was no great inequality, and that each party brought
some fifteen thousand men into the field. The number of slain is also
very uncertain, some historians placing the total at ten thousand,
others as low as one thousand; but from the number of nobles who fell,
the former computation is probably nearest to the truth. Warwick, his
brother Montague, and many other nobles and gentlemen, were killed, the
only great nobles on his side who escaped being the Earls of Somerset
and Oxford; many were also killed on Edward's side, and the slaughter
among the ordinary fighting men was greater than usual.

Hitherto in the battles that had been fought during the civil war; while
the leaders taken on the field were frequently executed, the common
soldiers were permitted to return to their homes, as they had only
been acting under the orders of their feudal superiors, and were not
considered responsible for their acts. At Barnet, however, Edward,
smarting from the humiliation he had suffered by his enforced flight
from England, owing to the whole country declaring for his rival, gave
orders that no quarter was to be granted. It was an anxious day at St.
Albans, where many ladies whose husbands were with Warwick's army had,
like Dame Tresham, taken up their quarters. It was but a few miles from
the field of battle. In the event of victory they could at once join
their husbands, while in case of defeat they could take refuge in the
sanctuary of the abbey. Messengers the night before had brought the news
that the battle would begin at the dawn of day, and with intense anxiety
they waited for the news.

Dame Tresham and her son attended early mass at the abbey, and had
returned to their lodgings, when Sir Thomas rode up at full speed.
His armour was dinted and his plume shorn away from his helmet. As he
entered the house he was met by his wife, who had run downstairs as she
heard his horse stop at the door. A glance at his face was sufficient to
tell the news.

"We have lost the day," he said. "Warwick and Montague are both killed.
All is lost here for the present. Which will you do, my love, ride with
me to the West, where Queen Margaret will speedily land, if indeed she
has not landed already, or take sanctuary here with the boy?"

"I will go with you," she said. "I would vastly rather do so."

"I will tell you more on the road," he said. "There is no time to be
lost now."

The woman of the house was called, and at once set her son to saddle
the other horse and to give a feed to that of the knight. Dame Tresham
busied herself with packing the saddlebags while her husband partook of
a hasty meal; and ten minutes after his arrival they set off, Gervaise
riding behind his father, while the latter led the horse on which his
wife was mounted. A thick mist hung over the country.

"This mist told against us in the battle, wife, for as we advanced our
forces fell into confusion, and more than once friend attacked friend,
believing that he was an enemy. However, it has proved an advantage to
us now, for it has enabled great numbers to escape who might otherwise
have been followed and cut down. I was very fortunate. I had left my
horse at a little farmhouse two miles in the rear of our camp, and in
the fog had but small hope of finding it; but soon after leaving the
battlefield, I came upon a rustic hurrying in the same direction as
myself, and upon questioning him it turned out that he was a hand on
the very farm at which I had left the horse. He had, with two or three
others, stolen out after midnight to see the battle, and was now making
his way home again, having seen indeed but little, but having learned
from fugitives that we had been defeated. He guided me to the farmhouse,
which otherwise I should assuredly never have reached. His master was
favourable to our party, and let the man take one of the cart horses, on
which he rode as my guide until he had placed me upon the high road to
St. Albans, and I was then able to gallop on at full speed."

"And Warwick and his brother Montague are both killed?"

"Both. The great Earl will make and unmake no more kings. He has been a
curse to England, with his boundless ambition, his vast possessions, and
his readiness to change sides and to embroil the country in civil war
for purely personal ends. The great nobles are a curse to the
country, wife. They are, it is true, a check upon kingly ill doing and
oppression; but were they, with their great arrays of retainers and
feudal followers, out of the way, methinks that the citizens and yeomen
would be able to hold their own against any king."

"Was the battle a hard fought one?"

"I know but little of what passed, except near the standard of Warwick
himself. There the fighting was fierce indeed, for it was against the
Earl that the king finally directed his chief onslaught. Doubtless he
was actuated both by a deep personal resentment against the Earl for the
part he had played and the humiliation he had inflicted upon him, and
also by the knowledge that a defeat of Warwick personally would be the
heaviest blow that he could inflict upon the cause of Lancaster."

"Then do you think the cause is lost?"

"I say not that. Pembroke has a strong force in Wales, and if the West
rises, and Queen Margaret on landing can join him, we may yet prevail;
but I fear that the news of the field of Barnet will deter many from
joining us. Men may risk lands and lives for a cause which seems to
offer a fair prospect of success, but they can hardly be blamed for
holding back when they see that the chances are all against them.
Moreover, as a Frenchwoman, it cannot be denied that Margaret has never
been popular in England, and her arrival here, aided by French gold and
surrounded by Frenchmen, will tell against her with the country people.
I went as far as I could on the day before I left Amboise, urging her on
no account to come hither until matters were settled. It would have been
infinitely better had the young prince come alone, and landed in the
West without a single follower. The people would have admired his trust
in them, and would, I am sure, have gathered strongly round his banner.
However, we must still hope for the best. Fortune was against us today:
it may be with us next time we give battle. And with parties so equally
divided throughout the country a signal victory would bring such vast
numbers to our banners that Edward would again find it necessary to
cross the seas."



CHAPTER II THE BATTLE OF TEWKESBURY


Riding fast, Sir Thomas Tresham crossed the Thames at Reading before any
news of the battle of Barnet had arrived there. On the third day after
leaving St. Albans he reached Westbury, and there heard that the news
had been received of the queen's landing at Plymouth on the very day on
which her friends had been defeated at Barnet, and that she had already
been joined by the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Devon, and others, and
that Exeter had been named as the point of rendezvous for her friends.
As the Lancastrians were in the majority in Wiltshire and Somerset,
there was no longer any fear of arrest by partisans of York, and after
resting for a day Sir Thomas Tresham rode quietly on to Exeter, where
the queen had already arrived.

The battle of Barnet had not, in reality, greatly weakened the
Lancastrian cause. The Earl of Warwick was so detested by the adherents
of the Red Rose that comparatively few of them had joined him, and the
fight was rather between the two sections of Yorkists than between York
and Lancaster. The Earl's death had broken up his party, and York and
Lancaster were now face to face with each other, without his disturbing
influence on either side. Among those who had joined the queen was
Tresham's great friend, the Grand Prior of St. John's. Sir Thomas took
up his lodgings in the house where he had established himself. The queen
was greatly pleased at the arrival of Dame Tresham, and at her earnest
request the latter shared her apartments, while Gervaise remained with
his father.

"So this is the young Knight of St. John," the prior said, on the
evening of the arrival of Sir Thomas. "I would, Tresham, that I were at
present at Rhodes, doing battle with the infidels, rather than engaged
in this warfare against Englishmen and fellow Christians."

"I can well understand that," Sir Thomas said.

"I could not hold aloof here, Tresham. The vows of our Order by no means
hinder us from taking part in the affairs of our own country. The rule
of the Order is indeed against it, but the rule is constantly broken.
Were it otherwise there could be no commanderies in this or any
other country; we should have, on entering the Order, to abandon our
nationality, and to form part of one community in the East. The Order
is true to its oaths. We cannot defend the Holy Sepulchre, for that,
for the present, is hopelessly lost; but we can and do wage war with
the infidel. For this funds are necessary as well as swords, and our
commanderies throughout Europe supply the funds by which the struggle is
maintained, and, when it is needed, send out contingents to help those
fighting in the East. It was from the neglect of this cardinal point
that the Templars fell. Their commanderies amassed wealth and wide
possessions, but unlike us the knights abstained altogether from
fulfilling their vows, and ceased to resist the infidel. Therefore they
were suppressed, and, with the general approval of Europe, a portion of
their possessions was handed over to the knights of St. John. However,
as I understand, it is your wish that as soon as the boy comes of age
to wield arms he shall go to Rhodes and become an active member of the
Order. This is indeed the rule with all neophytes, but having served
a certain time they are then permitted to return and join one of the
commanderies in their native countries."

"I do not wish that for Gervaise," his father said; "at least, I wish
him to remain at Rhodes until all the civil troubles are absolutely
at an end here. My life has been ruined by them. Loving retirement and
quiet, and longing for nothing so much as a life among my tenantry, I
have almost from a boy been actively engaged in warfare or have been
away as an exile. Here every one of gentle blood has been more or less
mixed up in these civil broils. To few of us does it personally matter
whether a member of the House of York or Lancaster sits on the throne,
and yet we have been almost compelled to take sides with one or the
other; and now, in my middle age I am on the eve of another battle
in which I risk my life and fortune. If we win I gain naught but the
satisfaction of seeing young Edward made King of England. If we lose I
am going into exile again, or I may leave my wife a widow, and my child
penniless."

"It is too true, Tresham; and as I am as likely to fall as you are, the
child might be left without a protector as well as fatherless. However,
against that I will provide. I will write a letter to Peter D'Aubusson,
who is the real governor of Rhodes, for the Grand Master Orsini is so
old that his rule is little more than nominal. At his death D'Aubusson
is certain to be elected Grand Master. He is a dear friend of mine. We
entered the Order the same year, and were comrades in many a fight with
the Moslems, and I am quite sure that when I tell him that it is my last
request of him, he will, in memory of our long friendship, appoint your
son as one of the Grand Master's pages. As you know, no one, however
high his rank, is accepted as a novice before the age of sixteen.
After a year's probation he is received into the body of the Order as a
professed knight, and must go out and serve for a time in Rhodes. After
three years of active service he must reside two more at the convent,
and can then be made a commander. There is but one exception to the
rule--namely, that the pages of the grand master are entitled to
the privilege of admission at the age of twelve, so that they become
professed knights at thirteen. Your son is now but nine, you say, and
we must remember that D'Aubusson is not yet Grand Master, and Orsini may
live for some years yet. D'Aubusson, however, can doubtless get him to
appoint the boy as one of his pages. But, in any case, there are three
years yet to be passed before he can go out. Doubtless these he will
spend under his mother's care; but as it is as well to provide against
everything, I will furnish your dame with a letter to the knight who
will probably succeed me as Grand Prior of the English langue, asking
him to see to the care and education of the boy up to the time when he
can proceed to Rhodes. We may hope, my dear Tresham, that there will be
no occasion to use such documents, and that you and I may both be able
personally to watch over his career. Still, it is as well to take every
precaution. I shall, of course, give D'Aubusson full particulars about
you, your vow, and your wishes."

"I thank you greatly, old friend," Sir Thomas said. "It has taken a
load off my mind. I shall leave him here with his mother when we march
forward, and bid her, if ill befalls me, cross again to France, and then
to keep Gervaise with her until she can bring herself to part with him.
She has her jewels and a considerable sum of money which I accepted from
the man who has been enjoying my estates for the last five years, in
lieu of the monies that he had received during that time. Therefore, she
will not lack means for some years to come. Besides, Queen Margaret has
a real affection for her, and will, doubtless, be glad to have her with
her again in exile."

"When I am old enough," Gervaise said, suddenly looking up from a missal
of the Grand Prior's which he had been examining, "I will chop off the
head of the Duke of York, and bring mother back to England."

"You will be a valiant champion no doubt, my boy," the prior said,
laughing. "But that is just what your father does not want. Chop off the
heads of as many infidels as you will, but leave Englishmen alone, be
they dukes or commoners. It is a far more glorious career to be aiding
to defend Europe against the Moslem than to be engaged in wars with your
own countrymen. If the great lords will fight, let them fight it out
themselves without our aid; but I hope that long before you become a
man even they will be tired of these perpetual broils, and that some
agreement may be arrived at, and peace reign in this unhappy land."

"Besides, Gervaise," his father added, "you must bear in mind always
that my earnest wish and hope is that you will become a champion of
the Cross. I took a solemn vow before you were born that if a son were
granted to me I would dedicate him to the service of the Cross, and if I
am taken from you, you must still try to carry that oath into effect.
I trust that, at any rate for some years after you attain manhood,
you will expend your whole strength and powers in the defence of
Christianity, and as a worthy knight of the Order of St. John. Too many
of the knights, after serving for three years against the infidels,
return to their native countries and pass the rest of their lives in
slothful ease at their commanderies, save perhaps when at any great
crisis they go out for a while and join in the struggle. Such is not the
life I should wish you to lead. At the death of your mother and myself,
you will have no family ties in England--nothing to recall you here. If
the House of York succeeds in establishing itself firmly on the throne,
my estates will be forfeited. Therefore, regard Rhodes as your permanent
home, and devote your life to the Order. Beginning so young, you may
hope to distinguish yourself--to gain high rank in it; but remember that
though these are my wishes, they are not my orders, and that your career
must be in your own hands."

"I will be a brave knight, father," the boy said firmly.

"That is right, my boy. Now go upstairs to your bed; it is already late.
I do not regret my vow," he went on, after Gervaise had left the room,
"though I regret that he is my only son. It is singular that men should
care about what comes after them, but I suppose it is human nature.
I should have liked to think that my descendants would sit in the old
house, and that men of my race and name would long own the estates. But
doubtless it is all for the best; for at least I can view the permanent
loss of my estates, in case the Yorkists triumph, without any poignant
regret."

"Doubtless it is for the best, Tresham, and you must remember that
things may not, even now, turn out as you think. A knight who has done a
brave service does not find much difficulty in obtaining from the Pope
a dispensation from his vows. Numbers of knights have so left the Order
and have married and perpetuated their name. It is almost a necessity
that it should be so, for otherwise many princes and barons would
object to their sons entering the Order. Its object is to keep back the
irruption of the Moslems, and when men have done their share of hard
work no regret need be felt if they desire to leave the Order. Our
founder had no thought of covering Europe with monasteries, and beyond
the fact that it is necessary there should be men to administer our
manors and estates, I see no reason why any should not freely leave when
they reach the age of thirty or thirty-five, and indeed believe that it
would strengthen rather than weaken us were the vows, taken at the age
of seventeen, to be for fifteen years only."

"There is something in that," the knight said thoughtfully. "However,
that is far in the distance, and concerns me but little; still, I agree
with you, for I see no advantage in men, after their time of usefulness
to the Order is past, being bound to settle down to a monastic life if
by nature and habit unsuited for it. There are some spirits who,
after long years of warfare, are well content so to do, but there are
assuredly others to whom a life of forced inactivity, after a youth and
manhood spent in action, must be well nigh unendurable. And now tell me
frankly what you think of our chances here."

"Everything depends upon time. Promises of aid have come in from all
quarters, and if Edward delays we shall soon be at the head of an
overwhelming force. But Edward, with all his faults and vices, is an
able and energetic leader, and must be well aware that if he is to
strike successfully he must strike soon. We must hope that he will not
be able to do this. He cannot tell whether we intend to march direct to
London, or to join Pembroke in Wales, or to march north, and until he
divines our purpose, he will hardly dare to move lest we should, by some
rapid movement, interpose between himself and London. If he gives us a
month, our success is certain. If he can give battle in a fortnight, no
one can say how the matter will end."

Edward, indeed, was losing no time. He stayed but a few days in London
after his victory at Barnet, and on the 19th of April left for Windsor,
ordering all his forces to join him there. The Lancastrians had
endeavoured to puzzle him as to their intended movements by sending
parties out in various directions; but as soon as he had gathered a
force, numerically small, but composed of veteran soldiers, he hurried
west, determined to bring on a battle at the earliest opportunity. The
queen's advisers determined to move first to Wells, as from that point
they could either go north or march upon London. Edward entered Abingdon
on the 27th, and then, finding the Lancastrians still at Wells, marched
to the northwest, by which means he hoped to intercept them if they
moved north, while he would be able to fall back and bar their road
to London if they advanced in that direction. He therefore moved to
Cirencester, and waited there for news until he learned that they had
visited Bristol and there obtained reinforcements of men and supplies of
money and cannon, and had then started on the high road to Gloucester.

He at once sent off messengers to the son of Lord Beauchamp, who held
the Castle of Gloucester for him, assuring him that he was following at
full speed, and would come to his aid forthwith. The messengers
arrived in time, and when the queen, after a long march, arrived before
Gloucester, she found the gates shut in her face. The governor had taken
steps to prevent her numerous adherents in the town from rising on
her behalf, and, manning the walls, refused to surrender. Knowing that
Edward was coming up rapidly, it was evident that there was no time to
spare in an attempt to take the town, and the queen's army therefore
pressed on, without waiting, to Tewkesbury. Once across the river they
would speedily be joined by the Earl of Pembroke, and Edward would be
forced to fall back at once.

By the time they reached the river, however, they were thoroughly
exhausted. They had marched thirty-six miles without rest, along bad
roads and through woods, and were unable to go farther. The queen urged
that the river should be crossed, but the leaders of the force were of
opinion that it was better to halt. Edward would be able to follow them
across the river, and were he to attack them when in disorder, and
still further wearied by the operation of making the passage, he would
certainly crush them. Moreover, a further retreat would discourage the
soldiers, and as a battle must now be fought, it was better to fight
where they were, especially as they could choose a strong position. The
queen gave way, and the army encamped on a large field in front of the
town. The position was well calculated for defence, for the country
around was so broken and intercepted with lanes and deep hedges and
ditches, that it was extremely difficult of approach.

In the evening Edward came up, his men having also marched some
six-and-thirty miles, and encamped for the night within three miles of
the Lancastrian position. The queen's troops felt confident of victory.
In point of numbers they were superior to their antagonists, and had the
advantage of a strong position. Sir Thomas Tresham had, as he proposed,
left his wife and son at Exeter when the force marched away.

"Do not be despondent, love," he said to his weeping wife, as he bade
her goodbye. "Everything is in our favour, and there is a good hope of a
happy termination to this long struggle. But, win or lose, be assured it
is the last time I will draw my sword. I have proved my fidelity to the
House of Lancaster; I have risked life and fortune in their cause; but
I feel that I have done my share and more, and whichever way Providence
may now decide the issue of the struggle, I will accept it. If we lose,
and I come scatheless through the fight, I will ride hither, and we will
embark at Plymouth for France, and there live quietly until the time
comes when Edward may feel himself seated with sufficient firmness on
the throne to forgive past offences and to grant an amnesty to all who
have fought against him. In any other case, dear, you know my wishes,
and I bid you carry them out within twenty-four hours of your receiving
news of a defeat, without waiting longer for my appearance."

As soon as it was light, Edward advanced to the attack. The Duke of
Gloucester was in command of the vanguard. He himself led the centre,
while the rear was commanded by the Marquis of Dorset and Lord Hastings.
The most advanced division of Lancastrians was commanded by the Duke of
Somerset and his brother. The Grand Prior of the Order of St. John and
Lord Wenlock were stationed in the centre, the Earl of Devon with
the reserve. Refreshed by their rest, the queen's troops were in good
spirits. While awaiting the attack, she and the prince rode among the
ranks, encouraging the men with fiery speeches, and promising large
rewards to all in case of victory.

Gloucester made his advance with great difficulty. The obstacles to his
progress were so many and serious that his division was brought to
a halt before it came into contact with the defenders. He therefore
brought up his artillery and opened a heavy cannonade upon Somerset's
position, supporting his guns with flights of arrows, and inflicting
such heavy loss upon him that the duke felt compelled to take the
offensive.

Having foreseen that he might be obliged to do so, he had, early in the
morning, carefully examined the ground in front of him, and had found
some lanes by which he could make a flank attack on the enemy. Moving
his force down these lanes, where the trees and hedges completely hid
his advance from the Yorkists, he fell suddenly upon Edward's centre,
which, taken by surprise at the unexpected attack, was driven in
confusion up the hill behind it. Somerset was quick to take advantage
of his success, and wheeling his men round fell upon the Duke of
Gloucester's division, and was equally successful in his attack upon
it. Had the centre, under Lord Wenlock, moved forward at once to his
support, the victory would have been assured; but Wenlock lay inactive,
and Somerset was now engaged in conflict with the whole of Edward's
force. But even under these circumstances he still gained ground, when
suddenly the whole aspect of the battle was changed.

Before it began Edward had sent two hundred spearmen to watch a wood
near the defenders' lines, as he thought that the Lancastrians might
place a force there to take him in flank as he attacked their front. He
ordered them, if they found the wood unoccupied, to join in the fight
as opportunity might offer. The wood was unoccupied, and the spearmen,
seeing the two divisions of their army driven backwards, and being
thereby cut off from their friends, issued from the wood and, charging
down in a body, fell suddenly upon Somerset's rear.

Astounded and confused by an attack from such a quarter, and believing
that it was an act of treachery by one of their own commanders,
Somerset's men, who had hitherto been fighting with the greatest
bravery, fell into confusion. Edward's quick eye soon grasped the
opportunity, and rallying his troops he charged impetuously down upon
the Lancastrians, seconded hotly by Gloucester and his division.

The disorder in Somerset's lines speedily grew into a panic, and the
division broke up and fled through the lanes to the right and left.
Somerset, after in vain trying to stop the panic, rode furiously back
into the camp, followed by his principal officers, and riding up to
Lord Wenlock he cleft his head in two with a battleaxe. His resentment,
although justified by the inactivity of this nobleman at such a crisis,
was yet disastrous, as it left the centre without a leader, and threw
it into a state of disorganization, as many must have supposed that
Somerset had turned traitor and gone over to the enemy. Before any
disposition could be made, Edward and Gloucester poured their forces
into the camp, and the Lancastrians at once broke and fled. Many of
their leaders took refuge in the church, an asylum which they deemed
inviolable, and which the Lancastrians had honourably respected in their
hour of triumph.

Among them were the Duke of Somerset, the Grand Prior of the Order
of St. John, Sir Humphrey Audely, Sir Gervis of Clifton, Sir William
Gainsby, Sir William Cary, Sir Henry Rose, Sir Thomas Tresham, and seven
esquires. Margaret of Anjou fell into the hands of the victors. As to
the fate of the young prince, accounts differ. Some authorities say that
he was overtaken and slain on the field, but the majority related that
he was captured and taken before Edward, who asked him, "What brought
you to England?" On his replying boldly, "My father's crown and mine own
inheritance," Edward struck him in the mouth with his gauntlet, and his
attendants, or some say his brothers, at once despatched the youth with
their swords.

The king, with Gloucester and Clarence, then went to the church at
Tewkesbury, where the knights had taken refuge, burst open the doors,
and entered it. A priest, bearing the holy vessels, threw himself before
the king, and would not move until he promised to pardon all who had
taken sanctuary there. The king then retired, and trusting in the royal
word, the gentlemen made no attempt to escape, although it is said that
they could easily have done so. Two days later a party of soldiers by
the king's orders broke into the church, dragged them from the foot of
the altar, and beheaded them outside.

The news of the issue of the fatal battle of Tewkesbury, the capture of
the queen, and the death of the prince, was borne to Exeter by fugitives
on the following day. Beyond the fact that the Earl of Devon and other
nobles were known to have been killed, and Somerset with a party of
knights had taken sanctuary, they could give no details as to the fate
of individuals. In the deepest distress at the utter ruin of the cause,
and in ignorance of the fate of her husband, who she could only hope was
one of those who had gained sanctuary, Dame Tresham prepared for flight.
This accomplished, she had only to wait, and sit in tearless anguish at
the window, listening intently whenever a horseman rode past. All night
her watch continued. Gervaise, who had cried himself to sleep, lay on
a couch beside her. Morning dawned, and she then knew that her husband
would not come, for had he escaped from the field he would long ere this
have been with her. The messenger with the news had arrived at eight the
previous morning, and, faithful to her husband's wishes, at that hour
she ordered the horses to be brought round, and, joining a party
of gentlemen who were also making for the coast, rode with them to
Plymouth. Arrangements were at once made with the captain of a small
ship in the port, and two days later they landed at Honfleur, where
Sir Thomas had enjoined his wife to wait until she heard from him or
obtained sure news of his fate.

A week after her arrival the news was brought by other fugitives of the
violation of the sanctuary by the king, and the murder of Somerset and
the gentlemen with him, of whom Sir Thomas Tresham was known to have
been one.

The blow proved fatal to Dame Tresham. She had gone through many trials
and misfortunes, and had ever borne them bravely, but the loss of her
husband completely broke her down. Save to see his wishes concerning
their son carried out, she had no longer any interest in life or any
wish to live. But until the future of Gervaise was assured, her mission
was unfulfilled. His education was her sole care; his mornings were
spent at a monastery, where the monks instructed the sons of such of the
nobles and gentry of the neighbourhood as cared that they should be able
to read and write. In the afternoon he had the best masters in the town
in military exercises. His evenings he spent with his mother, who strove
to instill in him the virtues of patience, mercy to the vanquished, and
valour, by stories of the great characters of history. She herself spent
her days in pious exercises, in attending the services of the Church,
and in acts of charity and kindness to her poorer neighbours. But her
strength failed rapidly, and she was but a shadow of her former self
when, two years and a half after her arrival at Honfleur, she felt that
if she was herself to hand Gervaise over to the Order of St. John, she
must no longer delay. Accordingly she took ship to London, and landing
there made her way with him to the dwelling of the Order at Clerkenwell.
It was in process of rebuilding, for in 1381 it had been first plundered
and then burned by the insurgents under Wat Tyler. During the ninety
years that had elapsed since that event the work of rebuilding had
proceeded steadily, each grand prior making additions to the pile which,
although not yet fully completed, was already one of the grandest and
stateliest abodes in England.

On inquiring for the grand prior, and stating that she had a letter
of importance for him, Dame Tresham and her son were shown up to his
apartment, and on entering were kindly and courteously received by him
when informed that she was the widow of the late Sir Thomas Tresham.

"I am the bearer of a letter for you, given into my hand by my husband's
dear friend your predecessor," she said, "a few days before his murder
at Tewkesbury. It relates to my son here."

The grand prior opened the letter and read it.

"Assuredly, madam, I will carry out the wishes here expressed," he said.
"They are, that I should forward at once the letter he has given you to
Sir Peter D'Aubusson, and that until an answer is received from him, I
should take care of the boy here, and see that he is instructed in all
that is needful for a future knight of our Order. I grieve to see that
you yourself are looking so ill."

"My course is well nigh run," she said. "I have, methinks, but a few
days to live. I am thankful that it has been permitted to me to carry
out my husband's wishes, and to place my boy in your hands. That done,
my work on earth is finished, and glad indeed am I that the time is at
hand when I can rejoin my dear husband."

"We have a building here where we can lodge ladies in distress or need,
Dame Tresham, and trust that you will take up your abode there."

"I shall indeed be thankful to do so," she replied. "I know no one in
London, and few would care to lodge a dying woman."

"We are Hospitallers," the grand prior said. "That was our sole mission
when we were first founded, and before we became a military order, and
it is still a part of our sworn duty to aid the distressed."

A few minutes later Dame Tresham was conducted to a comfortable
apartment, and was given into the charge of a female attendant. The next
day she had another interview with the grand prior, to whom she handed
over her jewels and remaining money. This she prayed him to devote to
the furnishing of the necessary outfit for Gervaise. She spent the rest
of the day in the church of the hospital, had a long talk with her son
in the evening, giving him her last charges as to his future life and
conduct, and that night, as if she had now fulfilled her last duty on
earth, she passed away, and was found by her attendant lying with a look
of joy and peacefulness on her dead face.

Gervaise's grief was for a time excessive. He was nearly twelve years
old, and had never until now been separated from her even for a day. She
had often spoken to him of her end being near, but until the blow came
he had never quite understood that it could be so. She had, on the night
before her death, told him that he must not grieve overmuch for her, for
that in any case they must have soon been sundered, and that it was
far better that he should think of her as at rest, and happy, than as
leading a lonely and sorrowful life.

The grand prior, however, wisely gave him but little time to dwell upon
his loss, but as soon as her funeral had taken place, handed him over
to the knights who had the charge of the novices on probation, and
instructed them in their military exercises, and of the chaplain who
taught them such learning as was considered requisite for a knight of
the Order.

The knights were surprised at the proficiency the lad had already
attained in the use of his weapons.

"By St. Agatha," one of them exclaimed, after the conclusion of his
first lesson, "you have had good teachers, lad, and have availed
yourself rarely of them. If you go on like this you will become a
distinguished knight of our Order. With a few more years to strengthen
your arms I warrant me you will bear your part well in your first tussle
with the Moslem corsairs."

It fortunately happened that a party of knights were starting for Rhodes
a few days after the admission of Gervaise to the Hospital, and the
letter to Sir Peter D'Aubusson was committed to their charge. They were
to proceed to Bordeaux by ship, then to journey by land to Marseilles,
and thence, being joined by some French knights, to sail direct to
Rhodes. Two months later an answer was received. D'Aubusson wrote to the
grand prior saying that he would gladly carry out the last wishes of his
dead friend, and that he had already obtained from the grand master the
appointment of Gervaise Tresham as one of his pages, and begged that he
might be sent out with the next party of knights leaving England. It
was three months before such an opportunity occurred. During that time
Gervaise remained at the house of St. John's studying diligently, and
continuing his military exercises. These were severe; for the scions of
noble houses, who hoped some day to distinguish themselves as knights,
were put through many gymnastic exercises--were taught to spring on to
a horse when clad in full armour, to wield heavy battleaxes, to run and
climb, and to prepare themselves for all the possibilities of the mode
of fighting of the day.

Gervaise gained the encomiums, not only of his special preceptor, but of
the various knights in the house, and of the grand prior himself, both
for his strength and activity, and for the earnestness with which he
worked. When the time approached for his leaving England, the grand
prior ordered for him the outfit which would be necessary in his
position as a page of the grand master. The dresses were numerous and
rich, for although the knights of St. John wore over their armour the
simple mantle of their order, which was a sleeveless garment of black
relieved only by a white cross on the chest, they indulged in the finest
and most costly armour, and in rich garments beneath their black mantles
when not in armour.

"I am well pleased with you, Gervaise," the grand prior said, on the
evening before he was to leave, "and I see in you the making of a
valiant knight of the Order. Maintain the same spirit you have shown
here; be obedient and reverent to your superiors; give your whole mind
to your duties; strive earnestly during the three or four years that
your pagedom will last, to perfect yourself in military exercises, that
when the time comes for you to buckle on armour you will be able to bear
yourself worthily. Remember that you will have to win your knighthood,
for the Order does not bestow this honour, and you must remain a
professed knight until you receive it at the hands of some distinguished
warrior. Ever bear in mind that you are a soldier of the Cross. Avoid
luxury, live simply and modestly; be not led away by others, upon whom
their vows may sit but lightly; keep ever in your mind that you have
joined the Order neither to gain fame nor personal advantage, but simply
that you may devote the strength and the intelligence that God has given
you to protect Christendom from the advance of the infidel. I shall
hear of you from time to time from D'Aubusson, and feel sure that the
expectations I have formed of you will be fulfilled."



CHAPTER III THE GRAND MASTER'S PAGE


The grand prior had, in accordance with Dame Tresham's request, sent the
steward of the house to one of the principal jewellers of the city who,
as the Order were excellent customers, paid a good price for her jewels.
After the payment for the numerous dresses required for the service as
a page to the grand master, the grand prior handed the balance of the
money Dame Tresham had brought with her, and that obtained by the sale
of her jewels, to one of the knights under whose charge Gervaise was to
travel, to be given by him to D'Aubusson for the necessities of
Gervaise as a page. During their term of service the pages received
no remuneration, all their expenses being paid by their families.
Nevertheless, the post was considered so honourable, and of such great
advantage to those entering the Order, that the appointments were
eagerly sought after.

The head of the party was Sir Guy Redcar, who had been a commander in
England, but who was now relinquishing that post in order to take a high
office in the convent at the Island. With him were four lads between
seventeen and twenty who were going out as professed knights, having
served their year of probation as novices at the grand priory. With
these Gervaise was already acquainted, as they had lived, studied, and
performed their military exercises together. The three eldest of these
Gervaise liked much, but the youngest of the party, Robert Rivers, a
relation of the queen, had always shown a very different spirit from
the others. He was jealous that a member of one of the defeated and
disinherited Lancastrian families should obtain a post of such honour
and advantage as that of page to the grand master, and that thus,
although five years younger, Gervaise should enter the Order on an
equality with him.

In point of strength and stature he was, of course, greatly superior
to Gervaise; but he had been spoilt from his childhood, was averse
to exercise, and dull at learning, and while Gervaise was frequently
commended by his instructors, he himself was constantly reproved, and
it had been more than once a question whether he should be received as
a professed knight at the termination of his year of novitiate. Thus,
while the other lads treated Gervaise kindly, and indeed made rather
a pet of him, Robert Rivers ignored him as much as possible, and if
obliged to speak to him did so with a pointed rudeness that more than
once brought upon him a sharp reproof from his companions. Gervaise
himself was but little affected by Robert's manner. He was of an
exceptionally good tempered nature, and, indeed, was so occupied with
his work and so anxious to satisfy his teachers, that Robert's ill
humour passed almost unnoticed.

The journey was performed without incident. During their passage across
the south of France, Gervaise's perfect knowledge of the language gained
for him a great advantage over his companions, and enabled him to be of
much use to Sir Guy. They had fine weather during their passage up the
Mediterranean, and in the day their leader gave them their first lessons
in the management and discipline of a ship.

"You will be nearly as much at sea as you are on land for the five years
you must stay at the convent," he said; "and it is essential to the
education of a knight of our Order to know all things connected with the
management of a ship, even to its building. We construct our own galleys
at Rhodes, using, of course, the labour of slaves, but under our own
superintendence; and it is even more essential to us to know how to
fight on sea than on land. There is, too, you see, a rivalry among
ourselves, for each langue has its duties, and each strives to perform
more gallant deeds and to bring in more rich prizes than the others. We
of England are among the smallest of the langues, and yet methinks we do
a fair portion of the work, and gain fully our share of honour. There is
no fear of your having much time on your hands, for it is quite certain
that there will soon be open war between Mahomet and the Order. In spite
of the nominal truce, constant skirmishes are taking place, so that, in
addition to our fights with pirates, we have sometimes encounters with
the sultan's galleys.

"Seven years ago, a number of our Order took part in the defence
of Lesbos, and lost their lives at its capture, and we have sure
information that Mahomet is preparing for an attack on the Island. No
doubt he thinks it will be an easy conquest, for in '57 he succeeded
in landing eighteen thousand men on the Island, and in ravaging a large
district, carrying off much booty. Since then, however, the defences of
Rhodes have been greatly strengthened. Zacosta, our last grand master,
laboured diligently to increase the fortifications, and, specially,
built on one side of the entrance to the harbour a strong tower, called
Fort St. Nicholas. Orsini has carried on the works, which have been
directed by D'Aubusson, who is captain general of the forces of the
Island, and who has deepened the ditches and built a wall on the sea
front of the town six hundred feet in length and twenty feet in height,
money being found by the grand master from his private purse.

"At present we are not sure whether the great armament that Mahomet is
preparing is intended for the capture of Negropont, which belongs to
Venice, or of Rhodes. Unfortunately Venice and Rhodes are not good
friends. In the course of our war with Egypt in '58 we captured from
some Venetian vessels, in which they were travelling, several Egyptian
merchants with a great store of goods. The Venetians protested that as
the ships were theirs we had no right to interfere with our enemies who
were travelling in them, and, without giving time for the question to
be discussed, at once attacked our galleys, and sent a fleet against
Rhodes. They landed on the Island, and not only pillaged the district
of Halki, but, a number of natives having sought shelter in a cave, the
Venetians blocked up the entrance with brushwood, set it on fire, and
suffocated them all.

"Shortly afterwards, another and larger fleet appeared off Rhodes, and
demanded the restitution of the Egyptians and their merchandise. There
was a great division of opinion in the council; but, seeing the great
danger that threatened us both from the Turks at Constantinople and the
Venetians, and that it was madness at such a time to engage in war with
a Christian power, the grand master persuaded the council to accede to
their request. There has never been any friendly feeling between Venice
and ourselves since that time. Still, I trust that our common danger
will reunite us, and that whether Negropont or Rhodes is attacked by the
Moslems, we shall render loyal aid to each other."

There was great excitement among Gervaise and his companions when it was
announced that Rhodes was in sight, and as they approached the town
they gazed with admiration at the castle with its stately buildings, the
palace of the grand master and the Hospital of St. John, rising above
the lower town, the massive walls strengthened by projecting bastions,
and the fortifications of the ports. Of these there were two, with
separate entrances, divided from each other by a narrow tongue of land.
At its extremity stood Fort St. Nicholas, which was connected by a
strong wall running along the promontory to the town. The inner port,
as it was called, was of greater importance, as it adjoined the town
itself. It was defended in the first place by Fort St. Nicholas, and at
the inner entrance stood the towers of St. John and St. Michael, one
on either side. Into this the vessel was steered. There were many craft
lying there, among them eight or ten of the galleys of the Order.

"We will go first to the house of our langue," Sir Guy said, "and tell
them to send down slaves to fetch up our baggage; then I will take you,
Gervaise, to Sir Peter D'Aubusson, and hand you over to his care."

On landing, Gervaise was surprised at the number of slaves who were
labouring at the public works, and who formed no small proportion of the
population in the streets. Their condition was pitiable. They were, of
course, enemies of Christianity, and numbers of them had been pirates;
but he could not help pitying their condition as they worked in the full
heat of the sun under the vigilant eyes of numbers of overseers, who
carried heavy whips, in addition to their arms. Their progress to the
upper city was slow, for on their way they met many knights, of whom
several were acquainted with Sir Guy; and each, after greeting
him, demanded the latest news from England, and in return gave him
particulars of the state of things at Rhodes.

At last they arrived at the house of the English langue. The Order
was divided into langues or nationalities. Of these there were
eight--Provence, Auvergne, France, Italy, Germany, England, Aragon, and
Castile and Portugal. The French element was by far the strongest. The
Order had been founded in that country, and as it possessed no less than
three langues, and held the greater part of the high official positions
in the Order, it was only kept in check by the other langues acting
together to demand their fair share of dignities. The grand master's
authority was considerable, but it was checked by the council, which
was composed of the bailiffs and knights of the highest order, known
as Grand Crosses. Each langue had its bailiff elected by itself: these
resided constantly at Rhodes. Each of these bailiffs held a high office;
thus the Bailiff of Provence was always the grand commander of the
Order. He controlled the expenditure, superintended the stores, and
was governor of the arsenal. The Bailiff of Auvergne was the
commander-in-chief of all the forces, army and navy. The Bailiff of
France was the grand hospitaller, with the supreme direction of the
hospitals and infirmaries of the Order, a hospital in those days
signifying a guest house. The Bailiff of Italy was the grand admiral,
and the Bailiff of England was chief of the light cavalry. Thus the
difficulties and jealousies that would have arisen at every vacancy were
avoided.

In the early days of the Order, when Jerusalem was in the hands of the
Christians, the care of the hospitals was its chief and most important
function. Innumerable pilgrims visited Jerusalem, and these were
entertained at the immense guest house of the Order. But with the loss
of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Christians from Palestine, that
function had become of very secondary importance although there was
still a guest house and infirmary at Rhodes, where strangers and the
sick were carefully attended by the knights. No longer did these ride
out to battle on their war horses. It was on the sea that the foe was
to be met, and the knights were now sailors rather than soldiers. They
dwelt at the houses of their respective langues; here they ate at a
common table, which was supplied by the bailiff, who drew rations for
each knight, and received, in addition, a yearly sum for the supply of
such luxuries as were not included in the rations. The average number of
knights residing in each of these langues averaged from a hundred to a
hundred and fifty.

It was not until some hours after his arrival that Sir Guy could find
time to take Gervaise across to the house of the langue of Auvergne, to
which D'Aubusson belonged. It was a larger and more stately pile than
that of the English langue, but the arrangements were similar in all
these buildings. In the English house Gervaise had not felt strange, as
he had the companionship of his fellow voyagers; but as he followed
Sir Guy through the spacious halls of the langue of Auvergne, where no
familiar face met his, he felt more lonely than he had done since he
entered the house at Clerkenwell.

On sending in his name Sir Guy was at once conducted to the chamber
occupied by D'Aubusson. The knight was seated at his table, examining
some plans. The room was furnished with monastic simplicity, save that
the walls were hung with rich silks and curtains captured from Turkish
galleys.

"Welcome back to us, Sir Guy," D'Aubusson said, rising, and warmly
shaking his visitor's hand. "I have been looking for your coming, for we
need men with clear heads. Of strong arms and valiant spirits we have no
lack; but men of judgment and discretion, who can be trusted to look at
matters calmly and not to be carried away by passion, are welcome indeed
to us. I was expecting you about this time, and when I heard that a ship
had arrived from Marseilles I made inquiries, and was glad to find that
you were on board."

"I am heartily glad to be back, D'Aubusson; I am sick of the dull life
of a commandery, and rejoice at the prospect of stirring times again.
This lad is young Tresham, who has come out in my charge, and for
whom you have been good enough to obtain the post of page to the grand
master."

"And no slight business was it to do so," D'Aubusson said with a smile.
"It happened there was a vacancy when the letter concerning him arrived,
and had it been one of the highest offices in the Order there could not
have been a keener contention for it. Every bailiff had his candidate
ready; but I seldom ask for anything for members of my langue, and when
I told the other bailiffs that it was to me a matter of honour to carry
out the last request of my dead friend, they all gave way. You see, I am
placed in a position of some little difficulty. The grand master is
so enfeebled and crippled that he leaves matters almost entirely in
my hands, and it would be an abuse of my position, and would excite no
little jealousy, were I to use the power I possess to nominate friends
of my own to appointments. It is only by the most rigid impartiality,
and by dividing as fairly as possible all offices between the eight
langues, that all continue to give me their support. As you know, we
have had great difficulties and heartburnings here; but happily they
have to a great extent been set at rest by forming a new langue of
Castile and Portugal out of that of Aragon. This has given one more vote
to the smaller langues, and has so balanced the power that of late the
jealousies between us have greatly subsided, and all are working well
together in face of the common danger. Well, young sir, and how like you
the prospect of your pageship?"

"I like it greatly, sir, but shall like still more the time when I can
buckle on armour and take a share of the fighting with the infidels. I
would fain, sir, offer to you my deep and humble thanks for the great
kindness you have shown me in procuring me the appointment of page to
the grand master."

The knight smiled kindly. "There are the less thanks due, lad, inasmuch
as I did it not for you, but for the dear friend who wrote to me on your
behalf. However, I trust that you will do credit to my nomination by
your conduct here."

"There is a letter from our grand prior which I have brought to you,"
Sir Guy said. "He commended the lad to me warmly, and seems to be
greatly pleased with his conduct."

D'Aubusson cut the silken string that bound the missive together, and
read the letter.

"He does indeed speak warmly," he said, as he laid it down on the table.

"He tells me that the lad, young as he was, had been well trained when
he came, and that he worked with great diligence during the five months
he was in the House, and displayed such skill and strength for his age,
as to surprise his preceptors, who prophesied that he would turn out a
stout swordsman, and would be a credit to the Order."

"He is well furnished with garments both for ordinary and state
occasions," Sir Guy said; "and in this packet are some sixty gold
crowns, which are the last remains of his patrimony, and which I was to
hand to you in order to pay the necessary expenses during his pageship."

"He could have done without that," D'Aubusson said. "Recommended to me
as he is, I would have seen that he lacked nothing, but was provided
with all necessaries for his position. I will in the future take care
that in all things he is on a par with his companions." He touched a
bell on the table, and a servitor entered.

"Tell Richard de Deauville to come here," he said.

A minute later the hangings at the door were pushed aside, and a lad
about a year older than Gervaise appeared, and, bowing deeply to the
knight, stood in a respectful attitude, awaiting his orders.

"Deauville, take this youth, Gervaise Tresham to your room. He is
appointed one of the pages of the grand master. He is English, but he
speaks French as well as you do, having lived in France for some years.
Take him to your apartment and treat him kindly and well, seeing that he
is a stranger and new to all here. Tomorrow he will go to the palace."

Gervaise bowed deeply to the two knights, and then followed the page.

"I suppose you arrived in that ship which came in today," the latter
said, as soon as they had left the room. "You are in luck indeed to have
obtained a pageship at the grand master's. You begin to count your time
at once, while we do not begin to count ours until we are seventeen.
Still, good luck may befall us yet, for if the grand master dies, Sir
Peter is sure to be chosen to succeed him. Then, you see, we too shall
be pages of the grand master."

"How many are there of you?"

"Only De Lille and myself. Of course D'Aubusson will take on the grand
master's present pages; but as there are five vacancies on an average
every year, he will be able to find room for us among the number."

"Why, how many pages has the grand master?" Gervaise asked, in surprise.

"Sixteen of them, so you may guess the duties are easy enough, as only
two are generally employed, except, of course on solemn occasions."

"Are there any other English besides myself?"

The boy shook his head. "There are eight belonging to the French
langues; the others are Spaniards, Italians, or Germans. There, this is
our room and this is De Lille. De Lille, this is the grand master's new
page, Master Gervaise Tresham, and our lord says we are to treat him
kindly and entertain him well until tomorrow, when he will go to the
palace. He speaks our language, and has been some years in France."

"How came you to be there?" De Lille asked Gervaise.

"My father was a Lancastrian, and my mother a great friend of our
Queen Margaret of Anjou, and they were with her all the time she was in
exile."

"How quarrelsome you English are!" De Lille said. "You seem to be always
fighting among yourselves."

"I don't think," Gervaise said, with a smile, "there is any love lost
between Louis of France and the Duke of Burgundy, to say nothing of
other great lords."

"No; you are right there. But though we talk a great deal about
fighting, it is only occasionally that we engage in it."

The pages' room was a small one. It contained two pallets, which
served as seats by day, and two wooden chests, in which they kept their
clothes.

Their conversation was interrupted by the ringing of a bell.

"That is supper," De Lille said, jumping up. "We will leave you here
while we go down to stand behind our lord's chair. When the meal is over
we will bring a pasty or something else good, and a measure of wine,
and have our supper together up here; and we will tell the servitors to
bring up another pallet for you. Of course, you can go down with us if
you like."

"Thank you, I would much rather stay here. Every one would be strange to
me, and having nothing to do I should feel in the way."

The boys nodded, and taking their caps ran off, while Gervaise, tired by
the excitement of the day, lay down on the bed which a servant brought
up a few minutes after they had left him, and slept soundly until their
return.

"I think I have been asleep," he said, starting up when they entered the
room again.

"You look as if you had, anyhow," De Lille laughed. "It was the best
thing you could do. We have brought up supper. We generally sit down
and eat after the knights have done, but this is much better, as you are
here." They sat down on the beds, carved the pasty with their daggers,
and after they had finished Gervaise gladly accepted the proposal of the
others to take a walk round the walls.

They started from the corner of the castle looking down upon the spit of
land dividing the two ports.

"You see," De Lille said, "there is a row of small islands across the
mouth of the outer port, and the guns of St. Nicholas, and those on this
wall, would prevent any hostile fleet from entering."

"I hardly see what use that port is, for it lies altogether outside the
town, and vessels could not unload there."

"No. Still, it forms a useful place of refuge. In case a great fleet
came to attack us, our galleys would lay up in the inner port, which
would be cleared of all the merchant craft, as these would hamper the
defence; they would, therefore, be sent round into the outer port, where
they would be safe from any attack by sea, although they would doubtless
be burnt did an army besiege the town."

Passing along the walls of the grand master's palace, which was a
strongly fortified building, and formed a citadel that could be defended
after the lower town and the rest of the castle had been taken, they
came to the western angle of the fortifications.

"You must know that each langue has charge of a separate part of the
wall. From the foot of the mole of St. Nicholas to the grand master's
palace it is in charge of France. On the line where we now are, between
the palace and the gate of St. George, it is held by Germany. From that
gate to the Spanish tower Auvergne is posted. England takes the wall
between the Spanish tower and that of St. Mary. You defend only the
lower storey of that tower, the upper part being held by Aragon, whose
charge extends up to the gate of St. John. Thence to the tower of
Italy--behind which lies the Jews' quarter--Provence is in charge, while
the sea front thence to the mole of St. Nicholas, is held by Italy
and Castile, each taking half. Not only have the langues the charge of
defending each its portion of the wall, but of keeping it in order at
all times; and I may say that nowhere is the wall better kept or more
fairly decorated with carvings than where England holds."

"You have not told me who defends the palace itself."

"That is in charge of a force composed of equal numbers of picked
knights from each langue."

Gervaise leant on the battlement and looked with admiration at the scene
beyond. The land side was surrounded by hills, the ground rising
very gradually from the foot of the walls. Every yard of ground was
cultivated, and was covered with brilliant vegetation. Groves and
orchards occurred thickly, while the slopes were dotted with chapels,
summer houses--in which the natives of the city spent most of their time
in the hot season--and other rustic buildings.

"What a rich and beautiful country!" he said.

"It is very pleasant to look at," De Lille agreed. "But all this would
be a sore disadvantage to us if the Turks were besieging us, for the
groves and orchards would conceal their approaches, the walls and
buildings would give them shelter, and our cannon would be of little use
until they reached the farther side of the ditch. If the Turks come,
I hear it is decided to level all the buildings and walls, and to chop
down every tree."

"If they were to plant their cannon on the hills they would do us much
harm," Gervaise remarked.

"The Turks are clumsy gunners they say," Deauville replied, "and they
would but waste their powder and ball at that distance, without making a
breach in our walls."

"Even if they did, they could surely scarce pass that deep fosse,"
Gervaise said, looking down into the tremendous cutting in the solid
rock that ran round the whole circuit of the walls; it was from forty
to sixty feet deep, and from ninety to a hundred and forty feet wide. It
was from this great cutting that the stones for the construction of the
walls, towers, and buildings of the town had been taken, the work having
been going on ever since the knights established themselves at Rhodes,
and being performed by a host of captives taken in war, together with
labour hired from neighboring islands. Upon this immense work the Order
had expended no small proportion of their revenue since their capture
of the island in 1310, and the result was a fortress that, under the
conditions of warfare of that age, seemed almost impregnable; and this
without any natural advantage of position.

In addition to the five great towers or bastions, the wall was
strengthened by square towers at short intervals. On looking down from
the wall upon which the three pages were standing, on to the lower town,
the view was a singular one. The houses were all built of stone, with
flat roofs, after the manner of most Eastern cities. The streets were
very narrow, and were crossed at frequent intervals by broad stone
arches. These had the effect, not only of giving shelter from an enemy's
fire, but of affording means by which troops could march rapidly across
the town upon the roofs of the houses to reinforce the defenders of the
wall, wherever pressed by the enemy. Thus the town from above presented
the appearance of a great pavement, broken only by dark and frequently
interrupted lines.

"How different to the towns at home!" Gervaise exclaimed, as, after
gazing long upon the beautiful country outside the walls, he turned and
looked inward. "One would hardly know that it was a town at all."

"Yes, it is rather different to the view from the top of the tower of
Notre Dame, which I ascended while I was staying in Paris. But this sort
of building is best here; the thickness of the stone roofs keeps out
the heat of the sun, and it is only when it is almost overhead that it
shines down into the narrow streets. As you can see by the number of
the people on the roofs, they use them as a resort in the evening. Then
carpets are spread, and they receive visitors, and can talk to their
neighbours over the low walls that separate the roofs. You can trace the
divisions. Some of the house roofs are larger than others, but all are
upon the same level; this being the regulation, in order that there
might be free passage everywhere for the troops."

By the time they had made the circuit of the walls darkness had fallen,
and concealed the martial features of the scene. Lights twinkled
everywhere upon the stone terraces; the sound of lutes and other musical
instruments came up softly on the still air, with the hum of talk and
laughter. The sea lay as smooth as a mirror, and reflected the light of
the stars, and the black hulls of the galleys and ships in the harbour
lay still and motionless.

Greatly pleased with his first experience of the city that was to be his
future home, Gervaise returned, with his companions, to the auberge of
Auvergne.

The next morning the bailiff D'Aubusson bade Gervaise accompany him to
the palace of the grand master. Here he introduced him to Orsini, an
old and feeble man, who, after a few kind words, handed him over to the
chamberlain, who, in turn, led him to the official who was in charge of
the pages. That officer took him down to the courtyard, where four young
knights were engaged in superintending the military exercises of the
pages. The scene was exactly the same as that to which Gervaise had been
accustomed at the House in London. Some of the lads were fighting with
blunted swords, others were swinging heavy bars of iron, climbing ropes,
or vaulting on to the back of a wooden horse. All paused as the official
entered with his charge.

"This is your new comrade, boys," he said--"Master Gervaise Tresham, a
member of the English langue. Be good comrades to him. By the reports I
hear I am sure that you will find him a worthy companion."

The pages had been prepared to like the newcomer, for it was well known
that he owed his appointment to the bailiff of Auvergne, who was the
most popular of the officials of the Order, and who was already regarded
as the grand master. His appearance confirmed their anticipation. His
fair complexion and nut brown hair tinged with gold, cut somewhat short,
but with a natural wave, contrasted with their darker locks and faces
bronzed by the sun. There was an honest and frank look in his grey eyes,
and an expression of good temper on his face, though the square chin and
firm lips spoke of earnestness and resolution of purpose. The official
took him round the circle and presented him first to the knights and
then to each of his comrades.

"You may as well join them in their exercises. In that way you will
sooner become at home with them."

Gervaise at once laid down his mantle, removed his doublet, and then
joined the others. There was but one half hour remaining before they
broke off to go to dinner, which was at half past ten, but the time
sufficed to show the young pages that this English lad was the equal
of all--except two or three of the oldest--both in strength and in
knowledge of arms. He could climb the rope with any of them, could vault
on to the wooden horse with a heavy cuirass and backpiece on him, and
held his own in a bout with swords against Conrad von Berghoff, who was
considered the best swordplayer among them. As soon as the exercises
were over all proceeded to the bath, and then to dinner. The meal was a
simple one, but Gervaise enjoyed it thoroughly, for the table was loaded
with an abundance of fruits of kinds altogether novel to him, and which
he found delicious.

The official in charge of them sat at the head of the table, and the
meal was eaten in silence. After it was over and they had retired to
their own rooms discipline was at an end, and they were free to amuse
themselves as they liked. There were many questions to be asked and
answered, but his display of strength and skill in the courtyard saved
Gervaise from a good deal of the teasing to which a newcomer among a
party of boys is always exposed.

He, on his part, learnt that the duties of the pages were very light.
Two only were on duty each day, being in constant attendance on the
grand master, and accompanying him wherever he went. When he dined in
public four of them waited on him at table, and one of them performed
the duties of taster. If he returned to the palace after dark, six
others lined the staircase with torches. On occasions of state ceremony,
and at the numerous religious festivals, all were in attendance. By this
time Gervaise's trunks had been brought over from the English auberge,
where they had been conveyed from the ship, and his garments were taken
out and inspected by his comrades, who all admitted that they were, in
point of beauty of colour and material, and in fashion, equal to their
own.

"You will have to get one more suit, Gervaise," one of the lads said.
"At one or two of the grand ceremonies every year we are all dressed
alike; that is the rule. On other occasions we wear what we choose, so
that our garments are handsome, and I think it looks a good deal better
than when we are dressed alike; though no doubt in religious processions
that is more appropriate. De Ribaumont, our governor, will give orders
for the supply of your state costume. He is a good fellow. Of course,
he has to be rather strict with us; but so long as there is nothing done
that he considers discreditable to our position, he lets us do pretty
nearly as we like.

"We have four hours a day at our military exercises, and two hours with
the sub-chaplain, who teaches us our books and religious duties. The
rest of our time we can use as we like, except that every day eight of
us ride for two hours and practise with the lance; for although it is at
sea we fight the Moslems, we are expected to become finished knights in
all matters. These eight horses are kept for our service, and such as
choose may at other times ride them. On Saturdays we are free from
all our exercises; then some of us generally go on horseback for long
excursions on the island, while others take boats and go out on the sea;
one afternoon in the week we all make a trip in a galley, to learn our
duties on board."



CHAPTER IV A PROFESSED KNIGHT


Gervaise was soon quite at home in the palace of the grand master, and
his companions were, like other boys, of varying characters; but as all
were of noble families, were strongly impressed with the importance of
the Order and the honour of their own position, and were constantly
in contact with stately knights and grave officials, their manners
conformed to those of their elders; and even among themselves there was
no rough fun, or loud disputes, but a certain courtesy of manner that
was in accordance with their surroundings. This came naturally to
Gervaise, brought up as he had been by his father and mother, and having
at frequent intervals stayed with them for months at the various
royal castles in which Margaret of Anjou and her son had been assigned
apartments during their exile. Even at St. John's house the novices
with whom he lived were all a good deal older than himself, and the
discipline of the house was much more strict than that at Rhodes.

He enjoyed both his exercises with the knights and the time spent
with the sub-chaplain, no small proportion of the hours of study being
occupied in listening to stories of chivalry; it being considered one of
the most important parts of a knight's education that he should have a
thorough acquaintance, not only with the laws of chivalry, but with the
brave deeds both of former and of living knights, with the relations of
the noble houses of Europe to each other, especially of the many great
families whose members were connected with the Order of St. John.

These matters formed, indeed, the main subject of their studies. All
were taught to read and write, but this was considered sufficient in the
way of actual instruction. The rules of the Order had to be committed
to memory. Beyond this their reading consisted largely of the lives
of saints, especially of those who distinguished themselves by their
charity or their devotion to their vows of poverty, to both of which the
members of the Order were pledged. Gervaise, however, could see around
him no signs whatever of poverty on their part. It was true that they
all lived and fed together in the auberges of their respective langues,
and that they possessed no houses or establishments of their own; but
the magnificence of their armour and attire, and the lavish expenditure
of some upon their pleasures, contrasted strangely with the poverty
to which they had vowed themselves. It was true that in many cases the
means to support the expenditure was derived from the shares the knights
received of the plunder acquired in their captures of Moslem ships; but
undoubtedly many must have possessed large private means; the bailiffs,
for example, although only required by the rules to place before the
knights at their auberges the rations they received for them, with
such luxuries as could be purchased by their yearly allowance for that
purpose, expended annually very large sums in addition, and supplied
their tables with every dainty, in order to gain popularity and goodwill
among the members of the langue.

Not only did the post of bailiff confer upon its owner a very high
position at Rhodes, but it was a stepping stone to the most lucrative
offices in their langues. The bailiffs at Rhodes had the right of
claiming any of the grand priories or bailiwicks at home that might
fall vacant, and the grand master was frequently chosen from among their
number, as, by being present at Rhodes, they had many advantages in the
way of making themselves popular among the electors. The emoluments of
some of these provincial bailiwicks were large; and as the bailiffs at
Rhodes were generally elected by seniority--although younger knights who
had greatly distinguished themselves were sometimes chosen--they were
usually glad to resign the heavy work and responsibility of their
position at Rhodes, and to retire to the far easier position of a
provincial bailiff. In the majority of cases, doubtless, the fortunes
of the high officials were obtained from the money amassed when in
possession of rich commanderies at home; but even this was assuredly
incompatible with their vows of poverty.

His hours of leisure Gervaise spent either on the water or in the
saddle, and his love of exercise of all sorts excited the wonder and
even the amusement of his companions, who for the most part preferred
spending the time at their disposal in sleep, in idly looking out from
a shaded room at what was going on outside, or in visits to friends and
relations at the auberges of the langues to which they belonged. The
natural consequence was, that by the time he reached the end of his
three years' pageship, Gervaise was indisputably superior in strength,
activity, and skill in military exercises, to any of his companions.
The majority of these, after completing their time, returned to the
headquarters of their langue at home, to pass their time there, until of
an age to be eligible for the charge of a commandery obtained for them
by family influence, which had no small share in the granting of these
appointments. As it was known, however, that Gervaise intended to remain
permanently in the Island, his progress was watched with particular
attention by his instructors; and, seeing his own earnestness in the
matter, they took special pains with his training. The bailiff of
Auvergne continued to take much interest in him, inquiring often from
the officers in charge of the pages, and from his instructors, of his
conduct and progress, and occasionally sending for him to his auberge
and talking with him as to his life and progress. Just before his
pageship terminated, he said to him, "I was rather puzzled at first,
Gervaise, as to what we should do with you when your term of office
concluded, but I am so no longer, for, although you are some two years
younger than the professed knights who come out here, you are better
fitted than the majority to take your place in the naval expeditions,
and to fight the Moslem pirates. I will see that you have your share of
these adventures. All young knights are, as you know, obliged to make
three voyages, but beyond that many of them do not care to share in
the rough life at sea, and prefer the bustle, and, I grieve to say,
the gaiety and pleasures of this city. For one, then, really eager
to distinguish himself, the opportunities are frequent. When danger
threatens, or heavy engagements are expected, every knight is desirous
of bearing his part in the fray; but this is not the case when the work
to be done consists of scouring the sea for weeks, without perchance
coming across a single pirate. Of course, as soon as your pageship is
over you will go to the English auberge, but I shall still keep my eye
upon you, and shall do my best to help you to achieve distinction; and
I shall take upon myself the providing of your arms and armour as a
knight."

Accordingly, on the day on which his duties as a page terminated, two
servitors of the auberge of Auvergne brought across to the palace a suit
of fine armour and a sword, a battleaxe, a lance, and a dagger; also
three complete suits of clothes, two of them for ordinary wear, and one
for state occasions. The next day Gervaise took the oaths of the Order
in the Church of St. John. The aged master himself received the vows,
and formally inducted him as a professed knight of the Order, Peter
D'Aubusson and the bailiff of the English langue acting as his sponsors,
vouching that he was of noble blood and in all ways fitted to become
a knight of Justice, this being the official title of the professed
knights of the Order. Ten newly arrived novices were inducted at the
same time, and the ceremony was a stately one, attended by a number of
the knights from each langue, all in full armour.

The ceremony over, Gervaise bore the title of Sir Gervaise Tresham;
but this was an honorary rather than a real title, as the Order did not
profess to bestow the honour of knighthood, and it was usual for its
members to receive the accolade at the hands of secular knights. At the
conclusion of the ceremony, he returned with the bailiff of the English
langue to the auberge, and took up his quarters there. By his frequent
visits he was well known to all the members, and in a day or two felt as
much at home as he had done in the pages' room in the palace. A week was
given to him before he was assigned to any special duty, and he was glad
when he was told off as one of the knights who were to take their turn
in superintending the work of the slaves employed in strengthening
the fortifications, although he would rather that any other employment
should have been assigned to him, because he felt deep pity for the
unfortunate men who were engaged in the work.

He knew well enough that if he himself were ever made prisoner by the
Turks, his lot would be as hard and as hopeless as that of the Moslem
captives; but this, although he often repeated it to himself in order to
abate his feeling of commiseration, was but a poor satisfaction. He saw
one side of the picture, and the other was hidden from him; and although
he told himself that after slaving in a Turkish galley he would feel a
satisfaction at seeing those who had been his tyrants suffering the same
fate, he was well aware that this would not be the case, and that his
own sufferings would only make him sympathise more deeply with those of
others. He had found, soon after his arrival on the Island, that it was
best to keep his feelings on this subject to himself. While the knights
were bound, in accordance with their vows, to relieve sufferings of any
kind among Christians, they seemed to regard their captives rather in
the light of brute beasts than human beings. The slaves were struck on
the smallest provocation, and even the killing of a slave was considered
a very venial offence, and punished only because the slave was of value
to the Order.

It was true that edicts were from time to time published by the council,
enjoining fair treatment of slaves, and it was specially ordered that
those employed as servants in the auberges were not to be struck. The
lot of these servants was, indeed, very much easier than that of
those engaged on the public works, and such occupation was therefore
considered a privilege, the servants being for the most part selected
from among the captives of superior rank.

For the next six months Gervaise worked at various duties in the town.
He was employed for a fortnight in the infirmary, then for a while he
was transferred to the galleys; but for the most part he was with the
slaves working on the fortifications. At the end of that time he was,
to his great delight, informed by the bailiff that he was one of the six
knights of the langue told off to join a galley that was on the point
of sailing. Among those going in her was Sir Ralph Harcourt, one of his
companions on the journey from England.

"So you are to go with us, Gervaise," the young knight said, "to try
your luck for the first time against the infidels. This is my third
voyage, and I hope that it will be more fortunate than its predecessors,
for, beyond picking up two or three small craft, which did not venture
upon resistance, we gained neither honour nor booty. I regard you as
having specially good fortune, and besides being glad that we shall
be together, I expect that you will bring good luck to us, and that we
shall meet with foes worth contending with. The corsairs have been very
active of late, and have captured many prizes, while, on the other hand,
our galleys have been unfortunate, and have but seldom come upon the
miscreants."

"How many knights will there be on board?"

"Forty. Aragon, like us, furnishes five, Germany ten, Portugal five,
Auvergne ten, and Provence five. We shall be commanded by Sir Louis
Ricord, a knight of Auvergne, and we could wish no better, for he has
proved himself a good seaman and a brave captain. Two other galleys are
to start with us. We are to cruise separately unless one gets news of a
force so superior that he will need aid to attack it, when he will meet
the others at a rendezvous agreed upon, and we shall work together."

"Who are the other three Englishmen?"

"John Boswell, Marmaduke Lumley, and Adam Tedbond--all, as you know,
brave knights and good companions."

That evening Gervaise received a message from D'Aubusson, requesting him
to call at his auberge.

"So you are going to sea, Sir Gervaise? I hear from your bailiff that
you have been working to his satisfaction in the town."

"Yes, sir. I shall indeed be glad to change it for a life at sea. In
truth, it is grievous to me to witness the sufferings of the slaves, and
I would rather do any other work."

"They are far better off than the Christians who fall into the hands
of the Turks," the bailiff said; "and, moreover, it is because their
countrymen are preparing to attack us that we are forced to use their
labour in strengthening our fortifications. They have naught to complain
of in the way of food. Still, I would myself gladly see their lot
alleviated; but we could not afford to keep so great a number of
captives in idleness; they must work for their living. Had it not been
for their labour we could never have built and fortified the city. After
all, they are little worse off than our serfs at home; they build our
castles and till our land."

"It may be so, sir; but with us in England men are free, and it was,
when I first came, strange to me to see them working under the fear of
the whip. It is necessary, I know, that such work should be done, but I
own that I shall be glad to be away from the sight of the poor wretches,
pirates and enemies of the faith though they be."

"I can understand your feelings, and I too felt somewhat the same when
I first came here. Nevertheless, there is work that must be done if the
Order is not to be crushed by the infidels. Here are captives, for the
most part malefactors, who have to be fed; and there is no injustice in
their having, like all men, to give work for food. I have learnt to see
this and recognise the necessity, though I would that the work could
be obtained without the use of harshness and severity. We ourselves are
prepared at any moment to sacrifice our lives for the good of the Order
and for the great cause, and it would be wrong, nay, sinful, not to use
the means that have been placed ready to our hand. Now, Sir Gervaise, I
wish you a pleasant voyage. You will find the life somewhat hard, after
your three years' residence at the palace, but this I know you will
not mind. I have specially commended you to Ricord as one in whom I am
personally interested, and from whom I hope great things in the future.
Be brave; be resolute. From what you have said I need not say--be
merciful. Fulfill all orders promptly and without question; bear
yourself courteously to all; above all things, remember that you are a
soldier, not only of the Order, but of the Cross."

The next day Gervaise embarked with his companions on board the galley.
It was a long, low boat, similar to those in use by the Venetians and
Genoese. It was rowed by fifty slaves, who slept at night on or beneath
the benches they sat on by day. The knights occupied the great cabins
in the poop. There were two tiers of these; the upper one contained the
little cabin of the commander, while the rest of the space on this deck,
and that below it, was used by the knights in common. In the upper cabin
they took their meals, and a third of their number slept there, the
remainder in the cabin below. A fourth of their number were, however,
always on guard, lest any attempt at a rising or escape should be made
by the galley slaves.

On leaving the harbour the galley, with its two consorts, rowed north,
and Gervaise learnt that they were to cruise between the mainland and
the islands. Some of these were in the hands of the Turks, while others
were still occupied by Greeks.

Except when there was a formal and actual state of war, the Moslem and
Christian islands remained in a state of neutrality, trading with
each other and avoiding all unfriendly proceedings that would lead
to struggles which would be fatal to the prosperity of both. The
Archipelago, and indeed the whole of the eastern portion of the
Mediterranean, was infested by pirates, fitted out, for the most part,
on the mainland. These, when in force, openly kept the sea, attacking
the Christian merchant ships, but when cruising alone they hid in
unfrequented bays, or behind uninhabited islets, until they could pounce
upon a passing ship whose size promised an easy capture. The Order of
St. John furnished a maritime police, earning thereby the deep gratitude
of Spain, France, and Italy. They were aided occasionally by the
Venetians, but these, being frequently engaged in quarrels with their
neighbours, did but a small share of this work, only sending their
fleets to sea when danger threatened some of their possessions in the
Levant.

"This is delightful, Ralph," Gervaise said, as they stood together on
the poop, looking back at the receding city.

"What a pleasant change it is from standing in the broiling sun watching
those poor wretches toiling at the fortifications! There is only one
drawback to my pleasure. I wish that we carried sails, and were moved
along by the breeze, instead of by the exertions of the slaves."

"Much chance we should have of catching a pirate under such
circumstances!" Ralph said, laughing. "You might as well set a tortoise
to catch a hare."

"I don't say that we should not be obliged to carry rowers, Ralph; but
all the prizes that have been brought in since I have been at Rhodes
carry masts and sails, as well as oars, and, as I understand, for the
most part cruise about under sail, and only use the oars when chasing or
fleeing."

"That is so; because, you see, in most cases the crew themselves have
to row, and I have no doubt if we had no slaves to do the work we should
soon take to masts and sails also; but for speed the rowing galleys are
the best, for unless a brisk wind were blowing, the mast and sails would
but check her progress when the oars were out, and at any rate constrain
her to travel only before the wind. I know your weakness about the
slaves, Gervaise; but as we could neither build our fortifications
nor row our galleys without them, I cannot go as far as you do in the
matter, though I own that I am sometimes sorry for them. But you must
remember that it is the fault of their people, and not of ours, that
they are here."

"All that is true enough, Ralph, and I cannot gainsay you. Still I would
rather that we were gliding along with sails instead of being rowed by
slaves."

"At any rate, Gervaise, you will not see them ill treated, for I myself
heard Ricord, just before we were starting, tell the slave overseers
that so long as the rowers did fair work they were not to use their
whips, and that only if we were in chase of a pirate were they to be
urged to their utmost exertions."

"I am right glad to hear it, Ralph, and shall be able to enjoy the
voyage all the more, now you have told me that such orders have been
issued."

For a fortnight they cruised about among the islands. Several times
boats rowed out from the shore to the galley with complaints of outrages
by pirates under a notorious corsair named Hassan Ali, who had landed,
burnt villages, killed many of the inhabitants, and carried off the rest
as slaves; but no one could give any clue to aid them in their search
for the corsairs. The time passed very pleasantly. There was no occasion
for speed; often they lay all day in some bay, where they could approach
near enough to the shore to lie in the shade of trees, while two or
three of the knights ascended a hill and kept watch there for the
appearance of any vessels of a suspicious character. One morning, after
passing the night at anchor, Harcourt and Gervaise were despatched just
before sunrise to take a look round before the galley got under way.
From the top of the hill they had an uninterrupted view of the sea,
studded with islands on all sides of them. Beyond a few fishing boats,
looking like black specks on the glassy surface, no craft were in sight.
They were about to return to the galley when, taking a last look round,
Gervaise suddenly exclaimed, "Look, Ralph! There is smoke ascending from
that island to the southwest. There was none just now."

"You mean from that bay, Gervaise? Yes, I see it; it is not more than a
light mist."

"It is growing thicker," Gervaise said, "and spreading. Maybe it is but
a hut that has accidentally caught fire, but it seems to me that the
smoke is rising from several points."

"I think you are right, Gervaise. Let us hurry down with the news. It
may be that it is a village which has been attacked by pirates who have
landed on the other side of the island during the night, for I can see
no ships in the bay."

A few minutes' run and they stood on the shore.

"Quick, men!" Ralph said to the rowers of the boat that had brought them
ashore. "Row your hardest."

The slaves bent to their oars, and they were soon alongside the galley,
which lay two or three hundred yards from the shore. Those on board had
noticed the young knights running down the hill, and, marking the speed
at which the boat was rowing, concluded at once that they must have
observed one of the pirate's ships.

"Do you see anything of them, Sir Ralph?" the commander shouted, as they
came close.

"We have seen no ships, Sir Louis, but there is smoke coming up from a
bay in an island four or five miles away to the southwest. It seems to
us that it is far too extensive a fire to be the result of an accident,
for there was no smoke until within two or three minutes of the time we
left, and before we started it was rising from several points, and we
both think that it must come from a village that has been attacked by
pirates."

The commander rapidly issued his orders, and in two or three minutes the
anchor was weighed, the boat hoisted on deck, and the oars in motion.

"Stretch to your oars!" Ricord shouted to the slaves. "Hitherto we have
exacted no toil from you, but you have to work now, and woe be to him
who does not put out his full strength."

Grateful for the unusual leniency with which they had been treated,
the slaves bent to their oars, and the galley sped rapidly through the
water. On rounding the end of the island there was an exclamation of
satisfaction from the knights as they saw wreaths of white smoke rising
from the distant island.

"There can be no doubt that it is a village in flames," Sir Louis said;
"and from the suddenness with which it broke out, it is clear that it
must have been fired at several points. You say you saw no craft near?"
he asked, turning to Harcourt.

"There were none there, or from the top of the hill we should assuredly
have made them out, Sir Louis."

"Then the pirates--if this be, as I hope, their work--must have landed
at some other point on the island, and if they catch sight of us they
may make for their ship and slip away, unobserved by us. Instead of
rowing direct, therefore, we will make for that islet to the right, and
row round behind it. There are two others almost adjoining it. Once past
these, 'tis not more than half a mile to that island stretching away
south. Once round that, we shall be beyond the one from which we see the
smoke rising, and can come down on its southern side. The course will
be double the distance that it would be if we took a straight line, but
except when we cross from island to island we shall not be exposed to
their view, and may fall upon their ships before the crews have returned
from their work of plunder."

The knights fully agreed, and orders were given to the helmsman
accordingly.

"We must not over fatigue the rowers," the commander said. "We may have
a long chase if they have started before we get round."

He therefore gave orders to the slaves that, while they were to exert
themselves to the utmost when crossing the open sea, they were to relax
their efforts and to row within their strength while coasting along
behind the islands. On board, everything was made in readiness for a
fight: the knights buckled on their armour, the cooks set cauldrons of
pitch over the fire, the cannoneers loaded her eight guns. It was an
hour and a half after their start before they rounded the end of the
last island. It extended a little farther to the south than did that to
which they were making, and as they rounded the point, eager looks were
cast in search of the pirate ships. No craft were, however, to be seen.

"They must be in some bay or inlet," the commander said; "they can
hardly have left, for it would have taken them half an hour at least to
cross the island with their booty and captives, and even if they made
straight away after having fired the village, their ship could have gone
no great distance, for we must have seen her if she put to sea--unless
indeed they were anchored on the east of the island, and have sailed in
that direction."

"Keep them rowing along steadily," he said to the overseers of the
slaves; "but do not press them too hard. We may have a chase yet, and
need all their strength, for most of these pirates are fast craft, and
if they should get a start of three or four miles, it will be a long row
before we catch them."

They made straight for the island, and on nearing it coasted along its
southern side. It was some three miles long, the shore being for the
most part steep, but here and there falling gradually to the water's
edge. Two or three little clusters of houses could be seen as they rowed
along; one of these was on fire.

"That is good," Sir Louis exclaimed, as, on turning a point, they saw
the flames. "That cannot have been lighted long, and we are pretty
certain to come upon the vessels before the marauders have set sail."

Several inlets and small bays were passed, but all were empty. A few
fishing boats lay on the shore, but there were no signs of life, as no
doubt the people would, long since, have taken alarm and sought shelter
in the woods. There was a sharp point just before they reached the
southeastern extremity of the island, and as the galley shot past this,
a shout of exultation rose from the knights, for, near the mouth of an
inlet that now opened to their view, there lay four long, low vessels,
above each of which floated the Moslem flag. A number of men were
gathered on the shore near the ships, and heavily laden boats were
passing to and fro.

A yell of rage and alarm rose from the ships as the galley came into
view. There was a stir and movement on the shore, and numbers of men
leapt into the boats there, and started for the ships. These were some
quarter of a mile away when first seen, and half that distance had been
traversed when a puff of smoke shot out from the side of one of them,
followed almost immediately by a general discharge of their cannon. One
ball tore along the waist of the galley, killing six of the rowers, and
several oars on both sides were broken. Two balls passed through the
cabins in the poop. But there was no pause in the advance of the galley.
The whips of the slave masters cracked, and the rowers whose oars were
intact strained at them. There was no reply from the guns, but the
knights raised loud the war cry of the Order, a war cry that was never
heard without striking a thrill of apprehension among their Moslem foes.

As they neared the pirate ships, the helm was put down, and the galley
brought up alongside the largest of them and a broadside poured into
her; then the knights, headed by their commander, leapt on to her deck.

Although a number of the crew had not yet come off from shore, the
Moslems still outnumbered their assailants, and, knowing that their
consorts would soon come to their aid, they threw themselves in a body
on the Christians. But in a hand-to-hand conflict like this, the knights
of the Hospital were irresistible. Protected by their armour and long
shields from the blows of their enemies' scimitars and daggers, their
long, cross handled swords fell with irresistible force on turbaned head
and coat-of-mail, and, maintaining regular order and advancing like a
wall of steel along the deck, they drove the Moslems before them, and
the combat would soon have terminated had not a shout been raised by
one of the overseers of the slaves. One of the other ships had rowed
alongside the galley, and the crew were already leaping on board it. At
the same moment another ship came up alongside that they had boarded,
while the fourth was maneuvering to bring up under her stern.

"Sir John Boswell," Sir Louis shouted, "do you and your countrymen, with
the knights of Spain, finish with these miscreants; knights of Germany
and Provence keep back the boarders; knights of Auvergne follow me," and
he leapt down into the galley.

The English and Spanish knights redoubled their exertions. The Moslems
endeavoured to rally, seeing that help was at hand, and that but a small
body were now opposed to them, but their numbers availed little. The ten
knights kept their line, and, hewing their way forward, pressed them so
hotly that the Turks broke and sprang over the bulwarks into the sea.
Then the knights looked round. A fierce fight was going on between those
of Germany and Provence and the enemy, who strove desperately to board
from the ship alongside. The other vessel was now almost touching the
stern, and her crew were swarming to her side in readiness to leap on
board as soon as the vessels touched.

"We will keep them at bay there," Sir John Boswell shouted. "Do you, Don
Pedro, and your comrades, aid Ricord. When his foes are finished with,
you can come back to help us."

Then, with the four English knights, he ran along the deck, and reached
the stern just in time to hurl backwards the Moslems, who had already
obtained a footing. For a time the five knights kept back the surging
mass of their foes. The deck was wide enough for each to have fair play
for his sword, and in vain the pirates strove to obtain a footing.

At last Sir Marmaduke Lumley fell, severely wounded by an arrow from a
Moslem marksman, and before the others could close the gap a score of
pirates leapt on to the deck.

"Fall back, comrades, fall back; but keep together!" Sir John Boswell
shouted, as he cleft the skull of one of the pirate officers who sprang
at him. "Sir Louis will soon finish his work, and be here to our aid.
Ah!" he exclaimed, looking over his shoulder, as he retired a step,
"Provence and Germany are overmatched too."

This was indeed the case. Stoutly as they fought the knights were unable
to guard the whole of the line of bulwark, and the Moslems had already
obtained a footing on the deck. The discipline of the knights stood them
in good stead. Drawing closely together as they retreated, they made a
stand on the opposite side of the deck, and were here joined by Sir John
Boswell and his companions. They now formed a semicircle, each flank
resting on the bulwark, and the pirates in vain endeavoured to break
their line. Again and again they flung themselves upon the knights, only
to be beaten off with heavy loss. At length a loud cheer arose from the
galley, and Sir Louis Ricord, with the knights of Auvergne and Spain
having cleared the galley of their foes, and carried the pirate that had
grappled with her, sprang on to the deck of the ship, and fell upon
the throng that were attacking the knights there, oblivious of what was
going on elsewhere. At once the English knights and their comrades took
the offensive, and fell upon their assailants who, at the sight of the
reinforcement, for a moment stood irresolute. For a short time there was
a fierce struggle; then the pirates sprang back to their two ships, and
endeavoured to cast off the grapnels. But the knights followed hotly
upon them, and, panic stricken now, the pirates sprang overboard. Many
were drowned, but the greater part managed to swim to shore.



CHAPTER V SCOURGES OF THE SEA


Breathless and faint from their tremendous exertions, the knights
removed their helmets.

"By St. Mary," Sir Louis said, "this has been as hard a fight as I have
ever been engaged in, and well may we be content with our victory! Well
fought, my brave comrades! Each of these vessels must have carried twice
our number at least, and we have captured four of them; but I fear the
cost has been heavy."

Seven knights had fallen, struck down by sword, arrow, or thrust of
spear. Of the rest but few had escaped unwounded, for, strong as was
their armour, the keen Damascus blades of the Moslems had in many cases
cut clean through it, and their daggers had found entry at points where
the armour joined; and, now that the fight was over, several of the
knights sank exhausted on the deck from loss of blood.

But the dressing of wounds formed part of a knight of St. John's
training. Those who were unwounded unbuckled the armour and bandaged the
wounds. Others fetched wine and water from the galley. The chains of the
galley slaves were removed, and these were set to clear the decks of the
Moslem corpses. The anchors were dropped, for what little wind there
was drifted them towards the shore. They had learned from a dying pirate
that the vessels were part of the fleet of Hassan Ali, a fact that added
to the satisfaction felt by the knights at their capture, as this man
was one of the most dreaded pirates of the Levant. They learnt that he
himself had not been present, the expedition being under the command of
one of his lieutenants, who had fallen in the fight.

"Now, comrades, let us in the first place take food; we have not broken
our fast this morning. Then let us consider what had best be done, for
indeed we have got as much in our hands as we can manage; but let us
leave that till we eat and drink, for we are faint from want of food
and from our exertions. But we shall have to eat what comes to hand, and
that without cooking, for our servants all joined the pirates when they
boarded us, and are either dead or are ashore there."

A meal was made of bread and fruit, and this with wine sufficed to
recruit their energies.

"It seems to me, comrades," Sir Louis said, when all had finished, "that
the first thing is to search the holds of these vessels and see what
valuables are stored there. These may be all carried on board one ship,
and the others must be burnt, for it is clear that, as there are four of
them, we cannot take them to Rhodes; and even with one and our galley
we should fare but ill, if we fell in with two or three more of Hassan's
ships."

"But how about the pirates on shore, Sir Louis?" a knight asked. "There
were very many who could not get off to their ships during the fight,
and scores must have swum ashore. I should say that there must be full
two hundred, and it will be a grievous thing for the islanders if we
leave them there."

"It is certain," the commander said, "that we are not strong enough
to attack them, for were we to land, a party would have to be left on
board, or the pirates might elude our search, seize some fishing boats,
and regain possession. Certainly, we are in no position to divide our
forces."

"Methinks," Sir John Boswell said, "that the best plan would be to send
a boat, manned with ten galley slaves, taking two or three of us to the
rendezvous, to fetch hither the other two galleys. With their aid we
might take all the four ships safe into port, after first clearing the
island of these pirates. It is but forty miles away, and eight hours'
rowing would take us there."

There was a general murmur of assent, for all wished that the trophies
of their bravery should, if possible, be carried to Rhodes.

"That will certainly be the best plan, Sir John, though it may detain us
here for two or three days, or even more, for it is quite uncertain when
the other two galleys may put in at the rendezvous. Will you yourself
undertake the mission?"

"With pleasure."

"How many will you take with you?"

"Two will be sufficient, for we shall have no fighting to do, as we
shall have to trust to our speed if we fall in with an enemy. I will
take, with your permission, Sir Ralph Harcourt and Sir Gervaise Tresham,
both of whom have today fought with distinguished bravery. Indeed, I
owe my life to them, for more than once, when I was hotly pressed, they
freed me from my assailants. Truly none bore themselves better in the
fray than they did."

Three or four others joined in hearty commendations of the two young
knights.

"Indeed," one said, "I was greatly surprised to see how Tresham bore
himself. He is but a lad, with scarce, one would think, strength to hold
his own in such a fray. It chanced that he was next to me in the circle,
and for a time I kept my eye on him, thinking he might require my aid;
but I soon saw that I need not trouble myself on his account, for he
wielded his weapon as doughtily as the best knight of the Order could
have done, and one of the proofs is that, while most of us bear marks of
the conflict, he has escaped without scratch. I trust, Sir Louis, that
when you give an account of the fighting you will specially mention that
this, the youngest knight of the Order, bore himself as stoutly as any
of them. I say this, Sir John, because, not being of your langue, I can
speak more warmly than you can do of his skill and bravery."

"I thank you, De Boysey," Sir John Boswell said, "and I am proud that
my young countryman should have so gained your approbation. And now,"
he went on, "while the galley slaves are getting a meal--which they have
right well earned today--I should like to see what there is under the
hatches of these ships, so that I can give our comrades in the other
galleys some idea of the value of this booty we have taken."

They rose from the table, and, going on board the prizes, lifted the
hatches.

"Beware!" De Boysey exclaimed, looking down into the hold, when the
first hatch was taken off. "There are people below."

A chorus of cries followed his exclamation.

"They are the voices of women and children," Sir Louis exclaimed. "They
must be captives."

This turned out to be so. In the holds of the four ships were found over
a hundred and fifty women and children; these had been brought on board
in the first boat loads by the pirates, and when the Christian galley
had been seen coming round the point, had been thrust below, and the
hatches thrown over them. They had heard the din of battle above, but
knew not how the conflict had terminated, and, being afraid to cry out,
had remained silent until, on the hatch being lifted, they had seen the
figures of Christian knights standing in the bright sunshine. All had
come from the village on the other side of the island. They related how
the pirates had suddenly burst upon them, had slaughtered all the men,
set fire to the village, and had driven them before them across the
island to the ships. The poor creatures were delighted at their escape
from slavery, but at the same time were full of grief at the loss of
husbands, fathers, and sons.

Some laughed, others cried; while some thanked God for their rescue
others heaped imprecations upon the authors of their misfortunes.

The knights explained to them that for a short time they must remain on
board, as half the pirates were still on shore, but that aid would soon
arrive that would enable them to clear the island.

Half an hour later Sir John Boswell, with the two young knights, started
in a rowing boat, manned by ten of the galley slaves. The wind had
sprung up since the fight ceased, and as it was nearly astern, they
anticipated that they would make a good passage, and be at the little
islet, named as the place of rendezvous, before nightfall.

Among the many bales of rich merchandise in the hold of the pirate
vessels an abundance of wine had been discovered, and of this a tankard
had been given to each of the slaves, by Sir Louis's orders, as a token
of satisfaction at their work in the morning.

They had gone some two miles when, from one of the inlets in the island
they had left a large fishing boat was seen to issue out.

"By St. George!" Sir John exclaimed, "that boat must be full of pirates.
And if they see us, which they cannot help doing, and take it in their
heads to chase us, we shall have a hard time of it."

The fishing boat for a few minutes kept along the coast, and then
suddenly her course was altered, and her head directed towards their
boat.

"Now stretch to your oars," Sir John, who spoke some Turkish, said to
the slaves. "Keep ahead of that boat, and I promise you, on my honour as
a Christian knight, that I will myself purchase your freedom as soon as
we get to Rhodes."

With a shout of delight, the galley slaves bent to their oars, and the
boat flew along at a greatly increased speed.

"There is but small chance of our getting away," Sir John said quietly.
"At present we must be rowing as fast as they sail; but wind never
tires, while there are limits to the powers of muscle and bone. If those
fellows follow us--and I doubt not that they will, for they must be
thirsting for vengeance--they will overtake us long before we get to the
rendezvous; and even did we reach it, the chances are that we should not
find either of the galleys there. We must hold on as long as we can,
and as a last resource must run ashore. Unfortunately there are no large
islands on our way. Nor have we any hope of assistance from our friends
behind. The inlet looks east, and they will know nothing of our danger;
nor, if they did, could they help us. The galley is short handed now,
and there are the captured ships to look after, and the captives we
rescued. We have only ourselves to depend on."

At the end of an hour's rowing the boat astern had gained little; but
the exertions of the rowers were telling severely upon them. They were
still doing their best, but their breath came in short gasps, the rowing
was getting short and unsteady, and there was a sensible decrease in the
speed of the boat. Three miles ahead of them was an islet about half
a mile in diameter. In some parts it was covered with foliage, but
elsewhere it was bare rock.

"That must be our goal," Sir John said. "They will be close to us by the
time we get there." Then he said to the rowers, "Stop for a minute to
get breath. We will land at that islet ahead, and I shall hold to my
promise if we get there in time. Those of you who like can remain in the
boat until your countrymen come up; those who choose can leave the boat
and hide yourselves as best you may. I leave the choice to yourselves.
If we are overtaken and fall, I cannot keep my promise, and it will be
best then for you to remain in the boat."

For three or four minutes the slaves bent forward over their oars; but
as soon as Sir John gave the word they straightened themselves up and
began rowing again. The rest had done them good, and they again fell
into a long, steady stroke.

"Shall we buckle on our armour again?" Sir Ralph Harcourt asked; for
they had not put it on when they left the ship, as the heat was very
great.

"I think we had better don our mail shirts only. In climbing about that
rock ahead of us, the less weight we carry the better, and with this
heat I would rather fight unprotected than in casque and armour.
Besides, there can be little doubt that, if they come upon us, it will
be our last battle. That craft behind is crowded with men, and, armour
or no armour, it will come to the same in the end. If it were not that
we have a mission to fulfil, and that it is of all things important to
send the galleys to aid our friends, I would say let us choose a spot
at the foot of the rocks there, where they cannot attack us in the rear,
and there fight it out as becomes knights of the Cross; but as it is our
duty above all things to carry this message, we must strive to preserve
our lives, and must, if we can, conceal ourselves from these paynims."

"What are you going to do?" Sir John asked the slaves, when they were
within a quarter of a mile of the islet. "I should think, after we have
left the boat, it will be best for you to sit quietly on your benches
till our pursuers arrive."

"They would cut our throats at once, Sir Knight; they will be furious at
our having given them so long a chase. Hassan Ali's men care little whom
they slay, and, irritated by their misfortune, it will be naught to them
whether we are Moslem or Christian. I, for one, shall take to the woods,
and hide."

There was a chorus of assent among the other rowers.

"I trust that you may escape," the knight said. "It is for us they
will be hunting, and if they catch and slay us they will not trouble to
search the island further."

"It seems to me, Sir John," Gervaise said, "that with the aid of these
good fellows we may yet have a chance of escape."

"What is your plan, Sir Gervaise?"

"I think, Sir John, that if, when we land, we climb straight up that
hill, in full sight of the shore, the pirates, when they see us, will
follow at once. The slaves should, therefore, be safe for a time if they
hide in that wood to the left of the spot we are making for. Will you
tell them to keep down by the water's edge among the bushes, and that
after crossing that crest, we will try to make a dash round, so as to
join them there. 'Tis probable that most of the pirates will start in
pursuit of us, and if we and the slaves make a rush for the shore we may
seize our boat, push off, and capture their craft, if there are but
a few left on board, knock out a plank and scuttle her, and then row
away."

"By St. George, your plan is a good one, Tresham! A right good scheme,
and we will try it."

He at once translated what Gervaise had said to the rowers, by whom
it was received with short exclamations of approval, for they were too
breathless and exhausted for talk. Already they could hear the yells of
the pirates, who, as the boat ran up on the beach were but a quarter of
a mile behind.

"Now, away for that wood!" Sir John cried, as he leapt ashore. "Now,
comrades, for a climb up the hill!"

It was a steep ascent, and more than once one had to be helped up by the
others, and then in turn to assist them to get up beside him. Louder and
louder rose the shouts of the pirates, but the knights did not glance
back until they reached the top of the hill; then they turned and looked
round. A swarm of men were climbing after them, and were already halfway
up the cliff.

"Heave them down!" Sir John exclaimed, pointing to some loose rocks, and
set the example by lifting a great stone and hurling it over the edge.
Harcourt and Gervaise at once did the same, and twenty or thirty rocks
were speedily sent rolling down the steep ascent, and yells, shouts, and
cries were heard below.

"That will check them a bit. Now let us be off," Sir John Boswell said,
and they at once started. After crossing a hundred yards of bare rock
they stood at the edge of another slope into a deep valley, beyond which
rose the central hill of the island. The valley ran right across,
and was filled with trees extending to the sea at either end. Running
rapidly down, the knights were within the shelter of the wood before the
Moslems had reached the brow behind them. A minute later they heard the
shouts of their enemies. Once in the wood they turned to the left, and
in a few minutes stood on the sea shore. It was a little bay some two
hundred yards across, and at either point the cliffs rose abruptly from
the water.

"We shall have to swim round the point," Sir John said.

"Take off your mail shirts. We will make our way along the rocks as far
as we can, and then drop them into the sea, otherwise they will know
that we have taken to the water."

They hurried along the rocks, and were able to make their way to within
fifty yards of the point; then, throwing their mail shirts into the sea,
they plunged in. All knew the importance of getting round before any of
the pirates, who would be searching the valley, came down on the shore,
and they swam their hardest until they rounded the corner. The wood
rang with the shouts of their pursuers, but no yell had risen from the
water's edge. A hundred yards farther, and they were able to land, and
were in a short time in the shelter of the trees that fringed the water
to the point where they had left the boat. There was no longer any
occasion for speed, and they made their way through the thick bushes and
undergrowth quietly, until they recovered breath after their exertions.
They had gone a few hundreds yards when from the bushes the slaves
suddenly rose up.

"All has gone well," Sir John said to them in their own language. "The
pirates are searching for us on the other side of the hill. There are
not likely to be many of them left here. We shall soon be in possession
of our boat again."

Followed by the slaves, they made their way forward until they stood at
the edge of the wood. Five or six pirates were standing on the shore.

"I expect they have been left there," Harcourt said, "to prevent the
slaves from carrying off the boat. They must have seen them run into the
wood. They won't reckon on our being with them."

Drawing their swords, the three knights rushed out, followed by the
slaves. They had but a hundred yards to run. The pirates, on seeing
them, raised a yell and drew their scimitars; but the sight of the
knights rushing upon them, when they had expected but a few unarmed
rowers, was too much for their courage, and when their assailants were
still fifty yards away they turned and fled. The fishing craft had been
run ashore but a few yards from their boat.

"Get her afloat, Harcourt, and bring her to the stern of the fisherman.
Now, Tresham, follow me."

Sir John Boswell climbed up on to the fishing boat, which was a craft of
some fifteen tons burden. She was entirely deserted, but the sail still
hung from the yard, and a fire was burning on a stone hearth, raised on
some logs of wood in the centre of the deck.

"Look for something to stave in a plank, Tresham."

Gervaise leapt down into the hold. There were some nets and spare sails
lying there, but nothing that would answer the purpose. He examined the
planks. The boat was very strongly and roughly built.

"There is nothing here, Sir John, that will do, and nothing short of a
heavy sledge hammer would suffice to smash one of these planks."

"There are a lot of them coming down the hill, Tresham. We have not many
minutes to spare, but we must disable the craft. They will soon be after
us again; they have run her hard and fast here, but when they all come
back they will soon get her off. Let us try one of these sweeps."

He lifted one of the heavy oars, and holding it upright he and Gervaise
together tried to drive the handle through the bottom. Again and again
they raised it and drove it down; but the plank was too strong, and too
securely fastened to the timbers.

"We must give it up," the knight said, with a sigh. "Fortune has
befriended us so far, Tresham, but she has deserted us at last. Another
three minutes, and we shall have thirty or forty of them upon us."

At this moment the lad's eye fell upon the fire.

"We shall manage yet," he exclaimed, and, seizing a blazing brand, he
jumped below and set fire to the sails stowed there; they were as dry as
tinder, and the flame shot up at once.

"That is good, Tresham," the knight said; "but they will put it out
before it has caught the boat."

"Not before it has burnt the sails," Gervaise replied. "Now for this
one," and he applied the brand to the lower edge of the great sail.
Without a word Sir John seized another brand, and fired the sail on the
other side of the deck. The flames flashed up, and a wild yell of rage
and alarm broke from the pirates, who were now rushing down towards the
beach.

"Now to the boat, Tresham; we have no time to lose if we would avoid
being pounded with stones."

They dropped over the stern into the boat. The galley slaves dipped
their oars into the water, and she shot away just as the foremost of the
pirates reached the edge of the water. A few stones were thrown; but
the pirates were so anxious about the craft, by which alone they could
escape from the island, that the majority at once climbed on board.

At a word from the knight, the slaves stopped rowing a hundred yards
from the shore. The sail was already consumed, and the yard and the
upper part of the mast were in flames. A dense smoke was rising from the
hold, and the pirates were throwing buckets of water down into it. In a
few minutes the smoke decreased.

"I thought that they would be able to put it out; but, as far as we are
concerned, it matters little. They have lost their sails, and as I saw
but four sweeps, we can travel five miles to their one. If we find the
galleys we will look in here on our way back, and if they have not left
we will fire that craft more effectually, and then the pirates will be
trapped, and we can leave them till we have fetched off Sir Louis
and his prizes, and then have a grand hunt here. We took no prisoners
before, and a hundred slaves will be a useful addition to our wall
builders. Now, Tresham, I have to thank you warmly, for Harcourt and I
doubly owe our lives to you. It was thanks to your quickness of wit that
we regained our boat, for I would not have given a ducat for our chances
had you not thought of that scheme. In the second place, we should
assuredly have been overtaken again had it not been for your happy
thought of crippling them by burning their sails. By St. George,
Harcourt, this young countryman of ours is as quick and as ready of wit
as he has shown himself a brave and gallant fighter! We have no lack of
sturdy fighters; but the wit to devise and to seize upon the right thing
in the moment of danger is vastly more rare. As for myself, I have no
shame that this lad, who is young enough to be my son, should have thus,
twice in a single hour, pointed out the way to safety. With sword and
battleaxe I can, I trust, hold my own with any man; but my brain is dull
when it comes to hatching schemes. If we live, we shall see Sir Gervaise
one of the most distinguished knights of the Order."

"While I feel gratified indeed, as I may well be by your commendation,
Sir John, I must, under your favour, say that you have given me a far
greater degree of credit than is my due. There was the fire, and there
was the sail, and the thought that the one would destroy the other was
simply a natural one, which might have occurred to a child. As to the
plan about the boat, seeing that there was the hill and the wood, it
flashed upon me at once that we might make a circuit and come back to
her."

"Just so, lad; but those thoughts did not flash upon my mind, nor upon
that of Harcourt. It is just because those sort of ideas do flash upon
the minds of some men, and not of others, that the first rise to the
rank of distinguished commanders, while the others remain simple knights
who would play their part in a charge or in the defence of a breach, but
would be of no account as leaders.

"Now row along steadily, men," he went on, speaking to the slaves.
"We are still in good time, for it was not an hour from the moment we
touched the island to our departure from it, and much of that time we
have gained by the speed with which you rowed before. At any rate, we
shall make out the island before sunset, and whether we arrive there a
little sooner or later matters little. Harcourt, hand me that wineskin
and a goblet. A draught will do us good after our climb and swim, and
these good fellows will be none the worse for a cup also."

Inspired with the hope of freedom, the slaves rowed steadily, and the
sun had just set when they entered a little inlet in the rocky isle that
was their place of rendezvous.

"Thanks be to the saints!" Sir John exclaimed, as they reached the
entrance. "There is Santoval's galley."

There was a stir on board the galley as the boat was seen approaching.
The knights had put on their armour, which they had found still lying
in the boat, the pirates, in their haste to pursue, having left her
unexamined, while those who had remained on guard had abstained from
touching anything until the return of their captain and comrades.

"Whence come you, Sir John, and what is the news? No misfortune has
befallen Ricord's galley, I hope?" the Spanish knight in command
shouted, as the boat came near enough for him to recognize the features
of its occupants.

"All is well," Sir John shouted back; "but we have taken more prizes
than we can manage, though not without hard fighting. Seven knights have
fallen, and at least ten others will not be able to buckle their armour
on again for some time to come, so I have been sent here to beg your
assistance; and it is well that it should be given speedily, for if more
pirate vessels come up before you join, Ricord and his companions will
be in a sorry plight."

By this time the boat had reached the side of the galley, and as Sir
John and his two companions stepped on board, the knights crowded
round to hear the details of the news. Exclamations of approval and
satisfaction arose when Sir John related the incidents of the fight, and
told them that the four vessels that had fallen into their hands formed
part of Hassan Ali's fleet.

"That is good news indeed, Boswell," Don Santoval said; "and I would I
had been there to take part in so gallant a fight. It is well you found
us here, for with four prizes on hand, and with half his strength dead
or disabled, Ricord must be in sore need of aid. We will start tomorrow
morning at daybreak. As all the ships were taken, there is little fear
of any of the other pirates hearing news of what has happened."

"I don't know," Sir John replied. "There were, as I told you, some two
hundred pirates left on the island. About half those, we know, seized a
fishing boat and escaped, for they chased us, and we have had as narrow
an escape from death as has ever fallen to my lot, though I have been
in over a score of hard fought battles. The rest may well have taken
another fishing boat and made off also, for we saw several craft along
the shores of the island. If so, they may have made for Hassan Ali's
rendezvous, wherever that may be, just as I made here, and by this time
some of his ships may be on the way there."

"By St. Anthony, this alters the situation gravely!" Don Santoval said.
"Fellow knights, we must lose no time in going to Ricord's assistance.
The slaves have had a long row today, but they must start on another.
Let them have a good meal to strengthen them, and a cup of wine each.
Whatever their scruples at other times, they never refuse wine when
there is heavy work to be done, knowing full well that a draught of it
helps them mightily in their labours. Your men must have rowed well, Sir
John, to have brought you here so quickly?"

"I have promised them their freedom," Sir John said; "and they shall
have it, even if I have to pay their value into the treasury. As I told
you, we were hotly pursued, for the craft with her sail went faster than
we with our oars; and, knowing the importance of bringing the news here,
I encouraged them by promising them their freedom, should we get away.
Not only did they row right manfully, but they proved faithful in our
extremity, and, when all seemed lost, stuck to us instead of deserting
and joining the pirates."

"But how did you get away, Sir John, if their craft outsailed you?"

"I owe my life entirely to the quick wit of my young countryman, Sir
Gervaise Tresham here." And Sir John then related the incidents of their
adventure on the island, his narrative eliciting warm expressions of
approval from the knights.

"Of course, you will go with us, Boswell?" Don Santoval said, when the
master of the slaves announced that these had eaten their meal, and were
ready.

"I must do so," Sir John replied. "I want you, on your way, to look in
at that island where we had so narrow an escape, and if we find their
craft still there we can destroy it. The place is directly in our
course; we shall, therefore, lose but little time in looking in. Of
course, they may have gone as soon as they got their vessel afloat,
but it is hardly likely. They would have no idea of my returning with
a galley so soon, and will probably set to to make a dozen more oars
before they start, for she had but four on board, which will scarce
suffice to send her a mile an hour through the water. Therefore, I fancy
they will not put off until tomorrow morning. If that is so, and we
destroy their craft, they will be trapped in the islet, and on our
return we can capture them all. I think of leaving Harcourt and Tresham
in the boat, in order that when Piccolomini's galley comes in, they may
direct him also to join us."

"He may be in at any moment; we met him three days since. He had
captured a pirate, and sent her off under charge of ten of his knights.
We agreed to meet him this evening; and as he is not here, he will
probably be in the first thing in the morning."

Gervaise and Harcourt took their places in the boat again. The galley
got up its anchor and started. Just as she reached the mouth of the
inlet another galley rounded the point and nearly ran into her.

"I am going to Ricord's assistance, Piccolomini," Don Santoval shouted.

"Is it urgent?" the commander of the galley shouted back. "We have had
a very long row, and can go no farther, unless his strait is a very sore
one."

"No. Come on in the morning. You will hear all the news from a boat
lying two hundred yards astern. Two young English knights are waiting in
her to give you the news. Ricord has made a fine capture. Row on, men."
And the galley proceeded on her way, while the newcomer proceeded up the
harbour.

Harcourt and Gervaise at once went on board, and the former gave the
Italian commander an account of the battle that had taken place, and
the capture of the four pirate vessels. After the exclamations
of satisfaction by the knights had ceased, he recounted their own
adventures, which were heard with lively interest.

"I hope indeed that Santoval will burn that fishing boat, and that we
shall capture the pirates," the commander said. "We have need of
more slaves to carry out the works at Rhodes. Now, let us to supper,
gentlemen, and then to sleep. In six hours we will be off again, for if
some more of these villains have escaped and carried the news to Hassan
Ali, our swords may be sorely needed by Ricord and Santoval tomorrow."



CHAPTER VI KNIGHTED


At three in the morning all on board the galley were astir. A ration
of bread and meat was served out to the slaves, and the boat was soon
afterwards under way. The rowers of the English knight's boat had been
warmly commended by the commander and placed in charge of the overseer,
with instructions that they were to be treated as free men. As soon as
the galley slaves set to work, however, they seated themselves on
the benches and double banked some of the oars, anxious to please the
knights. With the exception of those whose turn it was to be on watch,
most of the knights slept until daybreak.

"At the rate we are rowing, Gervaise," Harcourt said, as they went up
on to the poop together, "it will not take us very long to join our
friends. We are going through the water at fully six miles an hour; and
as we have already been two hours under way, in another three we shall
be there."

An hour and a half later they passed the island where they had landed.
The two young knights pointed out to the others the valley into which
they had descended, and the point round which they had swum. In a few
minutes they caught sight of the landing place.

"Look, Gervaise, there is something black showing just above the water."

"I see it. I think it is a line of timbers. There were certainly no
rocks there when we ran ashore."

"Then Santoval must have found the craft still there and burnt her," one
of the knights standing by remarked, "and the pirates are caged up. It
will take them some time to make a raft that will carry them to the next
island, and before they can do that we shall be back again. I shall be
sorry if they escape, for they are as ruthless a set of villains as sail
the seas."

The galley had traversed half the remaining distance when the sound of
a gun was faintly heard. For a moment there was an absolute hush on the
poop; then three or four shots in rapid succession were heard.

"Some more pirate ships must have come up," the commander exclaimed.
Then he shouted down to the slaves, "Row, men--row for your lives!
Overseer, do not spare your lash if any hang back from their work."

The galley had been travelling fast before, but her speed greatly
increased as the slaves rowed their hardest. Fast as she was travelling,
the impatience of the knights was extreme. They walked up and down the
deck, making vows of candles that should be burnt at the shrine of St.
John if they arrived in time to take a share in the fight, stopping at
times to listen to the sound of artillery, which was now so frequent as
to show that a severe engagement was being fought. Many of the younger
knights ran down to the waist and double banked the oars, and in a
shorter time than it seemed possible the galley arrived at the mouth of
the bay.

A desperate fight was going on. Ricord's ship lay, idle and deserted,
at anchor. Five pirate crafts surrounded Santoval's galley. Two of them
were alongside of her; the others were raking her fore and aft with
their shot. The young knights left the oars, sprang up to the poop and
joined in the shout of encouragement raised by the others, and then,
resuming their helmets and armour, stood ready to leap on board an enemy
as soon as they reached her. Piccolomini directed the helmsman to lay
him alongside one of the ships grappling with Santoval. As they came up,
their galley's cannon poured their fire into her, and a moment later the
knights sprang on board.

In the din of battle their shout had been unheard. The pirates thronging
the other side of their ship were intent only on overcoming the
resistance of the knights, and even the discharge of cannon had not
called their attention to their foe, until the latter, shouting the war
cry of the Order, fell suddenly upon them. A panic at once seized them.
Some were cut down almost unresistingly, but the great majority, running
to the bow or stern, threw themselves overboard and swam to the other
ships. The pirate ship on the other side of Santoval's galley instantly
threw off the grapnels and thrust off from her side, and, immediately
hauling in the sheets of the big sail, began at once to draw away, while
her three consorts made for the mouth of the bay.

"Back to your galley, comrades," Piccolomini shouted, "or with this
brisk wind they will escape us."

The knights at once crossed on to their own craft, the oars were got
out, and the chase began. A minute or two later Don Santoval followed
them, but soon gave up, as so large a number of the oars had been broken
when the two pirate ships ran alongside him, that it would have been
hopeless to pursue. The wind was blowing freshly, and was rapidly
increasing in strength, so that, in spite of the efforts of the galley
slaves, the pirates gradually drew away, running straight before
the wind, and aiding the effects of the sails with oars. Seeing the
hopelessness of the chase, Piccolomini abandoned it, after rowing for
two miles, and returned to the island. The other two galleys were lying
beside each other, and Piccolomini had his craft steered alongside them.

"Thanks, Piccolomini, for arriving so opportunely," Santoval, who was
seated on the deck leaning against the bulwarks, said, as his fellow
commander leapt on board, and came towards him.

"Would that I had arrived sooner, Santoval, for I see that you have been
grievously wounded!"

"Ay. One of the paynims' cannonballs has carried off both my legs below
the knee. The leech has been searing the wounds with a hot iron, and
says that he thinks I shall get over it; but if so I fear that my
fighting days are past, unless, indeed, I fight seated on a chair.
However, I ought not to grumble. I have lost many brave comrades, and
others are wounded more sorely than I am."

Sir Louis Ricord now joined them. He embraced Piccolomini warmly.

"I never heard a more welcome shout, Piccolomini, than that which you
gave when you fell upon the Moslems, for in truth the issue of the
conflict was doubtful. I was delighted when this morning at daybreak
Santoval's galley rowed in. We had all kept watch during the night,
thinking the pirates might obtain boats and make an attack upon us; and,
with but twenty of us fit to wield a sword, our position would have been
a bad one, and at any rate they might have recaptured the prizes. We
agreed that Santoval and his knights should land at once. This they did.
Sir John Boswell had of course told me how his boat had been chased by
a fishing craft, manned by a large number of the pirates, and that he
feared the rest might similarly have escaped, and might have gone to
bring some more of Hassan Ali's ships upon us.

"As soon as Santoval landed, some of the natives came down and told him
that there was not a pirate remaining there, the rest having started
in another boat a few minutes after the one that had chased Boswell.
Santoval left two of his men with orders to ascend to the highest spot
on the island, and to keep watch, and then brought the rest off to
his galley. Our first step was, of course, to send all the women and
children ashore. Then we consulted as to what had best be done if the
pirates should come back in force. We hoped, at any rate, that this
would not happen until you arrived. We expected that you would be here
before noon; but we decided that, should they get here before you, we
from our galley would embark on Santoval's, as it was better to fight in
one strongly manned boat than to divide our forces.

"It was scarce half an hour after Santoval came down before the men left
on the lookout appeared on the beach. On fetching them off, they told us
that as soon as they reached the top of the hill they saw five vessels
approaching with sails and oars, and that they would be here in half an
hour at the outside. We at once abandoned my galley, brought the rowers
and the wounded here, and prepared for the fight. As you saw, they ran
their two biggest ships alongside us, and for two hours the fight went
on. They were crowded with men, who in vain strove to get a footing on
our decks. Had we only had these two to deal with, we should have had
nothing to fear, heavily manned though they were; but the other three
kept sailing backwards and forwards, discharging their guns into us as
they passed, firing not only shot, but bags of bullets.

"Their gunners were skilful, and, as you see, they have completely
riddled our poop. Twenty knights have been killed, and eleven others are
sorely wounded. Scarce one has escaped unscathed. You may guess, then,
how welcome was your aid, which we had not expected for another three
hours. We were on the point of abandoning the waist and gathering on the
poop, which we could still have defended for a considerable time, when,
as if dropped from the skies, you fell upon the pirates, and turned the
tables. How is it that you were here so early?"

"We started at three o'clock, instead of waiting for daybreak. It
seemed, from the story of the two young knights, that it was possible
you might be attacked early, and, crippled as your command was, and with
four prizes on your hands, I deemed it best to come on as soon as the
rowers had had a few hours' rest."

"It is well that you did so; it would have been a grievous affair had
two of our galleys been captured by the pirates. It would have been a
blow to the prestige of the Order, and would have brought such strength
to Hassan Ali and other pirate leaders that nothing short of sending out
a fleet would have recovered our ascendancy; and as every ducat we
can spare has to be spent on the fortifications, it would have been a
misfortune indeed had we been obliged to fit out such an expedition at
present."

"Who have fallen, Sir Louis?"

"Five more of the knights of my galley--Pierre des Vignes, Raoul de
Montpelier, Ernest Schmidt, Raymond Garcia, and Albert Schenck. Here is
the list of the knights of Santoval's galley."

"'Tis a long list, and a sad one," Piccolomini said, after reading
the names. "With the seven who fell in your first fight, twenty-seven
knights have fallen, all brave comrades. Truly, we can ill spare such
a loss. It is true there are five prizes to show for it, and we have
struck Hassan Ali a blow that will resound through the Levant; but the
cost is heavy."

"It is indeed," Ricord agreed. "The four vessels are well filled with
rich spoil that the scoundrels had gathered, and I doubt not the one you
captured is equally rich. Still, had they been ten times as valuable,
the booty would be dearly purchased at such a price."

There was now a consultation among the leaders, and it was agreed that
six knights should be placed in each of the captured ships, with ten of
the galley slaves to work the sails, the others being equally divided
between the three galleys. They were, in the first place, to row to the
island where the pirates were imprisoned, and to slay or capture the
whole of them; afterwards they were to make direct for Rhodes; with
so numerous a fleet there was no fear of their being attacked. The
arrangements took but a short time to complete. An hour later they left
the port, the three galleys rowing ahead, while the five prizes, under
easy sail, followed them.

Sir John Boswell had been wounded, but not so seriously as to altogether
disable him, and he was in command of one of the prizes, having Sir
Adam Tedbond, Harcourt, Gervaise, and a German knight, with him. Sir
Marmaduke Lumley, who, after the first fight was over, was found, to the
surprise and pleasure of his comrades, to be still living, was, with the
rest of the wounded, on board one of the galleys. Two of the pirates
had fallen dead across him, and in the ardour of their attack on the
knights, he had lain there unnoticed until the return of Sir Louis and
his comrades had driven the pirates overboard. The leech was of opinion
that he might yet recover from his wound.

On arriving at the island, sixty of the knights disembarked. The woods
near the shore were first searched, but were found untenanted. They were
about to advance up the hill when a man appeared on the crest above them
waving a white flag. He was told to come down, and on his arrival said
that he was sent by his companions to offer to surrender, on the promise
that their lives should be spared. The knights were well pleased to be
saved the trouble of a long search through the woods, and the messenger
left at once to acquaint the pirates that their terms were accepted. In
a short time some eighty men made their way down the hill. On reaching
the beach they were disarmed, divided equally between the galleys, and
distributed among the rowers, filling up the places of those who had
been killed by the fire of the Moslems, and of the men drafted into the
prizes. They begged for food and water before they began work, and, on
being questioned, admitted that their surrender was due principally
to the fact that they had been unable to find food of any sort on the
island, and that after searching all over it no spring of water could be
discovered.

"In that case," Sir John Boswell said, "I have no doubt they have all
surrendered. I before thought it probable that a good many of them would
have remained hidden, trusting to be able to make a raft after we
had left, and so get away, believing rightly enough that we should be
disinclined to search every foot of the island for them. As it is, I
doubt not, all are here."

The little fleet anchored that night at the rendezvous, and after two
more days' rowing reached Rhodes, where the appearance of the three
galleys, followed by their five prizes, was greeted with great
acclamation. The news, however, that twenty-seven knights had fallen,
and that thirteen or fourteen others were very gravely wounded, damped
the satisfaction that every one had at first felt. D'Aubusson came
down as soon as they reached the mole, and was greatly affected when he
received Ricord's report.

"It is an unfortunate loss indeed, Sir Louis," he said, "though it may
be that the victory is not too dearly purchased. I do not speak of the
captured ships, nor of the spoil they contain, nor even of the slaves
you have brought us, welcome though all may be, but of the effect that
the defeat and capture of these craft of Hassan Ali's will have. It is
plain that the preparations the sultan is making, and the belief that
Rhodes is doomed, have so encouraged the infidels that they are becoming
really formidable at sea. This blow will show them that the Order has
yet power to sweep the sea of pirates. Since, however, this adventure
has taught us that a single leader like Hassan sails with at least nine
ships under his orders, it is clear that in future our galleys must not
adventure singly among the islands. It was fortunate indeed that first
Santoval, and then Piccolomini, arrived to your assistance. How was it
that they happened to come up so opportunely?"

"Sir John Boswell, with Ralph Harcourt and Gervaise Tresham; went in
a boat to the rendezvous we had arranged, and reached it after an
adventure, which I will leave Sir John to tell himself. I may say that
the two young knights named had in our encounter both obtained very high
credit amongst us all for the valour with which they fought. No one bore
himself more stoutly, and I am glad to take this early opportunity of
bringing their conduct before your notice. As you will learn from Sir
John, Gervaise Tresham afterwards showed a quickness of wit that was the
means of saving the lives of those with him, and I may say also of all
with me, for had they failed to reach the rendezvous we should have
fallen easy victims to the five ships Hassan Ali brought against us."

Sending for Sir John Boswell, the grand prior heard from him the details
of his adventure in the boat.

"I am right glad to hear you speak so warmly of Tresham, Sir John, for I
regard him as my special protege, and am pleased indeed to find that at
this outset of his career he has proved himself not only a brave knight,
but full of resource, and quick at invention. I think, Sir John, that
these two young knights have shown themselves well worthy of receiving
the honour of secular knighthood."

"Assuredly they have," Sir John agreed.

"Then, Sir John, will you bestow it upon them? The Order, as an Order,
does not bestow the honour, but its members do not forfeit their right
as knights to bestow it individually, and none among us are more worthy
of admitting them to your rank than yourself."

"I would gladly do it, Sir Peter; but the honour would come far better
from yourself, and would not only be more highly prized by them, but
would be of greater value in the eyes of others. I am but a simple
knight commander of the Order, and my name would scarce be known beyond
its ranks. But to be knighted by one whose name is known and honoured
throughout Europe would give them a standing wherever they went, and
place them on a level with the best."

"If that is your opinion, Boswell, I will myself undertake it, and
will do it at once; it were better done here than at a conclave of the
Order--now, when they are fresh from the battle. Let the knights be
summoned from the other galleys at once."

In a few minutes the whole of the knights were assembled on the poop of
the galley.

"Friends, and brother knights," D'Aubusson said. "First, in the name
of the Order, I have to thank you all most heartily for the brave deeds
that you have performed, and for the fresh honour you have won for it.
Every man has, as I learn from the three commanders, borne himself as
a true and valiant knight, ready to give his life in the cause of the
Order and of humanity. Two names have been specially brought before me
by commander Ricord, and by the good knight Sir John Boswell; they are
those of two young companions who, though knights of our Order, have not
yet received secular knighthood, and this, in the opinion of these
two knights, they have right worthily won. Sir Ralph Harcourt and Sir
Gervaise Tresham, step forward."

The two young knights, colouring with pleasure at this unexpected
honour, removed their helmets, and stood with bowed heads before the
grand prior. D'Aubusson went on, turning to the knights around him, "I
am about, comrades, to undertake the office of knighting them. Sir
Louis Ricord and Sir John Boswell stand as their sponsors. But before I
proceed I would ask you all whether you, too, approve, and hold that Sir
Ralph Harcourt and Sir Gervaise Tresham have proved themselves worthy of
the honour of secular knighthood at my hands?"

There was a general reply in the affirmative, the answer of the
survivors of Ricord's crew being specially emphatic. The grand prior
drew his sword, and the two young knights knelt before him, their
sponsors standing beside them.

"Sir Ralph Harcourt, you have now been four years a knight of this
Order, but hitherto you have had no opportunity of drawing sword against
the infidels. Now that the chance has come, you have proved yourself a
true and valiant brother of the Order, and well worthy of the secular
accolade. It is in that capacity that I now knight you. It is not the
grand prior of Auvergne, but Sir Peter D'Aubusson, of the grand cross of
St. Louis, who now bestows upon you the honour of secular knighthood."
He touched him lightly with the sword. He then turned to Gervaise.

"You, Sir Gervaise Tresham, are young indeed to receive the honour of
secular knighthood; but valour is of no age, and in the opinion of
your commanders, and in that of your comrades, you have proved yourself
worthy of the honour. You have shown too, that, as Sir John Boswell has
related to me, you are not only brave in action, but able, in the moment
of danger, to plan and to execute. You were, he tells me, the means of
saving his life and that of your comrade, and, by thus enabling him to
bear to the place of rendezvous the news of Sir Louis's danger, were
also the means of saving the lives of Sir Louis and his companions,
and of bringing home in safety the prizes he had taken. With such a
beginning it is easy to foresee that you will win for yourself some day
a distinguished position in the ranks of the Order, and are most worthy
of the honour I now bestow upon you." And he touched him with his sword.

The two young knights rose to their feet, bowed deeply to D'Aubusson,
and then retired, with their sponsors. They were at once surrounded by
the knights, who shook them by the hand, and warmly congratulated
them upon the honour that had befallen them, receiving equally warm
congratulations on their arrival at the auberge of the langue.

The five prizes turned out, when their cargoes were landed, to be much
more valuable than the cursory examination made by the knights had
warranted them in expecting. They contained, indeed, an accumulation of
the most valuable contents of the prizes taken by the pirates for a long
time previously; and as these desperadoes preyed upon Turkish
commerce as well as Christian, the goods consisted largely of Eastern
manufactures of all kinds. Costly robes, delicate embroidery, superb
carpets, shawls, goldsmiths' work, and no small amount of jewels, were
among the spoil collected, and the bulk of the merchandise captured was,
two days later, despatched in galleys to Genoa and Marseilles, to be
sold for the benefit of the Order.

D'Aubusson without hesitation carried out Sir John Boswell's promise to
the slaves who had rowed his boat. They were not only set at liberty,
but were each presented with a sum of money, and were placed on board a
galley, and landed on the mainland.

The English knights were all proud of the honour that had been won by
their young countrymen, the only exception being Robert Rivers, who was
devoured with jealousy at their advancement. He did not openly display
his feelings, for the reports not only of Sir John Boswell, but of the
other two English knights, were so strong that he dared not express
his discontent. He himself had twice been engaged with pirates, but
had gained no particular credit, and indeed had, in the opinion of his
comrades, been somewhat slack in the fray. He was no favourite in the
auberge, though he spared no pains to ingratiate himself with the senior
knights, and had a short time before been very severely reprimanded by
the bailiff for striking one of the servants.

"I have more than once had to reprove you for your manners to the
servants," the bailiff said. "You will now be punished by the septaine;
you will fast for seven days, on Wednesday and Friday you will receive
bread and water only, and will be confined to the auberge for that
period. The next time that I have reason to complain of you, I shall
bring the matter before the grand master, and represent to him that it
were best to send you home, since you cannot comport yourself to the
servants of the auberge as befits a knight of the Order. We have always
borne the reputation of being specially kind to our servants, and it
is intolerable that one, who has been but a short time only a professed
knight, should behave with a hauteur and insolence that not even the
oldest among us would permit himself. There is not one of the servants
here who was not in his own country of a rank and station equal, if not
superior, to your own; and though misfortune has fallen upon them, they
are to be pitied rather than condemned for it. In future, you are to
give no order whatever to the servants, nor to address them, save when
at meals you require anything. If you have any complaints to make of
their conduct to you, you will make them to me, and I will inquire into
the matter; and if I find they have failed in their duty they will be
punished. I shall keep my eye upon you in the future. There are other
faults that I have observed in you. More than once I have heard you
address Sir Gervaise Tresham in a manner which, were not duelling
forbidden by our rules, might bring about bloodshed; and from what I
have seen when I have been watching the exercises, he is as much your
superior in arms as he is in manner and disposition."

This reproof had greatly subdued Robert Rivers; and as he felt that
any display of his jealousy of Gervaise would be resented by the
other knights, and might result in serious consequences to himself, he
abstained from any exhibition of it when they returned to the auberge,
although he could not bring himself to join in the congratulations
offered to them. The next day, however, when he was talking to Ralph
Harcourt, he remarked, "From what I hear, Harcourt, D'Aubusson praised
young Tresham very highly. It seems to me that there was nothing at all
out of the way in what he did, and it was very unfair that he should be
selected for higher praise than yourself."

"It was not unfair at all," Ralph said warmly, for he was of a generous
nature, and incapable of the base feeling of envy. "Tresham did a great
deal more than I did. When we saw the pirate boat gaining so fast upon
us, it seemed to Sir John Boswell, as well as to myself, that there was
scarce a chance of escape, and that all we could do was to choose a spot
on which to make a stand, and then to sell our lives as dearly as we
could. I could see that Sir John was scanning the hill for a spot where
we could best defend ourselves. As to hiding on so small an island, with
a hundred men eager for our blood searching for us, it was well nigh
impossible. It was Tresham's suggestion alone that saved our lives and
enabled us to fetch succour to Sir Louis. Sir John, who is an old and
tried soldier, said that for quickness and merit of conception, the
oldest knight in the Order could not have done better; and he is not
one to praise unduly. I am four years older than Gervaise Tresham, but
I tell you that were he named tomorrow commander of a galley, I would
willingly serve under him."

"Well, well, you need not be angry, Harcourt, I have nothing to say
against Tresham. No doubt he had a happy thought, which turned out well;
but I cannot see that there was anything wonderful in it, and it seemed
to me unfair that one who is a mere boy should receive higher praise
than yourself, who, as I heard Sir John and Sir Adam Tedbond say last
night at the refectory, bore yourself right gallantly."

"I did my best," Ralph said shortly; "but there was small credit in that
when we were fighting for our lives. The most cowardly beast will fight
under such circumstances. When you see a Moslem rushing at you, scimitar
in hand, and know that if you do not cut him down he will cut you down,
you naturally strike as hard and as quickly as you can. You have never
liked Gervaise, Rivers. I am sure I don't know why, but you always speak
in a contemptuous sort of tone about him. True, it does him no harm,
but it certainly does you no good. For what reason should you feel a
contempt for him? Although so much younger, he is a better swordsman and
a better rider than you are. He is liked by every one in the auberge,
which is more than can be said of yourself; he is always good tempered,
and is quiet and unassuming. What on earth do you always set yourself
against him for?"

"I do not know that I do set myself against him," Rivers said sullenly.
"I own to having no great liking for him, which is natural enough,
seeing that his father was a Lancastrian, while we are Yorkists; but it
is not pleasant to see so much made of a boy, merely because D'Aubusson
has favoured him."

"I am certain," Harcourt said hotly, "that such an idea has never
occurred to any one but yourself. Sir Peter is a great man and will soon
be our grand master, but at present he is but grand prior of the langue
of Auvergne, and whether he favours Tresham or not is a matter that
concerns none of us. Gervaise is liked by us for his own good qualities.
He bears himself, as a young knight should do, respectfully towards his
seniors, and is ever ready to do a service to any one. No one has
ever seen him out of temper; he is always kind and considerate to the
servants, and when in command of parties of slaves at the public works
never says a harsh word to them, but treats them as if they were human
beings, and not brute beasts. Besides, though he is more skilful than
any of us with his sword, or indeed at any of the military exercises, he
is unassuming, and has no particle of pride or arrogance. It is for
all these things that he is liked, and the friendship of D'Aubusson
has naught whatever to do with it. It is not only D'Aubusson who has
prophesied that he will rise to a distinguished rank in the Order.
Boswell and Ricord both said the same, and I for one thoroughly believe
it. Is there one among us under the age of twenty--and I might go
farther--who has already won such credit for himself? One who when but
sixteen can make his mark in an Order like ours is certain to rise to
high office, and you and I may, before many years are over, be proud to
serve under him."

"That I will never do," Rivers said fiercely. "I would rather go and
bury myself for life in the smallest commandery in England."

"That may be," Harcourt retorted, his temper also roused, "But possibly
you might prefer that to fighting under any other leader."

"That is a reflection on my courage, Sir Ralph Harcourt, I shall lay
this matter before the bailiff."

"You can do as you like," Harcourt said disdainfully, "But I don't think
you will benefit by your pains."

When his temper cooled down Rivers acknowledged to himself the truth of
what Harcourt said. He was not in the favour of the bailiff, while both
Harcourt and Tresham stood at the present moment high in his estimation.
Any complaint would lead to an inquiry into the matter that had led
to the former's words, and even if Harcourt were reprimanded for using
them, he himself would assuredly not gain in the estimation of the
knights. Harcourt himself thought no more of the matter, though he
laughingly told Gervaise that Rivers was by no means gratified at their
both attaining the honour of secular knighthood, which virtually placed
them over his head.

"He is not a nice fellow," Gervaise said. "But naturally it must be
galling to him, and to a good many others who have not yet had the
chance of distinguishing themselves. I think it is very good of them
that they are all so kind and cordial. Of course it is otherwise with
you, who are as old as most of the other professed knights serving here;
but with me it is quite different, and as Rivers, somehow, has never
been very friendly with me, of course it is doubly galling to him. I
hope he will soon get an opportunity of winning his spurs too."

"That is just like you, Tresham. If I were in your place, I should
have no good wishes for a fellow who has never lost an opportunity of
annoying me, and that without the smallest cause of offence on my part."

"I am sure you would not wish him ill, Harcourt. You would make
allowance for him just as I do, and feel that if he had had the same
opportunities he would have obtained the same credit and honours."



CHAPTER VII A FIRST COMMAND


The first news that the knights heard on their return from their
expedition was that the Grand Master Orsini was seriously ill, and that,
at his advanced age, the doctors feared there was little hope of his
rallying. Gervaise felt a keen regret on hearing that the kind and
gentle old man, who had been for three years his master, was at the
point of death. Nevertheless, it was generally felt among the knights
that, in view of the dangers that threatened Rhodes, it was for the good
of the Order that a strong and capable man, whom all respected, and who
possessed their entire confidence, should at such a time be invested
with absolute power.

D'Aubusson had, indeed, for some years been the real head of the
community, but every question had, if only as a matter of form, to
be referred to the grand master, in order to obtain his approval and
signature. In the state of feebleness to which he had for some months
past fallen, much time was frequently lost before he could be made to
understand the questions referred to him. Moreover, orders of D'Aubusson
could be appealed against, his views thwarted, and his authority
questioned; and it was therefore felt that, much as they all respected
the old grand master, it would be an advantage to the Order when the
supreme authority passed into the hands of D'Aubusson.

Four days after the return of the expedition Orsini died. A few hours
later the grand council was convened, and D'Aubusson unanimously
elected grand master of the Order. The ceremony of the funeral of his
predecessor was an imposing one. Every knight of the Order in Rhodes was
present, together with a number of the leading natives of the Island;
and although Gervaise had, since his arrival on the Island, seen many
stately ceremonies, this far surpassed anything he had previously
beheld.

Gervaise had, at one of his first interviews with D'Aubusson after his
arrival at the Island, been advised by him to acquire some knowledge of
Turkish.

"There are but few knights of the Order who speak the language," he
said. "As a rule, while young men are ready to devote any amount of time
to acquiring dexterity in all martial exercises, they will bestow no
labour in obtaining knowledge that may be fully as useful to them as
skill in arms. In our dealings with the Turks, one or other party has
to employ an interpreter, and it is often by no means certain that these
men convey the full meaning of the speeches they translate. Again, we
have large numbers of Turkish slaves, and it is highly to be desired
that the knights should be able to give their orders to these men in
their own language. Lastly, a knight who has been taken prisoner by the
Turks--and even the bravest might meet with such a misfortune--would
find it an alleviation of his lot, and might be able to plan and carry
out his escape, did he speak Turkish well. I should strongly counsel you
to acquire a knowledge of the tongue."

Gervaise had intended to follow the advice of the grand prior, but the
duties of his office as page, and the time required for his military
exercises and his studies with the chaplain, had rendered it well nigh
impossible, during the first three years, to turn his attention to
learning Turkish. As soon as his pageship was at an end, and he found
that his duties included supervision of Turkish slaves, he felt the want
of a knowledge of the language, and from that time devoted an hour a day
to its study, employing one of the servants of the auberge, who was a
man of rank and education at home, to instruct him.

While he conscientiously spent this amount of time at the work, it was
the most disagreeable portion of this day's labour. The events, however,
that had taken place during the expedition had impressed him greatly
with the utility of a knowledge of Turkish, for had it not been for Sir
John Boswell's possessing some acquaintance with the language, it would
have been impossible to communicate with the rowers of their boat, or
to have arranged the plan by which they had escaped the pirates. He had
then and there determined that as soon as he returned to Rhodes he would
take the matter up in a very different spirit to that in which he before
approached it. He had on the way home spoken to Sir John, who had highly
approved of the determination.

"I myself, when I was a young knight of eighteen, was taken captive,
twenty-six years ago, at the time when the Egyptian fleet appeared
before Rhodes. Our galleys advanced to attack them, but under cover of
night they retired, and proceeding to the mainland took shelter under
the guns of a Turkish fort. We attacked them there; it was a desperate
engagement, but without any decisive advantage on either side. We lost
no less than sixty knights, the Egyptians seven hundred men; and their
fleet returned to Egypt. I and three others who were left wounded on the
deck of one of their ships we had boarded, but failed to capture, were
carried to Egypt, and remained there captive for six months, when we
were ransomed by the Order.

"During that time I learnt enough of their language, which is akin to
Turkish, to be able to make myself understood and to understand what was
said to me. I have kept up that much for intercourse with the slaves
and servants at Rhodes, and have found it very useful. I consider, then,
that you will do well to acquire their tongue; it will be useful not
only to yourself, but to others, and when we get back I will, if you
like, ask the bailiff to free you from all duty in order that you may
devote yourself to it."

The head of the langue at once granted Sir John's request.

"I would," he said, "that more of our young knights would give a portion
of their time to study; but most of them look to returning home when
their term of service here has expired. Many think only of amusement,
and all imagine that advancement is best achieved by valour. Tresham has
already distinguished himself very greatly; so much so, that I think
it would be well if he did not go on another expedition for a time, but
stayed here while others have the opportunity of doing the same. Were we
to send him out with the next galleys that start, I should be accused of
favouritism, and the lad, who is now deservedly popular with all, would
be regarded with envy, and possibly even with dislike.

"At the same time, after what he has done I should have difficulty in
refusing, were he to volunteer to sail in the next galley that sets out.
The desire, then, on his part to learn Turkish is in all ways opportune.
It will, too, in the long run be of great advantage to him in the Order,
will give him weight, and bring him into prominence. I do not think
there are six in the Order who can fairly translate a Turkish document;
there are but two who could write a reply in the same language. Inform
him, then, that from the present time he will be excused from all work,
except, of course, to join in ceremonials when all are required to be
present; and if you, Sir John, will pick out from among the servitors
here one who is well instructed and educated, and capable of writing as
well as reading his language, I will similarly relieve him of all other
work, and place him at the disposal of young Tresham. Tell the lad that
I hope he will persevere until he obtains a complete knowledge of the
tongue. You can mention to him what I have said as to my opinion of the
advantage the knowledge of it will be to him in the Order."

Gervaise accordingly devoted himself to study. His instructor was a Turk
of fine presence. He had been a large landowner in Syria, and held
a high official position in the province, but had been captured in a
galley on his way to Constantinople, whither he was proceeding on an
official mission. He was delighted with his new post. Gervaise, both as
the youngest member of the community, and from the kind manner in
which he always spoke to the servants,--all of whom had acquired some
knowledge of English,--was a general favourite among them, and the Turk
was glad that he was to be thrown with him. Still more he rejoiced at
being appointed his instructor, as it relieved him from all menial work
which, although preferable to that to which the bulk of the slaves were
condemned, yet galled his spirit infinitely.

Now that he had entered upon the work with the approbation of his
superior, and a conviction of its great utility, Gervaise set to work
with the same zeal and ardour which he had exhibited in his military
exercises. During the heat of the day he sat in the shade reading and
writing with his instructor. In the cool of the morning and afternoon
he walked with him on the walls, or in the country beyond them. After
sunset he sat with him in an unfrequented corner of the roof, all the
time conversing with him, either of his own country, or that of his
instructor.

At first this was difficult, and he had to eke out the Turkish words
he had acquired with English; but it was not long before there was no
necessity for this. His intercourse for ten or twelve hours a day with
this Turk, and the pains taken by his instructor, caused him to acquire
the language with extreme rapidity. Of course, he had to put up with
a great deal of banter from the younger knights upon his passion for
study. Sometimes they pretended that his mania, as they considered it,
arose from the fact that he was determined to become a renegade, and was
fitting himself for a high position in the Turkish army. At other times
they insisted that his intention was to become a Turkish dervish, or to
win a great Turkish heiress and settle in Syria. But as he always bore
their banter good temperedly, and was ready occasionally to join them in
the sport when assaults-at-arms were carried on, they soon became tired
of making fun of him.

After nine months' constant work, the young knight's studies were
abruptly stopped by the receipt of a letter from the Pasha of Syria,
offering a considerable sum for the ransom of his instructor. The
request was at once acceded to, as it was the policy of the knights to
accept ransoms for their prisoners, both because the sums so gained
were useful, and because they were themselves compelled sometimes to pay
ransom for members of the Order. Suleiman Ali was, it was arranged, to
be put on board an Egyptian craft bound for Acre, a safe conduct having
been sent for the vessel and her crew, and for a knight, who was to
receive the ransom from the pasha.

"At any rate, Sir Gervaise," the Turk said, when the young knight
expressed great regret at his leaving them, "our position as instructor
and pupil would have come to an end shortly. For the last three months
there has been but little teaching between us; we have talked, and that
has been all, save that for a short time each day you read and wrote.
But there has been little to teach. You speak the native language now
as fluently as I do, and would pass anywhere as a Syrian, especially
as there are slight differences of speech in the various provinces. I
believe that in Syria you would not be suspected of being anything but
a native, and assuredly you would be taken for a Syrian elsewhere.
You have learnt enough, and it would be but a waste of time for you, a
knight and a soldier, to spend another day in study."

On the following day Gervaise was, to his surprise, sent for by the
grand master. Except on the occasion of a few public ceremonies, he
had not seen D'Aubusson since he had been elected to his present
high dignity, and the summons to attend at the palace therefore came
unexpectedly.

"We have become quite strangers, Tresham," the grand master said
cordially when he entered. "I have not forgotten you, and have several
times questioned your bailiff concerning you. He tells me that you
have become quite an anchorite, and that, save at your meals and for an
occasional bout-at-arms, you are seldom to be seen. I was glad to
hear of your devotion to study, and thought it better to leave you
undisturbed at it. Yesterday evening I sent for your instructor. He is
a man of influence in Syria, and I wished to learn how he was affected
towards us, now that he is about to return there. We talked for some
time, and I then asked him what progress you had made, and was surprised
and pleased to find that in his opinion you could pass anywhere as a
native, and that you were perfectly capable of drawing up and writing
any document I might desire to send to the sultan or any of his
generals. This is far more than I had expected, and shows how earnestly
you must have worked. Your knowledge may prove of much assistance to the
Order, and believe me, the time you have spent in acquiring it may prove
of much greater advantage to you in your career than if you had occupied
it in performing even the most valiant deeds, and that at some future
time it will ensure your appointment to a responsible office here. It
was partly to assure you of my approbation that I sent for you, partly
to inform you that I have appointed you to proceed with Suleiman Ali as
the knight in charge of the vessel, and to receive the ransom agreed on,
upon your handing him over. The office is an honourable one and one of
trust, and it is the first fruits of the advantages you will gain by
your knowledge of Turkish. No, do not thank me. I am selecting you
because you are better fitted than any knight I can spare for the
mission, and also, I may say, because the choice will be pleasing
to Suleiman Ali, whose goodwill I am desirous of gaining. Before now
Turkish provinces have thrown off their allegiance to the sultan. They
have, I must admit, been usually reconquered, but such might not be
always the case; and if such an event happened in Syria, this man's
influence and goodwill might be of great advantage to us, as it might
well suit us to ally ourselves with Syria against Constantinople. I am
glad to say that I found him at least as well disposed as any man could
be who had been some years in slavery. He admitted that, for a slave,
he had been kindly and gently treated, and added that any unpleasant
memories he might have retained had been obliterated by the nine months
of pleasant companionship spent with you."

When Gervaise returned to dinner at the auberge, and informed Ralph
Harcourt and the other young knights that he had been appointed to take
charge of the vessel in which Suleiman Ali was to be conveyed to
Acre, the statement was at first received with incredulity. It seemed
incredible that the youngest knight in the langue should be chosen for
such a mission, involving as it did a separate command. Even the older
knights, when the news was passed down the table, were surprised.

"I must say that I am astonished at the grand master's choice. Sir
Gervaise Tresham doubtless distinguished himself greatly some months
since, but from that time he has not been out with the galleys, or,
indeed, done anything that would seem to recommend him for so marked a
favour as a separate command."

"I don't know, Wingate," Sir John Boswell said. "It seems to me that
when a young knight of seventeen eschews all pleasure, refrains from
volunteering for service at sea, and spends his whole time in study, he
does distinguish himself, and that very greatly. Of the three or four
hundred young knights here I doubt if one other would have so acted.
Certainly, none to my knowledge have done so. Yet I do not suppose
that D'Aubusson selected him for this duty as a reward for so much self
denial and study, but because by that self denial and study he is more
fitted for it than any of us here, save some three or four knights in
the other langues, all of whom are in too high a position to be employed
in so unimportant a duty. He can speak Turkish--not a few score of
words and sentences such as I can, but, as Suleiman Ali tells me, like a
native. Were one of us chosen for this mission, it would be necessary to
send an interpreter with him; and every one knows how hard it is to do
business in that manner. It seems to me that the grand master has acted
wisely in putting aside all question of seniority, and employing the
knight who is better suited than any other for it."

"You are right, Boswell," the bailiff said. "I really have been
astonished at the manner in which Tresham has given himself up to study.
It would have been a natural thing had he, after gaining so much credit,
been anxious and eager to gain more. When you spoke to me about his
determination to learn Turkish, I thought he would speedily tire of it,
and that when the next galley sailed, his name would be among the list
of volunteers for the service. I am sure, comrades, that there are few,
if any, among us who would not infinitely prefer fighting the Moslems
to spending our whole time in learning their language; and I for one
consider the fact that he has for nine months laboured so incessantly
and assiduously that he has come, as Boswell says, to speak it like
a native, is even more to his credit than the deed for which he was
knighted."

This conversation took place at the upper end of the table, and was not
heard at the lower end where the younger knights were seated.

"I am not chosen from favour," Gervaise said hotly, to one of his
companions who had asserted that this was so. "I am simply chosen
because I can speak Turkish."

"How much Turkish can you speak?" one of them laughed. Gervaise turned
to the Turkish servant behind them, and said, in his language, "Hassan,
Sir Giles Trevor wishes to know how well I speak Turkish. You have heard
me talking with Suleiman Ali. Will you give him your opinion about it?"

The man turned gravely to Sir Giles Trevor.

"My lord," he said, in English, "Sir Gervaise Tresham, he speaks Turkish
same as I do. If he dress up in Turk clothes I suppose him Turk, not
know he Christian by his speech."

Exclamations of surprise broke from the young knights.

"Well, you have earned the appointment, Tresham," Ralph Harcourt said
heartily. "You always told me when I asked you that you were getting on,
but I had not the least idea that you were getting on like this. And can
you read and write the Turkish language?"

"Well enough for practical purposes, Ralph. At any rate, I wrote a
complimentary letter this morning from the grand master to the governor
of Syria, and the bailiff of Spain, who was, as you know, for ten years
a prisoner among the Turks, read it through at D'Aubusson's request,
to see that there was no error in it, and was good enough to pass it
without alteration."

"I would give a good deal," Sir Giles Trevor said, "if I could follow
your example, and shut myself up for nine months with an infidel to
study his language; but I could not do it if my life depended on it. I
should throw myself off the wall at the end of the first fortnight."

"I don't pretend that I can do what Tresham has done," Ralph Harcourt
said. "I always hated our lessons with the chaplain, who gave me the
character of having the thickest head of any of his pupils; but I
vow"--and he kissed the handle of his dagger--"I will spend half an hour
a day in trying to learn something of Turkish. Of course, I know that
such time will not be enough to learn a great deal; but if one could get
up just enough to be able to give orders to the slaves, to question
the captain of a vessel one has captured, and to make them understand
a little, if by bad luck one fell into their hands, it would be quite
enough for me. I am sure sometimes one is quite at a loss how to pass
the hours when the sun is at its hottest, and if one tried one ought to
be able to pick up a little without much trouble. Look at the servants;
there is not one of them but speaks a little English. And if an infidel
can learn enough English to get on with, without any regular study, I
can't see why we shouldn't be able to learn enough Turkish in the same
way."

Two or three of the other young knights declared that they too would
devote a short time during the heat of the day to learning Turkish, and
they agreed to begin together forthwith with one of the servants, who
spoke English most fluently. Robert Rivers was not present, for he had
returned to England six months before, to take up his residence at the
House in Clerkenwell, in order that he might bring to bear the interest
of his many powerful friends to secure for him an appointment as
commander of one of the estates of the Order in England. His departure
had caused general satisfaction among the other knights, whom his
arrogance and ill temper had frequently irritated. Gervaise especially
was glad at his leaving the Island, for after he received the honour
of knighthood, Rivers made a point of always addressing him with an
affectation of deference and respect that often tried his temper to the
utmost.

"It is well that Rivers has gone," Ralph said, laughing, "for I don't
know how he would have supported the chagrin your appointment would have
given him. He was devoured with jealousy as it was, but this would have
been a trial beyond bearing."

"I am heartily glad he has gone," Gervaise said gravely. "I have put up
with a great deal from him, but I don't think I could have stood much
more. If our vows had not forbidden our fighting I should have called
him to account long ago; but the only thing else to do was for me
to lodge a formal complaint before the bailiff, of his continually
offensive bearing and manner, which I could not bring myself to do, and
indeed there was no special matter that would have seemed to justify me,
no single speech that in itself would warrant such grave action on my
part. I used to wish over and over again that we could but meet in some
quiet spot in England, both unarmed, and could there settle the matter
in good English fashion, with our fists, or even with a couple of
quarterstaffs."

The others laughed.

"That would be a very unknightly form of contest."

"I care not for that," Gervaise replied. "It would be a very
satisfactory one anyhow, and quite serious enough for the occasion. His
sneers and petty insults were not sufficient to justify the drawing of
blood, and there has been enough of that shed for the last twenty years
in England without two brother knights betaking themselves to their
swords against each other. But a sound thrashing would have done neither
of us harm, and if it had fallen to his lot to get the largest share of
it, it might have done him some good."

"He thinks he is sure of an appointment," one of the others said, "but
he has been so frequently in trouble here that it is likely that the
official report, which is always sent home to the grand prior when the
knights return to England, will be so unfavourable that even the most
powerful influence will fail to obtain him a post. If so, we may have
him back here again, especially if the Turks carry out their threat of
assailing us, for an appeal will be made to all the grand priors for
knights to aid in the defence."

That evening Gervaise went again to the palace to receive final
instructions.

"The craft in which you are to travel is an Egyptian trader. As at
present war has not been formally declared between us and the sultan,
peaceful traders, as you know, carry on their avocations unmolested
either by the warships of the Turks or by ours; they do not enter our
ports without a special permit, and the crews are never allowed to land,
in order that no detailed account of our fortifications may be taken
to the sultan. Moreover, brawls might arise between them and the native
population, or they might aid slaves to escape. However, you will be
altogether safe from interference from Turkish war vessels, and if
overhauled by one of them the safe conduct will be sufficient to prevent
interference with you. But it is not so with pirates. They will plunder
their own countrymen as readily as they will Christians, and the safe
guard of the governor of Syria will be of no use whatever to you. In
this consists the danger of your mission. I cannot send one of our war
galleys on such an errand, and if there are not enough knights on board
to beat off any pirate, the fewer there are the better. I hear that
the craft is a fast sailor, and as the crew will be as anxious to avoid
pirates as you, they will do their best to escape. I leave it to you to
take any route. You can either sail hence direct for Acre, or you can
coast along the shores of Anatolia and Syria, lying up at night in bays.

"Should you be overtaken I do not think it would be of any use for you
to disguise yourself, for some of the crew would be sure to denounce
you. Should the worst happen, and you are captured by pirates, you will
of course in the first place show them your safe conduct, and if I find
that you do not return I shall send at once to the governor of Syria,
complaining of your capture when furnished with his safeguard, and
requesting him to order a search for you to be made at every port on the
coast, with instructions that you are to be at once released, and either
sent to him for return hither, or placed on board a craft bound for any
Christian port; while you, on your part, will endeavour to acquaint
the Turkish authorities with the fact that you have been seized while
travelling with a safe conduct from the governor of Syria.

"But, more than from any efforts on your part or mine, I rely upon
Suleiman Ali, who will, I am sure, as soon as he is set on shore, lose
no time in acquainting the pasha of your capture, and in calling upon
him to interfere in your favour. In that case, the worst that could
befall you would be a temporary detention, unless, indeed, the pirates
should take you to Egypt. As that country is friendly with us at
present, since Egypt dreads the ever increasing power of the Turks, it
will be but a question of ransom, for I have secret agents there who
will inform me without delay of the arrival of a Christian captive."

"I understand, sir, and will do my best in the matter. If I am captured
I trust that an opportunity of escape will soon present itself, for I
should, if taken, conceal from my captors the fact that I understand
their language, and should thus, if I could evade my guard, have every
chance of escaping, as in a native dress I could meet and converse with
those hunting for me, without their having a suspicion of my being the
white slave for whom they were in search."

"Once at Acre you will be safe. But do not land unless it is absolutely
necessary, for you might fall a victim to the fanaticism of its
inhabitants, and no knight has ever set foot on shore there since the
ill fated day when the Moslems wrested it from us, bathed the ruined
walls with the best blood of our Order and the Templars', and destroyed
the last hope of our ever recovering the Holy Sepulchre."

The next morning at daybreak Gervaise and Suleiman Ali went on board the
Egyptian trader, and sailed for Acre. The current of opinion had changed
at the auberge when the knights came to think over the mission on which
Gervaise was about to start, and the slight feeling of jealousy with
which the younger knights had received the news was entirely dissipated.
While it did not seem to them that there was any chance of his
distinguishing himself, they perceived, as they thought it over, the
considerable danger there was of capture by pirates, and Ralph and some
of his companions came down to the mole to see him off, with feelings in
which envy bore no part whatever.

"I see now, Gervaise, that it is truly no holiday excursion on which you
are starting. I should envy you greatly were you going in command of an
armed galley, prepared to beat off any craft that might try to overhaul
you; but, going alone as you are, it is a very different thing. Should
pirates meet you, you could offer no resistance, and your position would
be a perilous one indeed. However, I think you are born to good luck,
and am confident that your patron saint will look after you, and
therefore expect to see you back here in a fortnight's time at the
outside."

"I hope so with all my heart, Ralph. It will be no fault of mine if I
tarry."

"Will you keep the open sea, or skirt the land, Tresham?" one of the
others asked.

"I shall keep the open sea. The grand master left me to choose my
course; but I think there is more danger by the coast--where pirates may
be hiding in unfrequented bays, in readiness to pounce upon a passing
craft--than in the open sea, where we should have at least the advantage
that we could not be taken by surprise, and might make a race of it. But
the sun will be up in a few minutes, and my orders were to set out at
sunrise, so I must say goodbye at once."

As soon as the vessel was under way, Gervaise took a seat on the poop by
the side of Suleiman Ali, and related to him the conversation he had had
with the grand master.

"The risk that you will run has not escaped me," the Turk said, "and
indeed, I now regret that you were chosen as my escort. I almost wish
that my son had not purchased my freedom at the present time, since it
involves the risk of you losing yours. There is no doubt that the sea
swarms with pirates; the sultan is too busy with his own struggles for
Empire to bestow any attention upon so small a matter. The pashas and
the officers of the ports have not the power, even had they the will,
to put down piracy in their districts, and indeed are, as often as not,
participators in the spoils. Your Order, which, years back, scoured the
seas so hotly that piracy well nigh ceased, have now for forty years
been obliged to turn their attention chiefly to their own defence. They
possess a comparatively small fleet of galleys, and their wealth is
expended on their fortress.

"What with Egypt and the sultan their hands are too full for them to act
as the police of the sea, and the consequence is that from every port,
bay, and inlet, pirate craft set out--some mere rowboats, some, like
those under the command of Hassan Ali, veritable fleets. Thus the
humblest coasters and the largest merchant craft go alike in fear of
them, and I would that the sultan and Egypt and your Order would for two
or three years put aside their differences, and confine their efforts to
sweeping the seas of these pests, to storming their strongholds, and to
inflicting such punishment upon them as that, for a very long time to
come, peaceful merchants might carry on their trade without fear.

"I heard you tell the captain that he was to steer straight for Acre,
and I think you are right in avoiding the coast, where the most harmless
looking fishing boat may carry a crowd of pirates hidden in her hold. At
the same time, if you will take my advice you will head much more to
the south, so as to be out of the regular track of ships making from
Constantinople or the islands to Acre. You may meet pirates anywhere,
but they are assuredly thicker along the more frequented routes. The
safest plan of all would probably be to bear south, and strike the
Egyptian coast well to the east of the mouth of the Nile. Thence, till
you get to Palestine, the country is utterly barren and uninhabited,
while, running up the coast to Palestine, there are, save at Jaffa, no
ports to speak of until you arrive at Acre; and besides, the inhabitants
there, even if pirates, would not venture to disregard the pasha's
safe conduct. I do not by any means say that such a course would be
absolutely safe. You may meet with vessels on your way south, and
doubtless some of them cruise off the barren coast I speak of, to
intercept traders to and from Egypt and Acre, and other Syrian ports;
for the trade carried on is considerable, and, although of the same
religion, the Turks are disposed to view the Egyptians as enemies rather
than as friends, and would have even less hesitation in plundering them
than in robbing their own countrymen."

"I think that your suggestion is a good one, and will follow it, at any
rate. The course is a good deal longer, but that is comparatively of
little moment. The great thing is to carry you safely to Acre."

"And to get back with equal safety," Suleiman said, with a smile.

"That is quite as important in my eyes; in fact, of the two, I would far
rather that we were captured on our voyage thither, for in that case I
might be able to arrange for the ransom of both of us."



CHAPTER VIII AN EVENING AT RHODES


Suleiman Ali's advice was carried out. It added considerably to the
length of the voyage; but they saw only one doubtful craft. She was
lying close inshore under the shadow of the sand hills, and they did
not see her until she hoisted her sails and shot out from the land. They
were, however, three miles distant from the land at the time, and the
wind was blowing from the north; consequently the pirate was dead to
leeward. Every sail was set at once on board the trader, and, being a
fast sailor, she maintained her position until nightfall. The wind then
dropped, and just as the light faded they could see that the vessel
behind them had put out her sweeps. The trader kept up her sails until
certain that she could be no longer seen; then the canvas was lowered,
and the crew took to the boats and towed her due north.

The night was fortunately a dark one, and those watching anxiously from
the deck of the trader were unable to discern her pursuer as she passed
behind them. As soon as they were well assured that she must have
gone on, the boats were got in, the sails hoisted again, and, taking
advantage of every light flaw of wind, they proceeded on their course.
In the morning the sails of the galley could be seen on the horizon, but
the distance was too great for her to take up the pursuit again with any
chance of success, and the trader continued her course to Acre without
seeing more of her.

As soon as the trader entered the port, the Egyptian captain went on
shore, taking with him a copy of the safe conduct and the letter from
the grand master to the pasha. Going to the residence of the governor,
he handed these to him, saying that he had on board Aga Suleiman Ali,
and a knight who was charged to deliver him up on payment of the ransom.

"I have been expecting you," the governor said. "I have received a
letter from the pasha, stating that he had written to the grand master
respecting the ransom of the aga, and sending me the amount which
Suleiman's son had offered. The young man was not of age when his father
was captured, but he is so now, and was therefore able to raise the
sum required. I will go down to the port with you myself, hand over
the ransom, and welcome Suleiman, whom I know well, back from his
captivity."

The transfer was speedily made; a heavy purse was handed to Gervaise,
and Suleiman was a free man.

"Send me word, if you can, when you return to Rhodes," the latter said,
as he bade farewell to the young knight. "I shall be anxious until I
hear. Fortune was with us as we sailed hither, but it may desert you
on your return. Should aught befall you, tell your captors that if they
bring you to me I will pay any ransom that they could, in fairness,
require. Should they refuse to do this, send, if possible, a messenger
to me, and on receipt of your message I will send a trusty man to
purchase your freedom. You have treated me as a friend and an equal, and
a friend I shall always remain."

The vessel was to remain four days in port, to discharge her cargo and
take in another, and Suleiman had talked of remaining at Acre until she
sailed, but Gervaise protested strongly against this.

"You have your family, from whom you have been so long separated,
awaiting your return with anxiety, and I pray you to make no stay on my
account. I am well content to remain on board here, and to look at the
city which has so often been the theatre of great deeds--which Richard
the Lion Heart captured, and which so many of the Hospitallers died to
defend. I was charged by the grand master not to land, and indeed I feel
myself that it would be an act of folly to do so. There are doubtless
many on shore who have relatives and friends now working as slaves among
us, and some of these might well seek to avenge them by slaying one of
the Order. I feel your kindness, but it would be a pain to me to know
that you were lingering here on my account, when you must be longing to
embrace your children."

The four days passed rapidly. Gervaise had, at the suggestion of the
governor, laid aside the mantle and insignia of the Order.

"If you do not do so," he said, "I must place a strong guard of soldiers
on board, in order to ensure that the pasha's safeguard is not violated.
Sailors are a turbulent race, and were you recognised here they might
make a tumult, and slay you before a word of what was going on reached
me. In any case I shall place two soldiers on board until you leave the
port."

On the morning of the fifth day the sails were got up, and the vessel
sailed out from the port. Fortune again favoured them, and they reached
Rhodes without any adventure. Gervaise went at once to the palace, and
handed over the purse of gold to the treasurer. He then sent up his name
to the grand master, and was immediately conducted to his room.

"I am glad to see you back, Tresham. I have been uneasy about you. Have
you fulfilled your mission without adventure?"

"Without any adventure, sir, save that we were once chased by a pirate
on our way east, but escaped in the darkness. Save for that, the voyage
has been wholly uneventful. I have received the ransom, and handed the
purse to your treasurer."

"I am glad that your first command has turned out so well. I will see
that you do not lack employment; and the fact that you are able to act
as interpreter will ensure you a welcome on any galley. At present,
however, it is not my intention to send out many cruisers. Every life
now is precious, and no amount of spoil that can be brought in will
counter balance the loss of those who fall. However, I may find some
mission on which you can be employed. I know that you love an active
life; and as, for nine months, you have put a rein on your inclinations,
and have devoted yourself wholly to study, so that you might be of
greater use to the Order, you have a good right to any employment in
which your knowledge can be utilised."

On his arrival at the auberge, Gervaise was very heartily greeted by the
younger knights.

"I told you you were born lucky, Gervaise," Ralph Harcourt said. "There
has been more than one wager made that you would be captured; but I,
for my part, was confident that your good fortune would not desert you.
Still, though not surprised, we are delighted to see you again. Now tell
us about your voyage."

Gervaise gave a brief account of the adventure with the pirate, and then
described the visit of the governor to the ship.

"Did he say anything to you?"

"He was courteous and solemn; just the sort of man you would fancy a
Turkish governor should be. He looked a little surprised when I accosted
him in Turkish, but asked no questions at the time, though I daresay he
inquired afterwards of Suleiman how I came to speak the language. The
only time he actually said anything was when he requested that I would
not wear the mantle of the Order while in port, as sailors were a
turbulent race, and it might lead to an attack upon me; and as he was
responsible to the pasha that his safe conduct should be respected, it
would be necessary, if I declined to follow his advice, to keep a strong
body of soldiers on board. As this would have been a horrible nuisance,
especially as I wanted to enjoy in quiet the view of the city, with its
castle and walls, I acceded at once to his request, which seemed to me
a reasonable one. He did send two soldiers on board, but they remained
down in the waist, and did not interfere with my pleasure in any way."

"Next to Jerusalem, how I should like to see Acre!" Ralph Harcourt
exclaimed. "It is, of all other cities, the most closely connected with
our Order. We helped to win it, and we were the last to defend it.
We have heard so much about the fortress, and it has been so often
described to me, that I know the situation of every bastion--at least,
as it was when we left it, though I know not what changes the Turks may
since have made."

"That I know not, Ralph. Of course, I only saw the seafront, and it was
upon the land side that the attack was made. We know that the breaches
were all repaired long ago, and it is said that the place is stronger
than ever. From the port all was solid and massive. It is indeed a grand
and stately fortress. Here we have done all that was possible to make
Rhodes impregnable, but nature did nothing for us; there nature has done
everything, and the castle looks as if it could defy the assaults of an
army, however large. And indeed, it was not wrested from us by force.
The knights, when the city walls were stormed and the town filled with
their foes fought their way down to the water's edge and embarked there,
for they were reduced to a mere handful; and however strong a castle may
be, it needs hands to defend it. Still, it well nigh moved me to tears
to see the Turkish banner waving over it, and to think how many tens
of thousands of Christian soldiers had died in the effort to retain the
holy places, and had died in vain."

"I wonder whether the Turks will ever be forced to relinquish their hold
of the holy places?"

"Who can tell, Sir Giles?" the bailiff, who had come up to the group
unobserved, said quietly. "Certainly not in our time--not until the
Moslem power, which threatens not only us, but all Europe, has crumbled
to dust. So long as Acre remains in their power there is no hope. I say
not but that by a mighty effort of all Christendom, Palestine might be
wrested from the infidels, as it was wrested before; but the past shows
us that while men or nations can be stirred to enthusiasm for a time,
the fire does not last long, and once again the faithful few would be
overwhelmed by the odds that would be brought against them, while Europe
looked on impassive, if not indifferent. No, knights; the utmost that
can be hoped for, is that the tide of Moslem invasion westward may be
stayed. At present we are the bulwark, and as long as the standard of
our Order waves over Rhodes so long is Europe safe by sea. But I foresee
that this cannot last: the strongest defences, the stoutest hearts,
and the bravest of hearts, cannot in the long run prevail against
overpowering numbers. As at Acre, we may repel assault after assault,
we may cause army after army to betake themselves again to their ships;
but, as a rock is overwhelmed by the rising tide, so must Rhodes succumb
at last, if left by Europe to bear alone the brunt of Moslem invasion.
All that men can do we shall do. As long as it is possible to resist,
we shall resist. When further resistance becomes impossible, we shall, I
trust, act as we did before.

"We were driven from Palestine, only to fortify ourselves at Rhodes.
If we are driven from Rhodes, we shall, I feel assured, find a home
elsewhere, and again commence our labours. The nearer we are to Europe
the more hope there is that Christendom will aid us, for they will more
generally understand that our defeat would mean the laying open of the
shores of the Mediterranean, from Turkey to Gibraltar, to the invasion
of the Moslems. However, comrades, this is all in the future. Our share
is but in the present, and I trust the flag of the Order will float over
Rhodes as long, at least, as the lifetime of the youngest of us, and
that we may bequeath the duty of upholding the Cross untarnished to
those who come after us; and we can then leave the issue in God's
hands."

All listened respectfully to the words of their leader, although his
opinion fell like cold water upon the fiery zeal and high hopes of his
hearers. The possibility of their losing Rhodes had never once entered
into the minds of the majority of them. It was likely that ere long they
might be called upon to stand a siege, but, acquainted as they were with
the strength of the place--its deep and seemingly impassable moat, its
massive walls, and protecting towers and bastions--it had seemed to them
that Rhodes was capable of withstanding all assaults, however numerous
the foe, however oft repeated the invasion. The bailiff was, as all
knew, a man of dauntless courage, of wide experience and great judgment,
and that he should believe that Rhodes would, although not in their
time, inevitably fall, brought home to them for the first time the fact
that their fortress was but an outpost of Europe, and one placed so
distant from it that Christendom, in the hour of peril, might be unable
to furnish them with aid. As the bailiff walked away, there was silence
for a short time, and then Sir Giles Trevor said cheerfully, "Well, if
it lasts our time we need not trouble our heads as to what will take
place afterwards. As the bailiff says, our duty is with the present, and
as we all mean to drive the Turks back when they come, I do not see that
there is any occasion for us to take it to heart, even if it be fated
that the Moslems shall one day walk over our tombs. If Christendom
chooses to be supine, let Christendom suffer, say I. At any rate, I am
not going to weep for what may take place after I am turned into dust."

"That sounds all very well, Sir Giles," Ralph Harcourt said, "and I have
no argument to advance against it, though I am sure there is much to be
said; but if the bailiff, or the chaplain, or indeed any of the elders,
had heard you say so, I have no doubt you would have had a fitting
reply."

Sir Giles tossed his head mockingly. "I shall fight neither better nor
worse, friend Harcourt, because it may be that someday the Moslems are,
as the bailiff seems to think, destined to lord it here. I have only
promised and vowed to do my best against the Moslems, and that vow only
holds good as long as I am in the flesh; beyond that I have no concern.
But what are we staying here for, wasting our time? It is the hour for
those of us who are going, to be starting for the ball given by Signor
Succhi; as he is one of the richest merchants in the town, it will be a
gay one, and there is no lack of fair faces in Rhodes. It is a grievous
pity that our elders all set their will against even the younger members
of the community joining in a dance. It was not one of the things I
swore to give up. However, here in Rhodes there is no flying in the face
of rules."

Three or four of the other young knights were also going.

"What are you thinking of doing, Gervaise?" Harcourt asked.

"I have nothing particular to do, Ralph, except that, first of all, I
must write a letter to Suleiman Ali and hand it to the bailiff, praying
him to send it off by the first vessel that may put in here on her way
to Acre. If I do not do it now it may be neglected, and I promised to
write directly I got here. I will not be half an hour, and after that I
shall be ready to do anything you like."

In less than that time, indeed, he rejoined Ralph. "Now what shall we
do with ourselves? What do you say to a stroll through the streets? I am
never tired of that."

"I like better to go by way of the roofs, Gervaise. The streets are
badly lit, and although they are busy enough in some quarters, they are
so narrow that one gets jostled and pushed. On the terraces everything
is quiet. You have plenty of light and music, and it is pleasant to
see families sitting together and enjoying themselves; and if one is
disposed for a cup of wine or of cool sherbet, they are delighted to
give it, for they all are pleased when one of us joins a group. I have
quite a number of acquaintances I have made in this way while you have
been working away at your Turkish."

"Very well," Gervaise said. "If such is your fancy, Ralph, let us take
one of the paths across the roofs. I might walk there twenty years by
myself without making an acquaintance, and I do not pledge myself to
join in these intimacies of yours. However, I shall be quite content to
amuse myself by looking on at the scene in general, while you are paying
your visits and drinking your sherbet."

"There are plenty of fair girls among the Rhodians," Ralph said, with a
smile; "and though we are pledged to celibacy we are in no way bound to
abstain from admiration."

Gervaise laughed.

"Admire as much as you like, Ralph, but do not expect me to do so. I
have scarcely as much as spoken to a woman since I entered the House in
London, and I should have no idea what to say to a young girl."

"But it is part of the education of a true knight to be courteous to
women. It is one of the great duties of chivalry. And you must remember
that we are secular knights, as well knights of the Order."

"The work of the Order is quite sufficient for me at present, Ralph. In
time I may come to like the society of women, to admire their beauty,
and possibly even to wear the colour of some one, for that seems to be
the fashion; though why we, who are bound to celibacy, should admire one
woman more than another I cannot understand."

They had by this time descended from the castle, and were taking their
way along one of the broad paths that led over the flat roofs of the
houses by means of the bridges thrown across the streets.

"These are some acquaintances of mine," Ralph said, stopping at one of
the walls, some three feet high, that bordered the path.

Beyond was an enclosure of some fifty feet square. Clumps of shrubs and
flowers, surrounded by stonework some eight or ten inches high enclosing
the earth in which they grew, were scattered here and there. Lamps were
hung to cords stretched above it, while others were arranged among the
flowers. In the centre a large carpet was spread, and on this some eight
or ten persons were seated on cushions. A girl was playing a lute, and
another singing to her accompaniment. She stopped abruptly when her eye
fell upon the figures of the two young knights.

"There is Sir Ralph Harcourt, father!" she exclaimed in Italian, which
was the language most used on the Island, and spoken with more or less
fluency by all the knights, among whom it served as a general medium of
communication. "Are you waiting to be invited in, Sir Knight?" she
went on saucily. "I thought that by this time you would know you were
welcome."

"Your tongue runs too fast, child," her father said, as he rose and
walked across to Ralph. "You are welcome, Sir Ralph, very welcome. I
pray you enter and join us."

"I will do so with pleasure, Signor Vrados, if you will also extend your
hospitality to my friend Sir Gervaise Tresham."

"Most gladly," the merchant said. "I pray him to enter."

The two knights passed through the gate in the wall. All rose to their
feet as they went up to the carpet, and greeted Ralph with a warmth
which showed that he was a favourite. He introduced Gervaise to them.

"I wonder that I do not know your face, Sir Knight," the merchant's
wife said. "I thought I knew all the knights of the Order by sight, from
seeing them either at the public ceremonies, or observing them pass in
the streets."

"For the last nine months Sir Gervaise has been an anchorite. He has
been learning Turkish, and has so devoted himself to the study that even
I have scarce caught sight of him, save at meals. As for walking in the
streets, it is the last thing he would think of doing. I consider myself
a good and conscientious young knight, but I am as nothing in that
respect to my friend. I used to look upon him as my little brother, for
we were at the House of the Order in London together. He is four years
younger than I am, and you know four years between boys makes an immense
difference. Now the tables are turned, and I quite look up to him."

"You will believe as much as you like, Signora, of what Sir Ralph says,"
Gervaise laughed. "As you have, he says, known him for some time,
you must by this time have learnt that his word is not to be taken
literally."

"We learned that quite early in our acquaintance," the girl who had
first noticed them said, with an affectation of gravity. "I always tell
him that I cannot believe anything he says, and I am grateful to you,
Sir Knight, for having thus borne evidence to the quickness of my
perception."

By this time the servants had brought some more cushions, and on these
Ralph and Gervaise seated themselves. Wine, sherbet, and cakes, were
then handed round. The master of the house placed Gervaise on his right
hand, as a stranger.

"You have been among our islands, Sir Gervaise? But indeed, I need not
ask that, since I know that you and Sir Ralph were knighted together for
your valour in that affair with the ships of Hassan Ali. We come from
Lesbos. It is now eighty years since my family settled in Rhodes, and we
have seen it grow from a small place to a great fortress."

"'Tis a wonderful place," Gervaise said. "I know nothing of the
fortresses of Europe, but it seems to me that no other can well be
stronger than this--that is, among places with no natural advantages."

"The knights have always had an abundance of slaves," the merchant said;
"so many that they have not only had sufficient for their work here, but
have been able to sell numbers to European potentates. Yes, Rhodes is
wonderfully strong. That great fosse would seem as if it could defy the
efforts of an army to cross; and yet the past has shown that even the
strongest defences, held with the greatest bravery, can be carried by
generals with immense armies, and careless how they sacrifice them so
that they do but succeed. Look at Acre, for example."

"I was looking at it five days ago," Gervaise said, "and thinking that
it was beyond the might of man to take."

"Do you mean that you were at Acre?" the merchant asked, with surprise.

"Yes. I went there to hand over a captive who had been ransomed. Of
course I had a safe conduct, and I was glad indeed of the opportunity of
seeing so famous a fortress."

"You were fortunate indeed, Sir Knight, and it was, if you will pardon
my saying so, singular that so young a knight should have been chosen.
Assuredly, even the senior knights of the Order would rejoice at the
opportunity of beholding a fortress so intimately connected with the
past history of the Order."

"It was due entirely to my being able to speak Turkish," Gervaise said.
"As my friend Sir Ralph was mentioning, I have been studying hard, and
can now speak the language fluently; and as this was a necessity on
such a mission, and the few knights who can so speak it are all in high
office, and could hardly be asked to undertake so unimportant a service,
I was selected."

"And you really speak Turkish well? It is an accomplishment that few,
save Greeks subject to Turkey, possess. Do you intend, may I ask, to
make Rhodes your home? I ask because I suppose you would not have taken
this labour had you intended shortly to return to England."

"Yes; I hope to remain here permanently. I know that the first step
towards promotion here is generally a commandery at home, but I did not
enter the Order with any idea of gaining office or dignity. I desire
simply to be a knight of the Cross, and to spend my life in doing
faithful service to the Order."

"A worthy ambition indeed, and one that, so far as my experience goes,
very few knights entertain. I see yearly scores of young knights depart,
no small proportion of whom never place foot on Rhodes again, although
doubtless many of them will hasten back again as soon as the danger of
an assault from the Turks becomes imminent. You see, we who dwell here
under the protection of the Order naturally talk over these things among
ourselves; and although, in the matter of fortifications, all will admit
that enormous efforts have been made to render the town secure, it is
clear that in the matter of knights to defend them there is very much
left to be desired. It is all very well to say that the knights from all
parts of Europe would flock hither to defend it; but the journey would
be a long one, and would occupy much time, and they would probably
not receive news that the Turks had sailed until the place was already
invested. Then it would be difficult, if not altogether impossible, for
ships with reinforcements to make their way through the Turkish fleet,
and to enter the port. To man the walls properly would need a force five
times as numerous as that which is now here. I recognise the valour
of your knights; they have accomplished wonders. But even they cannot
accomplish impossibilities. For a time they could hold the walls; but
as their number became reduced by the fire of the Turkish cannon and the
battles at the breaches, they would at last be too weak any longer
to repel the onslaughts of foes with an almost unlimited supply of
soldiers."

"That is true enough," Gervaise admitted; "and to my mind it is shocking
that four-fifths at least of the Order, pledged to oppose the infidels,
should be occupied with the inglorious work of looking after the manors
and estates of the society throughout Europe, while one-fifth, at most,
are here performing the duties to which all are sworn. Of the revenues
of the estates themselves, a mere fraction finds its way hither. Still,
I trust that the greater part of the knights will hasten here as soon as
danger becomes imminent, without waiting for the news that the Turkish
armament has actually set forth."

For an hour the two young knights remained on the roof, Gervaise talking
quietly with the merchant, while his companion laughed and chatted with
the ladies and friends of their host. After they had left, with the
promise that it would not be long before they repeated their visit,
Ralph bantered Gervaise on preferring the society of the merchant to
that of his daughters.

"I found him a pleasant and very well informed man, Ralph, and enjoyed
my talk with him just as you enjoyed talking nonsense to his daughters
and listening to their songs. Who was the man sitting next to the eldest
daughter?"

"He doesn't belong to Rhodes, but is a Greek from one of the islands,
though I did not catch from which. I don't know whether he is a relative
of the family, or a business connection of the merchant's, or a stranger
who has brought a letter of introduction to him. Nothing was said on
that head; why do you ask?"

"I don't like the man's face; he is a handsome fellow, but has a crafty
expression. He did not say much, but it seemed to me that at times, when
he appeared to be sitting carelessly sipping his sherbet, he was really
trying to listen to what Vrados was saying to me. He could not do
so, for we were on the other side of the circle, and were speaking in
somewhat low tones, while the rest of you were chatting and laughing."

"What should he want to listen for, most sapient knight?"

"That I can't tell, Ralph; but I am certain that he was trying to
listen."

"Well, as you were no doubt both talking more sensibly than most of us,"
Ralph laughed, "he certainly showed his discernment."

"I daresay I am wrong," Gervaise said quietly; "but you know we have our
spies at Constantinople, and probably the sultan has his spies here; and
the idea occurred to me that perhaps this man might be one of them."

"Well, I am bound to say, Gervaise," Ralph said, a little irritably,
"I have never heard so grave an accusation brought on such insufficient
evidence--or rather, as far as I can see, without a shadow of evidence
of any kind. We drop in upon a man who is one of our most respected
merchants, whose family has been established here many years, whose
interests must be the same as those of the Order; and because a guest of
his does not care to take any active part in my joking with the girls,
and because you imagine that there is a cunning expression on his face,
you must straightway take it into your head that he must be a spy."

"Excuse me, Ralph, I simply said that the idea occurred to me that he
might be a spy, which is a very different thing to my accusing him of
being one. I am ready to admit that the chances are infinitely greater
that he is an honest trader or a relation of the merchant, and that his
presence here is perfectly legitimate and natural, than that he should
be a spy. Still, there is a chance, if it be but one out of a thousand,
that he may be the latter. I don't think that I am at all of a
suspicious nature, but I really should like to learn a little about
this man. I do not mean that I am going to try to do so. It would be an
unworthy action to pry into another's business, when it is no concern of
one's own. Still, I should like to know why he is here."

Ralph shrugged his shoulders.

"This comes of living the life of a hermit, Gervaise. Other people meet
and talk, and enjoy what society there is in the city, without troubling
their heads for a moment as to where people come from or what their
business is here, still less whether they are spies. Such ideas do not
so much as occur to them, and I must say that I think the sooner you
fall into the ways of other people the better."

"There is no harm done," Gervaise said composedly. "I am not thinking
of asking our bailiff to order him to be arrested on suspicion. I only
remarked that I did not like the man's face, nor the way in which, while
he pretended to be thinking of nothing, he was trying to overhear what
we were saying. I am quite willing to admit that I have made a mistake,
not in devoting myself to Turkish, but in going to the merchant's with
you this evening. I have had no experience whatever of what you call
society, and, so far from it giving me pleasure to talk to strangers,
especially to women, it seems to me that such talk is annoying to me,
at any rate at present. When I get to your age, possibly my ideas may
change. I don't for a moment wish to judge you or others; you apparently
enjoy it, and it is a distraction from our serious work. I say simply
that it is an amusement which I do not understand. You must remember
that I entered the Order in consequence of a solemn vow of my dead
father, that I regard the profession we make as a very serious one, and
that my present intention is to devote my life entirely to the Order and
to an active fulfilment of its vows."

"That is all right, Gervaise," Ralph said good temperedly. "Only I think
it would be a pity if you were to turn out a fanatic. Jerusalem and
Palestine are lost, and you admit that there is really very little
chance of our ever regaining them. Our duties, therefore, are changed,
and we are now an army of knights, pledged to war against the infidels,
in the same way as knights and nobles at home are ever ready to engage
in a war with France. The vow of poverty is long since obsolete. Many of
our chief officials are men of great wealth, and indeed, a grand master,
or the bailiff of a langue, is expected to spend, and does spend, a sum
vastly exceeding his allowance from the Order. The great body of knights
are equally lax as to some of their other vows, and carry this to a
length that, as you know, has caused grave scandal. But I see not that
it is in any way incumbent on us to give up all the pleasures of life.
We are a military Order, and are all ready to fight in defence of
Rhodes, as in bygone days we were ready to fight in defence of the Holy
Sepulchre. Kings and great nobles have endowed us with a large number of
estates, in order to maintain us as an army against Islam; and as such
we do our duty. But to affect asceticism is out of date and ridiculous."

"I have certainly no wish to be an ascetic, Ralph. I should have no
objection to hold estates, if I had them to hold. But I think that at
present, with the great danger hanging over us, it would be better
if, in the first place, we were all to spend less time in idleness or
amusement, and to devote all our energies to the cause. I mean not only
by fighting when the time comes for fighting, but by endeavouring in
every way to ward off danger."

"When I see danger, I will do my best to ward it off, Gervaise; but I
cannot go about with my nose in the air, snuffing danger like a hunting
dog in pursuit of game. At any rate, I will not bother you to accompany
me on my visits in future."



CHAPTER IX WITH THE GALLEY SLAVES


Gervaise, on consideration, was obliged to own to himself that Ralph was
right in saying that he had no ground whatever for suspicion against
the Greek he had met at Signor Vrados's; and he could see no means of
following the matter up. It would not, he felt, be honourable to go
again to the merchant's house, and to avail himself of his hospitality,
while watching his guest. He determined to dismiss the matter from
his mind, and had, indeed, altogether done so when, a week later, it
suddenly recurred to his memory.

A party of slaves, under the escort of overseers and in charge of a
knight who had been with them at their work on the fortifications, were
passing along the street on their way back to barracks. It was already
dusk, and as Gervaise was going the same way as they were, he stood
aside in a doorway to let them pass. He was on the point of stepping out
to follow them, when he saw a man, who had been standing in the shadow
of the wall, fall in with their ranks, and, as he walked engaged in an
earnest conversation with one of the slaves. He kept beside him for a
hundred yards or so, then passed something into the slave's hand, and
turned abruptly down a side opening. There were but few people about,
and in the growing darkness the action of the man passed unobserved by
the overseers. Gervaise, thinking the occurrence a strange one, turned
down the same lane as the man.

He slackened his pace until the latter was fifty yards ahead, so that he
would not, had he looked round, have been able to perceive that it was
a knight who was behind him. After passing through several streets, the
man turned into a refreshment house. The door stood open, and as the
place was brightly lit up, Gervaise, pausing outside, was able to see
what was going on inside. The man he had followed was on the point
of seating himself at one of the tables, and as he did so Gervaise
recognised him as the Greek he had met at the merchant's house. He at
once walked on a short distance, and then paused to think.

The vague suspicions he had before entertained as to the man now
recurred with double force; he was certainly in communication with one
or more of the slaves, and such communication, so secretly effected,
could be for no good purpose. So far, however, there was nothing he
could tax the man with. He would probably deny altogether that he had
spoken to any of the slaves, and Gervaise could not point out the one
he had conversed with. At any rate, nothing could be done now, and he
required time to think what steps he could take to follow up the matter.
He resolved, however, to wait and follow the Greek when he came out.
After a few minutes he again repassed the door, and saw that the man was
engaged in earnest conversation with another. After considering for
a time, Gervaise thought that it would be best for him to follow this
other man when he left, and ascertain who he was, rather than to keep
a watch on the movements of the Greek, who, as likely as not, would now
return to the merchant's.

He walked several times up and down the street, until at last he saw the
two men issue out together. They stopped for a moment outside, and
then, after exchanging a few words, separated, the Greek going in the
direction of the quarter in which lay the house of Vrados, while the
other walked towards Gervaise. The latter passed him carelessly, but
when the man had gone nearly to the end of the street, he turned and
followed him. He could see at once that he was a lay brother of the
Order. This class consisted of men of an inferior social position to the
knights; they filled many of the minor offices, but were not eligible
for promotion. Following for ten minutes, Gervaise saw him approach one
of the barracks, or prisons, occupied by the slaves. He knocked at the
door, and, upon its being opened, at once entered.

The matter had now assumed a much more serious aspect. This young Greek,
a stranger to Rhodes, was in communication not only with some of the
slaves, but with a prison official, and the matter appeared so grave to
Gervaise that, after some deliberation, he thought it was too important
for him to endeavour to follow out alone, and that it was necessary to
lay it before the bailiff. Accordingly, after the evening meal he went
up to Sir John Kendall, and asked if he could confer with him alone on
a matter over which he was somewhat troubled. The bailiff assented at
once, and Gervaise followed him to his private apartment.

"Now, what is this matter, Sir Gervaise?" he asked pleasantly. "Nothing
serious, I trust?"

"I don't know, Sir John. That is a matter for your consideration; but
it seems to me of such importance that it ought to be brought to your
knowledge."

The face of the bailiff grew more grave, and, seating himself in a
chair, he motioned to Gervaise to do the same.

"Now, let me hear what it is," he said.

Gervaise told his story simply. A slight smile passed across the
bailiff's face as he mentioned that he had met the Greek on the roof
of the house of Signor Vrados, and had not liked the expression of his
face.

"Vrados has some fair daughters, has he not?" he asked.

"Yes, sir; but I know little of them. That is the only visit that I ever
paid there, or, indeed, to the house of any one in the town."

Sir John's face grew grave again as Gervaise recounted how he had seen
the man enter into communication with a slave; and he frowned heavily
when he heard of his meeting afterwards with one of the prison officers.

"In truth, Sir Gervaise," he said, after a pause, "this seems to be a
right serious matter, and you have done wisely in informing me of what
you have seen. Assuredly there is mischief of some sort in the wind. The
question is how to get to the bottom of it. Of course, the grand master
might order the arrest of this Greek and of the prison officer, but
you may be sure that neither would commit himself unless torture were
applied; and I, for one, have no belief in what any man says under such
circumstances. The most honest man may own himself a traitor when racked
with torture, and may denounce innocent men. It is at best a clumsy
device. What think you of the matter?"

"I have hardly thought it over yet, Sir John; and certainly no plan has
yet occurred to me."

"Well, think it over, Sir Gervaise. It is not likely that a few days
will make any difference. But I will take measures to see that this
Greek does not sail away from the Island at present, and will speak to
the port master about it. I will myself give the matter consideration,
but as you have shown yourself so quick witted in following up the
matter so far, I rely upon you more than myself to carry it farther.
There may possibly be some simple explanation of the matter. He may come
from an island where the Turks are masters, and has, perhaps, brought a
message from some relatives of a slave; as to the talk with the prison
officer, it may be wholly innocent. If we should find that it is so we
will keep this matter to ourselves, if possible, or we shall get finely
laughed at by our comrades for having run upon a false scent. If, on the
other hand, the matter should turn out to be serious, you will assuredly
get great credit for having discovered it. Therefore, turn it over in
your mind tonight, and see if you can arrive at some scheme for seeing
further into it before we take any steps."

In the morning Gervaise again called upon Sir John Kendall.

"Well, Sir Gervaise, I hope that you have hit upon some scheme for
getting to the bottom of this matter. I confess that I myself, though I
have had a sleepless night over it, have not been able to see any
method of getting to the root of the affair, save by the application of
torture."

"I do not know whether the plan I have thought of will commend itself to
your opinion, sir, but I have worked out a scheme which will, I think,
enable us to get to the bottom of the matter. I believe that a galley is
expected back from a cruise today or tomorrow. Now, sir, my idea is that
I should go on board a small craft, under the command of a knight upon
whose discretion and silence you can rely, such as, for example, Sir
John Boswell, and that we should intercept the galley. Before we board
her I should disguise myself as a Turkish slave, and as such Sir John
should hand me over to the officer in command of the galley, giving him
a letter of private instructions from you as to my disposal. If they
have other slaves on board I would ask that I should be kept apart from
them, as well as from the rowers of the galley. On being landed I should
be sent to the prison where I saw the officer enter last night, and the
slaves and rowers should be distributed among the other prisons. Thus,
then, the slaves I should be placed with would only know that I had
arrived in the galley with other slaves captured by it. I have no doubt
I should be able to maintain my assumed character, and should in a short
time be taken into the confidence of the others, and should learn what
is going on. It would be well, of course, that none of the officials
of the prison should be informed as to my true character, for others,
besides the one I saw, may have been bribed to participate in whatever
plot is going on."

"And do you mean to say, Sir Gervaise, that you, a knight of the Order,
are willing to submit to the indignity of being treated as a slave? To
keep up the disguise long enough to be taken into the confidence of the
plotters, you might have to stay there for some time; and if the prison
officials believe you to be but an ordinary slave, you will be put to
work either on the walls or in one of the galleys."

"I am ready to do anything for the benefit of the Order, and the safety
of Rhodes, that will meet with your approval," Gervaise replied. "It
will no doubt be unpleasant, but we did not enter the Order to do
pleasant things, but to perform certain duties, and those duties
necessarily involve a certain amount of sacrifice."

"Do you think you would be able to maintain the character? Because
you must remember that if detected you might be torn in pieces by the
slaves, before the officers could interfere to protect you."

"I feel sure that I can do so, Sir John."

"What story would you tell them?"

"I would say that I had come from Syria, and sailed from Acre in a
trader, which is perfectly true, and also that I was taken off the ship
I was on by a galley--which would not be altogether false, as I crossed
one as I landed. I think there would be very little questioning, for I
should pretend to be in a state of sullen despair, and give such short
answers to questions that I should soon be left alone."

"The scheme is a good one, Sir Gervaise, though full of danger and
difficulty. If you are ready to render this great service to the Order,
I willingly accept the sacrifice you offer to make. I will send one of
my slaves down into the town to buy garments suitable for you, and also
stains for your skin. It will, of course, be necessary for you to shave
a portion of your head in Turkish fashion. I will also see Sir John
Boswell, and ask him to arrange for a craft to be ready to start at
noon. The galley is not expected in until evening, but of course she may
arrive at any moment now. Come here again in an hour's time, and I will
have the clothes ready for you."

"May I suggest, sir, that they should be those appropriate to a small
merchant? This might seem to account for my not being placed with the
other slaves who may be on board the galley, as it would be supposed
that I was set apart in order that I should be sent to one of the
auberges as a servant; and my afterwards being herded with the others
would be explained by its being found that there was no opening for
me in such a capacity. I should think there would be no difficulty in
obtaining such a suit, as garments of all kinds are brought here in
prizes, and are bought up by some of the Greek merchants, who afterwards
find opportunities of despatching them by craft trading among the
islands."

Just before noon Gervaise walked down to the port with Sir John Boswell,
a servant following with a bundle.

"It seems to me a hare brained scheme, lad," Sir John, who had just
joined him, said, as they issued from the auberge; "though I own, from
what the bailiff tells me, that there must be some treacherous plot on
hand, and when that is the case it is necessary that it should be probed
to the bottom. But for a knight to go in the disguise of an infidel
slave seems to me to be beyond all bounds."

"If one is ready to give one's life for the Order, Sir John, surely one
need not mind a few weeks' inconvenience. I shall, at any rate, be no
worse off than you were when serving as a Turkish slave."

"Well, no, I don't know that you will," Sir John replied doubtfully.
"But that was from necessity, and not from choice; and it is, moreover,
an accident we are all exposed to."

"It is surely better to do a thing of one's own free will than because
one is forced to do it, Sir John?"

The knight was silent. He was a stout fighting man, but unused to
argument.

"Well," he said, after a long pause, "I can only hope that it will turn
out all right, and promise that if you are strangled in prison, I will
see that every slave who had a hand in it shall be strung up. I have
told Kendall frankly that if I were in his place I would not permit you
to try such a venture. However, as I could think of no other plan by
which there would be a chance of getting to the bottom of this matter,
my words had no effect with him. I should not have so much cared if the
officers of the gaol knew who you were; but I can see that if there is
treachery at work this would defeat your object altogether. What do you
suppose this rascal Greek can be intending?"

"That I cannot say, Sir John. He may be trying to get an exact plan of
the fortifications, or he may be arranging some plan of communication by
which, in case of siege, news of our condition and of the state of our
defences may be conveyed to the Turkish commander."

By this time they had reached the port, and embarked at once on a
trading vessel belonging to one of the merchants, from whom Sir John
had readily obtained her use for a day or two. Her sails were hoisted
at once, and she rowed out from the port. Having proceeded some three
or four miles, they lowered her sails, and lay to in the course a galley
making for the port would take. A sailor was sent up to the masthead to
keep a lookout. Late in the afternoon he called down that he could make
out a black speck some twelve miles away. She carried no sails, and he
judged her to be a galley.

"It will be dark before she comes along," Sir John Boswell said. "You
can hoist your sails, captain, and return to within half a mile of the
port, or she may pass us beyond hailing distance."

Gervaise at once retired to the cabin that had been set aside for their
use, and proceeded to disguise himself. An hour later Sir John came
down. He looked at Gervaise critically.

"You are all right as far as appearances go. I should take you anywhere
for a young Turk. Your clothes are not too new, and are in accordance
with the tale you are going to tell, which is that you are the son of
a Syrian trader. If, as Suleiman says, you speak Turkish well enough to
pose as a native, I think you ought to be able to pass muster. How long
will that dye last? Because if it begins to fade they will soon suspect
you."

"It will last a fortnight; at least, so Sir John Kendall says. But he
has arranged that if at the end of ten days I have not succeeded in
finding out anything, he will send down to the prison, and under the
pretence that he wants to ask me some questions about what ransom my
father would be likely to pay for me, he will have me up to the auberge,
and there I can dye myself afresh."

"How are you to communicate with him in case of need?"

"His servant Ahmet, who got the things for me, is to come down every
morning, and to be near the door of the prison at the hour when the
slaves are taken out to work. If I have aught to communicate I am to
nod twice, and Sir John Kendall will send down that evening to fetch me,
instead of waiting until it is time for me to renew my dye."

"What is going to be said to Harcourt and the others to account for your
absence?"

"The bailiff will merely say that he has suddenly sent me away by ship,
on a private mission. They may wonder, perhaps, but none of them will
venture to ask him its nature."

"Well, I must say that you seem to have made all your arrangements
carefully, Tresham, and I hope it will turn out well. I was against
the scheme at first, but I own that I do not see now why it should not
succeed; and if there is any plot really on hand, you may be able to get
to the bottom of it."

It was an hour after darkness had completely fallen when the regular
beat of oars was heard. The ship's boat was already in the water, and
Gervaise, wrapped up in his mantle, followed Sir John out of his cabin
and descended with him into the boat, which was at once rowed towards
the approaching galley. Sir John hailed it as it came along.

"Who is it calls?" a voice said.

"It is I--Sir John Boswell. Pray take me on board, Sir Almeric. It is a
somewhat special matter."

The order was given, the galley slaves ceased rowing, and the boat ran
alongside. Gervaise unclasped his mantle and gave it to Sir John, and
then followed him on board.

"I congratulate you on your return, and on your good fortune in having,
as your letter stated, made a prosperous voyage," Sir John said, as he
shook hands with the commander of the galley.

"I would speak a word with you aside," he added in a low voice.

Sir Almeric moved with him a few paces from the other knights.

"I am sent here by our bailiff, Sir Almeric. I have a Turkish prisoner
here with me who is to be landed with those you have taken. There are
special reasons for this, which I need not now enter into. Will you let
him sit down here by the helm? My instructions are that he is not to
mingle with the other slaves; and as there are reasons why it is wished
that his coming on board in this manner shall not be known to them, I
myself am to take him up to one of the prisons, or at least to hand him
over to the officer sent down from that prison to take up the captives
allotted to it. The matter is of more importance than it seems to be,
or, as you may imagine, I should not be charged to intercept you on such
an errand."

"Of course, I don't understand anything about it, Sir John, but will do
as you ask me."

He went to where Gervaise had crouched down by the bulwark, beckoned him
to follow, and, walking aft, motioned to him to sit down there. Then
he returned to Sir John, and joined the other knights, who were all too
anxious to learn the latest news--who had left the island, and who had
come to it since they sailed--to interest themselves in any way with
the figure who had gone aft, supposing him, indeed, to be Sir John's
servant, the lantern suspended over the poop giving too feeble a light
for his costume to be noted.

A quarter of an hour later they anchored in the harbour. Some of the
knights at once went ashore to their respective auberges, but Sir
Almeric and a few others remained on board until relieved of their
charge in the morning, an account being sent on shore of the number of
captives that had been brought in. No thought was given to Gervaise, who
slept curled up on the poop. Sir John Boswell passed the night on board.
In the morning an officer came off with a list of the prisons to which
the slaves were to be sent. Sir John Kendall had seen the officer
charged with the distribution, who had, at his request, not included the
prison of St. Pelagius in the list.

A message, however, had been sent to that prison, as well as to the
others, for an officer to attend at the landing stage. In the morning
Sir John went ashore in one of the boats conveying the slaves, of whom
some forty had been captured. Gervaise followed him into the boat, and
took his seat by the others, who were too dispirited at the fate which
had befallen them to pay any attention to him.

When he landed, Sir John asked which was the officer from St. Pelagius.
One stepped forward.

"This is the only slave for you," he said, pointing to Gervaise. "He is
of a better class than the rest, and in the future may be he will do for
a servitor at one of the auberges, but none have at present occasion for
one, and so he is to go to you. He says that his father is a merchant,
and will be ready to pay a ransom for him; but they all say that, and we
must not heed it overmuch. As he seems a smart young fellow, it may be
that he will be sent to one of the auberges later on; but at present,
at any rate, you can put him with the rest, and send him out with the
gangs."

"He is a well built young fellow, Sir John," the officer remarked, "and
should make a good rower in a galley. I will put him in the crew of the
St. Elmo. Follow me," he said, in Turkish, to Gervaise, and then led the
way up to the prison. On entering he crossed a courtyard to a door which
was standing open. Within was a vaulted room, some forty feet long by
twenty wide; along each side there were rushes strewn thickly.

"The others have just started to their work," he said, "so that for
today you can sleep."

After he had left, Gervaise looked with some disgust at the rushes, that
had evidently been for weeks unchanged.

"I would rather have the bare stones, if they were clean," he muttered
to himself. "However, it can't be helped."

He presently strolled out into the courtyard, where some other slaves,
disabled by illness or injuries, were seated in the sun. Gervaise walked
across to them, and they looked listlessly up at him as he approached.

"You are a newcomer," one said, as he came up. "I saw you brought in,
but it didn't need that. By the time you have been here a week or two,
your clothes will be like ours," and he pointed to his ragged garments.
"When did you arrive? Are there no others coming up here?"

"The galley came in last night," Gervaise said, "but they did not land
us until this morning. I wish they had killed me rather than that I
should have been brought here to work as a slave."

"One always thinks so at first," the man said. "But somehow one clings
to life. We shall die when Allah wills it, and not before."

"What is the matter with your foot?" Gervaise asked.

"I was with the gang quarrying stones, and a mass of rock fell upon it.
I have been in the infirmary for weeks, and I own that the Christian
dogs treated me well. A slave has his value, you see. I am nearly cured
now, but I shall never walk well again. I expect they will put me in one
of their accursed galleys."

"How long have you been here?"

"Seven years; it seems a lifetime. However, there is hope yet. They
don't tell us much, but we hear things sometimes, and they say that the
sultan is going to sweep them out of Rhodes as they were swept out of
Acre. When will it be?"

"I know not. I am from Syria, but even there they are making
preparations. The sultan has had troubles in the East, and that has
delayed him, but he will be here before long, and then we shall see. It
will be our turn then."

"It will, indeed!" one of the others exclaimed. "Oh, to see these dogs
brought down, and suffering as we have suffered, toiling at oars in one
of our galleys, or at the fortifications of one of our castles! It will
make amends for all our suffering. Had you a hard fight with them?"

"No. We were but a small craft, and it was vain to attempt resistance. I
would gladly have fought, but the sailors said it would only throw away
their lives. There was but little on board, and they allowed the vessel
to go free with those of the sailors who were too old to be made useful
for hard work."

No further questions were asked. The men seemed to have no interest save
in their own misery, and Gervaise soon left them, and, sitting down in a
shady corner, presently dropped off to sleep.

In the evening all came in from their various work. The officer man who
had brought Gervaise in went up to the overseer of the galley slaves
and informed him that he had told off the new slave--pointing to
Gervaise--to his gang.

"He was brought in by the galley that arrived last night," he said; "he
was the only slave sent up here. I hear that he had been set aside to be
appointed a servitor, but there are no vacancies, so they sent him here
till one should occur; and I was ordered to make him useful in other
ways in the meantime."

"I am two or three hands short," the overseer said. "I wish now I had
sent in an application yesterday, for if I had done so, no doubt they
would have sent me some more men. However, this fellow will make up an
even number, and he is strong and active, though at present he looks
sulky enough under his bad fortune."

A few of the slaves spoke to Gervaise as they were waiting for food to
be brought them, but the majority dropped upon the rushes, too exhausted
with toil and heat to feel an interest in anything. The food consisted
of rye bread, with thin broth, brought in a great iron vessel. Each
slave had a horn, which was used for soup or water, and which, when done
with, he had, by the rule enforced among themselves, to take out to the
fountain in the courtyard and wash, before it was added to the pile in
the corner of the room.

The cool of the evening aided the meal in restoring the energies of the
slaves. Several gathered round Gervaise, and asked questions as to what
he knew of the prospects of an early invasion of Rhodes; but as soon as
the officer left the room, closing and locking the door after him,
the slaves became for the most part silent. A few men sat in groups
together, talking in undertones, but the greater number threw themselves
down on the rushes, either to sleep or to think alone. Gervaise was
struck by the manner in which most of them lay, without making the
slightest movement, so long as there was light to enable him to make out
their figures. He himself addressed two or three of them, as they lay
with their eyes wide open, asking questions with reference to the work;
but in no case did he receive any reply. The men seemed altogether
unconscious of being addressed, being absorbed in the thought of their
far distant homes and families which they might never see again.

Gervaise walked a few times up and down the room, and as he approached
a silence fell each time upon the groups of men talking together. More
than once a figure rose soon afterwards from the ground, and, as he came
along again, asked him a few questions about himself. As soon as it was
dark, he lay down in a vacant space on the rushes. Shortly afterwards
talking ceased altogether, and there was quiet in the vaulted room. With
the first gleam of daylight they were astir, and, when the doors were
opened, poured out into the courtyard, where all had a wash at the
fountain. Half an hour later, a meal, precisely similar to that of the
previous evening, was served out; then the overseers called over the
muster roll, the gangs were made up, and each, under its officer,
started for its work.

Gervaise, with the men of his room, proceeded down to the port, and
at once took their seats on the benches of the galley, one foot being
chained to a ring in the deck, the other to that of a companion at the
oar. The slaves were more cheerful now. As there was no work to do at
present, they were allowed to talk, and an occasional laugh was heard,
for the sun and brightness of the day cheered them. Many, after years
of captivity, had grown altogether reckless, and it was among these
that there was most talking; the younger men seemed, for the most part,
silent and moody.

"You will get accustomed to it," the man next to Gervaise said
cheeringly. "When I first came here, it seemed to me that I could not
support the life for a month--that the fate was too dreadful to be
borne, and that death would be most welcome; but, like the rest, I
became accustomed to it in time. After all, the work is no harder than
one would do at home. There is no stint of food, and it is no worse than
one would have, were one labouring in the fields. Were it not for the
loss of those we love, it would be nothing; and in time one gets over
even that. I have long ago told myself that if they are not dead, at
least they are dead to me. They have their livings to get, and cannot
be always mourning, and I have tried to forget them, as they must have
forgotten me."

"Do you work hard?" Gervaise asked.

"No. We who are in the galleys are regarded by the others with envy.
Sometimes--often, indeed--we have naught to do all day. We bask in the
sun, we talk, we sleep, we forget that we are slaves. But, generally, we
go out for an hour or two's exercise; that is well enough, and keeps us
strong and in health. Only when we are away on voyages is the work hard.
Sometimes we row from morning to night; but it is only when they are in
chase of another craft that we have really to exert ourselves greatly.
Then it is terrible. We may be doing our best, our very best, and yet to
the impatient knights it seems that we might do more. Then they shout to
the overseer, and he lays his whip on our backs without mercy. Then we
row until sometimes we drop, senseless, off the benches. But this, you
understand, is not very often; and though the work on a cruise is long,
it is not beyond our strength. Besides, when we are away in the galley
there is always hope. The galley may meet with four or five of our
ships, and be captured, or a storm may arise and dash her upon the
shore; and though many would lose their lives, some might escape,
and each man, in thinking of it, believes that he will be one of the
fortunate ones.

"Take my advice: always look cheerful if you can; always put your hand
on the oar when the order is given, and row as if you were glad to be at
work again; and always make a show, as if you were working your
hardest. Never complain when you are struck unjustly, and always speak
respectfully to the overseer. In that way you will find your life much
easier than you would think. You will be chosen for small boat service;
and that is a great thing, as we are not chained in the small boats.
Some men are foolish and obstinate, but, so far from doing any good,
this only brings trouble on themselves; they come in for punishment
daily, they are closely watched, and their lives made hells for them.
Even as a help to escape it pays best to be cheerful and alert. We all
think of escape, you know, though it is seldom indeed that a chance ever
comes to any of us. It is the one thing except death to look forward to,
and there is not a man among us who does not think of it scores of times
a day; but, small as the chance is, it is greatest for those who behave
best. For instance, it is they only who man small boats; and when a
small boat rows ashore, it is always possible that the guard may be
careless--that he will keep the boat at the landing place, instead of
pushing off at once into deep water, as he ought to do--and that in this
way a chance will, sooner or later, come for springing ashore and making
a dash for liberty."



CHAPTER X. A PLOT DISCOVERED.


The conversation between Gervaise and his fellow slave was interrupted
by the arrival at the side of the quay of a party of knights. Silence
instantly fell upon the slaves; all straightened themselves up to the
oars, and prepared for a start. Among the knights who took their places
on the poop Gervaise saw with amusement his friend Ralph. He had no fear
of a recognition, for the darkly stained skin and the black hair had so
completely altered him that when he had looked at himself in a mirror,
after the application of the dye, he was surprised to find that he would
not have known it to be his own face. Ralph was in command of the party,
which consisted of young knights who had but recently arrived at Rhodes;
and as it was the first time he had been appointed as instructor,
Gervaise saw that he was greatly pleased at what he rightly regarded as
promotion.

The galley at once pushed off from the wharf, and rowed out of the
port. The work was hard; but as the slaves were not pressed to any
extraordinary exertions, Gervaise did not find it excessive. He
congratulated himself, however, that the stain was, as he had been
assured, indelible, save by time, for after a few minutes' exercise he
was bathed in perspiration. As the galley had been taken out only that
instruction might be given to the young knights, the work was frequently
broken.

Sometimes they went ahead at full speed for a few hundred yards, as if
to chase an adversary; then they would swerve aside, the slaves on one
side rowing, while those on the other backed, so as to make a rapid
turn. Then she lay for a minute or two immovable, and then backed water,
or turned to avoid the attack of an imaginary foe. Then for an hour she
lay quiet, while the knights, divesting themselves of their mantles and
armour, worked one of the guns on the poop, aiming at a floating
barrel moored for the purpose a mile out at sea. At eleven o'clock they
returned to the port. Bread and water were served out to the slaves, and
they were then permitted to lie down and sleep, the galley being moored
under the shadow of the wall.

At four o'clock another party of knights came down, and the work was
similar to that which had been performed in the morning. At seven
o'clock the slaves were taken back to their barracks.

"Well, what do you think of your work?" one of the slaves asked
Gervaise, as they ate their evening meal.

"It would not be so bad if it was all like that."

"No. But I can tell you that when you have to row from sunrise to
sunset, with perhaps but one or two pauses for a few minutes, it is
a different thing altogether, especially if the galley is carrying
despatches, and speed is necessary. Then you get so worn out and
exhausted, that you can scarce move an oar through the water, until you
are wakened up by a smart as if a red hot iron had been laid across your
shoulders. It is terrible work then. The whip cracks every minute across
some one's back; you are blinded by exhaustion and rage, and you feel
that you would give the world if you could but burst your chain, rush on
your taskmasters, and strike, if only one blow, before you are killed."

"It must be terrible," Gervaise said. "And do you never get loose, and
fall upon them?"

The man shook his head.

"The chains are too strong, and the watch too vigilant," he said. "Since
I came here I have heard tales of crews having freed themselves in the
night, and fallen upon the Christians, but for my part I do not believe
in them. I have thought, as I suppose every one of us has thought, how
such a thing could be done; but as far as I know no one has hit on a
plan yet. Now and then men have managed to become possessed of a file,
and have, by long and patient work, sawn through a chain, and have,
when a galley has been lying near our own shore, sprung overboard
and escaped; but for every attempt that succeeds there must be twenty
failures, for the chains are frequently examined, and woe be to the man
who is found to have been tampering with his. But as to a whole gang
getting free at once, it is altogether impossible, unless the key of
the pad locks could be stolen from an overseer, or the man bribed into
aiding us."

"And that, I suppose, is impossible?" Gervaise said.

"Certainly, impossible for us who have no money to bribe them with, but
easy enough if any one outside, with ample means, were to set about it.
These overseers are, many of them, sons of Turkish mothers, and have
no sympathy, save that caused by interest, with one parent more than
another. Of course, they are brought up Christians, and taught to hold
Moslems in abhorrence, but I think many of them, if they had their free
choice, would cross to the mainland. Here they have no chance of ever
being aught but what they are--overseers of slaves, or small prison
officials. They are despised by these haughty knights, and hated by us,
while were they to reach the mainland and adopt their mothers' religion,
everything would be open to them. All followers of the Prophet have
an equal chance, and one may be a soldier today, a bey tomorrow, and
a pasha a year hence, if he be brave, or astute, or capable in any way
beyond his fellows. Men like these warders would be sure to make their
way.

"They cannot have gathered much during their service, therefore the
offer of a large sum of money would find plenty among them eager to earn
it. But, you see, they are but the inferiors. On our voyages on board
the galley, the knights inspect our fetters twice a day, and the keys
are kept in the commander's cabin. For an hour or two, when we are not
on a long passage, the padlocks are unfastened, in order that we may
jump over and bathe, and exercise our limbs; but at this time the
knights are always on guard, and as we are without arms we are
altogether powerless. It is the same thing here. The senior warders, who
all belong to the Order, although of an inferior grade, come round, as
you have seen, to examine our fetters, and themselves lock and bar the
doors. If one or two of these could be corrupted, escape would be easy
enough."

"But is it impossible to do this?" Gervaise asked eagerly. "My father
has money, and would I know be ready, if I could communicate with him,
to pay a handsome sum, if sure that it would result in my obtaining my
freedom."

The man nodded significantly.

"There may be other means of doing it," he said. "Perhaps it will not be
long before you hear of it. You seem a stout fellow, and full of spirit,
but, as yet, anything that may be going on is known but to a few, and
will go no further until the time comes that all may be told. I think
not so badly of men of our faith as to believe that any one would betray
the secret for the sake of obtaining his own freedom and a big reward;
but secrets, when known by many, are apt to leak out. A muttered word or
two in sleep, or the ravings of one down with fever, might afford ground
for suspicion, and torture would soon do the rest. I myself know nothing
of the secret, but I do know that there is something going on which, if
successful, will give us our freedom. I am content to know no more until
the time comes; but there are few, save those engaged in the matter,
that know as much as this, and you can see that it is better it should
be so. Look at that man opposite; he has been here fifteen years; he
seldom speaks; he does his work, but it is as a brute beast--despair has
well nigh turned him into one. Think you that if such a man as that were
to know that there is hope, he would not be so changed that even the
dullest would observe it? I see you are a brisk young fellow, and I say
to you, keep up your courage. The time is nearer than you think when you
will be free from these accursed shackles."

Each morning, as he went out to work with his gang, Gervaise saw the
servant from the auberge standing near; but he made no sign. He was
satisfied that his suspicions had been justified, and that he was not
leading this life in vain, but he thought it better to wait until the
week passed, and he was taken away to have his colour renewed, than to
make a sign that might possibly rouse the suspicions of his comrades. On
the eighth morning, when the door of the room was unlocked, the overseer
said--"Number 36, you will remain here. You are wanted for other work."

After the gang had left the prison, the overseer returned.

"I am to take you up to the English auberge. The knight who handed
you over to me when you landed, told me that you might be wanted as a
servitor; and as it is he who has sent down, it may be that a vacancy
has occurred. If so, you are in luck, for the servitors have a vastly
better time of it than the galley slaves, and the English auberge has
the best reputation in that respect. Come along with me."

The English auberge was one of the most handsome of the buildings
standing in the great street of the Knights. Its architecture was Gothic
in its character, and, although the langue was one of the smallest of
those represented at Rhodes, it vied with any of them in the splendour
of its appointments. Sir John Boswell was standing in the interior
courtyard.

"Wait here for a few minutes," he said to the overseer. "The bailiff
will himself question the slave as to his accomplishments; but I fancy
he will not be considered of sufficient age for the post that is vacant.
However, if this should not be so, I shall no doubt find a post to fit
him ere long, for he seems a smart young fellow, and, what is better, a
willing one, and bears himself well under his misfortunes."

Then he motioned to Gervaise to follow him to the bailiff's apartments.

"Well, Sir Gervaise," Sir John Kendall exclaimed, as the door closed
behind him, "have you found aught to justify this cruel penance you have
undertaken?"

"As to the penance, Sir John, it has been nothing unsupportable. The
exercise is hard enough, but none too hard for one in good health and
strength, and, save for the filth of the chamber in which we are shut
up at night, and the foul state of the rushes on which we lie, I
should have naught to complain of. No, I have as yet heard nothing of a
surety--and yet enough to show me that my suspicions were justified, and
that there is a plot of some sort on foot," and he related to the two
knights the conversation he had had with the galley slave.

"By St. George!" the bailiff said, "you have indeed been justified in
your surmises, and I am glad that I attached sufficient importance to
your suspicions to let you undertake this strange enterprise. What think
you, Sir John Boswell?"

"I think with you, that Sir Gervaise has fully justified his insistence
in this matter, which I own I considered to be hare brained folly. What
is to be done next, Sir Gervaise?"

"That is what I have been turning over in my mind. You see, I may have
little warning of what is going to take place. I may not hear of it
until we are locked up for the night and the affair is on the point of
taking place, and it will, of course, be most needful that I shall be
able to communicate with you speedily."

"That, of course, is of vital importance," the bailiff said. "But how is
it to be managed?"

"That is what I cannot exactly see, Sir John. An armed guard remains in
our room all night. But, in the first place, he might be himself in the
plot, and if not, the slaves would almost certainly overpower him and
kill him, as a preliminary to the work of knocking off their chains."

"Is there a window to the room? At least, of course there is a window,
but is it within your reach?"

"There are six small loopholes--one on each side of the door, and two in
each of the side walls; they are but four inches across and three feet
in length, and there are two crossbars to each; they are four feet from
the floor."

"At any rate, they are large enough for your arm to pass through, Sir
Gervaise, and you might drop a strip of cloth out."

"Certainly I could, Sir John. I could easily hide a piece of white
cotton a yard or so long in my clothes, scanty as these are, and could
certainly manage, unobserved, to drop it outside the window."

"Then the rest is for us to contrive, Boswell. We must have some one
posted in the yard of the prison, with instructions to go every ten
minutes throughout the night to see if a strip of white cotton has been
dropped out. When he finds it he must go at once to William Neave, the
governor. He is a sturdy Englishman, and there is no fear of his having
been bribed to turn traitor; but it were well to take no one into
our confidence. I think we cannot do better than employ Ahmet on this
business, as he already knows that Sir Gervaise is masquerading there.
We will have William Neave up here presently. Tell him that for certain
reasons we wish Ahmet to pass the night for the present in the prison,
and arrange with him on what excuse we can best bestow him there without
exciting suspicion. At any rate, Sir Gervaise, that is our affair."

He went to a closet and took out a white mantle, tore a strip off the
bottom, and gave it to Gervaise.

"It would be best not to keep you here any longer," he said, "so renew
your stain while I speak. As soon as you learn the details of the plot,
you will drop this out from the loophole on the right hand side of the
door; that is to say, the one on your right, standing inside. If the
affair is not to come off at once, it were best for you to proceed as
before. Ahmet will be outside when you go out with your gang, and on
your nodding to him we will make some excuse to take you away on your
return. I say this because if you see that the affair, whatever it is,
is not imminent, you might think it better to remain with them longer,
so as to learn their plans more fully, instead of having the thing put a
stop to at once."

"I understand, Sir John; but, as I have said, I do not think we should
all be told until the blow is ready to be struck, as they would be
afraid that some one might inform against them, if time and opportunity
were granted them."

"I think so too, Sir Gervaise. This afternoon we will call upon the
grand master, for we have no means of knowing how serious or how
extended this plot may be; it may include only the crew of a single
galley, and, on the other hand, the whole of the slaves may be
implicated in it. It is evident, therefore, that the matter is too
serious to be kept any longer from his knowledge."

Three more days passed. On the third evening, after the allowance of
broth and bread had been consumed, and the door was closed and locked
upon them for the night, three or four of the galley slaves, after
talking eagerly together, beckoned to the others to gather round them
at the end of the room farthest from the door. Two of them took up arms
full of the bedding, and stuffed it into the side windows. Gervaise
saw, in the dim light, a look of intense excitement on the faces of the
slaves. It had been vaguely known among them that a plot was in hand,
although but few had been admitted into the confidence of the leaders.
Hitherto all had feared that it concerned only a small number, but
the preparations now made to insure that they should not be overheard,
showed that, whatever the plan might be, all were to share in it.

"Thanks be to Allah, the All Powerful," one of the men began, "my lips
are unsealed, and I can tell you the great news that our hour for escape
from bondage is at hand! We need not fear the warder there," he went on,
as several eyes were turned apprehensively towards the guard, who, with
his spear beside him, was leaning carelessly against the wall at the
farther end, looking through the window into the courtyard; "he is
with us. You must know that for the last two months an agent from
Constantinople has been on the Island, and has been engaged in arranging
this affair. Two of our taskmasters belonging to the Order have been
bribed by large sums of money, and several of the overseers, who are
half of our blood, have eagerly embraced the prospect of returning
to their mothers' country, and of avowing openly their belief in our
religion. These, again, have bought over many of the guards, ours
included, and tonight all will be ready for action. Those not of our
party will be killed without ceremony. Duplicate keys have been made of
all the padlocks of the fetters; the guards who are with us have each
one of them, the others will have been slipped into the hands of one man
in each gang as they returned tonight from work. The overseers who are
in the plot will, at midnight, go quietly round and unlock the doors,
and remove the bars from the outside. We have, therefore, only to
overcome the eight or ten men who patrol the prison; and as we shall
have the arms of the guards, some thirty in number, we shall make quick
work of them.

"The two guards at the outside gates must, of course, be killed.
Duplicates of the keys have been made, and will be hidden in a spot
known to some of our party, close to the gate. Thus we have but to issue
out and rush down, in a body, to the port. I and another are to take the
arms of our guard, and two others are told off in each room to do the
same. That will give us sixty armed men. We shall make very short work
of the guards at the gate leading into the port. Then twenty of us are
to run along the mole to Fort St. Nicholas, twenty to the Tower of St.
Michael, and twenty to that of St. John. There will be, at the most, but
three or four men keeping watch at each fort, and thus we shall have in
our possession the three forts commanding the entrance to the harbour.
There are, as you know, six galleys manned by crews from our prison
there. The crew of each galley will embark upon it, and man the oars;
the rest will divide themselves among the galleys. Before starting, we
shall seize and set fire to all other galleys and ships in the port. The
gangs in four of the rooms have been told off specially for this duty.
Before firing them, they are to take out such provisions as they may
find, and transport them to the galleys. We who take the forts are
provided with hammers and long nails, to drive down the vent holes of
the cannon; when we have done this, we are to wait until one of the
galleys fetches us off. Ten minutes should be ample time for all there
is to be done, and even if the alarm is given at once, we shall be
away long before the knights can be aroused from sleep, buckle on their
armour, and get down to the port."

Exclamations of delight and approbation burst from his hearers.

"Then it is only we of this prison who are in the plot?" one said.

"Yes. In the first place, it would have been too dangerous to attempt to
free all. In the second, the galleys would not carry them; we shall be
closely packed as it is, for there are over a thousand here. I hear that
there was a talk of freeing all, and that we, instead of embarking at
first, should make for the other prisons, burst open the doors, and
rescue the others; but by the time we could do so the knights would
be all in arms, and our enterprise would fail altogether, for as but a
small proportion of us can obtain weapons, we could not hope to overcome
them. Were it not for the strong wall that separates their quarter from
the town, we might make straight for their houses and slay them before
the alarm could be given. As it is, that would be impossible, and
therefore the plan will be carried out as I have told you. The loss of
all their galleys and of over one thousand slaves will be a heavy blow
for them. Great pains have been taken to prevent confusion when we reach
the port. The men in each room have been instructed as to the galleys on
which they are to embark. As for you, you know precisely what is to be
done; you will simply take your places, and then wait until all are on
board. No galley is to push out from the wharf until the last man of
those employed in burning the ships has returned, with the provisions
found in them. Then the order will be given by the man who has arranged
all this, and the six galleys will put out together.

"One is to row to each of the forts to carry off the party that will
have been engaged in silencing its cannon. Our galley is to row to St.
Nicholas, and take off the twenty men I shall lead there. There is no
possibility of failure. Everything has, you see, been arranged. One of
the overseers who is in the plot walked by my side as we returned from
the port, and gave me the instructions, and all the others will have
been told in the same way, or else by the guards in charge of them."
The gang now broke up into little groups, talking excitedly over the
unlooked for news, and exulting over the speedy advent of liberty.
Gervaise strolled carelessly to the window, and dropped out the white
strip of stuff. It was now quite dark, and there was no fear of any one
observing the movement. Then he joined the others. After an hour and
a half had passed he heard footsteps approaching the door. There was a
pause; then the outside bars were taken down, and a key turned in the
lock. A deep silence fell on the slaves. Then a voice called, "Number
36!"

"What is it?" replied Gervaise, without raising himself from his seat on
the bedding. "I have done my share of work today, and earned my night's
sleep."

"It is a knight from the English auberge; he has come to fetch you. It
seems that you are to go there as a servitor."

"What a cursed fortune," Gervaise muttered, in Turkish, "just when a
road to freedom is open! I have a good mind to say I am ill, and cannot
go till the morning."

"No, no!" one of the others exclaimed. "They would only drag you out,
and when they saw that there was naught the matter with you, would
suspect that there must be some reason why you did not want to go,
when, as every one knows, the position of the servitors is in every way
preferable to ours."

"Now then, why are you delaying?" a voice said sharply, and a warder
entered with a lighted torch. "Get up, you lazy hound! It will be worse
for you if I have to speak again."

"I am coming," Gervaise grumbled. "I was just asleep."

He rose, as if reluctantly, and went forward. The warder gave him an
angry push, followed him out, and locked and barred the door after him.

"I suppose this is the right man?" Sir John Boswell said.

"This is Number 36, Sir Knight, the same who was taken over to your
auberge the other day," and he held the light close to Gervaise's face.

"Yes, that is the man. Follow me," he added, in Turkish. The gate of
the courtyard was unbarred, and they passed out unquestioned. Sir John
strolled on ahead. Gervaise followed him a pace or two behind. Not until
they had passed through the gate of the castle did Sir John turn.

"I have not spoken to you," he said, "as we may have been watched. Keep
your news until we reach the auberge."

Upon entering it they went up at once to Sir John Kendall's apartments.

"Well, Sir Gervaise, the strip of cotton was brought to us safely. What
is your news?"

"It is very serious, Sir John, and I have been in terrible anxiety since
I dropped it out, lest it should not come to hand in time. As it is,
you have till midnight to make your preparations." He then repeated the
statement made by the galley slave.

"By my faith," Sir John Kendall exclaimed, "this is a pretty plot
indeed! And had it succeeded, as it certainly would have done but for
your vigilance, it would have been a heavy blow to us. The burning of
all our galleys would have crippled us sorely, and the loss of over
a thousand slaves would have been a serious one indeed, when we so
urgently require them for completing our defences. Get rid of those
clothes at once, Sir Gervaise, and don your own. We must go straight
to the grand master. You will find your clothes and armour in the next
room. I had them taken there as soon as your token was brought me."

In a few minutes Gervaise returned in his usual attire, and with his
armour buckled on. The two knights were already in their coats of
mail, and leaving the auberge they went to the grand master's palace.
A servitor had already been sent to D'Aubusson to inform him that they
were coming, and he advanced to meet them as they entered.

"Welcome, Sir Gervaise!" he said. "Whether your news be good or bad,
whether you have found that it is a general rising of the slaves that
is intended, or a plot by which a handful of slaves may seize a boat
and escape, the gratitude of the Order is no less due to you for the
hardships and humiliations you have undergone on its behalf."

"It concerns but one prison: that of St. Pelagius."

"The largest of them," the grand master put in.

"The whole of the slaves there are to be liberated at twelve o'clock
tonight, are to seize the three water towers and to spike the guns, to
burn all the shipping in the harbour, to make off with six galleys, and
destroy the rest."

"By St. John!" D'Aubusson exclaimed, "this is indeed a serious matter.
But tell me all about it. There must be treachery indeed at work for
such a scheme to be carried out."

Gervaise now told him all the details he had learned.

"So two of the Order, though but of the inferior grade, are in the
plot?" the grand master said; "and several of the overseers? One of the
villains is, of course, the man you saw this Greek talking with. We
must get hold of the other if we can. As to the slaves, now that we have
warning, there is an end of the matter, though without such warning they
would surely have succeeded, for the plans are well laid, and they would
have been at sea before we could have gathered in any force at the port.
If it were not that it would cost the lives of many of the warders and
of the prison guards, I should say we ought to take post outside the
gate, for we should then catch the traitors who are to accompany them.
As it is, we must be beforehand with them. A hundred men will be more
than ample for our purpose. Do you take fifty of your knights, Sir John
Kendall, and I will draw fifty of those of Auvergne. At eleven o'clock
we will meet at the gate leading down into the town, and will march to
the private entrance of the governor's house. I will go in first with a
few of you, tell him what we have discovered, and post guards to prevent
any one from leaving his house. Then, having admitted the others, we
will go quietly out and place a party at each door of the overseers'
house, with orders to seize any who may come out. The rest, in small
parties, will then go round the prison, and, entering each room, show
the slaves that their plot has been discovered. This we must do to save
the lives of the guards who may be faithful to their trust. As to the
higher officials engaged in the affair, we must obtain their names from
the overseers or slaves. It is not likely that the two traitors will
quit their houses, as they will leave the matter in the hands of the
overseers, who, as you say, intend to first open the doors, and then to
accompany the slaves in their escape. Do not warn the knights until it
is nearly time to start, Sir John. The less stir made the better, for no
one can say whether they may not have suborned some of the servitors to
send instant news of any unusual movements in any of the auberges."

At half past ten Sir John Kendall went round among the knights and bade
fifty of them arm themselves quietly, and proceed, one by one, down to
the gate, and there await orders. Up to this time Gervaise had remained
in the bailiff's room, so as to avoid the questioning that would take
place, and he went down to the gate with the bailiff and Sir John
Boswell.

The knights assembled rapidly. None were aware of the reason for which
they had been called out at such an hour, and there was a buzz of talk
and conjecture until Sir John Kendall arrived. He was followed by four
of the servants, who at once lighted the torches they carried, when
he proceeded to go through the roll, and found that the muster was
complete. Many of the knights had gazed in some surprise at Gervaise,
whose dark complexion altogether concealed his identity, and it was
supposed that he must be some newly arrived knight, though none had
heard that any ship had entered the harbour that day.

Two or three minutes later fifty knights of the langue of Auvergne
came down, headed by the grand master himself, whose appearance greatly
heightened the surprise of the English knights. The torches were now
extinguished, the gate thrown open, and the party descended into the
town. Gervaise had purposely fallen in by the side of Harcourt.

"You are but newly arrived, Sir Knight?" the latter said, as they moved
off.

"Not so very newly, Ralph," Gervaise replied.

"What! is it you, Gervaise?" Harcourt exclaimed, with a start of
surprise. "Why, I did not know you, though I looked hard at you in the
torch light. What have you done with yourself? Where have you been? Do
you know what all this is about?"

"I cannot tell you now, Ralph. You must be content to know that I have
been in prison, and working in the galleys."

"The saints defend us! Why, what on earth had you done to entail such
punishment as that? It is an outrage. The grand master and the council
have the right to expel a knight from the Order after due trial and
investigation, but not to condemn him to such penalties as the galleys.
It is an outrage upon the whole Order, and I would say so to the grand
master himself."

"There was no outrage in it, Ralph. Wait until you hear the whole story.
That I have not disgraced you, you may judge from the fact that I am in
the armour and mantle of the Order, and that, as you saw, I came down
with Sir John Kendall himself."

There were no people about in the streets, though the lights still
burned on a few of the roofs. For a short distance the knights marched
down towards the port, and then turned down a street to the right. After
a few minutes' marching they halted under a high wall which all knew to
be that of the prison of St. Pelagius. Six knights were posted at the
main entrance, with orders that none should be allowed to leave the
prison, and that any persons who came up to the gate were to be at once
seized and made prisoners.

The rest marched on to a small door leading into the governor's house.
Here they were halted, and told to wait till called in; six knights of
England, and as many of Auvergne, being told off to accompany the grand
master and Sir John Kendall. A note had been sent to the governor,
informing him that the grand master intended to visit the prison at
eleven o'clock, but that the matter was to be kept an absolute secret;
and that the governor himself was to be down at the gate to admit him.



CHAPTER XI IN COMMAND OF A GALLEY


William Neave, the governor of the prison, looked astonished indeed
when, upon his opening the door, the grand master and the bailiff of
the English langue, with the twelve knights behind them, entered. He had
been puzzled when, four days before, he had received an order from
the grand master that Ahmet, a servitor in the auberge of the English
langue, should be permitted to pass the night in his house, with
authority to move freely and without question, at any hour, in the
courtyard of the gaol, and to depart at any hour, secretly and without
observation, by the private gate. Still more had he been surprised when
he received the message that the grand master would pay him a secret
visit at eleven o'clock at night.

"Let no word be spoken until we are in your apartments," D'Aubusson said
in a low voice, as he entered. "But first lead four of these knights and
post them so that none can enter the gaol from the house. If there are
more than four doors or windows on that side, you must post a larger
number. It is imperative that there shall be no communication whatever
between your servants and the gaol."

As soon as this was done, the rest of the party were taken to the
governor's rooms.

"I can now explain to you all," the grand master said, "the reason of
our presence here. I have learned that at twelve tonight there will be
a general rising of the slaves in this prison, and that, aided by
treachery, they will free themselves from their fetters, overpower and
slay such of the guards in their rooms as have not been bribed, throw
open the gates, make their way down to the port, burn all the shipping
there, and make off in the six galleys manned by them, having first
overpowered the sentries in the three forts commanding the entrance, and
spiked the guns."

Exclamations of astonishment burst from the knights, who now, for the
first time, learnt the reason of their being called out. The governor
listened with an expression of stupefaction.

"With all deference to your Highness," he said hesitatingly, "it seems
to me that some one must have been deceiving you with this tale. It is
altogether incredible that such a plot should have been hatched without
a whisper of the matter coming to my ears. It could only be possible
were there, not one but many, traitors among the officials; if this is
so, then indeed am I a dull ass, and unfit for my duty here, of which
I shall pray you to relieve me, and to order such punishment as the
council may deem just to be allotted to me for having so signally been
hoodwinked."

"My news is sure," the grand master said; "but I deem not that you are
in any way to blame in the matter. The plot has been matured, not as
a consequence of any laxity of discipline in the prison, but from
deliberate treachery, against which no mortal being can guard. The
traitors are two of the officials who, being members of the Order, none
would suspect of connivance in such a deed. With them are several--I
know not how many--under officials, warders, and guards; all these have
been bribed by an emissary from Constantinople, now in the town, and
who is doubtless furnished with large means. It is well, indeed, for the
Order, that this terrible act of treachery has been discovered in time
to prevent the plot from coming to a head, for the loss of all our
galleys, to say nothing of the disgrace of having been thus bearded by
slaves, would be a very heavy blow to it.

"Now that the house is safely guarded, William Neave, you can admit
the rest of the knights, who are waiting outside. Then you will, in the
first place, conduct a party, and post them so that they may arrest,
as they come out to perform their share of the work, all officials,
warders, and guards, of whatever rank. When you have posted knights to
carry out this--and I need not say that the operation must be performed
as silently as possible, for it is above all things necessary that
the men concerned shall have no suspicion that their plot has been
discovered--you will conduct other parties to the various rooms occupied
by the slaves. The guards on duty inside will be made prisoners. The
doors will then be locked and barred as before. The appearance of the
knights and the arrest of the guards will be sufficient to show the
slaves that their plot has been discovered, and there will be no fear of
their making any attempt to carry it into execution. I will myself post
the main body of the knights in the courtyard. The arrest of the guards
is to be carried out at once, as all those not concerned in the plot
would be killed when the hour comes for the rising. Therefore this part
of the business must be carried out immediately. I should not, however,
lead the guards away to a cell, for the less tramping of feet the
better. Therefore I shall place two knights in each room, and beg them
to remain inside in charge until the traitors outside are secured."

The knights outside were now marched up. The grand master ordered half
those of Auvergne to go round to the main gate, which would be opened
for them by the governor; they were to enter quietly, and remain in a
body close to it until they received further orders. Sir John Kendall
told off the rest of the knights to the various duties of watching the
houses occupied by the officials and warders, and of entering the prison
rooms and remaining in them on guard. The governor, with his private
servants, bearing a supply of torches, was to lead them to the various
cells, and unlock the doors. The knights were enjoined to move as
noiselessly as possible, and to avoid all clashing of arms against
armour.

The governor produced a number of cloths intended to be served out to
the slaves. Strips of these were cut off and wrapped round the feet of
the English knights, so as to deaden the sound of their boots on the
stone pavement. Then, accompanied by the grand master and Sir John
Kendall, he went the round of the cells.

In some of these the slaves were found standing up in an attitude of
eager expectation, which, as the door opened, and the light of the
torches showed a party of knights, changed into one of terror and
consternation. Scarce a word was spoken. The guard was ordered to
lay down his arms, and to take one of the torches. Two knights placed
themselves, one on each side of him, with drawn swords. The door was
again locked and barred, and the party proceeded to the next cell. In
less than a quarter of an hour this part of the work was finished,
and D'Aubusson, Sir John Kendall, and the governor, then took up their
station with a party of knights who, concealed behind a buttress, were
watching the doors of the officials' houses.

Ten minutes later one of these doors was heard to open, and five dark
figures came noiselessly out. They were allowed to go a short distance,
in order to see if any others followed; but as no others came out, the
governor stepped forward.

"Whither are you going, at this time of night?" he asked. There was a
momentary pause, a few hasty words were exchanged, then the five men
rushed towards him with bared swords or knives; but before they reached
him the knights poured out from their hiding place.

"We are betrayed," one of the men shouted in Turkish. "Fight to the
last. Better be killed than tortured and executed." With a yell of fury
and despair, they rushed upon the knights. So desperate was their attack
that the latter were forced to use their swords, which indeed, burning
with rage at the treachery of these men, they were not backward in
doing, and in less than a minute the five traitors lay, with cloven
heads, dead on the pavement.

"It is as well so," D'Aubusson said, looking sternly down upon them;
"perhaps better so, since it has saved us the scandal of their trial.
We might have learned more from them, but we have learnt enough, since,
doubtless, they have no accomplices among the warders, or they would
have been with them. Now we will deal with the arch traitors. There is
no need for further concealment; the noise of this fray will assuredly
have been heard by them, for they will be listening for the sounds that
would tell them the slaves had been liberated."

Followed by the knights, he went to the door of the house occupied
by the overseers, all of whom were members of the lower branch of the
Order. It was indeed evident that an alarm had been given there, for
lights appeared at the windows. As they opened the door and entered the
hall, several half-dressed men rushed down the stairs with drawn swords,
two of them carrying torches in their left hands. As the light fell
upon the figures of the grand master and the knights, they paused in
astonishment.

"There is treachery at work in the prison," D'Aubusson said quietly. "I
pray you to collect your comrades and to assemble here at once."

In a minute or two some twenty officials were gathered in the hall.

"Are all here?" D'Aubusson asked the governor.

The latter counted the men.

"There are two short," he said--"Pietro Romano and Karl Schumann. They
occupy the same room. Go and fetch them down, four of you."

The four men nearest to the stairs at once went up with two torches.
They returned in a minute.

"The door is fastened on the inside, and we can obtain no response."

"Fetch an axe and break it in," the grand master ordered. "Sir John
Boswell, do you, with some other knights, take post without; they may
attempt to escape by the window, though, as we hold the gates, it would
avail them little. Sir Gervaise Tresham, do you follow us."

Gervaise, who had been placed with the party watching the house,
followed the grand master and governor upstairs. A few blows with an axe
splintered the door; its fastenings gave way, and they entered the room.
The window was open, and two figures lay prostrate on the ground near
it.

"I half expected this," the grand master said. "They were listening
there. The conflict in the yard told them that the plot had been
discovered, and as they saw us approaching the house, they dared not
meet the punishment of their crimes, and have fallen by their own
daggers. Put a torch close to their faces. Sir Gervaise, do you
recognise in either of these men the official you saw in conversation
with the Greek?"

Gervaise stepped forward and examined the men's faces.

"This is the man," he said, pointing to one of them. "I marked him so
closely that I cannot be mistaken."

"That is Pietro Romano," the governor said; "he was an able officer,
but discontented with his position and given to quarrelling with his
comrades."

"Have a hole dug and bury them in the prison," D'Aubusson said; "they
have been false to their vows, and false to their religion. They have
chosen their own mode of death; let them be buried like dogs, as they
are. But let a careful search be made of their garments and of this
room. It may be that they have some documents concealed which may be of
use to us."

The grand master then descended to the hall.

"Members of the Order," he said to the overseers, "your guilty
companions have met death by their own hands, as the others concerned
in this plot have met theirs by the swords of the knights. It were well
that this matter were not spoken of outside the prison. The attempt has
been detected, and has failed; but were it talked of, it might incite
others to repeat the attempt, and possibly with better success. Now,"
he went on, turning to the governor, "our work is done here. Call up
the other warders. Let them take the men now prisoners in the rooms, and
place them in a dungeon. Let fresh men be placed on guard, and let all
the knights gather in the courtyard."

When this was done, and all the knights again assembled, D'Aubusson
said, "Our work is nearly done, brothers. The traitors are all dead, and
the revolt is at an end. It remains but to capture the author of this
attempt; but I believe he is already in our hands. I have given an
accurate description of him to Da Veschi, who has taken four knights
with him, and they probably will catch him down at the port; if not, he
will be arrested the first thing in the morning. As to the slaves, they
will be so utterly cowed by the discovery, that there will be no fear of
their repeating the attempt. I have ordered the officials of the prison
to say naught in the town of what has taken place. There can, however,
be no concealment among ourselves. I shall, of course, lay the whole
matter before the council. The fact that a strong body of knights has,
at so late an hour, started on some unknown mission is, of course,
already known in the auberges of Auvergne and England. No concealment
of the facts is therefore possible. It is the most serious attempt at a
revolt of the slaves that has ever taken place, and will be a warning
to us that more vigilance must be exercised. As it is, we have only been
saved from the loss of our galleys and slaves by the acuteness of one of
the youngest of our knights, who, in the first place, noted a suspicious
occurrence which would have been passed by without attracting a moment's
thought by ninety-nine out of a hundred men. He laid the matter before
his bailiff, Sir John Kendall, who accepted his offer to disguise
himself as a slave, to enter the prison under circumstances that would
excite no suspicions among the others, and to live and work among them
in order to ascertain whether there was any plot on hand. This task--a
painful one, as you may imagine--he carried out, and for two weeks he
rowed as a galley slave. His lot was as hard as that of the others, for,
as he had reason to believe that some of the officials were concerned in
the plot, it was necessary that all should be kept in ignorance that
he was other than he seemed to be. Thanks to his perfect knowledge of
Turkish, he was able to carry his mission through with complete success,
and to obtain full particulars of the plot we have tonight crushed.
The knight who has performed this inestimable service is Sir Gervaise
Tresham, of the English langue. The action he has performed will be
noted in the annals of the Order as an example of intelligence and of
the extreme of self sacrifice, as well as of courage; for his life would
have been assuredly forfeited had the slaves entertained the slightest
suspicion of his real character."

There was a murmur of acclamation among the knights. Not one of them but
would have freely risked his life in the service of the Order, but there
were few who would not have shrunk from the idea of living as a slave
among the slaves, sharing their tasks, and subject to the orders of men
of inferior rank and often brutal manners.

The knights now returned to their auberges. It was past midnight, but
at the English house the lamps and flambeaux were lighted in the great
hall. The servitors were called up, wine placed on the table, and the
knights discussed the incidents of the evening.

When the meal had concluded, Sir John Kendall said, "Brother knights,
When the grand master bestowed the honour of secular knighthood upon
this young comrade of ours, he predicted that he would rise to high
distinction in the Order. I think you will all agree with me that the
prediction is already in a fair way of being fulfilled, and that the
services he has rendered to the Order justify us, his comrades of the
English langue, in feeling proud of him. I drink, brothers, to his
health."

A loud shout rose from the assembled knights, for upon the return of the
party who had been away, the rest of those at the auberge had hastily
robed themselves and descended to the hall to gather the news. When the
shout had died away, and the wine cups were emptied, Gervaise, who was
sitting on Sir John Kendall's right hand, would gladly have retained his
seat, but the bailiff told him that he must say a few words, and after
standing in embarrassed silence for a minute he said, "Sir John Kendall,
and brother knights, I can only say that I am very sensible of the
kindness with which you have been pleased to regard what seems to me
after all to have been a very ordinary affair. I saw a man, whom I knew
to be a stranger in the Island, speaking surreptitiously to a slave,
and afterwards saw him conversing with a prison officer. That naturally
struck me as curious, and I followed the officer, to see to which prison
he belonged. Any one would have thought, as I did, that such a thing was
strange, if not suspicious, and the only way to find out whether there
was anything in it was to mix with the slaves; as I spoke Turkish
well enough to do so I asked Sir John Kendall's permission to disguise
myself. He gave me every assistance, and I shared their lot for a
fortnight. There was no very great hardship in that--certainly nothing
to merit the praise that Sir John Kendall has been kind enough to bestow
on me. Nevertheless, I am very glad to have gained your good opinion and
very grateful to him and to you for drinking to my health."

Then he sat down abruptly.

Sir John Kendall now rose, and the knights, following his example,
betook themselves to their dormitories.

The next morning notices were sent by the grand master to the bailiffs
of the auberges, and the knights of the grand cross who happened to
be in the Island, to assemble in council. Messages were also sent to
Gervaise, requesting him to repair at the same hour to the palace, as
the council would probably require his attendance.

"Oh dear! I wish this was all over," he said to Ralph, as the latter
assisted him to buckle on his armour.

"I don't see anything to sigh about," Ralph said. "I think that you are
the most fortunate fellow in the world. I do not say that you have not
well deserved it, because it is the tremendous way you worked at Turkish
and gave up everything else that has enabled you to do this. Still,
there was luck in your noticing that villain talking to the galley
slaves, and then to one of the officers of the prison. Of course, as the
grand master said last night, it isn't one in a thousand who would have
thought anything more about it, and I am sure I shouldn't; so that, and
all the rest, is entirely your own doing. Still, it was a piece of
luck that you noticed him talking with a slave. Don't think I envy you,
Gervaise; I don't a bit, and I feel as much as any one that you have
well deserved the honour you have obtained. Still, you know, it is a
sort of consolation to me that luck had a little--just a little--to do
with it."

"In my opinion luck had everything to do with it," Gervaise said
heartily, "and I feel downright ashamed at there being such a fuss made
over it. It was bad enough before, merely because I had hit on a
plan for our escape from those pirates, but this is worse, and I feel
horribly nervous at the thought of having to appear before the grand
master and the council."

"Well, that brown dye will hide your blushes, Gervaise. I can only say
I wish that I was in your place. By-the-bye, have you heard that they
caught that rascal Greek last night?"

"No, I have not heard anything about it."

"Yes. The knights hid themselves behind a pile of goods on the wharf.
There was no one about, so far as they could see, but soon after twelve
they saw a figure come up on to the deck of a fishing boat moored by the
quay. It was the Greek; he stood there for a minute or two listening,
and then went down again; he did this five or six times, and at one
o'clock they saw him throw up his arms, as if in despair; he stepped
ashore, and was about to make his way up into the town when they rushed
out and seized him. There is no doubt as to what his fate will be. I am
sorry to say that I hear my friend Vrados has been arrested; but there
can be no doubt about his loyalty, and he will assuredly be able
to explain to the satisfaction of the council how this man became a
resident at his house."

"I am sorry I met him there, Ralph. It is a very unpleasant thing to
have gone to a house, to have been received kindly, and then to be the
means of bringing trouble upon it."

"Yes. I feel that a little myself, because I took you there; and yet I
cannot regret it, for if you had not seen him and taken an objection to
him, you might not have noticed him particularly when he spoke to one of
the galley slaves. It is certainly curious that you should have doubted
the man, for I have met him there several times, and even after your
visit with me I could see nothing in him to justify your dislike."

Gervaise went up to the palace, and while waiting in the great hall
until summoned before the council he was warmly accosted by several
knights,--some of whom were quite strangers to him,--who all joined in
congratulating him on the immense service he had done to the Order. It
was upwards of an hour before he was called in.

"The council have received, Sir Gervaise Tresham," the grand master
said, "full details from Sir John Kendall of the manner in which you
first discovered, and have since followed up the daring plot by which
the slaves at St. Pelagius were to have risen, slain the guards who were
faithful, spiked the cannon in the three water forts, burnt the merchant
shipping, carried off six galleys and burnt the rest, and in their
name I thank you for having saved the Order from a great calamity. The
members of the council agree with me that you have shown an amount of
discernment of the highest kind, and that you are worthy of exceptional
favour and reward for your conduct. I therefore in my own name appoint
you to the commandery of our manor of Maltby in Lincolnshire, which,
having fallen vacant, is in my gift; and I release it from the usual
payment of the first year's revenue. Knowing that you desire to
establish yourself here, the council have, at my request, decided to
make an exception to the general rule that a knight, on promotion to a
commandery, must return and take charge of it in two years from the time
the grant is made to him. The commandery will therefore be administered
by the senior of the knights attached to it.

"The council, on their part, have requested the bailiff of Auvergne, as
grand master of the Fleet, to appoint you to the command of the galley
now building, and approaching completion. This he has consented to
do, feeling, as we all feel, that although such an appointment is
unprecedented for a young knight, yet in the present case such an
exception may well be made. I may add that the Admiral has--in
order that no knight greatly your senior should be placed under your
command--determined that he will appoint to it only young knights, who
will, we are assured, gladly serve under one who has so distinguished
himself, feeling certain that, under his command, they will have ample
opportunities against the infidels to prove themselves worthy of the
Order. I may add, also, that the bailiffs of all the langues promise
that they will select from among the young knights such as may seem best
fitted for such service, by their skill in warlike exercises, by their
ready obedience to orders, and good conduct. And I foresee that the
spirit of emulation, and the desire to show that, though still but
professed knights, they are capable of performing as valiant deeds as
their elders, will make the galley under your command one of the most
successful in the Order.

"As you are aware, it is a stringent rule, which even in so exceptional
a case we should not be justified in breaking, that a knight must reside
in the Island for five years previous to being promoted to a commandery.
It is now two months more than that time since you were received as page
to the late grand master, and in promoting you to a commandery I have
not, therefore, broken the rule. You may retire, Sir Gervaise."

Gervaise, overwhelmed by the unlooked for honours thus bestowed upon
him, bowed deeply to the grand master and the members of the council,
and then retired from the chamber. He passed out of the palace by a side
door, so as to avoid being accosted by the knights in the great hall,
and took his way out on to the ramparts, where he walked up and down for
a considerable time before returning to the auberge. He felt no hilarity
at his promotion. He had never entertained any ambition for rising to
high office in the Order, but had hoped only to perform his duty as a
true knight, to fight against the infidels, and some day, if need be, to
die for the Order. The commandery was, he knew, a rich one, and as
its chief he would draw a considerable revenue from the estate. This
afforded him no pleasure whatever, except inasmuch as it would enable
him, in his new command of the galley, to keep a handsome table, and to
entertain well the knights who served under him.

It seemed to him, however, that the reward and honours were so far
beyond his deserts that he felt almost humiliated by their bestowal. The
responsibility, too, was great. Would these young knights, the youngest
of whom could be but a year his junior, serve willingly under his
orders? And, above all, would they be able to emulate the deeds of
experienced warriors, and would the galley worthily maintain the fame of
the Order?

At the end of two hours he was joined by Ralph Harcourt.

"I have been looking for you everywhere, Gervaise. You seemed to have
disappeared mysteriously. None had marked you leave the council chamber,
or knew where you had gone; and after searching everywhere I remembered
your fondness for walks upon the walls, so I climbed to the top of
St. John's tower and thence espied you. Well, I congratulate you most
heartily on the honours that have fallen to your share, especially that
of the command of a new galley."

"It is too much altogether, Ralph. I feel ashamed at being thus thrust
into a post that ought to be given to a knight of age and experience.
How can I expect a number of young knights, of whom well nigh all must
be my seniors in age, to obey me as they would an older man?"

"What has age to do with it?" Ralph said. "You have shown that you have
a head to think, and, as you before proved, you have an arm to strike.
Why, every young knight in the Order must feel proud that one of their
own age has gained such honour. It raises them all in their own esteem,
and you will see that you will get the pick among all the professed
knights, and of a good many who have finished their profession, and are
serving here in the hope of some day getting promotion to a commandery.
Not such an one as you have got; that, in the ordinary course of things,
does not fall to a knight until he is well on in years, and has served
in many commanderies of smaller value. I can tell you, directly Sir John
Kendall came back and told us that you had been appointed commander of
the new galley, and that it was to be manned wholly by young knights,
there was not one of those serving their profession in the auberge who
did not beg Sir John to put down his name for it; and ten or twelve
others, myself among them, who have obtained full knighthood also."

"You don't mean to say that you have put down your name to serve under
me, Ralph? It would be monstrous."

"I see nothing monstrous in it, Gervaise. As I said just now, years have
nothing to do with it, and, putting aside our friendship, I would rather
serve under you than under many knights old enough to be your father. I
don't know whether I shall have the luck to be one of the chosen, as Sir
John said that there were to be only seven from each langue, which will
make forty-nine--with yourself fifty. If I am chosen--and, knowing
our friendship, I hope that the bailiff will let me go with you--it is
likely enough I may be named your lieutenant, as I shall be the only one
beside yourself who is a secular knight, and am, therefore, superior in
rank to the rest."

"That would be pleasant indeed, Ralph, though I would rather that you
had been made commander and I lieutenant; but at any rate, with you
to support me, I shall feel less oppressed by the thought of my
responsibility."

As Ralph had declared would be the case, the young knights in the other
auberges were as anxious as those of England to be enrolled among the
crew of the new galley, and the bailiffs had some trouble in choosing
among the aspirants. Very few were selected outside the rank of
professed knights, and as great pains were taken to comply with the
grand master's wishes that only young knights of good conduct and
disposition, and distinguished by their proficiency in warlike
exercises, should be chosen, the crew was in every way a picked one.
Most of them had made one or two of the three months' voyages in
the galleys, though comparatively few had had the good fortune to be
absolutely engaged with the Moslem pirates.

To the great satisfaction of himself and Gervaise, Ralph Harcourt
was nominated lieutenant of the galley. The fact that so many had
volunteered impressed all those who were chosen with the sense that it
was at once an honour and a piece of good fortune to be selected, and
all were determined that the boy galley, as the elder knights laughingly
termed it, should do honour to the Order.

It was a fortnight before she was launched. Gervaise had heard, with
great satisfaction, that it had been decided by the council that no
punishment should be inflicted upon the slaves for their share in the
intended rising at St. Pelagius. All were guilty, and there was no means
of saying who had taken prominent parts in the plot. The council felt
that it was but natural that they should grasp at the prospect of
freedom, for they themselves would have done the same had they been
captives of the infidels. Even the warders and guards were allowed to
go unpunished, although their offence was a much more serious one. Those
who could have named the men who had accepted bribes were dead, and the
lesson had been so severe a one that there was no probability of any
again turning traitors. The author of the rising had been publicly
executed. Seeing the hopelessness of denial, he had boldly avowed his
share in the matter, and had acknowledged that he was acting as agent
for the sultan, and had been supplied with ample funds before leaving
Constantinople.

He declared that he was absolutely unable to give any names whatever of
those concerned in the plot, save those of the two overseers, as these
had undertaken the work of suborning the warders and guards, though he
admitted that he had on several occasions spoken to slaves as the gangs
were on their way back to the prison, and had told them to be prepared
to take part in a plan that was on foot for their rescue from slavery.
The torture had not been, as was then the usual custom, applied to
extort information; partly because his story was probable, still more
because the grand master and council did not wish that more publicity
should be given to the affair, and were glad that it should be allowed
to drop without any further trial of the delinquents. In the city
generally it was only known that a plot had been discovered for the
liberation and escape of some of the slaves; and, outside the members of
the Order, none were aware of its extent and dangerous character. To the
satisfaction of Gervaise and Ralph, Vrados was able to produce letters
and documents that satisfied the council that he had been deceived as to
the character of the Greek, and was wholly innocent in the matter.



CHAPTER XII THE BOY GALLEY


Among those most pleased at the appointment of Gervaise to the command
of the galley was Sir John Boswell. Ever since the adventure with the
pirates, the knight had exhibited an almost fatherly interest in him;
had encouraged him in his studies, ridden with him on such occasions as
he had permitted himself a short holiday, and had, whenever they were
together, related to him stories of war, sieges, battles, and escapes,
from which he thought the young knight might gain lessons for his future
guidance.

"I doubt, Gervaise," he said one day, as they were riding quietly along
the road, "whether our plan of life is altogether the best. We were
founded, you know, simply as a body of monks, bound to devote ourselves
solely to the care of the sick, and to give hospitality to pilgrims in
Palestine. Now this was monkish work, and men who devoted themselves
solely to such a life of charity as that in our Hospital at Jerusalem,
might well renounce all human pleasures; but when the great change
was made by Master Raymond du Puy, and from a nursing body we became a
brotherhood in arms, it seems to me that the vows of celibacy were no
longer needful or desirable. The crusaders were, many of them, married
men, but they fought no worse for that. It would have been far better,
methinks, had we been converted into an Order pledged to resist the
infidel, but without the vows of poverty and of celibacy, which have
never been seriously regarded.

"The garrison here might be composed, as indeed it is now, principally
of young knights, of those who have not cared to marry, and of the
officers of the Order whose wives and families might dwell here with
them. This would have many advantages. Among others, the presence of so
many ladies of rank would have the excellent effect of discountenancing
and repressing extravagances and dissolute habits, which are but too
common, and are a shame to the Order. Knights possessing commanderies
throughout Europe would be no worse stewards for being married men, and
scandals, such as contributed largely to the downfall of the Templars,
would be avoided.

"The sole vow necessary, so far as I can see, would be that knights
should remain unmarried and disposable at all times for service until
ten years after making their profession, and that afterwards they should
ever be ready to obey the summons to arms, on occasions when the safety
of Rhodes, or the invasion of any Christian country by the Moslems,
rendered their services needful, when they would come out just as the
knights of Richard the Lion Heart went out as crusaders. I have spent
half my life since I joined the Order in commanderies at home, and a
dull life it was, and I was glad enough to resign my last command and
come out here. Had I been able to marry, I might now have had a son of
your age, whose career I could watch and feel a pride in. My life would
have been far happier in England, and in all respects I should be a
better man than I am now. Methinks it would strengthen rather than
weaken the Order. As a fighting body we should be in no way inferior
to what we are now, and we should be more liked and more respected
throughout Europe, for naturally the sight of so many men leading a
luxurious life in commanderies causes a feeling against them."

"But I suppose, Sir John, that there is no great difficulty in obtaining
a dispensation from our vows?"

"In this, as in all other matters, everything depends upon interest or
money. Of course, dispensations are not common; but doubtless any knight
when he had served his term of active service could, especially if
his request were backed by the grand master, obtain from the Pope
a dispensation of his vows. If he had a commandery it would make a
vacancy, and give the grand prior, or the grand master, or the council,
in whosoever's gift it might be, an opportunity of rewarding services or
of gratifying some powerful family."

"I agree with you that it would have been much better, Sir John. I can
understand that monks, ever living a quiet life apart from the world,
should be content so to continue; but among a body of warlike knights
there must be many who, in time, must come to regret the vows they took
when boys. The cadet of a noble family might, by the death of elder
brothers, come to be the head of a great family, the ruler over wide
domains. Surely it would be desirable that such a man should be able to
marry and have heirs."

"Doubtless it could be managed in such cases, Gervaise, but it is a pity
that it should have to be managed. I can see no reason in the world why
a knight, after doing ten years of service here, should not be free
to marry, providing he takes a vow to render full service to the Order
whenever called upon to do so. Already the vow of poverty is everywhere
broken. Already, in defiance of their oaths, too many knights lead idle
and dissolute lives. Already, knights, when in their own countries,
disregard the rule that they shall draw sword in no cause save that of
the Holy Sepulchre, and, like other knights and nobles, take part in
civil strife or foreign wars. All this is a scandal, and it were better
by far to do away with all oaths, save that of obedience and willingness
to war with the infidel, than to make vows that all men know are
constantly and shamelessly broken.

"I am fond of you, Gervaise. I am proud of you, as one who has brought
honour to our langue, and who, in time, will bring more honour. I am
glad that, so far as there can be between a young knight and one of
middle age, there is a friendship between us. But see what greater
pleasure it would give to my life were you my son, for whom I could
lay by such funds as I could well spare, instead of spending all my
appointments on myself, and having neither kith nor kin to give a sigh
of regret when the news comes that I have fallen in some engagement with
the infidels. I often think of all these things, and sometimes talk them
over with comrades, and there are few who do not hold, with me, that it
would be far better that we should become a purely military Order, like
some of the military Orders in the courts of the European sovereigns,
than remain as we are, half monk, half soldier--a mixture that, so far
as I can see, accords but badly with either morality or public repute.

"However, I see no chance of such a change coming, and we must be
content to observe our vows as well as may be, so long as we are willing
to remain monks and try to obtain dispensation from our vows should we
desire to alter our mode of life. We ought either to have remained monks
pure and simple, spending our lives in deeds of charity, a life which
suits many men, and against which I should be the last to say anything,
or else soldiers pure and simple, as were the crusaders, who wrested
the Holy Sepulchre from the hands of the infidels. At present, Gervaise,
your vocation lies wholly in the way of fighting, but it may be that the
time will come when you may have other aims and ambitions, and when the
vows of the Order will gall you."

"I hope not, Sir John," Gervaise said earnestly.

"You are young yet," the knight replied, with an indulgent smile. "Some
day you may think differently. Now," he went on, changing the subject
abruptly, "when will your galley be ready?"

"This is my last ride, Sir John. The shipwrights will have finished
tomorrow, and the next day we shall take possession of her, and begin to
practise, so that each man shall know his duties, and the galley slaves
learn to row well, before we have orders to sail. I wish you were going
with us, Sir John."

"I should like it, lad, in many respects. It does one good to see the
enthusiasm of young men, and doubtless you will be a merry party.
But, on the other hand, unless I mistake, you will be undertaking wild
adventures, and my time for these is well nigh passed. When the Turk
comes here, if he ever comes--and of that I have little doubt--I
shall be ready to take my full share of the fighting; but I shall seek
adventures no longer, and shall go no more to sea. Next only to the
bailiff, I am the senior of our auberge, and--but this is between
ourselves, lad--am like to succeed to the grand priory of England when
it becomes vacant, and if not I shall, as the grand master has told me,
have the offer of the next high office vacant in the palace."

Two days later Gervaise and his company of young knights went down to
the port to take part in the launch of the new galley. This was the
occasion of a solemn ceremony, the grand master and a large number of
knights being present. A religious service first took place on her
poop, and she was named by the grand master the Santa Barbara. When the
ceremony was over, Gervaise was solemnly invested with the command of
the galley by the grand marshal of the navy; then the shores were struck
away, and the galley glided into the water, amid the firing of guns, the
blowing of trumpets, and the cheers of the spectators who had gathered
at the port to witness the ceremony.

The next morning a gang of galley slaves were marched down. A third of
these had been drawn from the crews of other galleys, their places being
supplied by new hands. The remainder were taken from the men employed
on the fortifications. Three weeks were occupied in teaching the rowers
their work, and getting them well together. They were a fine crew, for
the governor of St. Pelagius, grateful to Gervaise for the discovery of
the plot, had ordered the overseers to pick out from the various gangs
men specially suited by age and strength for the work.

The dye by this time had entirely worn off his face, and although his
hair was still several shades darker than of old, it differed even more
widely from the ebon hue that it had been when he was in prison. Thus,
although he recognised three or four men upon the benches who had been
fellow occupants of his cell, he had no fear whatever of their detecting
in the commander of the galley their late companion in misfortune.

Only a portion of the knights had been out each day while the crew were
learning to row, as there was but little for them to learn. The galley
carried no sails, and the knights were soldiers rather than sailors, and
fought on the deck of their ship, as if defending a breach, or storming
one held by the enemy. Moreover, as all of them had already made one or
more voyages, they were accustomed to such duties as they would have to
discharge on board.

All were glad when an order was published for the galley to sail. On the
eve of departure Gervaise was sent for by the grand master. The general
of the galleys was with him when Gervaise entered the room. The bailiff
of Auvergne always held the position of grand marshal, and the bailiff
of Italy that of second in command, with the title of grand admiral.
These officials, however, as heads of their respective langues, had many
other duties to perform, and it was only on great occasions that they
took any practical share in the work of which they were nominally heads.
The real control in all naval questions rested with the general of the
galleys, who was elected by the council, but on the nomination of the
grand master.

His power when at sea with the fleet was absolute. He could suspend any
officer from duty, and had unquestioned power of life and death over
the crews. He had been frequently on board the galley since she had been
launched, and had been pleased with the attention paid by Gervaise to
his duties, and with the ready manner in which the young knights carried
out his orders.

"Sir Gervaise Tresham," he said, "it is usual, as you know, to appoint
each galley to a certain cruising ground, to which it is confined during
its three months' absence. At present there is a galley on each of these
stations, and as the last relief took place but a month since, it is
better that they should remain at the stations allotted to them. I
have therefore, after consultation with his Highness the grand master,
decided to give you a free hand. You are as likely to meet with pirates
in one quarter as in another, and you will pick up from vessels you
may overhaul news of their doings, which will enable you to direct your
course to the point where you will be most useful."

"In the first place, however, you will proceed to the coast of Tunis.
Visconti's galley is already there, but the coast swarms with corsairs,
and we have had many complaints as to their depredations. The Court of
Spain has twice represented to us lately that the pirates have grown
so bold that vessels have been carried off, even when coasting from one
Spanish port to another. Visconti is specially watching the coast near
Tunis, and you will therefore perhaps do better to proceed farther west,
for every village from Tunis to Tangier is little better than a nest
of pirates. I should imagine that you will find ample employment there
during your three months' cruise. When I say that you are free to
choose your own cruising ground, I do not mean that you should go up the
Levant, or to the east of the Mediterranean, but that you are not bound
to keep close along the African coast, but may, should you obtain any
information to warrant your doing so, seek the pirates along the shores
of Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, or Sicily.

"I need not warn you to act with prudence as well as courage, for you
have proved that you possess both qualities. Do not allow yourself to
be carried away by the impetuosity of your knights; it is more often
the duty of a commander to restrain than to encourage his crew, and with
such young blood as you have under your command the necessity will be
greater than usual. Be kind to your slaves, but be ever watchful;
yet this I need not tell you. Maintain a strict but not over severe
discipline. You are all knights and comrades of the Order, and equals
when on shore, but on board you are the captain and they are your
soldiers. I have this afternoon had a meeting of your knights, and have
urged upon them very strongly that, having volunteered to serve under
you, they must obey your orders as promptly and willingly as if you were
the senior knight of the Order, and that it behooves them specially
upon the present occasion, when the crew is composed entirely of young
knights, to show themselves worthy of the honour that has been done to
them by entrusting a galley of the Order to their charge. I told them
I should regard your report of their individual conduct with the same
attention and respect with which I should that of any other commander,
and that they might greatly make or mar their future prospects in the
Order by their conduct during the cruise. I am convinced, from what I
know of you, that you will exercise no undue harshness, but will act
with tact and discretion, as well as firmness."

"I will try to do so, your Excellency. I feel that it is a heavy
responsibility and will spare no pains to justify the unmerited honour
that has been bestowed upon me."

"You have seen that the taking in of stores is complete, and that
nothing is wanting for the voyage?"

"Yes, sir. I stood by while the overseer of stores checked off every
sack and barrel as it came on board. The water is to be brought off this
evening, and as I was unable to be present, Sir Ralph Harcourt is there
to count the barrels and see that all are full."

"Goodbye, Sir Gervaise," the grand master said, as the interview
terminated.

"Hitherto you have given me, from the time you reached the Island,
naught but reason for satisfaction at my nomination of you as page,
and I have no fear that you will fail this time. Remember that valour,
however great, cannot prevail against overpowering odds. You had a
lesson of that when you served under Ricord, though finally the affair
turned out well. I do not say, don't attempt desperate undertakings, but
don't attempt impossible ones. Be careful of the lives of your knights.
Remember that ere long every sword may be of the utmost consequence in
the defence of Rhodes, and that even the capture of pirates may be too
dearly purchased; but that, at the same time, the honour of the flag
of the Order must be upheld at all hazards. Ah!" he broke off, seeing
a slight smile on the young knight's face, "you think my orders
contradictory? It may be so; but you know what I mean, and I fear not
that you will blunder in carrying them out. Be prudent, and yet not
over prudent. I mean, be not rash, unless there are such benefits to be
obtained as would justify great risk in obtaining them."

On returning to the auberge, Gervaise had a long chat with Ralph.

"I think the admiral's talk with us this afternoon had an excellent
effect, Gervaise. I do not say that every one was not before disposed
to obey you in all things, willingly and cheerfully; but he put it so
strongly to them that they had volunteered specially for service in this
galley, knowing well who was to be its commander, and the circumstance
that the crew was to consist solely of young knights, and had therefore
specially pledged their honour so to act that the enterprise should be
in all respects a successful one. To render it so, obedience was even
a greater necessity than valour. This was the most important of all the
vows taken by the knights of the Order, and it was only by the strictest
and most unquestioning obedience on the part of all to the orders of
their superiors, that the work of a vast community could be carried
on. Passing over the fact that you were their superior in rank, both as
being a secular knight and a knight commander of the Order, you had
been specially appointed by the grand master and council, as well as
by himself, and that they bestowed upon you while at sea, and in
the absence of any officers of superior rank, their full powers and
authority. You were, in fact, their representative and agent, and
therefore to be regarded with the same deference and respect that would
be due to the oldest knight similarly placed. 'Lastly,' he said, in a
less serious tone, 'you must remember that this is an experiment, and,
as some think, a somewhat rash one. Never before did a galley, manned
entirely from among the youngest of our knights, put to sea; and you may
be sure that, unless successful, the experiment is not likely to be ever
repeated. You have been selected from among many other candidates, and
you have not only to justify the choice, but to uphold the reputation
and honour of the young knights of your Order, by all of whom your
doings will be regarded with special interest, as reflecting credit not
only upon yourselves individually, but as representatives and champions
of them all.'

"I could see that his words had a great effect. He had placed me beside
him, and I marked their faces as he spoke. Each face lit up at his
appeal, and I do not think there was one but silently registered a vow
to do all in his power to prove himself worthy of the confidence placed
in him and his companions by the grand master and admiral. I had before
no shadow of fear that everything would not go well. I knew almost all
of them personally, and if I myself had had the selection from among
the whole body of knights in the convent, I could not have made a choice
that would have suited me better. It seems to me that in each auberge
the bailiff has endeavoured to pick out the seven young knights whom he
considered would most worthily support the honour of the langue. Still,
confident as I was before, I feel more so now, after the admiral's
address to us."

"I had no fear either, Ralph, though doubtless the admiral's words
will carry great weight with them. It was thoughtlessness rather than
anything else that I dreaded; but now that the admiral himself has
spoken to them, there is no fear that anything will occur to give us
trouble. I have particularly noticed that when we have been on board,
and have been laughing and chatting together before we got under way,
their manner changed directly the first order was given, and that all
the commands were carried out with as much goodwill and alacrity as if
they were under Ricord himself."

On the following morning the knights all went on board the Santa
Barbara. Their baggage was carried down by slaves, and by the personal
servants from each auberge who were to go as their attendants during
the voyage. The grand master had advanced Gervaise a sum equal to half a
year's income of his commandery, and with this he had purchased a stock
of the best wines, and various other luxuries, to supplement the rations
supplied from the funds of the Order to knights when at sea. Gervaise
had to go round early to the admiral to sign the receipt for stores and
to receive his final orders in writing. All were, therefore, on board
before him and, when he arrived, were drawn up in military order to
receive him.

Every knight was in full armour, and as, at a word from Ralph, they
drew their swords and saluted the young commander, Gervaise felt with a
thrill of pleasure and of confidence that with such a following he
need not fear any encounter with a pirate force, unless in overwhelming
numbers.

The young knights were all, with the exception only of Ralph Harcourt,
between the ages of seventeen and nineteen, and their young faces, free
in most cases even from the suspicion of a moustache, looked almost
those of boys. But there was no mistaking the ardour and enthusiasm in
their faces, and the lack of breadth and weight, that years alone would
give to them, was compensated by skill in their weapons, acquired by
long and severe training, and by the activity and tireless energy of
youth.

"Knights and comrades," Gervaise said as, after walking through the
double line to the end of the poop he turned and faced them, "I am
proud indeed to command so gallant a body of knights. The success of our
expedition depends upon you rather than upon me, and as I feel assured
of your warm cooperation I have no fear as to what the result will be,
if Dame Fortune will but favour us by throwing in our way some of those
scourges of the sea in search of whom we are about to set out. Many of
us have already encountered them, and, fighting side by side with older
knights, have borne our share of the work, while those who have not done
so will, I am sure, do equally well when the opportunity arrives. We
shall not this voyage have the encouragement and confidence inspired by
the presence of those who have long and valiantly borne the standard of
the Order; but, on the other hand, we have to show that we are worthy
of the confidence reposed in us, and that the young knights of the Order
can be trusted to emulate the deeds of those who have rendered the name
of the Hospitallers a terror to the infidel."

A shout of approbation greeted the close of his address. Gervaise then
walked forward to the end of the poop, and looked down upon the slaves,
who, with their oars out, were awaiting the order to row.

"Men," he said in Turkish, "it is my desire that, while it is necessary
that you should do your work, your lot shall be no heavier than can be
avoided. You will not be taxed beyond your powers, save when the enemy
is in sight, or there is supreme need for haste, but then you must be
called upon for your utmost exertions. I wish your work to be willing.
I abhor the use of the lash, and so long as each man does his fair quota
of work, I have given the strictest orders that it shall never be used.
I have, at my own cost, made provision that your daily rations shall be
improved while under my command. Meat will be served out to you daily,
when it can be obtained, and for those of you who hold that the strict
tenets of your religion may be relaxed while engaged in such severe
labour, a ration of wine will also be served out; and such other
indulgences as are compatible with the discipline and safety of the
ship, will also be granted to you."

There was a murmur of gratitude among the slaves. Gervaise then gave the
order to row, and the galley started on her voyage. The knights had now
fallen out from their ranks, and were soon laughing and talking gaily.
Being all of noble families and knightly rank, there was, except when on
actual duty, a tone of perfect equality and good fellowship prevailing
among them. French was the common language, for as the Order was of
French foundation, and three of the seven langues belonged to that
country, most of the high dignitaries being chosen from their ranks,
it was natural that the French language should be the general medium of
communication between them.

Until noon the slaves rowed steadily and well. Work was then stopped,
for there was scarce a breath of wind stirring the water. Even under the
awning that had, as the sun gained power, been erected over the poop,
the heat was oppressive. The knights had all divested themselves of
their armour, and most of them retired below for a siesta. As soon as
the slaves stopped rowing, an awning, which Gervaise had purchased,
and which was rolled up under the break of the poop, was, to their
astonishment, drawn over them.

"Don't you think you are spoiling your slaves, Sir Gervaise?" one of the
Spanish knights asked doubtfully.

"On the contrary, Sir Pedro, I hope that I am improving them. You have
not worked as a galley slave, but I have, and I can assure you that I
used to feel the hours when we were lying broiling in the sun, doing
nothing, much more trying than those during which I was at work. I used
to be quite giddy and sick with the heat, and on getting out the
oars again had scarce strength to work them. But this is not the most
important point. In port the slaves always sleep in the prison, but at
sea they must rest on their benches; and to do so with clothes soaked
with the heavy dew must be a severe trial, and most prejudicial to the
health. The awning cost but a few ducats, and I reckon that, putting
aside the comfort to the slaves, it will be very speedily repaid by
their better health and capacity for labour. When away in the galley
with Sir Louis Ricord, I used to feel the greatest pity for the
unfortunate wretches when at daybreak, in their drenched clothes, and
shivering with cold and wet, they rose to commence their work. I then
took a vow that if ever I should come to command a galley I would
provide an awning for the slaves."

Two or three of the knights standing by expressed their warm approval
of what Gervaise said. There was, in those days, but little of that
sentiment of humanity that is now prevalent, and slaves were everywhere
regarded as mere beasts of burden rather than as human beings. When,
however, they had the question put to them, as Gervaise had done, they
were ready to give a hearty agreement, although it was the utilitarian
rather than the humanitarian side of the question that recommended it
to them. After three hours' rest the journey was renewed, and just
at nightfall the galley anchored off an islet lying to the north of
Carpathos.

While the servants were laying the tables along the poop for the
evening meal, Gervaise went down to see that his orders were carried out
regarding the food for the slaves. They were already eating their
bread and meat with an air of satisfaction that showed how warmly they
appreciated the unusual indulgence, while there were few indeed who did
not hold up their drinking horns as a servant passed along between the
benches with a skin of wine. Gervaise spoke to many of them.

"Ah, my lord," one of them said, "if we were always treated like this,
slavery would be endurable. For ten years have I rowed in Christian
galleys, but never before has an awning been spread to keep off the sun
or the dew. We shall not forget your kindness, my lord, and will row our
hardest right cheerfully when you call upon us for an effort."

There was a murmur of assent from the galley slaves around.

"May Allah be merciful to you, as you are merciful to us!" another slave
exclaimed. "The blessing of those whom you regard as infidels can at
least do you no harm."

"On the contrary, it can do me good," Gervaise said. "The God you
Moslems and we Christians worship is, I believe, the same, though under
another name."

Gervaise had, indeed, during his long conversations with Suleiman Ali,
often discussed with him the matter of his faith, and had come, in
consequence, to regard it in a very different light to that in which it
was viewed by his companions. There was faith in one God at the
bottom of both Mohammedanism and Christianity. The Mohammedans held
in reverence the lawgivers and prophets of the Old Testament, and even
regarded Christ Himself as being a prophet. They had been grievously led
away by Mahomet, whom Gervaise regarded as a false teacher; but as he
had seen innumerable instances of the fidelity of the Moslems to their
creed, and the punctuality and devotion with which the slaves said their
daily prayers, exposed though they were to the scorn and even the anger
of their taskmasters, he had quite lost, during his nine months
of constant association with Suleiman Ali, the bigoted hatred of
Mohammedanism so universal at the time. He regarded Moslems as foes to
be opposed to the death; but he felt that it was unfair to hate them for
being hostile to Christianity, of which they knew nothing.



CHAPTER XIII THE FIRST PRIZES


After leaving the slaves, Gervaise joined his companions on the poop.
They were engaged in an animated discussion as to whether it was
advisable to grant indulgences to slaves. The majority approved of the
steps Gervaise had taken, but some asserted that these concessions would
only lead them to look for more, and would create discontent among the
crews of other galleys not so favoured.

"Well, comrades," said Gervaise, "I think that so far I am better
qualified than any of you to give an opinion; but it may be that it will
fall to the lot of some of you to be a slave in Turkish hands. In that
case, I can affirm with certainty, that you will keenly appreciate any
alleviation, however small, of your lot. You must remember that the one
feeling of the slave is dull despair. Death is the only relief he has
to look forward to. Do you think that a man so feeling can do his best,
either at an oar or at any other kind of work? I am sure it would not be
so in my case. But if you brighten his life a little, and show him
that he is not regarded as merely a brute beast, and that you take some
interest in him, he will work in a different spirit. Even viewed from a
merely monetary point of view it must pay well to render him as content
as possible with his lot. You know how great is the mortality among the
slaves--how they pine away and die from no material malady that can be
detected, but simply from hopelessness and weariness of life, aided,
undoubtedly, in the case of the galley slaves, by sleeping in the damp
night air after an exposure all day to the full heat of the sun. This
brings an answer to your second objection. Undoubtedly it might cause
discontent among the slaves of other galleys when they hear that others
are treated better than themselves. But I hope that if, on our return,
we bring back all our slaves in good condition and health, the contrast
between their appearance and that of the slaves in most other galleys
will be so marked that the admiral may consider it would be well to
order awnings to be fixed to all the vessels of the Order, and even to
grant to all slaves, when away on voyages, the little indulgences I
have given them here. The expense would be very trifling, and it would
certainly add a great deal to the average life of a slave, and would
render him capable of better work. There is another advantage. If
the Turks learn that their countrymen in our hands are treated with a
certain amount of kindness and consideration, it might lead them to act
similarly to those of our Order who may be unfortunate enough to fall
into their hands."

"There is a great deal in what you say, Sir Gervaise," one of the
knights, who had before taken the opposite point of view, said. "There
is no reason why our galley should not be a model one, and though, like
enough, the seniors will laugh at our making innovations, D'Aubusson
is a reformer, and will certainly support anything that he sees to be
beneficial, from whatever quarter it comes."

Supper was now served, and the young knights were well pleased with the
entertainment provided for them. It was the principal meal of the day.
Their fast was broken by a glass of wine, a manchet of bread, and fruit
soon after rising. At eleven o'clock they sat down to a more substantial
meal; but in that climate the heat was at that hour considerable, and as
there were duties to be performed, there was no sitting long at table.
At supper the day's work was over, their appetite was sharpened by the
cool evening breeze, and the meal was hearty and prolonged. After it was
concluded, several of the knights brought up from below viols and other
instruments of music; for the ability to accompany the voice with such
an instrument was considered an essential part of the education of a
knight.

For some hours the songs and romances, so popular at the time, were sung
in the various languages represented on board; then the knights, one by
one, went down to their sleeping places, until only the seven knights of
the langue of Auvergne, who were to watch the first night, remained on
deck. Five of these wrapped themselves in their mantles and lay down on
the benches. One of the others descended to the waist, walked along the
plank between the lines of sleeping slaves, and took up his place in
the bow, while the other paced up and down the poop, the fall of
his footsteps being the only sound to break the silence that reigned
throughout the ship.

In the morning, as soon as the knights had all taken a plunge in the
sea, the oars were got out, and the galley proceeded on her way. Passing
through the islands and skirting the southern shore of Greece, she
continued her course west. Malta was sighted, but they did not put in
there. Pantellaria was passed, and in a fortnight after leaving Rhodes,
Cape Bon, at the entrance to the bay of Tunis, was sighted. Until Greece
was left behind them, the nights had generally been spent in small
ports, where supplies of fresh meat, fish, and fruit, were obtainable.
So far no incident had marked the voyage. The weather had continued
fine, and they had heard nothing, from ships they had fallen in with,
of any Moslem pirates having been seen. A few hours, however, after
sighting the coast of Africa, a dark object was seen ahead.

"It is a ship of some sort," Ralph said; "but her masts have gone. It
may be that she is a merchantman that has been captured and sacked by
the Moorish pirates."

Orders were given to the rowers to quicken their pace, and in little
over an hour they were alongside the hull. As soon as the vessels were
close enough for those on the poop of the galley to look down on to
the deck of the other craft, it was seen that Ralph's suppositions were
correct. Two bodies lay stretched upon it. One was crushed under the
fallen mast; the other lay huddled up in a heap, a cannon ball having
almost torn him asunder. The knights leapt on to the deck as soon as the
galley ran alongside. Gervaise made first for the man lying beneath the
mast; as he came up to him, the sailor opened his eyes and murmured,
"Water!" Gervaise called out to one of the servants to bring water from
the galley, and, as soon as it came, poured some between the man's lips,
and the knights by their united efforts lifted the mast from across his
body. It was evident, however, that he had but a short time to live,
and the dew of death was on his face. After a few minutes he rallied a
little, and looked gratefully at his rescuers.

"You have been attacked by pirates," Gervaise said. "Was there one
galley, or two?"

"Three galleys," the man replied in a faint whisper.

"Do you know where they were from?"

"Tripoli."

"How long ago?"

"It was about three hours after sunrise when we saw them coming up," the
man said, his voice gaining in strength, as some wine they gave him took
effect. "It was useless to fight, and I hauled down our flag, but in
spite of that one of the pirates fired a broadside, and one of the
shot hit the mast and brought it down, and I was crushed under it. They
boarded us, took off all the crew as captives, and emptied the hold; I
knew that I was done for, and begged them to kill me; but they paid
no attention. I know a little of their language, and as I lay there I
caught something of what they were saying; they are bound for the Island
of Sardinia, where they have a rendezvous, and are to join a great
gathering of their consorts. I don't know the name of the place, but it
is on the east coast. More water!"

Gervaise knelt to pour some water between his lips, when he gave a
sudden cry, a shudder ran through his frame, and he was dead.

"Let us return on board, gentlemen," Gervaise said, rising to his feet.
"We can do nothing here."

As soon as he regained the deck of the galley, he signed to Ralph to
follow him below.

"Now, Ralph," he said, "this is one of those cases in which we have to
decide whether we ought or ought not to be prudent. From what that poor
fellow said, the pirates have about five hours' start of us, and as they
can have no idea that they are pursued, we can doubtless overtake them
before they reach Sardinia. The question is, ought we to pursue them at
once, or ought we to coast along until we find Visconti's galley? Three
of these Tripoli pirates, crowded as they always are with men, would
prove serious opponents, yet we might engage them with a fair hope of
victory. But we may be seriously disabled in the fight, and should be,
perhaps, unable to carry the news to Genoa that there are many pirate
ships gathering on the coast of Sardinia to prey upon their commerce."

"We might be days, or even weeks, before we light upon Visconti's
galley, Gervaise, and even when we found it, he might not consider
himself justified in leaving the coast where he is stationed. Besides,
while we are spending our time looking for him, the pirates will be
committing terrible depredations. It must be a big expedition, under
some notorious pirate, or they would never venture so far north."

"Then you think that I should be justified in pursuing them alone. It is
a fearful responsibility to have to decide."

"I think so, Gervaise. There is no saying what misfortunes might happen
if we did not venture to do so."

"Very well then, so be it. But before deciding finally on so grave a
matter, I will lay it before the company."

"There is no doubt as to what their decision will be," Ralph said, with
a smile.

"Perhaps not, Ralph; but as they will be called upon to risk their lives
in a dangerous enterprise, it is as well that they should have a say in
the matter."

When they returned on to the poop, there was an expression of eagerness
and excitement on the faces of the young knights which showed how
anxiously they had been awaiting the result of the conference below.
Gervaise stepped on to a bench, and motioned to them to close up round
him.

"Comrades," he said, "although the responsibility of whatever course may
be taken must rest upon my shoulders, yet I think it but right that,
as a general before a battle often calls a council of war to assist him
with its advice, so I should lay before you the two courses open to us,
and ask your opinion upon them. Sir Ralph Harcourt and I are of one mind
in the matter, but as the decision is a grave one we should be loath to
act upon it without your concurrence."

He then repeated the alternatives as he had laid them before Ralph.
"Now," he went on, "as you see, there is grave danger, and much risk
in the one course; but if successful its advantages are obvious. On
the other hand, the second plan is more sure, more prudent, and more in
accordance with the instructions I have received. I ask you to let me
know frankly your opinion on the subject. If your view agrees with ours,
although it will not relieve me from the responsibility of deciding,
it will at least, in the event of things turning out badly, be a
satisfaction to know that the course had your approval, and that it was
your desire, as well as ours, that we should undertake it. First, then,
let all who are in favour of following the pirates go to the starboard
side of the deck, while those who are in favour of joining Visconti, and
laying this serious matter we have discovered before him, move to the
larboard side."

There was a rush of the knights to the right, and not one moved to the
other side.

"Your decision is the same as ours," Gervaise said. "To the north, then!
If there is great peril in the adventure, there is also great honour to
be gained."

The knights gave a shout of satisfaction at finding that their choice
was also that of the officers.

"Lay her head to the north," Gervaise said to the pilot. Then he went
to the end of the poop, and ordered the slaves to row on. "Row a long,
steady stroke, such as you can maintain for many hours. We have a long
journey before us, and there is need for haste. Now is the time for
willing work."

The oars dipped into the water, and the galley was soon moving along
at a much faster pace than that at which they had performed the journey
from Rhodes. The slaves had not, from their benches, been able to see
what had passed on board the dismantled vessel, but from the order and
the change of course, they had no doubt that the knights had obtained
some clue to the direction taken by the corsairs who had captured and
sacked the ship.

"There is but little wind," Gervaise said to Ralph, "and their sails
will be of slight use to them; therefore we shall go fully three feet to
their two. It is quite possible that we may not catch sight of them,
for we cannot tell exactly the course they will take. We shall steer for
Cape Carbonara, which is some hundred and thirty miles distant. If we
do not see them by the time we get there, we shall be sure that we have
passed them on the way, unless, indeed, a strong wind should spring up
from the south. However, I hope that we shall catch sight of them before
that, for we shall be able from our lookout to discover their masts and
sails some eight or ten miles away, while they will not be able to see
us until we are within half that distance. They cannot be more than
twenty miles away now, for the light breeze will aid them but little,
and as they will see no occasion for haste, they will not be rowing at
their full power, with so long a passage before them."

Already, indeed, one of the knights had perched himself on the seat at
the top of a low mast some fifteen feet above the poop, that served as a
lookout.

"You can see nothing yet, I suppose, Cairoli?"

"No; the line of sea is clear all round."

It was indeed some four hours before the knight on the lookout cried
that he could make out three dark specks on the horizon. Gervaise at
once ascended to the lookout, by the ladder that was fixed against the
post.

"They are making to the left of the course we are taking. Turn her head
rather more to the west. That will do. They are directly ahead now." He
then came down to the deck again. "I would that we had seven or eight
more hours of daylight, Ralph, instead of but three at the outside.
However, as we know the course they are taking, we are not likely to
miss them, for as we shall not be near enough for them to make us out
before the sun sets, there will be no chance of their changing it. Do
you think they will row all night?"

"I should not think so. If the land were nearer they might keep on until
they make it, but as they have had no wind since daylight, they will lie
on their oars until morning. You see, at sunset they will still be some
eighty miles from Cape Carbonara, and the slaves could not possibly row
that distance without rest; so that if we keep on we may take them by
surprise."

"That is what I have been thinking, Ralph, but it would be well not to
attack them until nearly daybreak. We should capture one galley easily
enough; but the others, being ignorant of our force, might make off in
different directions, and we might lose both of them. If, on the other
hand, we could fall upon them a short time before daylight, we should be
able to keep them in sight, and, even if they separated, they would soon
come together and continue their course, or, as I hope, when they see
that we are alone, bear up and fight us. I think that our best plan will
be to row on until it is dark, then give the slaves six hours' rest, and
after that go on quietly. If we can make them out, which we may do if
they have lights on board, we will stop, and wait until it is the hour
to attack them. If we miss them, we will row on to Sardinia and lie up,
as we proposed, until they come along."

"I think that will be a very good plan, Gervaise."

Before sunset the three pirate ships could be clearly made out from the
deck, but the pilot judged them to be fully ten miles away. Half an hour
later the slaves were told to cease rowing. Gervaise had ordered the
cooks to prepare them a good meal, and this was at once served, together
with a full ration of wine. As soon as they had consumed it, they were
told to lie down and sleep, as at one o'clock the galley would be again
under way.

The knights' supper was served below, as lights on the poop might be
made out, should a lookout be placed by the corsairs in their tops.

"We had better follow the example of the galley slaves," Gervaise said,
rising as soon as the meal was finished, "and, with the exception of
Spain, who is on watch, turn in to sleep till we are off again. All of
you will, of course, don your armour on rising."

At the appointed hour the galley was again under way. There was not a
breath of air, and before starting, pieces of cloth were wrapped round
the oars at the rowlocks to deaden the sound, which might otherwise have
been heard at a considerable distance on so still a night. After an hour
and a half's rowing, the knight on the lookout said that he could see a
light some distance ahead. The pilot, an experienced old sailor, joined
him, and speedily descended to the poop again.

"It is a ship's light," he said. "I should say that it was a lantern on
board the ship of the captain of the expedition, and is shown to enable
the other two to keep near him. I cannot say how far it is away, for
I do not know at what height it hangs above the water; but I should
imagine, from the feebleness of the light, that it must be some two
miles distant."

As soon as the light had been noticed, the slaves had been ordered to
cease rowing, and they were now told that they would not be required
again for fully two hours. When the first gleam of dawn appeared in
the east they were called to their work again. The lantern was still
burning, and, in a quarter of an hour, the knights on the poop were
able, in the broadening light, to make out three shadowy forms some
two miles ahead of them. They decreased this distance by more than half
before they could discern any signs of life or motion on board. Then
a sudden stir was apparent; they could hear shouts from one vessel to
another, oars were thrust out, and an effort made to get the heads of
the ships in the same direction, so as to catch the light breeze that
had just sprung up.

The moment he saw that the galley was discovered, Gervaise shouted down
to the slaves to row their hardest, and told the pilot to steer for the
ship farthest to the east. She was some four or five hundred yards from
her nearest consort, and the same distance separated that vessel from
the third craft.

"We shall have time to carry her, Ralph, before the others come to her
assistance, and they will only arrive one at a time. If we were to lie
alongside the middle craft, which is probably that of the chief, as it
is she that has the light burning, we might have the other two upon us
before we had done with her, for she is evidently the largest, and most
likely the strongest handed, of them."

The leader of the pirates evidently saw that there was no chance of
evading the fight. A flag was run up to the masthead of his ship, and
the three vessels began to endeavour to turn, so as to meet the galley.
The operation, however, took some time. In the confusion, orders were
misunderstood, and instead of all the slaves on one side rowing whilst
those on the other side backed, all order was lost, and long before the
craft for which the galley was making had got round, the latter was upon
her.

"Shall I ram her, Sir Gervaise?" the pilot asked.

"No; we might damage ourselves; besides, I do not want to sink her.
Sheer away the oars on one side!"

The galley carried eight guns--three on each side of the poop, and two
forward; and these had been loaded with small pieces of iron. A few
shots had been fired by the pirates, but, owing to the confusion that
prevailed on board, the guns were discharged so hurriedly that the shot
either flew overhead or passed wide of the galley. Excited as the young
knights were, and eager for the fray, a general laugh broke out as the
galley swept along by the pirate ship, breaking many of her oars, and
hurling all the slaves who manned them backwards off their benches. A
moment later the guns poured their iron contents among the pirates who
clustered thickly on the forecastle and poop, and as the vessels grated
together the knights sprang on board the corsair.

The members of the English langue had each been provided with short
pieces of rope, and before joining their companions in the fray they
lashed the vessels together, side by side. The fight was a very short
one. France and Auvergne, led by Ralph Harcourt, boarded at the bow, the
other five langues at the poop; and so impetuous was their onset that
the pirates, who had still scarce recovered from their surprise at being
hastily aroused from sleep to repel the attack of the foe who had so
suddenly sprung out from the darkness upon them, offered but a feeble
resistance. Many threw themselves overboard, and swam to the ship
nearest to them; others were cut down; and the rest flung away their
arms, and cried for quarter.

All who did so were, without the loss of a minute's time, thrown down
into the hold of their ship, and the hatches secured over them. It had
before been arranged that Ralph should take the command of the corsair,
having with him France, Auvergne, and Germany. As soon, therefore, as
the captives were fastened below, Gervaise called the knights of the
other four langues back to the deck of the galley. The lashings were
cast off, she was pushed from the side of the prize, and the oars were
got out. There was no time to be lost, for the largest of the three
pirate ships, which had, directly it was seen that her consort
was captured, poured two heavy broadsides into the prize, was now
approaching--rowing but slowly, however, for the third vessel to come
up.

She was but a hundred yards away when the galley swept round the bow of
the prize and advanced to meet her. As she did so, Ralph discharged the
eight guns of the prize, which he had at once reloaded, into the bow of
the corsair, the shot raking the crowded deck from end to end. When but
a few yards distant, the two bow guns of the galley poured in a shower
of missiles, and a moment later she ran alongside the pirate, the poop
guns, as before, preparing the way for the boarders. But no sooner had
they leapt on deck than they were met by the pirates, headed by their
captain.

Gervaise had specially charged the knights not to allow themselves to
be carried away by their ardour. "We are sure to be greatly outnumbered,
and, when we first spring on board, we must cut our way across the deck,
and then form ourselves in a double or treble line across it, and, so
fighting, gradually force them before us."

This, in spite of the efforts of the pirates, was accomplished, and,
once formed, the corsairs strove in vain to break through the wall
of steel. For a time, however, no forward movement could be made, so
furious were the attacks upon them, led by the pirate chief. Several
times breaches were made in the front rank, but the knights behind each
time bore back the assault, and restored the line. The knights had won
their way half along the poop when a yell of exultation rose from the
corsairs as the third of their vessels rowed up on the other side of the
galley, and her crew sprang on board it. Gervaise called the knights of
the second line from their places, and ranged them along the bulwark, to
prevent the Moors from boarding from the poop of the galley.

Then for a moment he looked round. The prize was creeping up, and was a
length or two away, coming up alongside. Its approach was also noticed
by the pirates, who, with wild shouts, flung themselves upon their
opponents. Gervaise sprang forward to take the place of a young Italian
knight, who staggered back, with his helmet cleft by a heavy blow from
the keen yataghan of the pirate captain. The corsair, shouting his war
cry of "Allah!" sprang with the bound of a wild cat upon Gervaise; his
weapon descended on his uplifted guard, and shore right through the
stout blade. With a shout of triumph, the corsair raised his arm to
repeat the blow; but Gervaise in turn sprang forward, and struck with
all his force with the pommel of his sword on the forehead of his
opponent. The latter fell as if shot, his weapon dropping from his hand
beside him.

Dismayed at the fall of their leader, his followers recoiled for a
moment. Another tall pirate sprang forward to take his place, and,
shouting to them to follow, was about to throw himself upon Gervaise,
when a gun crashed out close alongside. A storm of iron swept away the
front line of Moors, and the shout of "St. John!" "St. John!" rose above
the din. It was one of the bow guns of the prize, and as she swept along
gun after gun poured its contents among the pirates.

"Do you clear the galley, Ralph. We can manage here now," Gervaise said,
as Ralph leapt on board. The latter, followed by his party of knights,
rushed across the poop, and sprang on to the galley among the pirates,
who had been striving in vain to break through the line of defenders.
Gervaise called to his party to follow him, and, taking the offensive,
fell upon the remnant of the corsairs who still held the forward end of
the poop.

The discharge of the cannon at such close quarters had wrought terrible
havoc among them, and the pirates, with but slight resistance, turned,
and either ran down the ladder or leapt into the water. The knights
followed them forward among the benches of the rowers, who cheered
loudly in many tongues as they passed them. At the forecastle the Moors
made another stand, but the knights forced their way up, and in two
minutes all was over.

"Now to the aid of our comrades!" Gervaise shouted, as the last of the
corsairs was struck down.

Ralph's party had indeed cleared the poop of the galley, but they in
vain endeavoured to climb up on to that of the third pirate ship, whose
superior height gave a great advantage to its defenders. Gervaise leapt
down on to the bow of the galley, followed by the knights, and then ran
aft until he could climb into the waist of the pirate. So intent were
the corsairs upon defending the poop that they did not see what was
going on elsewhere, and Gervaise had obtained a fair footing before he
was noticed. Then a number of men ran down and attacked his party. But
it was too late, for the whole of the knights had, by this time, leaped
on board. Their assailants were forced back, and, pressing close upon
them, the knights gained the poop before the main body of the pirates
were aware of their coming.

Warned by the shouts and shrieks of their comrades that they had been
taken in the rear, the Moslems who were defending the side of the poop
wavered for a moment. Ralph took advantage of their hesitation, and
sprang on board, his companions pouring in after him. There was a
stern and desperate fight. The Moslems fought with the fury of despair,
disdaining to ask or accept quarter. A few leapt overboard, preferring
death by drowning to that by the swords of the Christians; but the great
majority died fighting to the last. A shout of triumph rose from the
knights as the last of the Moslems fell.

The first impulse of all of them was to take off their helmets in order
to breathe the fresh air, and for a while they all stood panting from
their exertions.

"Nobly and gallantly done, comrades!" Gervaise exclaimed. "This is
indeed a victory of which we have all a right to be proud. Now, the
first thing is to free the slaves of their shackles; there are many
white faces among them. Let our langue look after the wounded, while the
released captives clear the decks of the bodies of the fallen pirates."

It took an hour's hard work to knock off the chains of the slaves. The
greater portion of them were Christians--Greeks, Italians, Spaniards,
and French, who had been captured in various raids by the corsairs; and
among them were the crew of the ship that had been overhauled by the
galley on the previous day. Besides these, there were a few Moslems who
had been sentenced to labour in the galleys for various crimes.

Among the Christians, the joy at their liberation was intense. Some
laughed, some cried, others were too overcome to speak coherently. Among
the rest were found, to the intense pleasure of their rescuers, three
knights of the Order who had for years been missing. They had been taken
prisoners on an island at which the galley to which they belonged
had touched. Many of the knights had landed, and three of them, all
belonging to the langue of Italy, had wandered away from the rest, and
had not returned. A search had been made for them, and it was discovered
that a struggle had taken place. As there were no marks of blood, it
was supposed that they were suddenly pounced upon by a party of hidden
marauders, who had been watching them from some hiding place, and had
thrown themselves upon the knights before they had had time to draw
their swords. Following the trail by bushes broken down, and plants
crushed under foot, it was found to lead to a creek on the other side
of the island. Here there were signs that a craft had been anchored,
as there were the ashes of fires, fragments of food, and other matters,
scattered about on the shore. Hours had passed before the knights had
been missed, and therefore the craft in which they had been carried off
was long out of sight. Letters were written by the grand master to
the Pasha of Syria, to the Emperor of Egypt, and to the Bey of Tunis,
offering to ransom the knights, but all replied that they were unaware
of any such captives having been landed.

An attempt had then been made to ascertain whether they had been carried
to Tripoli; but the bey had little authority over the various tribesmen
along the coast, and only replied that no such captives had been sold in
the city. Thus all hope of ransoming them had died away, and their names
were inscribed in the list of those who had fallen into the hands of the
infidels, but of whose subsequent fate no clue could be obtained.

All were greatly emaciated, and their faces showed signs of the
sufferings they had undergone. The young knights were all familiar
with their names, but personally none had known them, for they had been
carried off two or three months before Gervaise and Ralph Harcourt had
arrived at Rhodes.

All three had struggled desperately to break their chains while the
fight was going on, and had, as soon as the contest was decided, risen
to their feet and shouted the battle cry of the Order; then, overcome by
their emotions, they sank down upon their benches, and remained as if
in a stupor until the knights, who had hurried first to them, struck
off their fetters. Then the three men grasped each other's hands, while
tears streamed down their cheeks.

"It is no dream, comrades," one of them said, in a hoarse voice. "We are
free again. Let us first return thanks to God for our release, and then
we can thank these our brothers."

The three knights knelt at the benches where they had toiled and
suffered, and hid their faces in their hands. No sounds came from their
lips, but their stifled sobs and the heaving of their naked shoulders,
seamed and scarred by the strokes of their taskmasters' whips, told
the young knights, who stood unhelmeted and silent around, how deep was
their emotion. Then they rose.

"I am Fabricius Caretto," one said; "this is Giacomo Da Vinci; this
Pietro Forzi: all knight commanders of the Order, and now for six years
prisoners in the hands of these corsairs. Assuredly no one would know
us, so changed are we." He looked round inquiringly for a familiar face.
"Your commander must surely be a comrade of ours?"

"We know all your names," Gervaise said, coming forward, "though none
of us reached the convent until after your capture. I have the honour
to command this galley. My name is Gervaise Tresham, and I have for my
lieutenant Sir Ralph Harcourt. All of us, glad as we are at the capture
we have effected of these three corsairs, are still more pleased that we
should have been the means of rescuing three noble knights of our Order
from captivity. Now, I pray you first of all to accompany me on
board the galley, where we will do all we can to make you forget the
sufferings you have gone through. After you have bathed, and reclad
yourselves, I will present to you the knights my comrades, amongst whom
are seven of your own langue. Three of these I will tell off to see to
your comfort, for, as you will understand, I have my hands full indeed
at present."

"First, before all things, Sir Knight, let me express to you all our
deep gratitude and our admiration of the gallant deed that you have
accomplished in thus, single handed, capturing three vessels belonging
to the fiercest and most dreaded of the corsairs of Tripoli. God bless
you all, sirs"--and his voice broke again--"for the deed you have done,
and for bringing us out of this living hell!"

Gervaise called to three of the Italian knights, and, followed by them
and the released captives, led the way to the galley. Here he left them
in charge of their countrymen. "Give them each a draught of old Cyprus,
and something to eat," he said aside to one of the knights; "they sorely
need refreshment before aught else, for, as you see, they are well nigh
dazed with this unlooked for change. I will put out clothes enough
for one of them; the others you must supply for the present from your
stores. Now I must be off."

There was indeed much to be done. Four of the knights were told off to
attend upon the most urgent cases among their own wounded. Only two of
their number had been killed outright, but there were four serious cases
among the wounded, while eight or ten others had received wounds that
required bandaging and attending to. As fast as the slaves' fetters
were struck off, food and wine were given to them, together with such
garments as could be found at the moment. Then the bodies of the fallen
pirates were thrown overboard, while the wounded were attended to, and
the released Christians were divided equally between the three prizes.
To each of these the knights of one of the langues were told off, the
seniors being appointed to the command. There were in all some ninety
Christian captives on board the three ships. Thus each vessel had a
complement of seven knights and thirty Christians, and to these were
added ten of the thirty Moslems found at the oars, and fifteen of the
pirates to whom quarter had been given.

It was past noon before all these arrangements had been made, and during
the time so occupied, the ships lay idly side by side, drifting slowly
before the wind, the sails having been lowered as soon as the struggle
was over. Up to this time, the knights had been too busily engaged to
think of food, but they were right glad when they were summoned to a
meal on board the galley.

Gervaise found the three knights in the cabin, dressed in the usual
attire of the Order. They presented a very different appearance, indeed,
to that which they wore when he had first seen them. They had bathed,
and combed their matted hair, which was alone sufficient to transform
them, but the feeling that they were once more free men, and knights of
an honoured Order, had done even more to effect the change; and although
they looked thin and worn, the martial bearing had come back naturally
as they donned their knightly robes and buckled on swords.

"I am glad to see that you are better," Gervaise said, as he went up to
greet them. "Twenty years seem to have dropped off your shoulders since
this morning."

"We are not the same men, Sir Gervaise. We were slaves, and are now
free. We were Christian dogs; now we are Christian knights. We were
subject to scoffs and blows; now, thank God, we have swords to strike
with, and though as yet our arms may not have regained their full
strength, we could at least bear a share in a fray. Our comrades have
been telling us somewhat of how this wonderful thing has come about,
and have been explaining what at first filled us with surprise, that a
galley should be manned solely by young knights, of whom their commander
is one of the youngest. We can testify, at least, that had the grand
master been himself in command, and his crew composed of veteran
knights, he could have done no better."

"We were fortunate in taking them so much by surprise that the first of
their ships fell into our hands before her consorts could come to her
assistance; and her guns did us good service in our struggle with the
others."

"The matter was well arranged, as well as gallantly fought," one of the
other knights said. "Had you first fallen foul of the chief's galley,
it would have gone hard with you, for his crew were so strong that you
could scarce have overcome them before the other two vessels came up to
his assistance."

"Now let us to our meal," Gervaise said.

The three knights were placed at the head of the table by him, and it
was pleasant to see how they enjoyed their food.

"I can scarce persuade myself that I am not dreaming," Caretto said.
"Sometimes, when lying at night, wet through with the damp air, I have
wondered to myself whether I could ever have lived thus, and whether
I should ever exchange my hard bread and water for what seemed to me
fabulous luxuries, though at the time one had taken them as a matter of
course. You cannot tell how strange it feels to me to come back to the
old life again."

"You will soon be accustomed to it," Gervaise said, with a smile, "and
then you will look upon your captivity as a dream, just as you then
regarded your past life."

"I suppose, Sir Gervaise," Pietro Forzi said, "that you will sail direct
for Rhodes with your prizes?"

"No indeed," Gervaise replied. "At the same time that we learned, from a
dying man left on board the ship the pirates captured yesterday, of
the course they had taken, and were so enabled to follow them, we also
learned that they were on their way to join a corsair fleet that was
collecting at some point on the eastern side of Sardinia, with the
intention of sweeping the coast of Italy. It was this, rather than the
capture of these three vessels, that induced us to disobey the general
instructions we had been given to cruise along the northern coast of
Africa, and determined us to push north to give warning along the coast
from Naples to Genoa of the danger that threatened, and, if possible, to
enable Genoa to fit out her galleys to encounter the corsairs. That duty
has still to be fulfilled, though I fear that Genoa will be able to
do little, for of late she has been engaged in a long civil struggle
between her great families, and has taken but a small part in maritime
affairs. However, we can at least warn her, as well as Naples, Pisa,
and other towns, and may possibly find some opportunity for ourselves
striking another blow against the pirates."

"If so, certainly we shall be glad to accompany you, if you will allow
us to serve under you; for nothing would please us so much as the
opportunity of paying off a small share of the vengeance we owe them.
But of course, if you would rather, we will sail for Rhodes in the
prizes."

"I am not thinking of sending them to Rhodes at present," Gervaise said.
"It seems to me that we may be able, in some way, to utilise them to
advantage. They have their sails, and rowers for the oars. There will
be, in each, besides seven knights of the Order, thirty men who, like
yourselves, must feel willing to strike a blow at their late oppressors.
I need hardly say that I shall be glad indeed to have the company and
aid of three such well known knights of the Order, and would, could I
do so, gladly resign my command into your experienced hands. But this
I cannot do, and, anticipating that you would be willing to join us in
this expedition, I have been thinking how I could best utilise your aid.
I have thought that, if you would accept the positions, I would appoint
one of you to each of the prizes, to act, not as its commander, but as
the leader of the band of released captives. Most of them are sailors,
of course, and with them you could work the guns and give effective aid
to the little party of knights in any actual fight."

The three knights all exclaimed that they would gladly accept the posts
he offered them.

"The idea is a capital one, Sir Gervaise; and, as long as it does
not come to close fighting, the three ships should be able to render
efficient aid to your galley in any encounter. They will be, at any
rate, a match for their own number of pirate ships," Caretto said.

As soon as the meal concluded, the Moslem captives were questioned one
by one as to the rendezvous at which the pirate fleet was to assemble;
all, however, protested that the place was known only to the three
commanders, all of whom had fallen in the fight.



CHAPTER XIV THE CORSAIR FLEET


An hour later all was ready for a start. The knights of the langues of
France, Germany, and Spain went on board their respective ships, as did
the three parties of released captives, with the knights who were to
command them, while the rowers took their seats on the benches, shackled
with the chains that had recently held the Christians. The wind was from
the south, and with sails and oars the prizes were able to keep fairly
abreast of the galley. With a few short intervals of rest, the slaves
continued their work all night, until, shortly before daybreak, land was
seen ahead, and the pilot at once pronounced it to be Cape Carbonara.

"A good landfall, Gervaise," Ralph said. "The pilot has done right well.
I suppose you mean to anchor when you get there?"

"Certainly, Ralph. The slaves will have rowed nearly eighteen hours,
with only two hours' rest. They must have some hours, at least, of sleep
before we go on. As you and I have been up all night, we will turn in
also. We will send a boat ashore to try and find out from the natives
they may come across whether any vessels, bearing the appearance of
Moorish corsairs, have been seen passing up the coast, and also to find
out what bays and inlets there are where they would be likely to anchor.
Some of the Italian knights had best go with the boat, for though I
believe these people speak a different dialect to those of the mainland,
they would have more chance of understanding them than any of the
others."

The sun had risen when the little fleet came to an anchor close to the
cape. A boat was at once prepared to go ashore, and Gervaise begged
Fabricius Caretto, the senior of the rescued Italian knights, to
endeavour to find out whether a swift sailing craft of some kind could
be hired. If so, he was to secure her on any terms, and come off in her
at once to the galley.

Gervaise had already talked the matter over with Ralph, and they agreed
that a strongly manned craft of this kind would go faster than any of
those they had taken, and that, moreover, it would be a pity to weaken
their force by sending one of the prizes away. Having seen them off,
Gervaise retired to the cabin and threw himself down for a short sleep,
leaving the knights who had been off watch during the night, to see
that all went well. In two hours he was roused. A native craft had come
alongside with Sir Fabricius Caretto.

"I think she is just the craft for us," the knight said, as Gervaise
came on deck. "She belongs to a large fishing village just round the
point to the left. There were several boats there, but the villagers all
said that this was the speediest vessel anywhere along the coast. She
belongs to two brothers, who, with four men, constitute her regular
crew; but I have arranged for twelve others to go in her, in order that
they may row her along at a good pace if the wind falls light."

"Are your companions come off yet?"

"No; but we can hoist a flag for their recall."

"Do so. I shall be greatly obliged if you will undertake this mission to
the seaports. It needs one of name and rank to speak with the nobles and
officials authoritatively."

"I will gladly do so, Sir Gervaise. Give me your instructions, and you
can rely upon my carrying them out."

"I thank you greatly, Sir Fabricius, and shall be glad if you will take
with you any two of the knights you may select. I have to write letters
for you to deliver to the authorities at Naples, Pisa, and Genoa. I
shall write but briefly, and leave you to explain matters more fully. I
shall merely say that I have intelligence of the arrival here of a fleet
of Moorish corsairs, of whose strength I am ignorant, but that assuredly
their intention is to make a raid on the commerce of the coast, and
perhaps to land at unprotected places. At Ostia, after warning the
authorities to send orders along the coast for the inhabitants to be on
their guard, pray them to carry word at once to Rome, and request his
Holiness the Pope to order some armed galleys to put to sea as soon
as possible. Beg them at Naples and Pisa to do the same thing. But of
course it is from Genoa that we must hope for the most assistance.

"In each place you will, if possible, see the syndic himself, and such
of his council as can be got quickly together. The moment you have done
all you can at Genoa sail for the Island of Madalena, which lies off the
northeastern point of the island. There you will either find us, or a
boat with a message where to direct your course. I think perhaps it will
be best to omit Naples--it will save you fully a day, if not two, to do
so. Pray them at Ostia to send off news down the coast, or to request
the papal authorities to despatch mounted messengers. 'Tis likely that,
at first, at any rate, the corsairs will try the narrower waters to the
north. From here to Ostia is nigh two hundred miles, and if the wind is
brisk you may arrive there tomorrow afternoon, and start again at night,
arriving at Pisa before noon on the following day; while, allowing for
four or five hours to ascend the river there, you may be at Genoa next
morning.

"Three hours should suffice to gather from the authorities what force
they can despatch, and as soon as you have learned this, embark again
and sail south. You may reach Madalena in two days. Thus, at the
earliest, it must be from six to seven days before you can bring us the
news there; if you meet with calms or foul winds you may be well nigh
double that time. If at Ostia you can get a faster craft than this, hire
it, or take a relay of fresh rowers. I will furnish you with means when
I give you the letters."

In less than half an hour Gervaise was on deck again. The boat had
returned with the other Italian knights. An ample store of provisions
had been placed on board the Sperondra, both for the crew and for the
three knights, and, without a minute's delay, these took their places on
board, the great sails were hoisted, and the craft glided rapidly away.

"The villagers spoke truly as to her speed," Ralph said, as they looked
after her. "Even with this light wind, she is running fully six miles an
hour, and as, by the look of the sky, there will be more of it soon, she
will make the run to Ostia well within the time we calculated."

Gervaise now questioned the other Italian knights as to what information
they had gained.

They said the peasants had told them that several strange craft, using
both oars and sails, had been noticed passing northwards, and that so
strong was the opinion that these were either Algerines or Tunisians
that, for the last three or four days, none of the fishing craft had
ventured to put to sea. They were able to tell but little as to the
bays along the coastline, which they described as very rugged and
precipitous. Five or six little streams ran, they knew, down from
the mountains. They thought the most likely places for corsairs to
rendezvous would be in a deep indentation north of Cape Bellavista, or
behind Cape Comino. If not at these places, they might meet in the great
bay at whose entrance stands Tavolara Island, and that beyond, there
were several deep inlets on the northeastern coast of the Island.
Gervaise had a consultation with Ralph.

"The first thing is to find out where these corsairs have their meeting
place, Ralph; and this must be done without their catching sight of the
galley or of the prizes, which some of them would be sure to recognise."

Ralph nodded.

"It is a difficult question, Gervaise. Of course, if we had a boat
speedy enough to row away from the corsairs it would be easy enough; but
with wind and oars they go so fast that no boat could escape them."

"That is quite certain, Ralph; and therefore, if it is done by a boat,
it must be by one so small and insignificant that they would pay but
little attention to it if they caught sight of it. My idea is that we
should take our own little boat, which is a fast one, paint it black, to
give it the appearance of a fisherman's boat, and hire a couple of good
rowers from the village. This, with one knight dressed as a fisherman,
should go ahead of us, and explore every inlet where ships could be
sheltered. We would follow ten miles behind. When we get near the places
where the natives think the fleet is likely to be, the boat must go on
at night, while we anchor. In that way they ought to be able to discover
the corsairs, while themselves unseen, and to gain some idea of their
numbers and the position in which they are anchored, and bring us back
news."

"Shall I go myself, Gervaise?"

"I could not spare you, Ralph. The risk of capture does not seem to me
to be great, but there certainly is a risk, and I dare not part with
you. It had better be an Italian, because there will doubtless be an
opportunity of landing at villages and questioning the inhabitants,
therefore we will send Fosco. If there are some eight or ten corsairs
gathered in any of these bays the news is sure to travel along the
shore, and we may get some tidings in that way. The first thing is to
send off to the village again to fetch two young fishermen; they must
be active fellows, strong, and possessed of some courage. I will ask da
Vinci to go himself and select them. While he is away we will paint our
boat black, and make ready for her to start at once; the sooner she is
off the better."

The Italian knight at once undertook the mission, and started for the
shore. Fosco, who had been chosen principally because he was light of
frame, as well as very shrewd and intelligent, was then called up, and
his mission explained to him. He was delighted at having been selected.
Gervaise took him down to the cabin, and they consulted the maps with
which the galley was furnished.

"You will row on to Muravera; it is some twenty miles from here. You
see, the village lies at the mouth of a river. As soon as you arrive
there, you will land and find out whether there is any report of
Moorish pirates having been seen along the coast. We shall be there this
evening, and you will come on board and report. Next day you will get to
Lunasei, which is about five miles on this side of Cape Bellavista, and
they will certainly know there if the pirates are lying behind the cape.
If they are so, you will row back to meet us; if they are not, you will
remain there until we come up in the evening. Remember that, should you
on either day be seen and chased, and you find they are overtaking you,
you will make for the shore, land, and conceal yourselves. We shall keep
along near the coast, and as we pass you can come down to the water's
edge and signal to us to take you off. Now you had better disguise
yourself, so as to be in readiness to start as soon as da Vinci
comes off with the men. You will only need to take a small stock of
provisions, as each night you can replenish them here."

An hour later da Vinci came off with two stalwart young fishermen. The
little boat had already been painted, and it was lowered at once; Fosco
stepped into it, and started.

Two hours later the prizes got up sail, and, accompanied by the galley,
coasted quietly along the shore, arriving, late in the afternoon, at
Muravera. Fosco at once came on board.

"There is no news here beyond that which we gained this morning, Sir
Gervaise," he said. "Strange ships have certainly been seen sailing
north, but they did not approach the coast."

A similar report was given at Lunasei; there were certainly no corsairs
lying behind Cape Bellavista, or news would assuredly have reached the
village. At Orosei, next day, the report was the same; there were no
strange ships at Cape Comino. They had been warned overnight that
the coast beyond the cape was so precipitous, that there would be no
villages at which to make inquiries, and arranged with Fosco that the
ships should anchor north of the cape, and that he should go on at once
to inspect the next bay. If he found ships there, he was to return at
once; if not, he was, at daybreak, to land at one of the villages in the
bay, and to make inquiries.

No news was brought in by him during the night.

"It is evident the pirates are not in the bay, Gervaise," Ralph said, as
they came on deck at daybreak.

"Yes; and I am glad of it. It is a large bay, and if the Genoese send
half a dozen galleys, some of the pirates might still escape, while the
next bays are deeper and narrower, and it would be more easy to entrap
them all. I have all along thought it most probable that they would
rendezvous there. The maps show no villages for many miles round, and
they might lie there for weeks without so much as a shepherd getting
sight of them from the cliffs. Moreover, it is the nearest point for
cutting off ships coming down between Corsica and the mainland, and they
can, besides, snap up those proceeding from the south to Marseilles, as
these, for the most part, pass between Sardinia and Corsica."

At eight o'clock the boat was seen coming round the point.

"Any news, Fosco?" Gervaise asked, as it approached the galley.

"None, Sir Gervaise. They have heard nothing of pirates, nor seen
anything of them."

Exclamations of disappointment broke from the knights.

"That makes it all the more likely," Gervaise said, "that they are
lying in one of the inlets to the north. You see, lower down they kept
comparatively close to the shore, being careless who might notice them;
but as they approached their rendezvous, they would be more careful, and
might either pass along at night, or keep far out. If they had not been
anxious to conceal their near presence, they would have been likely to
put into this bay in search of plunder and captives; for Tempe, one of
the largest of the Sardinian towns, lies but a short distance away, and
there must be a considerable amount of traffic."

"There are four or five small craft lying there," Fosco, who had by this
time stepped on board, put in, "and a considerable number of fishing
boats. When I came upon the ships in the dark, I thought at first that
I had lighted on the pirates, but on letting the boat drift closely by
them I soon saw they were not corsair galleys."

"Shall we get up anchor and go into the bay?" Ralph asked.

"It were safer not to do so, Ralph. Possibly one of the craft lying
there might be presently captured by them, and they might learn from her
crew of the presence of a galley of the Order there. Therefore I think
it best to remain where we are till nightfall, and then to proceed and
anchor on the north side of the Island of Madalena, if we can find a
sheltered cove where we could not be seen either from the land or by
passing ships."

During the day there was a good deal of discussion among the knights
as to whether the corsairs might not already have sailed away. It was
evident that if all their ships had arrived, there would be no motive
for delay. Three ships they knew would never join them, and others might
have been detained, from some cause or another. There could be no doubt
that the pirates had already ample force for capturing as many merchant
vessels as they might come across. But it might be intended to carry out
some more daring project--to sack and burn towns along the coast, carry
off the leading people for ransom, and fill the vessels with slaves--the
attack being made simultaneously on several unprotected towns. A vast
amount of plunder could thus be reaped, together with captives of even
greater money value. Were this their plan, they would doubtless delay
until all those who had promised to join in the expedition had arrived.
The balance of opinion, then, was that the corsairs were still in
hiding.

By daybreak next morning they were moored in a sheltered little bay to
the north of Madalena, the galley lying inside the prizes, so as to be
concealed as much as possible from view of any craft that might happen
to pass the mouth of the bay. Fosco started as soon as darkness fell in
the evening, and returned early in the morning.

"They are there," he shouted, as he neared the galley, "hidden in a deep
inlet that runs into one of the narrow bays."

"How many are there of them?"

"Seventeen or eighteen, I could not say which. They are all moored side
by side."

By this time Fosco's boat had reached the galley.

"You have done well indeed," Gervaise said, as the young knight ascended
to the poop. "Now give us a full account of what you have seen."

"As you know, Sir Gervaise, the bay opposite this island splits up into
two, running a long way inland, like the fangs of a great tooth. I had,
of course, no difficulty in finding the entrance to the bay itself, as
it is but a short distance across the strait. I steered first for the
left hand shore, and kept close along under the shadow of the cliffs,
which, in many cases, rise almost straight out from the water. We rowed
very quietly, fearing to run against a rock; for although it was light
enough to see across the water, and to make out any craft that might be
anchored there, it was very dark along the foot of the cliffs. There was
no need for haste, as I knew I had plenty of time to explore both arms
of the bay, and to be back here before day began to break.

"We rowed up to the end of the inlet, and then, having assured ourselves
that it was empty, came down the other side, and turned up the western
arm. We had got some distance along when I fancied I heard voices,
and so let the boat drift along, only dipping the oars in the water
occasionally. I could make out no signs whatever of the corsairs, when
suddenly we came upon a break in the cliffs. It was only some fifty
yards across, and here a creek came in at right angles to the shore.
I could have given a shout of pleasure as I looked up it, for there a
score of lights were burning above a dark mass, and we could hear the
sound of talking and laughter. It was but a glimpse I caught, for the
men at once backed water, and we were soon round the corner again.

"Up till then the fishermen had been ready enough to go where I wanted,
but the sight of that clump of galleys regularly scared them, and they
wanted to row straight away; but of course I pointed out to them that
they had taken pay to do this thing, and that they had to do it. They
said that if caught they would be either killed or made slaves of, and
I could not contradict them, but said that, in the first place, as I was
ready to run the risk, there was no reason why they shouldn't do so, and
in the second, there was no chance whatever of their being taken, as,
if discovered, we should get so long a start that we could either escape
them altogether or run the boat ashore at some point where the trees
came down to the water's edge, carry the boat up and hide it, and then
move up into the hills until the corsairs had gone.

"We waited there three or four hours, looking round the point
occasionally. At the end of that time all was quiet. Two or three of
the lanterns still burned, but there was no sign of life or movement on
their decks. After waiting another half hour to ensure the crews being
asleep, we rowed quietly up the creek, keeping within an oar's length of
the rocks. There was not much to see; the galleys lay two abreast, and
as there was no space between them, I supposed the whole were lashed
together. There were eight of them on the side we went along, but I
think there were only seven on the other side. As I thought it did not
much matter whether there were fifteen or sixteen, and as the men were
in a state of horrible fright, we turned and went back again, and I own
I felt very glad myself when we got round the point without an alarm
being given. We came quietly out, and it was fortunate we did so, for we
had not gone a quarter of a mile when we heard the sound of oars, and,
lying silently under the cliff, we saw two large galleys row past us."

"It is a strong force, Gervaise," Ralph said, as they paced up and down
the poop together. "Probably in each of those galleys are eighty or a
hundred men, in addition to the rowers. It is evident that unless Genoa
sends us help we shall not be able to interfere with their plans."

"I don't know, Ralph. I think we may injure them sorely, though we might
not be able to defeat them altogether. I want you tonight to take one of
the prizes, and row round to the bay we passed, and there to buy three
coasting vessels and six or eight fishing boats. Get as much pitch,
oil, and other combustibles, as you can purchase in the villages on
the shore. If you can engage a score of fishermen to man them, all the
better. My idea is that if Caretto returns with news that the Genoese
have no galleys ready for sea, we must do what we can to injure these
corsairs. If we smear these craft you are going to fetch with pitch and
oil, and fill the holds with combustibles, and so turn them into fire
ships, we may at least do the pirates a tremendous lot of harm. When we
get to the mouth of this inlet, we could have the fire ships rowed in by
three or four men in each, they having a boat behind in which to escape
as soon as the boats are lighted. The sight of a dozen craft coming
down on them in flames would cause a terrific panic, for, moored closely
together, as they are, if one took fire there would be little chance
of the others escaping. Of course, we should add to the confusion by
opening a fire with all our guns, and could hope to capture some at
least of them as they tried to make their way out."

"It is a grand idea, Gervaise; a splendid idea! It would be a terrific
blow to the Moors, and would make the sea safe from them for a long
time."

"When you buy the other things, Ralph, get a quantity of black cloth--it
matters not how coarse, or of what material; and also some white. As
soon as you come back with it, all hands shall set to work to make the
stuff up into mantles of the Order, with the white cross. We will put
these on to the Christians in the prizes, and the Moors will suppose
that they are attacked by four of the galleys of the Order. If you can
get some more arms and some iron headpieces, all the better."

"I will do what I can, Gervaise; the arms will certainly be wanted,
for those we found on the decks were sufficient only to arm half the
Christians. As to the steel caps, that will not matter so much, as in
the darkness and confusion the sight of the mantles will be quite enough
to convince the corsairs that we are all knights of the Order. By the
way, Gervaise, we have not yet looked into the holds of the prizes."

"That is so, Ralph; we knew, of course, that as the ships had but
just started we should find nothing in them save the cargo of that
unfortunate craft they captured."

On searching they found, as they had expected, that the cargo of the
captured ship had been of no great value. It consisted of wine, olive
oil, and grain. These were all useful, for the number of mouths to be
fed was considerable, and heavy inroads had already been made on the
stores of the galley. The rowers of the four vessels were at once set to
work to crush the grain between flat stones brought from the shore, and
an ample supply of coarse flour for their use for at least a fortnight
was obtained before sunset.

As soon as darkness fell, Ralph and two of the French knights started
in one of the prizes. Late on the following afternoon a sail was seen
coming from the north, and before the sun set they were able to make
her out to be the craft in which Caretto had sailed. The anchor of
the galley was at once got up, and she rowed out to meet the boat and
conduct her into the little bay. It was almost dark when they came
within hailing distance.

"What news do you bring, Sir Fabricius?"

"Bad news, I regret to say. I do not think that Genoa will be able to
send out any galleys for at least a fortnight. There have been civil
dissensions, and fighting between rival factions, and in consequence her
ships are all dismantled and laid up. Crews will have to be collected
for them, repairs executed, and officers chosen; a fortnight will be the
earliest time in which they can be here. Pisa has no war galleys, and
unless the Pope sends some out directly he gets the news, the corsairs
will have it their own way. Have you discovered them?"

"Yes; they lie but a few miles from here. There were fifteen or sixteen
of them two days ago, and two others joined them that night. You have
lost no time indeed. We had scarce begun to expect you, Sir Fabricius,"
he added, as the knight and his two comrades stepped on board.

"I have done my best," the knight said angrily. "But I am in a rage with
my ill success. All I have accomplished is that no merchant vessels will
put to sea at present. At Ostia they would only send off a message to
Rome, to ask for orders. At Pisa the authorities at first treated my
story as a fiction, and, I believe, took me for an impostor; but on the
news spreading, some knights came forward and recognised me. Then we had
a meeting of the council. All talked, wrangled, and protested. They said
that it was absurd to suppose that they could, at a moment's notice, fit
out ships to cope with a fleet of corsairs; and their sole idea was to
man the forts, and to repel an attack. However, mounted messengers
were sent off at once, up and down the coast, to give warning to the
inhabitants of the towns to put themselves into a posture of defence,
and to the villagers to fly with their wives and families into the
interior as soon as they saw galleys of doubtful appearance approaching.
I was there but four hours, and then started for Genoa."

"There was almost a panic there too, as the members of the council were
mostly merchants, and were filled with dismay for the safety of their
ships and goods at sea. Of course, there was no thought that the
corsairs, however strong, would venture an attack upon Genoa itself.
I told them that you had captured three of the corsairs with a single
galley, and that if they could send you ten others you would probably be
able to make head against the pirates; but, as I have told you, Genoa
is at peace with all the world; her war galleys are laid up, and most of
them would need repair and recaulking before they would be fit to send
to sea. Although they maintained that no more than a week should elapse
before they would be ready to sail I am right sure that it will be
double that time before they are fitted out.

"Of course, in Genoa I was well known, though my family estates lie near
Mantua, and my acquaintances flocked round me and urged me to stay until
the galleys were ready for sea. This I would not hear of, and, six hours
after my arrival, started again. We made the voyage to Corsica at a good
speed, but since then we have had the oars constantly out to help the
sails. The men have well earned their pay, I can assure you. It is
enough to make one mad with rage to think that these pirates will be
able to harry the coast of Italy at their pleasure; for there can
be little chance that they will abide quiet much longer at this
rendezvous."

"It is annoying, indeed," Gervaise agreed; and a murmur of
disappointment ran round the assembled knights. "However, we have the
consolation that we have done all we could, and I am sure that we shall
do so in the future."

Gervaise had charged Ralph to say nothing about the object of his
mission, and the general supposition was that he had sailed to endeavour
to purchase some bullocks, as the supply of meat was nearly exhausted.
Ralph himself had let drop a few words to this effect, and had indeed
been charged by Gervaise to bring off a few oxen if they could be
obtained without loss of time. Gervaise was on deck at midnight, and
soon afterwards the beat of oars was heard. It was a still night,
and one of the knights on watch remarked to him, "It seems to me, Sir
Gervaise, that the sound is a confused one, and that there must be
several vessels rowing. Shall I call up our companions? It may be that
it is the pirate fleet coming out."

"You need not do that," Gervaise replied. "I am expecting Sir Ralph to
bring back with him some fishing boats, for which I think I can find a
use. We should have heard before this if the corsairs had been putting
out. Fosco is in his boat watching the mouth of the inlet, and would
have started with the news had there been any stir on board their
galleys."

It was a quarter of an hour before a number of dark objects entered the
little bay. As soon as they did so, they ceased rowing, and the splashes
of the anchors as they fell into the water were heard. Then came the
sound of a boat's oars, and Ralph was soon alongside.

"I see that you have succeeded, Ralph."

"There is no fear of failing when one is ready to pay the full value of
what one wants to get. I have bought three coasters and eight fishing
boats, and have a sufficient store of pitch and oil, with plenty of
straw and faggots. There was no difficulty in getting men to come with
me. As soon as they heard that a fleet of eighteen Moorish galleys was
in the next bay, they were ready enough to aid in any plan for their
destruction, for they knew well enough that some of them would be sure
to make raids all along the coast, sacking and burning, and carrying off
men, women, and children, as slaves. I said I only wanted two men for
each craft, but so many were willing to come that I have some thirty
more than the number I asked for, and we can divide these among us. They
are strong, active looking fellows."

"We will keep them here then, Ralph. You see, there are one-and-twenty
of our knights in the three prizes, and as we lost two in the
capture, and four others are not fit to put on armour, we have but
six-and-twenty, and the addition will be very welcome. What are they
armed with?"

"They have bows and arrows, and long pikes and axes."

"Good. Have you managed to collect any more arms?"

"Yes. The people are all charcoal burners and woodmen in winter, and
I was therefore able to get together some thirty or forty axes and
hatchets, which will be ample, with the arms we took from the Moors, to
equip the ninety Christians."

"I think we can depend upon these for fighting, Ralph."

"I don't think there is any doubt about that. A few of them are pretty
well worn out with labour and suffering, but all have gained strength
and spirits greatly in the past week, and you may be sure that they
will fight to the death rather than run the risk of another turn in the
galleys."

"And have you got the stuff to make the mantles?"

"Yes. There was plenty of the coarse black cloth which they wear in
summer--in winter, of course, they are clad in sheepskins; and I have
sufficient white cotton cloth to make the crosses."

"We have only one thing to wish for now, Ralph, and that is, that the
corsairs may not take it into their heads to sail tomorrow. Fosco will
bring me news at daybreak, and we will at once send another boat off to
watch the mouth of the bay when he leaves it. If they sail, we cannot
venture to attack them as long as they keep together, the odds are far
too heavy, and our only plan will be to follow them at a distance, when
we can just keep their upper sails in sight, and then to attack any
detachment that may separate from the main body."

"I hope it will not come to that, Gervaise. It would be hard indeed,
when you have devised such a splendid plan, and we have got everything
ready to carry it out, if they were to give us the slip. Do the others
know anything about it yet?"

"No. I thought it better to keep silence till tomorrow. No doubt some of
the galley slaves understand enough of one or other of our languages
to gather what is on foot. Besides, their late captives might, in their
satisfaction at the thought of revenge, say enough to them to let them
know that an attack on their fleet was intended, and one of them might,
in some way, free himself from his irons and swim ashore. We know there
is a small fishing village across the island, and there would be no
difficulty in stealing a boat and making off with the news. I do not say
that the risk is great; still, it were better not to throw away even
a chance. The knights have all turned in in a very gloomy mood, for
Caretto has returned with news that there is no hope of assistance from
Genoa for a fortnight, and it seemed, therefore, that all our pains had
been thrown away. And now we may as well turn in until daylight."



CHAPTER XV A SPLENDID EXPLOIT


Gervaise was up again at dawn. He was amused at the wonder of the
knights, as they came up one by one, at the sight of the little fleet
anchored outside them. As soon as it was fairly daylight, he sent off to
the three prizes to request all the knights to come on board the galley.
When all were assembled there he said, "You are all aware, comrades,
that Sir Fabricius Caretto has brought news that the galleys at Genoa
are all laid up, and that it will be a fortnight before they can put to
sea. Long before that, the corsairs will assuredly be ravaging all the
villages and small towns along the coast of Italy, unless we can prevent
their doing so. It would be simple madness to try to attack them at sea;
of that I feel sure you are all conscious. It would be only throwing
away our lives and our galley."

There was a murmur of assent among the knights. They were ready for any
encounter in which there was a chance, however faint, of success; but
all saw that for a single galley to attack one of the largest corsair
fleets that had ever set out, would be nothing short of insanity. Their
leader's words, however, seemed to show that he had some plan in his
mind by which he hoped to strike a blow at the enemy, and all listened
eagerly for what was coming.

"We have heard from our comrade Fosco that their ships lie moored in two
lines, side by side in a narrow inlet. He has returned this morning with
the news that they are still there. He thinks that three or four more
have arrived during the last two days, and it is probable they are
waiting for the three we captured to join them. Tonight it is my
intention to attack them, but not by rowing in and boarding them, for
that would be hopeless. Yesterday Sir Ralph Harcourt went, as you are
aware, to fetch provisions. But this was a part only of the object of
his trip. He has, as you see, brought back eleven craft with him; these,
I may tell you, are laden with combustibles--pitch, oil, straw, and
faggots. They will be rowed and towed to the inlet tonight, set on fire,
and launched against the pirates."

An enthusiastic cheer broke from the knights. They saw at once that,
lying as the corsairs were, side by side, the destruction of many of
them was certain.

"He has also brought fishermen," Gervaise went on, "two or three of whom
will go in each fire ship, having a boat towing behind, in which they
will escape as soon as the craft are alongside the galleys. The galley
and the three prizes will take their post at the mouth of the inlet.
The fire of our guns will add to the confusion among the pirates, and we
shall endeavour to fall upon any galleys that may extricate themselves
from the mass, and try to make their escape. Sir Ralph has brought back
materials for making ninety mantles of the Order, for the Christians on
board the three prizes, and thirty fishermen to bring the crew of our
galley up to its full strength. The light of the flames will suffice
to show the pirates that, as they will believe, four vessels, manned
by knights of the Order, are barring the entrance. Many will, we may
calculate, jump overboard and swim ashore rather than face us, and we
shall be able, at any rate, to capture three or four of their craft,
for, as they come out, one by one, we can all close round them; and with
nearly fifty knights, ninety released captives, burning for vengeance,
and some fifty or sixty fishermen, for those from the fire ships will,
of course, join us--we shall make short work of them, and may even hope
to entirely destroy their fleet."

Again a joyous shout rose from the knights. This would indeed be an
exploit that all might be proud to share in, and, breaking the ranks in
which they had stood while Gervaise addressed them, they crowded round
him with exclamations of enthusiasm and devotion.

"Now," he said, as soon as silence was a little restored, "the knights
of the langues on board the prizes will send at once to the coaster on
the left of the other two. Sir Ralph will go there now, and supply each
with materials for making the mantles for the Christians; he has brought
thread, and fish bone needles. You will see that the stuff is cut up
into suitable lengths, and handed over to your crews, and that each man
makes up his mantle. There can be but little sewing required for these
sleeveless gowns, nor need it be carefully done. The great thing is that
the white crosses shall be conspicuous. As soon as you have set them
to work, you will examine the state of the arms, see how many more are
needed to complete the list, and then send off to Sir Ralph, who will
furnish as many as are required: the fishermen have brought their
own weapons. See that the slaves are all well fed today, and, before
evening, inspect well their fetters, so that you may be free from all
anxiety as to an attempt by them to escape during the conflict.

"The rest of you will go on board these native craft, and see that
the combustibles are fairly distributed among them, the wood and straw
soaked with pitch and oil, as also the sails and ropes, and that the
decks are well coated; this is a most important duty. Get some torches
made also, so that there shall be two on board each craft; these are to
be lighted the last thing before we get to the point, and will be thrown
down into the straw and faggots in the hold, by the fishermen when they
get close to the corsairs. All this can be prepared before our morning
meal, and when you assemble here I hope to receive your reports that
everything is in readiness. One of the other coasters has some bullocks
on board. Sir Ralph will send one to each of the prizes, and one to us.
They had better be killed and cut up at once, in order that the crews
may have two good meals today of fresh meat. See that the galley slaves
have their share."

No time was lost in carrying out the orders. Ralph, as soon as the
cloth, arms, and meat were distributed, went round in a boat to see that
the combustibles were properly laid for firing, and everything done to
insure that the flames should spread rapidly. The Sards shared in
the work, and rations and wine were distributed to them; and when the
knights sat down to their meal on board the galley, they were able to
report that everything was in perfect readiness, and that the work of
sewing the mantles was making good progress.

The day passed slowly to the young knights, all of whom were burning
with excitement at the thought of the coming fray. The released
Christians were no less exultant at the prospect of taking vengeance for
the sufferings they had so long endured, and the scene on board all four
ships was most animated.

After talking it over with Ralph, Gervaise told off three more of the
knights to each of the prizes, so that there should be ten on board
each. This reduced the strength on board the galley to seventeen; but as
they would have the assistance of a strong band of Sards they considered
this to be ample, under the circumstances. It was arranged that the
galley, with one of the prizes, should close with the first corsair that
came out, and that the other two prizes should attack the second. After
capturing these, they were to assist each other as circumstances might
dictate. Gervaise strongly impressed upon the knights in command of each
prize that they were not, single handed, to attack a corsair unless one
of their consorts was near, and free to give assistance.

"We must run no risk of a reverse," he said. "We are certain of
destroying many of their vessels and of breaking up their fleet, and it
is far better that a few should escape than that we should run the risk
of losing ten of our number, to say nothing of those we have rescued
from captivity. In the excitement of the fight this order must be
strictly borne in mind. Our victory must be marred by no misfortune
brought on by headstrong rashness. The corsairs are bound to be very
strongly manned, and ten knights, even aided by such assistance as
they may get from the Christians, might find themselves altogether over
matched against a crowd of desperate men."

As soon as it was dusk the anchors were drawn up, and the fleet got
under way. They proceeded but slowly, for the wind was light, and the
fishing boats moved heavily through the water. There was, however, no
occasion for speed, for Gervaise did not wish to commence the attack
until past midnight. The guns had all been loaded before starting, and a
pile of ammunition was placed near each. Presently the wind nearly died
out, and the galley and prizes then took the coasters and fishing craft
in tow. It was nearly one o'clock when they got within half a mile of
the inlet. The tow ropes were then thrown off, the fishermen got out
sweeps, and the galley led the way, the fire ships followed in a body,
and the three prizes brought up the rear. The oars had all been muffled,
and slowly they made their way, until Fosco, who was standing next to
Gervaise on board the galley, said that the point just ahead marked the
entrance to the inlet. They then stopped rowing until the fire ships
were all close up.

These were, as had previously been arranged, in two lines. Five fishing
boats, each manned by four men and having its small boat in tow behind
it, formed the first line; the three coasters, each with six men at the
oars, and the three other fishing boats, formed the second. The torches
were now lighted. Ralph took his place in the centre boat of the first
line; Gervaise went on board one of the coasters, and the order was
given to the men to row. What wind there was was favourable, blowing
from the northwest, and therefore right into the inlet. Scarcely had the
first boats reached the entrance when a shout was heard.

"Row, men, your hardest now!" Ralph shouted; the Sards bent to their
oars, and the five boats advanced rapidly towards the corsairs. As they
did so, a babel of shouts and cries rose from the dark mass of ships,
which swelled into a tumult of alarm as on Ralph's order, "Throw your
torches into the straw!" a flash of flame leapt up from each boat. Five
more strokes, and they were alongside the two outside ships. As they
crashed heavily into them, the men leapt from their seats and sprang
over into the small boats, threw off the painters, and rowed astern,
opening on either hand to allow the second line of fire ships to pass.
These, by Gervaise's directions, divided, and three bore along on either
side of the corsairs, and then ran in among them, throwing grapnels to
fasten the fire ships alongside. Then, as the flames sprang up from the
holds, the crews betook themselves to their boats, and rowed out of the
inlet.

By the time they reached the galley and prizes, the eleven fire ships
were a mass of flame, which was spreading to the corsairs. Lying packed
together as these were, the confusion was terrible. Numbers of men
endeavoured to push off the fire ships, but it was too late; others
tried to extricate their galleys from the mass, throwing off the
hawsers, and striving with hand and oar to push their vessels out of the
line. As soon as the boats were alongside the galley, the guns of the
four vessels opened fire with grape into the crowded ships, now lit up
by the flames as clearly as at noontide, while the battle cry of the
Order sounded high above the din.

"Nothing can save the ships near this end of the line," Ralph said, "but
some of those behind may make their way out between the others and the
rocks. I can see that some of them there are lowering their yards and
sails to prevent their catching fire as they pass."

The knights distributed among the guns worked them incessantly,
directing their fire chiefly against the outside ships, so as to hinder
the crews in their endeavours to arrest the progress of the flames; but
they were soon able to fire impartially into the mass. As the heat of
the flames drove the pirates back, scores of men leapt overboard, and
made for the shore. Presently, two or three ships were seen making their
way along the narrow line of water on either side of the flaming group
in front. As the first advanced, the galley and one of the prizes rowed
a short distance forward to meet it. Its deck was crowded with men,
among whom a discharge of the cannon from both ships created terrible
slaughter.

A moment afterwards they closed with it, one on either side, and the
knights, the released captives, and the Sards, sprang down on to its
deck. The fight lasted but a minute. Appalled by the disaster that had
befallen them, by the terrible effect of the broadsides, poured in at a
few yards' distance, and by the sight of so many of the dreaded warriors
of the Cross, some of the corsairs threw down their arms and flung
themselves on the deck or into the hold, crying for quarter; those who
resisted fell either under the swords of the knights, the vengeful axes
of the late captives, or the pikes of the Sards; but the great bulk,
leaping from the bow or stern, swam ashore.

"Back to your ships!" Gervaise shouted, the moment resistance ceased.
"Leave her floating here; she will help to block the way."

Six vessels alone managed to make their escape from the blazing mass of
ships, and all of these were captured almost as easily as the first had
been. As soon as it seemed that all the remainder were involved in
the flames, boats were lowered and sent on board the prizes to take
possession. Save for the wounded on the decks, they were entirely
deserted by their crews, as those who had run below, as soon as they
found that their captors had left the vessels, dropped into the water,
and made their way, either by swimming or with the assistance of oars,
to the shore. There remained only the slaves, chained to their benches.
A few of these had been killed by the broadsides; but the guns had been
aimed at the poops and forecastles, where the corsairs were clustered
together, and consequently the number of galley slaves who had fallen
was comparatively small.

In none of the galleys was the proportion of Christians anything like so
large as that in the three prizes first taken, the greater portion being
men of inland tribes who had been captured in warfare, or malefactors
who, instead of being executed, had been sold to the corsairs.
Nevertheless, in the six galleys some seventy Christians were found,
and at once freed. It was terrible to think that in the galleys that had
been destroyed a large number of Christians must have perished in the
flames, and Gervaise expressed bitter regret that he had not considered
that his attack by fire ships must necessarily involve the loss of so
many Christian lives.

"It can't be helped," Ralph said, as Gervaise poured out his feelings to
him. "To very many of them death must have been welcome, and if we had
not attacked them as we did, and they had sailed for Italy, hundreds,
if not thousands, of Christians would have been killed, and as many more
carried away into captivity; so, you see, the balance is all in favour
of the course we adopted."

Gervaise admitted this, but nevertheless his regret at the fate of
so many unfortunate captives quite overpowered for the time his
satisfaction at the complete success that had been achieved. The victory
had been almost a bloodless one on the part of the assailants. A few of
the knights had received wounds. Two among the Christian crews had been
killed, and four Sards; while two score had received wounds more or less
serious, as, unlike the knights, they had no defensive armour. While
waiting for daylight to appear, all their wounds were dressed and
bandaged by the knights.

In the morning the captured galleys were towed out, and anchored a short
distance away, and then Gervaise rowed up to the head of the inlet,
followed by the other three ships. They found that eleven of the
corsairs had been burnt, and to their satisfaction, they discovered four
uninjured galleys lying there, deserted, save by the slaves.

Seeing the fate of their comrades who had first issued out, the
commanders had, instead of trying to escape, rowed quietly to the head
of the inlet, the movement being covered by the flame and smoke, and had
there landed, having laden themselves with stores for their support on
shore. This was a great satisfaction to the knights, for not only did
it swell the list of prizes, but it reduced by over thirty the number of
Christian slaves who had perished in the flames. Taking the galleys
in tow, they rowed out of the inlet, whose banks were strewn with half
charred timbers, oars, and relics of the fight.

As soon as they had anchored by the side of their first prizes, a
council was held on board the Santa Barbara. It was clearly impossible
to take thirteen prizes to Rhodes, for there would be but three or four
knights to each, and were they to fall in with but one Moorish pirate,
they might suffer great disaster, while, should they meet with a storm,
they would fare badly indeed, as they could not depend upon the rescued
Christians for the management of the sails and oars in heavy weather. At
the same time, all were most anxious that the prizes should be carried
to Rhodes. Never, save as the result of some great battle, had such a
fleet of captured galleys been brought in, and the knights were prepared
to endure all dangers rather than part with one of them. Finally, after
much discussion, it was determined that they should make for Genoa. From
thence the rescued captives would be able to find their way to their
homes. The great majority were Italians and Spaniards; the former could
proceed by land or sea to their respective homes, while the Spaniards
would have no long time to wait before a vessel of their own nationality
entered the port, even if one were not lying there when they arrived.
Moreover, in any case it would be necessary to despatch a vessel to
Genoa, in order that it might be known that the danger was averted, and
that there was no longer any necessity for getting the galleys ready for
sea.

The chief ostensible reason, however, for going to Genoa was that there
would be no difficulty in engaging as many sailors as might be necessary
to take the prizes to Rhodes. Underlying all the arguments was another
reason which Ralph laughingly stated.

"It is all very well to bring forward one argument after another, but
not one of you has the courage to say what I am sure all of you have
at the bottom of your hearts. You know very well that you want to go to
Genoa to enjoy a triumph. The Rhodians are all very well, but there are
very many more fair faces at Genoa. Fie, Sir Knights! Such a spirit is
little in accordance with the vows of the Order. Are we not bound to
humility? And here you are all longing for the plaudits of the nobles
and ladies of Genoa!"

Some of the young knights laughed, others coloured hotly.

"They need not be ashamed of the feeling," Caretto said. "Is it not the
ardent desire of all true knights to do gallant deeds, and do they not
value above all things the guerdon of applause from the fair eyes of
ladies. Your comrades have performed the gallant deeds, and well deserve
the reward. Now, Sir Gervaise, if not for this reason, at any rate for
the others that have been brought forward, I suppose we are all agreed
that we sail for Genoa. For our part we are heartily glad that such
is your decision. We, and the young knights of our langue, have many
friends there, and in their name I am sure I can promise you a reception
as hearty and sincere as that which we shall ourselves receive."

It was settled that the rescued captives should be divided equally
among the thirteen prizes, and that three knights should go in each. The
Moorish captives were also divided equally among them, to aid with the
sails, and to row a few oars, in case of a dead calm setting in. The
commands were distributed according to seniority, the three rescued
Italian knights remaining on board the Santa Barbara with Gervaise.

The Sards were anxious to return to their villages, in order to carry
the news that several hundreds of Moorish pirates had landed.

"We shall have great trouble with them," one of the young fishermen,
who spoke a little Italian, said to Gervaise. "There are always a great
number of swine, and herds of goats, up among the forests on the hills.
We must send up and drive in as many of these as possible, and of course
we shall send messengers to Tempe; but it will need a very large force
to combat these pirates, who will be able to come down and plunder
and destroy, and then retire to the hills, whence it will be hard to
dislodge them."

"I am sorry indeed that such trouble should have been caused to you,"
Gervaise replied; "but I am afraid that I can give you no assistance."

"We shall hunt them down in time," the Sard said confidently.

"There are many villages scattered about Tempe, and what with us
fishermen, and the woodmen and charcoal burners, we shall soon get a
strong body together. Besides, we know the mountains, and they do not."

"I should say that you had best avoid a pitched battle with them, but
keep on harassing them by night and day, cutting off all who separate
themselves from the main body, until at last they are completely worn
out."

"We shall deal with them, Sir Knight. We are all hunters, for there are
wild boars and stags in the forest, and wolves too, and wild sheep on
the higher mountains. Every man among us can use his bow skillfully, and
wield pike and hatchet. The hunt will not be unprofitable, either, for
we can get a good price for all we take alive, to work in the mines."

An hour later one of the galleys started with the Sards for their
villages in the bay of Tempe. After landing them, she was to rejoin the
rest of the fleet at their former anchorage at Madalena. By nightfall
all were gathered there, and the next morning they set out for Genoa.
The wind was light; but in their anxiety to return home as soon as
possible the released captives all volunteered to take their former
places on the benches, and the vessels were kept going at a fair rate
of speed. Two days' rowing took them to Bastia, where their approach
created unbounded excitement until the banner of the Order was seen
floating from the stern of the Santa Barbara, while smaller flags, that
had been hastily manufactured, flew from the mastheads of the thirteen
prizes. Even then the inhabitants feared to put out, believing that
the flags were but a ruse, and numbers of them fled at once, with their
families and valuables, to the mountains. It was not until a boat was
lowered, and Ralph, accompanied by three or four other knights, rowed
ashore, that the panic was allayed.

As soon as it was understood that the galley of the knights had not only
captured the thirteen corsairs, but had destroyed eleven others, and had
thus annihilated a fleet that was intended to prey upon the commerce
of Italy, and ravage the western coast, the alarm was succeeded by the
wildest enthusiasm. By the time Ralph had obtained the fresh meat and
stores he came ashore to purchase, the greater part of the population
were gathered on the shore, and a flotilla of boats put out with him,
filled with picturesquely dressed men and women. Some carried flags,
others green boughs, while the ladies had bouquets and baskets of fruit.
The galley was the first attraction, and, mounting her sides, the ladies
presented their offerings of fruit, while the men cheered, and waved
their hats; many musicians came out in the boats, and these played on
bagpipes and three-reeded flutes a succession of airs peculiar to the
island.

Gervaise received his visitors on the poop. These were at first
altogether incredulous when told that it was the lad before them who
had commanded the galley, had performed such a remarkable feat, and had
freed them from a terrible danger. The youth of the knights of the Order
no less surprised them, and had not Gervaise assured them that it was
altogether contrary to the rules of the Order for a knight to allow
himself to be embraced, many of the ladies would have taken this form
of showing their enthusiasm and gratitude. The next morning the fleet
started for Genoa. The wind was much stronger than it had been on the
previous day, and it was therefore unnecessary for the oars to be put
out, except, indeed, on board the galley. There, at nightfall, the
Christians relieved the slaves for some hours at their benches, and the
next morning the circle of hills round Genoa, with the city nestling at
their feet on the water's edge, and climbing for some distance up their
slopes, was in view. Caretto at once suggested that it would be well to
signal to the fleet to lie to.

"If we do not do so," he said, "they will assuredly think that it is the
corsair fleet advancing to attack and burn the vessels in port, and you
may be saluted as you approach by a shower of cannonballs. If you will
permit me, Sir Gervaise, I will go forward in one of the prizes and
explain matters, and will return here in a short time."

"Thank you, Sir Fabricius. As such mischance as you mention might indeed
very well occur, we will lower sail and lie here until you return."

While Caretto was away, the knights and crews breakfasted, and the
former put on their armour and gayest attire, in readiness for the
landing. Gervaise, although with much inward vexation, considered it
necessary to do the same.

"I do wish," he said to Ralph, who was smiling at his rueful face, "that
you could for today take my place, and let me pass as lieutenant."

"I should not mind at all, Gervaise. But you must put up with the
disagreeables as well as the advantages of being commander, and must
submit to be honoured and feted here, as well as getting no end of
credit at Rhodes. You will have the satisfaction of well deserving it,
for I am sure the plan of attacking them with fire ships would never
have occurred to any one else, and if it had not been for that, we
should have had the mortification of seeing them sail off without being
able to move a finger to interfere with them."

"If one were fighting for fame and honour, all that would be true
enough; but members of an Order, whose sole object is to defend
Christendom from the Moslems, should strive only to do their duty, and
care nothing for such things as honour and glory."

"Human nature is human nature, and I don't see any reason why one should
despise honour and glory when they come to one in the course of duty.
I fancy you will think so too, Gervaise, in course of time. I am quite
sure that among the fifty knights, there is not one who does not feel
well content that he has not only done his duty to the Order, but has
gained a share in the credit and honour that will certainly be given to
all who have taken a part in so crushing a defeat of the corsairs. As
for myself, I do not for a moment pretend that I am not sensible of the
fact that, as second in command of the galley, my chances of obtaining
promotion in the Order are very greatly improved."

It was nearly two hours before Caretto returned.

"It was well indeed that I went in," he said to Gervaise, "for I found
the city in an uproar. The alarm bells of the churches were calling all
citizens to arms, and troops were being hurried down to the forts and
batteries. Rumour had of course exaggerated the strength of the fleet,
and half the population believed that the safety of the city itself was
menaced by the approach of a mighty squadron. As soon as my news was
bruited abroad, and they learned that the fleet consisted solely of
prizes captured from the Moors by a galley of the Order, alarm quickly
changed into delight, the sharp, angry clang of the bells was succeeded
by peals of gladness, and the joy of the citizens at being relieved from
the cloud of anxiety that had hung over the city since my last visit,
was unbounded. I went at once to the council chamber, where I found many
of the leading citizens already assembled, having been summoned in hot
haste as soon as our approach was made out. At first they were almost
incredulous when I told them that every ship of the pirate fleet had
been either destroyed or captured, and that the fleet in the offing
consisted entirely of your galley and the thirteen corsairs she had
captured. As soon as they really grasped the fact, they sent off
messengers to the churches to order the joy bells to be rung, and to the
dockyard to arrest all work upon the galleys. Then I had to give them a
short account of the surprise and destruction of the corsair fleet, and
finally they begged me to ask you to delay your entry to the port for
a couple of hours, in order that they might have time to prepare a
suitable reception for you."

"I suppose there is no help for it," Gervaise said. "Is there anything
that we ought to do?"

"I should decorate the galley with all the flags on board: should set
every one to work to make great flags with the cross of the Order to
hoist to the masthead of the prizes, instead of the little things that
are now flying; and under them we will hoist the flags of the corsairs,
among which are those of Tripoli, Tunis, and Algiers. I do not know that
there is aught else we can do."



CHAPTER XVI FESTIVITIES


At last the fleet, headed by the galley, to which all the knights had
returned, rowed towards the port. A gun flashed out from the fort at
its entrance, and at once those from all the other batteries responded;
bells pealed out again, and a confused roar of cheering broke from the
crowds occupying every spot from which a view of the harbour could be
obtained. The ships in the port were all decked with flags, and the
front windows and balconies of every house were hung with tapestries and
bright curtains. As soon as the galley entered the port, a state barge,
flying the flag of the Republic, advanced to meet her from the wharf.
As she approached, Ralph gave orders for the oars to be laid in, and
the barge was soon alongside. The knights were already ranged along
the poop, and, accompanied by Ralph and Caretto, Gervaise moved to the
gangway to receive the visitors. At their head was Battista Fragoso, the
doge, in his robe of state, and following him were a body of the highest
nobles of Genoa, all brilliant in gala costume.

"This, my lord duke," Caretto said, "is Sir Gervaise Tresham, a knight
commander of our Order, and the commander of this, their galley. He has
before, as you may well believe from his appointment to so honourable a
post, highly distinguished himself, but what he has before accomplished
is far surpassed by the brilliant action that he has now achieved. He
has won a victory that not only reflects the highest honour upon the
Order, but is an inestimable service to Italy, and has freed her from a
corsair fleet that would have been a scourge to her, both at sea and to
the towns and villages along the coast. Not only has he, with the brave
knights under his orders, annihilated the corsair fleet, burning eleven
of their galleys, and capturing thirteen others, but he has restored
to freedom no less than two hundred Christian captives, among them the
cavaliers Giacomo da Vinci, Pietro Forzi, and myself."

"In the name of the Republic, Sir Gervaise Tresham, and I may say in
that of all Italy, I thank you most heartily for the splendid service
that you have rendered us. It would have seemed to me well nigh
incredible that a single galley, even if commanded and manned by the
most famous knights of your great Order, should have accomplished so
extraordinary a feat. Still more strange is it that it should have been
performed by so young a knight, with a crew composed, as Sir Fabricius
Caretto has told us, of knights chosen from among the youngest of the
Order."

"You give far more credit to us, your Highness, than we deserve,"
Gervaise replied. "Three of the ships were indeed captured in fair
fight, but we caught the rest asleep and massed together as to be
incapable of successful resistance, and they fell easy victims to the
fire ships we launched against them. Any credit that is due to me is
shared equally by my subcommander here, Sir Ralph Harcourt, and indeed
by every knight of my company."

"This, doubtless, may be so, Sir Gervaise," the doge said, with a slight
smile, "but it is to the head that plans, rather than to the hand that
strikes, that such success as you have achieved is due; and the credit
of this night attack is, as the cavalier Caretto tells me, wholly yours,
for until you issued your final orders it seemed to him, and to the two
good knights his companions, that there was naught to do but to remain
in port and watch this corsair fleet sail away to carry out its work of
destruction."

By this time they had reached the poop of the galley. Gervaise now
called forward the knights one by one, and presented them to the doge,
who expressed to them all the gratitude felt by himself and the whole of
the citizens of Genoa for the service they had rendered to the Republic.
This ceremony being over, the knights broke up their ranks and conversed
for a few minutes with those who had come on board with the doge. The
latter then took his place in the barge with his companions, inviting
Gervaise and Ralph to accompany him. As the barge left the side of the
galley, which followed closely behind her, the guns again thundered
out their welcome, and a roar of greeting rose from the inhabitants. On
landing, the party waited until the knights had joined them, and
then proceeded up the street to the ducal palace, amidst enthusiastic
cheering from the crowd that lined the road, occupied the windows and
balconies, and even scrambled on the housetops, the ladies waving their
handkerchiefs and scarves.

At the palace were assembled all the municipal authorities, and the
congratulations given on board were here repeated. After this there was
a great banquet, at which Gervaise was placed on the right hand of the
doge, who, at the conclusion of the feast, called upon the assembled
guests to drink to the health of the knights of St. John, who had saved
the commerce and seacoast of Italy from the greatest danger that had
menaced them since the days when the Northern rovers had desolated the
shores of the Mediterranean. The toast was drunk with enthusiasm, and
Gervaise then replied with a few words of thanks for the honour done to
himself and his comrades.

The party then left the banqueting hall for the great reception rooms,
where the wives and daughters of all the nobles and principal citizens
of Genoa were assembled. Most of the young knights, belonging as
they did to noble families, and accustomed from childhood to courtly
ceremonies and festivities, were quite at home here. Caretto, his two
companions, and their six Italian comrades, speedily introduced them,
and each was soon surrounded by a group of ladies, anxious to hear from
his lips the details of the exploits of the galley.

"But how is it that you are all so young, Sir Ralph?" one of the ladies,
to whom Harcourt had been introduced as the second in command, asked
him, when he had finished his account of the capture of the galleys.
"We heard from those who met you on landing, that all your comrades were
young, but we were filled with surprise when you entered the room, for
many of them are but lads."

"You may say that all of us are but lads, Countess. I am the oldest of
the party, and am but little over twenty-two, but few of the others are
over nineteen; they are all professed knights of the Order, who, as you
doubtless know, come out to Rhodes when only sixteen. Some, of course,
do not join until later, but I think that all here entered at the
earliest age permitted, and almost all had served in two or three
voyages in the galleys before they were appointed to the Santa Barbara.
The reason why so young a crew was chosen was that our commander was
also young. He had done such exceptional service to the Order that he
was appointed to the command of a galley, and he has, as all will allow,
well justified the choice. It was because it was deemed inexpedient
to place knights many years his senior under his command, and partly,
perhaps, to encourage the younger knights, by giving them an exceptional
opportunity of distinguishing themselves, that the crew was chosen
entirely from their ranks. I was selected as second in command because
Gervaise and I had been special friends when we came out from England in
the same ship, and had before fought side by side against the Moslems."

"I see that you wear gilded spurs, Sir Ralph," another lady said; "you
must therefore be a dubbed knight?"

"Yes; I had the good fortune to be knighted by D'Aubusson himself, at
the same time that Sir Gervaise was also so honoured. It was for an
affair with the Turkish pirates. It was Gervaise who really won the
honour, for I had no share in the affair, save that of doing my best in
the fight."

"And who could do more?" the countess queried.

"Gervaise could do more, Countess, as was shown in that attack on the
corsairs by means of fire ships. He has a head to plan, and, in the case
I speak of, a happy thought of his not only saved the lives of ourselves
and Sir John Boswell, but, indirectly, was the means of preventing two
of our galleys being captured by the corsairs."

"Which is Sir Gervaise?" one of the ladies asked.

Ralph smiled.

"Look round the hall, signoras, and see if any of you can pick him out
from the rest of us."

The ladies looked round the hall.

"There are only about twenty here; the rest are in the other rooms. Do
not set us to work guessing, if he is not in sight, Sir Ralph."

"Oh yes, he is in sight. Now do each of you fix on the one you think
most accords with your ideas of what a knight, brave in action and wise
and prudent in council, would be like."

The six ladies each fixed on one of the young knights.

"You are all wrong," said Ralph.

"How can we choose?" the countess said laughingly, "when none of them
resemble our ideal hero? Most of them are pleasant and courtly looking
youths, but as yet there is scarce a vestige of hair on their faces,
and one could not fancy any of them as the destroyer of the fleet of
corsairs."

"Do you see the one speaking to the elderly lady in the recess?"

"Yes; she is the wife of Fragoso. You do not mean to say that that lad
is the commander of the galley? Why, he looks the youngest of you all."

"He is between seventeen and eighteen, and there are several others who
are no older. Yes, that is Sir Gervaise, Knight Commander of the Order
of St. John."

"But how can he possibly have served his time as a professed knight?"

"He was one of the grand master's pages, and his time in that service
counted just as it would have done had he entered as a professed knight;
and at fifteen, therefore, he stood in the same position as those three
or four years older than himself. He speaks Turkish as well as our own
tongue, and, as I told you, we received the accolade at the hands of the
grand master, a year and a half ago. He is now a knight commander, and
will assuredly one day occupy one of the highest posts in the Order."

"You do not speak as if you were jealous, Sir Ralph; and yet methinks
it cannot be pleasant for you all to have one younger than yourselves
placed at your head."

"I do not think there is one of us who so feels," Ralph said earnestly.
"In the first place, he has performed excellent service; in the next
place, even those who did not know him before, have felt, since we
started, that he is a born leader. Then, too, we regard with pride one
who has brought credit upon the younger members of the Order. Moreover,
we all owe our posts in the galley to the fact that he was chosen for
its command. It is a difficult position for him to fill, but he has
managed so that, while all obey his orders as cheerfully and willingly
as if he were a veteran, when off duty we regard him as one of
ourselves."

"You are a staunch friend, Sir Ralph."

"I am a staunch friend of Sir Gervaise, Countess, for the more I know of
him the more I care for him. He well deserves the promotion and honour
that have fallen to his share."

"Will you bring him across here to us, Sir Ralph? I want to talk to
this hero of yours, and I am sure that my daughter is longing to be
introduced to him."

Ralph waited until Gervaise was disengaged, and then brought him across,
and, after introducing him, moved away at once, leaving Gervaise to be
interrogated by the ladies.

"You must be accustomed to festivities, Sir Gervaise, for we have just
heard that you were one of the grand master's pages?"

"I am accustomed to them, signora; but that is not at all the same thing
as liking them."

The reply was given so earnestly that all the ladies smiled.

"Your taste is quite exceptional. Do you mean to say that you would
rather be on board your galley than here?"

"It would not be polite," Gervaise said, with a laugh, "if I were to say
that I would infinitely rather be on board; but indeed I have not, like
most of my comrades, been brought up in court or castle. Until the day I
joined the Order, we led the lives of exiles. My father belonged to the
defeated party in England, and, save for a few months when the cause to
which he was attached was triumphant, we lived quietly on the estates
he had recovered, our life being one of care and anxiety. So, you see,
I had no training in gaiety and pleasure. At Rhodes there are state
receptions and religious pageants, but a meeting such as this, is, of
course, impossible in a convent; and since I was eleven years old I
think I have only once spoken to a woman. So you can well understand,
signora, that I feel awkward in speech, and I pray you to make allowance
for my ignorance of the language of courtesy, such as would naturally be
expected in a knight, even though belonging to a religious Order."

"There is naught to make allowance for," the countess said gently.
"Women can appreciate simple truth, and are not, as men seem to think,
always yearning for compliments. Those who are most proficient in
turning phrases are not often among those foremost in battle, or wisest
in council, and I can tell you that we women value deeds far higher than
words. Sir Fabricius Caretto is a cousin of mine, and has this afternoon
been speaking so highly of you to me and my young daughter here, that I
am glad indeed to make your acquaintance. How long do you intend to stay
in Genoa?"

"No longer than it will take me to engage men to carry the prizes to
Rhodes. I am afraid that sounds rude," he broke off, as he noticed a
smile on the faces of the ladies.

"Not rude," said the countess; "though most knights would have put it
differently, and said that their duty compelled them to leave as soon as
the prizes could be manned. But it comes to the same thing. Of
course, you will remain the guest of the doge as long as you are
here; otherwise, it would have given us the greatest pleasure to have
entertained you. My cousin is, of course, staying with us, and you see
we all feel a very deep obligation to you. He has been so long a slave
among the Moors, that we had almost come to hope death had freed him
from his fetters; so you may imagine our pleasure when he arrived here
so suddenly ten days ago. We were expecting that he would remain with us
for some time, but he says that he must first go back to Rhodes, after
which he will ask for leave, and return here. We have a banquet tomorrow
evening to celebrate his return, and earnestly hoped that you would be
present, but, since you say that you do not care for such gaieties,
we shall, if you prefer it, be glad if you will come to join us at our
family meal at twelve."

"Thank you, countess, I should very greatly prefer it, and it will give
me real pleasure to come."

"Your friend, Sir Ralph Harcourt, has been telling us how you have
destroyed the corsair fleet that has been so alarming us. He, too, is an
Englishman, though he speaks Italian well."

"Yes, he speaks it a great deal better than I do," Gervaise said. "He is
a dear friend of mine, and it is, indeed, chiefly owing to his support
and influence that I have been able to manage so pleasantly and well in
the command of a body of young knights, most of whom are my seniors."

"He tells us that you speak Turkish?"

"Yes; I thought that it would be very useful, and spent nearly a year in
acquiring it, the bailiff of my langue being kind enough to relieve
me of all other duties. I was fortunate enough to find in one of the
servants of the auberge a well educated and widely informed Turk, who
was a very pleasant companion, as well as an excellent instructor, and I
learnt much from him besides his language. The knowledge of Turkish has
already proved to me most useful, and was indeed the means by which
I obtained both my commandery and my appointment as captain of the
galley."

"Perhaps you will tell us the story tomorrow; that is, if it is too long
to tell us now?"

"It is indeed much too long; but if it will interest you I shall be glad
to recount it tomorrow."

The next day Gervaise went to the palace of the Countess Da Forli. She
was a widow with no children, except Claudia, the young daughter who
had accompanied her to the fete the evening before. Caretto, and four
or five relations of the family, were the only guests beside himself. It
was a quiet and sociable meal, and served with less ceremony than usual,
as the countess wished to place Gervaise as much as possible at his
ease. During the meal but little was said about the affair with the
pirates, Caretto telling them some of his experiences as a captive.

"It is well, Claudia," he said, laughing, "that you did not see me at
the time I was rescued, for I was such a scarecrow that you would never
have been able to regard me with due and proper respect afterwards. I
was so thin that my bones almost came through my skin."

"You are thin enough now, cousin," the girl said.

"I have gained so much weight during the last ten days that I begin to
fear that I shall, ere long, get too fat to buckle on my armour. But,
bad as the thinness was, it was nothing to the dirt. Moreover, I was
coming near to losing my voice. There was nothing for us to talk about
in our misery, and often days passed without a word being exchanged
between Da Vinci, Forzi, and myself. Do you know I felt almost more
thankful for the bath and perfumes than I did for my liberty. I was able
at once to enjoy the comfort of the one, while it was some time before
I could really assure myself that my slavery was over, and that I was a
free man again."

"And now, Sir Gervaise," the countess said, when the meal was over, "it
is your turn. Claudia is longing to hear your story, and to know how you
came to be in command of a galley."

"And I am almost as anxious," Caretto said. "I did not like to ask the
question on board the galley, and have been looking forward to learning
it when I got to Rhodes. I did, indeed, ask the two knights who
accompanied me on my mission here, but they would only tell me that
every one knew you had performed some very great service to the Order,
and that it concerned some intended rising among the slaves, the details
being known to only a few, who had been, they understood, told that it
was not to be repeated."

"It was a very simple matter," Gervaise said, "and although the grand
master and council were pleased to take a very favourable view of it,
it was, in fact, a question of luck, just as was the surprise of the
corsairs. There is really no secret about it--at least, except in
Rhodes: there it was thought best not to speak of it, because the fact
that the attempt among the slaves was almost successful, might, if
generally known, encourage others to try to escape, and perhaps with
greater success. I told you last night, Countess, that I had only once
before in the last six or seven years spoken to a woman, and it was on
that occasion that the adventure, so far as I was concerned, had its
commencement."

He then, beginning at his visit with Ralph Harcourt to the Greek
merchant and his family on the roof of the house, recounted the
suspicions he had entertained, the manner in which they were confirmed,
and the method by which he had discovered the plot for the rising. He
was interrupted several times when he attempted to abbreviate the story,
or to omit some of the details, and there were exclamations of surprise
at his proposal to personate a Turkish prisoner, and to share the lot of
the slaves in their prison, and on the benches of the galley.

"I had no idea, Sir Gervaise," Caretto said, when he had concluded,
"that you too had been a galley slave, and I understand now the care
you showed to render the lot of the rowers as easy as possible. It was
a splendid scheme, and well carried out. Indeed, I no longer wonder
that you were appointed to the command of a galley, and received a rich
commandery in England at the hands of the grand master himself. What
think you, Countess; did I speak too highly in his favour?"

"Not one jot, cousin. Why, Sir Gervaise, it seems to me that you have
been born two centuries too late, and that you should have been a knight
errant, instead of being sworn to obey orders, and bound to celibacy.
Do you wear no lady's favour in your helm? I know that not a few of your
Order do so."

"As I have said, Countess, I know no ladies who would bestow favours
upon me; in the second place, I am but eighteen, and it would be
ridiculous for me to think of such matters; lastly, it seems to me that,
being vowed to the Order, I can desire no other mistress."

Claudia, who had listened with rapt attention to the story, whispered in
her mother's ear. The latter smiled.

"It seems to me, Sir Gervaise," she went on, "that after what you have
done for Italy there are many fair maidens who would feel it an honour
that their colours should be borne by one who has shown himself so
valiant a knight. You see, a gage of this kind does not necessarily mean
that there is any deep feeling between the knight who bears it and the
lady who bestows it; it shows only that she, on her part, feels it an
honour that her gage should be worn by a distinguished knight, and, on
his part, that he considers it as somewhat more than a compliment, and
wears it as a proof of regard on the part of one whose good opinion at
least he values. It is true that among secular knights it may mean even
more than this, but it ought not to mean more among knights of an Order
like yours, pledged to devote their lives to a lofty and holy aim. My
daughter Claudia whispers to me that she would deem it an honour indeed
if you would wear her token, accepting it in the spirit in which I have
spoken. She is fourteen now, and, as you know, a maid of fourteen here
is as old as one of sixteen or seventeen in your country."

Gervaise turned to the girl, who was standing by her mother's chair,
looking earnestly at him. He had noticed her the evening before; she had
asked no questions, but had listened so intently that he had felt
almost embarrassed. Claudia's was a very bright face, and yet marked by
firmness and strength. He turned his eyes again to the countess.

"I never thought of wearing a woman's favour," he said; "but if your
daughter will bestow one upon me, I shall be proud to wear it, and trust
that I may carry it unstained. I shall feel honoured indeed that one so
fair, and, as I am sure by her face, so deserving of all the devotion
that a knight of our Order can give, has thought me worthy of being one
of those on whom she could bestow so high a favour, with the confidence
that it would be ever borne with credit and honour."

"What shall I give him, mother?" Claudia asked the countess, without a
shadow of the embarrassment with which Gervaise had spoken.

"Not a kerchief, Claudia. In the rough work of the knights, it could
not be kept without spot or stain. Moreover, if I judge Sir Gervaise
rightly, methinks he would prefer some token that he could wear without
exciting attention and remark from his comrades. Go, fetch him any of
your jewels you may think fit."

"Then I will give him this," the girl said; and unfastening a thin gold
chain she wore round her neck, she pulled up a heart shaped ornament, in
pink coral set in gold and pearls.

Her mother uttered a low exclamation of dissent.

"I know, mother; it was your last gift, and I prize it far beyond
anything I have; therefore, it is all the more fit to be my token." Then
she turned to Gervaise, and went on, without the slightest tremor in her
voice, or accession of colour in her cheeks. "Sir Gervaise Tresham, I
bestow upon you this my favour, and shall deem it an honour indeed to
know that it is borne by one so brave and worthy. You said that you
would be glad to be one of those who bore my favours. You will be more
than that, for I vow to you that while you live no other knight shall
wear a favour of mine."

"Claudia!" her mother said disapprovingly.

"I know what I am saying, mother. I have often wondered why maidens
should so carelessly bestow their favours upon every knight who begged
for them, and have said to myself that when my time came I would grant
it but once, and only then to one whom I deemed worthy of it in all
ways--one in whose loyalty and honour I could trust implicitly, and who
would regard it as something sacred, deeming it an honour to wear it,
as being the pledge of my trust and esteem. Kneel, Sir Gervaise, while I
fasten this round your neck."

Gervaise took out the small brooch, that fastened the collar of his
silken doublet, and then knelt on one knee. The girl fastened the clasp
round his neck, and as he rose he hid the heart beneath the doublet, and
fastened the collar.

"Lady Claudia," he said earnestly, "I accept your favour in the spirit
in which you bestow it. So long as I live I shall prize and value it
beyond any honour I may gain, and as I feel it next to my heart, it will
ever recall to me that you gave it me as a pledge of your esteem and
trust, and I will strive to the utmost so to bear myself that I may be
worthy of the gift."

None of the others spoke while the little ceremony was being performed.
Caretto glanced at the countess with an amused smile, but the latter
looked grave, and somewhat vexed. However, she made an effort to dispel
the cloud on her face, and, when Gervaise ceased speaking, said, "This
has been a somewhat more serious business than I intended, Sir Gervaise.
But do not think that I regret in any way the course it has taken; 'tis
well for a maiden on the threshold of womanhood that she should place
before herself a lofty ideal, and that she should entertain a warm
feeling of friendship for one worthy of it. So also it is good for a
young knight to know that he has the trust and confidence of a pure and
innocent maiden; such a knowledge will aid him to be in all ways true to
the vows he has taken, and to remember always that he is bound to be not
only a valiant knight of his Order, but a sincere soldier of the Cross."

Then she went on more lightly. "Have you heard, Sir Gervaise, that there
is a question of making you a noble of Genoa?"

"No, indeed," Gervaise replied, in great surprise; "such an idea never
entered into my thoughts."

"Nevertheless, I know that it was spoken of last night, and although it
has not yet been finally settled, and will not be until the council meet
this afternoon, I should not tell you if I did not think that it was as
good as agreed upon; and I am pleased to be the first to whisper to
you that it is intended to bestow upon you an honour that is jealously
guarded and seldom granted, even to crowned heads, unless as a token of
gratitude for some signal service done to the Republic."

"I should feel most honoured and most grateful, Countess, for so
extraordinary a favour, did I feel that I had done any extraordinary
action to merit it. There can be no doubt that the destruction of the
corsairs has saved Genoa and all the maritime towns from immense loss
by damage to their trade, and by the raids that would have been made at
various points on the coast. But I cannot see that the mere fact that we
have destroyed their fleet merits any marked honour. They were caught in
a trap, and half of them burned, and this might have been done equally
as well by the Sardinian fishermen, unarmed, and without our aid. As to
the fighting, it was of small account. The first three craft we captured
offered a much stouter resistance, and we lost two of our number; but
in the other affair no knight was killed, or even seriously wounded, and
believe me, Countess, I feel absolutely ashamed at the fuss that is made
over it. It seems to me that I am a sort of impostor, obtaining credit
under false pretences."

"No man is a fair judge of his own actions, Sir Gervaise," Caretto said.
"A man may believe himself a Solon, or a Roland; others may consider him
as a fool, or an empty braggart; and it must be taken that the general
opinion of the public is the judgment from which there is no appeal.
It is not the mob of Genoa only who regard the services that you have
rendered as extraordinary, but it is the opinion of the councillors and
authorities of the Republic, and of those who, like myself, have borne
our share in warfare, that not only is the service great, but that it is
due to the singular ability with which you, in command of only a single
galley, have wholly destroyed or captured the fleet that threatened
our commerce. As our councillors, therefore, all competent judges, are
unanimous in their opinion that you have deserved the highest honours
that Genoa can bestow upon you, it is useless for you to set up your
own opinion to the contrary. Take the good things that fall to you, Sir
Gervaise, and be thankful. It is seldom that men obtain more honours
than they deserve, while it very often happens that they deserve far
more than they obtain. Fortune has doubtless some share in every man's
career; but when it is not once, but several times, that a knight gains
special credit for deeds he has performed, we may be sure that fortune
has less to do with the matter than his personal merits. Three times
have you earned special credit; upon the first occasion, the grand
master--no mean judge of conduct and character--deemed you worthy of
secular knighthood, an honour which has not, in my memory, been bestowed
at Rhodes upon any young knight; on the second, you were promoted to the
command of a galley, though never before has such a command been given
to any, save knights of long experience; and now, for the third time,
the councillors of one of the greatest of Italian cities are about to do
you honour. It is good to be modest, Sir Gervaise, and it is better to
underestimate than to overrate one's own merits, but it is not well to
carry the feeling to an extreme. I am quite sure that in your case your
disclaimer is wholly sincere and unaffected; but take my advice, accept
the honours the world may pay you as not undeserved, determining only in
your mind that if you deem them excessive, you will at least do all
in your power to show that they are not ill bestowed. You will not, I
trust, take my counsel amiss."

"On the contrary, Sir Fabricius," Gervaise said warmly. "I am really
but a boy yet, though by good fortune pushed strangely forward, and I
am glad indeed to receive council from a knight of vastly greater
experience than myself and, in future, however much I may be conscious
in my own mind that anything I have done is greatly overrated, I will at
least abstain from protest. And now, Countess, I must pray you to excuse
me. I know that Sir Ralph Harcourt is, before this, down at the dockyard
waiting my coming to engage sailors."

"You will come tomorrow at the same time, I hope, Sir Gervaise. As
Claudia's sworn knight we have now a claim upon you, and for the short
time that you remain here you must regard this as your home, although
you must necessarily remain the guest of the doge."

"He is a fine young fellow, indeed," Caretto said, after Gervaise
had left. "There is no affectation about his modesty, and he really
considers that this success he has gained is solely a stroke of good
fortune. Of course, I have been asking many questions about him of the
young knights of his own langue, Harcourt among them. They tell me that
he is always in earnest in everything he undertakes. He is without a
rival among the younger knights of the convent in his skill in arms, and
for strength and activity in all exercises; he seems to care nothing
for the ordinary amusements in which they join at Rhodes, and for nine
months was scarcely ever seen by those in the auberge, save when they
gathered for meals, so continuously did he work to acquire a perfect
command of Turkish. How thoroughly he succeeded is evident from the fact
that he was able to live among the galley slaves without exciting any
suspicions in their minds that he was other than he pretended to be, a
Syrian captive. That he is brave goes without saying, though perhaps
no braver than the majority of his companions. The extraordinary thing
about him is that although, as he himself says, little more than a boy,
he has the coolness to plan, and the head to carry out, schemes that
would do credit to the most experienced captain. He is already a credit
to the Order, and, should he live, will assuredly rise to the highest
offices in it, and may even die its grand master. In the stormy times
that are coming on, there will be ample opportunities for him still
further to distinguish himself, and to fulfil the singular promise of
his youth. That he possesses great tact, as well as other qualities,
is shown by the enthusiasm with which his companions regard him. In no
case, among those to whom I have spoken, have I discerned the smallest
jealousy of him. The tact that is needed to stand thus among fifty young
knights, almost all his seniors in age, will assuredly enable him later
on to command the confidence and affection of older men."

When the other guests had left, and Caretto only remained, the countess
turned to Claudia. "You went too far, Claudia. I was willing enough,
when you asked me, that you should bestow a favour upon him. Most young
knights wear such a favour, which may be a sign of devotion, but which
far more frequently is a piece of gallantry. In the case of a knight
hospitaller it can only be the latter; it is in his case merely a sign
that he has so distinguished himself that some maiden feels a pride that
her gift should be carried into battle by him, and, on his part, that he
too is proud of the gift so bestowed by one whose goodwill he prizes.
In that way I was willing that you should grant him your favour. But
the manner in which you gave it was far more serious than the occasion
warranted, and your promise to grant no similar favour to another as
long as he lived, surprised, and, I may almost say, shocked me. You are,
according to our custom here, considered almost a woman, and had not
Sir Gervaise belonged to a religious Order, and were he of a presuming
disposition, he might well have gathered a meaning from your words far
beyond what you intended, and have even entertained a presumptuous hope
that you were not indifferent to his merits. In the present case, of
course, no harm is done; still, methinks that it would be far better had
the words been unspoken. Your cousin here will, I am sure, agree with
me."

Caretto did not speak, but stood playing with his moustache, waiting for
Claudia's reply. The girl had stood with downcast eyes while her mother
was speaking.

"I only expressed what I felt, mother," she said, after a pause, "and I
do not think that Sir Gervaise Tresham is likely to misunderstand me.
It seems to me that never among those whom I have met have I seen one
so worthy. No praises can be higher than those with which my cousin has
spoken of him. He has rescued him, whom we dearly love, from slavery;
he has saved Genoa from great disaster, and many towns and villages from
plunder and ruin. I do indeed feel proud that such a knight should wear
my gage, and, were there no other reason, I should be unwilling that, so
long as he carried it, another should possess a similar one from me. I
am sure that Sir Gervaise will have felt that this was the meaning of my
words; I wished him to see that it was not a favour lightly given by a
girl who might, a few weeks hence, bestow a similar one upon another,
but was a gage seriously given of the honour in which I held him."

"Very well said, Claudia," Caretto broke in, before the countess could
reply. "I warrant me the young knight will not misunderstand your gift,
and that he will prize it highly and carry it nobly. He is not one of
those who will boast of a favour and display it all times, and, except
perhaps to his friend Sir Ralph Harcourt, I will wager he never tells a
soul who was its donor."

When Claudia shortly afterwards left the room, he said to the countess,
"Excuse me for breaking in, Agatha, but I felt that it was much better
to agree with her, and not to make overmuch of the matter; she is just
of an age to make some one a hero, and she could hardly have chosen a
better subject for her worship. In the first place, he is a knight
of St. John; in the second, he is going away in a few days, perhaps
tomorrow, and may never cross her path again. The thought of him will
prevent her fancy from straying for a time, and keep her heart whole
until you decide on a suitor for her hand."

"Nevertheless, I would rather that it had not been so. Claudia is not
given to change, and this may last long enough to cause trouble when I
bring forward the suitor you speak of."

"Well, in any case it might be worse," Caretto said philosophically.
And then, with a smile in answer to her look of inquiry, "Knights of the
Order have, ere now, obtained release from their vows."

"Fabricius!" the countess exclaimed, in a shocked voice.

"Yes, I know, Agatha, that the child is one of the richest heiresses
in Italy, but for that very reason it needs not that her husband should
have wide possessions. In all other respects you could wish for no
better. He will assuredly be a famous knight; he is the sort of man to
make her perfectly happy; and, lastly, you know I cannot forget that I
owe my liberation from slavery to him. At any rate, Agatha, as I said
before, he may never cross her path again, and you may, a year or two
hence, find her perfectly amenable to your wishes."



CHAPTER XVII CAPTURED


Upon the following day the doge requested Gervaise to accompany him to
a meeting of the council. Upon entering the grand hall he found not only
the members of the council assembled in their robes of office, but a
large gathering of the nobles and principal citizens of Genoa, together
with the knights of the galley whom, under Ralph Harcourt's orders,
Gervaise found, to his surprise, drawn up in order across the Hall.
Here, in the name of the Republic, Battista Fragoso announced to him
that, by the unanimous decision of the council, he had been elected
a noble of Genoa; an honour, he added, on only one or two previous
occasions in the history of the Republic bestowed upon any but of
princely rank, but which he had nobly earned by the great service he
had rendered to the State. His name was then inscribed in the book
containing the names and titles of the nobles of Genoa. Next, Battista
Fragoso presented him with a superb suit of Milanese armour, as his own
personal gift, and then with a casket of very valuable jewels, as the
gift of the city of Genoa. Each presentation was accompanied by the
plaudits of the assembly, and by the no less warm acclamations of the
knights. Ralph was then called forward, and presented with a suit of
armour but little inferior to that given to Gervaise, and each knight
received a heavy gold chain of the finest workmanship of Genoa.

Two days later the preparations for departure were complete, and a
sufficient number of men were engaged to man the prizes. This charge,
also, Genoa took upon itself, and put on board much stronger crews than
Gervaise deemed necessary for the navigation of the ships. The weather
was fine and the wind favourable, and a quick passage was made to
Rhodes. When the harbour was in sight, the ships were ordered to proceed
in single file, the galley leading the way with a huge banner of the
Order floating from her stern, and smaller flags on staffs at each side.
It was not until they passed by the two forts guarding the entrance that
the flags fluttering at the mastheads of the prizes afforded to those
on shore an intimation of the event that had taken place, and even then
none supposed that this fleet of prizes had been taken by the one galley
that headed them.

As the Santa Barbara slowly rowed up the harbour, the State barge of
the grand master put off to meet it, and D'Aubusson, with a party of
knights, soon stepped on board.

"Welcome back, Sir Gervaise! although I little expected to see you
return so soon. What is the meaning of this procession that follows you?
By their rig and appearance they are Moors, but how they come to be thus
sailing in your wake is a mystery to us all."

"They are Moors, your Excellency; they form part of an expedition fitted
out by the corsairs of Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis, and other piratical
strongholds, for the purpose of destroying the commerce and ravaging the
coasts of Western Italy. Fortunately, we fell in with a ship that had
been plundered by three of them on their way north, and learned from the
dying captain, who was the only one of her crew left with life on board,
the direction they were taking, and something of the nature of the
expedition. We pursued the three galleys, came up with them, had the
good fortune to capture them, and then had the delight of finding among
their rowers the noble knights, Fabricius Caretto, Giacomo Da Vinci, and
Pietro Forzi."

The grand master, and the knights with him, uttered an exclamation of
joy, and, as the three knights named stepped forward, embraced them with
the liveliest pleasure.

"My dear Caretto," the grand master exclaimed, "it is almost a
resurrection, for we have all long mourned you as dead; and your return
to us at the present time is indeed fortunate; for upon whose judgment
and aid could I better rely than those of my old comrade in arms?" Then,
turning to Gervaise, he went on: "It was a daring and brilliant exploit
indeed, Sir Gervaise, and in due time honour shall be paid to you and
your brave companions, to whom and to you I now tender the thanks of the
Order. But tell me the rest briefly, for I would fain hear from these
noble knights and old friends the story of what has befallen them."

"My tale is a very brief one, your Highness. The Cavalier Caretto sailed
at once in a swift craft from the south of Sardinia, to carry warnings
to the cities on the coast of Italy of the danger that threatened them,
and in order that some war galleys might be despatched by Genoa to meet
the corsair fleet. During his absence we discovered the little inlet in
which the pirates lay hidden, waiting doubtless the arrival of the three
ships we had captured, to commence operations. On the return of the
knight with the news that it would be at least a fortnight before Genoa
could fit out any galleys, and fearing that the pirates might at any
moment put to sea, we procured some small Sardinian craft, and fitted
them as fire ships; with the captives we had rescued, and some Sard
fishermen, we manned the three prizes, distributing the knights between
them, and at night launched the fire ships against the corsairs, whose
ships were crowded together. Eleven of them were burnt; six we captured
as they endeavoured to make their way out, and took possession of four
others whose crews had run them ashore and deserted them. None escaped."

Exclamations of astonishment and almost of incredulity broke from the
knights.

"And is it possible, Sir Gervaise, that these thirteen vessels that
follow you are all prizes captured by your galley alone?"

"It is, as I have the honour to tell your Highness. But their capture,
except in the case of the first three, was due almost solely to good
fortune and to the position in which we found them, almost incapable of
defence."

"What think you, knights and comrades?" the grand master said to his
companions. "There were some of you who deemed it rash to entrust a
galley to so young a commander and so youthful a crew. What say you now?
Never in the annals of the Order has such a sight been witnessed as that
of thirteen prizes being brought in by a single galley, to say naught
of eleven others destroyed. Caretto, you and your comrades must have had
some share in this marvellous victory."

"By no means," the Italian replied; "beyond having the honour of aiding
to carry out the orders of Sir Gervaise Tresham, the commander of the
galley. The plan was wholly of his own devising, its execution solely
due to his arrangement of the details, and that without the slightest
suggestion on the part of myself or my comrades. I will presently
narrate to you the whole story; it will come better from my lips than
from those of Sir Gervaise, whose disposition is to wholly underestimate
the merit of the action he has performed. But I must also bear
testimony, not only to the bravery displayed by Sir Gervaise, Sir Ralph
Harcourt, his lieutenant, and every one of the knights his crew, but
to the admirable discipline, order, and good fellowship on board the
galley, which would have done credit to the most experienced commander
and to the most veteran knights of the Order."

The grand master paused a moment, and then said in a loud voice, "Sir
Gervaise Tresham, Sir Ralph Harcourt, and knights of the seven langues
of the Order--As yet I can hardly appreciate the full extent of the
service that you have rendered. I thanked you but now for the capture of
three corsairs; but what can I say when I learn that you have destroyed
or taken a whole fleet? I invite you all to a banquet that I shall hold
tonight, where the Cavalier Caretto will relate to us all the details of
this marvellous exploit."

Within a few minutes after the return of the grand master and his party
ashore, the flags of the Order were run up to the flagstaffs of every
fort and bastion: the bells of the churches chimed out a triumphant
peal, and a salute was fired from the guns of the three water forts,
while along the wall facing the port, the townspeople waved numberless
gay flags as a welcome to the galley. Most of the knights went ashore
at once, but Gervaise, under the excuse that he wished to see that
everything was in order before landing, remained on board until it was
time to go to the banquet, being sure that by that time the knights
would have fully told the story at their respective auberges, and that
there would be no more questions to answer. The banquet differed but
little from that at Genoa, and Gervaise was heartily glad when it was
over.

The next day the grand master sent for him.

"If I judge rightly, Sir Gervaise, the thing that will best please you
at present, is an order to put to sea again at once, to conclude the
usual period of service of the galley."

"It is indeed," Gervaise replied earnestly. "But I should be glad, sir,
if you will allow that the time should begin to count afresh from our
present start. We have really had but a short period of service, for we
wasted a week at Genoa, and ten days on our journey back here, so that
we have had really no more than a month's active service."

"Yes, if you count only by time," D'Aubusson said, with a smile.
"Reckoning by results, you have done a good five years' cruise. However,
so small a request can certainly be granted. The places of the two
knights who were killed, and of four others whose wounds are reported
to me as being too severe for them to be fit for service for some time,
shall be filled up at once from the langues to which each belonged. You
will cruise among the Western islands, whence complaints have reached us
of a corsair who has been plundering and burning. Sometimes he is heard
of as far north as Negropont, at others he is off the south of the
Morea; then, again, we hear of him among the Cyclades. We have been
unwilling to despatch another galley, for there is ample employment for
every one here. After the blow you have struck on the Moorish corsairs,
they are likely to be quiet for a little. You had best, therefore, try
for a time if you cannot come across this pirate. You must let me know
how much you paid for the vessels you used as fire ships, and to the
Sards; this is an expense chargeable to the general service. I may tell
you that to me it is due that no recognition of your exploits, such as
that which Genoa bestowed upon you, will be made. At the council this
morning it was urged that some signal mark of honour should be granted;
but I interposed, saying that you had already received exceptional
promotion, and that it would not be for your good, or that of the
Order, for so young a knight to be raised to an official position of
a character usually held by seniors, and that I was perfectly sure
you would prefer remaining in command of your galley to any promotion
whatever that would retain you on the Island."

"Indeed I should, your Highness. I wish to gain experience and to do
service to the Order, and so far from pleasing me, promotion would
trouble and distress me, and, could it have been done, I would most
gladly have sent home the prizes, instead of going to Genoa, and would
myself have continued the cruise."

"So the Cavalier Caretto told me," the grand master replied. "Very well,
then. In three days you shall set out again. The admiral tells me that
never before has a galley returned with the slaves in such good health
and condition, and that unquestionably your plan of erecting an awning
to shelter them from the midday heat and the night dews has had a
most beneficial effect on their health; he has recommended its general
adoption."

Three days later the Santa Barbara again left port, and was soon upon
her station. For some weeks she cruised backwards and forwards along the
coast and among the islands. They often heard of the pirate ship, but
all their efforts to find her were unavailing.

One evening there were signs of a change of weather, and by morning it
was blowing a furious gale from the north; in spite of the efforts of
the rowers, the galley narrowly escaped being driven ashore; but she at
last gained the shelter of an island, and anchored under its lee, the
slaves being utterly worn out by continuous exertion. As soon as the
gale abated they again put to sea, and, after proceeding for some miles,
saw a ship cast up on shore. Some people could be made out on board of
her, and a white flag was raised.

"She must have been driven ashore during the gale," Gervaise said. "We
will row in to within a quarter of a mile of her and see what we can do
for them."

As soon as the anchor was dropped a boat was lowered.

"I will go myself, Ralph, for I shall be glad to set my foot on shore
again. There must be people on the island; I wonder none of them have
come to the aid of those poor fellows. I suppose the villages are on the
other side of the island, and they have not yet heard of the wreck."

Gervaise asked three of the knights to accompany him, and the boat,
rowed by galley slaves, was soon on its way. All were glad at the change
afforded to the monotony of their life on board, and at the prospect of
a scamper on shore.

There were but five or six men to be seen on the deck of the wreck, and
these had, as the boat approached, come down to the rocks as if to meet
those who came to their aid; but as the knights leapt out, they threw
themselves suddenly upon them with knives and scimitars that had
hitherto been concealed beneath their garments, while at the same moment
a crowd of men appeared on the deck of the ship, and, leaping down, ran
forward with drawn swords. Two of the knights fell dead before they had
time to draw their weapons. The third shook off his two assailants,
and for a minute kept them both at bay; but others, rushing up, cut him
down.

Gervaise had received a slight wound before he realised what was
happening. He snatched his dagger from its sheath, and struck down one
assailant; but ere he could raise it to strike again, another leapt on
to his back, and clung there until the rest rushed up, when he shouted,
"Take him alive! take him alive!" and, throwing down their weapons, half
a dozen of the pirates flung themselves upon Gervaise, and strove
to pull him to the ground, until at last, in spite of his desperate
resistance, they succeeded in doing so. His armour was hastily stripped
off, his hands and feet bound, and then at the orders of the pirate who
had leapt on his back, and who was evidently the captain, half a dozen
men lifted him on to their shoulders. As they did so four guns from the
galley flashed out, and the balls flew overhead. The pirates, who had
already begun to quarrel over the armour and arms of the fallen knights,
at once took to their heels, followed by the galley slaves from the
boat.

"Make haste," the captain said to the men carrying Gervaise.

"They are lowering their boats; we must be under way before they come
up."

In a minute or two Gervaise was set down on his feet, the cords round
his legs were cut, and he was made to hurry along with his captors. In
a short time an inlet was reached, and here Gervaise saw, to his
mortification, the pirate craft for which the Santa Barbara had in vain
been searching. As soon as the party were all on board, the ropes by
which she was moored to two trees were thrown off; the great sails
hoisted, and she sailed boldly out. Although the gale had entirely
abated, there was still a brisk wind blowing, and it was evident to the
captain of the corsair that under such circumstances he could outsail
the galley that had long been searching for him; when, therefore,
the Santa Barbara came in sight, just as he and his crew had finished
stripping the wreck of its contents, the idea had occurred to him to
attempt to entice some of the knights to land.

As soon as the vessel was under way he abused his followers hotly for
not having obeyed his orders to capture the knights without bloodshed;
but they pleaded that it was as much as they had been able to do to
capture Gervaise in that way, and that they could never have overcome
the four together, before the boats would have had time to come from the
ship.

Gervaise had been told to sit down with his back to a mast and in this
position he could, when the vessel heeled over to the breeze, obtain a
view of the sea. It was with a feeling of bitter mortification and rage
that he saw the galley lying but half a mile away, as the corsair issued
from the inlet. A moment later he heard a gun fired, and saw the signal
hoisted to recall the boats.

"If the wind had been favourable," the captain said to his mate, "we
would have borne down upon her, and could have reached and captured her
before the boats got back, for you may be sure that they have landed
almost all their men. However, we can't get there against the wind, and
we will now say goodbye to them."

Gervaise knew well that at the pace they were running through the water
the galley would have no chance whatever of overtaking her, and that,
ere the knights came on board again, she would be already two or three
miles away. A point of land soon concealed the galley from view, and
when he caught sight of her, as she rounded the point, she was but a
speck in the distance.

They passed several islands in the course of the day, changing their
direction to a right angle to that which they had at first pursued, as
soon as they were hidden from the sight of the galley by an intervening
island. As night came on they anchored in a little bay on the coast of
the Morea. The sails being furled, the sailors made a division of the
booty they had captured on the island, and of the portable property
found on board the wreck. A gourd full of water was placed to Gervaise's
lips by one of the men of a kinder disposition than the rest. He drank
it thankfully, for he was parched with thirst excited by the pain caused
by the tightness with which he had been bound.

He slept where he sat. All night four men remained on guard, although
from what he heard they had no fear whatever of being overtaken. In
the morning his arms were unbound, and they stripped off his tunic and
shirt. They had evidently respect for his strength, for before loosing
his arms they tightly fastened his ankles together. The removal of his
shirt exposed Claudia's gift to view.

"Take that from him and give it to me," the captain said. As the two men
approached, Gervaise seized one in each hand, dashed them against
each other, and hurled them on the deck. But the exertion upset his
equilibrium, and after making a vain effort to recover it, he fell
heavily across them. The captain stooped over him, and, before he could
recover himself, snatched the chain from his neck.

"You are a stout fellow," he said, laughing, "and will make a fine
slave. What have you got here that you are ready to risk your life
for?" He looked at the little chain and its pendant with an air of
disappointment. "'Tis worth but little," he said, showing it to his
mate. "I would not give five ducats for it in the market. It must be a
charm, or a knight would never carry it about with him and prize it so
highly. It may be to things like this the Christians owe their luck."

"It has not brought him luck this time," the mate observed with a laugh.

"Even a charm cannot always bring good luck, but at any rate I will try
it;" and he put it round his neck just as Gervaise had worn it. The
latter was now unbound, and permitted to move about the deck. The
strength he had shown in the struggle on shore, and the manner in which
he had hurled, bound as he was, two of their comrades to the deck, had
won for him the respect of his captors, and he was therefore allowed
privileges not granted to the seamen of the vessel that had had the ill
fortune to be cast on shore so close to the spot where the corsair
was hiding. These had been seized, driven to the ship, and having been
stripped of the greater portion of their clothes, shut down in the hold.

Although angry that but one out of the four who landed had been
captured, the captain was in a good humour at having tricked his
redoubtable foes, and was disposed to treat Gervaise with more
consideration than was generally given to captives. The latter had not
spoken a word of Turkish from the time he was captured, and had shaken
his head when first addressed in that language. No suspicion was
therefore entertained that he had any knowledge of it, and the Turks
conversed freely before him.

"Where think you we had better sell him?" the mate asked the captain,
when Gervaise was leaning against the bulwark watching the land, a short
quarter of a mile away. "He ought to fetch a good ransom."

"Ay, but who would get it? You know how it was with one that Ibrahim
took two years ago. First there were months of delay, then, when the
ransom was settled, the pasha took four-fifths of it for himself, and
Ibrahim got far less than he would have done had he sold him as a slave.
The pashas here, and the sultans of the Moors, are all alike; if they
once meddle in an affair they take all the profit, and think they do
well by giving you a tithe of it. There are plenty of wealthy Moors who
are ready to pay well for a Christian slave, especially when he is a
good looking young fellow such as this. He will fetch as much as all
those eight sailors below. They are only worth their labour, while
this youngster will command a fancy price. I know a dozen rich Moors in
Tripoli or Tunis who would be glad to have him; and we agreed that we
would run down to the African coast for awhile, for that galley has been
altogether too busy of late for our comfort, and will be all the more
active after this little affair; besides, people in these islands have
got so scared that one can't get within ten miles of any of them now
without seeing their signal smokes rising on the hills, and finding,
when they land, the villages deserted and stripped of everything worth
carrying away."

This news was a disappointment to Gervaise. He had calculated that he
would be sold at one of the Levant ports, and had thought that with his
knowledge of Turkish he should have no great difficulty in escaping
from any master into whose hands he might fall, and taking his chance of
either seizing a fishing boat, or of making his way in a trading ship to
some district where the population was a mixed one, and where trade was
winked at between the merchants there, and those at some of the Greek
towns. To escape from Tunis or Tripoli would be far more difficult;
there, too, he would be beyond the reach of the good offices of Suleiman
Ali, who would, he was sure, have done all in his power to bring about
his release. Of one thing he was determined: he would not return to
Rhodes without making every possible effort to recover Claudia's gage,
as he considered it absolutely incumbent on him as a knight to guard, as
something sacred, a gift so bestowed. The fancy of the corsair to
retain the jewel as a charm he regarded as a piece of the greatest good
fortune. Had it been thrown among the common spoil, he would never have
known to which of the crew it had fallen at the division, still less
have traced what became of it afterwards; whereas now, for some time, at
any rate, it was likely to remain in the captain's possession.

Had it not been for that, he would have attempted to escape at the first
opportunity, and such an opportunity could not fail to present itself
ere long, for he had but to manage to possess himself of Moslem garments
to be able to move about unquestioned in any Turkish town. When it
became dark he was shut up in the hold, which was, he found, crowded
with captives, as, in addition to the crew of the wreck, between forty
and fifty Greeks, for the most part boys and young girls, had been
carried off from the villages plundered. It was pitch dark below,
although the scuttle had been left open in order to allow a certain
amount of air to reach the captives; Gervaise, therefore, felt his way
about cautiously, and lay down as soon as he found a clear space. Save
an occasional moan or curse, and the panting of those suffering from the
heat and closeness of the crowded hold, all was still. The majority
of the captives had been some time in their floating prison, and
their first poignant grief had settled down into a dull and despairing
acceptance of their fate; the sailors, newly captured, had for hours
raved and cursed, but, worn out by their struggle with the elements, and
their rage and grief, they had now fallen asleep.

It was long before Gervaise dozed off. He was furious with himself for
having fallen into the trap; if he had, as he said to himself, lain off
the beach in the boat, and questioned the supposed shipwrecked sailors,
their inability to reply to him would have at once put him on his guard;
as it was, he had walked into the snare as carelessly and confidently as
a child might have done. Even more than his own captivity, he regretted
the death of his three comrades, which he attributed to his own want
of care. The next morning he was again allowed on deck. The vessel was
under way, and her head was pointing south. To his surprise some of the
crew gave him a friendly greeting; he was unable to understand a manner
so at variance with their hatred to the Christians, until one of them
said to him in a mixture of Greek and Italian, "We have heard from
our countrymen who were in the boat with you, that they received much
kindness at your hands, and that of all the Christians they had served
under, you were the kindest master. Therefore, it is but right now Allah
has decreed that you in turn should be a slave to the true believers,
that you should receive the same mercy you gave to Moslems when they
were in your power."

The captain came up as the man was speaking. He talked for a time to the
sailor, who then turned again to Gervaise. "The captain says that he is
told you were the commander of that galley; he has questioned the eight
men separately, and they all tell the same story: and yet he cannot
understand how so young a man should command a galley manned by warriors
famous for their deeds of arms, even among us who are their foes."

"This galley was an exception," Gervaise replied; "the knights on
board were all young, as they could be better spared than those more
experienced, at a time when your sultan is known to be preparing for an
attack on Rhodes."

The captain was silent for a minute when this was interpreted to him; he
had at the time noticed and wondered at the youth of the four knights,
and the explanation seemed to him a reasonable one.

"I wish I had known it," he said after a pause; "for had I done so, I
would have fought and captured her yesterday; I have half a mind to go
back and seek her now."

He called up one of the ex slaves who was a native of Tripoli, and who
had now taken his place as a member of the crew, and asked him a number
of questions. Gervaise felt uncomfortable while the man was answering.
Fortunately, his rowers had agreed to say nothing whatever of the
destruction of the corsair fleet, of which no word had as yet reached
the pirates, deeming that, in their anger at the news, the pirates might
turn upon them for the part that they had, however involuntarily, borne
in it.

As soon as he perceived that the captain entertained the idea of
returning to engage the galley, the man felt that if he were to avoid
a return into captivity he must deter him from taking such a step. He
therefore, in answer to his questions as to the strength of the crew of
the galley and the fighting powers of the knights, reported the capture
of the three vessels. The captain listened almost incredulously to his
statement, and, calling up another two of the men, questioned them also
as to the occurrence. Having heard them, he turned away and paced the
deck, in evident anger; however, he gave no instructions for a change of
course, and, to the great satisfaction of the eight rescued slaves, the
vessel continued her course southward.

As they neared the African coast, Gervaise kept an eager lookout, in
hopes that Visconti's galley might appear in sight. The captain's temper
had not recovered from the effect of the news of the capture of three
Moorish vessels by the galley commanded by Gervaise, and the latter,
seeing the mood he was in, kept forward so as to avoid coming in contact
with him. He had early taken the opportunity of saying to one of the
released galley slaves, "I pray you, if you have any feeling of kindness
towards me for the efforts I made to alleviate your condition, say
no word of my knowledge of Turkish, and ask the others also to remain
silent on this point."

The man had nodded, and the request was observed by them all.

The captain's irritation showed itself in his treatment of the other
captives. These were brought up every day from the hold, and kept on
deck until dark, as the price they would fetch in the slave market in
Tripoli would depend greatly upon their health and appearance; but when
the captain came near them he several times struck them brutally, if
they happened to be in his way. Gervaise had the greatest difficulty in
restraining his indignation, and, indeed, only did so because he felt
that his interference would but make things worse for them. When at last
the ship cast anchor off Tripoli, the captain ordered the boats to be
lowered. As he walked towards the gangway, he happened to push against
one of the captives, a Greek girl of some ten years of age. With an
angry exclamation he struck her to the deck. Gervaise sprang forward.

"You brute!" he exclaimed in English. "I have a good mind to throw you
overboard, and will do so the next time you strike one of these children
without cause."

Infuriated by Gervaise's interference and threatening attitude, the
corsair drew his long knife; but before he could strike, Gervaise caught
his wrist; the knife fell from his hand, and Gervaise kicked it through
the open gangway into the sea. The captain shouted to his men to seize
the Christian, but the young knight's blood was up now. The first
man who came at him he seized by the sash round his waist, and threw
overboard; the two next he stretched on the deck with blows from his
clenched fist. Some of the others now drew their weapons, but the
captain shouted to them to sheath them.

"Fools!" he yelled. "Is it not enough that your cowardice has already
cost us the lives of three knights, whose capture would have brought us
a big sum? Throw him down and bind him. What! are fifty of you afraid of
one unarmed man? No wonder these Christians capture our ships, if this
is the mettle of our crews!"

Goaded by his words, the men made a general rush upon Gervaise, and, in
spite of his desperate efforts, threw him on to the deck and bound him;
then the captain, seizing a heavy stick in his left hand, his right
being still powerless, showered blows upon him until Gervaise almost
lost consciousness. "Throw some water over the dog," the corsair said,
as he threw down the stick, panting with his exertions; and then,
without waiting to see if his order was obeyed, he took his place in the
boat, and was rowed ashore.

As soon as he had left, three or four of the ex galley slaves carried
Gervaise into the shade of the sail. The sailors, several of whom
bore signs of the late struggle, looked on sullenly, but offered no
opposition when the men took off the ropes and raised him into a sitting
posture against the mast. He had not entirely lost consciousness, and
was now fast recovering himself.

"Is there anything we can do for you?" one of the men asked in Italian.

"No I shall soon be all right again, although I am bruised all over, and
shall be stiff for a day or two. You had best leave me now, or you will
incur the enmity of these fellows."

Gervaise was indeed bruised from his neck to his heels. Even in
his passion the pirate had avoided striking him on the head, as a
disfiguring mark on the face would diminish his value. Sitting there, he
congratulated himself that he had been beaten with a stick and not
with a whip; a stick is a weapon, and he did not feel the same sense of
dishonour that he would have experienced had he been beaten with a
whip. That such might be his lot in slavery he recognised. The backs of
Caretto and his two companions were seamed with the marks inflicted
by the gang master's whip, and he could scarce hope to escape the same
treatment; but at present he hardly felt a slave. There was another
reflection that to some extent mitigated the pain of his bruises;
the pirate captain held his treasured gage, and it was his fixed
determination to recover it. The man had at first in a rough way treated
him fairly, and had allowed him more liberty than the other captives,
and he would have felt reluctant to take extreme measure against him to
recover the gage. Now he was not only free from any sense of obligation,
but had a heavy score to settle with him.

After a time he got up and walked stiffly and painfully up and down
the deck, knowing that this was the best plan to prevent the limbs
from stiffening. The corsair did not return until night set in; he was
accompanied by an Arab, whose dress and appearance showed that he was
a person of importance. The other slaves had all been sent below, but
Gervaise still remained on deck, as the mate had not cared to risk
another conflict by giving him orders in the absence of the captain. As
the pirate stepped on deck he ordered some torches to be brought.

"This is the Christian I spoke of," he said to the Arab, pointing to
Gervaise, who was leaning carelessly against the bulwark.

"He is, as you see, capable of hard work of any kind; his strength is
prodigious, for it took ten of my best men to bind him this morning."

"Why did you wish to bind him?" the Arab asked coldly; "you told me that
although so strong he was of a quiet disposition, and would make a good
household slave."

"I struck a slave girl who stood in my way," the captain said, "and he
came at me so suddenly that I had to call upon the men to bind him. He
threw one of them overboard, and with his naked hands knocked down two
others; and, as I have told you, it took all the efforts of eight or ten
more before they could overcome him."

The Arab took a torch from one of the sailors, walked across to
Gervaise, who was naked from the waist upwards, his upper garments
having been torn into shreds in the struggle, and examined him closely.

"And then you beat him," he said, turning to the captain.

"Certainly I beat him. Do you think that a slave is to mutiny on board
my ship, and escape unpunished?"

The Arab, without replying, again inspected Gervaise.

"You ask a large sum for him," he said.

"I should ask twice as much," the captain replied, "if it were not for
the regulation that one slave from each cargo brought in belongs to the
sultan, and his officers would as a matter of course choose this fellow,
for the others are merely such as are sold in the market every day. This
man is one of the accursed Order of Rhodes, and would fetch a ransom
many times greater than the sum I ask for him, only I have not the time
to wait for months until the affair could be arranged."

"And, moreover, Hassan," the Arab said grimly, "it has doubtless not
escaped you that as the Sultan of Turkey is fitting out an expedition
to destroy the community of Rhodes, the chance of their ransoming their
comrade is a very slight one."

"Threatened men live long," the captain said. "The sultan has been
talking of attacking them for years, and something has always happened
to prevent his carrying out his intention. It may be the same again."

"I will take him," the Arab said shortly. "Here is a purse with the sum
you named; count it, and see that it is right." As he stood apart while
the pirate counted out the money, the eight released slaves came up in a
body, and one of them, bowing low before the merchant, said,

"My lord, we have long been slaves of the Christian knights at Rhodes,
and have worked in their galleys. We were rescued the other day when
this knight was taken prisoner. Our life has been a hard one. We have
borne toil, and hardship, and blows, the heat of the sun by day, and the
damp by night, but we would humbly represent to you that since we were
placed in the galley commanded by this knight our lot has been made
bearable by his humanity and kindness. He erected an awning to shade us
from the sun's rays, and to shelter us from the night dews. He provided
good food for us. He saw that we were not worked beyond our strength,
and he forbade us being struck, unless for good cause. Therefore, my
lord, now that misfortune has fallen upon him, we venture to represent
to you the kindness with which he has treated us, in the hope that it
may please you to show him such mercy as he showed to us."

"You have done well," the Arab said, "and your words shall not be
forgotten. When you land tomorrow, inquire for the house of Isaac
Ben Ibyn. You are doubtless penniless, and I may be able to obtain
employment for those of you who may stop at Tripoli, and to assist those
who desire to take passage to their homes elsewhere. We are commanded to
be grateful to those who befriend us, and as you have shown yourselves
to be so, it is right that I, an humble servant of the Great One, should
in His name reward you."

Motioning to Gervaise to follow him, the Arab stepped into his boat.
Gervaise turned to the men, and said in Italian, "Thanks, my friends,
you have well discharged any debt that you may think you owe me. Will
you tell that villain"--and he pointed to the captain threateningly--"I
warn him that some day I will kill him like a dog!" Then, turning, he
stepped into the bow of the boat, and the two men who rowed it at once
pushed off.



CHAPTER XVIII A KIND MASTER


When the boat reached the shore the Arab handed a long bernouse to
Gervaise, signed to him to pull the hood well over his head, and then
led the way through the streets until he stopped at a large house,
standing in a quiet quarter of the town. He struck on the door with his
hand, and it was at once opened by a black slave.

"Call Muley," the Arab said.

The slave hurried away, and returned in a minute with a man somewhat
past middle age, and dressed in a style that indicated that he was a
trusted servant.

"Muley," his master said, "I have bought this Christian who has been
brought in by Hassan the corsair. He is one of the knights who are the
terrors of our coasts, but is, from what I hear, of a kind and humane
disposition. I am told that he was a commander of one of their galleys,
and though I should not have believed it had I only Hassan's word, I
have heard from others that it was so. My wife has long desired to have
a Christian slave, and as Allah has blessed my efforts it was but right
that I should gratify her, though in truth I do not know what work I
shall set him to do at present. Let him first have a bath, and see that
he is clad decently, then let him have a good meal. I doubt if he has
had one since he was captured. He has been sorely beaten by the corsair,
and from no fault of his own, but only because he opposed the man's
brutality to a child slave. If any of his wounds need ointment, see that
he has it. When all is ready, bring him to the door of my apartments, in
order that I may show to my wife that I have gratified her whim."

Then he motioned to Gervaise to follow Muley, who was the head of his
household. Gervaise resisted the impulse to thank his new master, and
followed in silence.

He was first taken to a bathroom, furnished with an abundance of hot and
cold water. Muley uttered an exclamation as, on Gervaise throwing off
his bernouse, he saw that his flesh was a mass of bruises. After filling
the bath with hot water, he motioned to Gervaise to get in, and lie
there until he returned. It was some time before he came back, bringing
a pot of ointment and some bandages. It was only on the body that the
wounds needed dressing, for here the blows had fallen on the naked skin.
When he had dressed them, Muley went out and returned with some Turkish
garments, consisting of a pair of baggy trousers of yellow cotton, a
white shirt of the same material, and a sleeveless jacket of blue cloth
embroidered with yellow trimming; a pair of yellow slippers completed
the costume. Muley now took him into another room, where he set before
him a dish of rice with a meat gravy, a large piece of bread, and a
wooden spoon.

Gervaise ate the food with a deep feeling of thankfulness for the fate
that had thrown him into such good hands. Then, after taking a long
draught of water, he rose to his feet and followed Muley into the
entrance hall. The latter stopped at a door on the opposite side,
knocked at it, and then motioned to Gervaise to take off his slippers.
The door was opened by the Arab himself.

"Enter," he said courteously, and led Gervaise into an apartment where
a lady and two girls were sitting on a divan. They were slightly veiled;
but, as Gervaise afterwards learnt, Ben Ibyn was not a Moor, but a
Berber, a people who do not keep their women in close confinement as
do the Moors, but allow them to go abroad freely without being entirely
muffled up.

"Khadja," the merchant said, "this is the Christian slave I purchased
today. You have for a long time desired one, but not until now have I
found one who would, I thought, satisfy your expectations. What think
you of him?"

"He is a noble looking youth truly, Isaac, with his fair, wavy hair, his
grey eyes, and white skin; truly, all my neighbours will envy me such
a possession. I have often seen Christian slaves before, but they have
always been broken down and dejected looking creatures; this one bears
himself like a warrior rather than a slave."

"He is a warrior; he is one of those terrible knights of Rhodes whose
very name is a terror to the Turks, and whose galleys are feared even
by our boldest corsairs. He must be of approved valour, for he was
commander of one of these galleys."

The girls looked with amazement at Gervaise. They had often heard tales
of the capture of ships that had sailed from Tripoli, by the galleys
of the Christian knights, and had pictured those fierce warriors as of
almost supernatural strength and valour. That this youth, whose upper
lip was but shaded with a slight moustache, should be one of them,
struck them as being almost incredible.

"He does not look ferocious, father," one of them said. "He looks
pleasant and good tempered, as if he could injure no one."

"And yet this morning, daughter, he braved, unarmed, the anger of Hassan
the corsair, on the deck of his own ship; and when the pirate called
upon his men to seize him he threw one overboard, struck two more on to
the deck, and it needed eight men to overpower him."

"I hope he won't get angry with us!" the younger girl exclaimed.
Gervaise could not suppress a laugh, and then, turning to the merchant,
said in Turkish, "I must ask your pardon for having concealed from you
my knowledge of your tongue. I kept the secret from all on board the
corsair, and meant to have done the same here, deeming that if none knew
that I spoke the language it would greatly aid me should I ever see
an opportunity of making my escape; but, Ben Ibyn, you have behaved so
kindly to me that I feel it would not be honourable to keep it a secret
from you, and to allow you and the ladies to talk freely before me,
thinking that I was altogether ignorant of what you were saying."

"You have acted well and honourably," Ben Ibyn said, putting a hand on
his shoulder kindly. "We have heard much of the character of the Order,
and that though valiant in battle, your knights are courteous and
chivalrous, deeming a deceitful action to be unworthy of them, and
binding themselves by their vows to succour the distressed and to be
pitiful to the weak. We have heard that our wounded are tended by
them in your hospitals with as much care as men of their own race and
religion, and that in many things the knights were to be admired even by
those who were their foes. I see now that these reports were true, and
that although, as you say, it might be of advantage to you that none
should know you speak Arabic, yet it is from a spirit of honourable
courtesy you have now told us that you do so.

"I did not tell you, wife," he went on, turning to her, "that the reason
why he bearded Hassan today was because the corsair brutally struck a
little female captive; thus, you see, he, at the risk of his life, and
when himself a captive, carried out his vows to protect the defenceless.
And now, wife, there is one thing you must know. For some time, at any
rate, you must abandon the idea of exciting the envy of your friends by
exhibiting your Christian captive to them. As you are aware, the sultan
has the choice of any one slave he may select from each batch brought
in, and assuredly he would choose this one, did it come to his ears,
or to the ears of one of his officers, that a Christian knight had been
landed. For this reason Hassan sold him to me for a less sum than
he would otherwise have demanded, and we must for some time keep his
presence here a secret. My idea is that he shall remain indoors until
we move next week into our country house, where he will be comparatively
free from observation."

"Certainly, Isaac. I would not on any account that he should be handed
over to the sultan, for he would either be put into the galleys or have
to labour in the streets."

"I will tell Muley to order the other slaves to say nothing outside
of the fresh arrival, so for the present there is no fear of its being
talked about in the town. Hassan will, for his own sake, keep silent
on the matter. I have not yet asked your name," he went on, turning to
Gervaise.

"My name is Gervaise Tresham; but it will be easier for you to call me
by my first name only."

"Then, Gervaise, it were well that you retired to rest at once, for I am
sure that you sorely need it." He touched a bell on the table, and told
Muley, when he appeared, to conduct Gervaise to the place where he was
to sleep, which was, he had already ordered, apart from the quarters of
the other slaves.

"The young fellow is a mass of bruises," Ben Ibyn said to his wife, when
the door closed behind Gervaise. "Hassan beat him so savagely, after
they had overpowered and bound him, that he well nigh killed him."

An exclamation of indignation burst from the wife and daughters.

"Muley has seen to his wounds," he went on, "and he will doubtless be
cured in a few days. And now, wife, that your wish is gratified, and I
have purchased a Christian slave for you, may I ask what you are going
to do with him?"

"I am sure I do not know," she said in a tone of perplexity. "I had
thought of having him to hand round coffee when my friends call, and
perhaps to work in the garden, but I did not think that he would be
anything like this."

"That is no reason why he should not do so," Ben Ibyn said. "These
Christians, I hear, treat their women as if they were superior beings,
and feel it no dishonour to wait upon them; I think you cannot do better
than carry out your plan. It is certain there is no sort of work that
he would prefer to it; therefore, let it be understood that he is to be
your own personal attendant, and that when you have no occasion for his
services, he will work in the garden. Only do not for the present let
any of your friends see him; they would spread the news like wildfire,
and in a week every soul in the town would know that you had a good
looking Christian slave, and the sultan's officer would be sending for
me to ask how I obtained him. We must put a turban on him. Any one who
caught a glimpse of that hair of his, however far distant, would know
that he was a Frank."

"We might stain his face and hands with walnut juice," Khadja said, "he
would pass as a Nubian. Some of them are tall and strong."

"A very good thought, wife; it would be an excellent disguise. So shall
it be." He touched the bell again. "Tell Muley I would speak with him.
Muley," he went on, when the steward appeared, "have you said aught to
any of the servants touching the Christian?"

"No, my lord; you gave me no instructions about it, and I thought it
better to wait until the morning, when I could ask you."

"You did well. We have determined to stain his skin, and at present he
will pass as a Nubian. This will avoid all questions and talk."

"But, my lord, they will wonder that he cannot speak their tongue."

"He must pass among them as a mute; but indeed he speaks Arabic as well
as we do, Muley."

The man uttered an exclamation of surprise.

"He had intended to conceal his knowledge," Ben Ibyn went on, "which
would have been politic; but when he found that my intentions were kind,
he told us that he knew our tongue, and now revealed his knowledge, as
he thought it would be dishonourable to listen to our talk, leaving us
under the impression that he could not understand us."

"Truly these Christians are strange men," Muley said. "This youth, who
has not yet grown the hair on his face, is nevertheless commander of a
war galley. He is ready to risk his life on behalf of a slave, and can
strike down men with his unarmed hand; he is as gentle in his manner as
a woman; and now it seems he can talk Arabic, and although it was in his
power to keep this secret he tells it rather than overhear words that
are not meant for his ear. Truly they are strange people, the Franks.
I will prepare some stain in the morning, my lord, and complete his
disguise before any of the others see him."

The next morning Muley told Gervaise that his master thought that it
would be safer and more convenient for him to pass as a dumb Nubian
slave. Gervaise thought the plan an excellent one; and he was soon
transformed, Muley shaving that part of the hair that would have shown
below the turban, and then staining him a deep brownish black, from the
waist upwards, together with his feet and his legs up to his knee, and
darkening his eyebrows, eyelashes, and moustache.

"Save that your lips lack the thickness, and your nose is straighter
than those of Nubians, no one would doubt but that you were one of that
race; and this is of little consequence, as many of them are of mixed
blood, and, though retaining their dark colour, have features that in
their outline resemble those of the Arabs. Now I will take you to Ben
Ibyn, so that he may judge whether any further change is required before
the servants and slaves see you."

"That is excellent," the merchant said, when he had carefully inspected
Gervaise, "I should pass you myself without recognizing you. Now you can
take him into the servants' quarters, Muley, and tell them that he is a
new slave whom I have purchased, and that henceforth it will be his
duty to wait upon my wife, to whom I have presented him as her special
attendant, and that he will accompany her and my daughters when they go
abroad to make their purchases or visit their friends. Give some reason,
if you can think of one, why you have bestowed him in a chamber separate
from the rest."

Gervaise at once took up his new duties, and an hour later, carrying a
basket, followed them into the town. It was strange to him thus to be
walking among the fanatical Moors, who, had they known the damage that
he had inflicted upon their galleys, would have torn him in pieces.
None gave him, however, more than a passing look. Nubian slaves were
no uncommon sight in the town, and in wealthy Moorish families were
commonly employed in places of trust, and especially as attendants in
the harems. The ladies were now as closely veiled as the Moorish women,
it being only in the house that they followed the Berber customs.
Gervaise had learnt from Muley that Ben Ibyn was one of the
richest merchants in Tripoli, trading direct with Egypt, Syria, and
Constantinople, besides carrying on a large trade with the Berber
tribes in the interior. He returned to the house with his basket full
of provisions, and having handed these over to the cook, he went to the
private apartments, as Khadja had requested him to do. Here she and
her daughters asked him innumerable questions as to his country and its
customs, and then about Rhodes and the Order to which he belonged.
Their surprise was great when they heard that the knights were bound to
celibacy.

"But why should they not marry if they like? Why should they not have
wives, children, and homes like other people?" Khadja asked.

"It is that they may devote their whole lives to their work. Their home
is the convent at Rhodes, or at one of the commanderies scattered over
Europe, where they take charge of the estates of the Order."

"But why should they not marry then, Gervaise? At Rhodes there might be
danger for women and children, but when they return to Europe to take
charge of the estates, surely they would do their duty no worse for
having wives?"

Gervaise smiled.

"I did not make the rules of the Order, lady, but I have thought myself
that although, so long as they are doing military work at the convent,
it is well that they should not marry, yet there is no good reason why,
when established in commanderies at home, they should not, like other
knights and nobles, marry if it so pleases them."

In the evening the merchant returned from his stores, which were
situated down by the port. Soon after he came in he sent for Gervaise.
"There is a question I had intended to ask you last night," he said,
"but it escaped me. More than two months since there sailed from this
port and others many vessels--not the ships of the State, but corsairs.
In all, more than twenty ships started, with the intention of making a
great raid upon the coast of Italy. No word has since been received of
them, and their friends here are becoming very uneasy, the more so as we
hear that neither at Tunis nor Algiers has any news been received. Have
you heard at Rhodes of a Moorish fleet having been ravaging the coast of
Italy?"

"Have you any friends on board the ships that sailed from here, or any
interest in the venture, Ben Ibyn?"

The merchant shook his head. "We Berbers," he said, "are not like the
Moors, and have but little to do with the sea, save by the way of trade.
For myself, I regret that these corsair ships are constantly putting
out. Were it not for them and their doings we might trade with the ports
of France, of Spain, and Italy, and be on good terms with all. There is
no reason why, because our faiths are different, we should be constantly
fighting. It is true that the Turks threaten Europe, and are even now
preparing to capture Rhodes; but this is no question of religion. The
Turks are warlike and ambitious; they have conquered Syria, and war with
Egypt and Persia; but the Moorish states are small, they have no thought
of conquest, and might live peaceably with Europe were it not for the
hatred excited against them by the corsairs."

"In that case I can tell you the truth. Thirteen of those ships were
taken into Rhodes as prizes; the other eleven were burnt. Not one of the
fleet escaped."

Exclamations of surprise broke from Ben Ibyn, his wife, and daughters.

"I am astonished, indeed," the merchant said. "It was reported here that
the Genoese galleys were all laid up, and it was thought that they would
be able to sweep the seas without opposition, and to bring home vast
spoil and many captives, both from the ships they took and from many of
the villages and small towns of the coast. How came such a misfortune to
happen to them? It will create consternation here when it is known, for
although it was not a state enterprise, the sultan himself and almost
all the rich Moors embarked money in the fitting out of the ships, and
were to have shares in the spoil taken. How happened it that so strong a
fleet was all taken or destroyed, without even one vessel being able to
get away to carry home the news of the disaster?"

"Fortune was against them," Gervaise said. "Three ships on their way
up were captured by a galley of our Order, and her commander having
obtained news of the whereabouts of the spot where the corsairs were to
rendezvous, found them all lying together in a small inlet, and launched
against them a number of fishing boats fitted out as fire ships. The
corsairs, packed closely together, were unable to avoid them, and, as
I told you, eleven of their ships were burnt, four were run ashore to
avoid the flames, while six, trying to make their way out, were captured
by the galley, aided by the three prizes that were taken and which the
knights had caused to be manned by Sards."

"The ways of Allah the All Seeing are wonderful," the merchant said.
"It was indeed a marvellous feat for one galley thus to destroy a great
fleet."

"It was the result of good fortune rather than skill and valour,"
Gervaise said.

"Nay, nay; let praise be given where it is due. It was a marvellous
feat; and although there is good or bad fortune in every event, such a
deed could not have been performed, and would not even have been thought
of, save by a great commander. Who was the knight who thus with one
galley alone destroyed a strongly manned fleet, from which great things
had been looked for?"

Gervaise hesitated. "It was a young knight," he said, "of but little
standing in the Order, and whose name is entirely unknown outside its
ranks."

"By this time it must be well known," Ben Ibyn said; "and it will soon
be known throughout Christendom, and will be dreaded by every Moor. What
was it?"

Gervaise again hesitated.

"I would not have told you the story at all, Ben Ibyn, had I supposed
you would have cared to inquire into the matter. Of course, I will tell
you the name if you insist upon it, but I would much rather you did not
ask."

"But why?" the merchant asked, in surprise. "If I hear it not from you,
I shall assuredly hear it ere long from others, for it will be brought
by traders who are in communication with Italy. I cannot understand why
you should thus hesitate about telling me the name of this commander.
When known it will doubtless be cursed by thousands of Moorish wives and
mothers; but we Berbers are another race. None of our friends or kindred
were on board the fleet; and we traders have rather reason to rejoice,
for, in the first place, so severe a lesson will keep the corsairs in
their ports for a long time; and in the second, had the fleet succeeded
according to general expectation, so great a store of European goods
would have been brought home that the market would have been glutted,
and the goods in our storehouses would have lost all their value. What
reason, then, can you possibly have in refusing to tell me the name of
the commander who has won for himself such credit and glory?"

Gervaise saw that Ben Ibyn was seriously annoyed at what he deemed his
unaccountable obstinacy.

"I will tell you, Ben Ibyn, rather than excite your displeasure, though
I would much have preferred not to do so, for you speak so much more
highly of the affair than it merits. I had myself the honour of being in
command of that galley."

The ladies broke into exclamations of surprise, while the merchant
regarded him with grave displeasure.

"I had thought you truthful," he said; "but this passes all belief. Dost
tell me that a beardless youth could with one galley overcome a great
fleet, commanded by the most noted captains on our coast?"

"I thought that you would not believe me," Gervaise said quietly; "and,
therefore, would have much preferred to keep silence, knowing that I had
no means of supporting my claim. That was not the only reason; the other
was, that already a great deal too much has been said about an affair
in which, as I have told you, I owed everything to good fortune, and am
heartily sick of receiving what I consider altogether undue praise. Ah!"
he exclaimed suddenly, "the thought has just occurred to me of a way by
which you can obtain confirmation of my story; and, as I value your good
opinion and would not be regarded as a boaster and a liar, I entreat you
to take it. I heard you tell the eight men who were rowers in my boat
when I was captured, to call upon you today, that you might do something
for them."

"They came this morning to my store," the merchant said. "They told
me their wishes. I promised them that I would make inquiry about ships
sailing East; and they are to come to me again tomorrow."

"Then, sir, I beseech you to suffer me to go down with you to your
stores and meet them there. The galley of which I was in command at the
time I was captured is the same as that in which a few weeks before I
fought the corsairs, and these eight men were with me at that time.
I begged them for my sake to maintain an absolute silence as to that
affair, and I have no doubt that they have done so, for in the fury
the news would excite, they might fall victims to the first outburst,
though, of course, wholly innocent of any share in the misfortune.
Did you question them without my being present, they might still keep
silent, fearing to injure me. But if, before you begin to do so, I tell
them that they can speak the truth with reference to me, they will, I am
sure, confirm my story, incredible as it may now appear to you."

"That is a fair offer," the merchant said gravely, "and I accept it,
for it may be that I have been too hasty, and I trust it may prove so. I
would rather find myself to be in fault than that the esteem with which
you have inspired me should prove to be misplaced. We will speak no
further on the subject now. I have not yet asked you how it is that you
come to speak our language so well."

Gervaise related how he had studied with Suleiman Ali, and had escorted
him to Syria and received his ransom.

"I had hoped," he said, "that the corsair would have taken me to Syria,
for there I could have communicated with Suleiman, who would, I am sure,
have given me such shelter and aid as he was able, in the event of my
making my escape from slavery and finding myself unable to leave by
sea."

The next day Gervaise went with Ben Ibyn to his stores. The eight
men arrived shortly afterwards, and the merchant, in the presence
of Gervaise, questioned them as to whether they knew anything of a
misfortune that was said to have befallen some ships that had sailed
for the coast of Italy. The men, surprised at the question, glanced at
Gervaise, who said, "Tell Ben Ibyn the truth; it will do neither you nor
me any harm, and will be mentioned by him to no one else."

Accordingly the story was told. Ben Ibyn listened gravely.

"It was the will of Allah," he said, when it was concluded. "I have
wronged you, Gervaise, but your tale seemed too marvellous to be true.

"Do not speak of this to others;" he went on to the eight men. "Now as
to yourselves. For the four of you who desire to return to Syria I have
taken passage in a trader that sails tomorrow and will touch at Joppa
and Acre. Here is money to provide yourselves with garments and to carry
you to your homes. For you," he said to two who were natives of the
town, "I can myself find employment here, and if your conduct is good,
you will have no reason to regret taking service with me. The two of
you who desire to go to Smyrna I will give passage there in a ship which
will sail next week; in the meantime, here is money for your present
wants."

Two days later the merchant's family moved to his house two miles
outside the town, and here Gervaise remained for six months. His life
was not an unpleasant one; he was treated with great kindness by the
merchant and his wife, his duties were but slight, and he had no more
labour to perform in the garden than he cared to do. Nevertheless, he
felt that he would rather have fallen into the hands of a less kind
master, for it seemed to him that it would be an act almost of treachery
to escape from those who treated him as a friend; moreover, at the
country house he was not in a position to frame any plans for escape,
had he decided upon attempting it, nor could he have found out when
Hassan made one of his occasional visits to the port.

One evening the merchant returned from the town accompanied by one of
the sultan's officers and four soldiers. Ben Ibyn was evidently much
depressed and disturbed; he told Muley as he entered, to fetch Gervaise.
When the latter, in obedience to the order, came in from the garden, the
officer said in Italian, "It having come to the ears of the sultan my
master that the merchant Ben Ibyn has ventured, contrary to the law,
to purchase a Christian slave brought secretly into the town, he has
declared the slave to be forfeited and I am commanded to take him at
once to the slaves' quarter."

"I am at the sultan's orders," Gervaise said, bowing his head. "My
master has been a kind one, and I am grateful to him for his treatment
of me."

Gervaise, although taken aback by this sudden change in his fortunes,
was not so cast down as he might otherwise have been; he would now be
free to carry out any plan for escape that he might devise, and by his
being addressed in Italian it was evident to him that his knowledge
of Turkish was unsuspected. When among the other slaves he had always
maintained his character of a mute; and it was only when alone in his
master's family that he had spoken at all. He had no doubt that his
betrayal was due to one of the gardeners, who had several times shown
him signs of ill will, being doubtless jealous of the immunity he
enjoyed from hard labour, and who must, he thought, have crept up and
overheard some conversation; but in that case it was singular that
the fact of his knowledge of Turkish had not been mentioned. Gervaise
afterwards learned that Ben Ibyn had been fined a heavy sum for his
breach of the regulations.

He was now placed between the soldiers, and marched down to the town,
without being allowed to exchange a word with the merchant. On his
arrival there he was taken to the slaves' quarter; here his clothes were
stripped from him, and he was given in their place a ragged shirt and
trousers, and then turned into a room where some fifty slaves were
lying. Of these about half were Europeans, the rest malefactors who had
been condemned to labour.

The appearance of all was miserable in the extreme; they were clothed in
rags, and the faces of the Europeans had a dull, hopeless look that told
alike of their misery and of their despair of any escape from it. They
looked up listlessly as he entered, and then an Italian said, "Cospetto,
comrade; but I know not whether your place is with us, or with the
Moslems across there. As far as colour goes I should put you down as a
Nubian; but your hair is of a hue that consorts but badly with that of
your flesh."

"I am an Englishman," Gervaise replied; "but I have been passing under a
disguise which has unfortunately been detected, so you see here I am."

The mystery explained, his questioner had no further interest in the
matter, and Gervaise, picking out a vacant place on the stone floor, sat
down and looked round him. The room, although large, was roughly built,
and had doubtless been erected with a view to its present purpose. There
were only a few windows; and these were small, strongly barred, and
twelve feet above the floor.

"Not easy to get out of them," Gervaise said to himself "at least, not
easy without aid; and with these Moslems here it is clear that nothing
can be done."

They were roused at daybreak next morning, and were taken out to their
work under the guard of six armed Moors, two overseers, provided with
long whips, accompanied them. The work consisted of cleaning the streets
and working on the roads, and at times of carrying stones for the use of
the masons employed in building an addition to the palace of the sultan.
This was the work to which the gang was set that morning, and it was not
long before the vigour with which Gervaise worked, and the strength he
displayed in moving the heavy stones, attracted the attention of the
overseers and of the head of the masons.

"That is a rare good fellow you have got there, that black with the
curious hair," the latter said. "What is the man? I never saw one like
him."

"He is a Christian," one of the overseers said. "He was smuggled into
the town and sold to Ben Ibyn the Berber, who, to conceal the matter,
dyed him black; but it got to the ears of the sultan, and he had him
taken from the Berber, and brought here; I have no doubt the merchant
has been squeezed rarely."

"Well, that is a good fellow to work," the other said. "He has just
moved a stone, single handed, that it would have taken half a dozen of
the others to lift. I wish you would put him regularly on this job; any
one will do to sweep the streets; but a fellow like that will be of real
use here, especially when the wall rises a bit higher."

"It makes no difference to me," the overseer said. "I will give orders
when I go down that he shall be always sent up with whichever gang comes
here."

The head mason, who was the chief official of the work, soon saw that
Gervaise not only possessed strength, but knowledge of the manner in
which the work should be done.

Accustomed as he had been to direct the slaves at work on the
fortifications at Rhodes, he had learned the best methods of moving
massive stones, and setting them in the places that they were to occupy.
At the end of the day the head mason told one of the slaves who spoke
Italian to inquire of Gervaise whether he had ever been employed on
such work before. Gervaise replied that he had been engaged in the
construction of large buildings.

"I thought so," the officer said to the overseer; "the way he uses his
lever shows that he knows what he is doing. Most of the slaves are worth
nothing; but I can see that this fellow will prove a treasure to us."

Gervaise returned to the prison well satisfied with his day's work. The
labour, hard though it was, was an absolute pleasure to him. There was,
moreover, nothing degrading in it, and while the overseers had plied
their whips freely on the backs of many of his companions, he had not
only escaped, but had, he felt, succeeded in pleasing his masters. The
next morning when the gangs were drawn up in the yard before starting
for work, he was surprised at being ordered to leave the one to which
he belonged and to fall in with another, and was greatly pleased when he
found that this took its way to the spot at which they were at work on
the previous day.

At the end of the week, when the work of the day was finished, the head
mason came down to the prison and spoke to the governor; a few minutes
afterwards Gervaise was called out. The governor was standing in the
courtyard with an interpreter.

"This officer tells me that you are skilled in masonry," the governor
said, "and has desired that you shall be appointed overseer of the gang
whose duty it is to move the stones, saying he is sure that with half
the slaves now employed you would get as much work done as at present.
Have you anything to say?"

"I thank you, my lord, and this officer," Gervaise replied. "I will do
my best; but I would submit to you that it would be better if I could
have the same slaves always with me, instead of their being changed
every day; I could then instruct them in their work. I would also submit
that it were well to pick men with some strength for this labour, for
many are so weak that they are well nigh useless in the moving of heavy
weights; and lastly, I would humbly submit to you that if men are to
do good work they must be fed. This work is as heavy as that in the
galleys, and the men there employed receive extra rations to strengthen
them; and I could assuredly obtain far better results if the gang
employed upon this labour were to receive a somewhat larger supply of
food."

"The fellow speaks boldly," the governor said to the head mason, when
the reply was translated.

"There is reason in what he says, my lord. Many of the slaves, though
fit for the light labour of cleaning the streets, are of very little use
to us, and even the whip of the drivers cannot get more than a momentary
effort from them. If you can save twenty-five men's labour for other
work, it will pay to give more food to the other twenty-five. I should
let this man pick out his gang. He has worked in turn with all of them,
and must know what each can do; besides, it is necessary that he should
have men who can understand his orders."

Gervaise accordingly was allowed to pick out his gang; and he chose
those whom he had observed to be the strongest and most handy at the
work.

"You will be responsible," the governor said to him, "for the masons
being supplied with stone, and if you fail you will be punished and put
to other labour."

So far from there being any falling off in the work, the head mason
found that, even though the walls began to rise and the labour of
transporting the stones into their positions became greater, the masons
were never kept standing. The men, finding their position improved,
both in the matter of food and in the immunity they enjoyed from blows,
worked cheerfully and well. Gervaise did not content himself with
giving orders, but worked at the heaviest jobs, and, little by little,
introduced many of the appliances used by the skilled masons of Rhodes
in transporting and lifting heavy stones. Gradually his own position
improved: he was treated as an overseer, and was permitted to sleep
under an arcade that ran along one side of the yard, instead of being
confined in the close and stifling cell. His dye had long since worn
off.

One day as he was going up with his gang under charge of the usual
guards to the building, he saw Hassan, who grinned maliciously.

"Ah, ah, Christian dog!" he said; "you threatened me, and I have not
forgotten it. The last time I was here I made it known to an officer of
the sultan that Ben Ibyn had a Christian slave who had been smuggled
in; and here you are. I hope you like the change. Look, I have still got
your amulet, and it has brought me better luck than it did you. I have
been fortunate ever since, and no money could buy it from me."

He had been walking close to Gervaise as he spoke, and one of the guards
pushed him roughly aside.

Time passed on. One day on his return from work a well dressed Moor met
him as the gang broke up in the courtyard.

"I have permission to speak to you," he said to Gervaise, and drew him
aside. "Know, O Christian, that I have received a letter from Suleiman
Ali, of Syria. He tells me that he has heard from Ben Ibyn, the Berber,
that you are a slave, and has asked me to inquire of the sultan the
price that he will take for your ransom, expressing his willingness to
pay whatever may be demanded, and charging me to defray the sum and to
make arrangements by which you may return to Europe. This I am willing
to do, knowing Suleiman Ali by report as a wealthy man and an honourable
one. I saw the sultan yesterday. He told me that I should have an answer
this morning as to the ransom that he would take. When I went to him
again today, he said that he had learnt from the governor of the prison
and from the head mason that you were almost beyond price, that you had
been raised to the position of superintendent of the slaves employed in
the building of his palace, and that you were a man of such skill that
he would not part with you at any price until the work was finished.
After that he would sell you; but he named a price threefold that at
which the very best white slave in Tripoli would be valued. However,
from the way in which Suleiman Ali wrote, I doubt not that he would pay
it, great as it is, for he speaks of you in terms of affection, and I
would pay the money could you be released at once. As it is, however,
I shall write to him, and there will be ample time for an answer to be
received from him before the building is finished."

"Truly I am deeply thankful to my good friend, Suleiman Ali; but for
reasons of my own I am not desirous of being ransomed at present,
especially at such a cost, which I should feel bound in honour to repay
to him; therefore, I pray you to write to him, saying that while I thank
him from my heart for his kindness, I am not able to avail myself of it.
In the first place, I am well treated here, and my position is not an
unpleasant one; secondly, the sum required for ransom is altogether
preposterous; thirdly, I am not without hopes that I may some day find
other means of freeing myself without so great a sacrifice; and lastly,
that I have a reason which I cannot mention, why, at present, I would
not quit Tripoli, even were I free tomorrow. You can tell him that this
is the reason which, most of all, weighs with me. Do not, however, I
pray you, let the sultan know that I have refused to be ransomed, for
he might think I was meditating an escape, and would order extra
precautions to be taken to prevent my doing so. Will you also see Ben
Ibyn, and thank him from me for having written to Suleiman Ali on my
behalf?"



CHAPTER XIX ESCAPE


Gradually a greater amount of liberty was given to Gervaise. Escape
from Tripoli was deemed impossible, especially as he was supposed to be
entirely ignorant of Arabic. He was, indeed, scarcely regarded now as a
slave by the head mason, and instead of being clad in rags was dressed
like other overseers. He was no longer obliged to walk with the gang to
and from the palace, and was at last granted permission to go into the
town for an hour or two after his work was over, instead of returning
direct to the prison. The first time this permission was given to him
he placed himself on the road by which Ben Ibyn would leave the town,
choosing a quiet spot where the meeting would not be observed. Gervaise
had for some time taken to staining his face, hands, and legs with
walnut juice, beginning with a weak solution, and very gradually
increasing the strength until he had reached a shade approximating to
that of the lighter coloured portion of the population. The head mason
had on one occasion noticed it, and said, "The sun is darkening your
skin, Gervaise, until you might verily pass as a Moor."

Gervaise detected an expression of doubt in the tone the officer had
spoken to the interpreter, and replied at once, "It is not altogether
the sun. Since I have obtained permission to come to my work alone,
I have taken to slightly darkening my skin, in order to go to and fro
unmolested, and free from the insults that the boys and beggars hurl at
Christians."

The master mason nodded approvingly when the answer was translated to
him.

"It is a wise step," he said; "for truly the hatred of Christians is
very strong among the lower classes, especially since it became known
that the galleys that sailed from here nearly two years ago were, with
all the fleet from which so much was expected, utterly destroyed. It is
well, then, that you should pass unnoticed, for were there a tumult in
the street you might lose your life, and I should lose the best labour
overseer I have ever had."

Thus, then, as Gervaise walked through the streets on the first occasion
of obtaining his liberty, he attracted no attention whatever. When he
saw Ben Ibyn approaching he stepped out to meet him. The merchant looked
in his face, but for a moment failed to recognise him, then he exclaimed
suddenly, "It is Gervaise! Ah, my son, I am indeed rejoiced to see
you. We have spoken of you so often at home, and sorely did my wife and
daughters grieve when you were torn from us. I did not dare to send any
message to you, for the sultan pretended great anger against me, and
used the opportunity to squeeze me hardly; but I have frequently made
inquiries about you, and was glad indeed to find that even in prison you
received promotion; had it been otherwise--had I found that you were
in misery--I would have endeavoured, whatever the risk, to aid you to
escape."

"I have indeed nothing to complain of, and was sorry to learn that you
had suffered on my account. Have you ever learned how it came about that
I was denounced?"

"No, indeed; I would have given much to know, and assuredly the dog,
whoever he was, should have been made to suffer."

"It was Hassan. The villain met me when I was with the gang, and boasted
that it was he who had sent me there. He had told the news to some
official, who had, of course, repeated it to the sultan; doubtless he
concealed his own share in the matter, otherwise he too would, next time
he returned here, have had to pay for his part in it."

"I will make him pay more heavily than the sultan would," Ben Ibyn said
sternly; "I will speak to my friends among the merchants, and henceforth
no Berber will buy aught from him; and we have hitherto been his best
customers. But let us not waste our time in speaking of this wretch. How
comes it that you are walking freely in the streets of Tripoli? I can
see that your face is stained, although you are no longer a Nubian."

Gervaise told him how it was that he was free to walk in the city after
his work was done.

"I shall now," he went on, "be able to carry out any plan of escape that
may occur to me; but before I leave, as I shall certainly do ere long,
I mean to settle my score with Hassan, and I pray you to send one of
the men who were with me in the galley, and whom you took into your
employment, directly you hear that his ship is in harbour. Do not give
him either a note or a message: bid him simply place himself in the
road between the prison gate and the palace, and look fixedly at me as I
pass. I shall know it is a signal that Hassan is in the port."

"Can I aid you in your flight? I will willingly do so."

"All that I shall need is the garb of a peasant," Gervaise said. "I
might buy one unnoticed; but, in the first place, I have no money, and
in the second, when it is known that I have escaped, the trader might
recall the fact that one of the slave overseers had purchased a suit of
him."

"The dress of an Arab would be the best," the merchant said. "That I
will procure and hold in readiness for you. On the day when I send
you word that Hassan is here, I will see that the gate of my garden is
unbarred at night, and will place the garments down just behind it. You
mean, I suppose, to travel by land?"

"I shall do so for some distance. Were I to steal a boat from the port,
it would be missed in the morning, and I be overtaken. I shall therefore
go along the coast for some distance and get a boat at one of the
villages, choosing my time when there is a brisk wind, and when I may
be able to get well beyond any risk of being overtaken. Now, Ben Ibyn, I
will leave you; it were better that we should not meet again, lest some
suspicion might fall upon you of having aided in my escape. I cannot
thank you too much for all your past kindness, and shall ever bear a
grateful remembrance of yourself and your family."

"Perhaps it were better so," Ben Ibyn said; "for if the Moors can find
any excuse for plundering us, they do so. Have you heard the news that
the Sultan of Turkey's expedition for the capture of Rhodes is all but
complete, and will assuredly sail before many weeks have passed?"

"I have not heard it," Gervaise replied; "and trust that I may be in
time to bear my share in the defence. However, the blow has been so
often threatened that it may be some time before it falls."

"May Allah bless you, my son, and take you safely back to your friends!
Be assured that you shall have notice as soon as I know that Hassan has
returned, and you shall have the bundle with all that is needful, behind
my gate."

Another two months passed. Gervaise looked in vain for Ben Ibyn's
messenger as he went to and from the palace, and chafed terribly at the
delay, when, for aught he knew, the Turkish fleet might already have
brought Mahomet's army to Rhodes. At last, as he came back from work, he
saw with intense satisfaction one of the men, whose face he recognised,
leaning carelessly against the wall. The man gave no sign of
recognition, but looked at him earnestly for a minute, and then
sauntered off up the street. Gervaise went up into the town as usual,
walked about until it became quite dark, and then went to the gate that
led into the merchant's garden. He found that it was unfastened,
and, opening it, he went in and closed it behind him. As he did so he
started, for a voice close by said,

"Master, it is I, the messenger whom you saw two hours since. Ben Ibyn
bade me say that he thought you might require some service, and, knowing
that I could be trusted, bade me wait for you here. He thought that you
might possibly need a messenger to Hassan."

"The very thing," Gervaise exclaimed. "I have been puzzling myself in
vain as to how I could get speech with him in some quiet place; but
with your assistance that will be easy; but first let me put on this
disguise."

This was easily effected, even in the dark. A loose flowing robe of
white cotton, girt in at the waist, a long bernouse with hood to cover
the head, a sash with a dagger, and a scimitar, completed the disguise.

"Here is a pouch," the man said, "with money for your journey, and
a long sword, which he says you can hang at your back beneath your
bernouse."

Gervaise gave an exclamation of pleasure. By its length and weight he
was sure that the weapon must have been the property of a Christian
knight.

"Shall I carry the message this evening?" the man asked. "It is early
still, and it were best that you should not linger in the city, where
there is sure to be a strict search for you in the morning."

"But perhaps he may recognise your face?"

"It is blackened, my lord, and I am dressed as you were when with Ben
Ibyn."

"Let us settle our plans, then, before we sally out from here; we could
not find a safer place for talking. What message, think you, would be
the most likely to tempt Hassan to come ashore? You do not know what
spoil he has brought?"

"No; besides, if a merchant wanted to buy he would go on board to
inspect Hassan's wares. We must have something to sell. It must be
something tempting, and something that must be disposed of secretly. I
might tell him that my employer--and I would mention some merchant whose
name would carry weight with him--has received from the interior a large
consignment of slaves, among whom are three or four girls, who would
fetch high prices in Egypt, and as he believes they have been captured
from a tribe within the limits of the sultan's territory, he is anxious
to get rid of them, and will either dispose of them all cheaply in a
lot, or will hand them over to him to take to Egypt to sell, giving him
a large commission for carrying them there and disposing of them."

"I do not like tempting even an enemy by stories that are untrue,"
Gervaise said doubtfully.

"I have no scruples that way," the man said, with a laugh; "and it is I
who shall tell the story, and not you."

Gervaise shook his head.

"Could you not say that you came from one who owes him a heavy debt and
desires to pay him?"

"I do not think that would bring him ashore. Hassan doubtless trades for
ready money, and must be well aware that no one here can be greatly in
his debt. No, my lord; leave the matter in my hands. I will think of
some story before I go on board that will fetch him ashore. But first we
must settle where I am to bring him; there are some deserted spots near
the wall on the east side of the town."

"I know where you mean," Gervaise agreed; "let us go in that direction
at once, for the sooner you are off the better."

In half an hour a spot was fixed on, near some huts that had fallen into
ruin. Here Gervaise seated himself on a sand heap, while the man hurried
away. The moon had just risen, it being but three days since it was at
its full. The night was quiet; sounds of music, laughter, and occasional
shouts came faintly from the town. Seated where he was, Gervaise could
see the port and the ships lying there. Half an hour later he saw a boat
row off to one of them, which he had already singled out, from its size
and general appearance, as being that of Hassan; ten minutes later he
saw it returning. At that distance separate figures could not be made
out, but it seemed to him that it loomed larger than before, and he
thought that certainly one, if not more, persons, were returning with
his messenger. Presently he heard men approaching; then Hassan's voice
came distinctly to his ears.

"How much farther are you going to take me? Remember, I warned you that
unless I found that my journey repaid me, it would be bad for you."

"It is but a few yards farther, my lord. There is my master the sheik of
the Beni Kalis awaiting you."

Gervaise rose to his feet as Hassan and two of his crew came up.

"Now," the former said roughly, "where have you bestowed these captives
you want to sell me?"

"Will you please to follow me into this courtyard?" Gervaise said.
He had, while waiting, reconnoitred the neighbourhood, and found an
enclosure with the walls still perfect, and had determined to bring
Hassan there, in order to prevent him from taking to flight. Hassan
entered it unsuspectingly, followed by his two men. Gervaise fell back
a little, so as to place himself between them and the entrance. Then he
threw back the hood of his bernouse.

"Do you recognise me, Hassan?" he said sternly. "I am the captive whom
you beat almost to death. I told you that some day I would kill you;
but even now I am willing to forgive you and to allow you to depart in
peace, if you will restore the amulet you took from me."

The corsair gave a howl of rage.

"Christian dog!" he exclaimed. "You thought to lead me into a trap,
but you have fallen into one yourself. You reckoned that I should come
alone; but I suspected there was something hidden behind the story of
that black, and so brought two of my crew with me. Upon him, men! Cut
him down!" So saying, he drew his scimitar, and sprang furiously upon
Gervaise. The latter stepped back into the centre of the gateway, so as
to prevent the men, who had also drawn their swords, passing to attack
him from behind. He had undone the clasp of his bernouse, and allowed it
to fall to the ground as he addressed Hassan, and his long sword flashed
in the moonlight as the corsair sprang forward.

Hassan was a good swordsman, and his ferocious bravery had rendered him
one of the most dreaded of the Moorish rovers. Inferior in strength to
Gervaise, he was as active as a cat, and he leapt back with the spring
of a panther, avoiding the sweeping blow with which Gervaise had hoped
to finish the conflict at once; the latter found himself therefore
engaged in a desperate fight with his three assailants. So furiously did
they attack him that, foot by foot, he was forced to give ground. As he
stepped through the gateway one of the pirates sprang past him, but as
he did so, a figure leapt out from beyond the wall, and plunged a dagger
into his back, while at the same moment, by cutting down another pirate,
Gervaise rid himself of one of his assailants in front; but as he did
so, he himself received a severe wound on the left shoulder from Hassan,
who, before he could again raise his weapon, sprang upon him, and tried
to hurl him to the ground.

Gervaise's superior weight saved him from falling, though he staggered
back some paces; then his heel caught against a stone, and he fell,
dragging Hassan to the ground with him. Tightly clasped in each other's
arms, they rolled over and over. Gervaise succeeded at last in getting
the upper hand, but as he did so Hassan twisted his right arm free,
snatched the dagger from Gervaise's girdle, and struck furiously at him.
Gervaise, who had half risen to his knees, was unable to avoid the
blow, but threw himself forward, his weight partly pinning the corsair s
shoulders to the ground, and the blow passed behind him, inflicting but
a slight wound in the back; then, with his right hand, which was now
free, he grasped Hassan by the throat with a grip of iron. The pirate
struggled convulsively for a moment, then his left hand released his
grasp of his opponent's wrist. A minute later Gervaise rose to his feet:
the pirate was dead.

Gervaise stooped and raised the fallen man's head from the ground, felt
for the chain, pulled up Claudia's gage, and placed it round his own
neck; then he turned to his guide.

"I have to thank you for my life," he said, holding out his hand to him.
"It would have gone hard with me if that fellow had attacked me from
behind. I had not bargained for three of them."

"I could not help it, my lord. It was not until Hassan had stepped down
into the boat that I knew he was going to take any one with him; then he
suddenly told two of his men to take their places by him, saying to me,
as he did so, 'I know not whether this message is a snare; but mind,
if I see any signs of treachery, your life at any rate will pay the
forfeit.' I knew not what to do, and indeed could do nothing; but,
knowing my lord's valour, I thought that, even against these odds, you
might conquer with such poor aid as I could give you."

"It was not poor aid at all," Gervaise said heartily. "Greatly am I
indebted to you, and sorry indeed am I, that I am unable to reward you
now for the great service that you have rendered me."

"Do not trouble about that, my lord. I am greatly mistaken if I do not
find in the sashes of these three villains sufficient to repay me amply
for my share in this evening's work. And now, my lord, I pray you to
linger not a moment. The gates of the town shut at ten o'clock, and it
cannot be long from that hour now. But first, I pray you, let me bind up
your shoulder; your garment is soaked with blood."

"Fortunately my bernouse will hide that; but it were certainly best to
staunch the blood before I start, for it would be hard for me to get at
the wound myself."

The man took one of the sashes of the corsairs, tore it into strips, and
bandaged the wound; then with another he made a sling for the arm. As
he took off the sashes a leather bag dropped from each, and there was a
chink of metal. He placed them in his girdle, saying, "I shall have time
to count them when I get back."

Gervaise sheathed his sword, and put on the bernouse, pulling the hood
well over his head; then, with a few more words of thanks, started for
the gate, leaving the man to search Hassan's girdle.

The gate was a quarter of a mile distant. Gervaise passed through with
the usual Arabic salutation to the sentry, and with difficulty repressed
a shout of exultation as he left Tripoli behind him.

Following the coast road he walked till daylight; then he left it and
lay down among the sand hills for five or six hours. He calculated that
no pursuit would be begun until midday. His absence was not likely to be
noticed until the gangs began work in the morning, when an alarm would
be given. The sentries at the gates on the previous evening would
be questioned, and when it was found that no one answering to his
description had passed out before these were closed, there would be
a rigid search throughout the city and port. The vessels would all
be examined, and the boatmen questioned as to whether any craft was
missing. Not until the search proved absolutely fruitless would it be
seriously suspected that he had, either by passing through the gates in
disguise, or by scaling the walls, made for the interior. None knew that
he could speak Arabic, and it would be so hopeless an undertaking for
any one unacquainted with the language to traverse the country without
being detected, that the Moors would be slow to believe that he had
embarked upon such adventure. However, when all search for him in the
town and in the vessels in the port proved fruitless, doubtless mounted
men would be despatched in all directions; some would take the coast
roads, while others would ride into the interior to warn the head men of
the villages to be on the lookout for an escaped slave.

After a sleep of five hours, Gervaise pursued his journey. He had walked
for eight hours, and calculated that he must be fully thirty miles from
Tripoli, and that not until evening would searchers overtake him. After
walking four miles he came to a large village. There he purchased a bag
of dates, sat down on a stone bench by the roadside to eat them, and
entered into conversation with two or three Moors who sauntered up. To
these he represented that he belonged to a party of his tribe who had
encamped for the day at a short distance from the village in order
to rest their horses before riding into Tripoli, whither they were
proceeding to exchange skins of animals taken in the chase, and some
young horses, for cotton clothes, knives, and other articles of barter
with the tribes beyond them.

After quenching his thirst at a well in front of the mosque, he retraced
his steps until beyond the village, then struck out into the country,
made a detour, came down into the road again, and continued his journey
eastward. He walked until nightfall, and then again lay down.

He was now fully fifty miles from Tripoli, and hoped that he was beyond
the point to which horsemen from that town would think of pursuing their
search. It was likely that they would not have gone beyond the village
at which he had halted on the previous day; for when they learned from
the inhabitants that no stranger, save an Arab, had entered it, they
would content themselves with warning the head man to be on the watch
for any stranger unable to speak their tongue, and would not consider it
necessary to push their steps farther.

For four days Gervaise continued his journey. At each village through
which he passed he added to his stock of dates, until he had as many
as he could carry under his bernouse without attracting observation. He
also purchased a large water bottle, which he slung round his neck.

All this time the sea lay to his left like a sheet of glass, and he
knew that until a change of weather occurred, it was useless for him
to attempt to escape by boat. On the fifth day there were signs of a
change. He saw a dark line far out at sea; it came across the water
rapidly, and presently a gentle breeze began to blow from the northwest;
it gradually increased in strength, and when, in the afternoon, he
stopped at a village, the waves were breaking upon the shore.

After repeating his usual story, he sauntered down to the water's edge.
There were several boats hauled up, and a hundred yards out two or three
larger craft were lying at anchor. He entered into conversation with
some of the fishermen, and his questions as to the boats led them to
believe him altogether ignorant of the sea. The craft were, they told
him, used sometimes for fishing, but they often made voyages to towns
along the coast with dates and other produce. Each boat carried a single
short mast, to the top of which was attached a long tapering spar, on
which the sail was furled.

Gervaise knew that these small feluccas were generally fast sailors and
fair sea boats, and resolved to seize one of them, trusting that when
once the sail was shaken out he would be able to manage it single
handed. Accustomed to boats, he picked out that which he thought would
be the fastest, and then walked away for half a mile, and lay down to
sleep until the village was silent for the night. He had with him some
oaten cakes he had bought there, a string of fish he had purchased from
the boatmen, and with these and the dates he thought he could manage
for four or five days at least. As to water, he could only hope that he
should find a supply on board the boat. When he judged it to be about
ten o'clock he went down to the shore again, took off his clothes and
made them into a bundle; then, wading out into the water to within fifty
yards of the felucca, swam off to it, towing the bundle behind him.

He had no difficulty in climbing on board, and after dressing himself in
the clothes he had worn at Tripoli, and had kept on underneath the Arab
attire, he pulled the head rope until the craft was nearly over the
anchor. He then loosened the line that brailed up the sail, got the
stone that served as an anchor on board, hauled the sheet aft, and took
his place at the tiller. The wind had dropped a good deal with the sun,
but there was still sufficient air to send the light craft fast through
the water. He steered out for a time, and then, when he thought himself
a good mile from the shore, headed east. By the appearance of the water
as it glanced past, he thought that he must be making from five to six
miles an hour, and when the sun rose at five o'clock, believed that he
was nearly forty miles on his way. He now fastened the tiller with a
rope and proceeded to overhaul the craft.

It was decked over forward only, and he crept into the cabin, which was
little more than three feet high. The first thing his eye lit on was a
bulky object hanging against the side, and covered with a thick black
blanket of Arab manufacture. Lifting this, he saw, as he expected, that
the object beneath it was a large waterskin well filled; the blanket had
evidently been placed over it to keep it cool when the sun streamed down
on the deck above it. There was also a large bag of dates, and another
of flat cakes, and he guessed that these had all been put on board the
evening before, in readiness for a start in the morning. This relieved
him of his chief anxiety, for he had been unable to think of any plan
for replenishing his supply, or to concoct a likely tale that, were he
obliged to go on shore, would account for his being alone in a craft of
that size.

The wind increased again after sunrise, and being unable to reef the
sail single handed he managed partially to brail it up. All day the
craft flew along with the wind on the quarter, making six or seven miles
an hour; and he felt that by morning he would be well beyond pursuit. On
the run he passed several craft engaged in fishing, but these gave him
no uneasiness. He had in the morning, with some old sails he found,
constructed three rough imitations of human figures, one with the Arab
dress and another with the bernouse, and had placed them against the
bulwarks, so that at a short distance it would appear that there were
three men on board. Feeling confident that the deception would not be
noticed, he kept his course without swerving, and passed some of the
fishing boats within hailing distance, waving his hand and shouting the
usual Arab salutation to their crews.

During the day he contented himself with eating some dates and an
oatmeal cake or two; but at sunset he added to this two or three fish
that he had split open and hung up to dry in the sun and wind. There was
charcoal on board, and a flat stone served as a hearth in the bottom of
the boat, but he had no means of lighting a fire, for this the fishermen
would have brought off when they came on board in the morning. After he
had finished his meal and taken his place again at the tiller he
altered his course. Hitherto he had been steering to the south of east,
following the line of coast, but he now saw before him the projecting
promontory of Cape Mezurata, which marks the western entrance of the
great Gulf of Sydra; and he now directed his course two points north
of east, so as to strike the opposite promontory, known as Grenna, more
than a hundred miles away. The wind fell much lighter, and he shook out
the sail to its full extent. All night he kept at his post, but finding
the wind perfectly steady he lashed the tiller so as to keep the boat's
head in the direction in which he was steering, and dozed for some
hours, waking up occasionally to assure himself that she was keeping her
course.

At sunrise he indulged in a wash in sea water, and felt freshened and
revived. He now kept a sharp lookout for distant sails, for he was out
of the ordinary course a coaster would take, and would have attracted
the attention of any corsair coming out from the land; the sea, however,
remained clear of ships. All day the felucca made rapid progress, for
although the wind freshened, Gervaise did not lessen sail as before,
being now accustomed to the boat and confident of her powers. As soon
as the wind died away again after sunset, he lay down for a good sleep,
feeling this was an absolute necessity, and knowing that before morning
he should be obliged to keep a sharp lookout for land. He slept longer
than he had intended, for the day was breaking when he opened his eyes.
He sprang to his feet, and saw the land stretching ahead of him at a
distance, as he thought, of some fifteen miles, and at once put the helm
down and bore more to the north.

He judged, from what he had heard on the coast, that he must be nearly
off Cape Tejones, behind which lies the town of Bengasi, and was
confirmed in the belief on finding half an hour later that the coast,
which had run nearly north and south, trended sharply away to the
northeast. All day long he kept about the same distance from the land,
and at night, instead of keeping on his course, brailed up the sail
entirely, and allowed the vessel to drift, as he knew that before
morning he should lose the coast if he continued as he was going. He
slept without moving until daylight, and then saw, to his satisfaction,
by means of landmarks he had noticed the evening before, that the boat
had drifted but a few miles during the night. As the day went on, he saw
that the coastline was now east and west, and felt that he must be off
the most northerly point of the promontory; he accordingly laid his
course to the northeast, which would take him close to Cape Saloman, the
most easterly point of Crete, and from two hundred and fifty to three
hundred miles distant.

For twenty-four hours he sailed quietly on, the wind dropping lighter
and lighter; then it suddenly died out altogether; for some hours there
was not a breath to stir the surface of the water, and the heat was
stifling. Gervaise slept for some time; when he awoke the same stillness
reigned, but there was a change in the appearance of the sky; its
brightness was dulled by a faint mist, while, although the sea was of
a glassy smoothness, there was an imperceptible swell that caused the
felucca to sway uneasily. Gervaise had sufficient experience of the
Levant to know that these signs were ominous of a change, and he at
once set to work to prepare for it. Although he saw that it would be
difficult for him unaided to hoist the long spar back into its place,
he decided to lower it. This was not difficult, as its weight brought it
down on to the deck as soon as he slackened the halliards; he unhooked
it from the block, and then lashed the sail securely to it. When he had
done this he looked round. A bank of dark clouds lay across the horizon
to the northwest, and in a short time he could see that this was rising
rapidly.

Before taking down the spar and sail, he had deliberated as to whether
it would be better to run before the coming gale or to lie to, and had
decided on the latter alternative, as, were it to continue to blow long,
he might be driven on to the Egyptian coast. Moreover, the felucca's
bow was much higher out of water than the stern, and he thought that she
would ride over the waves with greater safety than she would did they
sweep down upon her stern.

He had heard that the Greeks, when caught in a sudden gale in small
boats, often lashed the oars together, threw them overboard with a rope
attached, and rode to them safely through a sea that would otherwise
have overwhelmed them. After much consideration as to what had best be
done, he took the anchor rope, which was some sixty yards in length,
fastened one end to each end of the spar, and then lashed the middle of
the rope to the bow of the felucca; then, using an oar as a lever, he
with great labour managed to launch the spar over the bow, with the sail
still attached to it.

When he had completed this, he looked round at the state of the weather.
The clouds had risen so fast that their edge was nearly overhead,
spanning the sky like a great arch. Ahead of him it seemed almost as
black as night. He had not been out in many of the gales that at times
sweep the eastern waters of the Mediterranean with terrible violence,
but had seen enough of them to know that it was no ordinary one that he
was about to encounter. He looked over the bow; the spar at present was
lying in contact with the stem. With an oar he pushed it across so as to
be at right angles with the craft, and then, there being nothing else to
do, sat down and waited for the storm to burst. In a short time he
heard a dull moaning sound, a puff of wind struck the boat, but in a few
seconds died out; it was sufficient to give the light craft stern way,
and she drifted backwards, the rope tightening, until the spar lay
across her bows, and some twenty yards away.

The dull moaning had grown louder; and now ahead of him he saw a white
line. It approached with extraordinary rapidity. Knowing the fury with
which it would burst upon him, he leapt down, and stood at the entrance
to the cabin, with his head just above the deck. With a deafening roar
the wind struck the boat, which staggered as if she had on her full
course struck on a rock, while a shower of spray flew over her. Half
blinded and deafened, Gervaise crawled into the cabin, closed the door,
and lay down there; whatever happened, there was nothing he could do. He
was soon conscious that the spar and sail were doing their work, for
the boat still lay head to wind. The noise overhead and around was
deafening; above the howl of the wind could be heard the creaking of the
timbers, and the boat seemed to shiver as each fresh gust struck her.

In half an hour he looked out again. There was, as yet, but little sea;
the force of the wind seemed to flatten the water, and the instant a
wave lifted its head it was cut off as if by a knife, and carried
away in spray. The boat herself was moving rapidly through the water,
dragging the spar behind her, and Gervaise almost trembled at the
thought of the speed at which she would have flown along had it not been
for the restraint of the floating anchor. Gradually the sea got up, but
the light craft rode easily over it, and Gervaise, after commending
his safety to God, lay down, and was soon fast asleep. In spite of the
motion of the vessel, he slept soundly for many hours. When he awoke he
opened the cabin door and looked out. A tremendous sea was running, but
he thought the wind, although so strong that he could scarce lift his
head above the shelter of the bulwark, was less violent than it had
been when it first broke upon him. He saw to his satisfaction that the
felucca breasted the waves lightly, and that although enveloped in spray
she took no green water over the bows.

The spar and sail acted not only as a floating anchor, but as a
breakwater, and the white crested waves, which came on as if they
would break upon the boat, seemed robbed of half their violence by
the obstruction to their course, and passed under the felucca without
breaking. For forty-eight hours the gale continued; at the end of
that time it ceased almost as suddenly as it had begun. The sun shone
brightly out, the clouds cleared entirely away. It was some hours before
the sea went down sufficiently for Gervaise to attempt to get the spar
on deck again. It was a heavy task, taxing his strength to the utmost,
but after a deal of labour it was got on board, and then raised to its
position at the masthead; the sail was shaken out, and the felucca again
put on her course.



CHAPTER XX BELEAGUERED


One morning towards the end of May, 1480, Sir John Boswell was standing
with some other knights on St. Stephen's Hill, near the city, having
hurried up as soon as a column of smoke from a bonfire lighted by the
lookout there, gave the news that the Turkish fleet was at last in
sight. A similar warning had been given a month previously, but the
fleet had sailed past the island, being bound for Phineka, which was the
rendezvous where Mahomet's great armament was to assemble. There could
be but little doubt that the long expected storm was this time about to
burst. The fleet now seen approaching numbered a hundred and sixty
large ships, besides a great number of small craft, conveying a force
variously estimated at from seventy to a hundred thousand men.

"'Tis a mighty fleet," Sir John said; "and the worst of it is that we
know there are more to follow; still, I doubt not we shall send them
back defeated. Our defences are all complete; our recent peace with
Egypt has enabled us to fill up our magazines with provisions of all
kinds; the inhabitants of the Island have had ample warning to move
into the town, carrying with them everything of value; so the Turks
will obtain but little plunder, and will be able to gather no means of
subsistence on the island, as every animal has been driven within the
walls, and even the unripe corn has been reaped and brought in. However
long the siege lasts, we need be in no fear of being reduced to sore
straits for food. Look over there. There is a small craft under sail,
and it comes not from the direction of Phineka. See! one of the Turkish
galleys has separated from the rest and is making off in that direction.
It may be that the little craft contains one or two of our comrades who
are late in coming to join us."

"It may well be so, Sir John, for they have been straggling in by twos
and threes for the last month."

"I will get the grand master's leave to put out in one of the galleys,"
Sir John said, "for, by the way they are bearing, the Turks will cut the
little craft off before she can gain the port."

He hurried to D'Aubusson, who was standing a short distance apart from
the others, gazing at the Turkish fleet. A minute later he was running
down the hill to the town, accompanied by three or four other knights;
they made direct for the outer port, where two galleys were lying in
readiness, leapt on board one of them, which already contained its quota
of knights, and at once rowed out of the port. Just as they did so the
Turkish galley fired a gun.

"I fear we shall be too late," Sir John said; "the Turk is gaining fast
on the other craft, whatever she may be. There goes another gun. Row
your hardest!" he shouted down to the slaves.

The Turkish ship did not fire again; the wind was light, and they were
going two feet through the water to every one sailed by the other craft.
The galley from Rhodes was still half a mile away when the Turk was
close to the boat that was trying to escape. Sir John and the knights
chafed as they saw they would be too late.

"I can't make out why the boat did not use her oars," the former said.
"Of course, she could not have kept away from the galley, but if she had
rowed it would have made some difference, and we might have been nearly
up."

"I can only see one man on board of her, Sir John," one of the younger
knights said; and two or three others murmured that they were of the
same opinion.

"The others must be lying down; she cannot have less than from fifteen
to twenty men. The Turk is close alongside. They still hold on. There!
She has gone about and escaped the attempt to run her down. Now she is
heading for us again! Brave fellows! brave fellows!" Sir John exclaimed,
while a cheer broke from those around him; "but they have done
for themselves. They must have seen us coming out, and if they had
surrendered might have hoped to have been retaken. Their chance of
getting quarter was truly not great, for expecting--as the Turks
do--to carry off both us and all the inhabitants of the Island, a dozen
fishermen would have seemed to them scarcely worth keeping. However, by
holding on they have thrown away any chance they may have had. The Turks
are alongside; they are leaping down into the little craft. Ah! Two more
galleys have just left their fleet, and are heading here."

"See, Sir John," one of the knights exclaimed, "there is a single man
standing in the bow of that craft: he is facing the Moors alone. See how
they crowd there; you can see the weapons flashing in the sun. They have
to press past the mast to get at him, and as yet he seems to hold them
all at bay."

"He has chosen his post well, D'Urville. The number of his assailants
prevents the archers on the Turkish craft using their bows. Fire those
bow guns!" he shouted to the knights forward: "Take steady aim at the
galley. It will distract their attention."

"Nobly done indeed!" one of the other knights shouted. "I have seen him
strike down four of the Turks."

"Row, men, row! 'Tis useless!" Sir John muttered, as he clenched the
hilt of his sword. "Useless! A Roland could not long maintain so unequal
a fight."

A groan broke from those around him as suddenly the dark mass of the
assailants made a forward move, and the single figure was lost to sight.
It was but for an instant; a moment later the crowd separated, and a man
was seen to spring overboard.

"They will riddle him with their spears when he comes up; we shall have
nothing to do but to avenge him. To your stations, comrades! It is our
turn now, and we have no time to lose, for the other two Turks will
be up in twenty minutes, and I had orders not to fight if it could be
avoided: but we must take this fellow."

Five minutes later the galley ran alongside the Turk, to which those who
had captured the boat had already hastily returned. The ships discharged
their guns into each other, and then, as the galley ran alongside, the
knights tried to leap on board of her. They were opposed by a dense mass
of Turks, for in addition to her usual crew the Moslem was crowded with
troops. For three or four minutes the knights tried, but in vain, to get
a footing on board; then Sir John shouted to them to forbear, and gave
orders to the rowers at once to push off. A cloud of arrows swept across
the poop as they did so; but for the most part these fell harmless from
the armour of the knights. For a time the cannon on both sides continued
to fire, but as the Christians increased their distance it gradually
ceased.

They had gone but a hundred yards from the Turk when a head appeared
over the stern railing of the poop, and a figure swung itself on to the
deck. The man was attired in Turkish garments, but his head was bare,
and the exclamation, "A Christian!" broke from the knights.

The man strode up to Sir John Boswell.

"You used to say you would make matters even with me some day, Sir John,
and you have more than kept your word."

Sir John fell back a pace in astonishment, and then with a shout, "By
St. George, it is Tresham!" threw his arms round Gervaise's neck, while
the knights thronged round with exclamations of satisfaction.

"And it was you whom we saw keep the Turks at bay for three good minutes
single handed," Sir John said, holding Gervaise at arm's length to gaze
into his face. "Truly it seemed well nigh impossible that any one who
was like to be on that craft could have performed so doughty a deed. And
how did you escape?"

"It was simple enough," Gervaise replied. "As soon as I dived I turned
and swam along under the boat and came up by the stern, and then held on
by the rudder, sheltered from their sight. I saw that the galley would
be up in five minutes, and had no fear of their wasting time to look for
me. Directly you came alongside her I dived again, and rose under your
stern. I did not think that you would be able to take her, for all their
craft are crowded with troops; so I contented myself with holding on
until you were out of reach of their arrows, and then I climbed up."

"I am delighted to see you again, Gervaise. I was feeling very sore at
the moment, and I know the others felt the same, at being obliged to
sheer off without making a capture; but the grand master's orders were
strict. We noted your craft pursued by the Turks, and I asked leave to
take out a galley to cut her off. He said, 'Take one, Sir John, but do
not adventure an attack against the Turk unless she is likely to fall
an easy prize to you. Her capture would be of little benefit to us, and
would be dearly purchased at the cost of a knight's life. Therefore,
as soon as we engaged her, and I found that she was full of troops and
could not be captured without heavy loss, and that two of her consorts
might arrive before we accomplished it, it was plainly my duty to
abandon the attempt, although, you may guess, it went sorely against
the grain to give the order, especially as I knew that a host would be
looking on from St. Stephen's Hill. However, your rescue more than makes
up for our failure; and thankful indeed am I that I made the suggestion
that we should put out to save that little craft, though I thought it
contained but a few fishermen or some coasting sailors, who had, in
ignorance that the Turks were at hand, tried to enter Rhodes. One of
those looking on with me did, indeed, suggest that she might have on
board a knight or two coming to join us, but I did not give the matter a
second thought."

"And how go things, Sir John? And how are old friends?"

"Ralph Harcourt and, I think, all your comrades in the Santa Barbara,
except the three who fell by your side when you were captured, are well,
and at present on the Island, as, for the last two years, none have been
allowed to depart. As to other matters, they go not so well as one could
wish. The commanderies have not responded to our call for aid as they
should have done. For this, however, they are not altogether to blame,
for we have been so often threatened with attack, and have so frequently
applied for aid in money or men, that they must have begun to doubt
whether the danger was really imminent. In other respects we are well
prepared. We have obtained large stores of provisions from Egypt, and
shall have no ground for uneasiness on that score. The defences have
been greatly strengthened, and no one fears that we shall not be able
to beat off an attack. We have destroyed the principal buildings outside
the walls, though it would have been better could we have gone much
further in this direction. And now let us have your adventures and
escape."

"'Tis a long story, Sir John, and I must pray you to let me defer it for
a time. In the first place, I have two or three wounds that I shall be
glad to have bandaged."

"Why did you not say so at once?" Sir John exclaimed. "In those dark
clothes, soaked with water as they are, I did not see the bloodstains;
but I ought to have looked for them, for surely no one could have gone
through that fight--altogether unprotected with armour too--without
being wounded. Come below, and we will attend to them."

"Also order me some wine and food, Sir John; I have touched nothing save
water for twenty-four hours, and before that fasted somewhat strictly."

By the time Gervaise's wounds, which were not severe, had been bandaged,
and he had eaten a hasty meal, the galley was alongside the mole,
between the two harbours.

He was provided with some clothes, and went with Sir John straight to
the English auberge, where the knight insisted that he should at once
lie down.

"I will report your return to D'Aubusson, and will tell him it is by my
orders that you are resting. Your wounds are not very deep, but you must
have lost a good deal of blood, and were you to exert yourself now,
and be pestered with questions, it would probably bring on an attack
of fever. There is nothing to do at present, for it must be some days
before they can land and bring up their guns."

Gervaise obeyed the orders not unwillingly, for he felt that he was
really weak, and was greatly worn out by want of sleep. Sir John
Kendall, at Boswell's request, issued orders that he was on no account
whatever to be disturbed, and that no one was to enter his room unless
he sounded the bell placed by the bedside. Gervaise indeed, falling off
to sleep a few minutes after he had lain down, did not awake until the
following morning. Having no idea that he had slept more than two or
three hours, he sounded the bell in order to inquire whether Ralph had
returned to the auberge. He was surprised to find his friend had just
risen, and that he himself had been asleep some eighteen hours!

A few minutes later Ralph hurried into the room.

"Thank God that you are back again, Gervaise!" he said, as he grasped
the hand of his friend. "I did not return until late in the evening,
having been at work with a large body of slaves at the fortifications;
and you may guess what joy I felt at the news. You are changed a good
deal."

"I don't suppose you will think so at the end of a day or two, Ralph. I
lost a good deal of blood yesterday, and have been on short rations; but
I shall very soon pick up again."

"They will bring you some broth and wine directly, Gervaise. Early as
it is, the grand master has already sent down to inquire as to your
health."

"I will reply in person as soon as I have had a meal and dressed."

"And I suppose we must all wait to hear what you have been doing until
you return, Gervaise?"

"I suppose so, Ralph. Of course it is a long story; but I must tell you
at once that there is nothing very exciting in it, and that it differed
little from that of others who have been prisoners among the Moors, save
that I was strangely fortunate, and suffered no hardships whatever. And
now I want to ask you about clothes. Have my things been sold, or are
they still in the store?"

"No; the question was raised but a short time since. It was mooted, by
the way, by that old enemy of yours, Robert Rivers, who returned
here some three months ago with a batch of knights from the English
commanderies. Sir John Boswell answered him roundly, I can tell you, and
said that they should be kept, were it for another fifty years, for
that he would wager his life that you would sooner or later make your
escape."

"I am sorry that fellow has returned, Ralph. Has he got a commandery
yet?"

"No; I believe that Sir John Kendall sent home so bad a report of him,
that even the great influence of his family has not sufficed to obtain
his appointment, and that he has been merely the assistant at one of
the smaller manors. Sir John Boswell told me in confidence that he
understood that Rivers did not at first volunteer to come out in
response to the appeal of the grand master, but that the grand prior
informed him that unless he took this opportunity of retrieving his
character, he might give up all hope of ever obtaining advancement. Ah,
here is your breakfast."

An hour later Gervaise presented himself at the palace, clothed in the
suit of armour that had been given to him by Genoa. Although he was
engaged with several members of the council at the time, the grand
master ordered him to be at once admitted as soon as he heard that he
was in attendance.

"Welcome back, Sir Gervaise Tresham," he said warmly, as he entered. "We
all rejoice greatly at your return, and I consider it a happy omen for
the success of our defence that so brave and distinguished a knight
should at the last moment have arrived to take a share in it."

The others present all shook Gervaise cordially by the hand, and
congratulated him on his return.

"You must dine with me this evening," D'Aubusson went on, "and tell us
the story of your captivity and escape. At present, as you may suppose,
we have too many matters on hand to spare time for aught that is not
pressing and important. You will need a few days' rest before you are
fit for active service, and by that time we will settle as to what post
will best suit you."

Twice that day had Gervaise to recount his adventures, the first time to
Sir John Kendall and the knights of his auberge, the second to the grand
master. Most of the leading members of the Order were assembled at
the palace, and, among others, he was introduced to the Viscount de
Monteuil, the elder brother of D'Aubusson, one of the most famous
leaders of the day. He had brought with him a considerable body of
retainers, and, although not a member of the Order, had offered his
services in defence of the town. The council had gratefully accepted the
offer, and had unanimously named him Commander of the Forces. Many other
knights and soldiers had come from different parts of Europe, animated
alike by the desire to aid in the defence of Christendom against the
advance of the Moslems, and to gain credit and honour by taking part in
a siege that was sure to be a desperate one.

"My brother has already spoken of you to me, Sir Gervaise," the viscount
said, when the young knight was presented to him; "although indeed there
was no occasion for him to do so, since the name of the knight who
two years ago saved the commerce of Italy from ruin, and with a single
galley destroyed or captured a great fleet of over twenty Barbary
pirates, and thus for a time put a stop to the depredations of the
infidels, is known throughout Europe. By the way, I am the bearer of a
message to you. I took ship at Genoa on my way hither, and stayed two or
three days there while she was being got ready for sea. Knowing that I
was bound hither, a certain very beautiful young lady of noble family,
to whom I had the honour of being introduced, prayed me that if you
should by any chance have escaped from captivity--and she said that she
was convinced that you would, when you heard that Rhodes was threatened,
assuredly endeavour to escape and to come hither to take a share in the
defence--I was to tell you that she trusted you still bore her gage, and
that she, on her part, had held fast to the promise she made you."

"I still have her gage, Viscount; for though I was for a long time
deprived of it, I succeeded in regaining it when I made my escape,"
Gervaise said quietly; and De Monteuil at once turned the conversation
to another topic.

Gervaise found that no attempt was to be made to take the offensive
against the Turks, and that they were to be permitted to advance against
the city without interference. Many of the more fiery spirits among the
knights chafed at this prohibition. The records of the past showed that
armies as large as that of Mahomet had suffered defeat at the hands
of bodies of knights no stronger than that gathered for the defence of
Rhodes. D'Aubusson, however, knew that between the undisciplined hordes
that gathered in countless numbers to oppose the crusaders, and the
troops of Mahomet, well trained in warfare, who had borne his standard
victoriously in numerous battles, there was but little comparison. They
were commanded, too, by Paleologus, a general of great capacity. Under
such circumstances, although victory might be possible, the chances of
defeat would be far greater, and while victory could be only won at a
great sacrifice of life, defeat would mean annihilation to the garrison,
and the loss of the city upon whose fortifications such an enormous
amount of money and labour had been expended.

On the other hand, he felt perfectly confident that the city could be
successfully defended, and that at a cost of life far less than would
be attained by a victory in the open field, while the blow that would
be inflicted upon the prestige and power of the enemy, by being
ignominiously compelled to retire to their ships, after the failure of
all their attacks, would be as great as if their army had been defeated
in the field. Therefore the grand master, with the full assent of his
leaders, turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of the younger knights,
that they might be allowed to make a sortie. He calmly waited behind
the formidable defences he had for the past ten years been occupied in
perfecting, in anticipation of the assault of the Moslem host.

Accordingly, after disembarking at their leisure, the Turkish army moved
forward, and took their post upon St. Stephen's Hill. From this eminence
they commanded a full view of the town, the hills sloping gently down
to the foot of the walls. In later times the first care of a general
commanding the defence would have been to construct formidable works
upon this commanding position. But the cannon of that period were so
cumbrous and slowly worked, and so inaccurate in their aim, that the
advantage of occupying a position that would prevent an enemy from
firing down into a town was considered to be more than counterbalanced
by the weakening of the garrison by the abstraction of the force
required to man the detached work, and by the risk of their being
surrounded and cut off without the garrison of the town being able to
aid them.

That the defence of St. Stephen's Hill was considered unnecessary for
the safety of Rhodes is shown by the fact that no attempt had been made
to fortify it when, forty years later, the Moslems again besieged the
city.

There was no shadow of apprehension felt by the garrison of Rhodes
as the great array of their foes was seen moving on to the hill, and
preparing to pitch its camp. On the summit was the great tent of the
pasha; round this were the marquees of the other commanders, while the
encampments of the troops stretched far away along the upper slopes of
the hill.

Previous to the despatch of the expedition, the sultan had made
preparations for aiding his arms by treachery. The agent he had sent
to propose a temporary truce had, during his stay on the Island, made
himself thoroughly acquainted with the outline of the works. A very
accurate plan of them had also been obtained from an inhabitant of
Rhodes, who had abandoned Christianity and taken service with the Turks.

In addition to this he had arranged with a renegade German, known as
Maitre Georges, a man of very great ability as an artilleryman and
engineer, to desert to the city, and there do all in his power to assist
the besiegers, both by affording them information and by giving bad
advice to the besieged. On the day after Paleologus, who was himself a
renegade Greek, had established his camp, he sent in a herald to summon
the city to surrender, at the same time making lavish promises that the
lives and property of the native population should be respected, and
that they should be allowed to continue to reside there, to enjoy the
full exercise of their religion and of all other rights they possessed.
The pasha had no real hope that the knights would obey the summons,
but he thought that he might excite a spirit of disaffection among the
townspeople that would, when the crisis came, greatly hamper the efforts
of the defenders.

The Rhodians, however, were well satisfied with the rule of the Order.
The knights, although belonging to the Catholic Church, had allowed the
natives of the Island, who were of the Greek faith, perfect freedom in
the exercise of their religion, and their rule, generally, had been
fair and just. The wealth and prosperity of the Island had increased
enormously since their establishment there, and the population had no
inclination whatever to change their rule for that of the Turks. The
summons to surrender being refused, the enemy made a reconnaissance
towards the walls.

D'Aubusson had no longer any reason for checking the ardour of the
knights, and a strong body of horsemen, under the command of De
Monteuil, sallied out and drove the Turks back to their camp.

Maitre Georges, who was acting as the military adviser of the pasha, saw
at once that the weakest point of the defence was Fort St. Nicholas, at
the extremity of the mole along the neck of land dividing the outer from
the inner port. At a short distance away, on the opposite side of the
port, stood the church of St. Anthony, and in the gardens of the church
a battery was at once erected. The garden was but three hundred yards
from St. Nicholas, and the danger that would arise from the construction
of the battery was at once perceived, and an incessant fire opened upon
it from the guns on the wall round the grand master's palace. Numbers of
the workmen were killed, but the erection of the battery was pushed on
night and day, and ere long three of the immense cannon that had been
brought from Constantinople,--where sixteen of them had been cast under
the direction of Maitre Georges--were placed in position. These cannon
were eighteen feet in length, and carried stone balls of some twenty-six
inches in diameter.

Before these were ready to open fire, Gervaise had entirely regained his
health and strength. The grand master, being unwilling to appoint him to
a separate command over the heads of knights many years his senior, had
attached him to his person in the capacity of what would now be called
an aide-de-camp.

"I know, Gervaise, that I can rely upon your coolness and discretion. I
cannot be everywhere myself, and I want you to act as my eyes in places
where I cannot be. I know that the knights, so far as bravery and
devotion are concerned, will each and every one do his best, and will
die at their posts before yielding a foot; but while fighting like
paladins they will think of naught else, and, however hardly pressed,
will omit to send to me for reinforcements. Nay, even did they think
of it, they probably would not send, deeming that to do so would be
derogatory, and might be taken as an act of cowardice. Now, it is
this service that I shall specially look for from you. When a post is
attacked, I shall, when my presence is required elsewhere, send you to
represent me. I do not, of course, wish you to interfere in any way in
the conduct of the defence, in which you will take such share as you
can; but you are specially to observe how matters go, and if you see
that the knights are pressed and in sore need of assistance to enable
them to hold the post, you will at once bring the news to me, and I will
hurry there with reinforcements."

No post could have been more in accordance with the desire of Gervaise,
for the portion of the wall defended by the English langue was far
removed from the point selected by the Turks for their first attack, the
sea front being defended half by the langue of Italy, and half by that
of Castile. Fort St. Nicholas was under the command of the Cavalier
Caretto, and as soon as the Turkish battery was completed, Gervaise
went down there with an order from the grand master that he was for the
present to consider himself as forming part of the garrison. This
was pleasant for both Caretto and himself, for the Italian knight had
conceived a strong friendship for the young Englishman, and had rejoiced
greatly at his return from captivity, but had been so much occupied with
his duty of placing the castle in all respects in a state of defence,
that he had had no opportunity for a private conversation with him since
his return to Rhodes.

Gervaise, on his part, was no less pleased. Caretto had shown so much
tact after his release from the Moors, and had so willingly aided him
in any capacity allotted to him, without in the slightest degree
interposing his council unasked, that Gervaise had come to like him
greatly, even before their arrival at Genoa. Circumstances there had
brought them closely together, and their friendship had been cemented
during their voyage to Rhodes. Caretto had gone back to Italy, where
he had a commandery, a few days after Gervaise had sailed on his last
voyage, and had only returned to Rhodes three months before Gervaise
escaped from captivity.

"This is turning the tables," Caretto said, with a laugh, when Gervaise
presented the grand master's order. "I was under your command last time,
and now it seems that you are to be under mine. I suppose you applied
to come here, in order to have a fresh opportunity of distinguishing
yourself. I heard that you had been placed on D'Aubusson's own staff."

"Yes, and am on it still; and it is by his orders and not by my own
solicitation that I am here. I will tell you what my duties are. The
grand master knows the commanders of posts have their hands so full
that they will have no time for sending complete reports to him, and he
considers, moreover, that they might, in some cases, however pressed,
hesitate to ask for aid until too late for reinforcements to be brought
up. My duty will be to let the grand master know how matters are going,
and to send to him at once if it seems to me that help is needed. I
should, of course, always send for reinforcements, at the request of a
commander; but it is only in the event of his being too busy in the heat
of the fray to think of aught but resisting an attack, that I should
exercise my own judgment in the matter."

Caretto nodded.

"It is a good thought of D'Aubusson's. When one is in the thick of a
fight in a breach, with the Moslems swarming round, it does not occur to
one to draw out of the fray to send off messages. For myself, I shall be
glad indeed to have that matter off my mind, though it is not every one
I should care to trust with such a responsibility. Some might send off
for aid when it was not needed, others might delay so long that help
might come too late; but with one so cool headed as yourself I should
not fear any contingency. And now, as I am not busy at present, let us
have a comfortable talk as to what has happened since we met last. I was
at the banquet at the grand master's on the night when you related your
adventures. You had certainly much to tell, but it seems to me for some
reason or other you cut short certain details, and I could not see why,
as there seemed no prospect of escape open to you, you did not accept
the offer of Suleiman Ali to ransom you."

"I saw no chance of escape at the moment, but I did not doubt that I
could get away from the town whenever I chose, although it was not
clear how I should proceed afterwards. It was for this opportunity I
was waiting, and I felt sure that, with my knowledge of the language, it
would come sooner or later. In the next place, my captors had fixed
an exorbitant sum for my ransom, and I did not wish to impose upon the
generosity of Suleiman. There was another reason--a private one."

"You don't mean to say that you had fallen in love with a Moorish
damsel, Sir Gervaise?" Caretto laughed.

"For shame, Cavalier! As if a Christian knight would care for a Moslem
maiden, even were she as fair as the houris of their creed!"

"Christian knights have done so before now," Caretto laughed, greatly
amused at the young knight's indignation, "and doubtless will do so
again. Well, I suppose I must not ask what the private matter was,
though it must have been something grave indeed to lead you, a slave,
to reject the offer of freedom. I know that when I was rowing in their
galleys, no matter of private business that I can conceive would have
stood in my way for a single moment, had a chance of freedom presented
itself."

"It was a matter of honour," Gervaise said gravely, "and one of which I
should speak to no one else; but as you were present at the time, there
can, I think, be no harm in doing so. At the time that I was captured, I
was stripped of everything that I had upon me, and, of course, with the
rest, of the gage which the Lady Claudia had given me, and which hung
round my neck where she had placed it. It was taken possession of by the
captain of the pirates, who, seeing that it bore no Christian emblem,
looked upon it as a sort of amulet. I understood what he was saying,
but, as I was desirous that my knowledge of Turkish should not be
suspected, I said nothing. I was very glad that he so regarded it, for
had he taken it to be an ordinary trinket, he might have parted with it,
and I should never have been able to obtain a clue as to the person to
whom he sold it. As it was, he put it round his neck, with the remark
that it might bring him better luck than had befallen me. He told me
jeeringly months afterwards that it had done so, and that he would never
part with it. Given me as it was, I felt that my honour was concerned in
its recovery, and that, should I ever meet Lady Claudia again, I should
feel disgraced indeed, if, when she asked whether I still bore her gage,
I had to confess that it was lost."

"But lost from no fault of your own," Caretto put in.

"The losing was not indeed from any fault of my own, and had the pirate
thrown it into the sea I should have held myself free from disgrace; but
as it was still in existence, and I knew its possessor, I was bound in
honour to recover it. At the time Suleiman Ali's messenger arrived the
corsair was away, and there was no saying when his ship would return;
therefore, I decided at once not to accept the offer of freedom. Had it
not been for that, I own that I should have done so, for I knew that
I could repay Suleiman from the revenues of my commandery, which would
have accumulated in my absence; but if I had had to wait ten years
longer to regain the gage, I felt that I was in honour bound to do so.
It was, in fact, some six months before the corsair put into that port
again. The moment he did so I carried out the plans I had long before
determined upon. I obtained a disguise from Ben Ibyn, and by a ruse
succeeded in inducing the pirate to meet me outside the town, believing
that I was an Arab chief who wished to dispose of some valuable slave
girls he had brought in. I had with me one of my old galley slaves, who
had been taken into Ben Ibyn's employment; and when the pirate came up
with two of his crew, and furiously attacked me as soon as I threw off
my disguise, it would have gone hard with me had he not stood by me, and
killed one of them who was about to attack me in the rear. I slew the
other and Hassan, and the gage is in its place again."



CHAPTER XXI THE FORT OF ST. NICHOLAS


"Well, you have proved indeed," Caretto said, when Gervaise finished his
story, "that you are worthy of the bestowal of a gage by a fair damsel.
I do not think that many knights, however true they might be to the
donor, would have suffered months of slavery in order to regain a token,
lost by no fault or carelessness of their own; and no lady could have
blamed or held them in any way dishonoured by the loss."

"I had a message by the Viscount De Monteuil from Lady Claudia the other
day, saying that she trusted I had kept her gage. I can assure you that
the six months of slavery were cheaply purchased by the pleasure I felt
that I still possessed it; and I was glad, too, to learn that I had not
been forgotten by her."

"Of that you may well assure yourself, Tresham; my commandery is not far
from Genoa, and I was frequently with her, but never without her drawing
me aside and asking me if I had heard any news of you, and talking over
with me the chances there might be of your escape. I can tell you that
there are not a few young nobles of Genoa who would give much to be
allowed as you are to carry her gage, or wear her colours. You should
see her now; you would scarce know her again, so altered and improved is
she; there is no fairer face in all Italy."

"I hope some day to meet her again," Gervaise replied; "although I own
to knowing it were better that I should not do so. Until she gave me her
gage I had scarcely noticed her. I have, as you know, no experience of
women, and had so much on my mind at the time, what with the fuss they
were making about us, and the question of getting the prizes here, that
in truth I paid but slight attention to the fair faces of the dames of
Genoa. But the gracious and earnest way in which, though scarce more
than a child, she gave me her gage, and vowed that no other knight
should possess one so long as I lived, struck me so greatly that I own
I gave the matter much more thought than was right or becoming in one
of our Order. The incident was much more gratifying to me than all
the honour paid me by the Republic, and during the long months of
my captivity it has recurred to me so frequently that I have in vain
endeavoured to chase it from my thoughts, as sinful thus to allow myself
constantly to think of any woman. Do not mistake me, Sir Fabricius. I
am speaking to you as to a confessor, and just as I have kept her amulet
hidden from all, so is the thought of her a secret I would not part with
for my life. I do not for a moment deceive myself with the thought that,
beyond the fact that her gift has made her feel an interest in me and my
fate, she has any sentiment in the matter: probably, indeed, she looks
back upon the gift as a foolish act of girlish enthusiasm that led her
into making a promise that she now cannot but find unpleasantly binding;
for it is but natural that among the young nobles of her own rank and
country there must be some whom she would see with pleasure wearing her
colours."

Caretto looked at him with some amusement.

"Were you not bound by your vows as a knight of the Order, how would you
feel in the matter?"

"I should feel worse," Gervaise said, without hesitation. "I have
oftentimes thought that over, and I see that it is good for me I am so
bound. It does not decrease my chances, for, as I know, there are no
chances; but it renders it more easy for me to know that it is so."

"But why should you say that you have no chances, Tresham?"

"Because it is easy to see that it is so. I am, save for my commandery
and prospects in the Order, a penniless young knight, without home or
estate, without even a place in my country, and that country not hers. I
know that it is not only sinful, but mad, for me to think so frequently
of her, but at least I am not mad enough to think that I can either win
the heart or aspire to the hand of one who is, you say, so beautiful,
and who is, moreover, as I know, the heiress to wide estates."

"'There was a squire of low degree, Loved the king's daughter of
Hungarie,'" Caretto sang, with a laugh. "You are not of low degree,
but of noble family, Gervaise. You are not a squire, but a knight, and
already a very distinguished one; nor is the young lady, though she be a
rich heiress, a king's daughter."

"At any rate, the squire was not vowed to celibacy. No, no, Sir
Fabricius, it is a dream, and a pleasant one; but I know perfectly well
that it is but a dream, and one that will do me no harm so long as I
ever bear in mind that it is so. Many a knight of the Order before me
has borne a lady's gage, and carried it valiantly in many a fight, and
has been no less true to his vows for doing so."

"Upon the contrary, he has been all the better a knight, Gervaise; it
is always good for a knight, whether he belongs to the Order or not, to
prize one woman above all others, and to try to make himself worthy of
his ideal. As to the vow of celibacy, you know that ere now knights have
been absolved from their vows, and methinks that, after the service
you have rendered to Italy by ridding the sea of those corsairs, his
Holiness would make no difficulty in granting any request that you might
make him in that or any other direction. I don't know whether you are
aware that, after you sailed from here, letters came from Rome as well
as from Pisa, Florence, and Naples, expressive of the gratitude felt
for the services that you had rendered, and of their admiration for the
splendid exploit that you had performed."

"No; the grand master has had his hands so full of other matters that
doubtless an affair so old escaped his memory. Indeed, he may have
forgotten that I sailed before the letters arrived."

"Do not forget to jog his memory on the subject, for I can tell you that
the letters did not come alone, but were each accompanied by presents
worthy of the service you rendered. But as to the vows?"

"As to the vows, I feel as I said just now, that I would not free myself
of them if I could, for, being bound by them, I can the more easily and
pleasantly enjoy my dream. Besides, what should I do if I left the Order
without home, country, or means, and with naught to do but to sell my
sword to some warlike monarch? Besides, Caretto, I love the Order,
and deem it the highest privilege to fight against the Moslems, and to
uphold the banner of the Cross."

"As to that, you could, like De Monteuil and many other knights here,
always come out to aid the Order in time of need. As to the vows, I am
not foolish enough to suppose that you would ask to be relieved from
them, until you had assured yourself that Claudia was also desirous that
you should be free."

"It is absurd," Gervaise said, almost impatiently. "Do not let us talk
any more about it, Caretto, or it will end by turning my head and making
me presumptuous enough to imagine that the Lady Claudia, who only saw
me for three or four days, and that while she was still but a girl, has
been thinking of me seriously since."

"I do not know Claudia's thoughts," Caretto remarked drily, "but I
do know that last year she refused to listen to at least a score of
excellent offers for her hand, including one from a son of the doge
himself, and that without any reasonable cause assigned by her, to the
great wonderment of all, seeing that she does not appear to have any
leaning whatever towards a life in a nunnery. At any rate, if at some
future time you should pluck up heart of grace to tell her you love her,
and she refuses you, you will at least have the consolation of knowing
that you are not the only one, by a long way, whose suit has been
rejected. And now as to our affairs here. Methinks that tomorrow that
battery will open fire upon us. It seems completed."

"Yes, I think they are nearly ready," Gervaise said, turning his mind
resolutely from the subject they had been discussing. "From the palace
wall I saw, before I came down here, large numbers of men rolling huge
stones down towards the church. Our guns were firing steadily; but could
they load them ten times as fast as they do, they would hardly be able
to stop the work, so numerous are those engaged upon it."

"Yes we shall soon learn something of the quality of their artillery.
The tower is strong enough to resist ordinary guns, but it will soon
crumble under the blows of such enormous missiles. Never have I seen or
heard in Europe of cannon of such size; but indeed, in this matter the
Turks are far ahead of us, and have, ever since cannon were first cast,
made them of much larger size than we in Europe have done. However,
there is one comfort; they may destroy this fort, but they have still
to cross the water, and this under the fire of the guns on the palace
walls; when they once land, their great battery must cease firing, and
we shall be able to meet them on equal terms in the breach. Fight
as hard as they may, I think we can hold our own, especially as
reinforcements can come down to us more quickly than they can be brought
across the water."

The next morning, at daybreak, the deep boom of a gun announced to the
city that the great battering cannon had begun their work. In the fort
the sleeping knights sprang to their feet at the concussion that seemed
to shake it to its centre. They would have rushed to the walls, but
Caretto at once issued orders that no one should show himself on the
battlements unless under special orders.

"There is nothing whatever to be done until the Turks have breached the
wall, and are ready to advance to attack us. Every sword will be needed
when that hour comes, and each man owes it to the Order to run no
useless risk, until the hour when he is required to do his share of the
fighting."

The time required to reload the great cannon was considerable, but at
regular intervals they hurled their heavy missiles against the wall,
the distance being so short that every ball struck it. After some twenty
shots had been fired, Caretto, accompanied by Gervaise, went out by a
small gate on the eastern side of the tower, and made their way round
by the foot of the wall to see what effect the shots had produced on the
solid masonry.

Caretto shook his head.

"It is as I feared," he said. "No stones ever quarried by man could long
resist such tremendous blows. In some places, you see, the stones are
starred and cracked, in others the shock seems to have pulverised the
spot where it struck; but, worse, still, the whole face of the wall
is shaken. There are cracks between the stones, and some of these are
partly bulged out and partly driven in. It may take some time before
a breach is effected, but sooner or later the wall will surely be
demolished."

"I will go up and make my report to the grand master."

"Do so, Gervaise. I almost wonder that he has not himself come down to
see how the wall is resisting."

Gervaise, on reaching the palace, heard that D'Aubusson was at present
engaged in examining no less a person than Maitre Georges, the right
hand of Paleologus, who had soon after daybreak presented himself before
the wall on the other side of the town, declaring that he had left the
Turkish service, and craving to be admitted. News had been sent at once
to D'Aubusson, who despatched two of the senior knights, with orders to
admit him and receive him with all honour. This had been done, and
the grand master, with some of his council, were now closeted with
the newcomer. Several of the knights were gathered in the courtyard,
discussing the event. There was no question that if the renegade came in
good faith, his defection would be a serious blow to the assailants,
and that his well known skill and experience would greatly benefit the
defenders.

"For my part," Sir John Boswell, who formed one of the detachment which
the English langue, as well as all the others, contributed to form the
garrison of the palace said, "I would have hung the fellow up by the
neck over the gateway, and he should never have set foot within the
walls. Think you that a man who has denied his faith and taken service
with his enemies is to be trusted, whatever oaths he may take?"

"You must remember, Boswell," another said, "that hitherto Georges has
not fought against Christians, but has served Mahomet in his wars with
other infidels. I am not saying a word in defence of his having become a
renegade; yet even a renegade may have some sort of heart, and now that
he has been called upon to fight against Christians he may well have
repented of his faults, and determined to sacrifice his position and
prospects rather than aid in the attack on the city."

"We shall see. As for me, I regard a renegade as the most contemptible
of wretches, and have no belief that they have either a heart or
conscience."

When Maitre Georges came out from the palace, laughing and talking with
the two knights who had entered with him, it was evident that he was
well pleased with his reception by the grand master, who had assigned
to him a suite of apartments in the guest house. In reality, however,
D'Aubusson had no doubt that his object was a treacherous one, and that,
like Demetrius, who had come under the pretence of bringing about a
truce, his object was to find out the weak points and to supply the
Turks with information. Georges had, in his conversation with him, laid
great stress on the strength of the Turkish army, the excellent quality
of the troops, and the enormous battering train that had been prepared.
But every word he spoke but added to the grand master's suspicions; for
if the man considered that the capture of the city was morally certain,
it would be simply throwing away his life to enter it as a deserter.

The grand master was, however, too politic to betray any doubt of
Georges' sincerity. Were he treated as a traitor, Paleologus might
find another agent to do the work. It was, therefore, better to feign
a belief in his story, to obtain all the information possible from him,
and at the same time to prevent his gaining any knowledge of affairs
that would be of the slightest use to the Turks. Instructions were
therefore given to the two knights that, while Georges was to be treated
with all courtesy, he was to be strictly watched, though in such a
manner that he should be in ignorance of it, and that, whenever he
turned his steps in the direction of those parts of the defences where
fresh works had been recently added and preparations made of which it
was desirable the Turks should be kept in ignorance, he was to be met,
as if by accident, by one of the knights told off for the purpose, and
his steps diverted in another direction.

Georges soon made himself popular among many of the knights, who had no
suspicions of his real character. He was a man of exceptional figure,
tall, strong, splendidly proportioned, with a handsome face and gallant
bearing. He was extremely well informed on all subjects, had travelled
widely, had seen many adventures, was full of anecdote, and among
the younger knights, therefore, he was soon regarded as a charming
companion. His very popularity among them aided D'Aubusson's plans, as
Georges was generally the centre of a group of listeners, and so had but
few opportunities of getting away quietly to obtain the information he
sought. Gervaise delivered his report to the grand master.

"I am free now," D'Aubusson said, "and will accompany you to St.
Nicholas. I have been detained by the coming of this man Georges. He
is a clever knave, and, I doubt not, has come as a spy. However, I have
taken measures that he shall learn nothing that can harm us. No lives
have been lost at the tower, I hope?"

"No, sir; Caretto has forbidden any to show themselves on the walls."

"He has done well. This is no time for rash exposure, and where there is
naught to be gained, it is a grave fault to run risks."

On arriving at the end of the mole, D'Aubusson, accompanied by Caretto,
made an investigation of the effect of the Turks' fire.

"'Tis worse than I expected," he said. "When we laid out our
fortifications the thought that such guns as these would be used against
them never entered our minds. Against ordinary artillery the walls would
stand a long battering; but it is clear that we shall have to depend
more upon our swords than upon our walls for our defence. Fortunately,
although the Turks have indeed chosen the spot where our walls are most
open to the assaults of their battery, they have to cross the water to
attack the breach when it is made, and will have to fight under heavy
disadvantage."

"Tresham was last night saying to me, that it seemed to him it would not
be a difficult matter for one who spoke Turkish well, to issue at night
on the other side of the town, and to make his way round to the battery,
disguised of course as a Turkish soldier, and then, mixing with the
artillery men, to drive a spike into one of the touch holes. He said
that he would gladly volunteer for the task."

D'Aubusson shook his head decidedly. "It would be too dangerous; and
even were a spike driven in, the Turks would have no great difficulty
in extracting it, for the tubes are so big that a man might crawl in and
drive the spike up from the inside. Moreover, could one or more of the
guns be disabled permanently, others would be brought down and set in
their place, so that nothing would be gained but a very short delay,
which would be of no advantage to us, and certainly would in no way
justify the risking of the life of so distinguished a young knight."

The bombardment of St. Nicholas continued for some days. A breach was
fast forming in the wall, and a slope composed of the fallen rubbish
extended from the front of the breach to the water's edge. The grand
master was frequently on the spot, and as this was at present the sole
object of attack, the garrison was strengthened by as many knights as
could be sheltered within its walls. At night the shattered masonry
that had fallen inside was carried out, and with it a new work thrown
up across the mole, to strengthen the defence on that side, should the
enemy land between the town and the fort. Small batteries were planted
wherever they could sweep the approaches to the breach, and planks
studded with nails were sunk in the shallow water of the harbour, to
impede the progress of those who might attempt to swim or wade across.
For the time, therefore, the functions of Gervaise were in abeyance, and
he laboured with the rest of the garrison at the defences.

At daybreak on the 9th of June, a great number of vessels and boats,
crowded with soldiers, bore down on St. Nicholas. As they approached,
every gun on the fortifications that could be brought to bear upon them
opened fire; but in a dense mass they advanced. Some made their way to
the rocks and landed the soldiers there; others got alongside the mole;
but the majority grounded in the shallow water of the harbour, and
the troops, leaping out, waded to the foot of the breach. On its crest
D'Aubusson himself had taken up his station. Beside him stood Caretto,
and around them the most distinguished knights of the Order. With wild
shouts the Turks rushed up the breach, and swarmed thickly up the ruined
masonry until, at its summit, they encountered the steel clad line of
the defenders. For hours the terrible struggle continued. As fast as the
head of the Turkish column broke and melted away against the obstacle
they tried in vain to penetrate, fresh reinforcements took the place
of those who had fallen, and in point of valour and devotion the Moslem
showed himself a worthy antagonist of the Christian. It was not only
at the breach that the conflict raged. At other points the Turks, well
provided with ladders, fixed them against the walls, and desperately
strove to obtain a footing there. From the breach clouds of dust rose
from under the feet of the combatants, mingling with the smoke of
the cannon on the ramparts, the fort, and Turkish ships, and at times
entirely hid from the sight of the anxious spectators on the walls of
the town and fortress, and of the still more numerous throng of Turks
on St. Stephen's Hill, the terrible struggle that continued without a
moment's intermission.

The combatants now fought in comparative silence. The knights, exhausted
and worn out by their long efforts beneath the blazing sun, still showed
an unbroken front; but it was only occasionally that the battle cry of
the Order rose in the air, as a fresh body of assailants climbed up the
corpse strewn breach. The yell of the Moslems rose less frequently;
they sacrificed their lives as freely and devotedly as those who led the
first onset had done; but as the hours wore on, the assurance of victory
died out, and a doubt as to whether it was possible to break through the
line of their terrible foes gained ground. D'Aubusson himself, although,
in spite of the remonstrances of the knights, always in the thickest
of the fray, was yet ever watchful, and quickly perceived where the
defenders were hotly pressed, and where support was most needed.
Gervaise fought by his side, so that, when necessary, he could carry his
orders to a little body of knights, drawn up in reserve, and despatch
them to any point where aid was needed. The cannon still continued their
fire on both sides. A fragment of one of the stone balls from a basilisk
struck off D'Aubusson's helmet. He selected another from among the
fallen knights, and resumed his place in the line. Still the contest
showed no signs of terminating. The Turkish galleys ever brought up
reinforcements, while the defenders grew fewer, and more exhausted.
During a momentary pause, while a fresh body of Turks were landing,
Gervaise said to the grand master,

"If you will give me leave, sir, I will go out at the watergate, swim
up the inner harbour, and in a very short time turn a few of the craft
lying there into fire ships, and tow them out with a couple of galleys.
At any rate, we can fire all these craft that have grounded, and create
a panic among the others."

"Well thought of, Gervaise! I will write an order on one of my tablets.
Do you take my place for a minute." Withdrawing behind the line, the
grand master sat down on a fragment of stone, and, drawing a tablet
from a pouch in his girdle, he wrote on it, "In all things carry out
the instructions of Sir Gervaise Tresham: he is acting by my orders and
authority, and has full power in all respects."

He handed the slip of parchment to Gervaise, who hurried to the water
gate in the inner harbour, threw off his helmet and armour, issued out
at the gate, and plunged into the sea. He swam out some distance, in
order to avoid the missiles of the Turks, who were trying to scale the
wall from the mole, and then directed his course to St. Michael's, which
guarded the inner entrance to the fort. He had fastened the parchment
in his hair, and as some of the garrison of the tower, noticing his
approach, came down to assist him, he handed it to them and was at once
taken to the commander of St. Michael, answering as he went the anxious
questions as to how matters stood at the breach.

"Aid is sorely needed. The Turks have gained no foot of ground as
yet, but many of the knights are killed and most of the others utterly
exhausted with heat and labour. Unless aid reaches them speedily, the
tower, with all its defenders, will be lost."

The instant the commander knew what was required, he bade six of the
knights embark with Gervaise in a boat moored behind the tower, and row
up the harbour to the spot where the shipping was all massed together,
protected by the high ground of the fortress from the Turkish fire.
Gervaise waved his hand, as he neared the end of the harbour, to the
officer on the walls, and while the six knights who were with him ran
off to tell the master of the galleys to prepare two of them to leave
the port instantly, Gervaise explained to the officer in charge of the
wall at that point the plan that he was charged to carry out, and asked
for twenty knights to assist him.

"It will leave us very weak along here," the officer said. "Then let me
have ten, and send for another ten from other parts of the wall. Here is
the grand master's order, giving me full power and authority, and it is
all important that no single moment shall be wasted."

"You shall have twenty of mine," the officer said, "and I will draw ten
from the langue next to us to fill their places."

In a few minutes the quay was a scene of bustle and activity. Gervaise
picked out ten of the smallest vessels; the knights went among the other
ships, seized all goods and stores that would be useful as combustibles,
and compelled the crews to carry them on board the craft chosen as fire
ships. Then barrels were broken open, old sails and faggots saturated
with oil and pitch, and in little more than a quarter of an hour after
his arrival, Gervaise had the satisfaction of seeing that the ten boats
were all filled with combustibles, and ready to be set on fire. He now
called for volunteers from the sailors, and a number of them at once
came forward, including many of the captains. He placed one of these in
command of each fire ship, and gave him four of the sailors.

"The galleys will tow you out," he said, "and take you close to the
enemy's ships. We shall range you five abreast, and when I give the
word, the one at the end of the line will steer for the nearest Turk,
and, with oars and poles, get alongside. The captain will then light the
train of powder in the hold, throw the torch among the straw, and see
that, if possible, the men fasten her to the Turk; but if this cannot
be done, it is not essential, for in the confusion the enemy will not
be able to get out of the way of the fire ship as it drives down against
her. At the last moment you will take to your boats and row back here.
We will protect you from the assaults of any of the Turkish ships."

Having made sure that all the captains understood the orders, Gervaise
took command of one of the galleys, the senior knight going on board
the other. The ten fire ships were now poled out until five were ranged
abreast behind each craft; Gervaise requested the commander of the other
galley to lie off the point of St. Nicholas until he had got rid of his
five fire ships, then to advance and launch his craft against the Turks.
The smoke of the guns lay so heavy on the water, and the combatants were
so intent upon the struggle at the breach, that Gervaise steered his
galley into the midst of the Turkish vessels laden with troops ready
to disembark, without attracting any notice; then, standing upon the
taffrail, he signalled to the two outside boats to throw off their ropes
and make for the Turkish ship nearest to them. This they did, and it was
not until a sheet of flame rose alongside, that the enemy awoke to the
sense of danger.

The other three fire ships were almost immediately cast off. Two of them
were equally successful, but the Turks managed to thrust off the third.
She drifted, however, through the shipping, and presently brought
up alongside one of the vessels fast aground. With but ten knights,
Gervaise could not attack one of the larger vessels, crowded with
troops; but there were many fishing boats that had been pressed into the
service, and against one of these Gervaise ordered the men to steer the
galley. A shout to the rowers made them redouble their efforts. A yell
of dismay arose from the Turkish troops as they saw the galley bearing
down upon them, and frantic efforts were made to row out of her way.
These were in vain, for her sharp prow struck them amidships, cutting
the boat almost in two, and she sank like a stone, the galley, without a
pause, making for another boat.

Looking back, Gervaise saw that his consort was already in the midst of
the Turks, among whom the wildest confusion prevailed, each ship trying
to extricate herself from the mass, upon which the batteries of the
fortress now concentrated their efforts. Two fresh columns of flame
had already shot up, and satisfied that all was going well, Gervaise
continued his attack upon the smaller craft, six of whom were overtaken
and sunk. Three or four of the larger vessels endeavoured to lay
themselves alongside the galley, but her speed was so superior to theirs
that she easily evaded the attempts, and, sweeping round, rejoined
the other galley which had just issued from among the Turks, who were
already in full retreat. The defenders of St. Nicholas, reanimated by
the sight of the discomfiture of the Turkish fleet, with a loud shout
rushed down from the spot which they had held for so many hours, drove
their assailants before them, and flung themselves upon the crowd
assembled at the foot of the breach.

These had already suffered terribly from the fire of the batteries.
Again and again they had striven to storm the mound of rubbish, and had
each time been repulsed, with the loss of their bravest leaders. Seeing
themselves abandoned by the ships, a panic seized them, and as the
knights rushed down upon them they relinquished all thoughts of
resistance, and dashed into the shallow water. Many were drowned in the
attempt to swim across the deep channel in the middle, some succeeded,
while others made their escape in the boats in which they had been
brought ashore from the ships.

The struggle was over. The two galleys made for the breach, and the
knights leapt out as soon as the boats grounded, and, wading ashore,
joined the group that had so long and gallantly sustained the unequal
fight. Fatigue, exhaustion, and wounds, were forgotten in the triumph
of the moment, and they crowded round the grand master and Caretto, to
whose joint exertions the success of the defence was so largely due.

"Do not thank me, comrades," D'Aubusson said. "No man has today fought
better than the rest. Every knight has shown himself worthy of the fame
of our Order. The meed of praise for our success is first due to Sir
Gervaise Tresham. At the moment when I began to doubt whether we could
much longer withstand the swarms of fresh foes who continued to pour
against us, while we were overcome by heat and labour, Sir Gervaise, who
had throughout been fighting at my side, offered to swim into the port,
to fit out a dozen of the merchant craft there as fire ships, and to tow
them round into the midst of the Turkish vessels behind the two galleys
that were lying ready for service. I remembered how he had before
destroyed the corsair fleet at Sardinia with fire ships, and the
proposal seemed to me as an inspiration sent from Heaven, at this moment
of our great peril. I wrote him an order, giving him full authority to
act in my name, and in a time that seemed to me incredibly short I saw
him round the point with the fire ships in tow. You saw, as well as
I did, how completely the plan was carried out. Ten or twelve of the
Turkish ships are a mass of flames, and besides these I noted that
the galley ran down and destroyed several smaller craft filled with
soldiers. The panic in the ships spread to the troops on shore, and
rendered the last part of our task an easy one. I say it from my heart
that I consider it is to Sir Gervaise Tresham that we owe our success,
and that, had it not been for his happy thought, the sun would have gone
down on our dead bodies lying on the summit of the breach, and on the
Turkish flag waving over the fort of St. Nicholas."

Until now none of the defenders of the breach had known how what seemed
to them an almost miraculous change in the fortune of the fight had come
about, and they thronged round Gervaise, shaking his hand, and many of
them warmly embracing him, according to the custom of the time.

"It was but natural that the idea should occur to me," he said, "having
before successfully encountered them with fire ships; and as all on
shore, and especially these knights, aided me with all their power, it
took but a brief time to get the boats in readiness for burning. Much
credit, too, is due to the merchant captains and sailors who volunteered
to take charge of the fire ships and to manoeuver them alongside the
Turks."

The grand master and the knights who had borne the brunt of the battle
now retired along the mole to the town, bearing with them their most
seriously wounded comrades, and assisting those whose wounds were less
severe. The twenty knights who had manned the two galleys remained in
the fort. Caretto continued in command, as, although he had suffered
several wounds, he refused to relinquish his post. Gervaise, who
had,--thanks partly to his skill with his weapons, but still more to
the temper of the splendid suit of armour presented to him by
Genoa,--escaped without a scratch, volunteered to remain with him until
next morning, his principal motive for making the request being his
desire to escape from further congratulations and praise for the success
of his plan. After Caretto's wounds had been dressed by the knights, and
he and Gervaise had partaken of some food and wine, which they greatly
needed, Caretto was persuaded to lie down for a time, the knights
promising to bring him word at once if they perceived any movement
whatever on the part of the enemy. Gervaise remained with him, feeling,
now the excitement was over, that he sorely needed rest after his
exertions in the full heat of the summer sun.

"It has been a great day, Gervaise," Caretto said, "and I only hope that
when again I go into battle with the infidel, I shall have you at hand
to come forward at the critical moment with some master stroke to secure
victory. Claudia will be pleased indeed when she hears how the knight
who bears her gage has again distinguished himself. She will look on the
gay and idle young fops of Genoa with greater disdain than ever. Now you
need not say anything in protest, the more so as I feel grievously weak,
and disposed for sleep."



CHAPTER XXII THE STRUGGLE AT THE BREACH


Two hours later Caretto and Gervaise were roused by the arrival of a
hundred knights in place of the previous garrison; these bore the news
that the pasha had sent in a flag of truce to ask for an armistice until
sundown, to enable him to carry off for burial the bodies of those who
had fallen in the attack. The request had been willingly granted; but
D'Aubusson had at the same time thought it well to send down a strong
reinforcement to the garrison to prevent any attempt at treachery on the
part of the Turks.

"I have seldom heard pleasanter news," Caretto said; "for just as I fell
asleep I was wondering how we were to rid ourselves of the corpses of
the infidels. By tomorrow the place would have become unbearable; and
though, living, the Turks could not turn us out of the tower, they would
when dead speedily have rid the place of us."

In half an hour a number of Moslem vessels were seen approaching.
Caretto did not wish the Turks to imagine that he doubted their good
faith, and while directing the main body of knights to remain in
concealment near the breach, he placed two on sentry duty on the crest
of the ruins, and, with four other knights and Gervaise, went down in
complete armour to salute the officer in command of the burying party,
as he landed from the boats. The ships anchored a short distance out,
and a number of boats rowed from them to the shore. As the Turkish
officer landed, Caretto saluted him, and said in Arabic,

"I give you courteous greeting, Sir. When the cannon cease to sound and
swords are sheathed, there is no longer animosity between brave men; and
no braver than those whose bodies lie stretched there, breathed the air
of heaven. If, sir, I and the knights with me do not uncover our heads,
it is from no want of respect for the dead, but solely because we dare
not stand bareheaded under the fierce rays of the sun."

The Turk answered with equal courtesy, complimenting the knights on
their defence.

"Had I not seen it with my own eyes," he said, "I should have deemed it
altogether impossible that so small a number of men could thus for hours
have withstood the attacks of some of the best of the sultan's troops.
Tales have come down to us from our fathers of the marvellous prowess
of the knights of your Order, and how at Smyrna, at Acre, and elsewhere,
they performed such feats of valour that their name is still used by
Turkish mothers as a bugbear to frighten their children. But the stories
have always seemed to me incredible; now I perceive they were true, and
that the present members of the Order in no way fall short of the valour
of their predecessors."

The knights remained with the Turkish commander and some of his officers
while the work of collecting and carrying away the dead was performed,
the conversation on their side being supported by Caretto and Gervaise.
No less than seven hundred bodies were carried down to the boats,
besides a great many wounded by the artillery fire. None were, however,
found breathing among the great pile of dead at the upper part of the
breach, for the axes and double handed swords of the knights had, in
most of the cases, cleft through turban and skull.

"This represents but part of our loss," the Turkish commander said
sadly, as the last party came down with their burdens to the boats.
"At least as many more must have perished in the sea, either in their
endeavours to escape when all was lost, in the destruction of their
vessels by fire, by the shot from your batteries, or by being run down
by your galleys. Ah, Sir Knight, if it had not been for the appearance
of your fire ships, methinks the matter might have ended differently."

"In that I altogether agree with you," Caretto said. "We were indeed,
well nigh spent, and must have soon succumbed had it not been that the
fire ships arrived to our rescue. You have a fair right to claim that
the victory would have remained in your hands, had not those craft gone
out and snatched it from you."

Then, with salutes on both sides, the Turks took their places in the
boats, and the knights returned to the fort. As soon as darkness came
on, a large body of slaves were marched down from the town, and, under
the direction of the knights, laboured all night at the mound, removing
great quantities of the fallen stones and rubbish in a line halfway up
it, and piling them above so as to form a scarp across the mound that
would need ladders to ascend. Another party worked at the top of the
mound, and there built up a wall eight feet high. The work was completed
by daylight, and the knights felt that they were now in a position to
resist another attack, should Paleologus again send his troops to the
assault.

The night had passed quietly. There was a sound of stir and movement in
the Turkish battery, but nothing that would excite the suspicion of a
large body of troops being in motion. When it became light it was seen
that the Turkish ships had sailed away to their previous anchorage on
the other side of the Island, and although at considerable intervals
the great cannon hurled their missiles against the fort, it was evident
that, for the time at least, the attack was not to be pressed at that
point. A fresh body of slaves, however, came down from the town to
relieve those who had been all night at work, and the repair of the
defences was continued, and with greater neatness and method than had
been possible in the darkness.

At eight o'clock the bells of St. John's Church gave notice that a
solemn service of thanksgiving for the repulse of the enemy was about
to be held. Notice had been sent down early to the tower; and all the
knights who could be spared, without too greatly weakening the garrison,
went up to attend it; the service was conducted with all the pomp and
ceremony possible, and after it was over a great procession was formed
to proceed to the shrine, where a picture of the Virgin held in special
reverence by the Order was placed.

As it wound through the streets in splendid array, the grand master and
officials in all their robes of state, the knights in full armour and
the mantles of the Order, while the inhabitants in gala costume lined
the streets, windows, and housetops, the ladies waving scarves and
scattering flowers down on the knights, the roar of great cannon on the
south side of the city showed that the Turks had commenced the attack in
another quarter. Without pausing, the procession continued its way, and
it was not until the service in the chapel had been concluded that any
steps were taken to ascertain the direction of the attack. As soon as it
was over, the knights hastened to the walls. During the night the
Turks had transported their great basilisks, with other large pieces of
artillery, from the camp to the rising ground on the south side of the
city, and had opened fire against the wall covering the Jews' quarter,
and at the same time against the tower of St. Mary on the one hand and
the Italian tower on the other.

From other commanding spots huge mortars were hurling great fragments of
rock and other missiles broadcast into the town. The portion of the wall
selected for the attack showed that the Turks had been well informed by
their spies of the weak points of the defence. The wall behind which the
Jews' quarter lay, was, to all appearance, of thick and solid masonry;
but this was really of great age, having formed part of the original
defences of the town, before the Order had established itself there.
The masonry, therefore, was ill fitted to resist the huge balls hurled
against it by the basilisks. The langue of Provence was in charge of
this part of the wall, and, leaving them for the present to bear the
brunt of the storm, the grand master sent the knights who could be
spared, to assist the inhabitants to erect shelters against the storm of
missiles falling in the town.

Sheds with sharply sloping roofs, constructed of solid timber, were
built against the inner side of the walls, and beneath these numbers of
the inhabitants found refuge. The work was performed with great celerity
by the inhabitants, aided by the gangs of slaves, and in two or three
days the townspeople were all in shelter, either in these sheds, in the
vaults of the churches, or in other strongly constructed buildings.

Among the missiles hurled into the town were balls filled with Greek
fire, but the houses being entirely built of stone, no conflagrations
of importance were caused by them, as a band of knights was organised
specially to watch for these bombs, and whenever one of them was seen to
fall, they hurried from their lookout to the spot, with a gang of slaves
carrying baskets of earth and buckets of water, and quenched the flames
before they had made any great headway.

The roar of the bombardment was almost continuous, and was heard at
islands distant from Rhodes, telling the inhabitants how the battle
between the Christians and the Moslems was raging.

It was not long before the wall in the front of the Jews' quarter began
to crumble, and it was soon evident that it must, ere many days, succumb
to the storm of missiles hurled against it. D'Aubusson lost no time in
making preparations to avert the danger. He ordered all the houses in
rear of the wall to be levelled; a deep semicircular ditch was then dug,
and behind this a new wall, constructed of the stones and bricks from
the houses destroyed, was built, and backed with an earthen rampart of
great thickness and solidity.

The work was carried on with extraordinary rapidity. The grand master
himself set the example, and, throwing aside his robes and armour,
laboured with pick and shovel like the commonest labourer. This excited
the people to the highest pitch of enthusiasm, and all classes threw
themselves into the task. Knights and slaves, men, women, and children,
and even the inmates of the convents and nunneries, aided in the work,
and when at last the outer wall fell, and the Turks thought that success
was at hand, the pasha saw with astonishment and dismay that entry to
the city was still barred by a work as formidable as that which he had
destroyed at an enormous expenditure of ammunition. There was now a
short breathing time for the besieged; but the depression which the
failure of their efforts excited among the Turks, was shortly dispelled
by the arrival of a ship, with a despatch from Constantinople, in which
the pasha was informed that the sultan himself was about to proceed to
Rhodes with a reinforcement of a hundred thousand men, and a fresh park
of artillery.

Paleologus had some doubts as to whether the report was true or was
merely intended to stimulate him to new efforts for the speedy capture
of the place. Knowing well that the grand master was the heart and soul
of the defence, and that the failure of the assault was mainly due
to his energy and ability, he determined to resort to the weapon so
frequently in use in Eastern warfare--that of assassination. To this
end he employed two men, one a Dalmatian, the other an Albanian; these
presented themselves before the walls as deserters, and as there was no
reason for suspecting their tale, they were admitted within the gates,
and welcomed as having escaped from enforced service. They soon spread
the tale of the speedy coming of the sultan with vast reinforcements,
and as the pasha had on the previous day caused salutes to be fired,
and other demonstrations to be made, the news was readily credited, and
caused the greatest dismay among the defenders.

Some of the knights of the Italian and Spanish langues believed the
prospect of a successful defence against so enormous a force was
absolutely hopeless, and determined to put pressure upon D'Aubusson to
treat for surrender before it became too late. They opened negotiations
with an Italian named Filelfo, one of D'Aubusson's secretaries, who
undertook to lay their opinion before the grand master. D'Aubusson at
once summoned the knights concerned in the matter before him. They found
him with several members of the council.

"Sir Knights," he said, "I have heard from my secretary your opinions
in the matter of a surrender, and since you are in such terror of the
Moslem sultan, you have my full permission to leave the town; and, more
than that, I will myself secure your safe departure, which might be
imperilled if your comrades or even the inhabitants of the town came to
learn that you had advocated surrender; but," he went on, changing his
tone from that of sarcasm to sternness, "if you remain with us, see that
the word surrender never again passes your lips, and be assured that,
should you continue your intrigues, in that direction, you shall meet
with the fate you so justly deserve."

Overwhelmed by the grand master's accusation and sternness, the Italian
and Spanish knights threw themselves on their knees and implored him to
grant them an early opportunity of retrieving their fault by battle with
the infidel. Feeling that the lesson had been sufficiently severe, and
that henceforth there would be no renewal of intrigues for a surrender,
D'Aubusson forgave them, and promised them a place in the van when next
the Moslems attacked. The incident was not without its advantage, for
the two pretended deserters, believing that Filelfo, who had also fallen
under the displeasure of the grand master, would be ready to join in the
conspiracy against his life, approached him. Filelfo, who was greatly
attached to D'Aubusson, saw by their manner that they wished to engage
him in some intrigue, and, feigning great resentment and anger at
his disgrace, led them on until they divulged the entire plot for
D'Aubusson's assassination, and made brilliant offers to him if he would
afford them facilities for carrying it out, producing, in proof of their
power to do so, a letter of the pasha, authorising them to make such
promises in his name.

Filelfo at once divulged the whole plot to D'Aubusson. The two men were
immediately arrested, tried by the council, and sentenced to death. They
were not, however, formally executed, for the populace, obtaining news
of their treachery, broke in upon their guards, and tore them to
pieces. Foiled in his attempt on the life of the grand master, the pasha
prepared for a renewal of the attack, and it was not long before the
knights on the lookout at the church of St. John perceived that the fort
of St. Nicholas was again to be the scene of the attack. It was ere long
discovered that a large number of men were busy some distance along the
shore in building a long structure, that could only be intended for a
floating bridge. Among the sailors who had aided in the attack with the
fire ships were several men belonging to an English trader in the port.
All who had done so had been handsomely rewarded for their conduct, and
five of the Englishmen had afterwards gone to the English auberge and
had asked to be enrolled for service against the Turks, as they were
weary of remaining on board in idleness when there was work to be done.
Their offer had been accepted, and they had, in common with all the
sailors in the port, laboured at the construction of the inner wall.
When that was completed, Sir John Boswell, under whose special charge
they had been placed, said to Gervaise, "I think that I cannot do better
than send these men down to St. Nicholas. It is probable that now the
Turks see that they can do nothing at the new breach, they may try again
there. Sailors are accustomed to night watches, and there are many of
our knights who are not used to such work, and can be better trusted to
defend a breach than to keep a vigilant watch at night. Will you take
these men down to Caretto, and tell him that he can sleep soundly if
he has a couple of them on watch? One of them, Roger Jervis, who is the
mate of their ship, can speak some Italian, and as he is in command of
them, Caretto will find no trouble in making them understand him."

St. Nicholas had now been put into a fair state of defence, as a party
had been kept steadily at work there. Gervaise had not been to the tower
since the morning after the assault, and saw with satisfaction how
much had been done to render it secure. He found that Caretto was fast
recovering from his wounds.

"As it seems probable, Sir Fabricius," he said, after the first
greetings to the knight, "that the Turks will favour you with another
visit, I have brought you five watchdogs. They are countrymen of mine,
and were among those who navigated the fire ships the other day. Sir
John Boswell has sent them down; they are, of course, accustomed to
keep watch at night. One of them is mate of their vessel, and will be in
command of them; he speaks a little Italian, and so will understand any
orders you may give him. I have been speaking to him as we came down; he
will divide his men into two watches, and will himself be on guard all
night. Will you assign them some quiet place where they can sleep in the
daytime? They can erect a shelter with a piece of sail cloth and a few
bits of board, and they will, of course, be furnished with food."

"I shall be very glad to have them, for I am always restless at night,
lest those on watch should close their eyes. You see, they have quite
made up their minds that this fort will not be attacked again, and so
are less inclined to be vigilant than they would be, did they think that
an attack was impending."

Now that there was reason to believe that St. Nicholas might again be
attacked, Gervaise was frequently there with orders or inquiries from
the grand master. A number of vessels in the harbour were fitted up as
fire ships, so as to be in readiness when the attack came. He was about
to start early one morning when he saw Roger Jervis coming up with a
heavy anchor on his shoulder.

"Why, what are you bringing that up here for?" he asked. "Have you been
diving; for I see your clothes are dripping with water?"

"Ay, ay, sir, I have been in the water, and that Italian commander
told me to come straight up here to tell the grand master all about the
story; and right glad am I to have met you, for I should have made but
a poor fist of it alone; I don't know more of their lingo than just to
talk a few words of it."

"Then you had better tell me the story before I take you in."

"Well, it was like this, Sir Knight: I had Hudson and Jeffreys posted
upon the wall, and I thought I would take a turn down on the rocks, for
it was a dark night, and you can see much farther when you are by the
edge of the water than you can when you are at the masthead. I sat there
for an hour, and was thinking that it was about time to go up and turn
out the other watch, when I saw something dark upon the water. It wasn't
a ship, that was certain, and if it was a boat there wasn't any one in
it; but it was too dark to make quite sure what it was. I watched it for
a time, though I did not think much of the thing, taking it for a boat
that had got adrift, or maybe a barrel from one of the Turkish ships.
Presently I made out that it was a good bit nearer than when I first saw
it.

"That puzzled me. There is no tide to speak of in these seas, and there
was no wind moving about. I could make out now that it was a boat,
though a very small one, but certainly there was no one rowing it. It
looked a very strange craft, and as I saw by the way it was bearing that
it would come ashore about five or six fathoms from where I was sitting,
I slid quietly off the rock, put my sword down by me handy for action,
and waited. Presently the boat came up alongside the rock, and a fellow
stood up from behind the stern. I was glad to see him, for I had begun
to think that there was witchcraft in the thing moving along by itself,
but I can tell you I was savage with myself for not having guessed there
was a man swimming behind and pushing it on.

"He stooped over the boat, and took something heavy out; then he felt
about among the rocks under the water, and then laid the thing down
there, and seemed to me to be settling it firm. I had half a mind to
jump up and let fly at him, but then I thought it would be better to let
him finish what he was doing, and go off with the idea that no one had
seen him. So I kept hid until he started again. He waded a short way
before he had to swim, and I could see that as he went he was paying out
a rope over the stern. It was clear enough now what he had been up to:
he had been fixing an anchor. What he did it for, or what use it could
be to him, I could not say, but it was certain that he would not take
all that trouble, with the chance of being knocked on the head, for
nothing; so I waited for a bit till he had got out of sight, and over to
the other side of the port.

"Then I got up and felt about, and, chancing to get my foot under the
rope, went right over into the water. After that you may guess I was not
long in finding the anchor. I unknotted the rope from it and carried it
ashore; then it struck me that the Turks might take it into their heads
to give a pull on it in the morning, and if they did; they would find
out that their game, whatever it was, had been found out; so I got hold
of a stone of about twenty pound weight, and fastened the rope's end
round it. That was enough to prevent the rope getting slack and make
them think that it was still fast to the anchor; but, of course, if they
pulled hard on it it would come home directly. I went and reported the
matter the first thing this morning to the governor. He seemed to think
that it was important, and told me to bring the anchor up to the grand
master, who would get one of the English knights to find out all about
it; for he could not make out much of what I said."

"It is very important," Gervaise said, "and you behaved very wisely in
the matter, and have rendered a great service by your discovery. I will
take you in at once to the grand master."

Still bearing the anchor, the sailor followed Gervaise into an apartment
where D'Aubusson was taking council with some of the senior knights.

"Pardon my interrupting your Highness," Gervaise said; "but the matter
is so important that I knew you would listen to it, however occupied you
were." And he then repeated the narrative of the sailor's discovery.

"This is indeed of the highest importance," D'Aubusson said, "and the
knowledge that it gives us may enable us to defeat an attempt, that
might otherwise have proved our ruin. You see, knights, it solves the
question that we were just discussing. We agreed that this long floating
bridge that they have been constructing, was intended to enable them to
cross the outer port and again attack St. Nicholas; and yet it seemed to
us that even by night our batteries would be able to keep up such a fire
on the boats, towing the head of the bridge across, as to render it well
nigh impossible for them to get it over. Now you see what their plan is.
With the aid of this rope, the end of which they think is firmly fixed
on our side, they mean to haul the bridge across, and that so silently
that they hope to be upon us almost before we have time to don our
armour. We shall now be fully prepared, and need have no fear of the
result."

There could now be little doubt that the attack would be made without
loss of time, especially as the Turks believed that they could get
their bridge across unseen. The fire ships--which were altogether more
formidable than those Gervaise had improvised--were ordered to be made
ready for action. This being arranged, the admiral left the council
at once, that no time should be lost in getting them in readiness.
D'Aubusson then turned to the English sailor.

"You have rendered us a great service indeed by your vigilance, and
showed great prudence by allowing the Turk to believe that he had
accomplished his mission unsuspected. Had he thought he had been
observed, some other plan would have been adopted. For so great a
service it is meet that a great reward should be given."

He then took a bag from the hands of one of his secretaries, whom he
had sent to fetch it, while they were discussing the matter of the fire
ships.

"Here are two hundred golden crowns," he added, handing the bag to the
seaman. "With these you can either settle on shore, or can build a
stout ship and pursue your calling. Should you do so, call her the St.
Nicholas, in remembrance of the gratitude of the Order of St. John for
your having saved that fort from the Turks."

Astonished and delighted at the reward, which represented a very large
sum in those days, the sailor stammered his thanks, and added, "I hope
tonight that if I again have charge of a fire ship, I may be able to do
more to prove to your Highness how grateful I am for the gift."

Throughout the day preparations for the defence of St. Nicholas went on
unceasingly. Gangs of men, as usual, worked in the breach; but, as it
was deemed advisable that there should be no outward show of activity
that would lead the Turks to suspect that their design had been
discovered, neither reinforcements of men nor munitions were sent along
the mole; everything being taken out by boats, which, rowing closely
along under the wall, were hidden from the view of the Turks. Barrels
of Greek fire and pitch, cauldrons for heating the latter, a store of
firewood, great balls of cotton steeped in oil and turpentine, sheaves
of darts, spikes on short staves, that were, after darkness fell, to be
thrust in among the fallen masonry to form a chevaux-de-frise--these,
and all other matters that the ingenuity of the defenders could suggest,
were landed at the water gate of the fort, while the garrison was
strengthened by the addition of a large number of knights. Stores
of ammunition were collected in readiness at all the batteries that
commanded the mouth of the outer port, and by sunset D'Aubusson felt
that everything that was possible had been done to meet the impending
storm.

At midnight the Turkish preparations were complete. The attack by the
bridge was to be assisted by a large number of boats and other craft,
and many armed galleys were also brought up to destroy or tow away
the defenders' fire ships. Paleologus himself was down by the shore
directing the preparations. Some of his best troops were placed upon the
floating bridge, and, when all was ready, the order was given to pull
upon the rope. No sooner, however, did the strain come upon it than
there was a jerk, the rope slackened, and it was at once evident that
the anchor had been discovered and the well laid plan disconcerted.
Paleologus was furious, but, believing that the attack he had arranged
would still be irresistible, he ordered a number of boats to take the
bridge in tow, while a still larger force was to make a direct attack
upon the breach. The movement was to be conducted as silently as
possible until it was discovered, and then a dash forward was to be
made.

It was two o'clock before the fresh arrangements were completed and
the boats put out. They had gone but a short distance when the anxious
watchers in St. Nicholas learnt by the dull, confused sound that came
across the water, that the attack was, in spite of the failure of the
plan to take the bridge silently across, to be persevered in. A cannon
was at once fired to give notice to the other batteries to be in
readiness, and as soon as the dark mass of boats was made out the guns
of the fort opened a destructive fire upon them, and a moment later were
seconded by those from the fortress; these, however, were at present
being fired almost at random, as the Turkish boats could not be made out
at that distance. Now that all need for concealment was at an end, the
Turkish war cry rose shrilly in the air, and the boatmen bent to their
oars. The great cannon at St. Anthony's Church hurled their tremendous
missiles at the tower, seconded by the fire of a number of other pieces
that had in the darkness been brought down almost to the water's edge.

As before, the boats swept up to the foot of the breach, the Turks
leaped out, and, undismayed by the storm of shot, climbed up to the
assault. The short ladders that they had brought with them enabled them
to surmount the escarpments so laboriously made, and with loud shouts
of "Allah!" they flung themselves upon the defenders on the crest of
the breach. Here they were met by a line even more difficult to break
through than before. The knights were ranged three deep; those in the
front were armed with swords and battleaxes, while those in the other
two lines thrust their spears out between the swordsmen, covering them
with a hedge of steel points. Others in the rear brought up buckets of
blazing pitch and Greek fire, and, advancing through gaps left for the
purpose, hurled the buckets down into the struggling mass on the slope.
There the fire not only carried death among the assailants, but the
lurid flames enabled the batteries to direct their shot with terrible
effect upon the breach, the crowded boats at its foot, and the bridge
which was, with immense labour, presently got into position.

It was not long before fresh light was thrown upon the scene, as the
fire ships, issuing out from the inner harbour, burst into columns of
flame, and, towed by boats, came into action. They were convoyed by
the two galleys, each with a full complement of knights, and these soon
became engaged in a fierce fight with the Turkish vessels that bore down
to arrest the course of the fire ships. The scene was indeed a terrible
one, the roar of cannon, the shouts of the combatants, the screams of
the poor wretches upon whom the terrible Greek fire fell, the clash of
arms and the shouts and cries of the Turks as they pressed across the
bridge, united in a din that thrilled with horror the spectators, both
in the city and on St. Stephen's Hill.

Several of the Turkish galleys, in their efforts to arrest the approach
of the fire ships towards the bridge, became themselves involved in the
flames; but they were so far successful that when daylight broke the
bridge was still intact and the combat at the breach continued to rage
with determination and fury on both sides. The Turks there were led by
a brave young prince named Ibrahim, a near relative of the sultan, with
whom he was a great favourite, and he was ever in the front line of
the assailants, his splendid bravery animating the soldiers to continue
their efforts. As the daylight broadened out, however, the light enabled
the Christian gunners to aim with far greater accuracy than had before
been possible, and, concentrating their fire upon the bridge,
across which reinforcements continued to press to the support of the
assailants, they succeeded in sinking so many of the boats that it was
no longer passable.

Next they turned their fire upon the Turkish galleys, four of which they
sank. Shortly afterwards, a ball struck the gallant young leader of the
Turks, who, although previously several times wounded, had continued to
fight in the front line. He fell dead, and his followers, disheartened
by his fall and by the destruction of the bridge, at once abandoned
their efforts, and rushed down to the foot of the breach. The terrible
scene enacted at the repulse of the previous attack was now repeated.
The concentrated fire of the guns of the defenders carried destruction
into the crowded mass. Some gained the boats that still remained
uninjured, and rowed for the opposite shore; the greater number rushed
into the water and strove to recross it either by swimming or by the aid
of the debris of the shattered boats. Their total loss was greater even
than that suffered by them in the first attack, between two and three
thousand being either killed or drowned, among them a number of their
best officers. The amount of spoil, in the form of rich jewels and
costly gold ornaments, found on the bodies of the dead piled on the
breach, was very great.

For three days after this terrible repulse the Turks were inactive,
the pasha remaining shut up in his tent, refusing to see any one, or to
issue orders. At the end of that time he roused himself from his stupor
of grief and disappointment, and, abandoning the idea of any further
attack upon the point that had cost him so dearly, he ordered the troops
to move round and renew the attack upon the wall in front of the Jews'
quarter, and commence the construction of a battery on the edge of the
great ditch facing the retrenchment behind the breach before effected.
The knights of Italy and Spain determined to seize the opportunity
of retrieving the disgrace that had fallen upon them. At night they
descended into the deep cutting, carrying across their ladders, and,
silently mounting the opposite side, rushed with loud shouts into the
unfinished battery. The Turks there, taken utterly by surprise, made but
a slight resistance; a few were immediately cut down, and the rest fled
panic stricken.

The knights at once set the woodwork of the battery on fire, hurled the
guns down into the ditch, and then returned triumphantly into the town,
the dashing feat completely reinstating them in the good opinion of the
grand master and their comrades.

The incident showed the pasha that he must neglect no precautions, and,
accordingly, he commenced his works at a distance from the walls, and
pushed his approaches regularly forward until he again established
a battery on the site of that from which his troops had been so
unceremoniously ejected. While forming the approaches, the workmen
had been constantly harassed by the fire from the guns on the walls,
suffering considerable loss of life; but their numerical superiority was
so vast that the loss in no way affected the plans of the pasha.

As soon as the battery was completed, gangs of men, accustomed to mining
operations, set to work in its rear to drive sloping passages downwards,
opening into the face of the great cutting, and through these vast
quantities of earth and stones were poured, so as to afford a passage
across it, the depth being largely diminished by the great pile of
rubbish that had already fallen from the breached wall. This novel mode
of attack was altogether unexpected. The knights had regarded the fosse
that had been cut at such an enormous expenditure of labour as forming
an altogether impassable obstruction, and were dismayed at seeing the
progress made in filling it up. D'Aubusson himself, full of resources as
he was, saw that the defence was seriously threatened, unless some plan
of meeting this unexpected danger could be devised.

He consulted Maitre Georges; but the latter could make no suggestion;
his only advice being the erection of a battery at a spot where it
was almost self evident that it could be of no utility whatever.
Other circumstances combined to render the suspicions D'Aubusson had
entertained of the good faith of the renegade almost a certainty.
Georges was seized, tried, and put to torture, and under this owned that
he had been sent into the town for the purpose of betraying it; and he
was, the same day, hung in the great square. His guilt must always be
considered as uncertain. There was no proof against him, save his
own confession; and a confession extorted by torture is of no value
whatever. There are certainly many good grounds for suspicion, but it
is possible that Georges really repented his apostacy, and acted in good
faith in deserting the standard of Paleologus. He was undoubtedly a man
of altogether exceptional ability and acquirements, and even the knights
who have written accounts of the siege do justice to the fascination of
his manner and the charm of his conversation.

D'Aubusson now set to work in another direction to counteract the
efforts of the Turks. He erected an immense wooden catapult, which threw
huge pieces of rock into the midst of the Turkish works, crushing down
the wooden screens erected to hide their approaches, breaking in the
covered ways, and causing great loss of life among the besiegers. At
the same time galleries were driven below the breach, opening into the
ditch, where their exits were concealed by masses of rubbish. Through
these strong working parties issued out at night, and carried away up
the passages the rocks and other materials that the Turks had, during
the day, brought, with immense labour, from a distance to the shoot. The
materials so carried away were piled up behind the retrenchment, greatly
adding to its thickness and strength.

For some days the Turks observed, to their astonishment, that the road
they were constructing across the ditch was diminishing instead of
increasing in bulk, and at length it became so evident that the garrison
were in some way removing the materials, that the pasha determined to
deliver the assault before the heap was so far diminished as to become
impassable. His former defeats had, however, taught him that success
could not be always calculated upon, however good its prospect might
appear; and although he had no real hope that the defenders would
yield, he sent a formal summons for them to do so. This was refused with
disdain, and preparations were at once made for the assault.

The pasha promised to his soldiers the sack of the town and all the
booty captured, and so assured were they of success that sacks were
made to carry off the plunder. Stakes, on which the knights, when taken
prisoners, were to be impaled, were prepared and sharpened, and each
soldier carried a coil of rope with which to secure his captive.

Before ordering the assault, the way was prepared for it by a terrible
fire from every siege gun of the Turks. This was kept up for twenty-four
hours, and so tremendous was the effect that the knights were unable
to remain on the ramparts. The Turkish troops moved into position for
attack, their movements being covered by the roar of the guns, and soon
after sunrise on the 22nd of July the signal was given, and at a number
of different points the Turks rushed to the assault. All these attacks,
save that on the breach, were merely feints, to distract the attention
of the garrison, and to add to the confusion caused by this sudden and
unexpected onslaught. The pasha's plans were well designed and carried
out; the knights, unable to keep their places on the ramparts under the
storm of missiles, had retired to shelter behind the walls. There was no
thought of an instant assault, as they considered that this would not be
delivered until the new wall behind the breach had been demolished.

Consequently, the rush of the Turks found the defenders altogether
unprepared. Swarming across the mass of debris in the ditch, they
ascended the breach without opposition, and their scaling ladders were
placed against the new wall before the knights could hurry up to its
defence. Even before the alarm was given in the town, the Turkish
standard was waving on the parapet, and the Moslems were crowding on
to the wall in vast numbers. The suddenness of the attack, the complete
surprise, the sound of battle at various points around the walls, caused
for a time confusion and dismay among the knights charged with the
defence of the wall facing the breach. Roused by the uproar, the
inhabitants of the town rushed up to their roofs to ascertain what
was happening, and their cries of wild terror and alarm at seeing the
Turkish banner on the walls added to the confusion. D'Aubusson sprang
up from the couch, on which he had thrown himself in full armour, at the
first sound of the alarm, and, sending off messages to all the auberges
to summon every man to the defence, ran down into the town, followed by
a small party of knights.

Rushing through the streets, now filled with half dressed people wild
with terror, he reached the foot of the wall, whose summit was crowded
with the enemy, and saw in an instant that all was lost unless they
could be driven thence without delay. The effect of his presence was
instantaneous. The knights, hitherto confused and dismayed, rallied at
once, and prepared for the desperate undertaking. The bank on the inside
was almost perpendicular, and those charged with its defence had used
two or three ladders for ascending to the rampart. These were at once
seized and planted against the wall.

The position of the contending parties was now reversed; the Christians
were the assailants, the Turks the defenders. D'Aubusson himself was
the first to ascend. Covering his head with his shield, he mounted the
rampart; but ere he could gain a footing on the top he was severely
wounded and hurled backwards. Again he made the attempt, but was again
wounded and thrown down. Once more he mounted, and this time made good
his footing. A moment later, Gervaise, who had accompanied him from the
palace, stood beside him. Animated with the same spirit as his leader,
he threw himself recklessly against the Turks, using a short, heavy
mace, which in a melee was far more useful than the long sword.
Scimitars clashed upon his helmet and armour; but at every blow he
struck a Turk fell, and for each foot he gained a knight sprang on to
the wall and joined him. Each moment their number increased, and the war
cry of the Order rose louder and fiercer above the din. The very number
of the Turks told against them. Crowded together as they were they could
not use their weapons effectually, and, pressing fiercely upon them, the
knights drove them back along the wall on either hand, hurling them down
into the street or over the rampart. On so narrow a field of battle the
advantage was all on the side of the knights, whose superior height and
strength, and the protection afforded by their armour, rendered them
almost invincible, nerved as they were with fury at the surprise that
had overtaken them, and the knowledge that the fate of the city depended
upon their efforts. After a quarter of an hour's desperate conflict the
Turks were driven down the partial breach effected in the wall by the
last bombardment, and the Christians were again the masters of their
ramparts. Paleologus, however, hurried up reinforcements, headed by
a band of janissaries, whose valour had decided many an obstinate
conflict. Before ordering them to advance, he gave instructions to
a company of men of approved valour to devote all their efforts to
attacking D'Aubusson himself, whose mantle and rich armour rendered him
a conspicuous object among the defenders of the breach. Advancing to the
attack, the janissaries burst through the mass of Turks still continuing
the conflict, and rushed up the breach. Then the chosen band, separating
from the rest, flung themselves upon the grand master, the suddenness
and fury of their attack isolating him and Gervaise from the knights
around.

Surrounded as he was by foes, already suffering from two severe wounds
and shaken by his falls from the ladder, the grand master yet made a
valiant defence in front, while Gervaise, hurling his mace into the face
of one of his assailants, and drawing his two handed sword, covered him
from the attack from behind. D'Aubusson received two more severe wounds,
but still fought on. Gervaise, while in the act of cutting down an
assailant, heard a shout of triumph from behind, and, looking round, he
saw the grand master sinking to the ground from another wound. With a
cry of grief and fury Gervaise sprang to him, receiving as he did so
several blows on his armour and shield intended for the fallen knight,
and, standing across him, showered his blows with such strength and
swiftness that the janissaries shrank back before the sweep of the
flashing steel. More than one who tried to spring into close quarters
fell cleft to the chin, and, ere his assailants could combine for
a general rush, a body of knights, who had just beaten off their
assailants, fell upon the ranks of the janissaries with a force and fury
there was no withstanding, and the chosen troops of the sultan for the
first time broke and fled.

Excited almost to madness by the sight of their beloved master stretched
bleeding on the ground, the knights dashed down the breach in eager
pursuit. This action was decisive of the fate of the struggle. The panic
among the janissaries at once spread, and the main body of troops, who
had hitherto valiantly striven to regain the advantage snatched from
them, now lost heart and fled in confusion. But their escape was barred
by the great body of reinforcements pressing forward across the heap of
rubbish that formed the breach over the deep ditch. Maddened by fear,
the fugitives strove to cut a way through their friends. The whole of
the defenders of the breach now fell upon the rear of the struggling
mass, hewing them down almost without resistance, while the cannon from
the walls and towers kept up an unceasing fire until the last survivors
of what had become a massacre, succeeded in gaining their works beyond
the ditch, and fled to their camp. From every gateway and postern the
knights now poured out, and, gathering together, advanced to the attack
of St. Stephen's Hill. They met with but a faint resistance. The greater
portion of the disorganised troops had made no pause at their camp, but
had continued their headlong flight to the harbour, where their ships
were moored, Paleologus himself, heartbroken and despairing at his
failure, sharing their flight. The camp, with all its rich booty and
the great banner of the pasha, fell into the hands of the victors, who,
satisfied with their success, and exhausted by their efforts, made no
attempt to follow the flying foe, or to hinder their embarkation; for
even now the Turks, enormously outnumbering them as they did, might be
driven by despair to a resistance so desperate as once again to turn the
tide of victory.



CHAPTER XXIII THE REWARD OF VALOUR


Gervaise knew nothing at the time of the final result of the battle, for
as soon as the knights had burst through the circle of his opponents,
he sank insensible on the body of the grand master. When he came to
himself, he was lying on a bed in the hospital of the Order. As soon
as he moved, Ralph Harcourt, who was, with other knights, occupied
in tending the wounded, came to his bedside. "Thank God that you are
conscious again, Gervaise! They told me that it was but faintness and
loss of blood, and that none of your wounds were likely to prove mortal,
and for the last twelve hours they have declared that you were asleep:
but you looked so white that I could not but fear you would never wake
again."

"How is the grand master?" Gervaise asked eagerly. Ralph shook his head.

"He is wounded sorely, Gervaise, and the leech declares that one at
least of his wounds is mortal; still, I cannot bring myself to believe
that so great a hero will be taken away in the moment of victory, after
having done such marvels for the cause not only of the Order, but of all
Christendom."

"Then you beat them back again from the breach?" Gervaise said.

"That was not all. They were in such confusion that we sallied out,
captured their camp, with the pasha's banner and an enormous quantity of
spoil, and pursued them to their harbour. Then we halted, fearing that
they might in their desperation turn upon us, and, terribly weakened as
we were by our losses, have again snatched the victory from our grasp.
So we let them go on board their ships without interference, and this
morning there is not a Turkish sail in sight. The inhabitants are well
nigh mad with joy. But elated as we are at our success, our gladness is
sorely damped by the state of the grand master, and the loss of so many
of our comrades, though, indeed, our langue has suffered less than any
of the others, for the brunt of the attacks on St. Nicholas and the
breach did not fall upon us, still we lost heavily when at last we
hurried up to win back the wall from them."

"Who have fallen?" Gervaise asked.

"Among the principal knights are Thomas Ben, Henry Haler, Thomas
Ploniton, John Vaquelin, Adam Tedbond, Henry Batasbi, and Henry Anlui.
Marmaduke Lumley is dangerously wounded. Of the younger knights, some
fifteen have been killed, and among them your old enemy Rivers. He died
a coward's death, the only one, thank God, of all our langue. When
the fray was thickest Sir John Boswell marked him crouching behind the
parapet. He seized him by the gorget, and hauled him out, but his knees
shook so that he could scarcely walk, and would have slunk back when
released. Sir John raised his mace to slay him as a disgrace to the
Order and our langue, when a ball from one of the Turkish cannon cut him
well nigh in half, so that he fell by the hands of the Turks, and not by
the sword of one of the Order he had disgraced. Fortunately none, save
half a dozen knights of our langue, saw the affair, and you may be sure
we shall say nothing about it; and instead of Rivers' name going down to
infamy, it will appear in the list of those who died in the defence of
Rhodes."

"May God assoil his soul!" Gervaise said earnestly. "'Tis strange that
one of gentle blood should have proved a coward. Had he remained at
home, and turned courtier, instead of entering the Order, he might have
died honoured, without any one ever coming to doubt his courage."

"He would have turned out bad whatever he was," Ralph said
contemptuously; "for my part, I never saw a single good quality in him."

Long before Gervaise was out of hospital, the glad tidings that
D'Aubusson would recover, in spite of the prognostications of the leech,
spread joy through the city, and at about the same time that Gervaise
left the hospital the grand master was able to sit up. Two or three days
afterwards he sent for Gervaise.

"I owe my life to you, Sir Gervaise," he said, stretching out his thin,
white hand to him as he entered. "You stood by me nobly till I fell,
for, though unable to stand, I was not unconscious, and saw how
you stood above me and kept the swarming Moslems at bay. No knight
throughout the siege has rendered such great service as you have done.
Since I have been lying unable to move, I have thought of many things;
among them, that I had forgotten to give you the letters and presents
that came for you after you sailed away. They are in that cabinet;
please bring them to me. There," he said, as Gervaise brought a bulky
parcel which the grand master opened, "this letter is from the Holy
Father himself. That, as you may see from the arms on the seal, is from
Florence. The others are from Pisa, Leghorn, and Naples. Rarely, Sir
Gervaise, has any potentate or knight earned the thanks of so many great
cities. These caskets accompanied them. Sit down and read your letters.
They must be copied in our records."

Gervaise first opened the one from the Pope. It was written by his own
hand, and expressed his thanks as a temporal sovereign for the great
benefit to the commerce of his subjects by the destruction of the
corsair fleet, and as the head of the Christian Church for the blow
struck at the Moslems. The other three letters were alike in character,
expressing the gratitude of the cities for their deliverance from the
danger, and of their admiration for the action by which a fleet was
destroyed with a single galley. Along with the letter from Pisa was
a casket containing a heavy gold chain set with gems. Florence sent a
casket containing a document bestowing upon him the freedom of the city,
and an order upon the treasury for five thousand ducats that had been
voted to him by the grand council of the Republic; while Ferdinand, King
of Naples, bestowed on him the grand cross of the Order of St. Michael.

"The armour I had hung up in the armoury, where it has been carefully
kept clean. I guessed what it was by the weight of the case when it
came, and thought it best to open it, as it might have got spoilt by
rust. It is a timely gift, Sir Gervaise, for the siege has played havoc
with the suit Genoa gave you; it is sorely battered, dinted, and broken,
and, although you can doubtless get it repaired, if I were you I would
keep it in its present state as a memorial--and there could be no
prouder one--of the part you bore in the siege. I have seen Caretto
this morning. He sails for Genoa tomorrow, where he will, I hope, soon
recover his strength, for the wounds he received at St. Nicholas have
healed but slowly. He said"--and a momentary smile crossed the grand
master's face--"that he thought a change might benefit you also, for he
was sure that the air here had scarce recovered from the taint of
blood. Therefore, here is a paper granting you three months' leave. His
commandery is a pleasant one, and well situated on the slopes of the
hills; and the fresh air will, doubtless, speedily set you up. I should
like nothing better than a stay there myself, but there is much to do to
repair the damages caused by the siege, and to place the city in a state
of defence should the Turks again lay siege to it; and methinks Mahomet
will not sit down quietly under the heavy reverse his troops have met
with."

"But I should be glad to stay here to assist in the work, your
Highness."

"There are plenty of knights to see to that," D'Aubusson replied, "and
it will be long before you are fit for such work. No, I give my orders
for you to proceed with Caretto to Genoa--unless, indeed, you would
prefer to go to some other locality to recruit your strength."

"I would much rather go with Sir Fabricius, your Highness, than to any
place where I have no acquaintances. I have a great esteem and respect
for him."

"He is worthy of it; there is no nobler knight in the Order, and, had
I fallen, none who could more confidently have been selected to fill
my place. He has an equally high opinion of you, and spoke long and
earnestly concerning you."

A fortnight later the ship carrying the two knights arrived at Genoa.

"I will go ashore at once, Gervaise," Caretto said. "I know not whether
my cousin is in the city or on her estate; if the former, I will stay
with her for a day or two before going off to my commandery, and of
course you will also be her guest. I hope she will be here, for methinks
we shall both need to refit our wardrobes before we are fit to appear in
society."

"Certainly I shall," Gervaise agreed; "for, indeed, I find that my gala
costume suffered a good deal during my long absence; and, moreover,
although I have not increased in height, I have broadened out a good
deal since I was here two years ago."

"Yes; you were a youth then, Gervaise, and now you are a man, and one
of no ordinary strength and size. The sun of Tripoli, and your labours
during the siege, have added some years to your appearance. You are, I
think, little over twenty, but you look two or three years older. The
change is even greater in your manner than in your appearance; you were
then new to command, doubtful as to your own powers, and diffident with
those older than yourself. Now for two years you have thought and acted
for yourself, and have shown yourself capable of making a mark even
among men like the knights of St. John, both in valour and in fitness to
command. You saved St. Nicholas, you saved the life of the grand master;
and in the order of the day he issued on the morning we left, granting
you three months' leave for the recovery of your wounds, he took the
opportunity of recording, in the name of the council and himself, their
admiration for the services rendered by you during the siege, and his
own gratitude for saving his life when he lay helpless and surrounded by
the Moslems--a testimony of which any knight of Christendom might well
feel proud."

It was three hours before Caretto returned to the ship.

"My cousin is at home, and will be delighted to see you. I am sorry that
I have kept you waiting so long, but at present Genoa, and, indeed,
all Europe, is agog at the news of the defeat of the Turks, and Italy
especially sees clearly enough that, had Rhodes fallen, she would have
been the next object of attack by Mahomet; therefore the ladies would
not hear of my leaving them until I had told them something at least of
the events of the siege, and also how it came about that you were there
to share in the defence. I see that you are ready to land; therefore,
let us be going at once. Most of the people will be taking their siesta
at present, and we shall get through the streets without being mobbed;
for I can assure you that the mantle of the Order is just at present
in such high favour that I had a hard task to wend my way through the
streets to my cousin's house."

On arriving at the palace of the Countess of Forli, Gervaise was
surprised at the change that had taken place in the Lady Claudia. From
what Caretto had said, he was prepared to find that she had grown out of
her girlhood, and had altered much. She had, however, changed even more
than he had expected, and had become, he thought, the fairest woman that
he had ever seen. The countess greeted him with great cordiality; but
Claudia came forward with a timidity that contrasted strangely with
the outspoken frankness he remembered in the girl. For a time they all
chatted together of the events of the siege, and of his captivity.

"The news that you had been captured threw quite a gloom over us, Sir
Gervaise," the countess said. "We at first consoled ourselves with the
thought that you would speedily be ransomed; but when months passed
by, and we heard that all the efforts of the grand master had failed to
discover where you had been taken, I should have lost all hope had it
not been that my cousin had returned after an even longer captivity
among the Moors. I am glad to hear that you did not suffer so many
hardships as he did."

"I am in no way to be pitied, Countess," Gervaise said lightly. "I had a
kind master for some months, and was treated as a friend rather than as
a slave; afterwards, I had the good fortune to be made the head of
the labourers at the buildings in the sultan's palace, and although I
certainly worked with them, the labour was not greater than one could
perform without distress, and I had naught to complain of as to my
condition."

After talking for upwards of an hour, the countess told Caretto that she
had several matters on which she needed his counsel, and retired with
him to the next room of the suite opening from the apartment in which
they had been sitting. For a minute or two the others sat silent, and
then Claudia said,

"You have changed much since I saw you last, Sir Gervaise. Then it
seemed to me scarcely possible that you could have performed the feat of
destroying the corsair fleet; now it is not so difficult to understand."

"I have widened out a bit, Lady Claudia. My moustache is really a
moustache, and not a pretence at one; otherwise I don't feel that I have
changed. The alteration in yourself is infinitely greater."

"I, too, have filled out," she said, with a smile. "I was a thin girl
then--all corners and angles. No, I don' t want any compliments, of
which, to tell you the truth, I am heartily sick. And so," she went
on in a softer tone, "you have actually brought my gage home! Oh, Sir
Gervaise,"--and her eyes filled with tears--"my cousin has told me! How
could you have been so foolish as to remain voluntarily in captivity,
that you might recover the gage a child had given you?"

"Not a child, Lady Claudia. A girl not yet a woman, I admit; yet it
was not given in the spirit of a young girl, but in that of an earnest
woman. I had taken a vow never to part with it, as you had pledged
yourself to bestow no similar favour upon any other knight. I was
confident that you would keep your vow; and although in any case, as
a true knight, I was bound to preserve your gift, still more so was I
bound by the thought of the manner in which you had presented it to me."

"But I could not have blamed you--I should never have dreamt of blaming
you," she said earnestly, "for losing it as you did."

"I felt sure, Lady Claudia, that had it been absolutely beyond my power
to regain it you would not have blamed me; but it was not beyond my
power, and that being so had I been obliged to wait for ten years,
instead of two, I would not have come back to you without it. Moreover,
you must remember that I prized it beyond all things. I had often
scoffed at knights of an order like ours wearing ladies' favours. I had
always thought it absurd that we, pledged as we are, should thus declare
ourselves admirers of one woman more than another. But this seemed to me
a gage of another kind; it was too sacred to be shown or spoken of, and
I only mentioned it to Caretto as he cross questioned me as to why I
refused the offer of ransom; and should not have done so then, had he
not been present when it was bestowed. I regarded it not as a lightly
given favour, the result of a passing fancy by one who gave favours
freely, but as a pledge of friendship and as a guerdon for what I had
done, and therefore, more to be honoured than the gifts of a Republic
freed from a passing danger. Had you then been what you are now, I might
have been foolish enough to think of it in another light, regardless of
the fact that you are a rich heiress of one of the noblest families in
Italy, and I a knight with no possessions save my sword."

"Say not so, Sir Gervaise," she said impetuously. "Are you not a knight
on whom Genoa and Florence have bestowed their citizenship, whom the
Holy Father himself has thanked, who has been honoured by Pisa, and
whom Ferdinand of Naples has created a Knight of the Grand Cross of St.
Michael, whom the grand master has singled out for praise among all the
valiant knights of the Order of St. John, who, as my cousin tells me,
saved him and the fort he commanded from capture, and who stood alone
over the fallen grand master, surrounded by a crowd of foes. How can you
speak of yourself as a simple knight?"

Then she stopped, and sat silent for a minute, while a flush of colour
mounted to her cheeks.

"Give me my gage again, Sir Gervaise," she said gently. In silence
Gervaise removed it from his neck, wondering greatly what could be her
intention. She turned it over and over in her hand.

"Sir Knight," she said, "this was of no great value in my eyes when I
bestowed it upon you; it was a gage, and not a gift. Now it is to me of
value beyond the richest gem on earth; it is a proof of the faith and
loyalty of the knight I most esteem and honour, and so in giving it to
you again, I part with it with a pang, for I have far greater reason to
prize it than you can have. I gave it you before as a girl, proud that
a knight who had gained such honour and applause should wear her favour,
and without the thought that the trinket was a heart. I give it to you
now as a woman, far prouder than before that you should wear her gage,
and not blind to the meaning of the emblem."

Gervaise took her hand as she fastened it round his neck, and kissed
it; then, still holding it, he said, "Do you know what you are doing,
Claudia? You are raising hopes that I have never been presumptuous
enough to cherish."

"I cannot help that," she said softly. "There is assuredly no
presumption in the hope."

He paused a moment.

"You would not esteem me," he said, holding both her hands now, "were
I false to my vows. I will return to Rhodes tomorrow, and ask the grand
master to forward to the Pope and endorse my petition, that I may be
released from my vows to the Order. I cannot think that he or the Holy
Father will refuse my request. Then, when I am free, I can tell you how
I love and honour you, and how, as I have in the past devoted my life to
the Order, so I will in the future devote it to your happiness."

The girl bowed her head.

"'Tis right it should be so," she said. "I have waited, feeling in my
heart that the vow I had given would bind me for life, and I should be
content to wait years longer if needs be. But I am bound by no vows, and
can acknowledge that you have long been the lord of my life, and that
so long as you wore the heart I had given you, so long would I listen to
the wooing of no other."

"I fear that the Countess, your mother--" Gervaise began, but she
interrupted him.

"You need not fear," she said. "My mother has long known, and knowing
also that I am not given to change, has ceased to importune me to listen
to other offers. Her sole objection was that you might never return from
captivity. Now that you have come back with added honours, she will
not only offer no objection, but will, I am sure, receive you gladly,
especially as she knows that my cousin Sir Fabricius, for whom she has
the greatest affection, holds you in such high esteem."

Six months later Gervaise again landed at Genoa, after having stayed
at Rome for a few days on his way back. D'Aubusson had expressed no
surprise at his return to Rhodes, or at the request he made.

"Caretto prepared me for this," he said, smiling, "when he asked me if
you might accompany him to Genoa. The Order will be a loser, for you
would assuredly have risen to the grand priorage of your langue some
day. But we have no right to complain; you have done your duty and more,
and I doubt not that should Mahomet again lay siege to Rhodes, we may
count on your hastening here to aid us?"

"That assuredly you may, sir. Should danger threaten, my sword will be
as much at the service of the Order as if I were still a member of it."

"I by no means disapprove," D'Aubusson went on, "of knights leaving us
when they have performed their active service, for in civil life they
sometimes have it in their power to render better service to the
Order than if passing their lives in the quiet duties of a provincial
commandery. It will be so in your case: the lady is a great heiress,
and, as the possessor of wide lands, your influence in Northern Italy
may be very valuable to us, and in case of need you will, like my
brother De Monteuil, be able to bring a gathering of men-at-arms to our
aid. Have no fear that the Pope will refuse to you a release from your
vows. My recommendation alone would be sufficient; but as, moreover, he
is himself under an obligation to you, he will do so without hesitation.
Since you have been away, your friend Harcourt has been appointed a
commander of a galley, and Sir John Boswell, being incapacitated by
the grievous wounds he received during the siege, has accepted a rich
commandery in England, and sailed but two days since to take up his
charge. By the way, did you reply to those letters expressing your
thanks and explaining your long silence?"

"Yes, your Highness, I wrote the same evening you gave them to me."

"That is right. The money voted you by Florence will be useful to you
now, and there is still a sum sent by your commandery owing to you by
the treasury. I will give you an order for it. However rich an heiress a
knight may win, 'tis pleasant for him to have money of his own; not that
you will need it greatly, for, among the presents you have received, the
jewels are valuable enough for a wedding gift to a princess."

Gervaise was well received at Rome, and the Pope, after reading the
grand master's letter, and learning from him his reason for wishing
to leave the Order, without hesitation granted him absolution from his
vows. A few months later there was a grand wedding at the cathedral of
Genoa, the doge and all the nobles of the Republic being present.

Ralph Harcourt and nine other young knights had accompanied Gervaise
from Rhodes by the permission, and indeed at the suggestion, of the
grand master, who was anxious to show that Gervaise had his full
approval and countenance in leaving the Order. Caretto, who had been
appointed grand prior of Italy, had brought the knights from all the
commanderies in the northern republics to do honour to the occasion,
and the whole, in their rich armour and the mantles of the Order, made a
distinguishing feature in the scene.

The defeat of the Turks created such enthusiasm throughout Europe that
when the grand prior of England laid before the king letters he had
received from the grand master and Sir John Kendall, speaking in the
highest terms of the various great services Gervaise had rendered to the
Order, Edward granted his request that the act of attainder against Sir
Thomas Tresham and his descendants should be reversed and the estates
restored to Gervaise. The latter made, with his wife, occasional
journeys to England, staying a few months on his estates in Kent; and as
soon as his second son became old enough, he sent him to England to
be educated, and settled the estate upon him. He himself had but few
pleasant memories of England; he had spent indeed but a very short time
there before he entered the house of the Order in Clerkenwell, and that
time had been marked by constant anxiety, and concluded with the loss
of his father. The great estates that were now his in Italy demanded his
full attention, and, as one of the most powerful nobles of Genoa, he had
come to take a prominent part in the affairs of the Republic.

He was not called upon to fulfil his promise to aid in the defence of
Rhodes, for the death of Mahomet just at the time when he was preparing
a vast expedition against it, freed the Island for a long time from
fear of an invasion. From time to time they received visits from Ralph
Harcourt, who, after five years longer service at Rhodes, received a
commandery in England. He held it a few years only, and then returned to
the Island, where he obtained a high official appointment.

In 1489 Sir John Boswell became bailiff of the English langue, and Sir
Fabricius Caretto was in 1513 elected grand master of the Order, and
held the office eight years, dying in 1521.

When, in 1522, forty-two years after the first siege, Rhodes was again
beleaguered, Gervaise, who had, on the death of the countess, become
Count of Forli, raised a large body of men-at-arms, and sent them, under
the command of his eldest son, to take part in the defence. His third
son had, at the age of sixteen, entered the Order, and rose to high rank
in it.

The defence, though even more obstinate and desperate than the first,
was attended with less success, for after inflicting enormous losses
upon the great army, commanded by the Sultan Solyman himself, the town
was forced to yield; for although the Grand Master L'Isle Adam, and
most of his knights, would have preferred to bury themselves beneath
the ruins rather than yield, they were deterred from doing so, by the
knowledge that it would have entailed the massacre of the whole of
the inhabitants, who had throughout the siege fought valiantly in the
defence of the town. Solyman had suffered such enormous losses that he
was glad to grant favourable conditions, and the knights sailed away
from the city they had held so long and with such honour, and afterwards
established themselves in Malta, where they erected another stronghold,
which in the end proved an even more valuable bulwark to Christendom
than Rhodes had been. There were none who assisted more generously and
largely, by gifts of money, in the establishment of the Order at Malta
than Gervaise. His wife, while she lived, was as eager to aid in the
cause as he was himself, holding that it was to the Order she owed her
husband. And of all their wide possessions there were none so valued by
them both, as the little coral heart set in pearls that she, as a girl,
had given him, and he had so faithfully brought back to her.


THE END





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