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 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.”

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