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 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.

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