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HOME > Short Stories > A Knight of the White Cross > CHAPTER IX WITH THE GALLEY SLAVES
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 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............
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