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HOME > Short Stories > A Knight of the White Cross > CHAPTER XI IN COMMAND OF A GALLEY
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 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. ............
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