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HOME > Short Stories > A Knight of the White Cross > CHAPTER XII THE BOY GALLEY
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 Among those most pleased at the appointment of Gervaise to the command of the galley was Sir John Boswell. Ever since the adventure with the pirates, the knight had exhibited an almost fatherly interest in him; had encouraged him in his studies, ridden with him on such occasions as he had permitted himself a short holiday, and had, whenever they were together, related to him stories of war, sieges, battles, and escapes, from which he thought the young knight might gain lessons for his future guidance. “I doubt, Gervaise,” he said one day, as they were riding quietly along the road, “whether our plan of life is altogether the best. We were founded, you know, simply as a body of monks, bound to devote ourselves solely to the care of the sick, and to give hospitality to pilgrims in Palestine. Now this was monkish work, and men who devoted themselves solely to such a life of charity as that in our Hospital at Jerusalem, might well renounce all human pleasures; but when the great change was made by Master Raymond du Puy, and from a nursing body we became a brotherhood in arms, it seems to me that the vows of celibacy were no longer needful or desirable. The crusaders were, many of them, married men, but they fought no worse for that. It would have been far better, methinks, had we been converted into an Order pledged to resist the infidel, but without the vows of poverty and of celibacy, which have never been seriously regarded.
“The garrison here might be composed, as indeed it is now, principally of young knights, of those who have not cared to marry, and of the officers of the Order whose wives and families might dwell here with them. This would have many advantages. Among others, the presence of so many ladies of rank would have the excellent effect of discountenancing and repressing extravagances and dissolute habits, which are but too common, and are a shame to the Order. Knights possessing commanderies throughout Europe would be no worse stewards for being married men, and scandals, such as contributed largely to the downfall of the Templars, would be avoided.
“The sole vow necessary, so far as I can see, would be that knights should remain unmarried and disposable at all times for service until ten years after making their profession, and that afterwards they should ever be ready to obey the summons to arms, on occasions when the safety of Rhodes, or the invasion of any Christian country by the Moslems, rendered their services needful, when they would come out just as the knights of Richard the Lion Heart went out as crusaders. I have spent half my life since I joined the Order in commanderies at home, and a dull life it was, and I was glad enough to resign my last command and come out here. Had I been able to marry, I might now have had a son of your age, whose career I could watch and feel a pride in. My life would have been far happier in England, and in all respects I should be a better man than I am now. Methinks it would strengthen rather than weaken the Order. As a fighting body we should be in no way inferior to what we are now, and we should be more liked and more respected throughout Europe, for naturally the sight of so many men leading a luxurious life in commanderies causes a feeling against them.”
“But I suppose, Sir John, that there is no great difficulty in obtaining a dispensation from our vows?”
“In this, as in all other matters, everything depends upon interest or money. Of course, dispensations are not common; but doubtless any knight when he had served his term of active service could, especially if his request were backed by the grand master, obtain from the Pope a dispensation of his vows. If he had a commandery it would make a vacancy, and give the grand prior, or the grand master, or the council, in whosoever's gift it might be, an opportunity of rewarding services or of gratifying some powerful family.”
“I agree with you that it would have been much better, Sir John. I can understand that monks, ever living a quiet life apart from the world, should be content so to continue; but among a body of warlike knights there must be many who, in time, must come to regret the vows they took when boys. The cadet of a noble family might, by the death of elder brothers, come to be the head of a great family, the ruler over wide domains. Surely it would be desirable that such a man should be able to marry and have heirs.”
“Doubtless it could be managed in such cases, Gervaise, but it is a pity that it should have to be managed. I can see no reason in the world why a knight, after doing ten years of service here, should not be free to marry, providing he takes a vow to render full service to the Order whenever called upon to do so. Already the vow of poverty is everywhere broken. Already, in defiance of their oaths, too many knights lead idle and dissolute lives. Already, knights, when in their own countries, disregard the rule that they shall draw sword in no cause save that of the Holy Sepulchre, and, like other knights and nobles, take part in civil strife or foreign wars. All this is a scandal, and it were better by far to do away with all oaths, save that of obedience and willingness to war with the infidel, than to make vows that all men know are constantly and shamelessly broken.
“I am fond of you, Gervaise. I am proud of you, as one who has brought honour to our langue, and who, in time, will bring more honour. I am glad that, so far as there can be between a young knight and one of middle age, there is a friendship between us. But see what greater pleasure it would give to my life were you my son, for whom I could lay by such funds as I could well spare, instead of spending all my appointments on myself, and having neither kith nor kin to give a sigh of regret when the news comes that I have fallen in some engagement with the infidels. I often think of all these things, and sometimes talk them over with comrades, and there are few who do not hold, with me, that it would be far better that we should become a purely military Order, like some of the military Orders in the courts of the European sovereigns, than remain as we are, half monk, half soldier—a mixture that, so far as I can see, accords but badly with either morality or public repute.
“However, I see no chance of such a change coming, and we must be content to observe our vows as well as may be, so long as we are willing to remain monks and try to obtain dispensation from our vows should we desire to alter our mode of life. We ought either to have remained monks pure and simple, spending our lives in deeds of charity, a life which suits many men, and against which I should be the last to say anything, or else soldiers pure and simple, as were the crusaders, who wrested the Holy Sepulchre from the hands of the infidels. At present, Gervaise, your vocation lies wholly in the way of fighting, but it may be that the time will come when you may have other aims and ambitions, and when the vows of the Order will gall you.”
“I hope not, Sir John,” Gervaise said earnestly.
“You are young yet,” the knight replied, with an indulgent smile. “Some day you may think differently. Now,” he went on, changing the subject abruptly, “when will your galley be ready?”
“This is my last ride, Sir John. The shipwrights will have finished tomorrow, and the next day we shall take possession of her, and begin to practise, so that each man shall know his duties, and the galley slaves learn to row well, before we have orders to sail. I wish you were going with us, Sir John.”
“I should like it, lad, in many respects. It does one good to see the enthusiasm of young men, and doubtless you will be a merry party. But, on the other hand, unless I mistake, you will be undertaking wild adventures, and my time for these is well nigh passed. When the Turk comes here, if he ever comes—and of that I have little doubt—I shall be ready to take my full share of the fighting; but I shall seek adventures no longer, and shall go no more to sea. Next only to the bailiff, I am the senior of our auberge, and—but this is between ourselves, lad—am like to succeed to the grand priory of England when it becomes vacant, and if not I shall, as the grand master has told me, have the offer of the next high office vacant in the palace.”
Two days later Gervaise and his company of young knights went down to the port to take part in the launch of the new galley. This was the occasion of a solemn ceremony, the grand master and a large number of knights being present. A religious service first took place on her poop, and she was named by the grand master the Santa Barbara. When the ceremony was over, Gervaise was solemnly invested with the command of the galley by the grand marshal of the navy; then the shores were struck away, and the galley glided into the water, amid the firing of guns, the blowing of trumpets, and the cheers of the spectators who had gathered at the port to witness the ceremony.
The next morning a gang of galley slaves were marched down. A third of these had been drawn from the crews of other galleys, their places being supplied by new hands. The remainder were taken from the men employed on the fortifications. Three weeks were occupied in teaching the rowers their work, and getting them well together. They were a fine crew, for the governor of St. Pelagius, grateful to Gervaise for the discovery of the plot, had ordered the overseers to pick out from the various gangs men specially suited by age and strength for the work.
The dye by this time had entirely worn off his face, and although his hair was still several shades darker than of old, it differed even more widely from the ebon hue that it had been when he was in prison. Thus, although he recognised three or four men upon the benches who had been fellow occupants of his cell, he had no fear whatever of their detecting in the commander of the galley their late companion in misfortune.
Only a portion of the knights had been out each day while the crew were learning to row, as there was but little for them to learn. The galley carried no sails, and the knights were soldiers rather than sailors, and fought on the deck of their ship, as if defending a breach, or storming one held by the enemy. Moreover, as all of them had already made one or more voyages, they were accustomed to such duties as they would have to discharge on board.
All were glad when an order was published for the galley to sail. On the eve of departure Gervaise was sent for by the grand master. The general of the galleys was with him when Gervaise entered the room. The bailiff of Auvergne always held the position of grand marshal, and the bailiff of Italy that of second in command, with the title of grand admiral. These officials, however, as heads of their respective langues, had many other duties to perform, and it was only on great occasions that they took any practical share in the work of which they were nominally heads. The real control in all naval questions rested with the general of the galleys, who was elected by the council, but on the nomination of the grand master.
His power when at sea with the fleet was absolute. He could suspend any officer from duty, and had unquestioned power of life and death over the crews. He had been frequently on board the galley since she had been launched, and had been pleased with the attention paid by Gervaise to his duties, and with the ready manner in which the young knights carried out his orders.
“Sir Gervaise Tresham,” he said, “it is usual, as you know, to appoint each galley to a certain cruising ground, to which it is confined during its three months' absence. At present there is a galley on each of these stations, and as the last relief took place but a month since, it is better that they should remain at the stations allotted to them. I have therefore, after consultation with his Highness the grand master, decided to give you a free hand. You are as likely to meet with pirates in one quarter as in another, and you will pick up from vessels you may overhaul news of their doings, which will enable you to direct your course to the point where you will be most useful.”
“In the first place, however, you will proceed to the coast of Tunis. Visconti's galley is already there, but the coast swarms with corsairs, and we have had many complaints as to their depredations. The Court of Spain has twice represented to us lately that the pirates have grown so bold that vessels have been carried off, even when coasting from one Spanish port to another. Visconti is specially watching the coast near Tunis, and you will therefore perhaps do better to proceed farther west, for every village from Tunis to Tangier is little better than a nest of pirates. I should imagine that you will find ample employment there during your three months' cruise. When I say that you are free to choose your own cruising ground, I do not mean that you should go up the Levant, or to the east of the Mediterranean, but that you are not bound to keep close along the African coast, but may, should you obtain any information to warrant your doing so, seek the pirates along the shores of Spain, Sardinia, Corsica, or Sicily.
“I need not warn you to act with prudence as well as courage, for you have proved that you possess both qualities. Do not allow yourself to be carried away by the impetuosity of your knights; it is more often the duty of a commander to restrain than to encourage his crew, and with such young blood as you have under your command the necessity will be greater than usual. Be kind to your slaves, but be ever watchful; yet this I need not tell you. Maintain a strict but not over severe discipline. You are all knights and comrades of the Order, and equals when on shore, but on board you are the captain and they are your soldiers. I have this afternoon had a meeting of your knights, and have urged upon them very strongly that, having volunteered to serve under you, they must obey your orders as promptly and willingly as if you were the senior knight of the Order, and that it behooves them specially upon the present occasion, when the crew is composed entirely of young knights, to show themselves worthy of the honour that has been done to them by entrusting a galley of the Order to their charge. I told them I should regard your report of their individual conduct with the same attention and respect with which I should that of any other commander, and that they might greatly make or mar their future prospects in the Order by their conduct during the cruise. I ............
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