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 Upon the following day the doge requested Gervaise to accompany him to a meeting of the council. Upon entering the grand hall he found not only the members of the council assembled in their robes of office, but a large gathering of the nobles and principal citizens of Genoa, together with the knights of the galley whom, under Ralph Harcourt's orders, Gervaise found, to his surprise, drawn up in order across the Hall. Here, in the name of the Republic, Battista Fragoso announced to him that, by the unanimous decision of the council, he had been elected a noble of Genoa; an honour, he added, on only one or two previous occasions in the history of the Republic bestowed upon any but of princely rank, but which he had nobly earned by the great service he had rendered to the State. His name was then inscribed in the book containing the names and titles of the nobles of Genoa. Next, Battista Fragoso presented him with a superb suit of Milanese armour, as his own personal gift, and then with a casket of very valuable jewels, as the gift of the city of Genoa. Each presentation was accompanied by the plaudits of the assembly, and by the no less warm acclamations of the knights. Ralph was then called forward, and presented with a suit of armour but little inferior to that given to Gervaise, and each knight received a heavy gold chain of the finest workmanship of Genoa. Two days later the preparations for departure were complete, and a sufficient number of men were engaged to man the prizes. This charge, also, Genoa took upon itself, and put on board much stronger crews than Gervaise deemed necessary for the navigation of the ships. The weather was fine and the wind favourable, and a quick passage was made to Rhodes. When the harbour was in sight, the ships were ordered to proceed in single file, the galley leading the way with a huge banner of the Order floating from her stern, and smaller flags on staffs at each side. It was not until they passed by the two forts guarding the entrance that the flags fluttering at the mastheads of the prizes afforded to those on shore an intimation of the event that had taken place, and even then none supposed that this fleet of prizes had been taken by the one galley that headed them.
As the Santa Barbara slowly rowed up the harbour, the State barge of the grand master put off to meet it, and D'Aubusson, with a party of knights, soon stepped on board.
“Welcome back, Sir Gervaise! although I little expected to see you return so soon. What is the meaning of this procession that follows you? By their rig and appearance they are Moors, but how they come to be thus sailing in your wake is a mystery to us all.”
“They are Moors, your Excellency; they form part of an expedition fitted out by the corsairs of Algiers, Tripoli, Tunis, and other piratical strongholds, for the purpose of destroying the commerce and ravaging the coasts of Western Italy. Fortunately, we fell in with a ship that had been plundered by three of them on their way north, and learned from the dying captain, who was the only one of her crew left with life on board, the direction they were taking, and something of the nature of the expedition. We pursued the three galleys, came up with them, had the good fortune to capture them, and then had the delight of finding among their rowers the noble knights, Fabricius Caretto, Giacomo Da Vinci, and Pietro Forzi.”
The grand master, and the knights with him, uttered an exclamation of joy, and, as the three knights named stepped forward, embraced them with the liveliest pleasure.
“My dear Caretto,” the grand master exclaimed, “it is almost a resurrection, for we have all long mourned you as dead; and your return to us at the present time is indeed fortunate; for upon whose judgment and aid could I better rely than those of my old comrade in arms?” Then, turning to Gervaise, he went on: “It was a daring and brilliant exploit indeed, Sir Gervaise, and in due time honour shall be paid to you and your brave companions, to whom and to you I now tender the thanks of the Order. But tell me the rest briefly, for I would fain hear from these noble knights and old friends the story of what has befallen them.”
“My tale is a very brief one, your Highness. The Cavalier Caretto sailed at once in a swift craft from the south of Sardinia, to carry warnings to the cities on the coast of Italy of the danger that threatened them, and in order that some war galleys might be despatched by Genoa to meet the corsair fleet. During his absence we discovered the little inlet in which the pirates lay hidden, waiting doubtless the arrival of the three ships we had captured, to commence operations. On the return of the knight with the news that it would be at least a fortnight before Genoa could fit out any galleys, and fearing that the pirates might at any moment put to sea, we procured some small Sardinian craft, and fitted them as fire ships; with the captives we had rescued, and some Sard fishermen, we manned the three prizes, distributing the knights between them, and at night launched the fire ships against the corsairs, whose ships were crowded together. Eleven of them were burnt; six we captured as they endeavoured to make their way out, and took possession of four others whose crews had run them ashore and deserted them. None escaped.”
Exclamations of astonishment and almost of incredulity broke from the knights.
“And is it possible, Sir Gervaise, that these thirteen vessels that follow you are all prizes captured by your galley alone?”
“It is, as I have the honour to tell your Highness. But their capture, except in the case of the first three, was due almost solely to good fortune and to the position in which we found them, almost incapable of defence.”
“What think you, knights and comrades?” the grand master said to his companions. “There were some of you who deemed it rash to entrust a galley to so young a commander and so youthful a crew. What say you now? Never in the annals of the Order has such a sight been witnessed as that of thirteen prizes being brought in by a single galley, to say naught of eleven others destroyed. Caretto, you and your comrades must have had some share in this marvellous victory.”
“By no means,” the Italian replied; “beyond having the honour of aiding to carry out the orders of Sir Gervaise Tresham, the commander of the galley. The plan was wholly of his own devising, its execution solely due to his arrangement of the details, and that without the slightest suggestion on the part of myself or my comrades. I will presently narrate to you the whole story; it will come better from my lips than from those of Sir Gervaise, whose disposition is to wholly underestimate the merit of the action he has performed. But I must also bear testimony, not only to the bravery displayed by Sir Gervaise, Sir Ralph Harcourt, his lieutenant, and every one of the knights his crew, but to the admirable discipline, order, and good fellowship on board the galley, which would have done credit to the most experienced commander and to the most veteran knights of the Order.”
The grand master paused a moment, and then said in a loud voice, “Sir Gervaise Tresham, Sir Ralph Harcourt, and knights of the seven langues of the Order—As yet I can hardly appreciate the full extent of the service that you have rendered. I thanked you but now for the capture of three corsairs; but what can I say when I learn that you have destroyed or taken a whole fleet? I invite you all to a banquet that I shall hold tonight, where the Cavalier Caretto will relate to us all the details of this marvellous exploit.”
Within a few minutes after the return of the grand master and his party ashore, the flags of the Order were run up to the flagstaffs of every fort and bastion: the bells of the churches chimed out a triumphant peal, and a salute was fired from the guns of the three water forts, while along the wall facing the port, the townspeople waved numberless gay flags as a welcome to the galley. Most of the knights went ashore at once, but Gervaise, under the excuse that he wished to see that everything was in order before landing, remained on board until it was time to go to the banquet, being sure that by that time the knights would have fully told the story at their respective auberges, and that there would be no more questions to answer. The banquet differed but little from that at Genoa, and Gervaise was heartily glad when it was over.
The next day the grand master sent for him.
“If I judge rightly, Sir Gervaise, the thing that will best please you at present, is an order to put to sea again at once, to conclude the usual period of service of the galley.”
“It is indeed,” Gervaise replied earnestly. “But I should be glad, sir, if you will allow that the time should begin to count afresh from our present start. We have really had but a short period of service, for we wasted a week at Genoa, and ten days on our journey back here, so that we have had really no more than a month's active service.”
“Yes, if you count only by time,” D'Aubusson said, with a smile. “Reckoning by results, you have done a good five years' cruise. However, so small a request can certainly be granted. The places of the two knights who were killed, and of four others whose wounds are reported to me as being too severe for them to be fit for service for some time, shall be filled up at once from the langues to which each belonged. You will cruise among the Western islands, whence complaints have reached us of a corsair who has been plundering and burning. Sometimes he is heard of as far north as Negropont, at others he is off the south of the Morea; then, again, we hear of him among the Cyclades. We have been unwilling to despatch another galley, for there is ample employment for every one here. After the blow you have struck on the Moorish corsairs, they are likely to be quiet for a little. You had best, therefore, try for a time if you cannot come across this pirate. You must let me know how much you paid for the vessels you used as fire ships, and to the Sards; this is an expense chargeable to the general service. I may tell you that to me it is due that no recognition of your exploits, such as that which Genoa bestowed upon you, will be made. At the council this morning it was urged that some signal mark of honour should be granted; but I interposed, saying that you had already received exceptional promotion, and that it would not be for your good, or that of the Order, for so young a knight to be raised to an official position of a character usually held by seniors, and that I was perfectly sure you would prefer remaining in command of your galley to any promotion whatever that would retain you on the Island.”
“Indeed I should, your Highness. I wish to gain experience and to do service to the Order, and so far from pleasing me, promotion would trouble and distress me, and, could it have been done, I would most gladly have sent home the prizes, instead of going to Genoa, and would myself have continued the cruise.”
“So the Cavalier Caretto told me,” the grand master replied. “Very well, then. In three days you shall set out again. The admiral tells me that never before has a galley returned with the slaves in such good health and condition, and that unquestionably your plan of erecting an awning to shelter them from the midday heat and the night dews has had a most beneficial effect on their health; he has recommended its general adoption.”
Three days later the Santa Barbara again left port, and was soon upon her station. For some weeks she cruised backwards and forwards along the coast and among the islands. They often heard of the pirate ship, but all their efforts to find her were unavailing.
One evening there were signs of a change of weather, and by morning it was blowing a furious gale from the north; in spite of the efforts of the rowers, the galley narrowly escaped being driven ashore; but she at last gained the shelter of an island, and anchored under its lee, the slaves being utterly worn out by continuous exertion. As soon as the gale abated they again put to sea, and, after proceeding for some miles, saw a ship cast up on shore. Some people could be made out on board of her, and a white flag was raised.
“She must have been driven ashore during the gale,” Gervaise said. “We will row in to within a quarter of a mile of her and see what we can do for them.”
As soon as the anchor was dropped a boat was lowered.
“I will go myself, Ralph, for I shall be glad to set my foot on shore again. There must be people on the island; I wonder none of them have come to the aid of those poor fellows. I suppose the villages are on the other side of the island, and they have not yet heard of the wreck.”
Gervaise asked three of the knights to accompany him, and the boat, rowed by galley slaves, was soon on its way. All were glad at the change afforded to the monotony of their life on board, and at the prospect of a scamper on shore.
There were but five or six men to be seen on the deck of the wreck, and these had, as the boat approached, come down to the rocks as if to meet those who came to their aid; but as the knights leapt out, they threw themselves suddenly upon them with knives and scimitars that had hitherto been concealed beneath their garments, while at the same moment a crowd of men appeared on the deck of the ship, and, leaping down, ran forward with drawn swords. Two of the knights fell dead before they had time to draw their weapons. The third shook off his two assailants, and for a minute kept them both at bay; but others, rushing up, cut him down.
Gervaise had received a slight wound before he realised what was happening. He snatched his dagger from its sheath, and struck down one assailant; but ere he could raise it to strike again, another leapt on to his back, and clung there until the rest rushed up, when he shouted, “Take him alive! take him alive!” and, throwing down their weapons, half a dozen of the pirates flung themselves upon Gervaise, and strove to pull him to the ground, until at last, in spite of his desperate resistance, they succeeded in doing so. His armour was hastily stripped off, his hands and feet bound, and then at the orders of the pirate who had leapt on his back, and who was evidently the captain, half a dozen men lifted him on to their shoulders. As they did so four guns from the galley flashed out, and the balls flew overhead. The pirates, who had already begun to quarrel over the armour and arms of the fallen knights, at once took to their heels, followed by the galley slaves from the boat.
“Make haste,” the captain said to the men carrying Gervaise.
“They are lowering their boats; we must be under way before they come up.”
In a minute or two Gervaise was set down on his feet, the cords round his legs were cut, and he was made to hurry along with his captors. In a short time an inlet was reached, and here Gervaise saw, to his mortification, the pirate craft for which the Santa Barbara had in vain been searching. As soon as the party were all on board, the ropes by which she was moored to two trees were thrown off; the great sails hoisted, and she sailed boldly out. Although the gale had entirely abated, there was still a brisk wind blowing, and it was evident to the captain of the corsair that under such circumstances he could outsail the galley that had long been searching for him; when, therefore, the Santa Barbara came in sight, just as he and his crew had finished stripping the wreck of its contents, the idea had occurred to him to attempt to entice some of the knights to land.
As soon as the vessel was under way he abused his followers hotly for not having obeyed his orders to capture the knights without bloodshed; but they pleaded that it was as much as they had been able to do to capture Gervaise in that way, and that they could never have overcome the four together, before the boats would have had time to come from the ship.
Gervaise had been told to sit down with his back to a mast and in this position he could, when the vessel heeled over to the breeze, obtain a view of the sea. It was with a feeling of bitter mortification and rage that he saw the galley lying but half a mile away, as the corsair issued from the inlet. A moment later he heard a gun fired, and saw the signal hoisted to recall the boats.
“If the wind had been favourable,” the captain said to his mate, “we would have borne down upon her, and could have reached and captured her before the boats got back, for you may be sure that they have landed almost all their men. However, we can't get there against the wind, and we will now say goodbye to them.”
Gervaise knew well that at the pace they were running through the water the galley would have no chance whatever of overtaking her, and that, ere the knights came on board again, she would be already two or three miles away. A point of land soon concealed the galley from view, and when he caught sight of her, as she rounded the point, she was but a speck in the distance.
They passed several islands in the course of the day, changing their direction to a right angle to that which they had at first pursued, as soon as they were hidden from the sight of the galley by an intervening island. As night came on they anchored in a little bay on the coast of the Morea. The sails being furled, the sailors made a division of the booty they had captured on the island, and of the portable property found on board the wreck. A gourd full of water was placed to Gervaise's lips by one of the men of a kinder disposition than the rest. He drank it thankfully, for he was parched with thirst excited by the pain caused by the tightness with which he had been bound.
He slept where he sat. All night four men remained on guard, although from what he heard they had no fear whatever of being overtaken. In the morning his arms were unbound, and they stripped off his tunic and shirt. They had evidently respect for his strength, for before loosing his arms they tightly fastened his ankles together. The removal of his shirt exposed Claudia's gift to view.
“Take that from him and give it to me,” the captain said. As the two men approached, Gervaise seized one in each hand, dashed them against each other, and hurled them on the deck. But the exertion upset his equilibrium, and after making a vain effort to recover it, he fell heavily across them. The captain stooped over him, and, before he could recover himself, snatched the chain from his neck.
“You are a stout fellow,” he said, laughing, “and will make a fine slave. What have you got here that you are ready to risk your life for?” He looked at the little chain and its pendant with an air of disappointment. “'Tis worth but little,” he said, showing it to his mate. “I would not give five ............
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