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HOME > Short Stories > A Knight of the White Cross > CHAPTER XXIII THE REWARD OF VALOUR
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 Gervaise knew nothing at the time of the final result of the battle, for as soon as the knights had burst through the circle of his opponents, he sank insensible on the body of the grand master. When he came to himself, he was lying on a bed in the hospital of the Order. As soon as he moved, Ralph Harcourt, who was, with other knights, occupied in tending the wounded, came to his bedside. “Thank God that you are conscious again, Gervaise! They told me that it was but faintness and loss of blood, and that none of your wounds were likely to prove mortal, and for the last twelve hours they have declared that you were asleep: but you looked so white that I could not but fear you would never wake again.” “How is the grand master?” Gervaise asked eagerly. Ralph shook his head.
“He is wounded sorely, Gervaise, and the leech declares that one at least of his wounds is mortal; still, I cannot bring myself to believe that so great a hero will be taken away in the moment of victory, after having done such marvels for the cause not only of the Order, but of all Christendom.”
“Then you beat them back again from the breach?” Gervaise said.
“That was not all. They were in such confusion that we sallied out, captured their camp, with the pasha's banner and an enormous quantity of spoil, and pursued them to their harbour. Then we halted, fearing that they might in their desperation turn upon us, and, terribly weakened as we were by our losses, have again snatched the victory from our grasp. So we let them go on board their ships without interference, and this morning there is not a Turkish sail in sight. The inhabitants are well nigh mad with joy. But elated as we are at our success, our gladness is sorely damped by the state of the grand master, and the loss of so many of our comrades, though, indeed, our langue has suffered less than any of the others, for the brunt of the attacks on St. Nicholas and the breach did not fall upon us, still we lost heavily when at last we hurried up to win back the wall from them.”
“Who have fallen?” Gervaise asked.
“Among the principal knights are Thomas Ben, Henry Haler, Thomas Ploniton, John Vaquelin, Adam Tedbond, Henry Batasbi, and Henry Anlui. Marmaduke Lumley is dangerously wounded. Of the younger knights, some fifteen have been killed, and among them your old enemy Rivers. He died a coward's death, the only one, thank God, of all our langue. When the fray was thickest Sir John Boswell marked him crouching behind the parapet. He seized him by the gorget, and hauled him out, but his knees shook so that he could scarcely walk, and would have slunk back when released. Sir John raised his mace to slay him as a disgrace to the Order and our langue, when a ball from one of the Turkish cannon cut him well nigh in half, so that he fell by the hands of the Turks, and not by the sword of one of the Order he had disgraced. Fortunately none, save half a dozen knights of our langue, saw the affair, and you may be sure we shall say nothing about it; and instead of Rivers' name going down to infamy, it will appear in the list of those who died in the defence of Rhodes.”
“May God assoil his soul!” Gervaise said earnestly. “'Tis strange that one of gentle blood should have proved a coward. Had he remained at home, and turned courtier, instead of entering the Order, he might have died honoured, without any one ever coming to doubt his courage.”
“He would have turned out bad whatever he was,” Ralph said contemptuously; “for my part, I never saw a single good quality in him.”
Long before Gervaise was out of hospital, the glad tidings that D'Aubusson would recover, in spite of the prognostications of the leech, spread joy through the city, and at about the same time that Gervaise left the hospital the grand master was able to sit up. Two or three days afterwards he sent for Gervaise.
“I owe my life to you, Sir Gervaise,” he said, stretching out his thin, white hand to him as he entered. “You stood by me nobly till I fell, for, though unable to stand, I was not unconscious, and saw how you stood above me and kept the swarming Moslems at bay. No knight throughout the siege has rendered such great service as you have done. Since I have been lying unable to move, I have thought of many things; among them, that I had forgotten to give you the letters and presents that came for you after you sailed away. They are in that cabinet; please bring them to me. There,” he said, as Gervaise brought a bulky parcel which the grand master opened, “this letter is from the Holy Father himself. That, as you may see from the arms on the seal, is from Florence. The others are from Pisa, Leghorn, and Naples. Rarely, Sir Gervaise, has any potentate or knight earned the thanks of so many great cities. These caskets accompanied them. Sit down and read your letters. They must be copied in our records.”
Gervaise first opened the one from the Pope. It was written by his own hand, and expressed his thanks as a temporal sovereign for the great benefit to the commerce of his subjects by the destruction of the corsair fleet, and as the head of the Christian Church for the blow struck at the Moslems. The other three letters were alike in character, expressing the gratitude of the cities for their deliverance from the danger, and of their admiration for the action by which a fleet was destroyed with a single galley. Along with the letter from Pisa was a casket containing a heavy gold chain set with gems. Florence sent a casket containing a document bestowing upon him the freedom of the city, and an order upon the treasury for five thousand ducats that had been voted to him by the grand council of the Republic; while Ferdinand, King of Naples, bestowed on him the grand cross of the Order of St. Michael.
“The armour I had hung up in the armoury, where it has been carefully kept clean. I guessed what it was by the weight of the case when it came, and thought it best to open it, as it might have got spoilt by rust. It is a timely gift, Sir Gervaise, for the siege has played havoc with the suit Genoa gave you; it is sorely battered, dinted, and broken, and, although you can doubtless get it repaired, if I were you I would keep it in its present state as a memorial—and there could be no prouder one—of the part you bore in the siege. I have seen Caretto this morning. He sails for Genoa tomorrow, where he will, I hope, soon recover his strength, for the wounds he received at St. Nicholas have healed but slowly. He said”—and a momentary smile crossed the grand master's face—“that he thought a change might benefit you also, for he was sure that the air here had scarce recovered from the taint of blood. Therefore, here is a paper granting you three months' leave. His commandery is a pleasant one, and well situated on the slopes of the hills; and the fresh air will, doubtless, speedily set you up. I should like nothing better than a stay there myself, but there is much to do to repair the damages caused by the siege, and to place the city in a state of defence should the Turks again lay siege to it; and methinks Mahomet will not sit down quietly under the heavy reverse his troops have met with.”
“But I should be glad to stay here to assist in the work, your Highness.”
“There are plenty of knights to see to that,” D'Aubusson replied, “and it will be long before you are fit for such work. No, I give my orders for you to proceed with Caretto to Genoa—unless, indeed, you would prefer to go to some other locality to recruit your strength.”
“I would much rather go with Sir Fabricius, your Highness, than to any place where I have no acquaintances. I have a great esteem and respect for him.”
“He is worthy of it; there is no nobler knight in the Order, and, had I fallen, none who could more confidently have been selected to fill my place. He has an equally high opinion of you, and spoke long and earnestly concerning you.”
A fortnight later the ship carrying the two knights arrived at Genoa.
“I will go ashore at once, Gervaise,” Caretto said. “I know not whether my cousin is in the city or on her estate; if the former, I will stay with her for a day or two before going off to my commandery, and of course you will also be her guest. I hope she will be here, for methinks we shall both need to refit our wardrobes before we are fit to appear in society.”
“Certainly I shall,” Gervaise agreed; “for, indeed, I find that my gala costume suffered a good deal during my long absence; and, moreover, although I have not increased in height, I have broadened out a good deal since I was here two years ago.”
“Yes; you were a youth then, Gervaise, and now you are a man, and one of no ordinary strength and size. The sun of Tripoli, and your labours during the siege, have added some years to your appearance. You are, I think, little over twenty, but you look two or three years older. The change is even greater in your manner than in your appearance; you were then new to command, doubtful as to your own powers, and diffident with those older than yourself. Now for two years you have thought and acted for yourself, and have shown yourself capable of making a mark even among men like the knights of St. John, both in valour and in fitness to command. You saved St. Nicholas, you saved the life of the grand master; and in the order of the day he issued on the morning we left, granting you three months' leave for the recovery of your wounds, he took the opportunity of recording, in the name of the council and himself, their admiration for the services rendered by you during the siege, and his own gratitude for saving his life when he lay helpless and surrounded by the Moslems—a testimony of which any knight of Christendom might well feel proud.”
It was three hours before Caretto returned to the ship.
“My cousin is at home, and will be delighted to see you. I am sorry that I have kept you waiting so long, but at present Genoa, and, indeed, all Europe, is agog at the news of the defeat of the Turks, and Italy especially sees clearly enough that, had Rhodes fallen, she would have been the next object of attack by Mahomet; therefore the ladies would not hear of my leaving them until I had told them something at least of the events of the siege, and also how it came about that you were there to share in the defence. I see that you are ready to land; therefore, let us be going at once. Most of the people will be taking their siesta at present, and we shall get through the streets without being mobbed; for I can assure you that the mantle of the Order is just at present in such high favour that I had a hard task to wend my way through the streets to my cousin's house.”
On arriving at the palace of the Countess of Forli, Gervaise was surprised at the change that had taken place in the Lady Claudia. From what Caretto had said, he was prepared to find that she had grown out of her girlhood, and had altered much. She had, however, changed even more than he had expected, and had become, he thought, the fairest woman that he had ever seen. The countess greeted him with great cordiality; but Claudia came forward with a timidity that contrasted strangely with the outspoken frankness he remembered in the girl. For a time they all chatted together of the events of the siege, and of his captivity.
“The news that you had been captured threw quite a gloom over us, Sir Gervaise,” the countess said. “We at first consoled ourselves with the thought that you would speedily be ransomed; but when months passed by, and we heard that all the efforts of the grand master had failed to discover where you had been taken, I should have lost all hope had it not been that my cousin had returned after an even longer captivity among the Moors. I am glad to hear that you did not suffer so many hardships as he did.”
“I am in no way to be pitied, Countess,” Gervaise said lightly. “I had a kind master for some months, and was treated as a friend rather than as a slave; afterwards, I had the good fortune to be made the head of the labourers at the buildings in the sultan's palace, and although I certainly worked with them, the labour was not greater than one could perform without distress, and I had naught to complain of as to my condition.”
After talking for upwards of an hour, the countess told Caretto that she had several matters on which she needed his counsel, and retired with him to the next room of the suite opening from the apartment in which they had been sitting. For a minute or two the others sat silent, and then Claudia said,
“You have changed much since I saw you last, Sir Gervaise. Then it seemed to me scarcely possible that you could have performed the feat of destroying the corsair fleet; now it is not so difficult to understand.”
“I ............
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