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When the boat reached the shore the Arab handed a long bernouse to Gervaise, signed to him to pull the hood well over his head, and then led the way through the streets until he stopped at a large house, standing in a quiet quarter of the town. He struck on the door with his hand, and it was at once opened by a black slave.
"Call Muley," the Arab said.
The slave hurried away, and returned in a minute with a man somewhat past middle age, and dressed in a style that indicated that he was a trusted servant.
"Muley," his master said, "I have bought this Christian who has been brought in by Hassan the corsair. He is one of the knights who are the terrors of our coasts, but is, from what I hear, of a kind and humane disposition. I am told that he was a commander of one of their galleys, and though I should not have believed it had I only Hassan's word, I have heard from others that it was so. My wife has long desired to have a Christian slave, and as Allah has blessed my efforts it was but right that I should gratify her, though in truth I do not know what work I shall set him to do at present. Let him first have a bath, and see that he is clad decently, then let him have a good meal. I doubt if he has had one since he was captured. He has been sorely beaten by the corsair, and from no fault of his own, but only because he opposed the man's brutality to a child slave. If any of his wounds need ointment, see that he has it. When all is ready, bring him to the door of my apartments, in order that I may show to my wife that I have gratified her whim."
Then he motioned to Gervaise to follow Muley, who was the head of his household. Gervaise resisted the impulse to thank his new master, and followed in silence.
He was first taken to a bathroom, furnished with an abundance of hot and cold water. Muley uttered an exclamation as, on Gervaise throwing off his bernouse, he saw that his flesh was a mass of bruises. After filling the bath with hot water, he motioned to Gervaise to get in, and lie there until he returned. It was some time before he came back, bringing a pot of ointment and some bandages. It was only on the body that the wounds needed dressing, for here the blows had fallen on the naked skin. When he had dressed them, Muley went out and returned with some Turkish garments, consisting of a pair of baggy trousers of yellow cotton, a white shirt of the same material, and a sleeveless jacket of blue cloth embroidered with yellow trimming; a pair of yellow slippers completed the costume. Muley now took him into another room, where he set before him a dish of rice with a meat gravy, a large piece of bread, and a wooden spoon.
Gervaise ate the food with a deep feeling of thankfulness for the fate that had thrown him into such good hands. Then, after taking a long draught of water, he rose to his feet and followed Muley into the entrance hall. The latter stopped at a door on the opposite side, knocked at it, and then motioned to Gervaise to take off his slippers. The door was opened by the Arab himself.
"Enter," he said courteously, and led Gervaise into an apartment where a lady and two girls were sitting on a divan. They were slightly veiled; but, as Gervaise afterwards learnt, Ben Ibyn was not a Moor, but a Berber, a people who do not keep their women in close confinement as do the Moors, but allow them to go abroad freely without being entirely muffled up.
"Khadja," the merchant said, "this is the Christian slave I purchased today. You have for a long time desired one, but not until now have I found one who would, I thought, satisfy your expectations. What think you of him?"
"He is a noble looking youth truly, Isaac, with his fair, wavy hair, his grey eyes, and white skin; truly, all my neighbours will envy me such a possession. I have often seen Christian slaves before, but they have always been broken down and dejected looking creatures; this one bears himself like a warrior rather than a slave."
"He is a warrior; he is one of those terrible knights of Rhodes whose very name is a terror to the Turks, and whose galleys are feared even by our boldest corsairs. He must be of approved valour, for he was commander of one of these galleys."
The girls looked with amazement at Gervaise. They had often heard tales of the capture of ships that had sailed from Tripoli, by the galleys of the Christian knights, and had pictured those fierce warriors as of almost supernatural strength and valour. That this youth, whose upper lip was but shaded with a slight moustache, should be one of them, struck them as being almost incredible.
"He does not look ferocious, father," one of them said. "He looks pleasant and good tempered, as if he could injure no one."
"And yet this morning, daughter, he braved, unarmed, the anger of Hassan the corsair, on the deck of his own ship; and when the pirate called upon his men to seize him he threw one overboard, struck two more on to the deck, and it needed eight men to overpower him."
"I hope he won't get angry with us!" the younger girl exclaimed. Gervaise could not suppress a laugh, and then, turning to the merchant, said in Turkish, "I must ask your pardon for having concealed from you my knowledge of your tongue. I kept the secret from all on board the corsair, and meant to have done the same here, deeming that if none knew that I spoke the language it would greatly aid me should I ever see an opportunity of making my escape; but, Ben Ibyn, you have behaved so kindly to me that I feel it would not be honourable to keep it a secret from you, and to allow you and the ladies to talk freely before me, thinking that I was altogether ignorant of what you were saying."
"You have acted well and honourably," Ben Ibyn said, putting a hand on his shoulder kindly. "We have heard much of the character of the Order, and that though valiant in battle, your knights are courteous and chivalrous, deeming a deceitful action to be unworthy of them, and binding themselves by their vows to succour the distressed and to be pitiful to the weak. We have heard that our wounded are tended by them in your hospitals with as much care as men of their own race and religion, and that in many things the knights were to be admired even by those who were their foes. I see now that these reports were true, and that although, as you say, it might be of advantage to you that none should know you speak Arabic, yet it is from a spirit of honourable courtesy you have now told us that you do so.
"I did not tell you, wife," he went on, turning to her, "that the reason why he bearded Hassan today was because the corsair brutally struck a little female captive; thus, you see, he, at the risk of his life, and when himself a captive, carried out his vows to protect the defenceless. And now, wife, there is one thing you must know. For some time, at any rate, you must abandon the idea of exciting the envy of your friends by exhibiting your Christian captive to them. As you are aware, the sultan has the choice of any one slave he may select from each batch brought in, and assuredly he would choose this one, did it come to his ears, or to the ears of one of his officers, that a Christian knight had been landed. For this reason Hassan sold him to me for a less sum than he would otherwise have demanded, and we must for some time keep his presence here a secret. My idea is that he shall remain indoors until we move next week into our country house, where he will be comparatively free from observation."
"Certainly, Isaac. I would not on any account that he should be handed over to the sultan, for he would either be put into the galleys or have to labour in the streets."
"I will tell Muley to order the other slaves to say nothing outside of the fresh arrival, so for the present there is no fear of its being talked about in the town. Hassan will, for his own sake, keep silent on the matter. I have not yet asked your name," he went on, turning to Gervaise.
"My name is Gervaise Tresham; but it will be easier for you to call me by my first name only."
"Then, Gervaise, it were well that you retired to rest at once, for I am sure that you sorely need it." He touched a bell on the table, and told Muley, when he appeared, to conduct Gervaise to the place where he was to sleep, which was, he had already ordered, apart from the quarters of the other slaves.
"The young fellow is a mass of bruises," Ben Ibyn said to his wife, when the door closed behind Gervaise. "Hassan beat him so savagely, after they had overpowered and bound him, that he well nigh killed him."
An exclamation of indignation burst from the wife and daughters.
"Muley has seen to his wounds," he went on, "and he will doubtless be cured in a few days. And now, wife, that your wish is gratified, and I have purchased a Christian slave for you, may I ask what you are going to do with him?"
"I am sure I do not know," she said in a tone of perplexity. "I had thought of having him to hand round coffee when my friends call, and perhaps to work in the garden, but I did not think that he would be anything like this."
"That is no reason why he should not do so," Ben Ibyn said. "These Christians, I hear, treat their women as if they were superior beings, and feel it no dishonour to wait upon them; I think you cannot do better than carry out your plan. It is certain there is no sort of work that he would prefer to it; therefore, let it be understood that he is to be your own personal attendant, and that when you have no occasion for his services, he will work in the garden. Only do not for the present let any of your friends see him; they would spread the news like wildfire, and in a week every soul in the town would know that you had a good looking Christian slave, and the sultan's officer would be sending for me to ask how I obtained him. We must put a turban on him. Any one who caught a glimpse of that hair of his, however far distant, would know that he was a Frank."
"We might stain his face and hands with walnut juice," Khadja said, "he would pass as a Nubian. Some of them are tall and strong."
"A very good thought, wife; it would be an excellent disguise. So shall it be." He touched the bell again. "Tell Muley I would speak with him. Muley," he went on, when the steward appeared, "have you said aught to any of the servants touching the Christian?"
"No, my lord; you gave me no instructions about it, and I thought it better to wait until the morning, when I could ask you."
"You did well. We have determined to stain his skin, and at present he will pass as a Nubian. This will avoid all questions and talk."
"But, my lord, they will wonder that he cannot speak their tongue."
"He must pass among them as a mute; but indeed he speaks Arabic as well as we do, Muley."
The man uttered an exclamation of surprise.
"He had intended to conceal his knowledge," Ben Ibyn went on, "which would have been politic; but when he found that my intentions were kind, he told us that he knew our tongue, and now revealed his knowledge, as he thought it would be dishonourable to listen to our talk, leaving us under the impression that he could not understand us."
"Truly these Christians are strange men," Muley said. "This youth, who has not yet grown the hair on his face, is nevertheless commander of a war galley. He is ready to risk his life on behalf of a slave, and can strike down men with his unarmed hand; he is as gentle in his manner as a woman; and now it seems he can talk Arabic, and although it was in his power to keep this secret he tells it rather than overhear words that are not meant for his ear. Truly they are strange people, the Franks. I will prepare some stain in the morning, my lord, and complete his disguise before any of the others see him."
The next morning Muley told Gervaise that his master thought that it would be safer and more convenient for him to pass as a dumb Nubian slave. Gervaise thought the plan an excellent one; and he was soon transformed, Muley shaving that part of the hair that would have shown below the turban, and then staining him a deep brownish black, from the waist upwards, together with his feet and his legs up to his knee, and darkening his eyebrows, eyelashes, and moustache.
"Save that your lips lack the thickness, and your nose is straighter than those of Nubians, no one would doubt but that you were one of that race; and this is of little consequence, as many of them are of mixed blood, and, though retaining their dark colour, have features that in their outline resemble those of the Arabs. Now I will take you to Ben Ibyn, so that he may judge whether any further change is required before the servants and slaves see you."
"That is excellent," the merchant said, when he had carefully inspected Gervaise, "I should pass you myself without recognizing you. Now you can take him into the servants' quarters, Muley, and tell them that he is a new slave whom I have purchased, and that henceforth it will be his duty to wait upon my wife, to whom I have presented him as her special attendant, and that he will accompany her and my daughters when they go abroad to make their purchases or visit their friends. Give some reason, if you can think of one, why you have bestowed him in a chamber separate from the rest."
Gervaise at once took up his new duties, and an hour later, carrying a basket, followed them into the town. It was strange to him thus to be walking among the fanatical Moors, who, had they known the damage that he had inflicted upon their galleys, would have torn him in pieces. None gave him, however, more than a passing look. Nubian slaves were no uncommon sight in the town, and in wealthy Moorish families were commonly employed in places of trust, and especially as attendants in the harems. The ladies were now as closely veiled as the Moorish women, it being only in the house that they followed the Berber customs. Gervaise had learnt from Muley that Ben Ibyn was one of the richest merchants in Tripoli, trading direct with Egypt, Syria, and Constantinople, besides carrying on a large trade with the Berber tribes in the interior. He returned to the house with his basket full of provisions, and having handed these over to the cook, he went to the private apartments, as Khadja had requested him to do. Here she and her daughters asked him innumerable questions as to his country and its customs, and then about Rhodes and the Order to which he belonged. Their surprise was great when they heard that the knights were bound to celibacy.
"But why should they not marry if they like? Why should they not have wives, children, and homes like other people?" Khadja asked.
"It is that they may devote their whole lives to their work. Their home is the convent at Rhodes, or at one of the commanderies scattered over Europe, where they take charge of the estates of the Order."
"But why should they not marry then, Gervaise? At Rhodes there might be danger for women and children, but when they return to Europe to take charge of the estates, surely they would do their duty no worse for having wives?"
"I did not make the rules of the Order, lady, but I have thought myself that although, so long as they are doing military work at the convent, it is well that they should not marry, yet there is no good reason why, when established in commanderies at home, they should not, like other knights and nobles, marry if it so pleases them."
In the evening the merchant returned from his stores, which were situated down by the port. Soon after he came in he sent for Gervaise. "There is a question I had intended to ask you last night," he said, "but it escaped me. More than two months since there sailed from this port and others many vessels -- not the ships of the State, but corsairs. In all, more than twenty ships started, with the intention of making a great raid upon the coast of Italy. No word has since been received of them, and their friends here are becoming very uneasy, the more so as we hear that neither at Tunis nor Algiers has any news been received. Have you heard at Rhodes of a Moorish fleet having been ravaging the coast of Italy?"
"Have you any friends on board the ships that sailed from here, or any interest in the venture, Ben Ibyn?"
The merchant shook his head. "We Berbers," he said, "are not like the Moors, and have but little to do with the sea, save by the way of trade. For myself, I regret that these corsair ships are constantly putting out. Were it not for them and their doings we might trade with the ports of France, of Spain, and Italy, and be on good terms with all. There is no reason why, because our faiths are different, we should be constantly fighting. It is true that the Turks threaten Europe, and are even now preparing to capture Rhodes; but this is no question of religion. The Turks are warlike and ambitious; they have conquered Syria, and war with Egypt and Persia; but the Moorish states are small, they have no thought of conquest, and might live peaceably with Europe were it not for the hatred excited against them by the corsairs."
"In that case I can tell you the truth. Thirteen of those ships were taken into Rhodes as prizes; the other eleven were burnt. Not one of the fleet escaped."
Exclamations of surprise broke from Ben Ibyn, his wife, and daughters.
"I am astonished, indeed," the merchant said. "It was reported here that the Genoese galleys were all laid up, and it was thought that they would be able to sweep the seas without opposition, and to bring home vast spoil and many captives, both from the ships they took and from many of the villages and small towns of the coast. How came such a misfortune to happen to them? It will create consternation here when it is known, for although it was not a state enterprise, the sultan himself and almost all the rich Moors embarked money in the fitting out of the ships, and were to have shares in the spoil taken. How happened it that so strong a fleet was all taken or destroyed, without even one vessel being able to get away to carry home the news of the disaster?"
"Fortune was against them," Gervaise said. "Three ships on their way up were captured by a galley of our Order, and her commander having obtained news of the whereabouts of the spot where the corsairs were to rendezvous, found them all lying together in a small inlet, and launched against them a number of fishing boats fitted out as fire ships. The corsairs, packed closely together, were unable to avoid them, and, as I told you, eleven of their ships were burnt, four were run ashore to avoid the flames, while six, trying to make their way out, were captured by the galley, aided by the three prizes that were taken and which the knights had caused to be manned by Sards."
"The ways of Allah the All Seeing are wonderful," the merchant said. "It was indeed a marvellous feat for one galley thus to destroy a great fleet."
"It was the result of good fortune rather than skill and valour," Gervaise said.
"Nay, nay; let praise be given where it is due. It was a marvellous feat; and although there is good or bad fortune in every event, such a deed could not have been performed, and would not even have been thought of, save by a great commander. Who was the knight who thus with one galley alone destroyed a strongly manned fleet, from which great things had been looked for?"
Gervaise hesitated. "It was a young knight," he said, "of but little standing in the Order, and whose name is entirely unknown outside its ranks."
"By this time it must be well known," Ben Ibyn said; "and it will soon be known throughout Christendom, and will be dreaded by every Moor. What was it?"
Gervaise again hesitated.
"I would not have told you the story at all, Ben Ibyn, had I supposed you would have cared to inquire into the matter. Of course, I will tell you the name if you insist upon it, but I would much rather you did not ask."
"But why?" the merchant asked, in surprise. "If I hear it not from you, I shall assuredly hear it ere long from others, for it will be brought by traders who are in communication with Italy. I cannot understand why you should thus hesitate about telling me the name of this commander. When known it will doubtless be cursed by thousands of Moorish wives and mothers; but we Berbers are another race. None of our friends or kindred were on board the fleet; and we traders have rather reason to rejoice, for, in the first place, so severe a lesson will keep the corsairs in their ports for a long time; and in the second, had the fleet succeeded according to general expectation, so great a store of European goods would have been brought home that the market would have been glutted, and the goods in our storehouses would have lost all their value. What reason, then, can you possibly have in refusing to tell me the name of the commander who has won for himself such credit and glory?"
Gervaise saw that Ben Ibyn was seriously annoyed at what he deemed his unaccountable obstinacy.
"I will tell you, Ben Ibyn, rather than excite your displeasure, though I would much have preferred not to do so, for you speak so much more highly of the affair than it merits. I had myself the honour of being in command of that galley."
The ladies broke into exclamations of surprise, while the merchant regarded him with grave displeasure.
"I had thought you truthful," he said; "but this passes all belief. Dost tell me that a beardless youth could with one galley overcome a great fleet, commanded by the most noted captains on our coast?"
"I thought that you would not believe me," Gervaise said quietly; "and, therefore, would have much preferred to keep silence, knowing that I had no means of supporting my claim. That was not the only reason; the other was, that already a great deal too much has been said about an affair in which, as I have told you, I owed everything to good fortune, and am heartily sick of receiving what I consider altogether undue praise. Ah!" he exclaimed suddenly, "the thought has just occurred to me of a way by which you can obtain confirmation of my story; and, as I value your good opinion and would not be regarded as a boaster and a liar, I entreat you to take it. I heard you tell the eight men who were rowers in my boat when I was captured, to call upon you today, that you might do something for them."
"They came this morning to my store," the merchant said. "They told me their wishes. I promised them that I would make inquiry about ships sailing East; and they are to come to me again tomorrow."
"Then, sir, I beseech you to suffer me to go down with you to your stores and meet them there. The galley of which I was in command at the time I was captured is the same as that in which a few weeks before I fought the corsairs, and these eight men were with me at that time. I begged them for my sake to maintain an absolute silence as to that affair, and I have no doubt that they have done so, for in the fury the news would excite, they might fall victims to the first outburst, though, of course, wholly innocent of any share in the misfortune. Did you question them without my being present, they might still keep silent, fearing to injure me. But if, before you begin to do so, I tell them that they can speak the truth with reference to me, they will, I am sure. confirm my story, incredible as it may now appear to you."
"That is a fair offer," the merchant said gravely, "and I accept it, for it may be that I have been too hasty, and I trust it may prove so. I would rather find myself to be in fault than that the esteem with which you have inspired me should prove to be misplaced. We will speak no further on the subject now. I have not yet asked you how it is that you come to speak our language so well."
Gervaise related how he had studied with Suleiman Ali, and had escorted him to Syria and received his ransom.
"I had hoped," he said, "that the corsair would have taken me to Syria, for there I could have communicated with Suleiman, who would, I am sure, have given me such shelter and aid as he was able, in the event of my making my escape from slavery and finding myself unable to leave by sea."
The next day Gervaise went with Ben Ibyn to his stores. The eight men arrived shortly afterwards, and the merchant, in the presence of Gervaise, questioned them as to whether they knew anything of a misfortune that was said to have befallen some ships that had sailed for the coast of Italy. The men, surprised at the question, glanced at Gervaise, who said, "Tell Ben Ibyn the truth; it will do neither you nor me any harm, and will be mentioned by him to no one else."
Accordingly the story was told. Ben Ibyn listened gravely.
"It was the will of Allah," he said, when it was concluded. "I have wronged you, Gervaise, but your tale seemed too marvellous to be true.
"Do not speak of this to others;" he went on to the eight men. "Now as to yourselves. For the four of you who desire to return to Syria I have taken passage in a trader that sails tomorrow and will touch at Joppa and Acre. Here is money to provide yourselves with garments and to carry you to your homes. For you," he said to two who were natives of the town, "I can myself find employment here, and if your conduct is good, you will have no reason to regret taking service with me. The two of you who desire to go to Smyrna I will give passage there in a ship which will sail next week; in the meantime, here is money for your present wants."
Two days later the merchant's family moved to his house two miles outside the town, and here Gervaise remained for six months. His life was not an unpleasant one; he was treated with great kindness by the merchant and his wife, his duties were but slight, and he had no more labour to perform in the garden than he cared to do. Nevertheless, he felt that he would rather have fallen into the hands of a less kind master, for it seemed to him that it would be an act almost of treachery to escape from those who treated him as a friend; moreover, at the country house he was not in a position to frame any plans for escape, had he decided upon attempting it, nor could he have found out when Hassan made one of his occasional visits to the port.
One evening the merchant returned from the town accompanied by one of the sultan's officers and four soldiers. Ben Ibyn was evidently much depressed and disturbed; he told Muley as he entered, to fetch Gervaise. When the latter, in obedience to the order, came in from the garden, the officer said in Italian, "It having come to the ears of the sultan my master that the merchant Ben Ibyn has ventured, contrary to the law, to purchase a Christian slave brought secretly into the town, he has declared the slave to be forfeited and I am commanded to take him at once to the slaves' quarter."
"I am at the sultan's orders," Gervaise said, bowing his head. "My master has been a kind one, and I am grateful to him for his treatment of me."
Gervaise, although taken aback by this sudden change in his fortunes, was not so cast down as he might otherwise have been; he would now be free to carry out any plan for escape that he might devise, and by his being addressed in Italian it was evident to him that his knowledge of Turkish was unsuspected. When among the other slaves he had always maintained his character of a mute; and it was only when alone in his master's family that he had spoken at all. He had no doubt that his betrayal was due to one of the gardeners, who had several times shown him signs of ill will, being doubtless jealous of the immunity he enjoyed from hard labour, and who must, he thought, have crept up and overheard some conversation; but in that case it was singular that the fact of his knowledge of Turkish had not been mentioned. Gervaise afterwards learned that Ben Ibyn had been fined a heavy sum for his breach of the regulations.
He was now placed between the soldiers, and marched down to the town, without being allowed to exchange a word with the merchant. On his arrival there he was taken to the slaves' quarter; here his clothes were stripped from him, and he was given in their place a ragged shirt and trousers, and then turned into a room where some fifty slaves were lying. Of these about half were Europeans, the rest malefactors who had been condemned to labour.
The appearance of all was miserable in the extreme; they were clothed in rags, and the faces of the Europeans had a dull, hopeless look that told alike of their misery and of their despair of any escape from it. They looked up listlessly as he entered, and then an Italian said, "Cospetto, comrade; but I know not whether your place is with us, or with the Moslems across there. As far as colour goes I should put you down as a Nubian; but your hair is of a hue that consorts but badly with that of your flesh."
"I am an Englishman," Gervaise replied; "but I have been passing under a disguise which has unfortunately been detected, so you see here I am."
The mystery explained, his questioner had no further interest in the matter, and Gervaise, picking out a vacant place on the stone floor, sat down and looked round him. The room, although large, was roughly built, and had doubtless been erected with a view to its present purpose. There were only a few windows; and these were small, strongly barred, and twelve feet above the floor.
"Not easy to get out of them," Gervaise said to himself "at least, not easy without aid; and with these Moslems here it is clear that nothing can be done."
They were roused at daybreak next morning, and were taken out to their work under the guard of six armed Moors, two overseers, provided with long whips, accompanied them. The work consisted of cleaning the streets and working on the roads, and at times of carrying stones for the use of the masons employed in building an addition to the palace of the sultan. This was the work to which the gang was set that morning, and it was not long before the vigour with which Gervaise worked, and the strength he displayed in moving the heavy stones, attracted the attention of the overseers and of the head of the masons.
"That is a rare good fellow you have got there, that black with the curious hair," the latter said. "What is the man? I never saw one like him."
"He is a Christian," one of the overseers said. "He was smuggled into the town and sold to Ben Ibyn the Berber, who, to conceal the matter, dyed him black; but it got to the ears of the sultan, and he had him taken from the Berber, and brought here; I have no doubt the merchant has been squeezed rarely."
"Well, that is a good fellow to work," the other said. "He has just moved a stone, single handed, that it would have taken half a dozen of the others to lift. I wish you would put him regularly on this job; any one will do to sweep the streets; but a fellow like that will be of real use here, especially when the wall rises a bit higher."
"It makes no difference to me," the overseer said. "I will give orders when I go down that he shall be always sent up with whichever gang comes here."
The head mason, who was the chief official of the work, soon saw that Gervaise not only possessed strength, but knowledge of the manner in which the work should be done.
Accustomed as he had been to direct the slaves at work on the fortifications at Rhodes, he had learned the best methods of moving massive stones, and setting them in the places that they were to occupy. At the end of the day the head mason told one of the slaves who spoke Italian to inquire of Gervaise whether he had ever been employed on such work before. Gervaise replied that he had been engaged in the construction of large buildings.
"I thought so," the officer said to the overseer; "the way he uses his lever shows that he knows what he is doing. Most of the slaves are worth nothing; but I can see that this fellow will prove a treasure to us."
Gervaise returned to the prison well satisfied with his day's work. The labour, hard though it was, was an absolute pleasure to him. There was, moreover, nothing degrading in it, and while the overseers had plied their whips freely on the backs of many of his companions, he had not only escaped, but had, he felt, succeeded in pleasing his masters. The next morning when the gangs were drawn up in the yard before starting for work, he was surprised at being ordered to leave the one to which he belonged and to fall in with another, and was greatly pleased when he found that this took its way to the spot at which they were at work on the previous day.
At the end of the week, when the work of the day was finished, the head mason came down to the prison and spoke to the governor; a few minutes afterwards Gervaise was called out. The governor was standing in the courtyard with an interpreter.
"This officer tells me that you are skilled in masonry," the governor said, "and has desired that you shall be appointed overseer of the gang whose duty it is to move the stones, saying he is sure that with half the slaves now employed you would get as much work done as at present. Have you anything to say?"
"I thank you, my lord, and this officer," Gervaise replied. "I will do my best; but I would submit to you that it would be better if I could have the same slaves always with me, instead of their being changed every day; I could then instruct them in their work. I would also submit that it were well to pick men with some strength for this labour, for many are so weak that they are well nigh useless in the moving of heavy weights; and lastly, I would humbly submit to you that if men are to do good work they must be fed. This work is as heavy as that in the galleys, and the men there employed receive extra rations to strengthen them; and I could assuredly obtain far better results if the gang employed upon this labour were to receive a somewhat larger supply of food."
"The fellow speaks boldly," the governor said to the head mason, when the reply was translated.
"There is reason in what he says, my lord. Many of the slaves, though fit for the light labour of cleaning the streets, are of very little use to us, and even the whip of the drivers cannot get more than a momentary effort from them. If you can save twenty-five men's labour for other work, it will pay to give more food to the other twenty-five. I should let this man pick out his gang. He has worked in turn with all of them, and must know what each can do; besides, it is necessary that he should have men who can understand his orders."
Gervaise accordingly was allowed to pick out his gang; and he chose those whom he had observed to be the strongest and most handy at the work.
"You will be responsible," the governor said to him, "for the masons being supplied with stone, and if you fail you will be punished and put to other labour."
So far from there being any falling off in the work, the head mason found that, even though the walls began to rise and the labour of transporting the stones into their positions became greater, the masons were never kept standing. The men, finding their position improved, both in the matter of food and in the immunity they enjoyed from blows, worked cheerfully and well. Gervaise did not content himself with giving orders, but worked at the heaviest jobs, and, little by little, introduced many of the appliances used by the skilled masons of Rhodes in transporting and lifting heavy stones. Gradually his own position improved: he was treated as an overseer, and was permitted to sleep under an arcade that ran along one side of the yard, instead of being confined in the close and stifling cell. His dye had long since worn off.
One day as he was going up with his gang under charge of the usual guards to the building, he saw Hassan, who grinned maliciously.
"Ah, ah, Christian dog!" he said; "you threatened me, and I have not forgotten it. The last time I was here I made it known to an officer of the sultan that Ben Ibyn had a Christian slave who had been smuggled in; and here you are. I hope you like the change. Look, I have still got your amulet, and it has brought me better luck than it did you. I have been fortunate ever since, and no money could buy it from me."
He had been walking close to Gervaise as he spoke, and one of the guards pushed him roughly aside.
Time passed on. One day on his return from work a well dressed Moor met him as the gang broke up in the courtyard.
"I have permission to speak to you," he said to Gervaise, and drew him aside. "Know, 0 Christian, that I have received a letter from Suleiman Ali, of Syria. He tells me that he has heard from Ben Ibyn, the Berber, that you are a slave, and has asked me to inquire of the sultan the price that he will take for your ransom, expressing his willingness to pay whatever may be demanded, and charging me to defray the sum and to make arrangements by which you may return to Europe. This I am willing to do, knowing Suleiman Ali by report as a wealthy man and an honourable one. I saw the sultan yesterday. He told me that I should have an answer this morning as to the ransom that he would take. When I went to him again today, he said that he had learnt from the governor of the prison and from the head mason that you were almost beyond price, that you had been raised to the position of superintendent of the slaves employed in the building of his palace, and that you were a man of such skill that he would not part with you at any price until the work was finished. After that he would sell you; but he named a price threefold that at which the very best white slave in Tripoli would be valued. However, from the way in which Suleiman Ali wrote, I doubt not that he would pay it, great as it is, for he speaks of you in terms of affection, and I would pay the money could you be released at once. As it is, however, I shall write to him, and there will be ample time for an answer to be received from him before the building is finished."
"Truly I am deeply thankful to my good friend, Suleiman Ali; but for reasons of my own I am not desirous of being ransomed at present, especially at such a cost, which I should feel bound in honour to repay to him; therefore, I pray you to write to him, saying that while I thank him from my heart for his kindness, I am not able to avail myself of it. In the first place, I am well treated here, and my position is not an unpleasant one; secondly, the sum required for ransom is altogether preposterous; thirdly, I am not without hopes that I may some day find other means of freeing myself without so great a sacrifice; and lastly, that I have a reason which I cannot mention, why, at present, I would not quit Tripoli, even were I free tomorrow. You can tell him that this is the reason which, most of all, weighs with me. Do not, however, I pray you, let the sultan know that I have refused to be ransomed, for he might think I was meditating an escape, and would order extra precautions to be taken to prevent my doing so. Will you also see Ben Ibyn, and thank him from me for having written to Suleiman Ali on my behalf?"
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