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The first news that the knights heard on their return from their expedition was that the Grand Master Orsini was seriously ill, and that, at his advanced age, the doctors feared there was little hope of his rallying. Gervaise felt a keen regret on hearing that the kind and gentle old man, who had been for three years his master, was at the point of death. Nevertheless, it was generally felt among the knights that, in view of the dangers that threatened Rhodes, it was for the good of the Order that a strong and capable man, whom all respected, and who possessed their entire confidence, should at such a time be invested with absolute power.
D'Aubusson had, indeed, for some years been the real head of the community, but every question had, if only as a matter of form, to be referred to the grand master, in order to obtain his approval and signature. In the state of feebleness to which he had for some months past fallen, much time was frequently lost before he could be made to understand the questions referred to him. Moreover, orders of D'Aubusson could be appealed against, his views thwarted, and his authority questioned; and it was therefore felt that, much as they all respected the old grand master, it would be an advantage to the Order when the supreme authority passed into the hands of D'Aubusson.
Four days after the return of the expedition Orsini died. A few hours later the grand council was convened, and D'Aubusson unanimously elected grand master of the Order. The ceremony of the funeral of his predecessor was an imposing one. Every knight of the Order in Rhodes was present, together with a number of the leading natives of the Island; and although Gervaise had, since his arrival on the Island, seen many stately ceremonies, this far surpassed anything he had previously beheld.
Gervaise had, at one of his first interviews with D'Aubusson after his arrival at the Island, been advised by him to acquire some knowledge of Turkish.
"There are but few knights of the Order who speak the language," he said. "As a rule, while young men are ready to devote any amount of time to acquiring dexterity in all martial exercises, they will bestow no labour in obtaining knowledge that may be fully as useful to them as skill in arms. In our dealings with the Turks, one or other party has to employ an interpreter, and it is often by no means certain that these men convey the full meaning of the speeches they translate. Again, we have large numbers of Turkish slaves, and it is highly to be desired that the knights should be able to give their orders to these men in their own language. Lastly, a knight who has been taken prisoner by the Turks -- and even the bravest might meet with such a misfortune -- would find it an alleviation of his lot, and might be able to plan and carry out his escape, did he speak Turkish well. I should strongly counsel you to acquire a knowledge of the tongue."
Gervaise had intended to follow the advice of the grand prior, but the duties of his office as page, and the time required for his military exercises and his studies with the chaplain, had rendered it well nigh impossible, during the first three years, to turn his attention to learning Turkish. As soon as his pageship was at an end, and he found that his duties included supervision of Turkish slaves, he felt the want of a knowledge of the language, and from that time devoted an hour a day to its study, employing one of the servants of the auberge, who was a man of rank and education at home, to instruct him.
While he conscientiously spent this amount of time at the work, it was the most disagreeable portion of this day's labour. The events, however, that had taken place during the expedition had impressed him greatly with the utility of a knowledge of Turkish, for had it not been for Sir John Boswell's possessing some acquaintance with the language, it would have been impossible to communicate with the rowers of their boat, or to have arranged the plan by which they had escaped the pirates. He had then and there determined that as soon as he returned to Rhodes he would take the matter up in a very different spirit to that in which he before approached it. He had on the way home spoken to Sir John, who had highly approved of the determination.
"I myself, when I was a young knight of eighteen, was taken captive, twenty-six years ago, at the time when the Egyptian fleet appeared before Rhodes. Our galleys advanced to attack them, but under cover of night they retired, and proceeding to the mainland took shelter under the guns of a Turkish fort. We attacked them there; it was a desperate engagement, but without any decisive advantage on either side. We lost no less than sixty knights, the Egyptians seven hundred men; and their fleet returned to Egypt. I and three others who were left wounded on the deck of one of their ships we had boarded, but failed to capture, were carried to Egypt, and remained there captive for six months, when we were ransomed by the Order.
"During that time I learnt enough of their language, which is akin to Turkish, to be able to make myself understood and to understand what was said to me. I have kept up that much for intercourse with the slaves and servants at Rhodes, and have found it very useful. I consider, then, that you will do well to acquire their tongue; it will be useful not only to yourself, but to others, and when we get back I will, if you like, ask the bailiff to free you from all duty in order that you may devote yourself to it."
The head of the langue at once granted Sir John's request.
"I would," he said, "that more of our young knights would give a portion of their time to study; but most of them look to returning home when their term of service here has expired. Many think only of amusement, and all imagine that advancement is best achieved by valour. Tresham has already distinguished himself very greatly; so much so, that I think it would be well if he did not go on another expedition for a time, but stayed here while others have the opportunity of doing the same. Were we to send him out with the next galleys that start, I should be accused of favouritism, and the lad, who is now deservedly popular with all, would be regarded with envy, and possibly even with dislike.
"At the same time, after what he has done I should have difficulty in refusing, were he to volunteer to sail in the next galley that sets out. The desire, then, on his part to learn Turkish is in all ways opportune. It will, too, in the long run be of great advantage to him in the Order, will give him weight, and bring him into prominence. I do not think there are six in the Order who can fairly translate a Turkish document; there are but two who could write a reply in the same language. Inform him, then, that from the present time he will be excused from all work, except, of course, to join in ceremonials when all are required to be present; and if you, Sir John, will pick out from among the servitors here one who is well instructed and educated, and capable of writing as well as reading his language, I will similarly relieve him of all other work, and place him at the disposal of young Tresham. Tell the lad that I hope he will persevere until he obtains a complete knowledge of the tongue. You can mention to him what I have said as to my opinion of the advantage the knowledge of it will be to him in the Order."
Gervaise accordingly devoted himself to study. His instructor was a Turk of fine presence. He had been a large landowner in Syria, and held a high official position in the province, but had been captured in a galley on his way to Constantinople, whither he was proceeding on an official mission. He was delighted with his new post. Gervaise, both as the youngest member of the community, and from the kind manner in which he always spoke to the servants, -- all of whom had acquired some knowledge of English, -- was a general favourite among them, and the Turk was glad that he was to be thrown with him. Still more he rejoiced at being appointed his instructor, as it relieved him from all menial work which, although preferable to that to which the bulk of the slaves were condemned, yet galled his spirit infinitely.
Now that he had entered upon the work with the approbation of his superior, and a conviction of its great utility, Gervaise set to work with the same zeal and ardour which he had exhibited in his military exercises. During the heat of the day he sat in the shade reading and writing with his instructor. In the cool of the morning and afternoon he walked with him on the walls, or in the country beyond them. After sunset he sat with him in an unfrequented corner of the roof, all the time conversing with him, either of his own country, or that of his instructor.
At first this was difficult, and he had to eke out the Turkish words he had acquired with English; but it was not long before there was no necessity for this. His intercourse for ten or twelve hours a day with this Turk, and the pains taken by his instructor, caused him to acquire the language with extreme rapidity. Of course, he had to put up with a great deal of banter from the younger knights upon his passion for study. Sometimes they pretended that his mania, as they considered it, arose from the fact that he was determined to become a renegade, and was fitting himself for a high position in the Turkish army. At other times they insisted that his intention was to become a Turkish dervish, or to win a great Turkish heiress and settle in Syria. But as he always bore their banter good temperedly, and was ready occasionally to join them in the sport when assaults-at-arms were carried on, they soon became tired of making fun of him.
After nine months' constant work, the young knight's studies were abruptly stopped by the receipt of a letter from the Pasha of Syria, offering a considerable sum for the ransom of his instructor. The request was at once acceded to, as it was the policy of the knights to accept ransoms for their prisoners, both because the sums so gained were useful, and because they were themselves compelled sometimes to pay ransom for members of the Order. Suleiman Ali was, it was arranged, to be put on board an Egyptian craft bound for Acre, a safe conduct having been sent for the vessel and her crew, and for a knight, who was to receive the ransom from the pasha.
"At any rate, Sir Gervaise," the Turk said, when the young knight expressed great regret at his leaving them, "our position as instructor and pupil would have come to an end shortly. For the last three months there has been but little teaching between us; we have talked, and that has been all, save that for a short time each day you read and wrote. But there has been little to teach. You speak the native language now as fluently as I do, and would pass anywhere as a Syrian, especially as there are slight differences of speech in the various provinces. I believe that in Syria you would not be suspected of being anything but a native, and assuredly you would be taken for a Syrian elsewhere. You have learnt enough, and it would be but a waste of time for you, a knight and a soldier, to spend another day in study."
On the following day Gervaise was, to his surprise, sent for by the grand master. Except on the occasion of a few public ceremonies, he had not seen D'Aubusson since he had been elected to his present high dignity, and the summons to attend at the palace therefore came unexpectedly.
"We have become quite strangers, Tresham," the grand master said cordially when he entered. "I have not forgotten you, and have several times questioned your bailiff concerning you. He tells me that you have become quite an anchorite, and that, save at your meals and for an occasional bout-at-arms, you are seldom to be seen. I was glad to hear of your devotion to study, and thought it better to leave you undisturbed at it. Yesterday evening I sent for your instructor. He is a man of influence in Syria, and I wished to learn how he was affected towards us, now that he is about to return there. We talked for some time, and I then asked him what progress you had made, and was surprised and pleased to find that in his opinion you could pass anywhere as a native, and that you were perfectly capable of drawing up and writing any document I might desire to send to the sultan or any of his generals. This is far more than I had expected, and shows how earnestly you must have worked. Your knowledge may prove of much assistance to the Order, and believe me, the time you have spent in acquiring it may prove of much greater advantage to you in your career than if you had occupied it in performing even the most valiant deeds, and that at some future time it will ensure your appointment to a responsible office here. It was partly to assure you of my approbation that I sent for you, partly to inform you that I have appointed you to proceed with Suleiman Ali as the knight in charge of the vessel, and to receive the ransom agreed on, upon your handing him over. The office is an honourable one and one of trust, and it is the first fruits of the advantages you will gain by your knowledge of Turkish. No, do not thank me. I am selecting you because you are better fitted than any knight I can spare for the mission, and also, I may say, because the choice will be pleasing to Suleiman Ali, whose goodwill I am desirous of gaining. Before now Turkish provinces have thrown off their allegiance to the sultan. They have, I must admit, been usually reconquered, but such might not be always the case; and if such an event happened in Syria, this man's influence and goodwill might be of great advantage to us, as it might well suit us to ally ourselves with Syria against Constantinople. I am glad to say that I found him at least as well disposed as any man could be who had been some years in slavery. He admitted that, for a slave, he had been kindly and gently treated, and added that any unpleasant memories he might have retained had been obliterated by the nine months of pleasant companionship spent with you."
When Gervaise returned to dinner at the auberge, and informed Ralph Harcourt and the other young knights that he had been appointed to take charge of the vessel in which Suleiman Ali was to be conveyed to Acre, the statement was at first received with incredulity. It seemed incredible that the youngest knight in the langue should be chosen for such a mission, involving as it did a separate command. Even the older knights, when the news was passed down the table, were surprised.
"I must say that I am astonished at the grand master's choice. Sir Gervaise Tresham doubtless distinguished himself greatly some months since, but from that time he has not been out with the galleys, or, indeed, done anything that would seem to recommend him for so marked a favour as a separate command."
"I don't know, Wingate," Sir John Boswell said. "It seems to me that when a young knight of seventeen eschews all pleasure, refrains from volunteering for service at sea, and spends his whole time in study, he does distinguish himself, and that very greatly. Of the three or four hundred young knights here I doubt if one other would have so acted. Certainly, none to my knowledge have done so. Yet I do not suppose that D'Aubusson selected him for this duty as a reward for so much self denial and study, but because by that self denial and study he is more fitted for it than any of us here, save some three or four knights in the other langues, all of whom are in too high a position to be employed in so unimportant a duty. He can speak Turkish -- not a few score of words and sentences such as I can, but, as Suleiman Ali tells me, like a native. Were one of us chosen for this mission, it would be necessary to send an interpreter with him; and every one knows how hard it is to do business in that manner. It seems to me that the grand master has acted wisely in putting aside all question of seniority, and employing the knight who is better suited than any other for it."
"You are right, Boswell," the bailiff said. "I really have been astonished at the manner in which Tresham has given himself up to study. It would have been a natural thing had he, after gaining so much credit, been anxious and eager to gain more. When you spoke to me about his determination to learn Turkish, I thought he would speedily tire of it, and that when the next galley sailed, his name would be among the list of volunteers for the service. I am sure, comrades, that there are few, if any, among us who would not infinitely prefer fighting the Moslems to spending our whole time in learning their language; and I for one consider the fact that he has for nine months laboured so incessantly and assiduously that he has come, as Boswell says, to speak it like a native, is even more to his credit than the deed for which he was knighted."
This conversation took place at the upper end of the table, and was not heard at the lower end where the younger knights were seated.
"I am not chosen from favour," Gervaise said hotly, to one of his companions who had asserted that this was so. "I am simply chosen because I can speak Turkish."
"How much Turkish can you speak?" one of them laughed. Gervaise turned to the Turkish servant behind them, and said, in his language, "Hassan, Sir Giles Trevor wishes to know how well I speak Turkish. You have heard me talking with Suleiman Ali. Will you give him your opinion about it?"
The man turned gravely to Sir Giles Trevor.
"My lord," he said, in English, "Sir Gervaise Tresham, he speaks Turkish same as I do. If he dress up in Turk clothes I suppose him Turk, not know he Christian by his speech."
Exclamations of surprise broke from the young knights.
"Well, you have earned the appointment, Tresham," Ralph Harcourt said heartily. "You always told me when I asked you that you were getting on, but I had not the least idea that you were getting on like this. And can you read and write the Turkish language?"
"Well enough for practical purposes, Ralph. At any rate, I wrote a complimentary letter this morning from the grand master to the governor of Syria, and the bailiff of Spain, who was, as you know, for ten years a prisoner among the Turks, read it through at D'Aubusson's request, to see that there was no error in it, and was good enough to pass it without alteration."
"I would give a good deal," Sir Giles Trevor said, "if I could follow your example, and shut myself up for nine months with an infidel to study his language; but I could not do it if my life depended on it. I should throw myself off the wall at the end of the first fortnight."
"I don't pretend that I can do what Tresham has done," Ralph Harcourt said. "I always hated our lessons with the chaplain, who gave me the character of having the thickest head of any of his pupils; but I vow" -- and he kissed the handle of his dagger -- "I will spend half an hour a day in trying to learn something of Turkish. Of course, I know that such time will not be enough to learn a great deal; but if one could get up just enough to be able to give orders to the slaves, to question the captain of a vessel one has captured, and to make them understand a little, if by bad luck one fell into their hands, it would be quite enough for me. I am sure sometimes one is quite at a loss how to pass the hours when the sun is at its hottest, and if one tried one ought to be able to pick up a little without much trouble. Look at the servants; there is not one of them but speaks a little English. And if an infidel can learn enough English to get on with, without any regular study, I can't see why we shouldn't be able to learn enough Turkish in the same way."
Two or three of the other young knights declared that they too would devote a short time during the heat of the day to learning Turkish, and they agreed to begin together forthwith with one of the servants, who spoke English most fluently. Robert Rivers was not present, for he had returned to England six months before, to take up his residence at the House in Clerkenwell, in order that he might bring to bear the interest of his many powerful friends to secure for him an appointment as commander of one of the estates of the Order in England. His departure had caused general satisfaction among the other knights, whom his arrogance and ill temper had frequently irritated. Gervaise especially was glad at his leaving the Island, for after he received the honour of knighthood, Rivers made a point of always addressing him with an affectation of deference and respect that often tried his temper to the utmost.
"It is well that Rivers has gone," Ralph said, laughing, "for I don't know how he would have supported the chagrin your appointment would have given him. He was devoured with jealousy as it was, but this would have been a trial beyond bearing."
"I am heartily glad he has gone," Gervaise said gravely. "I have put up with a great deal from him, but I don't think I could have stood much more. If our vows had not forbidden our fighting I should have called him to account long ago; but the only thing else to do was for me to lodge a formal complaint before the bailiff, of his continually offensive bearing and manner, which I could not bring myself to do, and indeed there was no special matter that would have seemed to justify me, no single speech that in itself would warrant such grave action on my part. I used to wish over and over again that we could but meet in some quiet spot in England, both unarmed, and could there settle the matter in good English fashion, with our fists, or even with a couple of quarterstaffs."
The others laughed.
"That would be a very unknightly form of contest."
"I care not for that," Gervaise replied. "It would be a very satisfactory one anyhow, and quite serious enough for the occasion. His sneers and petty insults were not sufficient to justify the drawing of blood, and there has been enough of that shed for the last twenty years in England without two brother knights betaking themselves to their swords against each other. But a sound thrashing would have done neither of us harm, and if it had fallen to his lot to get the largest share of it, it might have done him some good."
"He thinks he is sure of an appointment," one of the others said, "but he has been so frequently in trouble here that it is likely that the official report, which is always sent home to the grand prior when the knights return to England, will be so unfavourable that even the most powerful influence will fail to obtain him a post. If so, we may have him back here again, especially if the Turks carry out their threat of assailing us, for an appeal will be made to all the grand priors for knights to aid in the defence."
That evening Gervaise went again to the palace to receive final instructions.
"The craft in which you are to travel is an Egyptian trader. As at present war has not been formally declared between us and the sultan, peaceful traders, as you know, carry on their avocations unmolested either by the warships of the Turks or by ours; they do not enter our ports without a special permit, and the crews are never allowed to land, in order that no detailed account of our fortifications may be taken to the sultan. Moreover, brawls might arise between them and the native population, or they might aid slaves to escape. However, you will be altogether safe from interference from Turkish war vessels, and if overhauled by one of them the safe conduct will be sufficient to prevent interference with you. But it is not so with pirates. They will plunder their own countrymen as readily as they will Christians, and the safe guard of the governor of Syria will be of no use whatever to you. In this consists the danger of your mission. I cannot send one of our war galleys on such an errand, and if there are not enough knights on board to beat off any pirate, the fewer there are the better. I hear that the craft is a fast sailor, and as the crew will be as anxious to avoid pirates as you, they will do their best to escape. I leave it to you to take any route. You can either sail hence direct for Acre, or you can coast along the shores of Anatolia and Syria, lying up at night in bays.
"Should you be overtaken I do not think it would be of any use for you to disguise yourself, for some of the crew would be sure to denounce you. Should the worst happen, and you are captured by pirates, you will of course in the first place show them your safe conduct, and if I find that you do not return I shall send at once to the governor of Syria, complaining of your capture when furnished with his safeguard, and requesting him to order a search for you to be made at every port on the coast, with instructions that you are to be at once released, and either sent to him for return hither, or placed on board a craft bound for any Christian port; while you, on your part, will endeavour to acquaint the Turkish authorities with the fact that you have been seized while travelling with a safe conduct from the governor of Syria.
"But, more than from any efforts on your part or mine, I rely upon Suleiman Ali, who will, I am sure, as soon as he is set on shore, lose no time in acquainting the pasha of your capture, and in calling upon him to interfere in your favour. In that case, the worst that could befall you would be a temporary detention, unless, indeed, the pirates should take you to Egypt. As that country is friendly with us at present, since Egypt dreads the ever increasing power of the Turks, it will be but a question of ransom, for I have secret agents there who will inform me without delay of the arrival of a Christian captive."
"I understand, sir, and will do my best in the matter. If I am captured I trust that an opportunity of escape will soon present itself, for I should, if taken, conceal from my captors the fact that I understand their language, and should thus, if I could evade my guard, have every chance of escaping, as in a native dress I could meet and converse with those hunting for me, without their having a suspicion of my being the white slave for whom they were in search."
"Once at Acre you will be safe. But do not land unless it is absolutely necessary, for you might fall a victim to the fanaticism of its inhabitants, and no knight has ever set foot on shore there since the ill fated day when the Moslems wrested it from us, bathed the ruined walls with the best blood of our Order and the Templars', and destroyed the last hope of our ever recovering the Holy Sepulchre."
The next morning at daybreak Gervaise and Suleiman Ali went on board the Egyptian trader, and sailed for Acre. The current of opinion had changed at the auberge when the knights came to think over the mission on which Gervaise was about to start, and the slight feeling of jealousy with which the younger knights had received the news was entirely dissipated. While it did not seem to them that there was any chance of his distinguishing himself, they perceived, as they thought it over, the considerable danger there was of capture by pirates, and Ralph and some of his companions came down to the mole to see him off, with feelings in which envy bore no part whatever.
"I see now, Gervaise, that it is truly no holiday excursion on which you are starting. I should envy you greatly were you going in command of an armed galley, prepared to beat off any craft that might try to overhaul you; but, going alone as you are, it is a very different thing. Should pirates meet you, you could offer no resistance, and your position would be a perilous one indeed. However, I think you are born to good luck, and am confident that your patron saint will look after you, and therefore expect to see you back here in a fortnight's time at the outside."
"I hope so with all my heart, Ralph. It will be no fault of mine if I tarry."
"Will you keep the open sea, or skirt the land, Tresham?" one of the others asked.
"I shall keep the open sea. The grand master left me to choose my course; but I think there is more danger by the coast -- where pirates may be hiding in unfrequented bays, in readiness to pounce upon a passing craft -- than in the open sea, where we should have at least the advantage that we could not be taken by surprise, and might make a race of it. But the sun will be up in a few minutes, and my orders were to set out at sunrise, so I must say goodbye at once."
As soon as the vessel was under way, Gervaise took a seat on the poop by the side of Suleiman Ali, and related to him the conversation he had had with the grand master.
"The risk that you will run has not escaped me," the Turk said, "and indeed, I now regret that you were chosen as my escort. I almost wish that my son had not purchased my freedom at the present time, since it involves the risk of you losing yours. There is no doubt that the sea swarms with pirates; the sultan is too busy with his own struggles for Empire to bestow any attention upon so small a matter. The pashas and the officers of the ports have not the power, even had they the will, to put down piracy in their districts, and indeed are, as often as not, participators in the spoils. Your Order, which, years back, scoured the seas so hotly that piracy well nigh ceased, have now for forty years been obliged to turn their attention chiefly to their own defence. They possess a comparatively small fleet of galleys, and their wealth is expended on their fortress.
"What with Egypt and the sultan their hands are too full for them to act as the police of the sea, and the consequence is that from every port, bay, and inlet, pirate craft set out -- some mere rowboats, some, like those under the command of Hassan Ali, veritable fleets. Thus the humblest coasters and the largest merchant craft go alike in fear of them, and I would that the sultan and Egypt and your Order would for two or three years put aside their differences, and confine their efforts to sweeping the seas of these pests, to storming their strongholds, and to inflicting such punishment upon them as that, for a very long time to come, peaceful merchants might carry on their trade without fear.
"I heard you tell the captain that he was to steer straight for Acre, and I think you are right in avoiding the coast, where the most harmless looking fishing boat may carry a crowd of pirates hidden in her hold. At the same time, if you will take my advice you will head much more to the south, so as to be out of the regular track of ships making from Constantinople or the islands to Acre. You may meet pirates anywhere, but they are assuredly thicker along the more frequented routes. The safest plan of all would probably be to bear south, and strike the Egyptian coast well to the east of the mouth of the Nile. Thence, till you get to Palestine, the country is utterly barren and uninhabited, while, running up the coast to Palestine, there are, save at Jaffa, no ports to speak of until you arrive at Acre; and besides, the inhabitants there, even if pirates, would not venture to disregard the pasha's safe conduct. I do not by any means say that such a course would be absolutely safe. You may meet with vessels on your way south, and doubtless some of them cruise off the barren coast I speak of, to intercept traders to and from Egypt and Acre, and other Syrian ports; for the trade carried on is considerable, and, although of the same religion, the Turks are disposed to view the Egyptians as enemies rather than as friends, and would have even less hesitation in plundering them than in robbing their own countrymen."
"I think that your suggestion is a good one, and will follow it, at any rate. The course is a good deal longer, but that is comparatively of little moment. The great thing is to carry you safely to Acre."
"And to get back with equal safety," Suleiman said, with a smile.
"That is quite as important in my eyes; in fact, of the two, I would far rather that we were captured on our voyage thither, for in that case I might be able to arrange for the ransom of both of us."
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