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- A Knight of the White Cross - 1/72 -


MY DEAR LADS,

The order of the Knights of St. John, which for some centuries played a very important part in the great struggle between Christianity and Mahomedanism, was, at its origin, a semi-religious body, its members being, like other monks, bound by vows of obedience, chastity, and poverty, and pledged to minister to the wants of the pilgrims who flocked to the Holy Places, to receive them at their great Hospital -- or guest house -- at Jerusalem, dedicated to St. John the Baptist, and to defend them on their passage to and from the sea, against attack by Moslems. In a comparatively short time the constitution of the order was changed, and the Knights Hospitallers became, like the Templars, a great military Order pledged to defend the Holy Sepulchre, and to war everywhere against the Moslems. The Hospitallers bore a leading share in the struggle which terminated in the triumph of the Moslems, and the capture by them of Jerusalem. The Knights of St. John then established themselves at Acre, but after a valiant defence of that fortress, removed to Crete, and shortly afterwards to Rhodes. There they fortified the town, and withstood two terrible sieges by the Turks. At the end of the second they obtained honourable terms from Sultan Solyman, and retiring to Malta established themselves there in an even stronger fortress than that of Rhodes, and repulsed all the efforts of the Turks to dispossess them. The Order was the great bulwark of Christendom against the invasion of the Turks, and the tale of their long struggle is one of absorbing interest, and of the many eventful episodes none is more full of incident and excitement than the first siege of Rhodes, which I have chosen for the subject of my story.

Yours truly, G. A. Henty

CHAPTER I The King Maker

A stately lady was looking out of the window of an apartment in the Royal Chateau of Amboise, in the month of June, 1470. She was still handsome, though many years of anxiety, misfortune, and trouble, had left their traces on her face. In the room behind her, a knight was talking to a lady sitting at a tambour frame; a lad of seventeen was standing at another window stroking a hawk that sat on his wrist, while a boy of nine was seated at a table examining the pages of an illuminated missal.

"What will come of it, Eleanor?" the lady at the window said, turning suddenly and impatiently from it. "It seems past belief that I am to meet as a friend this haughty earl, who has for fifteen years been the bitterest enemy of my House. It appears almost impossible."

"'Tis strange indeed, my Queen; but so many strange things have befallen your Majesty that you should be the last to wonder at this. At any rate, as you said but yesterday, naught but good can come of it. He has done his worst against you, and one can scarce doubt that if he chooses he has power to do as much good for you, as in past times he has done you evil. 'Tis certain that his coming here shows he is in earnest, for his presence, -- which is sure sooner or later to come to the ears of the Usurper, -- will cause him to fall into the deepest disgrace."

"And yet it seemed," the queen said, "that by marrying his daughter to Clarence he had bound himself more firmly than ever to the side of York."

"Ay, madam," the knight said. "But Clarence himself is said to be alike unprincipled and ambitious, and it may well be that Warwick intended to set him up against Edward; had he not done so, such an alliance would not necessarily strengthen his position at Court."

"Methinks your supposition is the true one, Sir Thomas," the queen said. "Edward cares not sufficiently for his brother to bestow much favour upon the father of the prince's wife. Thus, he would gain but little by the marriage unless he were to place Clarence on the throne. Then he would again become the real ruler of England, as he was until Edward married Elizabeth Woodville, and the House of Rivers rose to the first place in the royal favour, and eclipsed the Star of Warwick. It is no wonder the proud Earl chafes under the ingratitude of the man who owes his throne to him, and that he is ready to dare everything so that he can but prove to him that he is not to be slighted with impunity. But why come to me, when he has Clarence as his puppet?"

"He may have convinced himself, madam, that Clarence is even less to be trusted than Edward, or he may perceive that but few of the Yorkists would follow him were he to declare against the Usurper, while assuredly your adherents would stand aloof altogether from such a struggle. Powerful as he is, Warwick could not alone withstand the united forces of all the nobles pledged to the support of the House of York. Thence, as I take it, does it happen that he has resolved to throw in his lot with Lancaster, if your Majesty will but forgive the evil he has done your House and accept him as your ally. No doubt he will have terms to make and conditions to lay down."

"He may make what conditions he chooses," Queen Margaret said passionately, "so that he does but aid me to take vengeance on that false traitor; to place my husband again on the throne; and to obtain for my son his rightful heritage."

As she spoke a trumpet sounded in the courtyard below.

"He has come," she exclaimed. "Once again, after years of misery and humiliation, I can hope."

"We had best retire, madam," Sir Thomas Tresham said. "He will speak more freely to your Majesty if there are no witnesses. Come, Gervaise, it is time that you practised your exercises." And Sir Thomas, with his wife and child, quitted the room, leaving Queen Margaret with her son to meet the man who had been the bitterest foe of her House, the author of her direst misfortunes.

For two hours the Earl of Warwick was closeted with the queen; then he took horse and rode away. As soon as he did so, a servant informed Sir Thomas and his wife that the queen desired their presence. Margaret was standing radiant when they entered.

"Congratulate me, my friends," she said. "The Star of Lancaster has risen again. Warwick has placed all his power and influence at our disposal. We have both forgiven all the past: I the countless injuries he has inflicted on my House, he the execution of his father and so many of his friends. We have both laid aside all our grievances, and we stand united by our hate for Edward. There is but one condition, and this I accepted gladly -- namely, that my son should marry his daughter Anne. This will be another bond between us; and by all reports Anne is a charming young lady. Edward has gladly agreed to the match; he could make no alliance, even with the proudest princess in Europe, which would so aid him, and so strengthen his throne."

"God grant that your hopes may be fulfilled, madam," the knight said earnestly, "and that peace may be given to our distracted country! The Usurper has rendered himself unpopular by his extravagance and by the exactions of his tax collectors, and I believe that England will gladly welcome the return of its lawful king to power. When does Warwick propose to begin?"

"He will at once get a fleet together. Louis, who has privately brought about this meeting, will of course throw no impediment in his way; but, on the other hand, the Duke of Burgundy will do all in his power to thwart the enterprise, and will, as soon as he learns of it, warn Edward. I feel new life in me, Eleanor. After fretting powerless for years, I seem to be a different woman now that there is a prospect of action. I am rejoiced at the thought that at last I shall be able to reward those who have ventured and suffered so much in the cause of Lancaster."

"My hope is, madam, that this enterprise will be the final one, -- that, once successful, our dear land will be no longer deluged with blood, and that never again shall I be forced to draw my sword against my countrymen."

"'Tis a good and pious wish, Sir Thomas, and heartily do I join in it. My married life has been one long round of trouble, and none more than I have cause to wish for peace."

"There is the more hope for it, madam, that these wars have greatly diminished the number of powerful barons. It is they who are the authors of this struggle; their rivalries and their ambitions are the ruin of England. Save for their retainers there would be no armies to place in the field; the mass of people stand aloof altogether, desiring only to live in peace and quiet. 'Tis the same here in France; 'tis the powerful vassals of the king that are ever causing trouble."

"'Tis so indeed, Sir Thomas. But without his feudal lords how could a king place an army in the field, when his dominions were threatened by a powerful neighbour?"

"Then it would be the people's business to fight, madam, and I doubt not that they would do so in defence of their hearths and homes. Besides, the neighbour would no longer have the power of invasion were he also without great vassals. These great barons stand between the king and his subjects; and a monarch would be a king indeed were he able to rule without their constant dictation, and undisturbed by their rivalry and ambitions."

"That would be a good time indeed, Sir Thomas," the queen said, with a smile; "but methinks there is but little chance of its coming about, for at present it seems to me that the vassals are better able to make or unmake kings, than kings are able to deprive the great vassals of power; and never since Norman William set foot in England were they more powerful than they are at present. What does my chance of recovering our throne rest upon? Not upon our right, but on the quarrel between Warwick and the House of Rivers. We are but puppets that the great lords play against each other. Did it depend upon my will, it should be as you say; I would crush them all at a blow. Then only should I feel really a queen. But that is but a dream that can never be carried out."

"Not in our time, madam. But perhaps it may come sooner than we expect; and this long war, which has destroyed many great families and weakened others, may greatly hasten its arrival. I presume until Warwick is ready to move naught will be done, your Majesty?"

"That is not settled yet. Warwick spoke somewhat of causing a rising in the north before he set sail, so that a portion at least of


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