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- A Knight of the White Cross - 10/72 -


joined the others. There was but one half hour remaining before they broke off to go to dinner, which was at half past ten, but the time sufficed to show the young pages that this English lad was the equal of all -- except two or three of the oldest -- both in strength and in knowledge of arms. He could climb the rope with any of them, could vault on to the wooden horse with a heavy cuirass and backpiece on him, and held his own in a bout with swords against Conrad von Berghoff, who was considered the best swordplayer among them. As soon as the exercises were over all proceeded to the bath, and then to dinner. The meal was a simple one, but Gervaise enjoyed it thoroughly, for the table was loaded with an abundance of fruits of kinds altogether novel to him, and which he found delicious.

The official in charge of them sat at the head of the table, and the meal was eaten in silence. After it was over and they had retired to their own rooms discipline was at an end, and they were free to amuse themselves as they liked. There were many questions to be asked and answered, but his display of strength and skill in the courtyard saved Gervaise from a good deal of the teasing to which a newcomer among a party of boys is always exposed.

He, on his part, learnt that the duties of the pages were very light. Two only were on duty each day, being in constant attendance on the grand master, and accompanying him wherever he went. When he dined in public four of them waited on him at table, and one of them performed the duties of taster. If he returned to the palace after dark, six others lined the staircase with torches. On occasions of state ceremony, and at the numerous religious festivals, all were in attendance. By this time Gervaise's trunks had been brought over from the English auberge, where they had been conveyed from the ship, and his garments were taken out and inspected by his comrades, who all admitted that they were, in point of beauty of colour and material, and in fashion, equal to their own.

"You will have to get one more suit, Gervaise," one of the lads said. "At one or two of the grand ceremonies every year we are all dressed alike; that is the rule. On other occasions we wear what we choose, so that our garments are handsome, and I think it looks a good deal better than when we are dressed alike; though no doubt in religious processions that is more appropriate. De Ribaumont, our governor, will give orders for the supply of your state costume. He is a good fellow. Of course, he has to be rather strict with us; but so long as there is nothing done that he considers discreditable to our position, he lets us do pretty nearly as we like.

"We have four hours a day at our military exercises, and two hours with the sub-chaplain, who teaches us our books and religious duties. The rest of our time we can use as we like, except that every day eight of us ride for two hours and practise with the lance; for although it is at sea we fight the Moslems, we are expected to become finished knights in all matters. These eight horses are kept for our service, and such as choose may at other times ride them. On Saturdays we are free from all our exercises; then some of us generally go on horseback for long excursions on the island, while others take boats and go out on the sea; one afternoon in the week we all make a trip in a galley, to learn our duties on board."

CHAPTER IV A PROFESSED KNIGHT

Gervaise was soon quite at home in the palace of the grand master, and his companions were, like other boys, of varying characters; but as all were of noble families, were strongly impressed with the importance of the Order and the honour of their own position, and were constantly in contact with stately knights and grave officials, their manners conformed to those of their elders; and even among themselves there was no rough fun, or loud disputes, but a certain courtesy of manner that was in accordance with their surroundings. This came naturally to Gervaise, brought up as he had been by his father and mother, and having at frequent intervals stayed with them for months at the various royal castles in which Margaret of Anjou and her son had been assigned apartments during their exile. Even at St. John's house the novices with whom he lived were all a good deal older than himself, and the discipline of the house was much more strict than that at Rhodes.

He enjoyed both his exercises with the knights and the time spent with the sub-chaplain, no small proportion of the hours of study being occupied in listening to stories of chivalry; it being considered one of the most important parts of a knight's education that he should have a thorough acquaintance, not only with the laws of chivalry, but with the brave deeds both of former and of living knights, with the relations of the noble houses of Europe to each other, especially of the many great families whose members were connected with the Order of St. John.

These matters formed, indeed, the main subject of their studies. All were taught to read and write, but this was considered sufficient in the way of actual instruction. The rules of the Order had to be committed to memory. Beyond this their reading consisted largely of the lives of saints, especially of those who distinguished themselves by their charity or their devotion to their vows of poverty, to both of which the members of the Order were pledged. Gervaise, however, could see around him no signs whatever of poverty on their part. It was true that they all lived and fed together in the auberges of their respective langues, and that they possessed no houses or establishments of their own; but the magnificence of their armour and attire, and the lavish expenditure of some upon their pleasures, contrasted strangely with the poverty to which they had vowed themselves. It was true that in many cases the means to support the expenditure was derived from the shares the knights received of the plunder acquired in their captures of Moslem ships; but undoubtedly many must have possessed large private means; the bailiffs, for example, although only required by the rules to place before the knights at their auberges the rations they received for them, with such luxuries as could be purchased by their yearly allowance for that purpose, expended annually very large sums in addition, and supplied their tables with every dainty, in order to gain popularity and goodwill among the members of the langue.

Not only did the post of bailiff confer upon its owner a very high position at Rhodes, but it was a stepping stone to the most lucrative offices in their langues. The bailiffs at Rhodes had the right of claiming any of the grand priories or bailiwicks at home that might fall vacant, and the grand master was frequently chosen from among their number, as, by being present at Rhodes, they had many advantages in the way of making themselves popular among the electors. The emoluments of some of these provincial bailiwicks were large; and as the bailiffs at Rhodes were generally elected by seniority -- although younger knights who had greatly distinguished themselves were sometimes chosen -- they were usually glad to resign the heavy work and responsibility of their position at Rhodes, and to retire to the far easier position of a provincial bailiff. In the majority of cases, doubtless, the fortunes of the high officials were obtained from the money amassed when in possession of rich commanderies at home; but even this was assuredly incompatible with their vows of poverty.

His hours of leisure Gervaise spent either on the water or in the saddle, and his love of exercise of all sorts excited the wonder and even the amusement of his companions, who for the most part preferred spending the time at their disposal in sleep, in idly looking out from a shaded room at what was going on outside, or in visits to friends and relations at the auberges of the langues to which they belonged. The natural consequence was, that by the time he reached the end of his three years' pageship, Gervaise was indisputably superior in strength, activity, and skill in military exercises, to any of his companions. The majority of these, after completing their time, returned to the headquarters of their langue at home, to pass their time there, until of an age to be eligible for the charge of a commandery obtained for them by family influence, which had no small share in the granting of these appointments. As it was known, however, that Gervaise intended to remain permanently in the Island, his progress was watched with particular attention by his instructors; and, seeing his own earnestness in the matter, they took special pains with his training. The bailiff of Auvergne continued to take much interest in him, inquiring often from the officers in charge of the pages, and from his instructors, of his conduct and progress, and occasionally sending for him to his auberge and talking with him as to his life and progress. Just before his pageship terminated, he said to him, "I was rather puzzled at first, Gervaise, as to what we should do with you when your term of office concluded, but I am so no longer, for, although you are some two years younger than the professed knights who come out here, you are better fitted than the majority to take your place in the naval expeditions, and to fight the Moslem pirates. I will see that you have your share of these adventures. All young knights are, as you know, obliged to make three voyages, but beyond that many of them do not care to share in the rough life at sea, and prefer the bustle, and, I grieve to say, the gaiety and pleasures of this city. For one, then, really eager to distinguish himself, the opportunities are frequent. When danger threatens, or heavy engagements are expected, every knight is desirous of bearing his part in the fray; but this is not the case when the work to be done consists of scouring the sea for weeks, without perchance coming across a single pirate. Of course, as soon as your pageship is over you will go to the English auberge, but I shall still keep my eye upon you, and shall do my best to help you to achieve distinction; and I shall take upon myself the providing of your arms and armour as a knight."

Accordingly, on the day on which his duties as a page terminated, two servitors of the auberge of Auvergne brought across to the palace a suit of fine armour and a sword, a battleaxe, a lance, and a dagger; also three complete suits of clothes, two of them for ordinary wear, and one for state occasions. The next day Gervaise took the oaths of the Order in the Church of St. John. The aged master himself received the vows, and formally inducted him as a professed knight of the Order, Peter D'Aubusson and the bailiff of the English langue acting as his sponsors, vouching that he was of noble blood and in all ways fitted to become a knight of Justice, this being the official title of the professed knights of the Order. Ten newly arrived novices were inducted at the same time, and the ceremony was a stately one, attended by a number of the knights from each langue, all in full armour.

The ceremony over, Gervaise bore the title of Sir Gervaise Tresham; but this was an honorary rather than a real title, as the Order did not profess to bestow the honour of knighthood, and it was usual for its members to receive the accolade at the hands of secular knights. At the conclusion of the ceremony, he returned with the bailiff of the English langue to the auberge, and took up his quarters there. By his frequent visits he was well known to all the members, and in a day or two felt as much at home as he had done in the pages' room in the palace. A week was given to him before


A Knight of the White Cross - 10/72

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