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- A Knight of the White Cross - 20/72 -
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
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