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- A Knight of the White Cross - 30/72 -
It seems that you are to go there as a servitor."
"What a cursed fortune," Gervaise muttered, in Turkish, "just when a road to freedom is open! I have a good mind to say I am ill, and cannot go till the morning."
"No, no!" one of the others exclaimed. "They would only drag you out, and when they saw that there was naught the matter with you, would suspect that there must be some reason why you did not want to go, when, as every one knows, the position of the servitors is in every way preferable to ours."
"Now then, why are you delaying?" a voice said sharply, and a warder entered with a lighted torch. "Get up, you lazy hound! It will be worse for you if I have to speak again."
"I am coming," Gervaise grumbled. "I was just asleep."
He rose, as if reluctantly, and went forward. The warder gave him an angry push, followed him out, and locked and barred the door after him.
"I suppose this is the right man?" Sir John Boswell said.
"This is Number 36, Sir Knight, the same who was taken over to your auberge the other day," and he held the light close to Gervaise's face.
"Yes, that is the man. Follow me," he added, in Turkish. The gate of the courtyard was unbarred, and they passed out unquestioned. Sir John strolled on ahead. Gervaise followed him a pace or two behind. Not until they had passed through the gate of the castle did Sir John turn.
"I have not spoken to you," he said, "as we may have been watched. Keep your news until we reach the auberge."
Upon entering it they went up at once to Sir John Kendall's apartments.
"Well, Sir Gervaise, the strip of cotton was brought to us safely. What is your news?"
"It is very serious, Sir John, and I have been in terrible anxiety since I dropped it out, lest it should not come to hand in time. As it is, you have till midnight to make your preparations." He then repeated the statement made by the galley slave.
"By my faith," Sir John Kendall exclaimed, "this is a pretty plot indeed! And had it succeeded, as it certainly would have done but for your vigilance, it would have been a heavy blow to us. The burning of all our galleys would have crippled us sorely, and the loss of over a thousand slaves would have been a serious one indeed, when we so urgently require them for completing our defences. Get rid of those clothes at once, Sir Gervaise, and don your own. We must go straight to the grand master. You will find your clothes and armour in the next room. I had them taken there as soon as your token was brought me."
In a few minutes Gervaise returned in his usual attire, and with his armour buckled on. The two knights were already in their coats of mail, and leaving the auberge they went to the grand master's palace. A servitor had already been sent to D'Aubusson to inform him that they were coming, and he advanced to meet them as they entered.
"Welcome, Sir Gervaise!" he said. "Whether your news be good or bad, whether you have found that it is a general rising of the slaves that is intended, or a plot by which a handful of slaves may seize a boat and escape, the gratitude of the Order is no less due to you for the hardships and humiliations you have undergone on its behalf."
"It concerns but one prison: that of St. Pelagius."
"The largest of them," the grand master put in.
"The whole of the slaves there are to be liberated at twelve o'clock tonight, are to seize the three water towers and to spike the guns, to burn all the shipping in the harbour, to make off with six galleys, and destroy the rest."
"By St. John!" D'Aubusson exclaimed, "this is indeed a serious matter. But tell me all about it. There must be treachery indeed at work for such a scheme to be carried out.
Gervaise now told him all the details he had learned.
"So two of the Order, though but of the inferior grade, are in the plot?" the grand master said; "and several of the overseers? One of the villains is, of course, the man you saw this Greek talking with. We must get hold of the other if we can. As to the slaves, now that we have warning, there is an end of the matter, though without such warning they would surely have succeeded, for the plans are well laid, and they would have been at sea before we could have gathered in any force at the port. If it were not that it would cost the lives of many of the warders and of the prison guards, I should say we ought to take post outside the gate, for we should then catch the traitors who are to accompany them. As it is, we must be beforehand with them. A hundred men will be more than ample for our purpose. Do you take fifty of your knights, Sir John Kendall, and I will draw fifty of those of Auvergne. At eleven o'clock we will meet at the gate leading down into the town, and will march to the private entrance of the governor's house. I will go in first with a few of you, tell him what we have discovered, and post guards to prevent any one from leaving his house. Then, having admitted the others, we will go quietly out and place a party at each door of the overseers' house, with orders to seize any who may come out. The rest, in small parties, will then go round the prison, and, entering each room, show the slaves that their plot has been discovered. This we must do to save the lives of the guards who may be faithful to their trust. As to the higher officials engaged in the affair, we must obtain their names from the overseers or slaves. It is not likely that the two traitors will quit their houses, as they will leave the matter in the hands of the overseers, who, as you say, intend to first open the doors, and then to accompany the slaves in their escape. Do not warn the knights until it is nearly time to start, Sir John. The less stir made the better, for no one can say whether they may not have suborned some of the servitors to send instant news of any unusual movements in any of the auberges."
At half past ten Sir John Kendall went round among the knights and bade fifty of them arm themselves quietly, and proceed, one by one, down to the gate, and there await orders. Up to this time Gervaise had remained in the bailiff's room, so as to avoid the questioning that would take place, and he went down to the gate with the bailiff and Sir John Boswell.
The knights assembled rapidly. None were aware of the reason for which they had been called out at such an hour, and there was a buzz of talk and conjecture until Sir John Kendall arrived. He was followed by four of the servants, who at once lighted the torches they carried, when he proceeded to go through the roll, and found that the muster was complete. Many of the knights had gazed in some surprise at Gervaise, whose dark complexion altogether concealed his identity, and it was supposed that he must be some newly arrived knight, though none had heard that any ship had entered the harbour that day.
Two or three minutes later fifty knights of the langue of Auvergne came down, headed by the grand master himself, whose appearance greatly heightened the surprise of the English knights. The torches were now extinguished, the gate thrown open, and the party descended into the town. Gervaise had purposely fallen in by the side of Harcourt.
"You are but newly arrived, Sir Knight?" the latter said, as they moved off.
"Not so very newly, Ralph," Gervaise replied.
"What! is it you, Gervaise?" Harcourt exclaimed, with a start of surprise. "Why, I did not know you, though I looked hard at you in the torch light. What have you done with yourself? Where have you been? Do you know what all this is about?"
"I cannot tell you now, Ralph. You must be content to know that I have been in prison, and working in the galleys."
"The saints defend us! Why, what on earth had you done to entail such punishment as that? It is an outrage. The grand master and the council have the right to expel a knight from the Order after due trial and investigation, but not to condemn him to such penalties as the galleys. It is an outrage upon the whole Order, and I would say so to the grand master himself."
"There was no outrage in it, Ralph. Wait until you hear the whole story. That I have not disgraced you, you may judge from the fact that I am in the armour and mantle of the Order, and that, as you saw, I came down with Sir John Kendall himself."
There were no people about in the streets, though the lights still burned on a few of the roofs. For a short distance the knights marched down towards the port, and then turned down a street to the right. After a few minutes' marching they halted under a high wall which all knew to be that of the prison of St. Pelagius. Six knights were posted at the main entrance, with orders that none should be allowed to leave the prison, and that any persons who came up to the gate were to be at once seized and made prisoners.
The rest marched on to a small door leading into the governor's house. Here they were halted, and told to wait till called in; six knights of England, and as many of Auvergne, being told off to accompany the grand master and Sir John Kendall. A note had been sent to the governor, informing him that the grand master intended to visit the prison at eleven o'clock, but that the matter was to be kept an absolute secret; and that the governor himself was to be down at the gate to admit him.
CHAPTER XI IN COMMAND OF A GALLEY
William Neave, the governor of the prison, looked astonished indeed when, upon his opening the door, the grand master and the bailiff of the English langue, with the twelve knights behind them, entered. He had been puzzled when, four days before, he had received an order from the grand master that Ahmet, a servitor in the auberge
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