CHAPTER XIII THE FIRST PRIZES
After leaving the slaves, Gervaise joined his companions on the poop. They were engaged in an animated discussion as to whether it was advisable to grant indulgences to slaves. The majority approved of the steps Gervaise had taken, but some asserted that these concessions would only lead them to look for more, and would create discontent among the crews of other galleys not so favoured.
“Well, comrades,” said Gervaise, “I think that so far I am better qualified than any of you to give an opinion; but it may be that it will fall to the lot of some of you to be a slave in Turkish hands. In that case, I can affirm with certainty, that you will keenly appreciate any alleviation, however small, of your lot. You must remember that the one feeling of the slave is dull despair. Death is the only relief he has to look forward to. Do you think that a man so feeling can do his best, either at an oar or at any other kind of work? I am sure it would not be so in my case. But if you brighten his life a little, and show him that he is not regarded as merely a brute beast, and that you take some interest in him, he will work in a different spirit. Even viewed from a merely monetary point of view it must pay well to render him as content as possible with his lot. You know how great is the mortality among the slaves — how they pine away and die from no material malady that can be detected, but simply from hopelessness and weariness of life, aided, undoubtedly, in the case of the galley slaves, by sleeping in the damp night air after an exposure all day to the full heat of the sun. This brings an answer to your second objection. Undoubtedly it might cause discontent among the slaves of other galleys when they hear that others are treated better than themselves. But I hope that if, on our return, we bring back all our slaves in good condition and health, the contrast between their appearance and that of the slaves in most other galleys will be so marked that the admiral may consider it would be well to order awnings to be fixed to all the vessels of the Order, and even to grant to all slaves, when away on voyages, the little indulgences I have given them here. The expense would be very trifling, and it would certainly add a great deal to the average life of a slave, and would render him capable of better work. There is another advantage. If the Turks learn that their countrymen in our hands are treated with a certain amount of kindness and consideration, it might lead them to act similarly to those of our Order who may be unfortunate enough to fall into their hands.”