The spar and sail acted not only as a floating anchor, but as a breakwater, and the white crested waves, which came on as if they would break upon the boat, seemed robbed of half their violence by the obstruction to their course, and passed under the felucca without breaking. For forty-eight hours the gale continued; at the end of that time it ceased almost as suddenly as it had begun. The sun shone brightly out, the clouds cleared entirely away. It was some hours before the sea went down sufficiently for Gervaise to attempt to get the spar on deck again. It was a heavy task, taxing his strength to the utmost, but after a deal of labour it was got on board, and then raised to its position at the masthead; the sail was shaken out, and the felucca again put on her course.
One morning towards the end of May, 1480, Sir John Boswell was standing with some other knights on St. Stephen’s Hill, near the city, having hurried up as soon as a column of smoke from a bonfire lighted by the lookout there, gave the news that the Turkish fleet was at last in sight. A similar warning had been given a month previously, but the fleet had sailed past the island, being bound for Phineka, which was the rendezvous where Mahomet’s great armament was to assemble. There could be but little doubt that the long expected storm was this time about to burst. The fleet now seen approaching numbered a hundred and sixty large ships, besides a great number of small craft, conveying a force variously estimated at from seventy to a hundred thousand men.
“’Tis a mighty fleet,” Sir John said; “and the worst of it is that we know there are more to follow; still, I doubt not we shall send them back defeated. Our defences are all complete; our recent peace with Egypt has enabled us to fill up our magazines with provisions of all kinds; the inhabitants of the Island have had ample warning to move into the town, carrying with them everything of value; so the Turks will obtain but little plunder, and will be able to gather no means of subsistence on the island, as every animal has been driven within the walls, and even the unripe corn has been reaped and brought in. However long the siege lasts, we need be in no fear of being reduced to sore straits for food. Look over there. There is a small craft under sail, and it comes not from the direction of Phineka. See! one of the Turkish galleys has separated from the rest and is making off in that direction. It may be that the little craft contains one or two of our comrades who are late in coming to join us.”
“It may well be so, Sir John, for they have been straggling in by twos and threes for the last month.”
“I will get the grand master’s leave to put out in one of the galleys,” Sir John said, “for, by the way they are bearing, the Turks will cut the little craft off before she can gain the port.”