CHAPTER XXII THE STRUGGLE AT THE BREACH
Two hours later Caretto and Gervaise were roused by the arrival of a hundred knights in place of the previous garrison; these bore the news that the pasha had sent in a flag of truce to ask for an armistice until sundown, to enable him to carry off for burial the bodies of those who had fallen in the attack. The request had been willingly granted; but D’Aubusson had at the same time thought it well to send down a strong reinforcement to the garrison to prevent any attempt at treachery on the part of the Turks.
“I have seldom heard pleasanter news,” Caretto said; “for just as I fell asleep I was wondering how we were to rid ourselves of the corpses of the infidels. By tomorrow the place would have become unbearable; and though, living, the Turks could not turn us out of the tower, they would when dead speedily have rid the place of us.”
In half an hour a number of Moslem vessels were seen approaching. Caretto did not wish the Turks to imagine that he doubted their good faith, and while directing the main body of knights to remain in concealment near the breach, he placed two on sentry duty on the crest of the ruins, and, with four other knights and Gervaise, went down in complete armour to salute the officer in command of the burying party, as he landed from the boats. The ships anchored a short distance out, and a number of boats rowed from them to the shore. As the Turkish officer landed, Caretto saluted him, and said in Arabic,
“I give you courteous greeting, Sir. When the cannon cease to sound and swords are sheathed, there is no longer animosity between brave men; and no braver than those whose bodies lie stretched there, breathed the air of heaven. If, sir, I and the knights with me do not uncover our heads, it is from no want of respect for the dead, but solely because we dare not stand bareheaded under the fierce rays of the sun.”
The Turk answered with equal courtesy, complimenting the knights on their defence.
“Had I not seen it with my own eyes,” he said, “I should have deemed it altogether impossible that so small a number of men could thus for hours have withstood the attacks of some of the best of the sultan’s troops. Tales have come down to us from our fathers of the marvellous prowess of the knights of your Order, and how at Smyrna, at Acre, and elsewhere, they performed such feats of valour that their name is still used by Turkish mothers as a bugbear to frighten their children. But the stories have always seemed to me incredible; now I perceive they were true, and that the present members of the Order in no way fall short of the valour of their predecessors.”
The knights remained with the Turkish commander and some of his officers while the work of collecting and carrying away the dead was performed, the conversation on their side being supported by Caretto and Gervaise. No less than seven hundred bodies were carried down to the boats, besides a great many wounded by the artillery fire. None were, however, found breathing among the great pile of dead at the upper part of the breach, for the axes and double handed swords of the knights had, in most of the cases, cleft through turban and skull.