“Take my advice: always look cheerful if you can; always put your hand on the oar when the order is given, and row as if you were glad to be at work again; and always make a show, as if you were working your hardest. Never complain when you are struck unjustly, and always speak respectfully to the overseer. In that way you will find your life much easier than you would think. You will be chosen for small boat service; and that is a great thing, as we are not chained in the small boats. Some men are foolish and obstinate, but, so far from doing any good, this only brings trouble on themselves; they come in for punishment daily, they are closely watched, and their lives made hells for them. Even as a help to escape it pays best to be cheerful and alert. We all think of escape, you know, though it is seldom indeed that a chance ever comes to any of us. It is the one thing except death to look forward to, and there is not a man among us who does not think of it scores of times a day; but, small as the chance is, it is greatest for those who behave best. For instance, it is they only who man small boats; and when a small boat rows ashore, it is always possible that the guard may be careless — that he will keep the boat at the landing place, instead of pushing off at once into deep water, as he ought to do — and that in this way a chance will, sooner or later, come for springing ashore and making a dash for liberty.”
The conversation between Gervaise and his fellow slave was interrupted by the arrival at the side of the quay of a party of knights. Silence instantly fell upon the slaves; all straightened themselves up to the oars, and prepared for a start. Among the knights who took their places on the poop Gervaise saw with amusement his friend Ralph. He had no fear of a recognition, for the darkly stained skin and the black hair had so completely altered him that when he had looked at himself in a mirror, after the application of the dye, he was surprised to find that he would not have known it to be his own face. Ralph was in command of the party, which consisted of young knights who had but recently arrived at Rhodes; and as it was the first time he had been appointed as instructor, Gervaise saw that he was greatly pleased at what he rightly regarded as promotion.
The galley at once pushed off from the wharf, and rowed out of the port. The work was hard; but as the slaves were not pressed to any extraordinary exertions, Gervaise did not find it excessive. He congratulated himself, however, that the stain was, as he had been assured, indelible, save by time, for after a few minutes’ exercise he was bathed in perspiration. As the galley had been taken out only that instruction might be given to the young knights, the work was frequently broken.