THE WISDOM OF THE GALLEYS
It was Nicholas Gay’s last night at home. At dawn his father’s best ship, the Sainte Spirite, would weigh anchor for the longest eastward voyage she had ever undertaken. His father’s brother, Gervase Gaillard of Bordeaux, was going out in charge of the venture. Gilbert Gay, the London merchant, who had altered his name though not his long-sighted French mind in his twenty years of England, thought this an excellent time for his eighteen-year-old son to see the world.
Since Nicholas could remember, he had known the wharves of the Thames and the changeful drama of London Pool. He had been twice to Normandy, but to a lad French by birth, that was hardly a foreign land. Now he was to see countries neither English nor French—some of them not even Christian. Half Spain and all the north coast of Africa were Moslem. Sicily and Sardinia had Saracen traditions. This would be his first sight of the great sea-road from Gibraltar to Byzantium.
During the past three years Gilbert Gay had been often absent, and the boy had taken responsibility of the sort that makes a man. With the keen aquiline French profile he had a skin almost as fair as a girl’s, and yellow-brown waving hair. The steady gray eyes and firm lips, however, had nothing girlish about them.
As luck had it these last hours were crowded with visitors. Robert Edrupt, the wool-merchant, and David Saumond, the mason, were taking passage in the Sainte Spirite. Guy Bouverel had a share in her cargo, and came for a word about that and to bid Nicholas good-by. Brother Ambrosius, a solemn-faced portly monk, had letters to send to Rome. Lady Adelicia Giffard came to ask that inquiry be made for her husband, who had gone on pilgrimage more than a year before, and had not been heard of for many months. The poor soul was as nearly distraught as a woman could be. She begged Gervase Gaillard to ask all the pilgrims and merchants he met whether in their travels they had seen or heard of Sir Stephen Giffard, and should any trace of him be found, to send a messenger to her without delay. She was wealthy, and promised liberal reward to any one who could help her in the search. It was her great fear that the knight had been taken prisoner by the Moslems.
“I think that you must have heard of it in that case,” said Gilbert Gay gently, “since these marauders ever demand ransom. I pray you remember, my lady, that there are a thousand chances whereby in these unsettled times a man may be delayed, or his letters fail to reach you. ’Tis not well to brood over vain rumors.”
“I know,” whimpered the poor lady, “but I cannot—I cannot bear that he should be a captive and suffering, and I with hoarded gold that I have no heart to look upon. ’Tis cruel.”
“Holy Church,” observed Brother Ambrosius, “hath always need of our hearts and of our gold, lady. Peace comes to the spirit that hath learned the sweet uses of submission. To dote on the things of the flesh is unpleasing to God.”