Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

cors from being sent across to the fort. The wounded were laid down in the chapel and the vaults, and well it was for them that each knight of the Order could be surgeon and nurse. One good swimmer crossed under cover of darkness with their last messages, and La Valette prepared five armed boats for their relief; but the enemy had fifteen already in the bay, and communication was entirely cut off. It was the night before the 23d of June when these brave men knew their time was come.

All night they prayed, and prepared themselves to die by giving one another the last rites of the Church, and at daylight each repaired to his post, those who could not walk being carried in chairs, and sat ghastly figures, sword in hand, on the brink of the breach, ready for their last fight.

By the middle of the day every Christian knight in St. Elmo had died upon his post, and the little heap of ruins was in the hands of the enemy. Dragut was dying of his wound, but just lived to hear that the place was won, when iť had cost the Sultan 8,000 men! Well might Mustafa say,

6 If the son has cost us so much, what will the father do ?”

It would be too long to tell the glorious story of the three months' further siege of the Borgo. The patience and the resolution of the knights was unshaken, though daily there were tremendous battles, and week after week passed by without the tardy relief from Spain. It is believed that Philip II. thought that the Turks would exhaust themselves against the Order, and forbade his Viceroy to hazard his fleet; but at last he was shamed into permitting the armament to be fitted out. Two hundred knights of St. John were waiting at Messina, in despair at being unable to reach their brethren in their deadly strait, and constantly haunting the Viceroy's palace, till he grew impatient, and declared they did not treat him respectfully enough, nor call him " Excellency."

[ocr errors]

Señor,” said one of them, “if you will only bring us in time to save the Order, I will call you anything you please, excellency, highness, or majesty itself.”

At last, on the ist of September, the feet really set sail, but it hovered cautiously about on the farther side of the island, and only landed 6,000 men and then returned to Sicily. However, the tidings of its approach had spread such a panic among the Turkish soldiers, who were worn out and exhausted by their exertions, that they hastily raised the siege, abandoned their heavy artillery, and, removing their garrison from Fort St. Elmo, re-embarked in haste and confusion. No sooner, however, was the Pasha in his ship than he became ashamed of his precipitation, more especially when he learned that the relief that had put 16,000 men to flight consisted only of 6,000, and he resolved to land and give battle ; but his troops were angry and unwilling, and were actually driven out of their ships by blows.

In the mean time, the Grand Master had again placed a garrison in St. Elmo, which the Turks had repaired and restored, and once more the cross of St. John waved on the end of its tongue of land to greet the Spanish allies. A battle was fought with the newly-arrived troops, in which the Turks were defeated ; they again took to their ships, and the Viceroy of Sicily, from Syracuse, heheld their fleet in full sail for the East.

Meantime, the gates of the Borgo were thrown open to receive the brethren and friends who had been so long held back from coming to the relief of the home of the Order. Four months' siege, by the heaviest artillery in Europe, had shattered the walls and destroyed the streets, till, to the eyes of the new comers, the town looked like a place taken by assault, and sacked by the enemy; and of the whole garrison, knights, soldiers, and sailors, all together, only six hundred were left able to bear arms, and they for the most part covered with wounds. The Grand Master and his surviving, knights could hardly be recognized, so pale and altered were they by wounds and excessive fatigue ; their hair, beards, dress, and armor showing that for four full months they had hardly undressed, or lain down unarmed. The new comers could not retain their tears, but all together proceeded to the church to return thanks for the conclusion of their perils and afflictions. Rejoicings extended all over Europe, above all in Italy, Spain, and southern France, where the Order of St. John was the sole protection against the descents of the Barbary corsairs. The Pope sent La Valette a cardinal's hat, but he would not accept it, as unsuited to his office ; Philip II. presented him with a jewelled sword and dagger. Some thousand unadorned swords a few months sooner would have been a better testimony to his constancy, and that of the brave men whose lives Spain had wasted by her cruel delays.

The Borgo was thenceforth called Cità Vittoriosa ; but La Valette decided on building the chief town of the isle on the peninsula of Fort St. Elmo, and in this work he spent his latter days, till he was killed by a sun-stroke, while superintending the new works of the city which is deservedly known by his name, as Valetta.

The Order of St. John lost much of its character, and was finally swept from Malta in the general confusion of the Revolutionary wars.

The British crosses now float in the harbor of Malta ; but the steep white rocks must ever bear the memory of the self-devoted endurance of the beleaguered knights, and, foremost of all, of those who perished in St. Elmo, in order that the signal banner might to the very last summon the tardy Viceroy to their aid.

THE VOLUNTARY CONVICT.

1622.

IN
N the early summer of the year 1605, a coasting

vessel was sailing along the beautiful Gulf of Lyons, the wind blowing gently in the sails, the blue Mediterranean lying glittering to the south, and the curved line of the French shore rising in purple and green tints, dotted with white towns and villages. Suddenly three light, white-sailed ships appeared in the offing, and the captain's practised eye detected that the wings that bore them were those of a bird of prey. He knew them for African brigantines, and though he made all sail, it was impossible to run into a French port, as on, on they came, not entirely depending on the wind, but, like steamers, impelled by unseen powers within them. Alas! that power was not the force of innocent steam, but the arms of Christian rowers chained to the oar. Sure as the pounce of a hawk upon a partridge was the swoop of the corsairs upon the French vessel. A signal to surrender followed, but the captain boldly refused, and armed his crew, bidding them stand to their guns. But the fight was too unequal, the brave little ship was disabled, the pirates boarded her, and, after a sharp fight on deck, three of the crew lay dead, all the rest were wounded, and the vessel was the prize of the pirates. The captain was at once killed, in revenge for his resistance, and all the rest of the crew and passengers were put in chains.

Among these passengers was a young priest named Vincent de Paul, the son of a farmer in Languedoc, who had used his utmost endeavors to educate his son for the ministry, even selling the oxen from the plough to provide for the college expenses. A small legacy had just fallen to the young man, from a relation who had died at Marseilles; he had been thither to receive it, and had been persuaded by a friend to return home by sea. And this was the result of the pleasant voyage. The legacy was the prey of the pirates, and Vincent, severely wounded by an arrow, and heavily chained, lay half stifled in a corner of the hold of the ship, a captive probably for life to the enemies of the faith. It was true that France had scandalized Europe by making peace with the Dey of Tunis, but this was a trifle to the corsairs; and when, after seven days' farther cruising, they put into the harbor of Tunis, they drew up an account of their capture, calling it a Spanish vessel, to prevent the French Consul from claiming the prisoners.

The captives had the coarse blue and white garments of slaves given them, and were walked five or six times through the narrow streets and bazaars of Tunis, by way of exhibition. They were then brought back to their ship, and purchasers came thither to bargain for them. They were examined at their meals, to see if they had good appetites ; their sides were felt like those of oxen; their teeth looked at like those of horses; their wounds were searched, and they were made to run and walk to show the play of their limbs. All this Vincent endured with patient submission, constantly supported by the thought of Him who took upon Him the form of a servant for our sakes; and he did his best, ill as he was, to give his companions the same confidence.

« ZurückWeiter »