Project Canterbury

Theodora Phranza; or, the Fall of Constantinople

By John Mason Neale

New York: E.P. Dutton, 1913.
First published London: J. Masters, 1857.

Chapter III.

"Sir, my love to you has proclaim you one
Whose word was still led by a noble thought,
And that thought followed by as fair a deed:
Deceive not that opinion."


Much at the same time that Manuel Chrysolaras was turning his horse's head towards Constantinople, Sir Edward de Rushton, in pursuance of his engagement, was entering the hall of Phranza's series of apartments: Richard Burstow followed, but he alone.

The metoecia of the Great Protovestiare occupied the larger part of one side in the second quadrangle of the palace. Thus, in front, it overlooked a court, laid down with the finest turf, in the middle of which three large plane trees threw up their heads far above the ranges of building; and now, stripped and sere, made ghostly music to the southern breeze. The rest of the quadrangle was formed by the lodgings of the principal Domestics,--all built of white marble, all wrought with the highest excellence of Byzantine art, all surpassed only by the great quadrangle, of which we shall presently have to speak. In the hall Sir Edward was met by five or six of the attendants of Phranza, and greeted by them with the deference due to his office, and to his known intimacy with their lord.

"The most noble Protovestiare has not yet returned from the Council," said the Camerarius, or, as we should now call him, the groom of the chambers; "but he left word that if your Lordship should come before his return, I should pray you to wait. The Augustus was to return by two hours past noon, and it is now half an hour more than that."

"I will wait," said Sir Edward. And he was accordingly ushered with no small ceremony into a smaller apartment, where Phranza usually received confidential visitors. It was richly hung with silk; the ceiling and furniture were of satin-wood. A curiously wrought brazier stood in the middle, where charcoal of cedar, with perfumes, were burnt in the now chilly mornings and evenings. There were one or two pictures of Byzantine saints, in their conventional--but somewhat barbaric--figures; and before the Icon of our Lady the lamp was burning, which no good orthodox Greek would pass without making the sign of the Cross, and doing reverence. Through a kind of colonnade, this room opened on a garden, deeply shaded with trees, and, at that season of the year, somewhat dark and damp. The sun was shining brightly on the tops of the cedars, that raised themselves up above the under foliage; but on the thick mossy lawn not a hue of his rays could find its way. All was as green, as quiet, as deserted, as if in an uninhabited region, rather than in the heart of a great city.

Sir Edward de Rushton paced up and down this room for some minutes with a hurried step, for his heart was ill at ease within itself. He thought of the many happy hours he had spent in that same mansion; he thought of the frankness and openness with which, in former times, before his embassy, Phranza had always welcomed him; how, to a degree which approximated more to the open-hearted trust of Franks, than to the more secluded--even then--habits of Oriental family arrangement, he had almost seemed to form one of the household; how he had watched Theodora Phranza, as she grew up from childhood to girlhood, and how fondly he had hoped to perform some chivalrous action for the empire or the Emperor, which might justify the Western stranger in asking the Oriental heiress to be his bride. Then came the absence of Phranza, and his own necessary exclusion from that palace; then the rumour, whispered at first, but gradually spoken without any secrecy, that the hand of Theodora was destined for Manuel Chrysolaras,--till, on the last evening, Phranza himself had put an end, as we have seen, to uncertainty, by declaring that such was his intention. Theodora herself Sir Edward de Rushton had not seen, except in Court, and in the Great Church, for more than two years; what were her feelings with respect to this intended marriage, he had no means of guessing. What his own earlier hopes might have been it was worse than bootless now to remember. The marriage would doubtless be solemnized at no distant period, and with it his own brightest visions would be at an end for ever. Yet there were not wanting thoughts of a less generous nature, that sometimes kindled a feverish joy in his mind. What, if he should make the hand of Theodora the price of his continued service with the Emperor? Constantinople could ill spare the services of one Frank, much less of one who, by the confession of all, was the pride of Western chivalry. The objections of Phranza must give way to the advantage of the Empire. Chrysolaras, brave and chivalrous as he was, had no pretensions like his own to oppose; Theodora might still be won. But then, again, her heart might be in the match; and what right had he to embitter the old age of one who had been so generous a friend as Phranza, and to dash the cup of happiness from the lips of Chrysolaras, just as he thought it secure? If, indeed, he could by any means learn the sentiments of Theodora, by them he would be entirely guided. To win her with her own consent would, he thought, justify any honourable means that he could employ; and, at all events, he would not throw away all chance of happiness, while the possibility of obtaining an interview with her still lay open to him.

He had just arrived at this conclusion, when a bustle in the great hall made him imagine that Phranza must have returned; and he was accordingly preparing to welcome him, when Manuel Chrysolaras, who had not spared the spur in his ride from Silivri, was ushered into the reception chamber.

"Good-morrow, noble Acolyth," said he, advancing frankly towards Sir Edward. "So the Protovestiare, they tell me, is not yet returned."

"They tell you truly, Lord Chrysolaras," replied the other, somewhat stiffly; "he has not, I suppose, been able to leave the Council at the Studium."

"I am sorry for that," said Manuel, "for I am here on business of some moment."

"He will hardly be long," returned Sir Edward; "for I am here by his own appointment on a matter of State. Yours, perchance, may be of the same nature?"

"By the Unmercenary ones, no!" cried Chrysolaras, laughing; "I can plead no such reason for being heard. Mine is of vast importance to me--and one other person--but to us only; so it can wait."

"By S. George, it can!" said De Rushton, rather bitterly; for he was somewhat nettled at Chrysolaras's coolness in asserting--as he understood him--that the proposal for Theodora's hand, which he believed him to have come for the purpose of making to her father, was of vast importance to Theodora herself.

"The Protovestiare does not seem to think too well of our affairs," observed Chrysolaras, noticing that Sir Edward appeared to possess less than his usual courtesy, and attributing it to the harassing cares of his office.

"At all events, they will be the better for his return," said the Great Acolyth; "I know no man whom the Empire can worse spare."

"And whom the Emperor more fully trusts. Will your errand with him take much time?"

"Nay," said the other, "I should imagine it will be easily despatched. It is but touching that same Varangian whom Phranza wishes to send to Hadrianople." '

"Perhaps, then, I had better defer my own errand till later," remarked Chrysolaras. "Yet I must ask you to wish me joy, for my secret need be one no longer."

"Your Lordship must first tell me wherefore," ret De Rushton, coldly.

"I am glad," replied Chrysolaras, smiling, "that my absence from Constantinople has not been more remarked."

"Is it possible," cried Sir Edward de Rushton, a new light beginning to break in upon him, "that------"

"That I have wooed and won a bride, Lord Acolyth? Even so. And though the world may perchance say that her rank equals not that of my house, Constantinople must own that it has rarely seen her equal, when I present her at Court."

"I congratulate you with all my heart," said his friend, warmly, extending his hand to him. "And may I ask her name?"

"Her name is Euphrasia Choniatis,--her father dwells at Silivri."

"What, the Exarch?" inquired Sir Edward. "I know him: he is a right honest and a brave man. I have had occasion to confer with him touching the fortification of that town. I congratulate you again, Chrysolaras. But common fame, you know, has long given you another bride."

"What--the fair Theodora? Some such talk there was between our fathers; but you, of all the world, Sir Edward de Rushton, should have given the least credence thereto."

"Why, my Lord?"

"Nay, then, I am not the only man that can keep a secret," returned Chrysolaras, laughing. "All success attend you, Lord Acolyth! no one deserves it more."

"I will not affect to conceal that, so far as my wishes are concerned, you have guessed aright," replied Sir Edward, "though how, I can hardly divine. But further than wishes, I have as yet essayed nothing."

"Well, rest contented," said Manuel. "I doubt not your success with Theodora; and, for her father, he must have seen too much of the hollowness of the pretensions of our courtiers, to mate his daughter among them. Our aristocracy is worn out, Sir Edward; just as I have heard gardeners affirm, that trees, in the course of years, lack virtue to propagate their race, and dwindle away for no manifest reason, till the stock is extinct."

"I own," said Sir Edward de Rushton, "that I have been fortunate beyond my deserts; also my family is as good as Phranza's. But my post depends on the favour of the Emperor; and, failing that, I have but my sword and my honour."

"Pray heaven your post outlasts not the city," said Chrysolaras. "And then, what is Phranza?"

"Remember, too," said his friend, "I am a Latin; and not even to win such a bride will I peril my soul. Remember the bigotry of hatred with which you regard us here."

"Nay, by S. Procopius," cried Manuel, "I think the bigotry is about equal on both sides. But who can say what this Union will do?--Hark! there are the Emperor's trumpets; he is returning from the Studium. Phranza is no doubt with him. Now may I pray you of your charity to let me have speech with him first? It is on my mind to let him know how matters stand with me, for he has been as a guardian to me; and I were loath to vex the old man, by letting him discover the truth from any one else."

"Willingly," returned De Rushton; "but where shall I bestow myself? And will he not think it strange that I kept not my appointment?"

"I will explain to him that you gave me precedence," replied Chrysolaras. "You might walk in the garden some little space: a quarter of an hour would be fully enough."

"I will go, then," said his friend. And stepping out into the colonnade, he passed on into one of the dark alleys of the garden. Manuel Chrysolaras remained, listening to the louder blast of the trumpets, as the royal cavalcade approached the palace. One loud burst of melody gave notice that the Emperor had dismounted at the great gate of the further quadrangle; and in a few minutes Phranza, with a splendid retinue, was seen crossing the court.

"The Panaghia guard you, noble Chrysolaras!" he said, as he entered the room. "I had not expected the pleasure of seeing you so soon; though, in good faith, I want some words with you. They told me that the Acolyth was here."

"So he was, noble Protovestiare; but I, too, was anxious to speak to your Lordship, and I persuaded him to let me have an interview first. If his business can wait, perhaps you will permit it so to be."

"It can wait," returned Phranza: "the Emperor will not see him for an hour. And now, Lord Chrysolaras, I would fain--before we speak of aught else--ease my mind, by coming to an understanding on one matter which has long pressed upon it. You know, partly by hearing, and partly, I should think, from remembrance, how great love I bore to your father, the blessed one."

"I do know it, my Lord Protovestiare. To you I have always looked as a second father; but if you would let me say------"

"Presently," said Phranza. "There was an understanding between us, when Theodora was born, that if------"

"But, my Lord------"

"Nay, nay, let me have my say out," interrupted the Protovestiare, who thought he saw only his young friend's eagerness to thank him for the gift that he was about to bestow on him. "There was, I say, an understanding between us, that if, when the due time should come, no other obstacle should have presented itself, and the Emperor's consent should be given, the hand of Theodora should be yours."

"My Lord------"

"Still a moment," said Phranza. "Since your youth, I have watched you closely and narrowly; for I would not trust my daughter to one whom I could feel no confidence in myself. Since my absence, others have done so for me; and all that I have seen, and that I have heard, has confirmed me in my resolution. To-day I have asked the Emperor's consent, and the Augustus signified his pleasure that so it should be. Now, then, you may speak, if you will."

"My Lord," replied Chrysolaras, "in the first place, I must thank your Splendour for such intentions to me. I know well that the hand of your daughter is a prize for which monarchs might contend,--for which you might have chosen many a Byzantine noble, who in wealth and fame, and even in rank, should have been my superior. But I would that you had let me speak before, to explain to you why it is that, feeling all your love to my father, and your kindness to myself, I yet may not become a candidate for that which would make me the envy of Constantinople."

"I hardly comprehend you, Lord Chrysolaras," replied Phranza, with an effort to be calm. "Do I understand that you decline my offer?"

"Hear first, my Lord, why it is necessary that I should do so, and then judge me. It is four months since I was betrothed."

"Betrothed, my Lord Chrysolaras! And to whom?"

"Your Splendour knows Nicetas Choniates, the Exarch of Silivri?"

"I know him."

"It is to his daughter."

"What would your father have said," cried Phranza, "could he have seen this day! The last heir of one of the noblest houses of Constantinople thus throwing himself away! thus stooping to a girl who will disgrace so ancient a family!"

"My Lord," said Chrysolaras, "somewhat I allow to prejudice, and much more to your feeling of kindness disappointed; but no man, in my hearing, shall thus speak of my affianced wife. If our house were ten times as ancient and as noble,--had we borne office under Constantine for the first time, instead of under the Bulgaricide, Euphrasia Choniatis would be an honour to it. When your Splendour shall be made acquainted with her, you too will think so."

"Never," said Phranza. "You have committed a grievous act of folly, and you will smart for it. The Panaghia forbid that I should counsel you to dishonourable conduct. If betrothed to her you are, married to her you must be. But that does not let that I may still feel sorrow: it is disgraceful to you so far to have forgotten the dignity of your race; it is disgraceful to her to have sought to match herself so far above her own."

"My Lord Phranza," replied Chrysolaras, rising, "these are words which I will take from no man. I know of no right, save that of friendship, that your Splendour hath to pass judgment on my actions; to condemn my bride neither friendship nor aught else can justify you. I bid you farewell, my Lord."

"Farewell, Lord Chrysolaras," said the other. "The Panaghia grant you never regret this day, as I do now.--Without, there! where is the Great Acolyth, fellow?"

"I think, my Lord, that he has walked forth into the garden."

"Let him be sought, then; and bid the Varangian, whom he left below, attend me here."

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