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 V.

"O pardon me for bringing these ill news;
Since you did leave it for mine office, Sir.--
Is it even so? Then I defy you, stars!"

Romeo and Juliet.

Our tale returns to Chrysolaras. On leaving the Protovestiare, he had at first intended to ride again to Silivri. But there was an entertainment at the Palace that night, to which he was bidden;--and he required time to arrange his thoughts as to what should be his conduct as regarded one whom, up to that time, he had respected and well-nigh loved, as a father. That some apology was due to him and to his bride, he could not but feel; but he resolved to seize with avidity the slightest overtures from Phranza, and, in the meantime, neither to avoid nor to seek him.

That resolution he kept; and in the banquet that evening, no opportunity of interchanging a word between them occurred. De Rushton was also there, and to him Chrysolaras told the whole circumstances of the case.

"A hundred years ago," said Manuel, "the Emperor would have been called on peremptorily to interfere; but I think now the time is past for such conduct."

"Past, and for ever," replied the Knight. "However, I will do my best to reconcile you to Phranza. He should have made allowances;--and you also should have remembered his disappointment."

"Be it your part, then, to be peacemaker. I will wait upon you to-morrow to learn your success."

Full of that determination, Chrysolaras, on the conclusion of the entertainment, that is, at about two in the morning, mounted his richly-trapped horse and rode slowly back to his own house. It was a very dark night, and the torches flashed brightly along the street as his train of six servants preceded him home.

The porter was on the alert; the great gate of the court was thrown open, and he then said,--"My Lord, a messenger from Silivri is waiting."

"A messenger from Silivri!" cried Chrysolaras. "Where is he? What tidings has he? What, is it you, Demetrius?" he continued, as he recognized by the fitful torchlight an old servant of the Exarch's, with a countenance of the deepest dejection. "In our Lady's name, what is the matter?"

"Oh, my Lord!" was all that Demetrius could at first answer.

"What is it? What is it?" cried Manuel, impatiently springing from his horse. "By S. Demetrius, an you speak not, it will be the worse for you."

"The Turks, my Lord! They have carried them off! All, my Lord!"

"Carried whom off, idiot? What Turks? By the Panaghia, the man is drunk! Carried whom off, sirrah?"

"My master, my Lord, and my mistress, and my young lady."

It was now Manuel's turn to be agitated. "Impossible!" said he. "What Turks could have ventured so near to Constantinople?"

"That I know not, my Lord. But about three o'clock this afternoon we heard certain intelligence that a party of a hundred and fifty Turkish horse were scouring the country towards Tchorlu and Karamisli; and my master determined on putting his family into a boat, and sending them off to Constantinople, while he himself defended Silivri. I had ordered the boat--it was afloat, and the men in her; and my master was coming slowly down the hill, when, all on a sudden, the whole party began to run,--and in a moment afterwards, I saw the heads of the Turkish horse over the hill. We held the boat in, having all ready to push off in a moment; and I hoped that they might escape. But it was too late. They detached a party of horse, and hemmed them in; and I know nothing further."

"Did you see whether any harm was done to them?"

"No, my Lord, I could not venture to land: but I understand that Silivri shut its gates against them--and that they retreated without doing further mischief."

"They had done enough," said Chrysolaras bitterly. "Infamous dogs! But they shall be well succoured, or well avenged. Demetrius, come you with me--and you too, Nicephorus, and you, Methodius. I am going to the Palace. Follow me as quickly as you may."

Without waiting for attendance or torches, he galloped to the Palace. The rapidity of his approach put the sentinels on the alert: and when he actually reined up his horse, he was surrounded by the Varangian guard.

"I must see the Great Acolyth," said he. "Open the gate for me."

"You will give the word, then, my Lord," said the Corporal of the guard.

"The word! How should I know it? I have to see Sir Edward de Rushton on important business."

"I fear, my Lord, that cannot be allowed, unless you can give the word."

"It must and shall," cried Chrysolaras. "Open the gate at once."

"My Lord, we have strict orders to the contrary. The thing is impossible."

"Then," said Chrysolaras, restraining his impatience, "do me the favour to call the Great Acolyth, and tell him that I am desirous of seeing him on business of the greatest moment. You know me well enough."

The guards, after a whispered consultation, appeared to think that the request was reasonable: for the Corporal, merely saying, "Very well, my Lord," went into the Court. Chrysolaras, left to himself, could not but acknowledge that there was some reason for all this caution: the accession of Constantine to the Imperial Crown had been disputed: and for an Empire, contracted almost to the walls of Constantinople, there were not wanting rivals.

In about a quarter of an hour, however, steps were heard approaching from the interior of the Court, and, on the gate opening, the two friends were together.

"What in S. George's name means this?" cried De Rushton.

"Let us go to your rooms, and you shall hear all," said Chrysolaras. And Sir Edward, who only saw that his friend was greatly agitated, led the way, without uttering another syllable, till he and Chrysolaras were in the little room which we have mentioned before, and the guard who had attended them had withdrawn.

"How can I help you, Lord Chrysolaras?" he said briefly. "I see that something unforeseen has occurred."

The story was soon told; and Sir Edward sat for a few moments quite overwhelmed by the suddenness of the intelligence.

"This is terrible--this is very terrible,"--he said at length. "But it is waste of time to lament. The question is,--What is to be done?"

"What can be done?" said Chrysolaras, mournfully. "This much at least," replied his friend. "To seek to recover those whom you have lost by force would, I fear, be desperate; the Great Domestic would never consent to despatch a sufficiently large bodj of men from the city. And if he did, long before they could be in marching order, your fair bride would be at Hadrianople. But I will risk something to serve you. You know that the Varangian, of whom I spoke this morning, is to set forth for Hadrianople to-morrow at daybreak."

"I had not heard it," replied Chrysolaras. "But what out of this?"

"At my own peril," said De Rushton, "I will give him orders to track this party on his road: and, if you choose to go with him also, I will put ten of my likeliest men at your command. What good will thence arise, none can say: but it will give you a chance; and, if you be guided by me, you will take it."

"The Panaghia reward you, De Rushton!" cried Chrysolaras. "But when shall we start?"

"I will anticipate the time," replied the Knight: "as soon as the men can be got together;--and that may be in an hour. But you are not prepared yourself."

"But I will be in less than that," cried Manuel: "I will also take three or four of my own servants: two I bade to attend me here: they must be at the gate by this time."

"Take none," said his friend, "that you cannot fully trust: they will be more hindrance than profit. You, then, to arm: I will summon the men. Meet me here again as soon as you can."

In half an hour, Chrysolaras rejoined his friend, completely equipped, and having left four trusty servants at the gate of the palace.

"I have not been idle," said De Rushton. "I expect my men every moment. They are all well mounted. This must be answered to the Emperor to-morrow: but so it shall be. How many servants have you with you?"

"Four," replied Chrysolaras: "all of them right trustworthy fellows."

"That is well," said De Rushton. "Four servants;--yourself and Burstow, that is six; and a guard of ten; that makes sixteen. Would that I could myself be you, Lord Chrysolaras!"

"Would that you could," said his friend. "But what course would you recommend?"

"At what time did you say the attack was made this afternoon--yesterday afternoon, rather?"

"About three o'clock, as nearly as I can gather." "And they came by Tchorlu,--doubtless direct from Hadrianople. They can hardly, incumbercd as they are, reach that place to-morrow. Push on, therefore, as vigorously as you can: spare neither for spoiling of horses or aught else; for, to deal fairly with you, I think that if your bride once reaches Hadrianople, she is lost beyond the hope of redemption."

"Every moment seems an hour," cried Chrysolaras. "When will this guard be ready?"

"I expect them every moment--you were rather sooner than I thought for. You have sufficient money, of course? That may be everything."

"I have three hundred gold pieces. I could not take more without burdening my servants."

"Take five: you shall not lose time in returning for it, though; I will get the additional two; and you may share it among the Varangians. Not one that I send with you but might be trusted with untold treasures."

"The Panaghia bless you!" cried Manuel, as his friend went back for the purpose of procuring the money.

"Now," said De Rushton, returning after a few moments' absence, "here it is; and I hear the guard riding up the street. One word more: I will ask for an audience both with Phranza and with the Emperor tomorrow: if anything can be done to help you, depend on me. And now God be with you."

"God bless you!" cried Chrysolaras. "If anything happens to me, remember poor Euphrasia, and do for her what you can. I am so completely alone in the world that I have none else whom I need commend to you, except my servants; faithful knaves are some of them, as you know."

"You will return, you will return, Chrysolaras. I will do all you can wish. Ho! there! Let the gates be opened."

And in another moment Chrysolaras was on horseback; and the whole party were in motion towards the Silivri gate.

Project Canterbury