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 XI.

"King. Let us from point to point the story know,
To make the even truths in pleasure flow:
All yet seems well;--and, if it end so meet,
The bitter past, more welcome is the sweet."

All's Well that Ends Well.

On returning from Leander's rock, Sir Edward de Rushton lost not a moment in making his report to the Great Protovestiare, whom he found, faithful to his promise, awaiting his arrival. Phranza, though aware that treachery might be expected, was horrified at finding that it involved a minister of so much importance as Leontius;--if he were guilty, who could be known to be innocent? Day had broken before the Acolyth returned to his own metoecia, and then under an engagement to wait, at the earliest possible time, on the Augustus, in company with Phranza, to determine on the steps that were to be pursued.

Constantine Palaeologus, though shocked with the treachery which seemed to envelope him like a net, in his own brief decided manner gave directions what he would have done.--Nicephorus, the Townsend or Fouche of the day, having been summoned, and made acquainted with all that was known of the plot, received directions to inquire, as far as he could, into its ramifications. "I am resolved," said the Palaeologus, "to let this treason run still further on: let the messenger return with the answer from Hadrianople; let the meeting take place at Leander's rock: it shall be your place, Acolyth, to arrest all concerned: if the Sultan be indignant for the imprisonment of a Pasha, it matters not. Look to it."

"And with a hearty good will, sire," replied De Rushton.

"When said they? The seventh night from last?" inquired the Emperor.

"Even so, sire," answered the Acolyth.

"As to that sergeant of our Varangians--how call you him--Contari? Ay, Contari.--We must promote him, and that at once."

"I ventured to promise that your majesty would condescend so far," replied Sir Edward. "It seems he has set his heart on a lieutenancy in the guards."

"Let him have one," said the Caesar. "At another time we will send for him. At present, bid him wear this ring from me."

Contari on being informed of his good fortune, immediately asked for leave of absence, that he might pay a visit to Eski Baba, and communicate his happiness to Eudocia Tomatis. De Rushton gave it without much difficulty, merely requiring that he should be back in time to take part in the intended arrest of the conspirators;--for which his previous knowledge of the locality especially qualified him.

That afternoon, then, the new-made lieutenant rode out at the Hadrianople gate; utterly unconscious, the reader will remember, of all that had happened since the departure of Burstow and his party on their dangerous expedition. To them he had given his best wishes; for Burstow was one of his most intimate friends: and De Rushton had hesitated for a moment which he should choose for the mission to Hadrianople. But Burstow could better assume the part of a Turk; and that had determined his selection.

The storm of the preceding evening had given place to a lovely day of autumnal beauty,--and, as Contari rode northward, the sun sunk in an unclouded blaze behind the blue hills of Thermolitza. Twilight came on, purple, and dark, and still Contari rode on briskly, well knowing every inch of his way, and determined not to draw rein till he should reach Tchorlu. Here he found no difficulty in obtaining quarters in the garrison, which had been considerably strengthened; and here also he heard such reports of the direction of the raid led by Achmet Pasha, and of the devastation it had occasioned, as to give him the greatest uneasiness for the fate of his Eudocia. Again mounting his horse at an early hour next morning, and barely allowing him half an hour's bait at Bourghiaz, where he heard of the death of Tomates, and of the preservation of his daughter by the Varangians, he again pushed on, and reached the cottage we have before described, at an early hour in the afternoon. There, and from the mouth of Eudocia, he heard the whole tale:--and not only this, but that it was to Manuel Chrysolaras alone, though so pressed for time, and devoured by anxiety, that the preservation of his promised bride was owing.

"And, as I hear," said Eudocia, "he and the Lady Choniatis, to whom men say that he is betrothed, are in prison at Hadrianople; and your friend too, George,--I mean the Lochagus Burstow."

"God forbid," cried Contari. "Richard Burstow is a dead man, then, for he was to go as a Turk, and will be dealt with as a spy. What is to be done?" he continued, rather as speaking to himself than as asking counsel of the fair girl by whom he was seated.

"Do they not know it at Constantinople?" inquired Eudocia.

"They did not when I left yesterday, and I see not how they should now. But' who is that talking in the next room, Eudocia?"

"A dying man, George;--a Turk, who made a shift to crawl up to our door, and ask for mercy. He was wounded when the Lord Chrysolaras saved me."

"And you have taken him in here?" said Contari, as harshly as he could speak to one whom he loved so well.

"My mother knew," she replied, "that we ought to return good for evil; and the Papas Demetrius told us that no more pleasant offering could be presented to God for the soul of my poor father than a deed of charity like this. And, indeed, the Panaghia be praised, this Turk has, in the great fear of death, received Baptism, and the good Papas doubts not of his salvation."

"You were right, dear Eudocia, you were quite right,--and I love you the better for what you have done. But who is that with him?"

"Father Demetrius is there," answered Eudocia. "I will tell him that you are here--he will be joyed to see you."

She opened the little door which led to the other room, and entered, followed by Contari. The sick man was lying quiet on the little couch which had been provided for him; but a bright red spot on each cheek bone, and an involuntary twitching and clutching of his right hand as it lay on the coverlet, denoted at once the fever that consumed him, and the shortness of the space that he had yet to live. The widow, whose husband the Turks had slain by the bridge, was fanning him, as he constantly called for air: and the Priest was kneeling at his side, and had apparently just concluded prayer. He rose as Contari entered; a tall, well-made man of some forty years of age, attired in his simple, but somewhat threadbare purple Priest's cloak, and with his beard descending nearly to his waist.

"Welcome here again, my son," he said. "You have much to be thankful for in what has happened since you last were here."

"I have indeed, father," replied the lieutenant; "and much also to regret. Eudocia tells me," he continued in a lower voice, "that this man was one of them?"

"He was," answered the Priest; "but, the Panaghia be praised, was is true in all senses of the word. A blessed wound will this have been for him, if, while sending his body to the grave, it shall also introduce his soul to Paradise."

"He is baptized, father?"

"He is: and he is not long for this world. He wants to say something--What is it, my son?"

The Turk, whose original name had been Ismael, but who had been baptized as Joseph, said with difficulty, and in very broken Greek,--"He is a Varangian?"

"He is," answered Father Demetrius.

"Did you not tell me," said the dying man, "that if we have done wrong in our lives, our repentance at death is of no avail unless we try what we may to undo the crime?"

"I said so, my son: and I said, moreover, that if we only do try with our whole hearts, God will accept the service as an offering well pleasing to Himself."

"Come nearer," said Joseph to Contari--"I can neither see nor hear well--I think I must be going. Are you a bold man?"

"None ever thought me else," replied Contari.

"And would you do a friend a good turn?" asked the sufferer.

"That I would," answered the other.

"Listen then. The party of Varangians that were here some few days agone--I pray you a little water"--he drank, and proceeded--"were afterwards taken prisoners, and carried to Hadrianople. All such we confine in the Water Tower."

The widow Tomatis shook her head, as if she thought that the man's senses were wandering; but the Priest, more used to death-beds, knew that such was not the case, and held up his finger in token of attention.

"The river runs under the Tower," he pursued, in a still lower voice; "and there is a water gate on each side. I will give you the key--reach it, some one, from my cloak--if you have that"--his voice faltered, and they thought that he was going.

"Give him some wine," said the Priest.

Eudocia ran for a cup, and held it to his lips: he seemed to revive: "if you have that, you can make your way in in a boat, and--and perhaps--I am going, good Priest."

"Leave me alone with him, my children," said Father Demetrius: "it will be better so." And accordingly, while he and the dying man were left together, the other three retired into the adjoining room.

"What a happy chance!" said Contari. "Your charity has brought its own reward; for I may be able to set free the man, Eudocia, to whom I owe your life and honour."

"I would not have you delay one unnecessary moment," she said: "I will scarcely say, take care of yourself. Wait only till the Papas comes out; his rede is ever good."

They had not to wait long; for in less than five minutes the Priest came forth, looking grave, but not sorrowful; and saying merely,--"He has made a Christian end,"--proceeded, "And what mean you now to do, my son?"

"What," replied Contari, "but to ride to Hadrianople at once; and do what I can with this unlooked-for help? One of those prisoners is the man that saved Eudocia; one of them is a dear friend of mine; and it may be that the Lady Choniatis, the betrothed bride of Lord Chrysolaras, is another. Only promise me, good mother, that if I return safe and well, Eudocia shall be mine without further delay. I have enough, the Panaghia knows,--and more than enough, to support you both now."

"How is that?" inquired Father Demetrius.

He heard the story: and having congratulated Contari on the courage and tact which had procured him his lieutenancy, added, "I am sure Eudocia's mother will not refuse your request."

"Faith, not I," said the old woman--"I shall only be too thankful to see her safe, and to be safe myself within good walls."

"Well then," said the Priest, "set your heart at rest so far. And now, God's benison be with you! I will offer a particle for you in the most holy Liturgy tomorrow--and for your friend--and for Lord Chrysolaras, and his bride--and so I will daily, till I see you again, or hear from you." [The Priest is referring to the ceremony of dividing sundry particles from the "Holy Lamb," that is the Altar Bread with the "Holy Spear," in commemoration of various persons, and arranging them on the Paten before the commencement of the Liturgy.]

"Your horse must be tired," said Eudocia; "these two hours cannot have rested him; had you not better take the Turk's?"

"Had he one?"

"And a very fine one, to judge by its looks. He is in the shed."

"Take it by all means," said the Priest. And Contari, finding that the beast was as good as his character, shifted the saddle; and entrusting his horse to Eudocia, took his tender farewell of her, and a more cheerful one of Sophia Tomatis, and the Priest, and was speedily on the road to Eski Baba.

It was one of those afternoons when the sky is full of dark billow-like clouds which catch the glow of the departing sun, and reflect it with a ghastly and lurid radiance. The horizon was wild and stormy: patches of sunlight swept hurriedly over the moor, blotted out in a moment by the shadows that chased them; the distant copse, the far-off hill, were now aglow with crimson, and now a black mass of shade: it was the very season, as assuredly it was the place, for wild and lawless deeds. As the traveller rode out of Eski Baba, the big drops began slowly and solemnly to fall; and as he pursued his way along the vale of Erkeneh to Khasseh, the storm drove furiously in his face, cloud after cloud opening its volley upon him, and then hurrying on to do the work of devastation in other valleys and remote cities. Towards nine o'clock, his horse and himself alike needed rest: and spying a miserable hovel at the right of the road, he rode up to it, and battered the wretched door with the handle of his sword. Not without difficulty did he succeed in obtaining any notice; but then a quivering voice faintly demanded, "Who's there?"

"A Varangian," returned Contari, amply satisfied that his interrogator was a Christian: "I am willing and able to pay you for food, if you have any,--at all events for lodging."

Cyril, for such was the name of the wretched peasant to whom the cottage belonged, somewhat reassured, speedily opened the door, which he was well assured would be battered in if he delayed; and Contari, entering, found a hovel, with bare walls, a mud floor, a shelf at one side with two or three plates and cups, a few tiles in the middle for a fireplace, a hole at the top to allow the smoke to escape, the guardian image of the Panaghia, a wretched daub, and a few pieces of rag in one corner, the bed which the peasant and his wife had been occupying. A piece of black bread was all that Contari could obtain, and that he shared with his horse; but a cup of brandy refreshed and warmed him, and ere he wrapped himself in his cloak to sleep, he had made the poor man's heart glad by the promise of an ample reward on the morrow. He slept soundly: and on waking, considered that his best chance of getting into Hadrianople would be to assume the disguise of a peasant. He therefore informed Cyril that he was anxious to get into the enemies' headquarters; that he knew no method so likely as the costume of a poor Greek: and, on the promise of a liberal present, prevailed on his host to equip him in his own clothes, and to lend him the ass on which he sometimes carried mushrooms to market. He at first thought of going by himself; but afterwards considering that his ignorance of the locality would be extremely dangerous, he engaged the services of the peasant, who had difficulty enough in furnishing forth a sufficient quantity of rags to cover two men. Then some time was lost in procuring enough mushrooms to give them the appearance even of traders in that article; they were at length, however, obtained; and Contari, leaving his horse and every other part of his equipment except his dagger in the charge of Cyril's wife, set forward with his companion, driving the ass before them.

The distance to Hadrianople was twelve miles; and in the three hours and a half which this distance took to accomplish, the Varangian heard such tales of Turkish cruelty and wanton oppression exercised on Christians, as made his blood boil within him; and rendered him still more anxious than before to free his companion and his benefactors from Mahometan slavery. At length the tall minarets and golden domes of Hadrianople rose before them; and they entered the southern gate, a work of stupendous strength, without any further harm than a few hard words from the soldiers on guard directed against the Christian dogs. Cyril led the way to a coffeehouse of the very lowest description: and ordered some refreshment for himself and his companion, of which they both stood in need. Then Contari desired the peasant to show him the way to the Castle; and driving the ass before them, they soon came into the open place before it. The Varangian officer now made the best use of his eyes; and the sum of his observation was this. The Castle itself made a part of, while it also projected from, the city walls; one of its angular towers was, so to speak, in the wall; the river Toondja, which had entered the city on the other side, flowed under the turret, and so made its escape from the city: a tremendous grating of iron, at the bridge arch where it entered the Tower, effectually secured the place from surprise; but higher up, and nearer to the market-place, there was a little quay, where some light boats were moored. Having satisfied his curiosity, Contari bade his companion return to the coffee-house, which they did not again leave for some time. In the meanwhile, the Varangian was maturing his plans, and procuring such information as he thought likely to be of use: under colour of desiring to know whether a decent livelihood could be earned as a boatman, he learnt that the water-gates, as they were called, were opened on payment of a small fee to any boat between sunrise and sunset, but on no account after that time; that there were six guards appointed for that purpose, who each, in time of peace, had a key of the gate; that boats did frequently pass northward, even as far as Jeni Kezilaghaz, sometimes with parties of pleasure, sometimes with fruit and market provisions. Having learnt thus much, Contari summoned his companion, and having procured a basket, and filled it with their mushrooms, they went down to the quay, and hired a Greek boat to take them to a hamlet called Jeni Bazaar, some half-mile up the river. The boatman pushed off; and the Varangian came under the towering height of the castle in which he knew that his friends were confined: the boat presently stopped at the grate. A foul scum had collected round the apertures; vegetables, parings of fruit, offal of animals, and all the filth of a great city. The water-warder was summoned; he came surlily enough out, and demanded half an Amurath before he would open the gate. It was paid him: and Contari watched with intense interest the way in which the lock was managed. He saw at a glance that the key which the man held was the counterpart of his own: he noticed that it fitted easily, and moved the lock without noise. They entered into the jaws of the Castle: at the opposite side was a second iron grate of the same kind; above them was an arch of immense and most massy stones.

"Row slowly," said Contari to the boatman: "this is a place worth looking at."

"They don't like us to loiter here," replied the other: "so make the best use of your time."

"I will," thought the Varangian to himself. And he did. He observed, that in the very centre of the upper part of the arch was a trap-door, evidently communicating with the turret; while at the side was another door, small, but very strong, close to the water's edge, and enabling those in the Castle to embark without leaving it.

"Ay," said the boatman, as they rowed past, "if these walls could speak, they would tell of more murders than I care to think of"--and he crossed himself. "See you that trap-door, comrade?"

"Ay, ay, well enough," replied Contari.

"They talk of fearful screams from it a' nights," continued the other,--"and then of heavy plunges into the stream below. It may be true, or not; but this I know, that, once, just as I was where we now are, up rose a corpse head foremost from the water; and I saw that it was a poor Albanian soldier that they had carried into the Castle some weeks before."

By this time they had reached the other gate, which was opened to them in the same way as the first had been, though without payment. But Contari saw that the key and the whole arrangement of the lock was different, and found that, if he made his entrance in under the Castle, he must return by the same way he came, and not, as he had hoped, accomplish his escape from the city. They pursued their course to Jeni Bazaar: where Cyril disposed of the mushrooms to a man with whom he sometimes dealt; and again embarking, they returned to the city without adventure. It was now nearly sunset; and at that hour the city gates were shut. Contari therefore informed his companion, that he had no further occasion for his services; and rewarded him for what he had done beyond all his expectations. "Now, listen to me," he said: "if I return not in three days to your house, take this letter"--and he put one into his hand--"to Constantinople, and deliver it yourself to Sir Edward de Rushton, Great Acolyth of the Empire: he will pay you well for your trouble, and your pains may much advantage you. My horse you may keep for yourself, if I do not come back to claim it." Cyril faithfully promised compliance--called the Panaghia to witness that he would forget nothing--invoked the blessing of twenty or thirty saints on Contari, and then departed.

The letter which the Varangian had written to De Rushton contained an account of what he had done, and of the hope he entertained of being able to effect something for Manuel Chrysolaras; and concluded by asking the Acolyth to provide for Eudocia, who might almost be regarded as his widow, in case he fell, and her mother; and he knew De Rushton well enough to be sure that his request would be well attended to.

When Contari was left alone, he told his host that he should stay there till eight or nine o'clock, but had an engagement in another part of the town at that hour; and requested to be served with supper, which was provided with great alacrity: his payments being more liberal than those to which the worthy landlord was accustomed. By nine o'clock the night was pitch dark, and the city seemed silent and deserted; the Varangian, therefore, after paying his reckoning, bade farewell to the host, and went out. He had no difficulty in finding his way to the little quay of which we have already spoken; but, to his great annoyance, he found that a party of Greeks were carousing in one of the boats, and that there was no chance, till their orgies were over, of being able to obtain a boat for himself, at least without exciting suspicion. He retired into the court-yard of a house that seemed deserted, and there waited patiently till the voices of the Muezzins from the neighbouring mosque, proclaiming that there was no God but God, and that Mahommed was the prophet of God,--and ending with the shrill exhortation, "Come to prayer! come to prayer! It is better to pray than to sleep," warned him that it was midnight; for in the city where the Commander of the Faithful resided this night-call to prayer, then partially, and now still more generally disused, was kept up in full force. Again stealing down to the quay, he found that the riotous party had dispersed; the banks of the river, which were laid out as walks, seemed quite untenanted, and he resolved to lose no more time in putting his plan into practice. Mentally contrasting his situation with (hat of two nights before, when he was unmooring the boat which carried him and De Rushton to Leander's Rock, he untied the knot which held one of the little market boats, stepped quietly into it, and pushed off. It was so very dark that he could hardly make out the gigantic walls of the castle, towering through the blackness, as he approached it; but at length he was close under them, and the boat's head touched the iron grates. He brought her to that side of the river where the lock fastened; and making her fast to the water-gates themselves, the river running from them out of the city, leapt as silently as he could on shore. Still all was quiet as death.

Running his hand over the iron work, he soon found the key hole, with its heavy flap; pushing that aside, and inserting the key, which he had taken the previous precaution of oiling, the iron tongue ran swiftly and smoothly back, and the gate was opened. But Contari's difficulties were not over. Stepping into the boat again, he had to push that forward, and the gate open together, and that in the face of a swift current, and with nothing better to push against than the slippery green sides of the arch. Once he had all but fallen into the river; but at length the feat was safely accomplished: the iron gate pushed open, the boat put under the arch, the grating again closed, and Contari in the heart of the castle.

After waiting about a quarter of an hour to be sure that no suspicion was excited, he drew from his pocket tinder, flint, steel, and a taper, and struck a light. He was certain that no one within the castle could see it: and any one who might be on a level with the arch at the bank of the river would, he was quite sure, feel that it was no business of his to inquire after it. After having made a careful survey of the whole passage, and paddled himself three or four times up and down it, he resolved to try whether the second key which had been given to him would not open the side door which he had noticed that afternoon. He accordingly went up to it; but here an unexpected difficulty presented itself. There was no way of mooring the boat either to the wall, or to the little landing place which projected in front of the door. While he was considering how to overcome this hindrance, his attention was attracted to an extraordinary noise overhead. It seemed as if a violent struggle was going on; and even through the stone roof the voices as of men in great exertion made themselves heard. Contari extinguished his light in a moment; leapt into the boat, and pushed it off to the water-gate by which he had entered; but there paused, to see whether there were any real cause for alarm. He next heard the trap-door open, and saw a bright gleam of light shoot forth from it; and it then became evident that some persons above were endeavouring to push a prisoner through the aperture.

"Now in with him!" cried one voice.

"What's the use of all this resistance?" roared another. "Go you must."

"Tie his hands," shouted a third: "we shall never manage him till we do."

The plan seemed to be adopted: for there was a more tremendous struggle than before. It appeared as if at last the prisoner were secured;--for there was a pause; --and then a somewhat exhausted voice panted out in Greek,--"Ah, you circumcised dogs! If I had but a good sword, and an open field, you should soon know the difference!"

"By the Panaghia!" said Contari to himself, "that is Stephen the Varangian."

"Now then, we can do for him," said one of the Turkish soldiers.

"God a' mercy on me, then!" cried Stephen, as they dragged him over the floor, and pushed him, head foremost, through the trap-door. A second more, and there was a heavy splash in the water.

"Good-night!" cried a harsh voice above; and the door was shut and all was darkness. Contari lost not a moment; but pushed his boat along to the place where Stephen had fallen: and where, though both his hands and feet were tied, he was endeavouring by expanding his chest, and keeping the back of his head well in the water, to float. Contari's hand was on the soldier--and at the same moment he said in a cautious voice,--"All's right, Stephen."

The Varangian soldier thought for a moment that he had passed out of this world. "Where am I?" he said: "Who are you?" as he felt himself supported.

"It is I, George Contari. Are your hands tied?" "Yes."

"I will cut the rope--hold them this way--so--that's it--now you can keep yourself above water, while I strike a light."

"How, in the Panaghia's name is this?" cried the bewildered Stephen.

"Never you mind that, comrade, just now," replied Contari, applying the steel to the flint--"Now we can see each other. Strike out for yonder step: then I can take you in: but you will upset me if you try here."

Stephen did as he was directed; and presently was safely on board. "Well," said he, "this is beyond all wonders--how fell it out?"

"'Twere too long a story to tell now," replied Contari: "enough, that I have the key of yon gate, and came to see if I could be of service to the Lord Chrysolaras, or any of my comrades. But how came you here? and where are the rest?"

"Of the rest I know nothing: I have been confined by myself all the time--I had a chief hand in rescuing the good old Exarch and his family."

"They were rescued, then?" inquired Contari. "They told me so at Bourghiaz."

"Have you not heard it at Constantinople?" asked Stephen. "Yes: and taken prisoners again. So it was all over with me. The rest,--I mean the rest of our comrades are to be offered their choice, I hear, of death, or taking service with the Sultan: but I was too bad even for that chance. But now, tell me how you came here." Contari very briefly related the circumstances: and added,--"Now, I believe that I have the key of yonder door, and I will try it. We will see what can be done. Do you know where that door leads?"

"I know nothing about the Castle," replied Stephen: "I was in a dungeon that lay in quite a different part of the Castle. They only dragged me in over head to drown me."

"We will try, at all events," said Contari. "You keep the boat near, while I try the key." He fitted it to the lock, and to his joy, the door opened, and disclosed a narrow winding staircase.

"Now we can fasten the boat to the hasp," said the ant in a low voice: "it puzzled me much how to do it before." The little vessel was accordingly moored; and then the two friends ascended the staircase, Contari going first with the light. After mounting about twenty steps, they were stopped by another door, with an external handle, as if it needed only to be opened from the outside. Contari had his hand on the ring, and was just going to turn it, when Stephen, who was close behind, laid his hand on his friend's shoulder, and pointed to the lintel of the door, under which shone a strong gleam of light. Tue lieutenant immediately extinguished his own taper,--and took the liberty of applying his eye to the keyhole. It seemed to be an apartment of an officer: for one in l!-.c splendid costume of a lieutenant of the Janissaries was seated at a table with his head on his hands: as if he had the command of the guard, and were ready, and within call, should alarm occur. Contari stepped back, and whispered to Stephen to look.

"Let us rush in upon him," said he, after gazing intently on him for a few moments. "That is the man that gave the order for my murder. He may serve as a hostage, or what not."

"No, no," cried Contari eagerly. "It is clear that there must be guards at hand--we should be taken at once. We can but do this if the worst comes to the worst. Let us step down again. We can talk more safely below, when that door is shut."

They accordingly went down the staircase, and closing the door, got into the boat. "Stay," said Contari: "I may as well lock the door, in case your excellent friend above should take it into his head to interfere: and I will turn the key half round in the lock, and leave it so;--then no one can unlock it from the inside."

When this was done,--"Now," said the lieutenant, lighting the taper, "let us explore the place thoroughly: I have done so once already:--but let us make quite sure."

"Is there no other door like that we have just shut?" inquired Stephen.

"None," said his companion: "I am quite certain: I came through this place in the afternoon, and made another inspection this evening before------ Hark! what was that?"

"Nothing," replied the Varangian: "I heard nothing."

"I thought I heard some one at the trap-door," said the other.

"Impossible!" said Stephen--"they cannot intend to murder another of our poor fellows."

"I tell you it is opening," cried Contari, for the third time extinguishing his light. And so it was.

Some moments passed, in which it was clear that the trap-door was open, for the murmuring of voices could be heard above; but no light came through the aperture.

"Some one in the Castle must have seen our light," whispered Contari to his companion. "They must be in the dark on purpose to discover us the better."

"How deep do those gates go?" inquired the other, who seemed somewhat unnerved by his late escape.

"Oh! no possibility of diving. I learnt this afternoon that the bottom is paved, as well as the sides,--and that they reach almost to that."

"Hark! there are more voices!" cried Stephen. "We cannot escape."

"It is strange," said Contari, "how like one voice is to another. I could have sworn now, that that last voice was Burstow's, if it were not impossible."

As he spoke, all further doubt was put an end to by the Lochagus authoritatively putting- the question with which we closed the last chapter--"Who goes there?"

Project Canterbury