"And must the day, so fair that rose,
And promised rapture in the close,--
Must it, ere height of noon, divide
The bridegroom and the plighted bride?"
Lady of the Lake.
A calm, bright evening in May.
At the western gates of the church of the Eternal Wisdom well-nigh all the aristocracy of Constantinople were assembled. There was Constantine himself, with that noble, but now worn and anxious countenance, forcing itself to assume an expression of cheerfulness; there was many a dissolute nobleman of the imperial city, in the scarlet mantle yet glittering with gems and gold; there was many a fair face and a bright eye; for the loveliness as well as the chivalry of Byzantium was there. Phranza, and Lucas Notaras, and Justiniani, and other names of note, held a prominent place in the crowd; but all clustered round the bridal pair, whose "coronation" they had met to celebrate. The betrothment and the marriage were now to take place at one and the same time; every day was now precious, for it was known that, undeterred by the arrival of the Genoese fleet, Mahomet meant to continue the siege. The fairest maidens of Constantinople were proud to attend on Theodora Phranza, and were flinging roses before her from silver baskets, as, attired in the white silk pallium and long veil, and attended by her two bridesmaids, she moved forward to the porch. Then came the Frank knight; young Manuel Notaras was the paranymph: friends and acquaintance clustered in behind and around; a picked guard of Varangians attended; the crowd filled the great square of S. Sophia; and so they awaited the opening of the silver gates.
Back they rolled on their noiseless hinges: and there, in his glorious phenolion, stood the Archbishop of Chalcedon, ready for the holy office. [The phenolion, or phelonion, of the Eastern Church, answers to the chasuble of the Western.] And so the sweet Litany music began: closer and closer the circle drew to the porch, till the Prelate, taking the golden ring, declared that "the servant of God, Edward, was betrothed to the handmaid of God, Theodora, in the Name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, now and ever, and to ages of ages." And then, with the silver ring, he in like manner gave Theodora to De Rushton as his promised bride.
Darkness was gathering over the earth, as with lighted tapers in their hands, the bridal pair, and then the rest of the company, entered that great cathedral. Onward they went till they stood before the jewelled screen; and then the office of Matrimonial Coronation began. For the servants of God, now to be crowned, the prayer arose; for their wealth, prosperity, and salvation; that the blessings of Cana of Galilee might descend upon them, and that they might be preserved in peace to their lives' end. And then, bringing forth the coronets of gold, the Archbishop crowned them, in the Name of the Holy Trinity, for each other,--"now and for ever, and to ages of ages."
Even while the final Litany was chanting, a low buz2 might have been heard among the crowd around: voices grew louder and louder: there was a rapid questioning, and still more rapid answering; till at length Burstow, who commanded the division of the guards then in attendance, hastily entered the cathedral. Advancing towards the bridal party, he found them drinking from the common cup, which the Archbishop was holding forth to them.
"Most gracious Emperor," cried he, kneeling, "I shall report a miracle. The fleet of Mahomet is in full sail across the dry land to the upper part of the harbour."
"It is sorcery," cried the Archbishop.
"It is impossible," said the Emperor.
"I do assure your Majesty," said Burstow, earnestly, "that it is the very truth. I had it from one who could not fancy, and would not deceive: Lieutenant Contari."
"We will hear him ourselves," replied the Palseologus, "but not here. Bid him attend us in the sacristy. My Lord Archbishop, let this holy rite be concluded."
It was hastily ended; then, as the custom of the time was, Theodora de Rushton was tenderly embraced by her husband, and congratulated by all the party.
"Lady," said the Emperor, kissing her forehead kindly and gravely, "we shall yet hope to be present at the banquet. My Lords, attend us without: you, Phranza, and you, Lord Acolyth, follow us into the sacristy. My Lord Archbishop, we will also pray your company."
The Emperor accordingly retired into the sacristy,--or, to use the more appropriate term, the Diaconicon,--of the Great Church. The walls were lined with presses of the most costly wood, containing the magnificent apparel of the officials of S. Sophia, and labelled with the names of those for whom they were designed--as the great Sacellarius, the great Chartophylax, the Commemorator, the Castrensius, and so forth. The middle of the vast apartment was occupied by forty or fifty enormous chests, containing altar-plate, candlesticks, processional crosses, and the thousand other appurtenances of the Metropolitical Church.
The Chartophylax, who had heard nothing of the report, and took it for granted that Sir Edward came to register the marriage, was in the sacristy, and brought forward the immense tome in which coronations were entered; for they were registered as strictly by the Byzantine clergy as by our own at this day.
"Let that be done without," said Constantine, much to the worthy Priest's surprise; "the paranymph will attend to it. Now, where are the two officers? Ha, in happy time!"--for as he spoke, Burstow and Contari entered.
"Lieutenant Contari," he continued, "let us hear from your own lips this strange tale."
"I will tell it, sire, as briefly as I can. Just before sunset, I was at the top of S. Michael's tower, trying to make out the last dispositions of the Turkish army--the Great Acolyth had ordered it." Sir Edward nodded assent. "Looking to the south, I missed all the galleys, but thought that they might possibly have put out to sea; to the north, too, the army was perfectly still---not a single troop in motion that I could see, and the firing had ceased all the afternoon. Then I looked over Galata. There was a dark cloud in that part of the sky; but close to the horizon was a clear silver line of light, and, sire, I saw as plainly as I now see your Majesty, ten or twelve galleys, one behind the other, in full sail to the north-west, over the dry land--nay, over the hilly country there. Sire, I am willing to lose my head if I have not spoken the very truth."
"Of that we are well assured," replied the Emperor. "Nevertheless, we are fain to think that it must have been some delusion of sight. Of a surety the followers of the False Prophet have dealings with the Evil One,"--and he crossed himself,--"but scarcely would he have been permitted to exercise for our destruction power unknown since the beginning of the world."
At this moment a voice was heard in the Great Church, proclaiming, "Woe! woe to the Azymites! Woe! woe to the Double Processionists! Woe! woe to those that shall communicate with them! Now indeed is the Devil let loose against this city; now is fulfilled that which is written, that 'the whole creature in his proper kind was fashioned again anew, serving the peculiar commandments that were given to them;' now do we behold ships passing through the air as in the great sea------"
"My Liege," cried De Rushton, "it is Gennadius. Have I your royal licence to silence him?"
Constantine bowed assent, and he left the sacristy. "Whatever this strange sight may be, and whatever it forebode, we must send forth some trusty officer to investigate it. Under ordinary circumstances, we should have chosen none more thankfully than Sir Edward de Rushton; as it is, go, Contari, to the Great Constable, and desire his presence here."
The Great Constable, Sir Etienne d'Angoulême, a young Frank knight of great energy and courage, who, as the name of the office implied, had the command over all the Frank allies not English, was accordingly summoned. In the meanwhile De Rushton, knowing nothing of the Emperor's designs, had partly by persuasion, partly by force, accomplished the removal of Gennadius from the church, and had then hastened to the bridal party, who, having now finished the registration of the marriage, were waiting in a dreadful state of uncertainty for what might be the decision of the Emperor.
"Theodora," said he, drawing her a little apart, "my own wife! whatever this report may mean, we may assuredly gather as much as this,--that Mahomet is preparing some new and terrible device against the city. I am sure the Emperor will not ask me to leave you, in order to discover what it is; but oh, Theodora! that is only the more reason why I ought to offer myself."
"If it be really your duty," said his bride, "God forbid I should say aught to keep you back! But will there be danger?"
"Not half that which every man that defends the city is exposed to every day of his life. But if there were, it were a very ill return for the Emperor's kindness in giving me the best treasure I possess, and for your father's consent, and for your own love, if I withheld my services when they might be most useful. I will see you again first, and that presently. Ha! there is the Constable! I wonder what he makes here. Good e'en, Sir Knight: have you heard the news?"
"Marry have I," replied Sir Etienne. "God give you fair e'en, lady: pray you accept my best wishes that this day may be the beginning of brighter times! De Rushton, I congratulate you with all my heart."
"I thank you, good faith, very heartily," replied De Rushton. "But whither away?"
"To the Emperor," answered Sir Etienne. "He hath even now summoned me."
"I will with you," said the other; and together they entered the sacristy.
"Lord Constable," said Constantine, when they appeared, "we have a mission of some importance to trust to you. You have heard this strange report concerning the Turkish ships?"
"I have, my Liege."
"We would fain have accurate information touching the matter," said the Caesar. "This good knight we could not ask to leave his bride; but we know well that you will supply his place right ably."
"My Liege," cried De,Rushton, "I shall pray you, as you have thought meet to intrust this noble knight with the expedition, at least to permit that I accompany him. Little joy could I find in the city when I knew that my place ought to be in the field; and that my brothers in arms were in danger abroad, and I in peace and delight at home."
"Spoken like yourself, Lord Acolyth; but we doubt whether we ought to allow this. Supposing, which God forbid! that anything should befall you."
"I am in His hands, sire; and it can never be His will that I avoid risk by avoiding duty."
Still Constantine hesitated; and the issue might have been doubtful, had not Angoulême joined his request to his brother knight's.
"I pray you, my Liege, give him licence! This is a matter whereon the weal of the city may mainly depend; and, in such case, it were a thousand harms not to take the best means in our power of providing against this evil."
"Be it as you will, then," returned the Emperor: "this is but another proof of that zeal, Lord Acolyth, which makes us ever your debtor. Let your report be made as early as it may be."
"We shall not fail, sire," replied De Rushton. "My Lord Phranza, I shall, with your leave, return to your lodgings, and there claim my fair bride, when we have certain intelligence."
"S. George preserve you!" replied the Protovestiare. "I shall make the wedding cheer with a heavy heart. Does your Majesty still hold your gracious purpose of honouring the banquet?"
"Of a surety," replied Constantine. "Unless I went forth myself, which public considerations forbid, I know not where I could be so fitly found, as doing honour to one who, at the very time that life is dearest, is risking it for the city and for me." And so they parted.