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Theodora Phranza; or, the Fall of Constantinople

By John Mason Neale

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

Chapter XXI.

"A renegade and leopard-spotted traitor;
A most accursed and fiend-prompted traitor:
One that no tie of friendship, fear of God,
Respect of man, nor dread of hell, can touch."

The Revenger's Tragedy.

As soon as it was dark on the following night, Sir Edward de Rushton and Burstow, leaving the city by the gate of the Fish Market, crossed the Golden Horn in one of the Emperor's boats, and, after showing their passports, were admitted into the suburb of Galata. The state of this little town was peculiar. Nominally part of Constantinople, and of course under Imperial jurisdiction, not only was it in the habits, customs, and religion of its inhabitants completely Frank, but it was in reality unwilling to submit to any political interference. Its own podesta was supreme governor: all causes, both civil and criminal, came under his cognizance, or were, in case of difficulty, referred to Genoa. The links which connected the suburb with the city, were thus very slight. The Genoese, so that their rights were respected, cared little whether they formed a factory in an infidel, or a dependency in a Christian, state. They offered no opposition to the Infidels, further than carefully securing and watching their own end of the great chain; and the Turks were careful not to attack Galata, and so rouse the indignation of a maritime republic, like Genoa. Thus the ease with which the viaduct was executed was greatly increased, for Achmet Pasha felt certain--and the result proved him right--that no sally would be made by the Galatese, though the line of works ran within half a mile, at one point, of their ramparts.

Having, as we said, presented their passports, De Rushton and Burstow passed through the quiet little merchant town, and betook themselves to the north-eastern gate,--which then stood as nearly as possible on the spot at present occupied by the hotel of the French ambassador.

The sergeant of the guard was called out, and examined their credentials. "Body of Bacchus!" cried he; "but you are a bold man, Signor! Why, the workmen are not half a mile from this gate!"

"What are they doing?" asked De Rushton. "The stories they tell in the city are quite incredible."

"Why, that we could not make out till this afternoon," replied the officer. "Yesterday afternoon, and all last night, and to-day, they were about some great work; but this evening, it turns out, that they mean to transport their fleet right over the land, into the upper part of the Horn; and, by S. Luke! they will do it, too."

"But why did you not let the Emperor know, as soon as you observed what their real purpose was?" inquired De Rushton.

"Well, Signor; some of the merchants thought that it would only be right,--not that we wish to quarrel with the Turks; but still they need have known nothing about it. But the gates are always shut at sunset: it was nearly that before the plan was generally known. Then there was half an hour wasted before the matter came to the Council; and the Podesta swore by the Holy Face of Lucca, that the gates should be opened neither for King nor Cffisar, when they were once shut. When he swears by that oath, Signor, it is no use reasoning with him. Not but that I was sorry, too, for my own part, for I have a sort of liking for poor Constantine."

"So," thought De Rushton, "the 'splendour,' and 'majesty,' and 'super-excellency' of Byzantium is cut down, in this miserable little suburb, to ' poor Constantine.' Well, then, if the works are so near," he continued aloud, "we shall, probably, not be long absent. We only go to satisfy ourselves as to what they really are. The pass, you see, is good to come in with, as well as to go out."

"It is so," said the sergeant, looking at it: God speed your Excellence." And they passed out.

Their way lay between what, in the flourishing times of the city, had been small suburban houses and gardens. The houses were now, for the most part, in ruins; walls fallen in, verandahs broken down, doors torn from the hinges for fire-wood, roofs stripped of their tiles, which served well to break up for the roads for the artillery and the like, over swampy ground. Here and there, indeed, some of the best had been patched up, and served as the residence of some of the officers; but even these, on the night in question, were deserted; for not an eye was closed in the Ottoman camp. The gardens had shot forth into all the rankness of tropical luxuriance: untended jessamines and untrimmed heliotropes ran over the walls; unpruned daturas waved their silver trumpets in the wind; roses hid themselves in their own wildness; and, except for the distant sounds of labour, all the neighbourhood was still in its dewy freshness, the nightingale alone' filling the air with melody. But as the adventurers ascended a rise in the road, between the present English Embassy and the Seraglio Galata, a strong line of lights burst on their view, stretching over hill and valley, from the Sea of Marmora on the south, till lost in the distance on the north. The cauldron fires, at regular intervals, threw up their lurid vapour to the sky, and flashed on the tall masts and expanding sails of the galleys behind them, that like a ghostly procession of ships moved steadily onwards to their destinations, amidst the darkness that encircled them. Fifes, hautboys, and trumpets swelled forth in unison or separately; but as the knight and his follower approached nearer, the straining of the pulleys, the labouring of the steeds, and the shouts of the drivers could be heard even above their melody. De Rushton advanced as near as prudence permitted, and quite near enough to see that the bold plan of the Sultan was already, in some sort, successful. On the embankment, to which he was just opposite, more than common interest seemed to be concentrated. On came one of the largest galleys; fifty oxen were yoked to its prow. The bellowings of the beasts and the shouts of the drivers rang out into the night. The side of the bank was a net of pulleys; a host of soldiers bent to their work at them. The sails bellied out, as if to woo the breeze; the helmsman was at the rudder; slaves dashed pailful after pailful of melted grease on the rollers that held the keel and the side supports of the vessel. And thus, slowly but surely, she passed onwards to her goal. And now there was a rising ground to climb; for the difficulties had only been lessened, not removed: and the shouts became louder, and the labour grew more intense. Oxen fell down and groaned their last; chains snapped and ropes broke: there was shouting for smiths and running for carpenters; fresh beasts of burden were driven up at full gallop, and attached in the place of those that had died beneath the toil. Still the galley advanced not an inch. Then huge wedges of wood were laid under the hindmost roller; sledge-hammers rang loudly upon them; the huge mass was made firm in its position, and the order given out for all hands to rest. Up presently rode Leontius, almost touching the ruined wall behind which De Rushton was concealed. Fifes and drums again struck up, and, amidst a chaos of noises, shouting, groaning, creaking, straining, panting, hammering, with two or three desperate efforts, the galley gained the summit of the ascent, and began to glide down the responding declivity.

"That is enough, Burstow," said De Rushton, when the galley had passed on. "Better return before the next comes up."

"Did you see the Great Duke, my Lord?"

"Ay, and had we not been on a mission of importance, the time and place would hardly have sufficed for his safety; but his hour will come, never fear."

We shall presently have to accompany the knight and his companion on their return; now we must, for a few seconds, follow Leontius. Riding up to his temporary tent, as soon as the difficulties attendant on the passage of the galley which we have just been noticing were removed, he leaped from his horse, and entering it, called for a glass of sherbet.

"Is that matter arranged, Nicetas?" asked he.

"It is, my Lord," replied the ill-looking person addressed, his confidential servant. "AH and Chenouda are on his track: safe men, both, for their necks are in your Lordship's power."

"And which way goes he?"

"By S. Dimitri, and so to Galata, my Lord. He has only one Janissary with him; and they are thus quite at our mercy."

"What time went he?"

"He rode out to S. Dimitri some half an hour agone: and is probably in their hands before this."

"That is well. Another glass, Nicetas; it is a hot night. So, so, my Lord Chrysolaras,--you who threaten to chastise me, we may chance to turn the tables on yolk Lordship. It was lucky, too, that Achmet should have mentioned his going. Come and tell me when it is done. I shall be somewhere on this part of the works." With which words he remounted, and again rode off.

De Rushton, meanwhile, and Burstow were pursuing their way back.

"It seems to me," said the Acolyth, "that these cowardly Galatese dogs might have prevented this if they would. They must have known far more about it all these last six-and-thirty hours than we could, and yet not one word to the Court."

"Why, even last night, my Lord, a sally might have done wonders: even now, perhaps, it might not be too late to do some good, though the foremost ships must long ago be in the Horn."

"I fear so; but the Caesar shall hear, without loss of time, what the Infidels are about; and by his judgment we may well stand."

"And I trust, my Lord, that when we shall have beaten these Mussulman dogs off, then the Emperor will remember that he has a debt to pay to his good friends and very obedient servants in Galata."

Sir Edward smiled; but it was a melancholy smile. "Why, Burstow," said he, "you have talked to others so much about beating the Turks off, that you really begin to believe it yourself."

"If you wish to deceive others, my Lord, begin by deceiving yourself. I have always found it the best way; it comes more naturally. But as to these Galatese, whichever party wins, they are sure to lose. Mahomet is too wise a man to trust a factory of such traitors as he knows them to have been."

"You are right," returned De Rushton; "and it will but be their--S. Mary! what is that?"

They had now reached a spot where a by-road ran northwards in the direction of S. Dimitri; and, apparently about a hundred yards up it, shouts and blows, as of persons engaged in conflict, were heard.

"Some camp quarrel," quoth Burstow; "best get on quickly."

"No, no," cried Sir Edward, "it is a Greek voice; follow me."

Hurrying in the direction of the sound, by the light of a torch which was burning on the ground, De Rushton saw a Greek, apparently of superior rank, stretched on the grass, a Janissary bending over him; while two or three men, on hearing the sound of advancing footsteps, ran off in the direction of S. Dimitri, as hard as their feet would carry them.

"Whoever you are," said the Janissary, astonished to see Frank costume in such a place, and at such a time, "help me to carry this nobleman to some spot where he may be in safety. He was going with a pass from the Sultan into the city, being a prisoner in our camp, and on parole; but just here we were set upon by two villains, one of whom, I fear, has killed him--he breathes, too."

"What is his name?" inquired De Rushton, rather anxiously.

"He is called the Lord Manuel Chrysolaras," replied the Janissary.

Sir Edward threw himself on his knees by his friend. He was perfectly insensible, and showed no other sign of life except by breathing faintly. The wound had been given with a sword through the throat, and from behind.

"We are close to the gate of Galata," said De Rushton; "help us to carry him as far as that, and we will reward you for your pains, and discharge you, if you wish it, from further attendance. The Lord Chrysolaras is one of my dearest friends."

"Yes," said the Janissary, rather doubtfully; "but I rather think that I ought to carry him back to the camp. He cannot return to-morrow, that is certain, if ever he is able to return at all. I know not what I shall say to the Sultan."

"Say that you were in danger of your life," cried Burstow; "for, by S. George, I will run you through the body if you do not carry him whither we bid you. Take up, take up!"

"Come with us, fellow, if you like," said De Rushton, "and the matter shall be accounted for to the Emperor and to the Sultan, and you shall be well rewarded."

Under the combined influence of avarice and fear, the Janissary yielded and Manuel, still insensible, was conveyed to the gate of Galata. The sergeant, being summoned examined the passport, and declared that it only mentioned two persons.

"You know me, sirrah!" cried Sir Edward; "I am Great Acolyth of the Empire, and this nobleman is of one of the first families in Constantinople. If he dies in consequence of your delay, were it the last act of my life, I would stab you to the heart."

The man growled out something about the pride of the aristocracy, but unbarred the gate, and the whole party entered. In the guard-house a rude kind of litter was procured, and the wounded man conveyed to the waterside. The boat was in waiting, the Golden Horn was soon crossed, and Sir Edward then gave orders that the litter should be carried to his own lodgings in the palace.

His first care was to send a messenger for Theophrastus, the Court physician; his next, to despatch Burstow with the intelligence he had gained to the Caasar; and his third, by another Varangian, to request Phranza's attendance. Theophrastus, whose apartments were in the Court, came first. By this time, Chrysolaras had given some faint signs of returning consciousness; and he had been, with some difficulty, undressed and laid in bed. The physician was a man of imposing stature and appearance; his long white beard flowed reverently to his waist, and he carried in his hand a case of instruments and medicines; for those were not days in which any nice distinction was made between surgery and physic. He was a man of sense, too; though certainly his manner, which was pompous beyond all expression, would have led a stranger to believe very much to the contrary.

"So a young nobleman of great promise hath been hurt in mortal conflict?" asked he, ascending the staircase in company with De Rushton, who was waiting for him. "We shall see what can be done for him; we have not studied Galen and Averroes for nothing. Aha! Lord Acolyth! a sorry change for you!" for the whole metcecia had been prepared for the reception of the bride. Balustrades and chandeliers were garlanded with flowers; everything was as gay as the contracted means of the city would allow. "I remember, when I was a young man,--time flies, time flies, Lord Acolyth,---that was under Manuel Palaeologus, and not long after the death of John; I remember being consulted by a young nobleman------"

But here the worthy Physician's eloquence ceased; for De Rushton, who knew him well, and liked him, notwithstanding his loquacity, very unceremoniously held up his finger, and said, "Hush! this is the door."

Theophrastus was instantly silent, and entered the darkened room on tiptoe. "More light," he said; "but gently, gently. Where is it? ah! in the neck. Not much blood, I see. No more blood--clothes--napkins? Eh? none:--bad sign. Pulse full, and tolerably strong. Strong man, your friend, my Lord. Quite insensible?--eh?--quite insensible? Ah, well; hold up the head. Ah, under the ear, avoiding the jugular vein, out below the deflexor muscle, by the left jaw. A bad wound. I think he will die."

"Is the case desperate, then?" inquired the Acolyth.

"Desperate! blessed Panaghia, how hot these young men are! Desperate, quotha?--no, no. Now, if--as might have very well been the case--the vertebrae had been injured, by the sword or other sharp instrument,--for at present I by no means wish to be understood as expressing my deliberate opinion that it was a sword; as my old master, Nicolas Trinaldes, used to say, Never be sure of what you have never seen,--but, as I said, if the instrument, be it of what kind it may------"

What the supposition was, must remain doubtful; for at that moment a servant entered the room with intelligence that the Lord Phranza was in waiting below. Sir Edward seized his opportunity. "Use your best skill," he said, "and join us below presently." And so he went downstairs.

"Well, my Lord," said Phranza, hurriedly, "what is it? what is all this I hear?--Chrysolaras come back, and wounded? How fell it out?"

De Rushton satisfied him as he best might, and then added, "Now I must to the Emperor. Are your guests gone?"

"Nearly all," replied Phranza; "only the Great Drun-gaire, and Thomas Palaeologus, and Callistus Nicephorus, and one or two other such nocturnal banqueters."

"Then you had better go to the Caesar also. But first, of your kindness, I will pray you to return, and see Theodora: tell her that I am safe and well, and have done my errand without harm or loss. Her I will not see tonight; for there is yet much to be done--at least there may be--and it must be an hour past midnight."

"Nearly two," replied Phranza. "I will do as you wish me."

"Do not let her be aroused, though, if she sleeps," said Sir Edward; "she must have had enough sorrow and anxiety this last day."

"Sleep, poor girl! I have had much ado to keep her quiet about you. She was certain that something would happen, and so, sure enough, there has. God be praised it is no worse, if Chrysolaras only recovers. But I must go and see Lord Manuel first."

"Better not, my Lord, if I may advise; hear, at least, what Theophrastus says first."

"Is it so bad then?" inquired Phranza. "By S. George, I hope not! They told me it was a trifle--a mere scratch--for heaven's sake, what is it?"

"Much more serious than that, my Lord," replied De Rushton. "I fear his life is in great danger."

"Then I will see him," cried Phranza, "let who will say nay. If he should die--if he should die------"

"He won't die, my Lord," said the physician, in a clear, hearty voice, entering the room. "I have probed the wound. It requires great care; but I pledge my knowledge of our divine art that he recovers. But I will have no one see him that could excite him; for he is sensible now. I have explained to him where he is, and all that has happened."

"May I not see him for one moment?" inquired Sir Edward.

"No," replied Theophrastus. "A servant is with him now: I will send up one of my young men to attend him, as dull as Tzetzes' Chiliads--ha! ha! no excitement there--till I come again myself, which will be at daybreak. Till when, I leave strict orders that no one sees him. If any dangerous symptom supervenes, I shall be called for."

"Of course we shall obey," replied Phranza.

"Of course you will," said Theophrastus. "Disobey the Caesar if you will--that may be set to rights; but never a physician. By the way, he said, 'Let Euphrasia know.' Who, in the name of the Unmercenary Ones, is Euphrasia?"

"The lady to whom he is betrothed," said De Rushton. "I will take care that she does know; but it shall not be till to-morrow, unless there is any immediate danger."

"That I pledge you my honour you shall hear," said the physician. "And now good-night. Or stay,--I think one cup of Chian would be wholesome--may I ask for it?"

De Rushton rang the silver bell. "A bottle of Chian, Stephen."

"And hark ye, Stephen," said Theophrastus, "two sprigs of cinnamon, and one of black pepper--not a jot more, d'ye hear? They are medicinal."

"I must leave you though," said Sir Edward: "the Emperor must be kept waiting no longer."

"Go, go, my Lord--I can take care of myself."

"I will go round by my house, De Rushton," said Phranza, "and meet you at the palace." And at the same moment the Chian entered, and the two friends departed.

Phranza, as he had said, immediately repaired to his own metcecia. De Rushton went straight to the Caesar, and, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour, found instant admission. Burstow was already there, and had related the occurrences of the evening.

"We thank you, Lord Acolyth, again and again for your zeal and good discretion in this matter. The great question now is, whether to attempt an instant surprisal of these vessels. If they obtain possession of the upper part of the Horn, we are lost."

"If my advice might have weight, sire, I would not advise a sally to-night. We are utterly in the dark how to attack: we have not galleys enough to throw any great force instantly on the opposite side of the Horn; and if we have to shut it, it must be broad daylight before we could come into action. It were much more to the purpose to bring down all our available artillery into that part of the ramparts. Somewhere, say, by the Church of S. John; and to-morrow we will see what can be done by a well-directed fire, under cover of which we may, if it shall seem advisable, cross the Horn."

"We leave all to you, my Lord," said Constantine. "But now, touching the Lord Chrysolaras: is his wound dangerous?"

"Dangerous, sire, certainly: but yet Theophrastus has hopes of his recovery. And there, also, is a great difficulty. It seems that he was allowed to come into the city on an engagement to return to-morrow by noon. That the circumstances have rendered impossible. But some intimation should be given to the Sultan of the fact; or he will, with good reason, accuse us of a breach of faith."

"God forbid!" cried the Caesar. "The Janissary who, this gallant officer tells me, accompanied Lord Chrysolaras, must be sent back to Mahomet, and must be instructed to acquaint him with all that has passed. If he doubts the account, safe conduct shall be given to any physician whom he may name, to enter Constantinople and to examine into its truth for himself."

"I will take order for that, sire."

"One thing more," said Constantine. "It is but too sadly certain that things continuing as they are, Chrysolaras must return to the Infidels when he can do so with safety. But it were well in the meanwhile again to offer Redschid Pasha in exchange, and to represent to the Sultan that the Lord Chrysolaras's life being so uncertain, it were much to his advantage to obtain the Pasha's release while he can secure it, than by pressing for too much, to run the possible chance of losing all."

"It is well thought on, my Liege. I will myself give the Janissary his instructions; and now, with your Majesty's leave, will make such dispositions of the artillery as have been mentioned."

"Good-night, my Lord Acolyth, then. Ah! my Lord Phranza, Sir Edward de Rushton was just about to take his departure to arrange matters for to-morrow." He explained what had passed, and then added,--"You shall give the Janissary instructions, while Sir Edward goes about the artillery. Any further tidings?"

"The rumour goes, sire, that Sir Etienne d'Angoulême has been taken prisoner; but I know not yet on what foundation. It is a grievous loss if so it be."

"It is indeed," said the Palseologus: "for we have few better officers or braver men. Let all inquiry be made; and let us be acquainted with the result as early as may be to-morrow. And now, my Lords both, good-night!"

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