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 XXII.

"This gives you warning that within few days,
Death needs must marry you: these short lines, minutes,
That dribble out your life."

Decker's Fortunatus.

The rising sun showed a position of affairs fearfully altered for the worse, so far as regarded the devoted city. Eighty Turkish galleys and brigantines rode proudly in the upper part of the harbour; the Crescent at their heads glowed in the morning brightness; crowds of horse and foot were forming in lines and squares on the archery ground, and where the Crimson Mosque now stands: the Bosporus was comparatively deserted; even the north of

ythe city and the Tower of S. Romanus by no means presented the same active spectacle of attack and defence which up to that time had been the case. Slowly and painfully from all quarters, west, north, and south, oxen were to be seen dragging forward timber and stone to one point on the eastern side of the Horn. There, again and again, in the course of the day might Mahomet be found on his white horse; there the principal Pashas and officers were constantly congregating; thither every half-hour, or oftener, messengers were to be seen arriving, and thence departing.

But, on his part, Constantine had not been idle. The ten galleys that yet remained to the Empire and its allies were arranged in line of battle. The walls, from the Church of S. Basil to Port S. Peter were defended by formidable batteries; masons were busily engaged in repairing the fortifications in this quarter,--and not without need,--for it had been deemed inaccessible, and therefore neglected. Constantine was continually carrying-on the works in person; the soldiers were encouraged, as much as possible, to rest; the labour fell principally on the handicraftsmen of the city, who, both by strengthening the fortifications, and yielding what assistance they could in the manufacture of engines, gave no small assistance in that day's work.

The Sultan, on being informed of what had occurred with respect to Manuel Chrysolaras, gave a commission to Ali Jamisi, his principal physician, to avail himself of the safe conduct, and to visit the Greek nobleman. Ali's report was that, though it was utterly impossible for Chrysolaras at that time to return, and though in spite of favourable symptoms, danger was still to be apprehended,--in his opinion the patient would recover. On receiving this intelligence, Mahomet positively refused to exchange Chrysolaras with Redschid Pasha: demanded that the former should return as soon as ever the state of his wound would allow him,--and then dismissed the matter from his thoughts.

Sir Edward de Rushton, faithful to his word, did not fail to acquaint Choniates and his family, as early as possible on the following morning, with what had occurred. The old Exarch further paid a visit to De Rushton's metoecia; but, encountering Theophrastus at the door, was by him so peremptorily ordered to abstain from visiting the sick room,--so potently encumbered in all his petitions for but one moment's interview with quotations from the physicians both Greek, Syriac, and Arabian,--and so learnedly refuted in every plea he urged, that he was fain to retire from the conflict with no better consolation for Euphrasia than that Manuel was doing as favourably as the physician could possibly expect, if not beyond his hopes.

But there was one point on which Chrysolaras was determined; and that was to see Sir Edward de Rushton, in order that he might be satisfied how matters stood in regard to the pledge he had given. In vain Theophrastus assured him that every necessary step had been taken; that the honour of Chrysolaras was as safe in the Emperor's hands as his own; that he neither could, should, nor might see the Great Acolyth. Manuel insisted so urgently, became so extremely restless, and showed such evident tokens of an accession of fever, that Theophrastus finally gave way.

The young nobleman was lying on the same bed to which he had been first conveyed; the scholar recommended to the office of keeper by his dullness was gazing out from the window over the Caesar's gardens: when a firm, decided step was heard on the staircase, the door opened, and Chrysolaras turned himself round to welcome his friend. But, to his great surprise, it was the Emperor that entered.

"Nay, nay, Lord Manuel," said he, advancing to his bed, and sitting down in a chair that was placed by it, while the pupil of Theophrastus prostrated himself, and then stood by, in a kind of stupid awe,--"lie down quietly, or I cannot talk to you. How feel you this morning? The physician gives us excellent accounts."

"Better, sire, I thank God," replied Manuel. "And indeed, your Splendour's visit ought to make me well at once."

"I wish it had such power," returned the Emperor. "But I heard that you were anxious to hear from Sir Edward de Rushton what had been done respecting your pledge. He, at this moment, is superintending some new batteries, and could not well be spared; but I can give you all the satisfaction he could, and indeed more, for a messenger has just arrived from the camp. The Sultan has sent his own physician to report on your case, and I am in great hopes that he may exchange you for Redschid Pasha. But whether this be so or not, your honour is quite safe: and if Ali deserve the reputation which he has, his report will more than satisfy Mahomet."

"I thank your Highness," replied Chrysolaras. "That removes a weight from my mind. There are one or two other questions which I would fain ask, if it is not giving your Majesty too much trouble."

"I will spare you one," said Constantine. "It is about your affianced bride--is it not so? Nay, if you smile, I shall indeed begin to hope that you will speedily gain strength. Euphrasia Choniatis is in as good health as she can be, while you are on a sick Bed; and, on the word of an Emperor, she shall visit you with her father as soon as ever Theophrastus will give leave. What was your other question?"

"The galleys, sire,--are they in the Horn?"

"I am sorry to say that they are," replied Constantine. "But we are taking measures against them, of the success of which you will soon, I hope, hear. Now, I have one question to ask, and it shall be but one. You have seen, I find, Calil Pasha. May we trust to him?"

"You may, sire."

"May not a traitor to Mahomet, prove a traitor to us also?"

"He will not, sire, I am sure; whatever his reasons may be, his heart is with us."

"Then now I will stay no longer," said Constantine; "for Ali must not be kept waiting--and you, I see, are not equal to more. The Panaghia guard you!" And stretching out his hand to Chrysolaras to kiss, he left the apartment, which was soon entered by Ali Jamisi and Theophrastus, on whose medical disquisitions we shall not intrude.

We will give but one more scene from this day's events, ere we go on to more exciting matters. One scene of peace we may have, before we turn again to war.

Theodora de Rushton was seated alone in the evening twilight. The Penelopean tapestry, as much the employment of the ladies of Constantinople as of the high-born dames of London,--we doubt not as tedious to all but themselves as the Berlin work of the fair successors of these latter,--the tapestry, we say, was on this occasion laid aside; partly because it was getting too dark to continue it, and partly that she might follow with the less interruption the sad, yet sweet train of her own thoughts. Her husband she had not seen that day; though she had received two or three messages from him, as its hours rolled wearily on, in which he promised to see her before night. He had been so fully employed at the fortifications by the Horn,--almost at the very extreme furthest distance from Phranza's house,--as to be unable to leave the works,--and the more so, as in consequence of the capture of Sir Etienne d'Angoulême, which was now confirmed, the command of the Franks now devolved on him. The day had been quieter than the days of late; but it was the calm which precedes a storm. There had been but little firing; indeed none of any consequence, except one brisk attack on the Tower of S. Romanus, about noon; and Theodora fondly believed that the transportation of the ships, with which of course the city rang, could be a fact, therefore, of no very serious importance, or some more immediate consequences must have resulted from it.

Then there had been a visit to Euphrasia Choniatis, to give and to receive comfort. That was, indeed, an ordinary occupation of Theodora; but under the circumstances in which both those fair girls were now placed, the more necessary for the consolation of each. Thus then, Theodora was thinking over the events of the past day--but more especially that of the preceding evening, twilight deepening and deepening around her,--when suddenly the door was hastily thrown open, and De Rushton stood by her.

"Now, dearest one," said he, throwing his arms round her, and kissing her again and again, "I can feel that you are really mine. How long the day has seemed! and how I longed but for one hour to be with you!"

"It has, indeed," said Theodora. "But is your work really over? or is it only a rest?"

"It is really over," replied Sir Edward: "there will be nothing more done on either side to-night. And I have seen Manuel, and he is certainly better; and Theophrastus has given his consent that Euphrasia may see him to-morrow."

"Poor Euphrasia!" cried Theodora; "how glad I am for her sake! But you must tell me all that happened to you last night. I have just heard the substance from my father, and he has been abroad almost all day."

"You shall hear it all, love, but not here. Can you not guess why I am with you now? Do you not know that you have another home, dearest one?"

"But my father------"

"He is even now below," said Sir Edward. "He let me come up to you first. I hear him even now on the stairs." And with a heavy step, and an air that showed how great a part he had borne in the labours of the day, Phranza entered, and fondly kissed his daughter.

"You have a better right to her now than I have, De Rushton," he said. "Theodora, we shall not be very far separated; I know not how we should bear it if we were."

"Oh, no, no, dearest father, I shall be very near you. I shall still see you every day--just as we have done till now. Is it not so?"

"I should be almost as grieved as you would be, dear Theodora, if I did not think so," said De Rushton.

"I believe you, from my soul, Lord Acolyth," cried the old nobleman, giving him his hand. "God bless you, Theodora! Ever have you been a most dear daughter to me; and I thank God that He has given you a better protector now than myself. Take her now, De Rushton. You must go with him, Theodora. I must not stay, for the Emperor has just sent for me: it appears there is some dispute between Justiniani and the Great Logothete, and I must help to reconcile it. Maria has her instructions, and will be at your new home well-nigh as soon as you."

"Let us go through the gardens to my house, Lord Phranza; and do you come with us so far--it will be scarce out of your way."

"Do, do, my dearest father," added Theodora.

"Let us go, then," said Phranza. "Ah, Theodora! your bridal procession of yesterday--where is it?"

"While I have you and my--and Sir Edward de Rushton,"--she corrected herself with a blush,--"how can I think about processions? But you will come and see me to-morrow?"

"I will, my dear child, I will. Now we are in Sir Edward's garden--a right pleasant one, is it not?"

"I shall learn now to love it better," said De Rushton. "At present it has not the happy memories of your own garden, Lord Phranza."

As he spoke, they ascended the marble steps that led up from it to the house, entering it quietly and alone. But in a moment servants of all kinds assembled round them, eager to do honour to their new mistress.

"God bless you, my dear child! Take care of her as she deserves, Sir Edward." And without more words, George Phranza passed through the crowd of servants, and took his way, unattended, across the court to the Emperor's own apartments.

"Now," said Sir Edward, "my Theodora shall judge for herself whether I have guessed aright what her taste would be." And he led her into a little room, to which we shall have occasion hereafter to refer more particularly.

It looked out on to the gardens: the branches of an aged cedar rustled pleasantly against the very windows: a fountain, on a green plot beneath, threw up its waters and made a delicious coolness around: and between the branches of the tall trees the blue Sea of Marmora, in that twilight hour, was faintly visible. The room itself was hung with green silk, embroidered with a golden fleur-de-lys, a decoration utterly unknown at Constantinople: there was an open hearth, with small fire-dogs of silver; the furniture was of satin-wood; the ceiling was painted after the Greek fashion, with intertwining cable-work of crosses; and, in compliance with the accustomed use of his bride, the image of the Panaghia and the silver lamp were fixed against the wall.

Theodora threw herself into her husband's arms, and found vent for her feelings, both of sorrow and joy, in a flood of tears. We will leave De Rushton to wipe them away, and to that first sweet evening with his bride.

Project Canterbury