"A fancied honour, such as is indeed
A rushlight to the sun, or rather say
A Will o' th' Wisp, that leads poor fools agog
Through quag and swamp.
Theodora de Rushton and Euphrasia Choniatis sat together in the little room which Sir Edward had so elaborately fitted up for the reception of his bride. It was the same morning' of which we have just been writing; and at the same time.
"What have I not to thank God for!" said Euphrasia, "that my father was not taken, as he so nearly was, last night! Fancy what would have been his lot now!"
"It is sad indeed," cried Theodora, "to think of that scene, and of those who witness it, and are powerless to help it. The young Lord Notaras, too, I pity more than all; my father had always looked for great things from him. And yet, perhaps, what is greater than to die, in the sight of the whole city, for the faith?"
"It is indeed to conquer by enduring," replied her friend. "And so the Lord Chrysolaras is better this morning even than last night."
"As you shall see, answered Theodora, "as soon as Theophrastus leaves him: there is now no danger, neither does he think the recovery likely to be a tedious one. Your news,"--and she smiled,--"will be his best cure."
"My father will see him in the course of the day, if he may," said Euphrasia; "and he would have come with me even now, had not the Emperor summoned him on this sad business."
The door opened, and Theophrastus entered. "A fair morning, fair ladies both! but that it must ever be where you are "
"And how find you the Lord Manuel?" inquired Theodora.
"Better and better," replied the physician. "There is. no possible reason why the Lady Euphrasia should not see him whenever she wishes it." But as it did not occur to the worthy physician that she might wish it at that moment, even though it involved his own departure, he stayed on.
"You hear of the news toward," said he. "Poor fellows! poor fellows! I had half a mind to see the thing myself; but I am tender-hearted,--too foolishly tenderhearted, indeed. And how is the Acolyth?"
"I have not seen him since he went forth at daybreak," replied Theodora, "he was deeply dispirited with the failure last night."
"Between ourselves," said Theophrastus, "that was better executed than designed. However, the Emperor would have it so. Emperors and physicians, you know, are absolute. God help the world else! Now I remember, just at the beginning of this century, or it might be the end of the last, but that makes no matter--I think it was at Saloniki, but somewhere thereabout, that the Emperor sent for me. God guard us! What was that noise?"
"They are yelling and hooting at something," said Theodora. "Maria! Maria!" And the attendant, who had been in the adjoining apartment, entered.
"Maria! tell Cyril or Theodosius to go forth and learn the meaning of this outcry. It waxes louder and louder."
"Belike," said Theophrastus, "they are hooting the Cardinal. I saw him even now going towards the walls."
"Now God forbid!" cried Theodora.
"God may forbid, if He pleases," replied the physician, "but I care very little about it. I have no great opinion of that Isidore; no more I have of that Venetian Doctor, that Galeani--that they have boasted to the sky. He has studied at Padua, and at a place they call Oxford, in France or England, I know not which. I pledge my word as a man of honour, he is the most pitiful trifler with our heavenly science--the most ignorant dog that ever took upon himself the name of physician. Ha! now we shall know."
"Well, Maria!" said Theodora.
"It is young Isidore Chalcocondylas,--he has apostatized," replied the waiting-woman, out of breath with hurry and excitement. "All the others stood firm, however, Latins and all."
"Are they dead, then?" inquired her mistress.
"They are all dead; he was one of the last. And now they are putting the Turkish prisoners to death as fast as they can."
"I suppose it is a sad necessity," said Theodora de Rushton. "You may go, Maria."
"Yes, madam; but what a grievous thing it is that the only apostate should be a Greek!"
Still Theophrastus lingered on; conversing, if it could be called conversation, on the petty details and scandals of the day. Translate but the talk that would pass current in a morning call of our own times, and it would give no bad idea of that which then served the same end at Constantinople. At length, he fortunately recollected that he had a patient to visit at the further end of the city, by the Silivri Gate, and accordingly took his leave.
"I thought he would never have gone, dear Euphrasia. Maria! send up to the Lord Manuel to inquire if he is ready to receive us."
A speedy answer was returned in the affirmative; and Theodora, passing her arm through that of her fair companion, led her up the marble staircase.
"You must not tremble so, poor Euphrasia, or I positively will not let you go in. You will agitate him, if he sees you so much agitated."
"One moment, Theodora, and I shall be quite myself. Now then, let us go in---is he much altered?"
"A little thinner and paler, that is all." As she spoke, she knocked at the door of the room where the young nobleman lay, and it was immediately opened by the dull attendant, Tryphon.
Manuel was still confined to his bed, though gaining strength fast. He started up in it, as the door opened and turned to that side.
"A fair good-morrow, Lord Chrysolaras," said Theodora, in a cheerful voice, as she entered. "Here have I brought you a visitor, who would fain have been with you before. Tryphon, I will pray you to go to your master's and see if the drugs are prepared yet."
"My master spoke of no drugs," quoth the apprentice. "The Lord Chrysolaras continues on the same treatment; that is to say------"
"But I speak of them," said Theodora; "and I desire you to go and see if they are ready." And so Tryphon found himself condemned to a long walk half over the city; and, as he verily suspected, on a fruitless errand.
In the meanwhile, Euphrasia had given her hand to Manuel, who, for his part, was devouring it with kisses. What the first words on each side were, Theodora heard not, and we shall not inquire. She walked to the deeply-recessed window at the further end of the room, thus admitting the warm breath of a May morn, and there remained, apparently engrossed, (and she might well have been engrossed,) with the sight of the Turkish galleys lying at anchor in the upper part of the Horn.
"If it be so," said Euphrasia, as if in reply to something that Manuel had been saying, "it is a very hard duty. But it is not a duty. I should not dare to speak of myself, because I might well be swayed by my own wishes, and because I will not pretend to know how far the laws of honour extend. But my father thinks that it is not your duty to return--the Lord Phranza also thinks so, and De Rushton agrees with them."
"Ask De Rushton what he would do in my case," said the young nobleman, sadly.
"I will," answered his affianced bride, "if you will promise to act accordingly."
Manuel shook his head. "One thing I ask you most earnestly," she continued. "God forbid I should say aught that might influence you from doing what you felt to be right! But do not be led away by a fancied sense of honour, that has no foundation in it. The hardest path is not always the right one, Manuel."
"Not always, but generally, dear Euphrasia."
"My father says, that such a gross violation of the laws of nations as this last action of Mahomet's, releases from all pledges. How do we know that he might deal with you as with those unfortunate men to-day? And how then could you stand excused from the guilt of self-murder?
Remember this--you owe much to your friends--to me you owe something--do not forget this duty, when you think of the other."
"I will not, love: be assured of that. If the Emperor joins with your father and the Lord Phranza, and, as you say, De Rushton, in thinking that I ought to stay, stay I will. Does that content you?"
"It does," replied Euphrasia. "One thing more." And she bent her head over Chrysolaras, and spoke almost in a whisper. "If you go,--which God forbid, you go to imminent danger,--I stay to the same. My father will tell you himself what he wishes--and I am only glad that I can give you proof of my love that in any other circumstances might well make me blush--but not now. Manuel! you shall not go till you have called me your wife------"
But, in spite of poor Euphrasia's protestations, she did blush most deeply as she spoke the last words.
"Euphrasia," said Manuel, "you have offered what I dared not to have asked. They will say it is selfish in me not to thrust away the happiness you would give me--I hope it is not. More dearly than I loved you before I cannot love you now--but--who is that?" A knock was heard at the door: it opened; and the Emperor entered.
"So well attended, Lord Chrysolaras?" he said; "nay then, I had better retire."
"By no means sire. I hope your Splendour will do me the honour to stay."
"And so do I, your Majesty," said Euphrasia, boldly: "for I have a question to ask, sire, to which none can reply but yourself."
"Ask it, ask it, lady," said Constantine: "it were hard indeed if I do not answer it to my best ability."
"Thus it is sire. I have pleaded hard with the Lord Chrysolaras not to return to Mahomet, since every one tells him that, since the last act of the Sultan's, his honour does not require his return. And he has agreed to refer the matter to your Majesty, and to be bound by your decision."
"I think," said Constantine, "that for once, fair lady, I shall be able to plead more successfully than yourself.; for I shall not scruple to employ a plea that you could, not urge. My Lord Chrysolaras, you will, on your word of honour, consider yourself a prisoner till we give further directions; and if you do not give me your word to that effect, when you are able to leave this room, we shall give orders for your committal. Have I satisfied you, lady?"
"I am most bounden to your Majesty," replied Euphrasia.
"And so, I am sure, will my husband be," said Theodora; "for he has grieved himself at the Lord Chrysolaras's obstinacy."
"I willingly submit, sire," said Manuel; "for I am well assured that your Majesty will command nothing which you did not also approve."
"Well," said Constantine, "I must not now stop with you, for every moment is valuable. Farewell, fair ladies both, and happier times! And to you, my Lord, a speedy recovery!" And he left the apartment.