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 XXVII.

"Wal. The time is not yet come.
Ter. So you say always.
But when will it be time?
Wal. When I shall say it.
Illo. You wait upon the stars, and on their answers,
Till the earthly hour escapes you. Oh, believe me!
In your own bosom are your destiny's stars."


It was the night of the twenty-seventh of May,--Whitsunday: deep repose was on the city and the camp. The moon had not risen, the sky was intensely dark, but the stars shone out full and lustrous. Venus was now almost setting: Mars glowed red and fiery toward the zenith; the constellations seemed to stand out from the infinite void of space behind them: Orion glittered like a giant in golden armour: Cassiopeia shone out in her own peculiar liquid radiance, and the Pleiades in their misty brightness. In the judgment of the Sultan's astrologer, the stars in their courses were fighting against Constantinople.

For there he sat, in front of the Sultan's own tent; none daring to intrude on his studies; Mahomet himself standing reverently by, and expecting the result of his calculations. Sometimes the old man added another line to the tablet lying before him: sometimes he wrote down figures, and combined or divided them: sometimes he gazed up into the sky, as if half admiring the beauty and half reverencing the wisdom of the orbs that had been the study of his life.

At length he paused, and sat in meditation for a few moments. "Well?" asked Mahomet at length, after curbing his impatience to the utmost of his power.

"Patience, Lord Sultan," said the astrologer. "My calculations cannot be quickened, and must not be hurried. This only can I tell you as yet, which I have told you more than once before,--that the city will undoubtedly fall." He paused, bent over his papers, and resumed his calculations.

Still Mahomet waited on with patience. His faith in Baltazar had always been great; and the remarkable coincidence of the prediction of the astrologer concerning the danger of Lcontius with the event, had changed it into the most absolute trust. But the Council of War which had been summoned by Mahomet, though by no means despising the predictions of the astrologer, were yet not at all prepared to be implicitly governed by them,--and thought, to say the least, that the chances of war and the judgment of experienced generals, ought to have as much weight in the decision of the proper time for the final assault, as the calculations of an astrologer.

"I wish the Sultan would allow Baltazar to finish his calculations, another time, before he summons us," said Achmet Pasha.

"They should be worth something when they are finished," observed Baltha Ogli, "for, by the Prophet, they are long enough in making."

"Never a better time than to-morrow, according to my judgment," cried the Pasha of Anatolia.

"Then for that very reason," returned Baltha Ogli, "to-morrow will not be the day. These astrologers can do nothing like other men."

"You seem to place no great confidence in them," remarked Achmet.

"Faith, nor I neither," said Leontius.

"However, my Lords, the time is not far distant," said one of the Sanjaks. "The Sultan will make the right stars appear, when the right time comes."

"I know not what to say to that," said an old Pasha. "More than once has the Sultan followed Baltazar's opinion rather than his own, and gone the worse for so doing."

As he spoke, Mahomet entered; and, after receiving the obeisances of the Pashas, "I have to announce," said he, "that the infallible skill of astrology predicts a happy day for the assault. The day after to-morrow, at sunrise, we attack the city by sea and land."

"Let the Commander of the Faithful live a thousand years," replied Calil Pasha, "your slaves will obey; and doubt not but that, as Allah has predicted the time, so He will also furnish the means."

"It is on them we are now to consult," said the Sultan. "We are ready to listen to any proposal in furtherance of our end."

"Were it not well," asked Baltha Ogli, "that the Dervishes go through the camp, preaching the meritorious-ness of the work, and the certainty of the reward?"

"It is well thought of," replied the Sultan; "look to it. We will ourselves address the Janissaries, and promise them a recompense beyond their hopes. I propose that the attack be commenced in three places more especially: at the Tower of S. Romanus, from the Horn, and from the ruined bastion near the Silivri gate."

"It is well said," cried several voices.

"Achmet Pasha," continued the Sultan, "and the Lord Leontius will attack the ramparts from the Horn. The vessels must be brought up as near as may be to the fortifications, and then the scaling ladders applied. Baltha Ogli, to you we entrust the assault on the Silivri gate. The Pasha of Anatolia will command that on the Tower of S. Romanus, which we intend to be the principal one; and the Janissaries, whom we propose to keep back as a reserved body, we shall ourselves command."

"In that case," said the Pasha of Anatolia, "I shall crave leave of your Highness that the artillery may play on S. Romanus to-night and to-morrow. There is a breach, it is true, but it is barely practicable yet; and the ditch is very formidable."

"A thousand mules," replied Mahomet, "are even now on their way from the Balkan with fascines. By a messenger just arrived, I learn that they will be here by two hours after midnight,--or sunrise at the furthest. Dispose the artillery as you will. We will visit it at daybreak to-morrow morning."

The news of the intended attack spread like wildfire through the camp. Late as it was, the Janissaries might be seen in knots, discussing the probable method of the assault; the resistance likely to be opposed; the number of the enemy yet remaining; their own distinction in the operations of the Tuesday. The wild hordes of Bulgaria and Croatia, with their long, matted hair, fierce countenances, and discordant voices, were in full discussion of the plunder and the licence; here and there a ring of Dervishes were expatiating on the irresistible necessity that Islam should prevail, or whirling in their passionate contortions and maniacal devotion. Messages passed between the ambassadors of Hunniades and the King of Hungary, who--shame that it should have been so!--were in the Sultan's camp; a Christian slave would go or come with dejection deeper than usual. Gradually, large bodies of men were in motion; new positions were taken up; the Pasha of Anatolia raised his flag a quarter of a mile from the gate of S. Romanus; and, as the night wore on, the heavy roll of artillery was heard in that direction.

Sir Edward de Rushton was seated, late that evening, by Theodora. There had been little done that day. The Turks usually selected a festival as the time of their attacks; but on this Pentecost, except a slight movement in the Horn, all had been still. The service in the great church had been performed with the utmost possible magnificence; the aristocracy and beauty of Constantinople had thronged it, as in the better days of the city. The Emperor himself had assisted at High Mass; the Archbishop of Chalcedon had officiated pontifically; the day was blue and balmy; the sky all smiles,--the earth all freshness; and now twilight had come down on a scene of comparative peace, and had deepened into dark night. De Rushton sat, as I have said, by his bride, and very sweet had been their conversation. They had been recalling the long-gone days, before Phranza went on his fruitless mission; how first they had known each other, when De Rushton took service in the Byzantine Court; how Theodora had grown up under his very eye; how she had* long suspected his love for her; together with all the pleasant questions, and more pleasant answers, naturally rising out of such a review.

As the night wore on, Phranza entered, and was warmly welcomed both by Theodora and De Rushton. "Is there anything new?" inquired the latter.

"Nothing," replied Phranza, "except that Gennadius is more than usually troublesome. He has been preaching, I understand, this evening before the Studium. Really this licence must no longer go unbridled. I am no great friend to the Cardinal Isidore myself; but truly, to find him called dog, devil, hypocrite, Ahithophel, Judas Iscariot,--and that on such a festival as this,--is beyond all bearing."

"Worst of all," said Theodora, "on the feast that ought to be the Feast of Love."

"Even so," returned her father; "but there lies his main argument,--the old Double Processionist controversy."

"Well," said De Rushton, "I shall request the Emperor to have him confined to his monastery: there, at least, he will do little harm. If I had my way, to prison he should go forthwith."

"Nay, that would hardly be prudent, either," returned the Great Protovestiare. "Send him to his monastery, say I; and do you second me there."

"Do not you think it strange," asked his son-in-law, "that Mahomet, contrary to his usual wont, has let this festival pass so quietly? He has renegades enow in the camp--Leontius for one--to let him know what day it is."

"It is odd,--and more odd than pleasant," replied Phranza. "It was just so, you remember, before the galleys were transported. Belike he has some new scheme in his head. But I tell you what, De Rushton,--I begin to have better hopes than I have had for some time. The weather is getting fearfully hot,--by the way, how pleasant are those orange-trees of yours, Theodora,--and I am sure the army cannot lie much longer as it is. Some epidemic will break out in it, to a certainty."

"It will only be a respite," said Sir Edward.

"Nay, he cannot return till autumn; and by that time how much may be done! Besides, when they know what the imminency of our danger has been, depend upon it the princes of Christendom will hasten their armaments. Rely on this: if the city falls, Rome will be his next prize."

De Rushton smiled.

"Nay," said Phranza, "if you mean that the Roman Church has a privilege of perpetuity, that need not preserve the city, any more than from the Goths. If Nicholas had only known his true interest, we should long ago have had help."

"Pray God it be so!" cried De Rushton.

At this moment a servant entered. "My Lord, the Lochagus Burstow is below, and desires to speak to your Lordship."

"Bid him come up," returned the Acolyth.

"Shall I leave you with him?" asked Theodora, rising.

"First let us see what he wants," replied her husband.

Burstow presently entered, holding something carefully in his hands, with "A fair good-night, my Lords."

"What have you there, Burstow?" inquired Sir Edward.

"A carrier pigeon, my Lord. It has a billet round its neck: shall I cut the string?"

"Ay. When did it arrive?"

"But now, my Lord. It came right into the guardhouse."

He cut the string, and gave the letter to De Rushton. The pigeon turned its glossy neck about, as if looking for protection.

"Come to me, poor little trembler," cried Theodora, taking it out of Burstow's rough hands,--who touched her as if she had been a being of superior kind to himself,--"come to me: it is a shame to employ such innocent creatures as you in such bloody messages."

"We must not open this, Lord Phranza," said De Rushton. "It is directed, 'To the Emperor, with speed.' I know the hand, though."

"Let me see," said Phranza. "Ay, so do I. It is our good friend, yonder," and he nodded in the direction of the camp; "but we had better go with it at once."

"Surely," said Sir Edward. "Burstow, do you follow us: we may want you."

"Are you going, then?" asked Theodora. "When shall you be back?"

"Soon, if I possibly can," returned the Great Acolyth, kissing her, "but it must depend on what this note may contain. Something of importance it is, or it would not have been sent in this manner. Do not sit up for me, love: though I hope I shall not be long."

"Good-night, my child," said Phranza. "I, at all events, shall not come back to-night. Go you to S. Sophia's to-morrow?"

"I purpose to do so," she replied.

"Then, after Liturgy, I shall, perhaps, see you again. Good-night."

"This confirms what we were saying even now, Lord Protovestiare," observed De Rushton, as they crossed the First Court. "This mode of conveying intelligence is so perilous, that, unless it had been something of weight, Calil would not have attempted it. Chrysolaras tells me that he never did it without great anxiety."

"Why, truly, it might easily fail, take what precautions he will. I suppose he designs a surprise. If so, we may have to spend this night most precariously. But here we are. We must see the Caesar on urgent business, guard."

"The Emperor is at After-Vespers, my Lord," replied the guard. "Please it your Highness to walk into the reception-room. He shall be informed instantly on his return."

"Has he been gone long?"

"Nearly half an hour, my Lord; he cannot be much longer."

"Well, we must wait, then," said Phranza; "but the delay is vexatious. At S. Irene's, is he?"

"Yes, my Lord."

"We will wait for him, then, here, good fellow." And they took one or two turns up and down before the entrance. But they had not long to wait. Fifes and hautboys presently rang out, and, with a small guard of Varangians, the Emperor, and a few officers of his household, returned to the palace.

"Good-evening, my Lord Phranza," said he. "Good-evening, Lord Acolyth. I love not to miss After-Vespers on these great Festivals. Anything of importance?"

"I rather think there is, sire. A despatch has arrived."

"Has it?" asked Constantine, understanding to what he referred. "Have you opened it?"

"No, my Liege."

"Then follow me instantly." And leading the way into a small room used by the First Secretary for the despatch of business, Constantine seated himself; and, having desired that every one should leave the apartment, said--

"From Calil, is it?"

"Yes, my Liege," replied De Rushton. "It arrived by a carrier pigeon but now, and is addressed to your Majesty."

"Read it," said Constantine.

Sir Edward read--"The Emperor is informed that a general assault of the city is to take place at daybreak on Tuesday morning, both by sea and land. The attack will be made in three places: Baltha Ogli, the Bulgarians and Croatians, at the Silivri gate; the Pasha of Anatolia, with the Anatolian and Roumelian troops at the breach by S. Romanus's Tower; the Sultan will command the Janissaries there in person, as a body of reserve; the galleys in the Horn will be commanded by Achmet Pasha and Leontius. This intelligence is certain. The number of troops employed, as near as the writer can ascertain, fifteen thousand Janissaries; two hundred and fifty thousand ordinary infantry. Every effort is being made to ensure success. If this attack can be repulsed, the city is safe."

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