"We must straight employ you
Against the general enemy Ottoman."
We have now reached the evening of Whit-Monday, May 28, 1453. A night and a morning, and the destinies of the great city will have been accomplished; the long line of its princes will have ceased for ever; its heroic actions and its dark crimes have passed away from real existence; itself, equally with the account of its fall, be a tale that is told. But yet, on that fair evening, it existed; its Emperor and its princes were a living reality; its churches were unprofaned; its monasteries inviolate; it retained the impression of primeval times, and, amidst the changing West, exhibited the stamp of the immutable East.
"Whither away?" inquired Phranza, as he met Sir Edward de Rushton on the ramparts, near Port S. Peter, about six o'clock on the evening of this, the last day of the city.
"To the Emperor," replied the Acolyth,--"at S. Romanus's Tower--he wishes me to visit that, and the other positions which will be attacked to-morrow, with him, while it is yet daylight."
"I will go with you. What have you been doing this afternoon? I have not seen you."
"I have been arranging for the defence of this side, as well as may be. It seems that the old breaches made when the Latins took the city, have only been skimmed over, never thoroughly repaired. It is a fortunate thing for us that no very heavy artillery has been brought to bear upon them."
"But there will be more men needed here than anywhere else," replied Phranza. "Those ships can throw their scaling ladders right on the walls--no ditch--no double wall."
"Yet, somehow, I have a presentiment," said De Rushton, "that the greatest danger will not be on this side. Those four towers that have been thrown down by S. Romanus, must give them great spirit. Have you been there lately?"
"Not since this afternoon's cannonade, which has been brisk enough. The Emperor has been there in person. I have had enough to do in lodging the ammunition where we shall want it. We shall have plenty of that happen what may."
"These matters will finally be arranged in the Council. But now, Lord Phranza, let us talk of what more immediately concerns us. What can we do for Theodora? We may not have another opportunity of discussing this in private."
"We must so arrange," said Phranza, "that if we both fall, which is likely enough, she must not be left--and that, whether we fall or survive, she may at once be found. In the first place, I thought of giving Barlaam directions not to leave her. He is an old man, and not fit for active work; but he has some strength in him yet--he loves her as he would his own child,--and he knows every street and lane of Constantinople as well as my house."
"So be it," said Sir Edward. "Of all men, next to myself, I would rather leave her in Burstow's charge; but that cannot be. However, we must make preparations for the worst. If the city falls to-morrow, and we fall too, is she to attempt flight from it, or to hide herself in it?"
"To hide herself," said Phranza, "might secure her for the time; but it would involve almost certain destruction afterwards. And yet, to attempt to fly in the midst of a sack, were equally vain. Ah! here is the Exarch Choniates: he has a daughter too to preserve. Let us take him into our counsels. Good-evening, sir."
"Good-evening, my Lords. Are you bound to the Emperor?"
"So am I. Shall I join you, or are you occupied?"
"Join us by all means," said Phranza. "You have an interest in what we were discussing, for you too have a daughter. The question is, supposing that the city falls to-morrow, how are we best to provide for their safety, as that, whether we survive or not, they may have the chance at least of escaping the horrors of the sack."
"In the first place," said Sir Edward, "if the Exarch thinks fit, the Lady Euphrasia, and my own wife had better be together,--safer so than separate; and they will cheer and comfort each other."
"I am beholden to you, Lord Acolyth," replied Choniates. "And the Lord Chrysolaras, though he is unable to take part in any active preparation, yet may well be a safeguard to them, if things go ill to-morrow."
"Then thus be it," said Phranza. "We may beat off the dogs, and then all is well. But, if the day seems to be going hard with us, Theodora and Euphrasia shall conceal themselves in the ice-house of my gardens. There is a large empty vault there, where it would not be easy to find them. Barlaam shall have his directions to keep as near the place as he can do with safety, and take the best care of them that he may. Your wife, Exarch? were it not well she bestowed herself there also?"
"She is in far less danger than the others," said Choniates, "but still it might be well for all their sakes."
"Then it is probable that some one of us,--the Exarch, you, Lord Acolyth, Chrysolaras, Burstow, or I shall survive. Whichever of us does (for Burstow we may trust as ourselves,) shall engage to pursue the best course he can, at whatever danger to himself, to set them free. It must be done to-morrow night, if at all. Let us therefore resolve, each and all of us, to meet near the ice-house, if the city is taken, at midnight. If by that time none of us appears, Barlaam must conclude that we have all either fallen or been made prisoners, and do his best, as circumstances shall direct."
"Let us call up Burstow," said Sir Edward de Rushton, "and tell him the plan." And the Lochagus, who was in attendance on the Acolyth, and following him at a short distance, was at once summoned.
"Burstow," said Sir Edward, "we have been talking over the best means, if the city is taken to-morrow, of providing for the safety of the Lady De Rushton and the Lady Euphrasia Choniatis. It is not the first time that I have given you proof how implicitly I trust you. We have settled that we cannot do better than thus: "and he told him the plan.
"I do not know, my Lord, that anything can be safer, on the whole," replied Burstow, respectfully; "and for myself, I call God to witness that, if I am the survivor, I will do as much for those two ladies as I would for my own daughters, had I any, and were they in the like case."
"I believe you, Burstow; I believe you from my heart," replied the Acolyth, much affected with the man's earnestness.
"But I must see the ground first," said the Lochagus, "for I have never been in the gardens of the Lord Phranza; and I should wish to see them by daylight."
"That you shall do," replied Phranza; "and, if Sir Edward de Rushton has no present need for your services', at once: for the sun cannot want above an hour to setting."
"Oh! he can go directly," replied Sir Edward.
"Go to Barlaam, then," said Phranza, "and you may tell him all that has passed. He will take you into the gardens, and you can decide how best to act. I need not say, not a word to any person except to him."
"The rack should not tear it from me, my Lord," returned Burstow. And, with a low obeisance, he departed.
"There I believe him," said the Exarch. "I only wish that poor Contari could also be here to-day."
"The great question is, if they are fortunate enough to escape from the city, where are they to fly?" asked Phranza. "Two places most recommend themselves to me; either to the Court of Thomas Palseologus, in the Morea, or Lesbos."
"England, England, my good Lord," said De Rushton. "The Morea and Lesbos will be Turkish states in a few months; in my own country I can assure you an honourable asylum, and your daughter a place not unbefitting her rank and situation."
"But so distant!" said Phranza.
"A Venetian merchant vessel will make the passage in four weeks," answered De Rushton; "and there we shall be safe--wherever else not--from Mahomet and his hordes."
"Well," said Phranza, "if you survive, the plan has my consent; if not, my sentence is for Lesbos. What say you, Exarch?"
"I am for leaving it to Providence," replied Choniates. "Only let the principal danger be over, and the rest will follow easily. I am just from the Lord Chrysolaras. He is up, and declares that he will put on his armour tomorrow, if he can do nothing else."
"He can be of no use in the defence," said De Rushton; "but, if he can go forth, he may be of great service, by carrying intelligence, should matters go against us, and so giving them timely warning."
"After all," observed Choniates, "we may be needlessly alarmed."
"God grant it be so!" cried De Rushton. "But I tell you, Exarch, I expect as fully, that this time to-morrow will see Constantinople in the hands of the infidels, as if an angel from heaven had said so."
"The worst is," said Phranza, "that this popular frenzy as to the final deliverance of the city, does not incite the crowd of those who might fight. If Gennadius told them to defend their walls, and the city should be impregnable, I could excuse him for fanaticizing his hearers. But to declare that the Turks will enter at the breach, and that the supernatural assistance will not come till they are in the square of S. Sophia--this is to cut away our last chance indeed!"
"And they fully believe him," said Choniates. "If the Turks succeed, S. Sophia will be thronged with women."
"I fear so," replied Phranza; "they will rush to it as into a net."
They now turned one of the towers that defended the northern wall, and came upon the crowd of labourers employed, to the very last moment, in strengthening and repairing it. "There is the Emperor," said De Rushton; "we must learn from him his own plans."