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 XXIX.

"And therefore, as I prosper in this guile,
Write me, or write me not, a prosperous man."


Burstow, on leaving the consulting friends, bent his way with all speed to the mansion of Phranza. The streets were nearly deserted; the men, with scarcely an exception, were either talking of, or gazing at, the works on the ramparts; the women, engaged in passionate lamentation, or in contriving schemes of safety at home. The Lochagus, accustomed from his youth to imminent perils of all descriptions, gave not a thought to the dangers of the next day as regarded himself; but he fully felt them for those over whose welfare he had promised to watch. With Barlaam he was but slightly acquainted; but he felt that he was a man who might be relied on; and was not a little pleased at meeting him in the court of the palace, before arriving at Phranza's metoecia.

"Well met, Sir Steward!" said he: "my errand concerns you."

"How may that be?" inquired the old man.

"Let us walk up and down here," said Burstow, "and I will tell you." Which he proceeded to do in as few words as possible.

"Well," said Barlaam, when he had heard the tale, "I have but a few drops of blood to shed, and but a few years to live; but both one and the other were well spent in such a cause. Come to me into the garden. We can there talk the matter over better; and I can show you the ice-house."

Accordingly, they went into the gardens of which we have spoken more than once already; and while walking up and down on the terrace where De Rushton had first confessed his love for Theodora, they debated the whole of the matter.

In a thick clump of shrubs, laurel, arbutus, and holly, the ice-house of which Phranza had spoken was concealed. Six or seven steps led down to it; and the excavation itself was divided into two apartments which, on reaching the bottom, presented themselves respectively on the right and on the left hand. They were allotted for the reception of two different kinds of ice. For the modern method of cooling wine, by plunging the bottles in ice, was unknown at that time in Constantinople, though, I believe, practised by the Spanish Moors at a much earlier period. The Byzantines employed the ancient way, that of dropping a piece of pure ice into the wine itself; and for this purpose the best was, of course, needed; while for the more ordinary uses of preserving fish or meat an inferior kind answered equally well. During the troubles preceding the siege, such pure ice was not to be procured; and the consequence was that the store-house for it in Phranza's garden was at the present time empty,--it was that on the right side, and quite dry.

"This will do well; this will do very well indeed," cried Burstow, when Barlaam introduced him to the spot. "It will be a hard thing if any one thinks of coming here at all that first day; and still harder if they try to break it open when they find it locked. You have the key?"

"Ay," said Barlaam: "but it only opens from the outside.

"That is unfortunate. You must invent something to keep it fastened on the inside, then--I have plenty else on my hands."

"Now," said the old steward, "we clearly understand each other. If, which God forbid, the city is in imminent danger of being taken to-morrow, of which I am to gain intelligence as I best can----"

"The Lord Chrysolaras will take care of that," interrupted Burstow.

"Ay, well--so he may--so much the better if he does--but it is always as well to be independent; but, however, if the city is in imminent danger, I am to see that the Lady Theodora, and the Exarch's wife and daughter are safely concealed here, and then to lurk about myself, where best I can, till nightfall. At midnight I am to expect further instructions from you, or from my Lord, or from Sir Edward De Rushton, or from the Exarch, or the Lord Manuel; and, if I have none, then I am to follow my best judgment, and serve them if I can."

"Even so," said Burstow, turning and ascending the steps. "The place strikes cold. It were well, good Barlaam, if you put in one or two bottles of wine, and some other refeshment: if they are long confined there, they will need it."

"I will do so," replied Barlaam, closing the door and locking it. "Shall I see you again to-night?"

"I think not; I must go look for the Acolyth; he is on the ramparts somewhere with the Emperor."

"God speed you then! Whatever happens, I will do my best."

"And not a word, for your life; one word might spoil all the plan."

"No, no," said the old man. "You may trust me for that. Not a soul is the wiser for what has passed between us this evening."

They had not long entered the house when the laurels in the thickest part of the shrubbery might have been seen, had any spectator been present, to move, and cautiously and quietly Zosimus emerged from them.

"Not a soul shall be the wiser, eh?" said Zosimus. "But one man I wot of shall be all the richer, and another all the happier. If now I could only find the means of getting to the Lord Leontius, I might make any bargain I pleased with him. But it must be to-night; to-morrow may be too late; the bird may have flown, or which is just as likely as not, Leontius may be killed. Well! I am sorry for her, too--for she has ever been kind to me; and I would rather have the money for keeping my secret than for giving it up. However, that is impossible. It is a duty to take care of oneself. Besides, I have heard out of Scripture, or if not there, out of somewhere else, that charity begins at home. And so it is a duty to do this; but I am sorry for her, too."

Zosimus, having arrived at this conclusion, set his brain to work, how, with the least risk, he might make his escape to the Turkish camp. For as to returning, that he thought safest not to do, till the infidels should enter Constantinople. We must follow him on his operations.

Although the upper part of the Horn was in the power of Mahomet, the lower, namely that towards the chain, was held by the Genoese and Venetian merchant vessels, which either belonged to the inhabitants of Galata, or were there for purposes of traffic. There might be as many as thirty of these. The owners of several of them had been importuned to lend them to the Emperor on the night oi the vain attempt to fire the mole, but the greater part had declined; and indeed the larger portion of these vessels was unfit for such service. To the Seraglio Point therefore, (now, as always, we use the name anticipatorily, as being more intelligible than that of Chrysoceras, as it was called from the harbour,)--he bent his way; and on arriving at the landing place, requested permission from the soldier on guard, to have a boat to go on board the Bucentaur.

"You are the Lord Phranza's servant?"

"I am; I have a message from him to the Captain of the Bucentaur."

"I dare not let you go without a pass, but I dare say my superior will," replied the man; and calling out the corporal of the gate, he stated the case.

"Oh, ay," said the corporal, coming out, and looking at him; "it is Zosimus, is it not? To the Bucentaur? Very well; only take care that you are back before sunset for then we double-lock the gates, and, I promise you, we shall have no mind to unfasten them."

"I will be back before sunset," cried Zosimus; "no fear of that. But how in the foul fiend's name am I to get a boat?"

"You must e'en row yourself," said the corporal, as the other knew he would. "You don't imagine that my men are going to row you?"

"They might do worse," said the other. "But I can manage very well. Just help me to launch this boat, good fellow," to the man to whom he had first spoken, "and I will give you a bottle of wine for your pains."

"Have with you then," said the soldier; and by the united efforts of the two, the boat was soon launched, and Zosimus fairly afloat.

"I will give you five piastres when I come back," cried he, as he pushed himself off. "Get the wine, if you list, now. Where does the Bucentaur lie?"

"Just on the other side of that galley--not the nearest one--but next to that with the Venetian flag at her masthead."

"Ay, ay, I see," said he; and he rowed out in that direction.

"That fellow will never be back before sunset," said the soldier to the corporal, who was listlessly leaning over the breastwork, "if he does not get on faster. He rows as if he had never handled an oar before."

"I wonder Lord Phranza could not find a better messenger. However, if he returns later, he may get in as he can."

In process of time, but not without great delay (for he rowed slowly on purpose), Zosimus came alongside of the Bucentaur.

"Hallo!" he cried, "hallo! Is Sir Edward de Rushton on board?"

"Sir Edward de Rushton!" repeated the officer of the watch. "Not he. Why should he be?"

"Why, he is somewhere in the Horn, and I thought as this was his ship in the attack, he might be here now."

"Not been here all day," said the officer.

"Well, then, I must look for him somewhere else. What is that vessel yonder?" And he pointed to the one which lay nearest to the Turkish fleet.

"The S. Francis."

"I will try there, then." And he pulled for it in the same deliberate way as before, and asked the same question, with, of course, the same result.

"Then I must get back," said he. But, instead of doing so, he now bent to his oars in a far different manner from before, and the little boat flew right up the Horn.

"That's odd now; that's what I can't understand," said the sailor who had replied, from the S. Francis, to the question of Zosimus. With which sapient reflection he went below.

To any one that had leisure to contemplate it, the scene that now presented itself to Zosimus was magnificent, He was half way between ^he Turkish and Genoese galleys, and nearly a mile from each. Not one single boat, except his own, specked the Horn; its waters lay before, behind, around him like a sea of glass; showing that wonderful radiation and combination of colours, depth below depth, dark purple, living green, transparent gold, that a sunset in such a climate sometimes calls out. For the sun was almost at the goal of his long bright course that day; sinking lower and lower behind the towers of Galata, and flinging their dark shadows further and further into the Horn. Before, like a winter forest, rose the innumerable masts of the Turkish galleys, and an army of crescents glowed in the evening light; behind the Genoese merchantmen rode at broader intervals; to the left the Imperial City seemed a mass of gold, flashing back the last rays of the sun; before, the Horn lost itself in the distance, and blue soft hills melted away into the sky. Sounds there were too, mellowed indeed as they floated over the water, but though mellowed, not of peace. A distant roar from the great city, ten thousand different noises blending into one confusion; from the Turkish fleet, more distinctly, riveting of beams and clamping of joints; and from the right bank, the occasional word of command, the occasional gallop of a party of horse.

There they lay,--the besieging army and the besieged city, and the quiet waters between; both lit up in the same glow, both gradually hushing into the same peace. For the sun set not more peacefully on the Pentecost revels of merry Sherwood, or the Vespers of quiet Brittany, than there, on the morrow's scene of strife.

The sun dips below the earth. One night more, and the empire will be with the Assyrian and Babylonian monarchies. Yet it lingers, half above the horizon, as if for one more glance at the Palace of the Ca?sars, and as the Greek historians love to call it, the firmament of brightness, the earthly heaven,--the wonder of the archangels,--the throne of God,--Christian S. Sophia's.

Now it has set.

Instantly, one solitary cannon boomed from the ramparts of the Contoscalion. It was the sunset gun. As instantly from the eastern shore of the Horn arose the cry--"There is no God but God, and Mahomet is the Prophet of God! Come to prayer! Come to prayer!"

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