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Theodora Phranza; or, the Fall of Constantinople

By John Mason Neale

New York: E.P. Dutton, 1913.
First published London: J. Masters, 1857.

Chapter XXXI.

"O stay, slave!
As thou wilt win my favour, my good knave,
Do one thing for me that I shall intreat."

Love's Labour Lost.

We left Zosimus at the moment that the evening gun fired. "That is well," said he to himself; "now I am out of the way of danger, for no one will think of inquiring after me when the gates are double-locked for the night."

As he spoke, the heavy plunge of the discharged rock covered him with foam. He turned, and was near enough to the shore to distinguish those who surrounded the machine by which it had been discharged; among them, to his horror and dismay, he beheld his master. Nothing doubting but that the whole sum of his treachery was discovered (how it could possibly be, he had neither time nor inclination to discuss,) he bent steadily to his oars, and the boat danced over the puny waves into which the waters had been agitated by the fall of the mass of rock. Scarcely had he breathing time after the first danger, when the second missile deluged him with brine, and filled the boat so much, that he was in considerable apprehension of sinking.

"Merciful Panaghia!" cried he, "they are determined to kill me! Only save me now, and I vow to say nothing about the business I came upon; no, indeed, I will get back as quickly as------"

Here there was a tremendous crash, and Zosimus was precipitated into the water. Sinking for a moment by the suction of the sinking rock, he soon recovered himself, and struck out boldly for the Turkish side. Just as he was beginning to congratulate himself on having escaped the worst, another rock narrowly avoided striking him, and a second time deluged him with water. Now he gave himself up for lost; a machine discharging missiles so continuously, he had never before seen, and how many more it might contain, he could not guess. Gradually recovering courage, as minute after minute passed away, he struck out with the more confidence, and in a quarter of an hour from the destruction of the boat, landed safe, but well-nigh exhausted, on the eastern side of the Horn.

His adventure had not been unobserved; and, as he scrambled up the shelving beach, a mounted Janissary rode down towards him.

"Your business?" cried he in a menacing voice.

"It is with the Lord Leontius," said Zosimus, boldly. "Conduct me to him."

"I shall take you to the guard-house," replied the Janissary, "and you may tell me your name. If he chooses to see you, he can; but you may mean mischief, for aught I know."

"Well, well, do as you please," said Zosimus. "My name matters not; but tell him I come from the Lord Phranza's, and I warrant you he will owe you no great thanks for not taking me to him at once."

"I will run the risk of that," replied the soldier, "come you along with me." And accordingly Zosimus was conducted to the guard-house, a rude, log-built erection, not far from the water's edge, but nearer to Galata. A regiment of Anatolian troops was quartered close to it. The soldiers were engaged in discussing the morrow's assault, or in cooking their suppers; and the camp fires began to glitter pleasantly here and there among the deepening obscurity.

The Janissary left Zosimus with his comrades, and went in search of Leontius; and they after one or two idle questions and sneers at his unfortunate plight, left him to dry himself at the nearest fire, only so far troubling themselves about him, as to keep an eye that he should not escape. Presently a dervish, tall, thin, and gaunt, approached the tents; his tall cap and loose vestments soiled with dust and sand; his beard untrimmed; his eyes glaring and bloodshot; his cheeks hollow; his feet bare: he seemed rather a maniac escaped from chains, than a teacher come to instruct. The soldiers seemed to know him, and to view him with more awe than pleasure; the loud voice was hushed; the noisy quarrel was broken off; the unseemly story came to an end; and whispers might have been heard of "Peace! peace!" "Here is the dervish Solyman!" "What brings him here to-night?" "Hush, he is going to speak!"

He began in a low, quiet voice; gradually it waxed louder and deeper; he worked himself up into a frenzy, he gesticulated, he raved.

"Moslems!" said he, "Allah has ordained the fall of yonder city. Its fate approaches, hour by hour, minute by minute; it has resisted Chosroes, it has laughed at the Caliphs. From all eternity has it been written that it should fall before Mahomet. Allah is great! Sons of the faithful! they that fall to-morrow shall die for Allah and the Prophet. The Prophet will intercede for them; Allah will reward them. Safely they shall pass over that dreadful bridge (and the dervish shuddered) that hangs between heaven and the seven hells, sharp as a razor, slippery as glass; that bridge whereon the tempest ever beats, to precipitate the trembling soul into the abyss beneath; that bridge whereon to stumble, is to dwell in darkness and fire for seven thousand years; that bridge which all must pass,--which none can pass so gloriously as they that fall for the faith. Allah is merciful! For them that are destined to perish to-morrow, shall I bemoan them? Shall I not rather congratulate them? Happy shall they be as the bird let loose from the cage; free as the wild goat on the Balkan. Even now are the houris beckoning to them; even now Tuba is stretching forth its branches of immortality for them; even now the Prophet, whose will is one with Allah's, foresees their victory and their reward. They, and they only, that fall for Islam, are admitted into the fulness of the Divine Beatitude; they only penetrate into the sixth heaven; they only taste of pleasures from which other believers are excluded as unworthy. To these joys Allah invites them that fall,--purchased by so short a pain,--enduring to eternity. For them that live, a Paradise upon earth,--for them that die a Paradise in heaven!"

And he was proceeding in the same strain, when the Janissary who had gone to seek Leontius, returned with an expression of countenance which justified Zosimus's assertion with respect to the feelings of that nobleman, now an all-important personage in the Turkish camp; since it was clear that the city would never have been won, without the transportation of the galleys, and that transportation never devised, but by the brain of Leontius.

"Sir," said he to Zosimus, "the Lord Leontius requests your attendance in his tent. Have the goodness to follow me." And he led him through one after another of the intersecting alleys that divided that portion of the camp, till they reached a tent of large dimensions and luxurious equipment. The Janissary entered; Zosimus followed.

"My Lord," said the former, "here is the Greek."

"You may withdraw, then," said Leontius, looking up from the table at which he had been engaged in writing. "Good-evening, Zosimus; you wish to speak with me?"

"I do, my Lord. I have this afternoon become possessed of some information which I think your Lordship would give something to know."

"Tell me what it is," replied Leontius, "and I will tell you what it will suit me to give for it."

"The general opinion in the city is, that it must be taken to-morrow."

"Is that the news?" inquired Leontius, with a sneer.

"No, my Lord; but it leads to it. I think so myself; I can see that your Lordship does. Now, I think that your Lordship would be glad to know, if this be the case, where you may take the Lady Theodora Phranza;--I should say, the Lady Theodora De Rushton."

"What, is she married?" cried the renegade.

"About a week agone, my Lord."

"To take her!" said Leontius, passionately. "I would give this hand to do it; and doubly now, if it were only to break that accursed Acolyth's heart." Then more coolly, "Name your price, if you really can do this."

"I can do it," said Zosimus, boldly; "I know the place where she is to be concealed; and I can tell you who is to be concealed with her,--the Exarch Choniates' wife and daughter, if your Lordship knows the man."

"I know him," said Leontius. "As I said, name your price."

"I had rather hear your Lordship's," replied Zosimus.

"A thousand golden amuraths."

"I thank your Lordship," answered the Greek, with a bow; "my price would be somewhat higher. I could not think of taking less than five."

"Dog!" cried Leontius, in a fury, "I will tear the secret from you by some other means."

"You could not, my Lord," returned Zosimus, coolly, "if you were to try; and you will not try, because------"

"Because of what?"

"Because I should let every one know that I could offer the pearl of Byzantine beauty for the Sultan's harem; and that you, for the sake of retaining her for yourself, were putting me out of the way. Judge whether your slaves would obey you then!"

Leontius paused. He was a coward by nature, and rather profuse than avaricious; and now love, such as it was, and hatred, about the character of which there could be no mistake, came to the assistance of his cowardice.

"You are talking nonsense, Zosimus," said he, "and you know it. But time is precious; and I had rather give the extra sum you demand than spend it in teaching you sense. The five thousand amuraths shall be yours, if I judge your information to be such as gives me a fair chance of becoming possessed of the lady you mention."

"Put that down in writing, my Lord, or rather put down that you will give it me on becoming possessed of her, and I will lose no time."

"This will do as well," said Leontius, who did not exactly wish that the infamy of such a bargain should, by any possibility, attach to him: and he sat down, and wrote something hastily at the table. "Listen," said he: "I promise to give to Zosimus, a servant of the Lord Phranza's, five thousand amuraths, on the capture of the city of Constantinople."--"Now, tell me," he continued, "and rest assured that if your tale is not satisfactory, I will myself stab you to the heart; and if not true, I will find means to punish you hereafter; for you do not leave me till its truth or falsehood be discovered."

"Very well, my Lord; I am perfectly content. This afternoon I chanced to be in Lord Phranza's garden, when I saw old Barlaam the steward, and a Varangian officer they call Richard Burstow, coming down the great steps together, and in very earnest conversation. I have picked up one or two secrets in my time that have stood me in good stead, as your Lordship knows very well: "here Leontius's colour heightened: "and I thought I might do so now. So I hid in a clump of trees that is close to the main walk, and could hear tolerably well what they said, as they walked up and down. Some words indeed I lost, at the two ends of the walk; but the sum and substance I can swear to------"

"You may dispense with that, good Zosimus; I should not believe you the more if you did."

"No, my Lord, the feeling is mutual. No offence, I hope. The long and short of the matter is this: the lady, on the first alarm, is to be concealed, with those two others I mentioned, in one of the reservoirs in Phranza's ice-house, which is empty and quite dry. Barlaam is to keep watch in the garden, concealing himself as he best may: and at twelve that night, when every soldier will be in the full riot of licence, De Rushton, or Phranza, or one or two others whose names I could not catch, are to steal down to the place, and proceed as best they can if no one comes, Barlaam is to conclude them dead, and act for himself."

"You deserve the money, Zosimus, if this be so," cried Leontius. "But you must be content to remain where I can get at you till the city be really taken."

"And I will then conduct your Lordship to the place," said Zosimus. "Give me enough to eat and drink, and keep me out of the way of cannon balls and ballistas, and I will stay as long as you please."

"Ho! Ahmed!" cried Leontius. And a Janissary entered. "Ahmed, let this Greek be carefully kept, in some secure place, till the city is taken. Let him be well tended, and have what he wishes, but on no account be permitted to escape."

Zosimus, therefore, was carried off; and Leontius remained sitting in the same position for several moments, revolving his own dark plans. "It must be so," he said at length. "Baltazar told me that if I survived that night I should have wealth and honour to the very end. The plan seems very probable. I do not think she can escape me. But I will see to that anon, when these estimates are finished." And he again bent over his task.

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