"If we do meet again, why then we'll smile,
If not,--why then this parting was well made."
Since her return to Constantinople, Anna Patellari had lived in the most obscure and retired manner. The sale of some jewels had provided her with the necessaries of life, and she was desirous of escaping public observation, as well because the infamy of her husband was known far and wide through the city, as because the share she had taken in his liberation, though only suspected, would not bear legal inquiry; and she was anxious to avoid giving occasion for it. She lived, then, in an obscure lane in the very heart of the city, in the house of a poor woman to whom, in the days of her prosperity, she had been kind, and who now showed her gratitude by attending her former benefactress with all possible zeal and devotion. She had not even ventured to see Theodora; not even when the infant, from whose birth she had hoped to win the affections of her husband back, was taken from the world.
But now, when rumours were rife in the city of imminent danger, when she had not another friend to apply to, and her heart was failing her both with sorrow for the past, and fear for the future, she determined to obtain an interview with the friend of "her childhood. Accordingly, at dusk on the same evening, the events of which are detaining us so long, she threw around her such a cloak as was worn by women of the lower orders, and went out; bending her steps by the most circuitous and least frequented streets, to the palace. It was absolutely necessary, however, that she should pass the great place of S. Sophia; and there, to her astonishment, a dense crowd of people were assembled. While endeavouring to make her way through them, she found that Gennadius, still the popular idol, was standing on the western steps of the Cathedral, and preaching;---and, though all her aim was to pass as quietly, and with as little observation as might be, she could not help catching now and then some fragments of his discourse.
"Now," said he, "where is the succour ye hoped for from the Azymites? Now where are the promises of Eugenius and Martin? Your religion you have sold; your faith you have bartered; the blessing of your birthright is gone,---and all for this mess of pottage,--for these miserable two thousand Genoese, who, far from delivering us, cannot deliver their own selves. Months ago I foretold this, and it has come to pass;--the great and the wise of the city bade us look to Europe for help;--to Europe we looked, and a broken reed it has been indeed! Months ago I bade you to stop your ears from hearing of the accursed union,--not to say, peace, peace, when there is no peace; to chase the red hat from your city; and then I told you that you should dwell in safety, and the place of your defence should be the munitions of rocks: that bread should be given to you, and your waters should be sure. But I tell you to be of good comfort yet. God hath not utterly cast off this place, beautified by the Patriarchate, or glorified by the end of so many that now wear the martyr's purple, or the confessor's crown. Ye are mighty yet, prelates of the past! Alexander, and John Chrysostom, and Atticus, and Pro-clus, and Tarasius, and Germanus! Ye plead our cause before the Throne of God. And God can deny nothing to them,--but above all to the Ever-Virgin Protectress of this temple. And mark my words: to-morrow S. Sophia will be like a triple wall of brass to those that have taken refuge in it;--thus far shall Islam go, but no further;--the Angel of the Lord, that shall descend to-morrow to the Pillar of Constantine, is even now furbishing his sword for the battle: deliverance is even now arising for the Lord's people."
So he harangued, as Anna with some difficulty made her way through the crowd, and entering the palace court, presented herself at De Rushton's dwelling. Greatly surprised was Theodora when she was told that the Lady Patellari in such a garb, and at such a time, desired to see her; and could scarce find voice to give the order, "Let her instantly be conducted here."
"Oh, Anna," she cried, when their first long embrace was over, "why did you not come to me before? Oh, if you knew what pains I had taken to find you out, till at last I was fain to believe that the report of your return to the city could not be true!"
"Dear Theodora," said Anna Patellari, "how could I come to you?--I, whom every one would point out as the wife of Leontius the traitor,--I, whom above all things the Great Acolyth must abhor!"
"You do him wrong, dearest Anna. He pities you; he would help you in every way he could. And if there be any that dares to reproach you for another's guilt, his shame be on his own head. My happiness, Anna, you have diminished, by living in secrecy, and, I fear," she added more hesitatingly, "in want, while I had abundance and luxury."
"Once," said Anna Patellari, "I was on the point of coming to you--it was when my poor baby was taken away from me. That is now two months agone. But I did not do it then; and since that time never have I had the courage till now."
"God be thanked that you would come at last!" cried Theodora. "He knows I have need of comfort for to-morrow."
"It was that which brought me," said her friend. "This may be the last night we shall ever meet. If the city is taken, as every one assures me it will be, to-morrow, I hope it will be for the last time. For to know that it was my husband who directed the most successful operations, will fill my cup of grief to the full."
"Stay with me, stay with me, dearest Anna, till the day is decided," said Theodora. "For both our sakes, stay!"
"I cannot, Theodora. I could not bear to meet your husband; nay, my very stay might be the means of involving you in danger."
The door opened, and De Rushton and Phranza entered.
"Lady," said the former, "they told me you were here; and I am most truly glad that, in the moment of danger, you should turn to your real friends. It would have been wiser, it would have been better, had you done so long ago. But we must take precaution for your safety; not indeed so much threatened as that of others; for once let it be known that you are the wife of Leontius, and not a Turk will raise his finger against you. Only you must not expose yourself; the first heat of the sack in the more distant parts of the city will respect no one. The Lord Phranza and I were even now consulting what was best for you------"
"May she not be with me?" inquired Theodora.
"No," replied De Rushton; "it were wise neither for you nor for her. If, lady, you take my advice, you will accept the Lord Protovestiare's offer, and keep quiet in his tnetcecia, where you shall have fitting attendance."
Anna could but just speak her thanks through her tears.
"Then, if the city falls," said Phranza, "be sure that my mansion will be taken possession of by no one under the dignity of a Pasha. As soon as you shall find that that is the case, ask boldly to speak with him, and tell him that you are the wife of Leontius. You know not, as well as I do, what influence there now is in that name. It will preserve you from insult all over the city,---that is, if you only take care to be where there are spectators. The fear of being informed against by any will keep all in awe."
Some arrangements, consequent on this offer and its acceptance, then took place; a servant of Sir Edward's was despatched to the lodgings which the Lady Patellari had occupied, with intelligence that she would not return, and instructions to bring the few things which she possessed there. Phranza repeated his advice, and convinced himself that she understood it; and then proposed to escort Anna to her apartments, under pretence that she must be fatigued, but in reality to afford Sir Edward opportunity for the conversation which he knew he was desirous of having with his wife.
When they were left alone, De Rushton seated himself on the couch where Theodora was, and drawing her to him, said, "Theodora, love, this may be the last time that we shall ever be together alone. Will you promise me, when I cannot be with you, to obey to the letter what I am going to tell you to do?"
"Do not speak so, Edward; do not speak so; I cannot bear it."
"But, love, would you not rather hear the truth? Whoever deceives, let us be true to ourselves, and to each other. Be my own wife; and, as I trust you to God, so you trust me to Him. It does not make matters the worse to look them in the face."
"No," said Theodora, sobbing, "but--but------"
"But you thought all this time you had been making up your mind to this danger; and when it comes, it comes to you like a strange thing. Did I ever deceive you? Did I ever flatter you with the hopes that we should be finally successful?"
Theodora made no reply; but only hid her face in her husband's shoulder, and nestled more closely towards him.
"Let us first make up our minds to the danger, and then let us see how much ground we have for hope and for comfort. Theodora, I have no more doubt that by this time to-morrow Constantinople will be in the hands of the Turks, than if that morrow were already past. Always," he said, reverently, "excepting the case that God interferes by a miracle."
"But why may He not?" asked Theodora.
"Far be it from me to say that He may not," replied De Rushton. "But did He interfere to save His own city Jerusalem, when it first fell before the Saracens, or from Saladin? His ways are not our ways. It may be so; God grant it be so; but humanly speaking, the city is doomed, and doomed to-morrow. Now, to say that any persons now in it can escape without imminent danger, were most false; but all have a chance; and a chance that very much depends on themselves. Your father and I have been talking over what you must do; and this is what we have decided on." And he told her of the plan.
"How much care you have taken for us all!" cried Theodora. "But oh, Edward, if at midnight you should not come!"
"Well, dearest one, then you must conclude that I am a prisoner; and if so, they will only be too glad to let me ransom myself. But your father, or I, or one of the others will undoubtedly come; and whoever it is, Theodora, for my sake, for your own sake, for all our sakes, lose no time in making vain inquiries after me or your father, but go at once."
"It will be the hardest thing I ever did, if God so orders it," said his bride, "but I will obey you; I give you my promise that I will go at once, or act as we shall be told."
"Then," said Sir Edward, "the great difficulty is now over: how to dispose of you,--of you both, I mean,--for, for Manuel's sake, I love Euphrasia as a sister. I do not think you can possibly be discovered for many hours after the capture of the city. But we must talk of other things, for time presses. What jewels have you?"
"All that belonged to my poor mother--shall I fetch them?"
"If you can do it at once." And Theodora returned with them in a very short time. Even for the Court of Byzantium, they were remarkably choice; and in Western Europe might have been the envy of a queen.
"This is very fortunate, love," said her husband. "These you will be able to take with you--whereas money and plate are useless to us now. I tried this afternoon to purchase jewels, but there are none left in the city---all bought up. Why, those two rose-diamonds must in themselves be a fortune. Do not conceal them all together: for, depend upon it, strict search will be made for jewels by the Turks; and to be in poverty, in a strange land, would indeed be a hard fate for you."
"Oh no, not if you and my father were with me," cried Theodora.
"But suppose we were not," said De Rushton gravely. "But I hope the best, love,--I believe the best. Now there is another thing. If we both are fortunate enough to make our escape together, of course our home is England. If anything happens to me, I should have wished that you went there nevertheless; you would have had a warm welcome from my father at Rushton, and my sisters would have loved you as if you had been one of them always. But your father is all for the Morea or Lesbos. So you are safe, of course it matters comparatively little where; only one thing I have done, that you should know. I have written to my father, Sir Henry de Rushton, telling him of our marriage, and preparing him to love you dearly. This letter I have entrusted to the captain of a Venetian merchantman, who proposes to sail for Italy with the first fair wind; and thence, in process of time, there is no doubt that it will safely reach England. It might be necessary, you know, that our marriage were known and acknowledged there; and I have therefore procured a counter signature of it from the Cardinal; it might affect more than ourselves."
Theodora blushed, and presently said, "But I shall hear of you to-morrow, Edward; you will let me know how things go with you. It will be so dreadful to have the long hours go on, and not a word."
"Most certainly, love," replied the Great Acolyth; "and Lord Manuel will be of great use to us both. He will be well able to bear messages; though certainly not to take any part in the defence."
"But oh, Edward, do not be rash to-morrow! I do not wish to say anything that might hinder you from doing your duty; but do not throw away your chance of life, and mine of happiness. We have been, even with all the misery of the siege, so very, very happy together."
"And so we shall be yet, my own love--I feel persuaded of it. All the care that I can take of myself, I will; of that be well assured. Dearest, all my fear is for you. I am not afraid for you while you are concealed, only for the few hours that it will necessarily take you to get free from the city. You know not what a fearful spectacle tomorrow night will be. God grant you never may."
Theodora turned very pale, and shuddered; but presently, throwing her arms round her husband's neck, she whispered something in his ear.
"No," he said, very solemnly; "no: nothing can justify that, even if it comes, which God of all His mercy forbid!--to the very worst, nothing can make self-murder right. We may resist to the very utmost--we may provoke others to take away our lives; but to lay hands on ourselves is to shut ourselves out from salvation. Do not think of it, Theodora! The very thought is dangerous. Will you promise me this?"
"I will," she whispered.
"And now," he said more gaily, "I think that I hear the Lady Choniatis and her daughter. Most probably I shall see you again to-night; but I will bid you good-bye now, in case I should not be able."
He folded her in his arms; and had but just released her when Burstow entered the room, to announce the arrival, under his escort, of Maria and Euphrasia Choniatis.
"Bid them come up," said Theodora. "We shall be better here." And Sir Edward went downstairs to fetch them, and spoke as cheerfully as he could.
"A fine warm evening, madam. Dear Euphrasia, you must let me call you so now, for you must learn to look on me as a brother. Manuel and I are as good as brothers; so the rest follows, does it not? Theodore is upstairs; please you to come?" And he led the way.
They were presently joined by Manuel Chrysolaras, and shortly afterwards by Phranza; and the whole scheme of concealment was gone over and over again. The last person that joined the little party was Nicetas Choniates, and shortly after his arrival supper was served. The servants were, however, dismissed, that the conversation might be the freer; and in telling over the events of the day, and the fears of to-morrow, an hour, or an hour and a half, slipped away.
"Lord Acolyth," said Phranza at length, "were it not well that we attended the Caesar? It must now be hard on the fifth hour of night, and the council is summoned for midnight."
"One thing more," said Theodora, "I had almost forgotten it. What am I to do in respect to the servants, and more especially Maria?"
"You may depend upon it," said De Rushton, "that they will give you no choice in the matter; they will take refuge in S. Sophia, the moment the danger is imminent; even had they the choice of concealment, they would not accept it."
"You are right," said Phranza; "and God grant that they may be right, too. But counsel them against it, Theodora; bid them rather hide themselves where they may till the first madness of the sack is over."
"And whatever happens," added De Rushton, "the plan we have made holds. We may, or may not, any of us meet again; but till midnight, to-morrow, Theodora, I charge it upon you, do not stir from the ice-house. If we once lose trace of you, it may be ruin to all. Promise me this."
"I do most solemnly," she replied.
"And you also promise it, Euphrasia," said Manuel.
"Then we have nothing to do but to say farewell. Theodora, love, I promise to see you after the council if I can," said De Rushton, "but you must go to bed,---and to sleep if you may. So must you," he added, turning to Maria Choniatis;--"and you, fair Euphrasia."
"I will try," replied Theodora. "We all will try."
Then came the parting; and a bitter parting it was. Phranza at length, laying his hand kindly on De Rushton's shoulder, said, "Come, my good Lord, come! This is sad work--let it be short."
And he and the Acolyth, together with Chrysolaras, who insisted on accompanying them to the council, and the Exarch Choniates, were soon on their way to the Caesar.