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 XXXIII.

"Before my God, I might not this believe,
Without the evidence and true avouch
Of mine own eyes."


Again we must avail ourselves of our privilege as historians, and convey our readers into the bed-room of the Lady Theodora De Rushton.

It was nearly midnight. Maria was occupied in disengaging her hair from the chain of pearls, which, after the custom of the times, she wore twisted in it. Theodora herself seemed utterly weary and wretched; yet she was speaking earnestly.

"You must if you choose to do it, Maria; I cannot hinder you. But I wish you would for once hear advice. Your master thinks it madness to suppose that S. Sophia, in case of the worst, will be any defence."

"My master is a Latin," said Maria, rather pertly.

"You forget yourself, Maria;--and what is due to me. My father is not a Latin--nor the Lord Manuel Chrysolaras,--nor the Exarch Choniates;--and they all think so too."

"Gennadius says, madam, that God will never permit the Turks to pollute the Great Church. Before they do that, deliverance will come."

"I know he does, Maria. But if holiness could have protected any place, surely it would have been the Holy Sepulchre! yet the infidels twice took it."

"He has told us the truth from the beginning, and he will not deceive us now," said Maria. "He said that the Latins would not help us; he said that we should be reduced to extremities; has he not spoken the truth?"

"He has," replied Theodora. "What he said was not unlikely to come to pass, and it has come to pass. But is this sufficient reason, think you, for believing him in prophesying a miracle of so wonderful a kind--and that has hardly happened since the beginning of the world? Is it enough to make you blindly trust your life and honour to such a vague uncertainty? For you must know, that if S. Sophia be not supernaturally protected to-morrow it will be the very centre of danger; you will be taken as in a trap, the prey of the first soldier that happens to see you."

"You cannot frighten me, madam," said Maria.

"Silly girl," replied Theodora. "I am most grieved that I cannot. But remember,--your ruin will lie at your own door; I have warned you."

"But suppose, for one moment, that what Gennadius says should be true," Maria pleaded.

"In that case," replied her mistress, "if you conceal yourself here, you will be equally safe. If he speaks truth, you are none the worse for taking my advice; if he speaks falsely, you are ruined by not attending to it."

There was a pause of some minutes, during which Maria proceeded with her mistress's toilet. At length she said, "My mind is made up, madam; I shall go to S. Sophia's."

"Then God preserve you!" replied Theodora. "I have done what I could." And there was another pause.

"You shall sleep in the room that opens from this," said the Lady De Rushton. "I do not like being so entirely alone."

"Very well, madam."

"Light the small lamp--I do not want much light--and then leave me."

Maria did so: and having wished, and been wished by, her mistress, "good-night," she betook herself to old Anastasia, a kind of housekeeper under Sir Edward's steward, to bewail with her the Azymite tendencies of her mistress, in that she would not give credence to the words of Gennadius. This they did at some length,--and with the help of a bottle of choice wine, of which Anastasia partook more liberally and Maria more sparingly, they arrived at the conclusion that there was no cause for apprehension, except to those who pertinaciously rejected the warnings of Gennadius.

In the meantime Theodora had knelt before the icon of the Panaghia, and had committed herself and her husband to the mercies of her Son. She rose with a lightened heart, and, after some half-hour's sad, yet not altogether sad, thoughts, closed her eyes.

How long she had slept she knew not, when it seemed that something awoke her. She thought that it was De Rushton entering; but the room was empty. The little silver lamp was burning on the table; strange noises from time to time echoed over the city; but the house was perfectly still, and not a single ray of light found its way in at the edge of the curtains to be the forerunner of day. Theodora felt uneasy,--she knew not why; she thought of ringing a bell that was within reach, and that would have summoned Maria, but for a mere causeless alarm she would not disturb her rest. So, for some moments, she thought of her husband; what he might at that moment be doing,--whether he would return that night,--whether, or not, there was any hope that she might see him while the strife was yet raging on the morrow.

While she was thus employed, she started to hear the curtains rustle on the side from which she had turned; but instantly looked round to welcome De Rushton.

What she saw instead might have been--since it is the pleasure of our age to explain all such appearances so--an optical delusion, a trick of the fancy, an over-excited imagination, or whatever else the reader may please to call it. But she herself was perfectly convinced, to the end of her days, of its reality.

She saw her mother, as she had last seen her, in her shroud; her face pale and expressiveless, only the eyes open as if mechanically; the hands clasped on the breast, the feet drawn together and pointed downwards. Theodora gasped for breath; she would fain have cried out, but her terror prevented her; a deadly chill came over every limb; her eyes were, as it were, fascinated to the figure that stood motionless at her side.

"Theodora!" it said, in a low deep voice, like her mother's, but yet how changed!"do not go to the icehouse to-morrow. Be not terrified; you will never see me again in this world." And even as it spoke, the figure seemed gradually to melt away into air.

For some minutes Theodora lay in a speechless agony of terror, not daring to stir hand or foot, and hearing nothing but the violent beating of her own heart. At length, by an effort of desperation, she seized the silver bell, and rung it loudly.

Maria entered; and was shocked at the terror displayed in Theodora's countenance.

"What is the matter, my dearest lady? For the Panaghia's sake, what is the matter?"

"I cannot tell you--indeed I cannot," said her mistress, wildly. "Help me to dress--give me anything to put on--I am but going to the Lady Choniatis."

Maria was now almost as much terrified as her mistress; but she saw clearly that it was no time to make inquiries. She assisted her to dress partially, without saying another word except--"Shall I ask the Lady Choniatis to come here, madam, and tell her that you are not well?"

"No, no!" cried Theodora. "Do not leave me! I am quite well; but do not leave me. There, light another taper, and come with me to their room."

Theodora made her way along the corridor which led to the apartment occupied by Maria Choniatis. Euphrasia slept in an adjoining room. She knocked at the door, and surprised her guest equally by the time of her visit, and by the ghastly paleness of her face.

"Now leave me, Maria," said Theodora, "but come again in a quarter of an hour. Leave me, and go back to your room."

Then would Maria cheerfully have given half her money to have heard the conversation that she doubted not was to ensue. But wild and obstinate though she was, her good principles prevented her endeavouring to listen; though I will not say that it was without a struggle that she obeyed her mistress's orders.

As soon as she was gone, Theodora De Rushton, throwing herself on her knees by the bedside, and hiding her face in the pillow, sobbed so violently and hysterically as to alarm beyond all measure the good wife of the Exarch.

"For Heaven's sake!" she cried, forgetting her usual awe of the Lady De Rushton's superior rank in the kindness of her own motherly feelings, "for Heaven's sake, my dear child, what is the matter? Has anything happened to vour husband, or to your father?"

"No, nothing," sobbed Theodora; "but--"and the violence of her feelings quite overcame her.

Maria Choniatis saw that something unusual had happened. Hastily, therefore, wrapping a shawl round herself, she hurried to Theodora, and threw her arm around her as she knelt.

"Whatever this is, my dearest child," she said, "you must not give way to your feelings so much. Tell me, if you can,--or shall I send for your husband? Barlaam, you know, could go in a minute."

"I will tell you," gasped Theodora. "I came to tell you."

"I must go and get you something to take," said Maria Choniatis; "you will be worn out."

"Oh no, no! pray do not leave me!"

"Then I will not. I will but open the door, and call Maria.

In the meantime Euphrasia, who had been aroused by the violent sobs of her friend, opened the door. "Mother, may I come in?"

"Yes, yes, let her come in," said Theodora, "she must hear it too."

At that moment there was so tremendous an explosion on the other side of the Golden Horn, that the house seemed shaken to its very foundations.

"Blessed Panaghia!" cried the Lady Choniatis. "Euphrasia! something fearful has happened to the Lady Theodora; stay with her, while I go and seek for some wine."

"Dear Theodora," said Euphrasia, "what has happened? How your heart beats! What is it? Will you not speak to me?"

"I will tell you," replied Theodora, making a great effort to be calm, "when your mother comes back."

She kept her word; and related what had happened. Euphrasia and her mother were beyond measure amazed.

"Are you sure it was not a frightful dream?" asked the latter, at length.

"As sure as that I am now standing here," replied Theodora.

"Well," said Maria Choniatis, "whatever it was, whether fancy or reality, I think it amply warrants your sending for Sir Edward. Without first seeing him, we must not, of course, venture to make any difference in our arrangements. It is a wonderful occurrence, whatever it be; and if it should be a Providential warning, it were most unwise and wicked in us to neglect it."

"I will send, then," said Theodora. "I can send no one, I think, better than Barlaam."

"And in good time," cried Euphrasia, "I hear Maria coming along the corridor."

It was even so. "Maria," said her mistress, as she entered the room, "desire Barlaam to go instantly to Sir Edward de Rushton, and to say that circumstances have occurred of that importance, as to make me most desirous of seeing him, though it were but for two minutes. What is the time?"

"About the seventh hour," replied Maria.

"He will probably be still at the Council, then: for it was not to meet till midnight. But bid him make all speed."

Barlaam, with as little delay as could reasonably be expected, was on his way to the Caesar's more especial court of the palace. Constantinople at that moment presented a spectacle awfully beautiful. All along its northern side, from the Seven Towers to the upper portion of the Horn, the sky was aglow with the thousand fires of the Turks; troops of beasts were arriving every half-hour with loads of fascines; ten thousand men, frequently relieving guard, were bringing them up to the edge of the ditch, as near as the engines on the walls would allow them to approach in safety; sappers and miners were at work; spades, mattocks, pick-axes, mingled their discordant sounds: the whole then known art of attack was exhausted in the parallels and approaches. Dervishes, through the live-long night, moved from post to post--from advanced-guard to advanced-guard--from soldier to labourer--from Anatolian to ally. In the Horn, the galleys were already moored close to the walls, eighty in number, and the whole preparations for the storm on that side were most ably planned, under the incessant vigilance of Achmet Pasha and Leontius. One hundred and sixty scaling-ladders had been prepared: each was given in charge to a sergeant, and was attended by two bearers; each was to be followed by twelve picked soldiers, armed with pole-axe spears and match-locks, or, in some instances, with what, for lack of a better word, we must call wheel-locks: though the real wheel-lock was first used by the soldiers of Leo X. The four extreme galleys on either side contained the forlorn hope; the captains of the guns and their mates were busy in fixing the artillery after the clumsy fashion of the day, while fires blazed high and bright on deck, where the smiths were plying their trade, or heating their shot red-hot for the deadly duty of the morrow. The ghastly glare of so many fires, threw a lurid light over the city: domes and towers looked rather the creatures of a dream, than the reality of existence; uncouth and pale shadows fell crossways in the streets; darkness seemed to have fled for ever, and yet it was scarce light that had come in its place.

So passed Barlaam on, through the flickering brilliancy of the Ottoman fires, till he reached the Caesar's apartments. There he learnt that Sir Edward had attended the Emperor to S. Sophia's, where he was now engaged, but that undoubtedly he would return to the palace before he went forth to his position.

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