"There is no doubt that there exist such voices,
Yet I would not call them
Voices of warning that announced to us
Only the inevitable."
"What is it, Barlaam?" inquired De Rushton, hastily, as the old man plucked his sleeve, on his leaving the palace.
"My Lord," said the steward, "the Lady de Rushton begs that you will come to her, on business of infinite moment, though it be but for two minutes."
"I cannot," said Sir Edward, hastily. "I must be at my post instantly--I ought to be there now."
"It is no common thing," pleaded the old man. "The lady Choniatis was up, and so was the lady Euphrasia--it is no common thing that would have made them send me forth on such a night."
De Rushton hesitated; and then the thoughts of his own Theodora in distress, which he might perhaps alleviate, prevailed.
"I will go," said he, "when I have spoken to Burstow. Hasten on before and say so." Barlaam, joyful to have succeeded, lost no time in obeying.
"Burstow," cried the Great Acolyth,--"I shall be at the Fanar gate in twenty minutes. Meantime, go to Nicephorus,--borrow a horse from some of the guard,--and ask him to meet me there at once. My mind misgives me about that gate. Lose no time, and then come back to me either there, or at Port S. Peter's."
"I will, my Lord," replied Burstow: and he set forth on his errand.
Meanwhile, De Rushton, with rapid steps, hurried to his own metoecia.
"The Lady de Rushton is in her own parlour," said Barlaam, meeting the Great Acolyth at the door:--and the latter accordingly bent his steps thither, and found Theodora and Maria Choniatis seated together.
"Oh, Edward! thank God that you are come!" cried his bride, springing into his arms.
"What is it, love? What is it?--It is something terrible; I see it by your face--tell me, dearest Theodora--let me know at once."
"Oh do not make me go to the ice-house! My dear husband, do not send me there! For the Panaghia's sake do not!"
"Not to the ice-house, Theodora?--Why not?"
"I have seen my poor mother this very night," answered his bride. "I saw her by my bedside, as plainly as I see you now, and she told me not to go thither. Do not send me there--I am sure you will not!"
"Your mother!" cried De Rushton. "What! do you mean her spirit?"
"Yes," replied Theodora.
"My own love," he said tenderly, "you are worn out with grief and anxiety; believe me,--this is nothing else but fantasy. You had been thinking of the ice-house--you had been thinking of your dear mother."
"No--no," cried Theodora, vehemently: "you cannot persuade me so. Most clearly I saw her,--most plainly I heard her; so far from having any objections to the plan you proposed, I thought it excellent. It is a warning from God, and woe be to us if we neglect it."
De Rushton was much distressed. "Theodora," said he, "if it were possible to make a new arrangement, even now, for the sake of your comfort I would do it, though I am well persuaded that this is nothing but fancy. But listen to reason. To do so, I must find your father, and Choniates, and Burstow. I know not where to look for them--I could only send for them at best, for my own post I must not leave: I might not find them before the attack really begins, and then all would be confusion; dear love, I must act by my own judgment,--the plan must go on--I should never forgive myself else."
"I thought," sobbed Theodora, "I thought you would have listened to me."
De Rushton bit his lip, in great perplexity how to act'. "My dear love," he said at length, "supposing this was not fancy, but reality. How know we but it may not be a device of the enemy of all, to ruin your happiness?--If such things are permitted, nothing more likely than that he should attempt them."
There was a pause for nearly a minute. At last Theodora spoke.
"Edward," she said, "I will trust you now, as I have trusted you till now."
"Thank you, dearest one," he replied. "Whatever happens, God bless you here and for ever!" and he pressed her to his heart.
"Farewell, my Lord!" cried Maria Choniatis. "I will not leave her alone ag-ain."
De Rushton hurried out. It was now nearly two o'clock: and, as he mounted the ramparts, he noticed the first faint silver streak of day breaking over Galata. Passing along toward Port S. Peter, he met the Emperor with Phranza.
"The very man!" cried Constantine. "My Lord, Gennadius is even now preaching to a large crowd on the Contoscalion. Will you go, and desire him to retire to his monastery? If the supernatural assistance which he promises is not to come till we are driven into S. Sophia's, it follows that the less resistance, the speedier rescue: and be well assured that so the populace will take it."
"I go, sire," replied De Rushton. "But perhaps the Lord Phranza will look to the Fanar gate: notwithstanding all we have done to it, it is reported not safe: and I have desired the smiths to attend to it."
"I will, De Rushton," replied Phranza. "But pray you, lose no time, for the mischief this man does is incredible."
"I will go with you," said the Emperor: "it is an important post.
As they were hastening along the ramparts, Burstow came up to them. "Another message, sire, from the Turkish Camp: I have the billet with me, the bird is in the guard-house."
"Why, that may tell us of some change, of plan," cried Constantine. "Where is the nearest light?"
"At Port S. Peter's, sire," replied Burstow.
"Give me the letter, then, and follow us," said Constantine. "If we were on the other wall, those fires would give us light enough to read it."
They reached the Port, and entered the guard-house. The man, who seemed to be on the alert, received the Emperor with the usual reverence.
"Be so good," said Constantine, "as to leave us here for a few moments. I have a despatch to read."
The guards withdrew: and then the Caesar cutting the string which fastened the billet, eagerly read it.
"The Emperor,"--such was its tenour,--"is informed that the Sultan has promised his troops three days' plunder of the city, with no other restrictions than that of the public places;--the persons and property of the inhabitants to be alike at their disposal. The soldier that shall first mount the walls, is to be rewarded with the government of any province of the Empire at his option. This notice is given in order that the inhabitants of Constantinople may not be deluded into expecting quarter, if it be taken by storm;--the Sultan's word being pledged to the contrary."
"This must be known," said Constantine, at once. "Nothing can be more useful in exciting them to resist to the last."
"Assuredly, sire," said Phranza. And he thought bitterly of the increased danger to which Theodora would be exposed.
"Guard!" cried the Emperor. The corporal of the watch entered: and made the ordinary obeisance.
"Corporal," said Constantine, "I have received intelligence that Mahomet has promised his troops three days' sack of the city, without a single restriction of private property or persons. What you have to expect, you know: what your wives and daughters, too, have to look for. I should wish this to be known to the several posts,--and by their means, generally. "Shall I send immediately, sire?" "Such is our wish," replied the Cassar. "Demetrius," said the corporal,--"go you with this message as far as S. Nicetas' bastion, and tell them that it is the Emperor's pleasure it be passed on. You, Lucas, as far as the Contoscalion, and bid them in like manner send it forward."
"We will beat them yet, please God, sire."