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 XXXVII.

"Certain tidings of the field. Good, if heaven will!
As good as heart can wish."

Henry IV.

Deafened by the unceasing roar of the cannon, and the hubbub and tumult of the general assault, Theodora de Rushton sat with Euphrasia Choniatis and her mother on the morning of that Whit-Tuesday. From time to time Barlaam had gone out to obtain what news he could; but being unable to make his way among the hurry and crush of the walls, and equally incapable of taking in, by his own observation, the position of affairs, they had obtained nothing but a series of the most vague and unsatisfactory tidings, picked up from those who were no better acquainted with the subject than were they on whom they bestowed their information.

But, towards ten o'clock, Manuel Chrysolaras made his appearance. Bursting into the room, with joy in every feature of his face, his countenance told them the news he had to announce, before he could speak.

"You have good news, Manuel," cried Euphrasia. "I am sure you have."

"Excellent news, thank God," replied Chrysolaras. "In every one of the places they have assaulted, the Turks have been beaten back. Most decisively by the Emperor, at the Tower of S. Romanus, and at the Silivri gate; but De Rushton has also done wonders, though the odds were greater."

"And he is quite safe?" cried Theodora.

"Quite," replied Manuel; "at least he was a quarter of an hour ago."

"Thank God! And my father?"

"Quite safe also," said Chrysolaras: "and at this moment out of the way of danger; for the Emperor has despatched him on some errand to the Contoscalion."

"Then do you really think they will beat them off?" cried Euphrasia.

"Good faith, I do," returned Manuel. "And there are they, doing wonders for the Emperor and for the Faith, and I, like a sick woman, can only stand by and look on."

"And I am so thankful that you can do as much as that," replied Euphrasia; "and so should you be also; a week ago we should neither of us have believed it."

"My daughter speaks wisely, my Lord," said Maria Choniatis. "We have all great reason to be thankful that you are able to do so much; and we, more especially that, on such a day, we have the safety of your protection."

Thus they talked for nearly half an hour, and Barlaam was called up to hear the good tidings. In the meantime, the thunder of the cannon and the shouts of the onset went on without the slightest interruption; till at length, Manuel Chrysolaras, growing impatient to be at the scene of action, though he could not join in it, took leave of his affianced bride and her friends, and again went on to the ramparts.

The attack had now extended much further along the Horn, and almost stretched as far as the Seraglio Point; but yet not one real advantage seemed to have been gained by the assailants. As Manuel came in sight of the first ballistic in this direction, there was a momentary lull in the storm: and looking round him, he caught Burstow's eye.

"Well, Burstow! how goes it?" cried he.

"Excellently well, so far as the city is concerned, my Lord. But I tell you what, Lord Manuel," he added in a lower voice. "I have seen something just now that I did not at all like."

"What, good Burstow?" replied Chrysolaras, looking round him, as if he expected to see some advantage gained by the Mussulmans.

"No, not that way, my Lord," replied the other. "What I mean is this. Twice this day I have seen Zosimus in the galleys: and once I saw Leontius holding a most earnest conversation with him."

"It is strange enough, Burstow; but he cannot hurt us."

"Well, my Lord, I hope not; and I don't see how he can; but at all events, I think he will try. Stand forward there, lads, stand forward there," exclaimed he, as a trumpet brayed loudly out, and the attack recommenced with increased vigour.

"One word, Burstow; what would you have me do?"

"I would make inquiries--this way, this way, good fellows--empty the dray there--inquiries of--the foul fiend seize you, Nicetas--why did you loose so soon?--if--stand out of the way, my Lord--that fellow has his engine this way--crouch down--so--I would go back to Lord Phranza's house, and make particular inquiries when and where Zosimus was last seen. Something might be gathered from that."

Chrysolaras resolved to do so; but he thought that it might be as well in the first place to make the circuit of the walls, as far as the Tower of S. Romanus; in order that he might judge for himself how the defence was succeeding. A quarter of an hour brought him to the side of Sir Edward de Rushton, now heated, jaded, and anxious; but still giving out his directions with un-diminished vigour, and exposing himself with the most undaunted courage.

"How goes it, De Rushton?"

"Not well--the dogs have fixed the ladders, and we cannot throw them back."

It was as he said; from one of the galleys, that on which Leontius had placed himself, a scaling ladder of unusual strength had been so securely lashed to strong uprights and cross bars at the bottom, that the utmost efforts of the besieged were insufficient to force it back. And now the conflict waxed very hot indeed; the Varangians passed a stout lever under the upper rounds of the ladder, and strove to wrench it up; others endeavoured to shatter it by rolling down heavy stones on it; on the other side Bithynian archers, the best in the camp, singled out the most active of the defenders, and tried every part of their helmets and cuirasses; and woe to him in whom they were found wanting! These were opposed by fresh showers of stones, boiling pitch, melted lead; while yet again others endeavoured to fire the stern of the galley, as it lay alongside of the walls. At length a lucky stone lighted with such force on one of the uprights that it crashed, and the assailants abandoned it as useless; but at the same moment two others were erected, a little on one side, in its place.

"You see how it is," said De Rushton; "they will do for us by mere numbers."

"God grant otherwise," cried Manuel. Then, finding that he could render no service where he was, and not forgetful of his errand, he passed onward towards the northern wall.

Here also the defenders seemed worn and harassed,--thinned in numbers, though not to any great extent, but certainly exerting themselves with less spirit. On the other hand, the mound of earth and dead bodies was perceptibly rising higher. Every man that dropped did good service by his death, as raising the bridge by which his more fortunate companions hoped to enter the city: the whole Turkish force pressing, as far as the eye could see, onwards to the walls, heaved up and down like the billows before an easterly wind; human barriers seemed almost useless against even the dead weight of such a mighty mass; it was impossible to distinguish private or officer; all that could clearly be seen was, that the great Standard of Islam floated about half a mile from the walls,--that the Janissaries were not yet in action, and that the Sultan, mounted on his white horse, an iron mace in his hand, was waiting the proper moment when, with this his reserved force, to put forth the strength of his empire in one final charge.

"I hope your Majesty is safe," cried Chrysolaras, in a momentary pause.

"Quite safe," replied Constantine--"but the day"--in a lower voice, "I fear is going hard with us."

"I trust not, sire--they who can keep this multitude at bay for so long must be invincible."

"The men have done wonders," said the Emperor, more loudly; "if I could reward every man that I have seen with my own eyes, as he deserved, all the gold of Constantinople would go over and over again. The news, Cantacuzene?"

"If your Majesty is hard pressed," replied that nobleman, "we can spare some assistance; for the attack has almost ceased at our post."

"That is well," said Constantine. "None can need it more than we."

Having seen this seasonable help arrive to the defence of the most sorely pressed point, Chrysolaras, in obedience to Burstow's advice, went back to Phranza's house. Here he instituted the most diligent inquiry among the servants how and where Zosimus had been last seen; and one and all persisted in asserting that Maria was the most likely person to be able to afford him information, as she had certainly been in conversation with that slave no very long time before he disappeared. To the metcecia of De Rushton, therefore, the young nobleman next betook himself; and after satisfying those whom he had left there that a gallant defence was still being made, though he did not deny that the besieged were hardly pressed, he said,--"Lady Theodora, you have, I think, a servant named Maria."

"I have," replied Theodora.

"If it please you," replied Chrysolaras, "I would fain speak with her--I will give you my reasons afterwards."

Theodora, though rather surprised, caused Maria to be summoned; and she, no less wondering than her mistress what the call might mean, was told that she must answer some questions which the Lord Manuel wished to propose to her.

"Pray," said he, "yesterday afternoon, before Zosimus left the Lord Phranza's house, had you not some speech with him?"

"Yes, my Lord," she replied: "what an if I had?"

"That presently. Was it at the Lord Protovestiare's house, or here?"

"There," answered she; "my mistress had sent me to fetch some things thence of which she stood in need."

"I did so," remarked Theodora.

"And what time was it?" inquired Manuel.

"It was about the eighth hour."

"Are you sure?"

"Quite sure; for before I set forth thence, the bells of S. Sophia rang for the ninth hour service."

"Did you speak with him long?"

"Not I," returned Maria, giving her head a little scornful toss.

"How long?"

"He only asked me why I had come there--and--and °--I really cannot tell exactly what he said, my Lord."

"Where was this?"

"In the vestibule."

"And when you left him, where did he go?"

"Into the garden."

"Did you see anything of the Varangian Burstow that afternoon?"

"Yes, my Lord; he was walking with Barlaam up and down the terrace in the front of the Lord Phranza's house."

"Did you notice if he went on walking there?"

"No, my Lord; they both went into the house."

"That will do, Maria." And the servant left the room.

Theodora, who did not know, as Manuel did, that Barlaam and Burstow had discussed their plan while walking in the garden, could not conceive the purpose of these questions. Nor did Manuel explain himself, but merely observing that he should wish to see again how the conflict went on, he set forth to the harbour wall, for the purpose, if possible, of expressing his fears to De Rushton.

A glimpse of the truth had flashed into his mind. It appeared that Zosimus had been in Phranza's garden, much about the same time, and probably at the very same time, that Burstow and the house steward had been discussing the question where the Lady de Rushton was to be concealed; immediately after this, Zosimus, without any expressed reasons, deserts to the Turkish camp: he makes his escape from the city by an absolutely false pretext: he is next seen in communication with Leontius, the very man of all others who would gladly receive or purchase any information as to the Lady Theodora. To what suspicions did all this give rise! And then, coupling the facts he knew with the warning which Theodora had received on the preceding night, and to which Chrysolaras had always been disposed to attach more credit than Sir Edward, he became seriously alarmed; and, as we have said, set forth hastily in search of his friend. It was now nearly mid-day.

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