"And such concealment as the place can offer,--
No thanks, I pray,--is yours."
Finding that it was absolutely impossible to have an explanation with the Great Acolyth, and doubting whether, in that critical state of affairs there might not be more danger in altering the plan than, even were there any ground for his suspicions, in adhering to the old one,--Manuel Chrysolaras hurried back to the metoecia of Sir Edward de Rushton.
The city now began to present a very different aspect from that which it had borne when he had last passed through it; the doors and windows of many houses were shut; women were no where to be seen; the church of S. Sophia was filled with the greater part, others attempted to conceal themselves in cellars, outhouses, courts; a death-like stillness prevailed in the streets and lanes; and presented a strange contrast with the incessant thundering from the north, and shouts from the east.
The metoecia, when he reached it, seemed deserted; he therefore hurried up to the room where he had left Theodora and her companions, and found them in a dreadful state of agitation.
"Is it taken? is it taken?" cried Theodora and Euphrasia together.
"No," replied Manuel; "it is not taken,--and there are even hopes that it may not be; and De Rushton and the Lord Phranza are safe; so, I hear, dearest, is your father. But they think that it will be best for you to conceal yourselves now, the Emperor being so very hard pressed."
"All the servants have left us," said Theodora; "and we scarcely knew what to do--we were afraid something might have befallen you."
"No," replied he; "I came the first moment that it was thought well--better a little too soon than too late. If any favourable change occurs, I can return and let you know."
They all rose to follow him, and without another word, through open doors and deserted passages, they accompanied him into the garden; and then, through the paths we have before mentioned, into that which belonged to Phranza. The flowers were blooming as gaily as if all had been peace; the birds, indeed, terrified by the incessant roar of the artillery, were silent; a lurid haze, from the rising smoke drifts, had gathered over the sun; the air felt close and sulphureous; but, had there been no uproar and tumult to tell a different tale, one might have imagined the on-coming of a thunderstorm in a sultry day of July.
Barlaam was already at the ice-house, whither he had previously betaken himself to make sure that there was no one near the spot whose presence might be dangerous. Manuel went first with his Euphrasia,--at Theodora's request: she herself followed with the Lady Choniatis. The old steward met them on the steps that led down to the ice-house.
"God send you safe!" said he, in a voice trembling with emotion: "forty-six years have I eaten your father's bread, lady, and if I can save you by laying down my old life for you, most thankful shall I be so to do."
"I believe you, Barlaam," said Theodora, holding out her hand to him, which the steward kissed as reverentially as if it had been that of a queen.
"Please you to go in?" said Manuel to Theodora.
She trembled very much; but, without any further reply, she walked down the steps into the room prepared for their reception. Barlaam had done what he could to make it comfortable: some thick matting and cushions were spread on the ground: a couple of bottles of wine, some small loaves, and a pasty, were placed in one corner; with the one or two other requisites of the day for a satisfactory meal. The place was not absolutely dark,--for a slit towards the roof admitted some portion of light; and though chilly, it was not at all damp. The Lady Choniatis came next; then Manuel, after tenderly kissing Euphrasia, followed her down, and looked round him.
"Barlaam has done what he could," said he, as the old man entered; "and, what is more, he has had an interior lock put on. That is capital indeed."
"I had some difficulty to get it done, My Lord,--for not a locksmith could I find last night--they were all engaged on the walls. But it is done, as you see."
"Now," said Manuel, "I must go: if the'defence holds out, I will return in an hour: and if it lasts as long as that, I really believe that it will be successful altogether. If not, I shall hardly dare to return here till dusk,--perhaps not till midnight. Still, do not be alarmed if no one comes even then. Barlaam may not feel it safe to watch too close; he may not find it possible to communicate with you; but you are perfectly safe where you are, for a day or two at least; and you have a good store of provisions. % The very earliest moment we can return, be you most sure, we shall; and Barlaam has his instructions, and will know what to do. Now then, God and the Panaghia bless and take care of you all."
"Manuel," said Euphrasia, "I have one favour to ask. It is that you will give me that dagger you wear." "That dagger, love? Why?"
"I do not like to be without something of the kind," said Euphrasia, "in case of the worst."
"Be at rest on that point," said Theodora. "We will defend ourselves, by God's grace, as far as we may lawfully do; but no further. Our lives are His; and He only can take them."
"Then there it is, dearest," said Manuel, unbuckling it, and giving it to Euphrasia. "Take care how you use it--it is a Damascus blade, and would wound deadly."
"Farewell, lady, and God be with you all!" said the old steward.
"Lock yourselves securely in," added Manuel, "and I need not tell you to keep quiet. Farewell, Lady Theodora; farewell, Madam; and now, my own dear Euphrasia, good-bye indeed!"
They heard the key turn in the lock, and then proceeded on their way; Barlaam to the thickest laurel plantation, to keep watch,--Manuel to the Fanar gate.--Before we accompany the latter, as we shall do presently, we must transport our reader for a few moments on board the galley of Leontius.
Much about the same time that De Rushton had despatched Manuel to Theodora, Leontius had summoned Zosimus a second time to his presence; and the unhappy Greek, though in mortal terror at crossing the strait, had no choice but to obey. Arrived on board, he experienced some satisfaction in being told to go below; where, in a few moments, he was joined by Leontius.
"Now, Zosimus," said the latter, "I have every reason to believe that the city will not hold out two hours: if we cannot force our way in here, the Sultan will do it on the north. The great thing is, not to miss our prey. Now, it may be very possible that I shall not at once be able to leave my command, and go to Phranza's house: I shall therefore put twelve men under your directions, men whom I can trust, and you will take them to the place you have mentioned, and secure the girl. In the meantime, you will stay where you are."
"But, my Lord"--began Zosimus, in great fear.
"Peace, fool!" cried Leontius; "don't you think that your wretched life is of as much importance to me now as to yourself? Ay, and more. You are safe enough. Ho! Walid!"--and a soldier entered. "Walid, this is the Greek who will direct you what you are to do. You have your instructions, you know."
"Ay, my Lord."
"Then see you obey them. The Greek will remain here until the city is taken."
"And when we have the lady, my Lord, what are we to do with her?"
Best confine her for the present where she is," answered Leontius. "But take care, if you possibly can, to put that meddling servant who is watching, out of the way. Don't let him escape you."
"No, my Lord."
"I must on deck," said Leontius. "You will be found here, Zosimus. Walid, you had best get your men together."
Leontius in another moment was cheering on his troops to a fresh attack of the gate. Walid followed him to execute his orders, but apparently not very well satisfied with the part he had to play.
"By the Holy Flight!" cried he, as he left the cabin,--"but this is a knavish business!"