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 XL.

"They had the hearts of freemen to the last;
And the free blood that bounded in their veins
Was shed for freedom with a liberal joy."

Philip von Artevelde.

When Manuel had left the gardens of Phranza, he hurried with all speed towards the Fanar. On his way thither, he met the Curopalata, apparently going towards the palace.

"Have you heard, my Lord?" asked the latter.

"Heard? No. What?" cried Manuel, almost expecting that all was over.

They are falling back from S. Romanus," replied he; "the Emperor and Justiniani have fairly driven them off."

"Now God be praised!" cried Manuel. "I must go and see for myself."

"I would gladly come too," replied the Curopalata; "but I have an errand to the palace. Good morning, my Lord."

With a hasty "Good morning," Manuel hurried along to S. Romanus. Mounting the walls, he found that the report was perfectly true. In all directions the Turkish troops were drawing off; leaving a clear space round the walls, only occupied by the dreadful debris of so tremendous a fight. Chrysolaras soon recognized the Emperor, Justiniani, Cantacuzene, Choniates, and several of the Domestics standing together; and made his way up to them.

"Sire," said he, "permit me to congratulate your Majesty."

"They are beaten off, good faith," replied Constantine; "but they will return again. However, God be praised for the respite. We only want rest." Then, raising his voice, "Gentlemen," said he, "do not let us deceive ourselves. Mahomet will make one effort more; but it will only be one. Only drive back that! Only exert yourselves as you have hitherto done, and not only will the danger be at an end for to-day, but the assault, I may say it confidently, will not be repeated. None but Mahomet could have borne the waste of life that we have seen these last few hours, once; but neither he nor any one else can bear it twice! Doubt not but that the Virgin Protectress of this city has wrought the miracle for us: for nothing less than a miracle it is that such a handful of men as we are should have driven back that enormous force. As her intercessions have obtained this help for us, so, be well assured, they will not be withheld now. Let us make good the walls but for one hour more, and we shall have present safety, and future reward, and glory to all ages of posterity!"

A loud shout ran along the walls as he concluded; and, looking at the fixed resolution displayed in the countenances of nobles and men, considering the wonders their courage had already wrought, seeing the fact that the Turks were in full retreat, Chrysolaras did, at that moment, entertain the idea that the defence would prove successful.

"If they do not beat us to-day," thought he, "they never will."

At that moment Mahomet raised the gigantic mace which he carried that day. One long loud shout pealed up from the Janissaries, "There is no God but God, and Mahomet is the prophet of God; "and rushing over the wilderness of corpses that lay before them, they threw themselves with vigour, surpassing that of all former assaults, on the breaches. Fresh they struggled with wearied men, unharmed with wounded; the flower of the Ottoman host with the last remains of Byzantine courage, fighting under the eye of a Sultan, fighting for rewards almost beyond the hope of avarice, fighting with all the invincibleness of assured victory. Meanwhile the batteries opened a deadlier fire; the petrarise and ballistas showered down their missiles thicker: the trumpets, fifes, cymbals, drums, and atabals rang out together: and the conflict was renewed as if it had only then begun. The firing ran all round the city: mole, galleys, and lines vied with each other: the smoke hung low and rolled thick; and scarcely could the various cries of resistance or despair be distinguished in the general uproar.

"A province to the Janissary that first mounts the walls," shouted Baltha Ogli.

Striving and struggling among the foremost ranks--stepping over corpses--clinging to parapets--stones rolled fast and furiously from above--pole-axes, spears, and pikes heaving and pushing--match-locks flung away as unserviceable in the hand-to-hand agony of battle;--battle-axes swung, cut-and-thrust swords hacking and piercing.

"A province," cried Baltha Ogli again. "A province! Who will win it?"

"I will," cried a gigantic Janissary of the Sultan's Lifeguard, called Hassan, springing up at the walls. Thirty picked men followed him: Franks and Greeks poured in to the attacked spot, grappling and grappled with, using daggers and shortened swords, clubs, maces, and hatchets on both sides: distant workmen, yet repairing the walls, ran up with spades or pickaxes or shovels,--eighteen of the invaders have paid the venture with their lives--Hassan still struggles forward--he holds his buckler over his head--his scymetar sweeps right and left with the vigour of a flail,--he stoops and rises,--darts forward and dives down,--strikes and parries, still pressing onward, till at length he is on the very edge of the breach.

"Down with him! down with him!" was the cry; but with a gigantic effort of strength he heaved himself on to the wall, and was instantly struck down. He rose again, and cried "The Province! The Province!" standing the first man that day on the Christian bulwarks. From the bastion of S. Nicolas to that of S. Nicetas rose the cry,

"There is no God but God, and Mahomet is His prophet!"

"S. George for the city! Down with him!"

"S. Luke for Genoa!" cried Justiniani, running up, and throwing himself into the melee.

A few moments of wild uproar,--and the bloody corpse of the gigantic Janissary was hurled down among the ghastly mass of his companions. But what he had done, others felt might be effected by them.

And now, in all parts, the foremost Janissaries were swarming up over the walls. For some minutes yet with swords or axes, or whatever came to hand, the Greeks made good the defence; rolling over the assailants in the ascent, or thrusting them back as soon as they made it good. But then the aspect of affairs was changed: it was no longer the Janissaries fighting up the walls, but fighting on them; and, by twos and threes they swarmed up to the support of him who had been the first to make good his footing.

The Emperor cast a look of despair on Justiniani.

"The outer wall is lost," said the latter, coolly--"we must make for the inner."

"Lead on," said the Caesar.

At this moment, an arrow pierced the gauntlet of the Genoese leader. He turned pale with the exquisite pain--caught at the breastwork as if fainting, and gasped out,--"I must retire and get my wound dressed."

"No, for God's sake!" cried the Pakeologus: "hold out a little; the wound is a scratch; let us make good the inner wall; we well may."

"I can come back, sire!"--and he withdrew.

"Curses on him!" cried Chrysolaras. "Gentlemen, retreat in good order: the day may be ours yet!--make the inner wall good!"

"Take care of yourself, sire," cried Galeotti, hastening past him.

"Cowardly dog!" shouted Cantacuzenc.

The shout ran along the ramparts--"To the inner wall! to the inner wall!"

The Franks and Barbarians began to fly fast. Fresh Janissaries are pouring in. Still Constantine, with the little body of faithful and devoted friends that surrounded him, was fighting his way, step by step, backward to the second wall.

The native troops rallied--and for the last time rose the shout of "The Caesar! The Caesar! The Virgin the Protectress! A Cantacuzene! A Cantacuzene!"

The Varangians, who served in that part of the city, now formed in a compact body round their Emperor. And thus, notwithstanding the fearful and rapidly increasing numbers that poured in from without, Constantine, Cantacuzene, Choniates, and Chrysolaras, made their way down in good order to the space between the two walls.

Here, however, was the last remnant of military arrangement. The pent-up crowd of victorious Janissaries, flying Franks, Greeks eager to fight or to save themselves,--soldiers, labourers,--all pressing forward for the gate of S. Romanus, all crushing, pushing, agonizing onward, broke up every appearance of a regular retreat. Pell-mell, Turk and Christian hurried forward together--there was hardly room for blows,--shrieks rose loud from the wounded and weak, as they were trodden under foot--the rest was a hideous confusion of unintelligible sounds.

Still Chrysolaras kept by the Emperor's side, as they were whirled onwards to the gate of S. Romanus. While they were yet thirty yards from it, he heard the stroke as of a heavy blow, and saw Constantine reel forwards as well as the press permitted. A dagger had struck him on the shoulder: the hand that raised it was never known.

"Is your Majesty much hurt?" asked Chrysolaras in terror.

The Caesar replied not, but untied the purple robe which he wore over his armour.

"I trust your Majesty is not seriously hurt?" still more anxiously he inquired, as now they were both sucked into the vortex of the crowd to be ejected on the other side of the gate.

He heard Constantine's last cry of anguish, "Is there not one Christian who will cut off my head?" when he was rolled by a wave of the crowd from the Emperor's side--dashed against the wall of the gate--had a struggle for very life--and at length found himself far within the inner wall.

None ever again beheld Constantine Palaeologus living. Whether, as some say, he was cut down by two blows from a Janissary, or, as others, was trampled under foot in the crush through the gate, or whether he turned round upon the enemy, and was pierced with a thousand wounds, was never known. Certain alone it is that, somewhere in the interval of time between the descent of the outer wall, and the passage of the gate of S. Romanus, that brave and royal spirit fled for ever.

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