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Theodora Phranza; or, the Fall of Constantinople

By John Mason Neale

New York: E.P. Dutton, 1913.
First published London: J. Masters, 1857.

Chapter XLII.

"For all the fiends that tenant nether hell
Are loosed, and work abroad,"

The Silver Age.

Anna Patellari had spent the night in restless misery. It was not that she feared so much for herself;--death she would have welcomed but too gladly;--from dishonour she doubted not that her husband's name alone would protect her. But she returned again and again, with cruel pertinacity, to the idea, that, but for his arms and counsels, the city would not have been reduced to such tremendous straits,--that his name was never mentioned in Constantinople without a curse,--that she was regarded for his sake with scorn and detestation, that whether the defenders or the assailants of the city prevailed, she must be equally an outcast, equally miserable.--She had fallen into a broken sleep, when the roar of the assault aroused her to the consciousness that the crisis of the city was come. She rose directly;--refused all offers of refreshment from Barlaam; and, as the morning wore on, she determined, in impatience of the event, to go forth into the streets. She did so,--and they were nearly deserted;--the one or two women that she saw were hastening to the Great Church, and thither, almost instinctively, she also bent her way.

As she drew nearer to S. Sophia, the crowd thickened; women of all ranks and ages, and from all quarters of the city, were pouring up the western steps, and entering the magnificent porch.--At the foot of Constantine's pillar, whether from a fanatical feeling, or from pure chance, a poor man was seated, and scarcely any passed him without thinking that it was he to whom the Angel of the Lord would give the sword of deliverance, and bid him to exterminate the host of the unbelievers.

Anna, who had all the excitableness of her countrywomen in its full extent, began to catch the infection of terror,--and to share also in the confidence that in the Church alone would she be safe.---She resolved on entering too, and there awaiting the crisis;--and with eager, yet trembling feet, she ascended the fatal steps.

It seemed as though a judicial infatuation had fallen on the city. Never, perhaps, was so much beauty before assembled in one place. The long dark hair and full black eye, and statue-like loveliness of the Chian or Lesbian maidens; the more fragile form and more languishing features of the high-born lady of Constantinople; the auburn ringlets, and Saxon charms of the Circassian:--the commanding stature, and clear dark complexion, and proud bearing of Albanian or Acarnanian beauty. Nave, choir, galleries,--all full; the Holy of Holies alone gave sanctuary to two or three Bishops, and to some of the Priests;--the Primicerius, the Sacristan, the Great CEcono-mus, the Chartophylax, the Master of the Ceremonies, and several other dignitaries of S. Sophia;--a few less known ecclesiastics were also there; but it was remarked with some surprise, that Gennadius was not among them.

"But he is helping us with his intercessions," so it was whispered round, "though he is absent in body;--his prayers can ascend to the throne of God, as well from his cell in the Studium as from the soleas of the Great Church." [The soleas, according to the most probable opinion, was that part of the bema, or Holy of Holies, which projected beyond the iconostasis, or altar screen, and which was distinguished from the rest of the Church only by its elevation.] And the wild feeling of security grew stronger;--the moment when the Turks should enter was eagerly longed for;--every heart beat high in the expectation of certain succour;--and those who were posted in the gallery of the Narthex fixed their eyes steadfastly on the pillar of Constantine, that they might announce the joyful tidings of the angel's descent.

The massy walls and gates of S. Sophia deadened, in a great degree, the uproar and violence of the assault;--and yet, from time to time, some heavier burst of artillery, or louder shout, carried terror even thither. Towards midday, however, all seemed quieter;--and hope again began to take possession of some hearts, that the former part of Gennadius's prophecy would be unaccomplished, that Constantinople would be spared, like a second Nineveh, on its repentance; and that the deliverance of the city might be effected by natural means rather than by a supernatural interposition.

It was not long, however, before the last assault of the Janissaries, the thunder of which seemed to shake the massy fabric of that august temple, dispersed such thoughts.--The vast multitude fell on their knees, imploring the mercy of God, and the intercession of the Panaghia;--and as the noise grew louder and more incessant, wails, sobs, and shrieks burst from some of the fainter hearted.

"Fear not! fear not!" cried others;--"we are safe; we must be safe, Gennadius has said it;--a hair of our heads cannot perish!"

Presently, those who were in the western gallery, and among them was Maria, beheld a crowd of fugitives pouring into the square of Constantine.

"They are flying! they are flying! the Turks! the Turks!--Holy Mother of God! The Turks are in the city!--Bar the doors! bar the doors!"

The women who stood nearest to the silver gates attempted to bar them, but the massy fastenings were far too heavy for their arms. Several of the Priests advanced; and, through their superior knowledge of the bolt-work, and greater strength, the door was secured.

In the square there were none but men; driven hither and thither, slaughtered like sheep, crying in vain for mercy, uttering doleful shrieks, cut down by the scymetar, or felled by the heavy mace. Their shrieks were prolonged or re-echoed from the gallery.

"The angel comes not!"

"They are in the place of Constantine!"

"How long, O Lord, how long?"

"Merciful Panaghia!"

Terror began to heighten, but confidence did not yet wholly vanish.

"He will come! he will come yet!"

"But they are pushing past the Column!"

"He only tarries."

"It is our want of faith."

"He will come, notwithstanding!"

"Is the sky clear?"

"What is that shout?"

An awful one for those that had fooled away their chance of escape.

"La illah illa Allah! To the Great Church! To the Great Church! Mahommed resoul Allah! To the Church!"

"They are rushing up the steps," was shrieked from the gallery.

"Merciful God!"

"Oh that the angel would appear!"

"He will never come."

"He will come."

"Pickaxes and craws!" from without; "pickaxes and crows! La illah illa Allah! Run to S. Romanus! Run to the Fanar!--They have barred the door--pickaxes! pickaxes! bars '. bars!"

Wild confusion in the interior. Doleful shrieks--mutual reproaches--curses on Gennadius--faint efforts at believing that help tarried--a lamentable chaos of cries.

"What shall I do?"

"What will become of us?"

"Let us get up into the dome!"


"Into the Emperor's vaults!"

"It will only be the surer destruction."

"Holy Mother of God! They are breaking in the doors!"

"This way! This way! Pass them hand over hand! Pickaxes this way!--Tear off the hinges! Beat in the panels! By the Flight! it is pure silver! Stand back! stand back! room! room!"

Crash, crash came the iron bars on the richly wrought plates of silver that clenched the cedar doors. Those that were on the other side started back;--the crowd pushed forwards towards the Holy of Holies;--the holy doors of the screen were opened: women clung round the altar itself,--nuns clasped the pillars of the dome that hung above it. Bishops and senators knelt by the side of the lowest of the people; many thronged up the gallery stairs, thereby adding to the dreadful press that already filled them; and still the shouts came louder from without, and the blows fell heavier on the doors.

Anna Patellari stood nearly in the midst of the church, trembling with agitation, and bitterly ruing- the folly which had tempted her from the comparative security of Phranza's mansion. A thousand fears came over her mind,--that she would not be heard,--that she would not be believed,--that she might be carried off without regard to her protestations, and her subsequent silence be secured by her death.

One tremendous crash,--and the doors fell in.

Who can describe the scene that followed? Hundreds by hundreds of infidels pouring into the already over-crammed church; fair girls, who had scarcely left their father's mansions but for the carpets and hangings of the palace, or for the silver lattice work of the women's gallery in the church, in the grasp of Bulgarian or Anatolian, Janissary, or officer; sweet faces, that had never been more rudely visited than by a father's or a mother's kiss, now despoiled of the long silk veil, insultingly gazed on,--in cases of resistance struck with no light hand;--arms, that had never felt a heavier chain than the bracelet of diamonds, bound tightly together by the girdle or the veil;--gentle forms, accustomed only to the bed of down or the gemmed litter, thrown over the bloody shoulder of some gigantic infidel, and borne from the church, while sobs, curses, useless prayers for mercy, wild and piercing shrieks filled the dome, and seemed to cry for vengeance from the judgment-seat of God.

"You are my captive!" cried a Janissary, clutching the shoulder of Anna Patellari,--and at the same time tearing off her veil, to serve as a cord for binding her arms.

"I am Leontius's wife! I am Leontius's wife!" sobbed poor Anna.

"By the Holy Flight," laughed the soldier, "then he must get another.--Come, come!"--And he was raising her, in spite of all her struggles, in his arms, when the Archbishop of Chalcedon, who had been made prisoner, and was now tightly bound with cords, being dragged to the door, passed her,--and attempted to save her.--"Soldiers," said he, "if you touch her, it will be at your peril!--She is the wife of the Lord Leontius, the favourite of the Sultan!"

"By the Thirty-seven thousand Prophets, then," said the man, "she shall tell no tales!"

"But others may," said the prelate.

"Take me to the palace! Send for Leontius! I will give you jewels,--gold,--anything!--only save me, and take me there!"

The Janissary paused, and debated the matter with himself. Avarice prevailed.

"Well," said he, "I will take you there--if you are his wife, well and good--if not--come along at once."

He unbound her arms, however; for there was something in the manner of the Archbishop of Chalcedon that told him he was speaking truth. "You must show me the way, though, for, by Mecca, it is a large city!"

As they were passing out at the silver gates, a tall brawny Croat, dripping with Greek blood, and with a deep hideous scar over his own brow, still bleeding, passed them, carrying off Maria, whose struggles were so violent that, immensely strong though he was, he had tied her feet as well as her hands, and even so had some difficulty in carrying her with both arms.

"Oh, save me! save me!" shrieked the poor girl, recognizing Anna. And as the Croat descended the western steps, still she could hear the same agonizing cry, waxing fainter and fainter in the distance. "Oh, save me! save me!"

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