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 XLIV.

"That galley was their fate: the waves, though rough,
Were gentler than the foe;--so on they bore
As one that sought a harbour, not the deep."

A Fair Quarrel.

Burstow was standing by Sir Edward de Rushton at the moment in which it was quite plain that the city was won. "If we do not save ourselves," said he, "we have no hope for the rest."

"You are right," said De Rushton: "but the Emperor first." , ,

At that moment a wild shout passed along the fugitives. "Constantine is down!" cried Lucas Notaras, as he was borne along the crowd.

"Save yourself, De Rushton!" said the Great Drungaire, rushing past him as he spoke. "I saw the Emperor fall."

"We cannot save him, my Lord, and we may them," said Burstow.

Guided by the Varangian, to whom every lane and alley and blind court of the city was known, they sped forward across its utmost width--diving through this court, turning through that passage,--scaling this partition wall. Three long miles they had to pass: and twenty minutes served to set them, panting and exhausted, before the gate of the palace. The hurricane of the invaders was still far, far behind: and here, as yet, all was peace.

"All's lost, Barlaam," said Burstow, as they met the old man at the entrance to the metoecia. "Now, my Lord, you go to the ice-house--leave me to bring you news. You may be everything to them,--and I can do the work best alone."

"Open the door! open the door! it is I!" cried Sir Edward, from the outside of the ice-house.

Who can describe the terrors of those two next hours? By Sir Edward's desire, Theodora and her companions concealed themselves in the remotest corner; he himself and Barlaam remained close to the door, in order that, if a party of plunderers should burst in, they might be the only prisoners or the only victims. Even into those dark cold vaults the cry of the sacked city penetrated; sometimes louder, sometimes fainter,--till at length it seemed that a certain degree of order was restored within the precincts of the palace,--and the little light that the icehouse admitted began to grow dimmer.

"Take courage, dearest," said Sir Edward. "I trust that the great danger is over. No doubt the Sultan will take up his quarters here as soon as possible, and then all these gardens will be held sacred."

"And then------?" inquired Theodora.

"And then," said her husband, "we must take counsel whether there be any chance of escape otherwise, or whether we must throw ourselves on the Sultan's mercy--for without mercy he is not--and crave to be ransomed. But we will give Burstow till dusk; if he fails us then, I myself must go out."

So in few broken sentences of hope or fear the time passed on. Now it was quite dark within; and by applying his eye to the key-hole, Sir Edward could see that twilight had come down without.

Just as he was about to venture forth himself, a quick, but rather heavy step came along as from the metcecia: and then Burstow's voice--"Quick! let me in!"

Dark as it was, there was light enough to make De Rushton and Barlaam start at the disguise of their companion. He wore the long loose robes of a Dervish--such as those which even now flit about the gardens and corridors of the Merlevi Khaneh in Mahometan Constantinople. Under his arm he bore a huge parcel, which he flung on the ground, and forthwith began to uncord.

"Now, my Lord," said he, there is not a moment to lose. If we can pass in any disguise, we can in this. Here are four dresses: the Lady de Rushton and the rest must put them on without a moment's delay, and so must you. The Genoese and Venetian vessels are even now sailing from the Horn. I have promised a fellow at the garden gate one hundred amuraths if he will put us aboard,--and I think I can trust him."

"Have you heard of my father?" said Theodora, with a trembling voice.

"He is a prisoner, lady, but unharmed. I have heard nothing of the Lord Chrysolaras; and I think I should have heard, had any ill tidings been known."

"And my husband?" inquired the Lady Choniatis.

"And the Exarch," returned Burstow, after a short pause, "is well, to my certain knowledge. But I will pray you to be quick. I am pretty sure," he continued in a lower voice to Sir Edward, "that we did Zosimus no wrong by our suspicions. But, whether or not, he will do us no more."

"How is that?" inquired De Rushton.

Burstow related the fate of the traitor. "Now, my Lord," he said, "I know not what ready money or jewels you have with you; but you will want all. The Genoese ships are the only means of escape; and they ask prices for passage that are enough to ruin an emperor."

"My wife has jewels with her, amply enough to pay for all."

"I know not that, my Lord. But if it be otherwise, leave me to my fate. I never thought to have survived this morning; and I would not, but that I knew I might be useful here."

"No, Burstow," replied the Great Acolyth: "please God, we will all be saved together. But how did you mean," he added, almost in a whisper, "that the Exarch was well to your certain knowlege?"

"Why so he is, my Lord. I saw him fall myself between the walls; and, Single-Processionist though he were, I will not doubt that he who dies for Christendom dies a martyr."

"Poor Choniates!" said De Rushton. "And Chrysolaras?"

"Nay, there I told the simple truth," replied Burstow. "I know nothing of him; yet I have heard the names of all the great prisoners, and have seen most of them: for this dress will take me anywhere."

It was soon put on by all. "Now," continued the Varangian, "whatever happens, keep silence, and leave me to speak. There are some of this sect under a vow of silence, so that you may well pass; only keep close to me, and let me explain all."

Through the lovely and still beautiful garden, now trodden by them for the last time,--through the western gate of the palace,--along the outer terraces,--and not a single hindrance to their passage. Lights gleamed from some of the metoeciae,--a stream of officers was pouring in through that which had been the principal entrance of the Caesars,--wild cries, but now principally of horrid mirth and revelry, still rose from the City,--a bright glare here and there towards the north, the reflection of some accidental or malicious fire; but unharmed, and almost uninterrupted, they reached what now is the Yali Kiosk, close to the Golden Horn. Here there was a guard of five or six soldiers.

"Leave the talking to me," said Burstow again: "there is no real danger, if we only keep our own counsel."

"No one passes this way," said the corporal of the guard.

"Allah is great," began Burstow, in a low key, waking up his tone as he went on into something between a screech and a howl,--"and the servants of Allah are great also. For this we have waited, for this we have watched, for this we have prayed, and now we have seen the Commander of the Faithful seated in the palace of the last of the Caesars. Let be! Let be!--Allah's servants shall pass where there is no egress for other men: woe be to him that opposes their going out and their coming in! woe be to him------"

"Better let them pass, Hassan," said one of the soldiers. "They did good service yesterday."

"Pass on, then," said the corporal; "but, by the Thirty-seven thousand Prophets, you shall find it easier to get out than to come in."

Drawing their hoods as tightly as possible over their heads, the two fair girls and the Lady Choniatis followed Burstow: Sir Edward came last. And there before them lay the Horn--how different a sight from that of the morning, and yet how beautiful! Six Genoese or Venetian galleys were standing out to sea; even from the shore their crowded decks were distinctly visible;--the sails, seen from the west, were snow-white against the evening sky and beyond rose the domes and walls of Galata, from which the Genoese flag was still floating. It was well that the fugitives knew not the full meaning of that hubbub of sounds which came over the water from the north-west. There the last vessel was weighing anchor: a crowd lined the beach, pushing, struggling, agonizing forward to the only remaining means of safety: everything forgotten but the preservation of self or family; mothers with frantic shrieks imploring the captain, for the love of the Panaghia, for the mercy of God, for the Wounds of Christ, to take them on board--to take their daughters and leave themselves---to take but one daughter, the fairest of the flock; men frantically endeavoured to scale the sides, and pushed down by the sailors with boat-hooks; a guard with drawn swords defending the passage on to the narrow plank, across which lay the highly favoured few; multitudes turning away in silent agony, others shrieking in despair; all homeless, houseless victims at their pleasure to the savage hordes who held unbridled riot that night in Constantinople.

At the point of the Horn where they were now passing, the contest had been furious; and many a mangled corpse gave token how well the city's defenders had here done their duty. Here and there some of the lowest camp followers were prowling about, and stripping the dead; but still not a soldier, much less a man of rank, to be seen.

"Burstow," said Sir Edward, "look you to the Lady Euphrasia; I will take care of the Lady Choniatis, and of my wife."

"I will, my Lord; and now, by our Lady's Grace, we shall soon be at the place."

Along the extent of the beach, as far as eye could reach, there was but one other boat beside that which lay off the stairs of the Garden gate. The other was anchored some distance to the north.

"Now, my man," said Burstow.

"Wait a minute," said the renegade Greek to whom it belonged. "The money first, or I put not out this evening."

"One hundred amuraths," said Sir Edward, with difficulty suppressing his indignation; "here they are."

At this moment a party of Turkish soldiers were seen advancing from the north--an officer, apparently of rank, moving a little before them. Burstow's quick eye instantly recognized Leontius.

"I said so," replied the boatman, "but prices have risen since; and now you pay two hundred, or you set no foot aboard."

"I will," said De Rushton, "but not one farthing more: and mark you, sirrah, unless you receive us at once, I will inform against you to yonder officer, whoever he is. If we perish, so shall you too."

The argument seemed to have its effect. The boat was laid alongside: Theodora had stepped in, Maria Choniatis was following, when Euphrasia happened to look at the line of prisoners who were accompanying the advancing party, and forgetful of her disguise, exclaimed:

"Manuel! Manuel!"

"By Mahomet!" cried Leontius, "that is no Dervish! Seize all the party!"

There was a short, sharp struggle. Barlnam was unarmed, and fell at the first onset; De Rushton and Burstow might easily have saved themselves, would they have relinquished Euphrasia: it was for her they fought. Manuel, a fettered prisoner, could only look on. A few minutes settled the conflict. Euphrasia was torn away, and ridding themselves of one or two of their foremost opponents, the Great Acolyth and the Varangian leaped into the boat, and pushed off.

"By heavens," cried Leontius, as Theodora, in her eagerness, let her hood fall, "it is Theodora Phranza! Five thousand amuraths to the man that takes them! There is yet a boat!"

It needed no second offer. Four of the most active soldiers threw themselves into it, and pulled off.

"Burstow," said Sir Edward, "take an oar--give me the other.--Now, slave, row for your life: for I am very sure that, if they come up with us, that moment is your last. Burstow, for God's sake, if you ever tried at a thing, try now!"

Deck, cabins, hold, forecastle, of the Pearl of the Adriatic were all crowded: here a mother pressing the baby to her breast--all that remained to her from a wealthy and happy home:--here a wife clinging to her husband's neck, frantic from the loss of her family:--here a sturdy man, his hat pulled down over his eyes, and his whole frame strongly convulsing,--here a girl,--almost thrust on board, and left a stranger in an unknown world. By the helm stood three or four knights in low, sad talk: an ecclesiastic was among them,--to whom each would now and then turn with deference to hear or to offer a remark.

"By the Holy Face of Lucca!" cried the captain, "here is another boat!--Do the fools think that we have room for an ounce more on board?"

It was as he said. A small boat was bearing right onwards to the galley, rowed with main strength, but with little skill. There were three rowers;--and two ladies were the freight. But not fifty yards behind another boat was seen in full pursuit, the waves foaming beneath the efforts of her four rowers, while there were shouts and cheers from a small party on the shore.

"There is something more than usual in this," said Cardinal Isidore,--for the ecclesiastic was none other than he. "Take them on board, for God's love, Captain!"

"Not I," said, the Captain:--"the Pearl should not take another passenger for all the wealth of Venice."

"Galley a-hoy!" shouted Burstow. "Passengers!"

"The foul fiend take you'!" roared the Captain in answer.

"Five thousand crowns for a passage to Venice!" cried Sir Edward.

"Not if you offered fifty thousand," said the captain. "Beggarly knaves, I dare say!"

"By S. Mary," said Cardinal Isidore, "it is Sir Edward de Rushton.--Sir captain, this must not be. Gentlemen, you will not allow it."

"So it is, by S. George," cried Sir Maurice D'Argenson, one of the best French lances in the siege. "Look ye, captain: lie-to, or my dagger and your breast shall become better acquainted."

"If I must, I must," replied the captain: "but I will have the money somehow."

The galley lay-to, but not a whit did the Turks relax their pursuit. The boat is under the vessel's side, when the pursuers are upon it.

"Your hand, lady!" cried D'Argenson. "Keep the dogs off one second, De Rushton, and you are safe."

The Great Acolyth and Burstow grappled with their assailants. Theodora was pulled up with main force, and then Maria Choniatis.

"Now then!" cried D'Argenson, leaping into the boat, and discharging a furious blow on one of the Turks.

But these had no fancy for a hopeless conflict. They pulled off, and then, exhausted and fainting, lay-to on their oars.

"And so they are lost after all," sobbed Theodora, as soon as the first wild burst of joy at her own deliverance was over.

All that the Historians can further relate, is contained in the following documents. A letter:--

"Georgius Phranza, Great Protovestiare of the Empire, to the most excellent Sir Edward de Rushton, at his Castle of Rushton, in the Island called Britain, greeting.

"A messenger from your island, that has been charged with ransom, is waiting to return thither,--and by him, the august Sultan permitting, I also write. You shall know that, by the favour of my ever-potent master, I have not only ransomed myself by the revenues of my estates in Naxos, but have also set free the Lady Euphrasia Choniatis, and Manuel Chrysolaras, who had lost well-nigh all in the siege. They were married in the winter, just before Apocreos, and they propose to sail incontinently to England. [Apocreos answers to our Sexagesima, and was so called from the fact that flesh was forbidden after that Sunday. Marriages also, though not strictly forbidden, were at least thought scarcely respectable.] Whether I shall ever behold my daughter again in this world, as yet I cannot say. I propose at present, under the Sultan's favour, to dwell at Hadrianople, where I shall draw up some short history of the reign of Constantine, and of the great siege. Our august Sovereign tolerates the Orthodox worship, and has promoted Gennadius to be Oecumenical Patriarch. I send my blessing to my daughter, and so bid you hearty farewell.

"From the Court, this sixth day of May, 1454."

And a certificate:--

"Knowe alle menne that Constantine, sonne of Sir Edwarde de Russhetone, Knyghte, and the Ladye Theodora hys wyffe, was baptizyd by mee, John Tremlette, p'ish priest of Russhetone, thys VIII day of November, the yere of our Lord God one thousand foure hundred and fifty-three."

Project Canterbury