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The Prince of India; Or, Why Constantinople Fell — Volume 01 By Lew Wallace Characters: 26521

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The current of our story takes us once more to the White Castle at the mouth of the Sweet Waters of Asia.

It is the twenty-fifth of March, 1452. The weather, for some days cloudy and tending to the tempestuous, changed at noon, permitting the sun to show himself in a field of spotless blue. At the edge of the mountainous steep above Roumeli Hissar, the day-giver lingered in his going down, as loath to leave the life concentrated in the famous narrows in front of the old Castle.

On the land, there was an army in waiting; therefore the city of tents and brushwood booths extending from the shore back to the hills, and the smoke pervading the perspective in every direction.

On the water, swinging to each other, crowding all the shallows of the delta of the little river, reaching out into the sweep of the Bosphorus, boats open and boats roofed-scows, barges, galleys oared and galleys with masts-ships-a vast conglomerate raft.

About the camp, and to and fro on the raft, men went and came, like ants in storing time. Two things, besides the locality, identified them-their turbans, and the crescent and star in the red field of the flags they displayed.

History, it would appear, takes pleasure in repetition. Full a thousand years before this, a greater army had encamped on the banks of the same Sweet Waters. Then it was of Persians; now it is of Turks; and curiously there are no soldiers to be seen, but only working men, while the flotilla is composed of carrying vessels; here boats laden with stone; there boats with lime; yonder boats piled high with timber.

At length the sun, drawing the last ravelling of light after it, disappeared. About that time, the sea gate in front of the Palace of Julian down at Constantinople opened, and a boat passed out into the Marmora. Five men plied the oars. Two sat near the stern. These latter were Count Corti and Ali, son of Abed-din the Faithful.

Two hours prior, Ali, with a fresh catch of fish, entered the gate, and finding no purchaser in the galley, pushed on to the landing, and thence to the Palace.

"O Emir," he said, when admitted to the Count, "the Light of the World, our Lord Mahommed is arrived."

The intelligence seemed to strike the Count with a sudden ague.

"Where is he?" he asked, his voice hollow as from a closed helmet. Ere the other could answer, he added a saving clause: "May the love of Allah be to him a staff of life!"

"He is at the White Castle with Mollahs, Pachas, and engineers a host.... What a way they were in, rushing here and there, like squealing swine, and hunting quarters, if but a crib to lie in and blow! Shintan take them, beards, boots, and turbans! So have they lived on fat things, slept on divans of down under hangings of silk, breathed perfumed airs in crowded harems, Heaven knows if now they are even fit to stop an arrow. They thought the old Castle of Bajazet-Ilderim another Jehan-Numa. By the delights of Paradise, O Emir-ha, ha, ha!-it was good to see how little the Light of the World cared for them! At the Castle, he took in with him for household the ancient Gabour Ortachi-Khalil and a Prince of India, whom he calls his Messenger of the Stars; the rest were left to shift for themselves till their tents arrive. Halting the Incomparables, [Footnote: Janissaries.] out beyond Roumeli-Hissar, he summoned the Three Tails, [Footnote: Pachas.] nearly dead from fatigue, having been in the saddle since morning, and rode off with them fast as his Arab could gallop across the country, and down the long hill behind Therapia, drawing rein at the gate before the Palace of the Princess Irene."

"The Palace of the Princess Irene," the Count repeated. "What did he there?"

"He dismounted, looked at the brass plate on the gate-post, went in, and asked if she were at home. Being told she was yet in the city, he said: 'A message for her to be delivered to-night. Here is a purse to pay for going. Tell her Aboo-Obeidah, the Singing Sheik'-only the Prophet knows of such a Sheik-'has been here, bidden by Sultan Mahommed to see if her house had been respected, and inquire if she has yet her health and happiness.' With that, he called for his horse, and went through the garden and up to the top of the promontory; then he returned to Hissar faster than he went to Therapia; and when, to take boat for the White Castle, he walked down the height, two of the Three Tails had to be lifted from their saddles, so nearly dead were they."

Here Ali stopped to laugh.

"Pardon me, O Emir," he resumed, "if I say last what I should have said first, it being the marrow of the bone I bring you.... Before sitting to his pilaf, our Lord Mahommed sent me here. 'Thou knowest to get in and out of the unbelieving city,' he said. 'Go privily to the Emir Mirza, and bid him come to me to-night.'"

"What now, Ali?"

"My Lord was too wise to tell me."

"It is a great honor, Ali. I shall get ready immediately."

When the night was deep enough to veil the departure, the Count seated himself in the fisher's boat, a great cloak covering his armor. Half a mile below the Sweet Waters the party was halted.

"What is this, Ali?"

"The Lord Mahommed's galleys of war are down from the Black Sea. These are their outlyers."

At the side of one of the vessels, the Count showed the Sultan's signet, and there was no further interruption.

A few words now with respect to Corti.

He had become a Christian. Next, the bewilderment into which the first sight of the Princess Irene had thrown him instead of passing off had deepened into hopeless love.

And farther-Constantine, a genuine knight himself; in fact more knight than statesman; delighting in arms, armor, hounds, horses, and martial exercises, including tournaments, hawking, and hunting, found one abiding regret on his throne-he could have a favorite but never a comrade. The denial only stimulated the desire, until finally he concluded to bring the Italian to Court for observation and trial, his advancement to depend upon the fitness, tact, and capacity he might develop.

One day an order was placed in the Count's hand, directing him to find quarters at Blacherne. The Count saw the honor intended, and discerned that acceptance would place him in better position to get information for Mahommed, but what would the advantage avail if he were hindered in forwarding his budget promptly?

No, the mastership of the gate was of most importance; besides which the seclusion of the Julian residence was so favorable to the part he was playing; literally he had no one there to make him afraid.

Upon receipt of the order he called for his horse, and rode to Blacherne, where his argument of the necessity of keeping the Moslem crew of his galley apart brought about a compromise. His Majesty would require the Count's presence during the day, but permit him the nights at Julian. He was also allowed to retain command of the gate.

A few months then found him in Constantine's confidence, the imperial favorite. Yet more surprising as a coincidence, he actually became to the Emperor what he had been to Mahommed. He fenced and jousted with him, instructed him in riding, trained him to sword and bow. Every day during certain hours he had his new master's life at mercy. With a thrust of sword, stroke of battle-axe, or flash of an arrow, it was in his power to rid Mahommed of an opponent concerning whom he wrote: "O my Lord, I think you are his better, yet if ever you meet him in personal encounter, have a care."

But the unexpected now happened to the Count. He came to have an affection for this second lord which seriously interfered with his obligations to the first one. Its coming about was simple. Association with the Greek forced a comparison with the Turk. The latter's passion was a tide before which the better gifts of God to rulers-mercy, justice, discrimination, recognition of truth, loyalty, services-were as willows in the sweep of a wave. Constantine, on the other hand, was thoughtful, just, merciful, tender-hearted, indisposed to offend or to fancy provocation intended. The difference between a man with and a man without conscience-between a king all whose actuations are dominated by religion and a king void of both conscience and religion-slowly but surely, we say, the difference became apparent to the Count, and had its inevitable consequences.

Such was the Count's new footing in Blacherne.

The changes wrought in his feeling were forwarded more than he was aware by the standing accorded him in the reception-room of the Princess Irene.

After the affair at the Cynegion he had the delicacy not to push himself upon the attention of the noble lady. In preference he sent a servant every morning to inquire after her health. Ere long he was the recipient of an invitation to come in person; after which his visits increased in frequency. Going to Blacherne, and coming from it, he stopped at her house, and with every interview it seemed his passion for her intensified.

Now it were not creditable to the young Princess' discernment to say she was blind to his feeling; yet she was careful to conceal the discovery from him, and still more careful not to encourage his hope. She placed the favor shown him to the account of gratitude; at the same time she admired him, and was deeply interested in the religious sentiment he was beginning to manifest.

In the Count's first audience after the rescue from the lion, she explained how she came to be drawn to the Cynegion. This led to detail of her relations with Sergius, concluding with the declaration: "I gave him the signal to speak in Sancta Sophia, and felt I could not live if he died the death, sent to it by me."

"Princess," the Count replied, "I heard the monk's sermon in Sancta Sophia, but did not know of your giving the signal. Has any one impugned your motive in going to the Cynegion? Give me his name. My sword says you did well."

"Count Corti, the Lord has taken care of His own."

"As you say, Princess Irene. Hear me before addressing yourself to something else.... I remember the words of the Creed-or if I have them wrong correct me: 'I believe in God, and Jesus Christ, his Son.'"

"It is word for word."

"Am I to understand you gave him the form?"

"The idea is Father Hilarion's."

"And the Two Articles. Are they indeed sayings of Jesus Christ?"

"Even so."

"Give me the book containing them."

Taking a New Testament from the table, she gave it to him.

"You will find the sayings easily. On the margins opposite them there are markings illuminated in gold."

"Thanks, O Princess, most humbly. I will return the book."

"No, Count, it is yours."

An expression she did not understand darkened his face.

"Are you a Christian?" she asked.

He flushed deeply, and bowed while answering:

"My mother is a Christian."

That night Count Corti searched the book, and found that the strength of faith underlying his mother's prayers for his return to her, and the Princess' determination to die with the monk, were but Christian lights.

"Princess Irene," he said one day, "I have studied the book you gave me; and knowing now who Christ is, I am ready to accept your Creed. Tell me how I may know myself a believer?"

A lamp in the hollow of an alabaster vase glows through the transparency; so her countenance responded to the joy behind it.

"Render obedience to His commands-do His will, O Count-then wilt thou be a believer in Christ, and know it."

The darkness she had observed fall once before on his face obscured it again, and he arose and went out in silence.

Brave he certainly was, and strong. Who could strike like him? He loved opposition for the delight there was in overcoming it; yet in his chamber that night he was never so weak. He resorted to the book, but could not read. It seemed to accuse him. "Thou Islamite-thou son of Mahomet, though born of a Christian, whom servest thou? Judas, what dost thou in this city? Hypocrite-traitor-which is thy master, Mahomet or Christ?"

He fell upon his knees, tore at his beard, buried his head in his arms. He essayed prayer to Christ.

"Jesus-Mother of Jesus-O my mother!" he cried in agony.

The hour he was accustomed to give to Mahommed came round. He drew out the writing materials. "The Princess"-thus he began a sentence, but stopped-something caught hold of his heart-the speaking face of the beloved woman appeared to him-her eyes were reproachful-her lips moved-she spoke: "Count Corti, I am she whom thou lovest; but what dost thou? Is it not enough to betray my kinsman? Thy courage-what makest thou of it but wickedness? ... Write of me to thy master. Come every day, and contrive that I speak, then tell him of it. Am I sick? Tell him of it. Do I hold to this or that? Tell him. Am I shaken by visions of ruin to my country? Tell him of them. What is thy love if not the servant for hire of his love? Traitor-panderer!"

The Count pushed the table from him, and sprang to foot writhing. To shut out the word abhorrent above all other words, he clapped his hands tight over his ears-in vain.

"Panderer!"-he heard with his soul-"Panderer! When thou hast delivered me to Maho

mmed, what is he to give thee? How much?"

Thus shame, like a wild dog, bayed at him. For relief he ran out into the garden. And it was only the beginning of misery. Such the introduction or first chapter, what of the catastrophe? He could not sleep for shame.

In the morning he ordered his horse, but had not courage to go to Blacherne. How could he look at the kindly face of the master he was betraying? He thought of the Princess. Could he endure her salutation? She whom he was under compact to deliver to Mahommed? A paroxysm of despair seized him.

He rode to the Gate St. Romain, and out of it into the country. Gallop, gallop-the steed was good-his best Arab, fleet and tireless. Noon overtook him-few things else could-still he galloped. The earth turned into a green ribbon under the flying hoofs, and there was relief in the speed. The air, whisked through, was soothing. At length he came to a wood, wild and interminable, Belgrade, though he knew it not, and dismounting by a stream, he spent the day there. If now and then the steed turned its eyes upon him, attracted by his sighs, groans and prayer, there was at least no accusation in them. The solitude was restful; and returning after nightfall, he entered the city through the sortie under the Palace of Blacherne known as the Cercoporta.

It is well pain of spirit has its intermissions; otherwise long life could not be; and if sleep bring them, so much the better.

Next day betimes, the Count was at Blacherne.

"I pray grace, O my Lord!" he said, speaking to the question in the Emperor's look. "Yesterday I had to ride. This confinement in the city deadens me. I rode all day."

The good, easy master sighed: "Would I had been with you, Count."

Thus he dismissed the truancy. But with the Princess it was a lengthy chapter. If the Emperor was never so gracious, she seemed never so charming. He wrote to Mahommed in the evening, and walked the garden the residue of the night.

So weeks and months passed, and March came-even the night of the twenty-fifth, with its order from the Sultan to the White Castle-an interval of indecision, shame, and self-indictment. How many plans of relief he formed who can say? Suicide he put by, a very last resort. There was also a temptation to cut loose from Mahommed, and go boldly over to the Emperor. That would be a truly Christian enlistment for the approaching war; and aside from conformity to his present sympathies, it would give him a right to wear the Princess' favor on his helmet. But a fear shook the resort out of mind. Mahommed, whether successful or defeated, would demand an explanation of him, possibly an accounting. He knew the Sultan. Of all the schemes presented, the most plausible was flight. There was the gate, and he its keeper, and beyond the gate, the sunny Italian shore, and his father's castle. The seas and sailing between were as green landscapes to a weary prisoner, and he saw in them only the joy of going and freedom to do. Welcome, and to God the praise! More than once he locked his portables of greatest value in the cabin of the galley. But alas! He was in bonds. Life in Constantinople now comprehended two of the ultimate excellencies to him, Princess Irene and Christ-and their joinder in the argument he took to be no offence.

From one to another of these projects he passed, and they but served to hide the flight of time. He was drifting-ahead, and not far, he heard the thunder of coming events-yet he drifted.

In this condition, the most envied man in Constantinople and the most wretched, the Sultan's order was delivered to him by Ali.

The time for decision was come. Tired-ashamed-angry with himself, he determined to force the end.

The Count arrived at the Castle, was immediately admitted to the Sultan; indeed, had he been less resolute, his master's promptitude would have been a circumstance of disturbing significance.

Observation satisfied him Mahommed was in the field; for with all his Epicureanism in times of peace, when a campaign was in progress the Conqueror resolved himself into a soldierly example of indifference to luxury. In other words, with respect to furnishment, the interior of the old Castle presented its every day ruggedness.

One lamp fixed to the wall near the door of the audience chamber struggled with the murk of a narrow passage, giving to view an assistant chamberlain, an armed sentinel, and two jauntily attired pages in waiting. Surrendering his sword to the chamberlain, the Count halted before the door, while being announced; at the same time, he noticed a man come out of a neighboring apartment clad in black velvet from head to foot, followed closely by a servant. It was the Prince of India.

The mysterious person advanced slowly, his eyes fixed on the floor, his velvet-shod feet giving out no sound. His air indicated deep reflection. In previous encounters with him, the Count had been pleased; now his sensations were of repugnance mixed with doubt and suspicion. He had not time to account for the change. It may have had origin in the higher prescience sometimes an endowment of the spirit by which we stand advised of a friend or an enemy; most likely, however, it was a consequence of the curious tales abroad in Constantinople; for at the recognition up sprang the history of the Prince's connection with Lael, and her abandonment by him, the more extraordinary from the evidences of his attachment to her. Up sprang also the opinion of universal prevalence in the city that he had perished in the great fire. What did it all mean? What kind of man was he?

The servant carried a package wrapped in gold-embroidered green silk.

Coming near, the Prince raised his eyes-stopped-smiled-and said:

"Count Corti-or Mirza the Emir-which have I the honor of meeting?"

In spite of the offence he felt, Corti blushed, such a flood of light did the salutation let in upon the falsity of his position. Far from losing presence of mind, he perceived at once how intimately the Prince stood in the councils of the Sultan.

"The Lord Mahommed must be heard before I can answer," he returned, calmly.

In an instant the Prince became cordial.

"That was well answered," he said. "I am pleased to have my judgment of you confirmed. Your mission has been a trying one, but you have conducted it like a master. The Lord Mahommed has thanked me many times that I suggested you for it. He is impatient to see you. We will go in together."

Mahommed, in armor, was standing by a table on which were a bare cimeter, a lamp brightly burning, and two large unrolled maps. In one of the latter, the Count recognized Constantinople and its environs cast together from his own surveys.

Retired a few steps were the two Viziers, Kalil Pacha and his rival, Saganos Pacha, the Mollah Kourani, and the Sheik Akschem-sed-din. The preaching of the Mollah had powerfully contributed to arousing the fanatical spirit of the Sultan's Mohammedan subjects. The four were standing in the attitude usual to Turkish officials in presence of a superior, their heads bowed, their hands upon their stomachs. In speaking, if they raised their eyes from the floor it was to shoot a furtive glance, then drop them again.

"This is the grand design of the work by which you will be governed," Mahommed said to the counsellors, laying the finger points of his right hand upon the map unknown to the Count, and speaking earnestly. "You will take it, and make copies tonight; for if the stars fail not, I will send the masons and their workmen to the other shore in the morning."

The advisers saluted-it would be difficult to say which of them with the greatest unction.

Looking sharply at Kalil, the master asked: "You say you superintended the running of the lines in person?"

Kalil saluted separately, and returned: "My Lord may depend upon the survey."

"Very well. I wait now only the indication of Heaven that the time is ripe for the movement. Is the Prince of India coming?"

"I am here, my Lord."

Mahommed turned as the Prince spoke, and let his eyes rest a moment upon Count Corti, without a sign of recognition.

"Come forward, Prince," he said. "What is the message you bring me?"

"My Lord," the Prince replied, after prostration, "in the Hebrew Scriptures there is a saying in proof of the influence the planets have in the affairs of men: 'Then fought the kings of Canaan in Taanach by the waters of Megiddo; they fought from heaven; the stars in their courses fought against Sisera.' Now art thou truly Sultan of Sultans. To-morrow-the twenty-sixth of March-will be memorable amongst days, for then thou mayst begin the war with the perfidious Greek. From four o'clock in the morning the stars which fought against Sisera will fight for Mahommed. Let those who love him salute and rejoice."

The counsellors, dropping on their knees, fell forward, their faces on their hands. The Prince of India did the same. Count Corti alone remained standing, and Mahommed again observed him.

"Hear you," the latter said, to his officers. "Go assemble the masons and their workmen, the masters of boats, and the chiefs charged with duties. At four o'clock in the morning I will move against Europe. The stars have said it, and their permission is my law. Rise!"

As his associates were moving backward with repeated genuflections, the Prince of India spoke:

"O most favored of men! Let them stay a moment."

At a sign from the Sultan they halted; thereupon the Prince of India beckoned Syama to come, and taking the package from his hands, he laid it on the table.

"For my Lord Mahommed," he said.

"What is it?" Mahommed demanded.

"A sign of conquest.... My Lord knows King Solomon ruled the world in his day, its soul of wisdom. At his death dominion did not depart from him. The secret ministers in the earth, the air and the waters, obedient to Allah, became his slaves. My Lord knows of whom I speak. Who can resist them? ... In the tomb of Hiram, King of Tyre, the friend of King Solomon, I found a sarcophagus. It was covered with a model in marble of the Temple of the Hebrew Almighty God. Removing the lid, lo! the mummy of Hiram, a crown upon its head, and at its feet the sword of Solomon, a present without price. I brought it away, resolved to give it to him whom the stars should elect for the overthrow of the superstitions devised by Jesus, the bastard son of Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth.... Undo the wrappings, Lord Mahommed."

The Sultan obeyed, and laying the last fold of the cloth aside, drew back staring, and with uplifted hands.

"Kalil-Kourani-Akschem-sed-din-all of you, come look. Tell me what it is-it blinds me."

The sword of Solomon lay before them; its curved blade a gleam of splendor, its scabbard a mass of brilliants, its hilt a ruby so pure we may say it retained in its heart the life of a flame.

"Take it in hand, Lord Mahommed," said the Prince of India.

The young Sultan lifted the sword, and as he did so down a groove in its back a stream of pearls started and ran, ringing musically, and would not rest while he kept the blade in motion. He was speechless from wonder.

"Now may my Lord march upon Constantinople, for the stars and every secret minister of Solomon will fight for him."

So saying, the Prince knelt before the Sultan, and laid his lips on the instep of his foot, adding: "Oh, my Lord! with that symbol in hand, march, and surely as Tabor is among the mountains and Carmel by the sea, so surely Christ will give place to Mahomet in Sancta Sophia. March at four o'clock."

And the counsellors left kisses on the same instep, and departed.

Thence through the night the noises of preparation kept the space between the hills of the narrows alive with echoes. At the hour permitted by the stars-four o'clock-a cloud of boats cast loose from the Asiatic shore, and with six thousand laborers, handmen to a thousand master masons, crossed at racing speed to Europe. "God is God, and Mahomet is his Prophet," they shouted. The vessels of burden, those with lime, those with stone, those with wood, followed as they were called, and unloading, hauled out, to give place to others.

Before sun up the lines of the triangular fort whose walls near Roumeli-Hissar are yet intact, prospectively a landmark enduring as the Pyramids, were defined and swarming with laborers. The three Pachas, Kalil, Sarudje, and Saganos, superintended each a side of the work, and over them all, active and fiercely zealous, moved Mahommed, the sword of Solomon in his hand.

And there was no lack of material for the structure extensive as it was. Asia furnished its quota, and Christian towns and churches on the Bosphorus were remorselessly levelled for the stones in them; wherefore the outer faces of the curtains and towers are yet speckled with marbles in block, capital and column.

Thus Mahommed, taking his first step in the war so long a fervid dream, made sure of his base of operations.

On the twenty-eighth of August, the work completed, from his camp on the old Asometon promontory he reconnoitred the country up to the ditch of Constantinople, and on the first of September betook himself to Adrianople.

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