MoboReader > Literature > The Prince of India; Or, Why Constantinople Fell — Volume 01


The Prince of India; Or, Why Constantinople Fell — Volume 01 By Lew Wallace Characters: 12484

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

A man in love, though the hero of many battles, shall be afraid in the presence of his beloved, and it shall be easier for him to challenge an enemy than to ask her love in return.

Count Corti's eagerness to face the lion in the gallery of the Cynegion had established his reputation in Constantinople for courage; his recent defence of the harvesters raised it yet higher; now his name was on every tongue.

His habit of going about in armor had in the first days of his coming subjected him to criticism; for the eyes before which he passed belonged for the most part to a generation more given to prospecting for bezants in fields of peace than the pursuit of glory in the ruggeder fields of war. But the custom was now accepted, and at sight of him, mounted and in glistening armor, even the critics smiled, and showered his head with silent good wishes, or if they spoke it was to say to each other: "Oh, that the Blessed Mother would send us more like him!" And the Count knew he had the general favor. We somehow learn such things without their being told us.

Up in the empyrean courtly circles his relations were quite as gratifying. The Emperor made no concealment of his partiality, and again insisted on bringing him to Blacherne.

"Your Majesty," the Count said one day, "I have no further need of my galley and its crew. I beg you to do with them as you think best."

Constantine received the offer gratefully.

"The galley is a godsend. I will order payment for it. Duke Notaras, the Grand Admiral, will agree with you about the price."

"If Your Majesty will permit me to have my way," the Count rejoined, "you will order the vessel into the harbor with the fleet, and if the result of the war is with Your Majesty, the Grand Admiral can arrange for the payment; if otherwise"-he smiled at the alternative-"I think neither Your Majesty nor myself will have occasion for a ship."

The galley was transferred from the Bay of Julian to anchorage in the Golden Horn. That night, speaking of the tender, the Emperor said to Phranza: "Count Corti has cast his lot with us. As I interpret him, he does not mean to survive our defeat. See that he be charged to select a bodyguard to accompany me in action."

"Is he to be Captain of the guard?"


The duty brought the Count to Blacherne. In a few days he had fifty men, including his nine Berbers.

These circumstances made him happy. He found peace of mind also in his release from Mahommed. Not an hour of the day passed without his silently thanking the Sultan for his magnanimity.

But no matter for rejoicing came to him like the privilege of freely attending the Princess Irene.

Not only was her reception-room open to him; whether she went to Blacherne or Sancta Sophia, he appeared in her train. Often when the hour of prayer arrived, she invited him as one of her household to accompany her to the apartment she had set apart for chapel exercises; and at such times he strove to be devout, but in taking her for his pattern of conduct-as yet he hardly knew when to arise or kneel, or cross himself-if his thoughts wandered from the Madonna and Child to her, if sometimes he fell to making comparisons in which the Madonna suffered as lacking beauty-nay, if not infrequently he caught himself worshipping the living woman at the foot of the altar rather than the divinity above it, few there were who would have been in haste to condemn him even in that day. There is nothing modern in the world's love of a lover.

By the treaty with Mahommed he was free to tell the Princess of his passion; and there were moments in which it seemed he must cast himself at her feet and speak; but then he would be seized with a trembling, his tongue would unaccountably refuse its office, and he would quiet himself with the weakling's plea-another time-to-morrow, to-morrow. And always upon the passing of the opportunity, the impulse being laid with so many of its predecessors in the graveyard of broken resolutions-every swain afraid keeps such a graveyard-always he sallied from her door eager for an enemy on whom to vent his vexation. "Ah," he would say, with prolonged emphasis upon the exclamation-"if Mahommed were only at the gate! Is he never coming?"

One day he dismounted at the Princess' door, and was ushered into the reception-room by Lysander. "I bring you good news," he said, in course of the conversation.

"What now?" she asked.

"Every sword counts. I am just from the Port of Blacherne, whither I accompanied the Grand Equerry to assist in receiving one John Grant, who has arrived with a following of Free Lances, mostly my own countrymen."

"Who is John Grant?"

"A German old in Eastern service; more particularly an expert in making and throwing hollow iron balls filled with inflammable liquid. On striking, the balls burst, after which the fire is unquenchable with water."

"Oh! our Greek fire rediscovered!"

"So he declares. His Majesty has ordered him the materials he asks, and that he go to work to-morrow getting a store of his missiles ready. The man declares also, if His Holiness would only proclaim a crusade against the Turks. Constantinople has not space on her walls to hold the volunteers who would hasten to her defence. He says Genoa, Venice, all Italy, is aroused and waiting."

"John Grant is welcome," the Princess returned; "the more so that His Holiness is slow."

Afterward, about the first of December, the Count again dismounted at her door with news.

"What is it now?" she inquired.

"Noble Princess, His Holiness has been heard from."

"At last?"

"A Legate will arrive to-morrow."

"Only a Legate! What is his name?"

"Isidore, Grand Metropolitan of Russia."

"Brings he a following?"

"No soldiers; only a suite of priests high and low."

"I see. He comes to negotiate. Alas!"

"Why alas?"

"Oh, the factions, the factions!" she exclaimed, disconsolately; then, seeing the Count still in wonder, she added: "Know you not that Isidore, familiarly called the Cardinal, was appointed Metropolitan of the Russian Greek Church by the Pope, and, rejected by it, was driven to refuge in Poland? What welcome can we suppose he will receive here?"

"Is he n

ot a Greek?"

"Yes, truly; but being a Latin Churchman, the Brotherhoods hold him an apostate. His first demand will be to celebrate mass in Sancta Sophia. If the world were about shaking itself to pieces, the commotion would be but little greater than the breaking of things we will then hear. Oh, it is an ill wind which blows him to our gates!" Meantime the Hippodrome had been converted into a Campus Martius, where at all hours of the day the newly enlisted men were being drilled in the arms to which they were assigned; now as archers, now as slingers; now with balistas and catapults and arquebuses; now to the small artillery especially constructed for service on the walls. And as trade was at an end in the city, as in fact martial preparation occupied attention to the exclusion of business in the commercial sense, the ancient site was a centre of resort. Thither the Count hastened to work off the disheartenment into which the comments of the Princess had thrown him.

That same week, however, he and the loyal population of Constantinople in general, were cheered by a coming of real importance. Early one morning some vessels of war hove in sight down the Marmora. Their flags proclaimed them Christian. Simultaneously the lookouts at Point Demetrius reported a number of Turkish galleys plying to and fro up the Bosphorus. It was concluded that a naval battle was imminent. The walls in the vicinity of the Point were speedily crowded with spectators. In fact, the anxiety was great enough to draw the Emperor from his High Residence. Not doubting the galleys were bringing him stores, possibly reinforcements, he directed his small fleet in the Golden Horn to be ready to go to their assistance. His conjecture was right; yet more happily the Turks made no attempt upon them. Turning into the harbor, the strangers ran up the flags of Venice and Genoa, and never did they appear so beautiful, seen by Byzantines-never were they more welcome. The decks were crowded with helmed men who responded vigorously to the cheering with which they were saluted.

Constantine in person received the newcomers at the Port of Blacherne. From the wall over the gate the Princess Irene, with an escort of noble ladies, witnessed the landing.

A knight of excellent presence stepped from a boat, and announced himself.

"I am John Justiniani of Genoa," he said, "come with two thousand companions in arms to the succor of the most Christian Emperor Constantine. Guide me to him, I pray."

"The Emperor is here-I am he."

Justiniani kissed the hand extended to him, and returned with fervor:

"Christ and the Mother be praised! Much have I been disquieted lest we should be too late. Your Majesty, command me."

"Duke Notaras," said the Emperor, "assist this noble gentleman and his companions. When they are disembarked, conduct them to me. For the present I will lodge them in my residence." Then he addressed the Genoese: "Duke Notaras, High Admiral of the Empire, will answer your every demand. In God's name, and for the imperilled religion of our Redeeming Lord, I bid you welcome."

It seemed the waving of scarfs and white hands on the wall, and the noisy salutations of the people present, were not agreeable to the Duke; although coldly polite, he impressed Justiniani as an ill second to the stately but courteous Emperor.

At night there was an audience in the Very High Residence, and Justiniani assisted Phranza in the presentation of his companions; and though the banquet which shortly succeeded the audience may not, in the courses served or in its table splendors, have vied with those Alexis resorted to for the dazzlement of the chiefs of the first crusade, it was not entirely wanting in such particulars; for it has often happened, if the chronicles may be trusted, that the expiring light of great countries has lingered longest in their festive halls, just as old families have been known to nurture their pride in sparkling heirlooms, all else having been swept away. The failings on this occasion, if any there were, Constantine more than amended by his engaging demeanor. Soldier not less than Emperor, he knew to win the sympathy and devotion of soldiers. Of his foreign guests that evening many afterwards died hardly distinguishing between him and the Holy Cause which led them to their fate.

The table was long, and without head or foot. On one side, in the middle, the Emperor presided; opposite him sat the Princess Irene; and on their right and left, in gallant interspersion, other ladies, the wives and daughters of senators, nobles, and officials of the court, helped charm the Western chivalry.

And of the guests, the names of a few have been preserved by history, together with the commands to which they were assigned in the siege.

There was Andrew Dinia, under Duke Notaras, a captain of galleys.

There was the Venetian Contarino, intrusted with the defence of the Golden Grate.

There was Maurice Cataneo, a soldier of Genoa, commandant of the walls on the landward side between the Golden Gate and the Gate Selimbria.

There were two brothers, gentlemen of Genoa,

Paul Bochiardi and Antonin Troilus Bochiardi, defendants of the Adrianople Gate.

There was Jerome Minotte, Bayle of Venice, charged with safe keeping the walls between the Adrianople Gate and the Cerco Portas.

There was the artillerist, German John Grant, who, with Theodore Carystos, made sure of the Gate Charsias.

There was Leonardo de Langasco, another Genoese, keeper of the Wood Gate.

There was Gabriel Travisan; with four hundred other Venetians, he maintained the stretch of wall on the harbor front between Point Demetrius and the Port St. Peter.

There was Pedro Guiliani, the Spanish Consul, assigned to the guardianship of the wall on the sea side from Point Demetrius to the Port of Julian.

There also was stout Nicholas Gudelli; with the Emperor's brother, he commanded the force in reserve.

Now these, or the major part of them, may have been Free Lances; yet they did not await the motion of Nicholas, the dilatory Pope, and were faithful, and to-day exemplify the saying:

"That men may rise on stepping-stones

Of their dead selves to higher things."

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