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   Chapter 8 MAHOMMED TRIES HIS GUNS AGAIN

The Prince of India; Or, Why Constantinople Fell — Volume 01 By Lew Wallace Characters: 24295

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Hardly had the bodies making the sortie retired within the gate when the Janissaries on the eminence were trebly strengthened, and the noises in that quarter, the cracking of whips, the shouting of ox-drivers, the hammering betokened a prodigious activity. The besieged, under delusion that the guns had been destroyed, could not understand the enemy. Not until the second ensuing morning was the mystery solved. The watchmen on the towers, straining to pierce the early light, then beheld the great bronze monster remounted and gaping at them through an embrasure, and other monsters of a like kind on either side of it, fourteen in all, similarly mounted and defended.

The warders on the towers, in high excitement, sent for Justiniani, and he in turn despatched a messenger to the Emperor. Together on the Bagdad tower the two discussed the outlook.

"Your Majesty," said the Genoese, much chagrined, "the apostate Dacian must be master of his art. He has restored the cannon I overthrew."

After a time Constantine replied: "I fear we have underrated the new Sultan. Great as a father may be, it is possible for a son to be greater."

Perceiving the Emperor was again repenting the dismissal of Urban, the Captain held his peace until asked: "What shall we now do?"

"Your Majesty," he returned, "it is apparent our sally was a failure. We slew a number of the infidels, and put their master-may God confound him!-to inconvenience, and nothing more. Now he is on guard, we may not repeat our attempt. My judgment is that we let him try his armament upon our walls. They may withstand his utmost effort."

The patience this required was not put to a long test. There was a sudden clamor of trumpets, and the Janissaries, taking to their saddles, and breaking right and left into divisions, cleared the battery front. Immediately a vast volume of smoke hid the whole ground, followed by a series of explosions. Some balls passing over the defences ploughed into the city; and as definitions of force, the sounds they made in going were awful; yet they were the least of the terrors. Both the towers were hit, and they shook as if an earthquake were wrestling with them. The air whitened with dust and fragments of crushed stone. The men at the machines and culverins cowered to the floor. Constantine and the Genoese gazed at each other until the latter bethought him, and ordered the fire returned. And it was well done, for there is nothing which shall bring men round from fright like action.

Then, before there could be an exchange of opinion between the high parties on the tower, a man in half armor issued from the slowly rising cloud, and walked leisurely forward. Instead of weapons, he carried an armful of stakes, and something which had the appearance of a heavy gavel. After a careful examination of the ground to the gate, he halted and drove a stake, and from that point commenced zigzagging down the slope, marking each angle.

Justiniani drew nearer the Emperor, and said, in a low voice: "With new agencies come new methods. The assault is deferred."

"Nay, Captain, our enemy must attack; otherwise he cannot make the moat passable."

"That, Your Majesty, was the practice. Now he will gain the ditch by a trench."

"With what object?"

"Under cover of the trench, he will fill the ditch."

Constantine viewed the operation with increased gravity. He could see how feasible it was to dig a covered way under fire of the guns, making the approach and the bombardment simultaneous; and he would have replied, but that instant a mob of laborers-so the spades and picks they bore bespoke them-poured from the embrasure of the larger gun, and, distributing themselves at easy working intervals along the staked line, began throwing up the earth on the side next the city. Officers with whips accompanied and stood over them.

The engineer-if we may apply the modern term-was at length under fire of the besieged; still he kept on; only when he exhausted his supply of stakes did he retire, leaving it inferrible that the trench was to run through the opening in the cemetery to the bridge way before the gate.

At noon, the laborers being well sunk in the ground, the cannon again vomited fire and smoke, and with thunderous reports launched their heavy bullets at the towers. Again the ancient piles shook from top to base. Some of the balistiers were thrown down. The Emperor staggered under the shock. One ball struck a few feet below a merlon of the Bagdad, and when the dust blew away, an ugly crack was seen in the exposed face of the wall, extending below the roof.

While the inspection of damages immediately ordered is in progress, we take the liberty of transporting the reader elsewhere, that he may see the effect of this amazing warfare on other parties of interest in the tragedy.

Count Corti was with his guard at the foot of the tower when the first discharge of artillery took place. He heard the loud reports and the blows of the shot which failed not their aim; he heard also the sound of the bullets flying on into the city, and being of a quick imagination, shuddered to think of the havoc they might inflict should they fall in a thickly inhabited district. Then it came to him that the residence of the Princess Irene must be exposed to the danger. Like a Christian and a lover, he, sought to allay the chill he felt by signing the cross repeatedly, and with unction, on brow and breast. The pious performance brought no relief. His dread increased. Finally he sent a man with a message informing the Emperor that he was gone to see what damage the guns had done in the city.

He had not ridden far when he was made aware of the prevalence of an extraordinary excitement. It seemed the entire population had been brought from their houses by the strange thunder, and the appalling flight of meteoric bodies over their roofs. Men and women were running about asking each other what had happened. At the corners he was appealed to:

"Oh, for Christ's sake, stop, and tell us if the world is coming to an end!" Arid in pity lie answered: "Do not be so afraid, good people. It is the Turks. They are trying to scare us by making a great noise. Go back into your houses."

"But the bullets which passed over us. What of them?"

"Where did they strike?"

"On further. God help the sufferers!"

One cry he heard so often it made an impression upon him:

"The Panagia! Tell His Majesty, as he is a Christian, to bring the Blessed Madonna from the Chapel."

With each leap of his horse he was now nearing the alighting places of the missiles, and naturally the multiplying signs of terror he observed, together with a growing assurance that the abode of the Princess was in the range of danger, quickened his alarm for her. The white faces of the women he met and passed without a word reminded him the more that she was subject to the same peril, and in thought of her he forgot to sympathize with them.

In Byzantium one might be near a given point yet far away; so did the streets run up and down, and here and there, their eccentricities in width and direction proving how much more accident and whim had to do with them originally than art or science. Knowing this, the Count was not sparing of his horse, and as his blood heated so did his fancy. If the fair Princess were unhurt, it was scarcely possible she had escaped the universal terror. He imagined her the object of tearful attention from her attendants. Or perhaps they had run away, and left her in keeping of the tender Madonna of Blacherne.

At last he reached a quarter where the throng of people compelled him to slacken his gait, then halt and dismount. It was but a few doors from the Princess'. One house-a frame, two stories-appeared the object of interest.

"What has happened?" he asked, addressing a tall man, who stood trembling and praying to a crucifix in his hand.

"God protect us, Sir Knight! See how clear the sky is, but a great stone-some say it was a meteor-struck this house. There is the hole it made. Others say it was a bullet from the Turks.-Save us, O Son of Mary!" and he fell to kissing the crucifix.

"Was anybody hurt?" the Count asked, shaking the devotee.

"Yes-two women and a child were killed.-Save us, O Son of God! Thou hast the power from the Father."

The Count picked his way toward the house till he could get no further, so was it blocked by a mass of women on their knees, crying, praying, and in agony of fright. There, sure enough, was a front beaten in, exposing the wrecked interior. But who was the young woman at the door calmly directing some men bringing out the body of one apparently dead? Her back was to him, but the sunlight was tangled in her uncovered hair, making gold of it. Her figure was tall and slender, and there was a marvellous grace in her action. Who was she? The Count's heart was prophetic. He gave the bridle rein to a man near by, and holding his sword up, pushed through the kneeling mass. He might have been more considerate in going; but he was in haste, and never paused until at the woman's side. "God's mercy, Princess Irene!" he cried, "what dost thou here? Are there not men to take this charge upon them?"

And in his joy at finding her safe, he fell upon his knees, and, without waiting for her to offer the favor, took one of her hands, and carried it to his lips.

"Nay, Count Corti, is it not for me to ask what thou dost here?"

Her face was solemn, and he could hardly determine if the eyes she turned to him were not chiding; yet they were full of humid violet light, and she permitted him to keep the hand while he replied:

"The Turk is for the time having his own way. We cannot get to him.... I came in haste to-to see what his guns have done-or-why should I not say it? Princess, I galloped here fearing thou wert in need of protection and help. I remembered that I was thy accepted knight."

She understood him perfectly, and, withdrawing her hand, returned: "Rise, Count Corti, thou art in the way of these bearing the dead."

He stood aside, and the men passed him with their burden-a woman drenched in blood.

"Is this the last one?" she asked them.

"We could find no other."

"Poor creature! ... Yet God's will be done! ... Bear her to my house, and lay her with the others." Then to the Count she said: "Come with me."

The Princess set out after the men. Immediately the women about raised a loud lamentation; such as were nearest her cried out: "Blessings on you!" and they kissed the hem of her gown, and followed her moaning and weeping. The body was borne into the house, and to the chapel, and all who wished went in. Before the altar, two others were lying lifeless on improvised biers, an elderly woman and a half-grown girl. The Lady in picture above the altar looked down on them, as did the Holy Child in her arms; and there was much comfort to the spectators in the look. Then, when the third victim was decently laid out, Sergius began the service for the dead. The Count stood by the Princess, her attendants in group a little removed from them.

In the midst of the holy ministration, a sound like distant rolling thunder penetrated the chapel. Every one present knew what it was by this time-knew at least it was not thunder-and they cried out, and clasped each other-from their knees many fell grovelling on the floor. Sergius' voice never wavered. Corti would have extended his arms to give the Princess support; but she did not so much as change color; her hands holding a silver triptych remained firm. The deadly bullets were in the air and might alight on the house; yet her mind was too steadfast, her soul too high, her faith too exalted for alarm; and if the Count had been prone to love her for her graces of person, now he was prompted to adore her for her courage.

Outside near by, there was a crash as of a flying solid smiting another dwelling, and, without perceptible interval, an outcry so shrill and unintermitted it required no explanation.

The Princess was the first to speak.

"Proceed, Sergius," she said; nor migh

t one familiar with her voice have perceived any alteration in it from the ordinary; then to the Count again: "Let us go out; there may be others needing my care."

At the door Corti said: "Stay, O Princess-a word, I pray."

She had only to look at his face to discover he was the subject of a fierce conflict of spirit.

"Have pity on me, I conjure you. Honor and duty call me to the gate; the Emperor may be calling me; but how can I go, leaving you in the midst of such peril and horrors?"

"What would you have me do?"

"Fly to a place of safety."

"Where?"

"I will find a place; if not within these walls, then"-

He stopped, and his eyes, bright with passion, fell before hers; for the idea he was about giving his tongue would be a doubly dishonorable coinage, since it included desertion of the beleaguered city, and violation of his compact with Mahommed.

"And then?" she asked.

And love got the better of honor.

"I have a ship in the harbor, O Princess Irene, and a crew devoted to me, and I will place you on its deck, and fly with you. Doubt not my making the sea; there are not Christians and Mohammedans enough to stay me once my anchor is lifted, and my oars out; and on the sea freedom lives, and we will follow the stars to Italy, and find a home."

Again he stopped, his face this time wrung with sudden anguish; then he continued:

"God forgive, and deal with me mercifully! I am mad! ... And thou, O Princess-do thou forgive me also, and my words and weakness. Oh, if not for my sake, then for that which carried me away! Or if thou canst not forget, pity me, pity me, and think of the wretchedness now my portion. I had thy respect, if not thy love; now both are lost-gone after my honor. Oh! I am most miserable-miserable!"

And wringing his hands, he turned his face from her.

"Count Corti," she replied gently, "thou hast saved thyself. Let the affair rest here. I forgive the proposal, and shall never remind thee of it. Love is madness. Return to duty; and for me"-she hesitated-"I hold myself ready for the sacrifice to which I was born. God is fashioning it; in His own time, and in the form He chooses, He will send it to me.... I am not afraid, and be thou not afraid for me. My father was a hero, and he left me his spirit. I too have my duty born within the hour-it is to share the danger of my kinsman's people, to give them my presence, to comfort them all I can. I will show thee what thou seemest not to have credited-that a woman can be brave as any man. I will attend the sick, the wounded, and suffering. To the dying I will carry such consolation as I possess-all of them I can reach-and the dead shall have ministration. My goods and values have long been held for the poor and unfortunate; now to the same service I consecrate myself, my house, my chapel, and altar.... There is my hand in sign of forgiveness, and that I believe thee a true knight. I will go with thee to thy horse."

He bowed his head, and silently struggling for composure, carried the hand to his lips.

"Let us go now," she said.

They went out together.

Another dwelling had been struck; fortunately it was unoccupied.

In the saddle, he stayed to say: "Thy soul, O Princess Irene, is angelic as thy face. Thou hast devoted thyself to the suffering. Am I left out? What word wilt thou give me?"

"Be the true knight thou art, Count Corti, and come to me as before."

He rode away with a revelation; that in womanly purity and goodness there is a power and inspiration beyond the claims of beauty.

The firing continued. Seven times that day the Turks assailed the Gate St. Romain with their guns; and while a few of the stones discharged flew amiss into the city, there were enough to still further terrorize the inhabitants. By night all who could had retreated to vaults, cellars, and such hiding-places as were safe, and took up their abodes in them. In the city but one woman went abroad without fear, and she bore bread and medicines, and dressed wounds, and assuaged sorrows, and as a Madonna in fact divided worship with the Madonna in the chapel up by the High Residence. Whereat Count Corti's love grew apace, though the recollection of the near fall he had kept him humble and circumspect.

The same day, but after the second discharge of the guns, Mahommed entered the part of his tent which, with some freedom, may be termed his office and reception-room, since it was furnished with seats and a large table, the latter set upon a heavily tufted rug, and littered over with maps and writing and drawing materials. Notable amongst the litter was the sword of Solomon. Near it lay a pair of steel gauntlets elegantly gilt. One stout centre-tree, the main support of the roof of camel's hair, appeared gayly dressed with lances, shields, arms, and armor; and against it, strange to say, the companion of a bright red battle-flag, leant the banderole Count Corti had planted before the door the morning of the sally. A sliding flap overhead, managed by cords in the interior, was drawn up, admitting light and air.

The office, it may be added, communicated by gay portieres with four other apartments, each having its separate centre-tree; one occupied by Kalil, the Vizier; one, a bed-chamber, so to speak; one, a stable for the imperial stud; the fourth belonged to no less a person than our ancient and mysterious acquaintance, the Prince of India.

Mahommed was in half-armor; that is, his neck, arms, and body were in chain mail, the lightest and most flexible of the East, exquisitely gold-washed, and as respects fashion exactly like the suit habitually affected by Count Corti. His nether limbs were clad in wide trousers of yellow silk, drawn close at the ankles. Pointed shoes of red leather completed his equipment, unless we may include a whip with heavy handle and long lash. Could Constantine have seen him at the moment, he would have recognized the engineer whose performance in tracing the trench he had witnessed with so much interest in the morning.

The Grand Chamberlain received him with the usual prostration, and in that posture waited his pleasure.

"Bring me water. I am thirsty."

The water was brought.

"The Prince of India now."

Presently the Prince appeared in the costume peculiar to him-a cap and gown of black velvet, loose trousers, and slippers. His hair and beard were longer than when we knew him a denizen of Constantinople, making his figure seem more spare and old; otherwise he was unchanged. He too prostrated himself; yet as he sank upon his knees, he gave the Sultan a quick glance, intended doubtless to discover his temper more than his purpose.

"You may retire."

This to the Chamberlain.

Upon the disappearance of the official, Mahommed addressed the Prince, his countenance flushed, his eyes actually sparkling.

"God is great. All things are possible to him. Who shall say no when he says yes? Who resist when he bids strike? Salute me, and rejoice with me, O Prince. He is on my side. It was he who spoke in the thunder of my guns. Salute me, and rejoice. Constantinople is mine! The towers which have outlasted the ages, the walls which have mocked so many conquerors-behold them tottering to their fall! I will make dust of them. The city which has been a stumbling-block to the true faith shall be converted in a night. Of the churches I will make mosques. Salute me and rejoice! How may a soul contain itself knowing God has chosen it for such mighty things? Rise, O Prince and rejoice with me!"

He caught up the sword of Solomon, and in a kind of ecstasy strode about flourishing it.

The Prince, arisen, replied simply: "I rejoice with my Lord;" and folding his arms across his breast, he waited, knowing he had been summoned for something more serious than to witness an outburst so wild-that directly this froth would disappear, as bubbles vanish from wine just poured. The most absolute of men have their ways-this was one of Mahommed's. And behind his composed countenance the Jew smiled, for, as he read it, the byplay was an acknowledgment of his influence over the chosen of God.

And he was right. Suddenly Mahommed replaced the sword, and standing before him, asked abruptly:

"Tell me, have the stars fixed the day when I may assault the Gabours?"

"They have, my Lord."

"Give it to me."

The Prince returned to his apartment, and came back with a horoscope.

"This is their decision, my Lord."

In his character of Messenger of the Stars, the Prince of India dispensed with every observance implying inferiority.

Without looking at the Signs, or at the planets in their Houses; without noticing the calculations accompanying the chart; glancing merely at the date in the central place, Mahommed frowned, and said:

"The twenty-ninth of May! Fifty-three days! By Allah and Mahomet arid Christ-all in one-if by the compound the oath will derive an extra virtue-what is there to consume so much time? In three days I will have the towers lording this gate they call St. Romain in the ditch, and the ditch filled. In three days, I say."

"Perhaps my Lord is too sanguine-perhaps he does not sufficiently credit the skill and resources of the enemy behind the gate-perhaps there is more to do than he has admitted into his anticipations."

Mahommed darted a look at the speaker.

"Perhaps the stars have been confidential with their messenger, and told him some of the things wanting to be done."

"Yes, my Lord." The calmness of the Prince astonished Mahommed.

"And art thou permitted to be confidential with me?" he asked.

"My Lord must break up this collection of his guns, and plant some of them against the other gates; say two at the Golden Gate, one at the Caligaria, and before the Selimbria and the Adrianople two each. He will have seven left.... Nor must my Lord confine his attack to the landward side; the weakest front of the city is the harbor front, and it must be subjected. He should carry there at least two of his guns."

"Sword of Solomon!" cried Mahommed. "Will the stars show me a road to possession of the harbor? Will they break the chain which defends its entrance? Will they sink or burn the enemy's fleet?"

"No; those are heroisms left for my Lord's endeavor."

"Thou dost taunt me with the impossible."

The Prince smiled.

"Is my Lord less able than the Crusaders? I know he is not too proud to be taught by them. Once, marching upon the Holy City, they laid siege to Nicea, and after a time discovered they could not master it without first mastering Lake Ascanius. Thereupon they hauled their ships three leagues overland, and launched them in the lake." [Footnote: VON HAMMER, Hist. de l'Emp. Ottoman.]

Mahommed became thoughtful.

"If my Lord does not distribute the guns; if he confines his attack to St. Romain, the enemy, in the day of assault, can meet him at the breach with his whole garrison. More serious, if the harbor is left to the Greeks, how can he prevent the Genoese in Galata from succoring them? My Lord derives information from those treacherous people in the day; does he know of the intercourse between the towns by boats in the night? If they betray one side, will they be true to the other? My Lord, they are Christians; so are these with whom we are at war."

The Sultan sank into a seat; and satisfied with the impression he had made, the Prince wisely allowed him his thoughts.

"It is enough!" said the former, rising. Then fixing his eye on his confederate, he asked: "What stars told thee these things, O Prince?"

"My Lord, the firmament above is God's, and the sun and planets there are his mercifully to our common use. But we have each of us a firmament of our own. In mine, Reason is the sun, and of its stars I mention two-Experience and Faith. By the light of the three, I succeed; when I refuse them, one or all, I surrender to chance."

Mahommed caught up the sword, and played with its ruby handle, turning it at angles to catch its radiations; at length he said:

"Prince of India, thou hast spoken like a Prophet. Go call Kalil and Saganos."

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