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   Chapter 10 THE NIGHT BEFORE THE ASSAULT

The Prince of India; Or, Why Constantinople Fell — Volume 01 By Lew Wallace Characters: 26083

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The artillery of Mahommed had been effective, though not to the same degree, elsewhere than at St. Romain. Jerome the Italian and Leonardo di Langasco the Genoese, defending the port of Blacherne in the lowland, had not been able to save the Xiloporta or Wood Gate on the harbor front harmless; under pounding of the floating battery it lay in the dust, like a battered helmet.

John Grant and Theodore de Carystos looked at the green hills of Eyoub in front of the gate Caligaria or Charsias, assigned to them, through fissures and tumbles-down which made their hearts sore. The Bochiardi brothers, Paul and Antonin, had fared no better in their defence of the gate Adrianople. At the gate Selimbria, Theophilus Palaeologus kept the Imperial flag flying, but the outer faces of the towers there were in the ditch serving the uses of the enemy. Contarino the Venetian, on the roof of the Golden Gate, was separated from the wall reaching northward to Selimbria by a breach wide enough to admit a chariot. Gabriel Trevisan, with his noble four hundred Venetians, kept good his grip on the harbor wall from the Acropolis to the gate of St. Peter's. Through the incapacity or treason of Duke Notaras, the upper portion of the Golden Horn was entirely lost to the Christians. From the Seven Towers to Galata the Ottoman fleet held the wall facing the Marmora as a net of close meshes holds the space of water it is to drag. In a word, the hour for assault had arrived, and from the twenty-fourth to evening of the twenty-eighth of May Mahommed diligently prepared for the event.

The attack he reduced to a bombardment barely sufficient to deter the besiegers from systematic repairs. The reports of his guns were but occasionally heard. At no time, however, was the energy of the man more conspicuous. Previously his orders to chief officers in command along the line had been despatched to them; now he bade them to personal attendance; and, as may be fancied, the scene at his tent was orientally picturesque from sunrise to sunset. Such an abounding of Moslem princes and princes not Moslem, of Pachas, and Beys, and Governors of Castles, of Sheiks, and Captains of hordes without titles; such a medley of costumes, and armor, and strange ensigns; such a forest of tall shafts flying red horse-tails; such a herding of caparisoned steeds; such a company of trumpeters and heralds-had seldom if ever been seen. It seemed the East from the Euphrates and Red Sea to the Caspian, and the West far as the Iron Gates of the Danube, were there in warlike presence. Yet for the most part these selected lions of tribes kept in separate groups and regarded each other askance, having feuds and jealousies amongst themselves; and there was reason for their good behavior-around them, under arms, were fifteen thousand watchful Janissaries, the flower of the Sultan's host, of whom an old chronicler has said, Each one is a giant in stature, and the equal of ten ordinary men.

Throughout those four days but one man had place always at Mahommed's back, his confidant and adviser-not Kalil, it is to be remarked, or Saganos, or the Mollah Kourani, or Akschem-sed-din the Dervish.

"My Lord," the Prince of India had argued when the Sultan resolved to summon his vassal chiefs to personal conference, "all men love splendor; pleasing the eye is an inducement to the intelligent; exciting the astonishment of the vulgar disposes them to submit to superiority in another without wounding their vanity. The Rajahs in my country practise this philosophy with a thorough understanding. Having frequently to hold council with their officials, into the tent or hall of ceremony they bring their utmost riches. The lesson is open to my Lord."

So when his leaders of men were ushered into the audience, the interior of Mahommed's tent was extravagantly furnished, and their prostrations were at the step of a throne. Nevertheless in consenting to the suggestion, the Sultan had insisted upon a condition.

"They shall not mistake me for something else than a warrior-a politician or a diplomatist, for instance-or think the heaviest blow I can deal is with the tongue or a pen. Art thou hearing, Prince?"

"I hear, my Lord."

"So, by the tomb of the Prophet-may his name be exalted!-my household, viziers and all, shall stand at my left; but here on my right I will have my horse in panoply; and he shall bear my mace and champ his golden bit, and be ready to tread on such of the beggars as behave unseemly."

And over the blue and yellow silken rugs of Khorassan, with which the space at the right of the throne was spread, the horse, bitted and house led, had free range, an impressive reminder of the master's business of life.

As they were Christians or Moslems, Mahommed addressed the vassals honored by his summons, and admitted separately to his presence; for the same arguments might not be pleasing to both.

"I give you trust," he would say to the Christian, "and look for brave and loyal service from you.... I shall be present with you, and as an eyewitness judge of your valor, and never had men such incentives. The wealth of ages is in the walls before us, and it shall be yours-money, jewels, goods and people-all yours as you can lay hands on it. I reserve only the houses and churches. Are you poor, you may go away rich; if rich, you may be richer; for what you get will be honorable earnings of your right hand of which none shall dispossess you-and to that treaty I swear.... Rise now, and put your men in readiness. The stars have promised me this city, and their promises are as the breath of the God we both adore."

Very different in style and matter were his utterances to a Moslem.

"What is that hanging from thy belt?"

"It is a sword, my Lord."

"God is God, and there is no other God-Amin! And he it was who planted iron in the earth, and showed the miner where it was hid, and taught the armorer to give it form, and harden it, even the blade at thy belt; for God had need of an instrument for the punishment of those who say 'God hath partners.' ... And who are they that say 'God hath partners-a Son and his Mother'? Here have they their stronghold; and here have we been brought to make roads through its walls, and turn their palaces of unbelief into harems. For that thou hast thy sword, and I mine-Amin!... It is the will of God that we despoil these Gabours of their wealth and their women; for are they not of those of whom it is said: 'In their hearts is a disease, and God hath increased their disease, and for them is ordained a painful punishment, because they have charged the Prophet of God with falsehood'? That they who escape the sharpness of our swords shall be as beggars, and slaves, and homeless wanderers-such is the punishment, and it is the judgment of God-Amin! ... That they shall leave all they have behind them-so also hath God willed, and I say it shall be. I swear it. And that they leave behind them is for us who were appointed from the beginning of the world to take it; that also God wills, and I say it shall be. I swear it. Amin! ... What if the way be perilous, as I grant it is? Is it not written: 'A soul cannot die except by permission of God, according to a writing of God, definite as to time'? And if a man die, is it not also written: 'Repute not those slain in God's cause to be dead; nay, alive with God, they are provided for'? They are people of the 'right hand,' of whom it is written: 'They shall be brought nigh God in the gardens of delight, upon inwrought couches reclining face to face. Youths ever young shall go unto them round about with goblets and ewers, and a cup of flowing wine; and fruits of the sort which they shall choose, and the flesh of birds of the kind which they shall desire, and damsels with eyes like pearls laid up, we will give them as a reward for that which they have done.' ... But the appointed time is not yet for all of us-nay, it is for the fewest-Amin! ... And when the will of God is done, then for such as live, lo! over the walls yonder are gold refined and coined, and gold in vessels, and damsels on silken couches, their cheeks like roses of Damascus, their arms whiter and cooler than lilies, and as pearls laid up are their eyes, and their bodies sweeter than musk on the wings of the south wind in a grove of palms. With the gold we can make gardens of delight; and the damsels set down in the gardens, ours the fault if the promise be not made good as it was spoken by the Prophet-'Paradise shall be brought near unto the pious, to a place not distant from them, so they shall see it!' ... Being of those who shall 'receive their books in the right hand,' more need not be said unto you. I only reserve for myself the houses when you have despoiled them, and the churches. Make ready yourself and your people, and tell them faithfully what I say, and swear to. I will come to you with final orders. Arise!" [Footnote: For the quotations in this speech, see Selections from the Koran, by EDWARD WILLIAM LANE.]

From sunrise to sunset of the twenty-seventh Mahommed was in the saddle going with the retinue of a conqueror from chief to chief. From each he drew a detachment to be held in reserve. One hundred thousand men were thus detached.

"See to it," he said finally, "that you direct your main effort against the gate in front of you.... Put the wild men in the advance. The dead will be useful in the ditch.... Have the ladders at hand.... At the sound of my trumpets, charge.... Proclaim for me that he who is first upon the walls shall have choice of a province. I will make him governor. God is God. I am his servant, ordering as he has ordered."

On the twenty-eighth, he sent all the dervishes in camp to preach to the Moslems in arms; and of such effect were their promises of pillage and Paradise that after the hour of the fifth prayer, the multitude, in all quite two hundred and fifty thousand, abandoned themselves to transports of fanaticism. Of their huts and booths they made heaps, and at night set fire to them; and the tents of the Pachas and great officers being illuminated, and the ships perfecting the blockade dressed in lights, the entrenchment from Blacherne to the Seven Towers, and the sea thence to the Acropolis, were in a continued brilliance reaching up to the sky. Even the campania was invaded by the dazzlement of countless bonfires.

And from the walls the besieged, if they looked, beheld the antics of the hordes; if they listened, they heard the noise, in the distance, a prolonged, inarticulate, irregular clamor of voices, near by, a confusion of songs and cries. At times the bray of trumpets and the roll of drums great and small shook the air, and smothered every rival sound. And where the dervishes came, in their passage from group to group, the excitement arose out of bounds, while their dancing lent diablerie to the scene.

Assuredly there was enough in what they beheld to sink the spirit of the besieged, even the boldest of them. The cry Allah-il-Allah shouted from the moat was trifling in comparison with what they might have overheard around the bonfires.

"Why do you burn your huts?" asked a prudent officer of his men.

"Because we will not need them more. The city is for us to-morrow. The Padishah has promised and sworn."

"Did he swear it?"

"Ay, by the bones of the Three in the Tomb of the Prophet."

At another fire, the following:

"Yes, I have chosen my palace already. It is on the hill over there in the west."

And again:

"Tell us, O son of Mousa, when we are in the town what will you look for?"

"The things I most want."

"Well, what things?"

"May the Jinn fill thy stomach with green figs for such a question of my mother's son! What things? Two horses out of the Emperor's stable. And thou-what wilt thou put thy hand to first?"

"Oh, I have not made up my mind! I am thinking of a load of gold for my camel-enough to take my father and his three wives to Mecca, and buy water for them from the Zem-zem. Praised be Allah!"

"Bah! Gold will be cheap."

"Yes, as bezants; but I have heard of a bucket the unbelieving Greeks use at times for mixing wine and bread in. It is when they eat the body of their God. They say the bucket is so big it takes six fat priests to lift it."

"It is too big. I'll gather the bezants."

"Well," said a third, with a loud Moslem oath, "keep to your gold, whether in pots or coin. For me-for me"-

"Ha, ha!-he don't know."

"Don't I? Thou grinning son of a Hindoo ape."

"What is it, then?"

"The thing which is first in thy mind."

"Name it."

"A string of women."

"Old or young?"

"An hoo-rey-yeh is never old."

"What judgment!" sneered the other. "I will take some of the old ones as well."

"What for?"

"For slaves to wait on the young. Was it not said by a wise man, 'Sweet water in the jar is not more precious than peace in the family'?"

Undoubtedly the evil genius of Byzantium in this peril was the Prince of In

dia.

"My Lord," he had said, cynically, "of a truth a man brave in the day can be turned into a quaking coward at night; you have but to present him a danger substantial enough to quicken his imagination. These Greeks have withstood you stoutly; try them now with your power a vision of darkness."

"How, Prince?"

"In view and hearing from the walls let the hordes kindle fires to-night. Multiply the fires, if need be, and keep the thousands in motion about them, making a spectacle such as this generation has not seen; then"-

The singular man stopped to laugh.

Mahommed gazed at him in silent wonder.

"Then," he continued, "so will distorted fancy do its work, that by midnight the city will be on its knees praying to the Mother of God, and every armed man on the walls who has a wife or daughter will think he hears himself called to for protection. Try it, my Lord, and thou mayst whack my flesh into ribbons if by dawn the general fear have not left but a half task for thy sword."

It was as the Jew said.

Attracted by the illumination in the sky, suggestive of something vast and terrible going on outside the walls, and still full of faith in a miraculous deliverance, thousands hastened to see the mercy. What an awakening was in store for them! Enemies seemed to have arisen out of the earth-devils, not men. The world to the horizon's rim appeared oppressed with them. Nor was it possible to misapprehend the meaning of what they beheld. "To-morrow-to-morrow"-they whispered to each other-"God keep us!" and pouring back into the streets, they became each a preacher of despair. Yet-marvelous to say-the monks sallied from their cells with words of cheer.

"Have faith," they said. "See, we are not afraid. The Blessed Mother has not deserted her children. Believe in her. She is resolved to allow the azymite Emperor to exhaust his vanity that in the last hour he and his Latin myrmidons may not deny her the merit of the salvation. Compose yourselves, and fear not. The angel will find the poor man at the column of Constantine."

The ordinary soul beset with fears, and sinking into hopelessness, is always ready to accept a promise of rest. The people listened to the priestly soothsayers. Nay, the too comforting assurance made its way to the defenders at the gates, and hundreds of them deserted their posts; leaving the enemy to creep in from the moat, and, with hooks on long poles, actually pull down some of the new defences.

It scarcely requires telling how these complications added weight to the cares with which the Emperor was already overladen. Through the afternoon he sat by the open window of a room above the Cercoporta, or sunken gate under the southern face of his High Residence, [Footnote: This room is still to be seen. The writer once visited it. Arriving near, his Turkish cavass requested him to wait a moment. The man then advanced alone and cautiously, and knocked at the door. There was a conference, and a little delay; after which the cavass announced it was safe to go in. The mystery was revealed upon entering. A half dozen steaming tubs were scattered over the paved floor, and by each of them stood a scantily attired woman with a dirty yashmak covering her face. The chamber which should have been very sacred if only because there the last of the Byzantine Emperors composedly resigned himself to the inevitable, had become a filthy den devoted to one of the most ignoble of uses. The shame is, of course, to the Greeks of Constantinople.] watching the movements of the Turks. The subtle prophet which sometimes mercifully goes before death had discharged its office with him. He had dismissed his last hope. Beyond peradventure the hardest task to one pondering his fate uprisen and standing before him with all its attending circumstances, is to make peace with himself; which is simply viewing the attractions of this life as birds of plumage in a golden cage, and deliberately opening the door, and letting them loose, knowing they can never return. This the purest and noblest of the imperial Greeks-the evil times in which his race as a ruler was run prevent us from terming him the greatest-had done.

He was in armor, and his sword rested against the cheek of a window. His faithful attendants came in occasionally, and spoke to him in low tones; but for the most part he was alone.

The view of the enemy was fair. He could see their intrenchment, and the tents and ruder quarters behind it. He could see the standards, many of them without meaning to him, the detachments on duty and watchful, the horsemen coming and going, and now and then a column in movement. He could hear the shouting, and he knew the meaning of it all-the final tempest was gathering.

About four o'clock in the afternoon, Phranza entered the room, and going to his master's right hand, was in the act of prostrating himself.

"No, my Lord," said the Emperor, reaching out to stay him, and smiling pleasantly, "let us have done with ceremony. Thou hast been true servant to me-I testify it, God hearing-and now I promote thee. Be as my other self. Speak to me standing. To-morrow is my end of days. In death no man is greater than another. Tell me what thou bringest."

On his knees, the Grand Chamberlain took the steel-gloved hand nearest him, and carried it to his lips.

"Your Majesty, no servant had ever a more considerate and loving master."

An oppressive silence followed. They were both thinking the same thought, and it was too sad for speech.

"The duty Your Majesty charged me with this morning "-thus Phranza upon recovery of his composure-"I attended to."

"And you found it?"

"Even as Your Majesty had warning. The Hegumens of the Brotherhoods"-

"All of them, O Phranza?"

"All of them, Your Majesty-assembled in a cloister of the Pantocrator."

"Gennadius again!"

The Emperor's hands closed, and there was an impatient twitching of his lips.

"Though why should I be astonished? Hark, my friend! I will tell thee what I have as yet spoken to no man else. Thou knowest Kalil the Vizier has been these many years my tributary, and that he hath done me many kindly acts, not always in his master's interest. The night of the day our Christian ships beat the Turks the Grand Vizier sent me an account of a stormy scene in Mahommed's tent, and advised me to beware of Gennadius. Ah, I had fancied myself prepared to drink the cup Heaven hath in store for me, lees and all, without a murmur, but men will be men until their second birth. It is nature! ... Oh, my Phranza, what thinkest thou the false monk is carrying under his hood?"

"Some egg of treason, I doubt not."

"Having driven His Serenity, the pious and venerable Gregory, into exile, he aspires to succeed him."

"The hypocrite!-the impostor!-the perjured!-He, Patriarch!" cried Phranza, with upraised eyes.

"And from whose hands thinkest thou he dreams of deriving the honor?"

"Not Your Majesty's."

The Emperor smiled faintly. "No-he regards Mahommed the Sultan a better patron, if not a better Christian."

"Forbid it Heaven!" and Phranza crossed himself repeatedly.

"Nay, good friend, hear his scheme, then thou mayst call the forbidding powers with undeniable reason....He undertook-so Kalil privily declared-if Mahommed would invest him with the Patriarchate, to deliver Constantinople to him."

"By what means? He has no gate in keeping-he is not even a soldier."

"My poor Phranza! Hast thou yet to learn that perfidy is not a trait of any class? This gowned traitor hath a key to all the gates. Hear him-I will ply the superstition of the Greeks, and draw them from the walls with a prophecy."

Phranza was able to cry out: "Oh! that so brave a prince, so good a master should be at the mercy of-of such a"-

"With all thy learning, I see thou lackest a word. Let it pass, let it pass-I understand thee....But what further hast thou from the meeting?"

Phranza caught the hand again, and laid his forehead upon it while he replied: "To-night the Brotherhoods are to go out, and renew the story of the angel, and the man at the foot of the column of Constantine." The calmness of the Emperor was wonderful. He gazed at the Turks through the window, and, after reflection, said tranquilly:

"I would have saved it-this old empire of our fathers; but my utmost now is to die for it-ay, as if I were blind to its unworthiness. God's will be done, not mine!"

"Talk not of dying-O beloved Lord and master, talk not so! It is not too late for composition. Give me your terms, and I will go with them to"-

"Nay, friend, I have done better-I have made peace with myself.... I shall be no man's slave. There is nothing more for me-nothing except an honorable death. How sweet a grace it is that we can put so much glory in dying! A day of Greek regeneration may come-then there may be some to do me honor-some to find worthy lessons in my life-perchance another Emperor of Byzantium to remember how the last of the Palaeologae accepted the will of God revealed to him in treachery and treason.... But there is one at the door knocking as he were in haste. Let him enter."

An officer of the guard was admitted.

"Your Majesty," he said, after salutation, "the Captain Justiniani, and the Genoese, his friends, are preparing to abandon the gates."

Constantine seized his sword, and arose.

"Tell me about it," he said, simply.

"Justiniani has the new ditch at St. Romain nearly completed, and wanting some cannon, he made request for them of the High Admiral, who refused, saying, 'The foreign cowards must take care of themselves.'"

"Ride, sir, to the noble Captain, and tell him I am at thy heels."

"Is the Duke mad?" Constantine continued, the messenger having departed. "What can he want? He is rich, and hath a family-boys verging on manhood, and of excellent promise. Ah, my dear friend in need, what canst thou see of gain for him from Mahommed?"

"Life, your Majesty-life, and greater riches."

"How? I did not suppose thou thoughtest so ill of men."

"Of some-of some-not all." Then Phranza raised his head, and asked, bitterly: "If five galleys won the harbor, every Moslem sail opposing, why could not twelve or more do better? Does not Mahommed draw his supplies by sea?"

The Emperor looked out of the window again, but not at the Turks.

"Lord Phranza," he said, presently, "thou mayst survive to-morrow's calamity; if so, being as thou art skilful with the pen, write of me in thy day of leisure two things; first, I dared not break with Duke Notaras while Mahommed was striving for my gates-he could and would have seized my throne-the Church, the Brotherhoods, and the people are with him-I am an azymite. Say of me next that I have always held the decree of union proclaimed by the Council of Florence binding upon Greek conscience, and had I lived, God helping me roll back this flood of Islam, it should have been enforced.... Hither-look hither, Lord Phranza"-he pointed out of the window-"and thou wilt see an argument of as many divisions as there are infidels beleaguering us why the Church of Christ should have one head; and as to whether the head should be Patriarch or Bishop, is it not enough that we are perishing for want of Western swords?"-He would have fallen into silence again, but roused himself: "So much for the place I would have in the world's memory.... But to the present affair. Reparation is due Justiniani and his associates. Do thou prepare a repast in the great dining hall. Our resources are so reduced I may not speak of it as a banquet; but as thou lovest me do thy best with what we have. For my part, I will ride and summon every noble Greek in arms for Church and State, and the foreign captains. In such cheer, perhaps, we can heal the wounds inflicted by Notaras. We can at least make ready to die with grace."

He went out, and taking horse, rode at speed to the Gate St. Romain, and succeeded in soothing the offended Genoese.

At ten o'clock the banquet was held. The chroniclers say of it that there were speeches, embraces, and a fresh resolution to fight, and endure the worst or conquer. And they chose a battle-cry-Christ and Holy Church. At separating, the Emperor, with infinite tenderness, but never more knightly, prayed forgiveness of any he might have wronged or affronted; and the guests came one by one to bid him adieu, and he commended them to God, and the gratitude of Christians in the ages to come, and his hands were drenched with their tears.

From the Very High Residence he visited the gates, and was partially successful in arresting the desertions actually in progress.

Finally, all other duties done, his mind turning once more to God, he rode to Sancta Sophia, heard mass, partook of the Communion, and received absolution according to Latin rite; after which the morrow could hold no surprise for him. And he found comfort repeating his own word: How sweet a grace it is that we can put so much glory in dying.

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