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

   Chapter 12 THE ASSAULT

The Prince of India; Or, Why Constantinople Fell — Volume 01 By Lew Wallace Characters: 47203

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The bonfires of the hordes were extinguished about the time the Christian company said their farewells after the last supper in the Very High Residence, and the hordes themselves appeared to be at rest, leaving Night to reset her stars serenely bright over the city, the sea, and the campania.

To the everlasting honor of that company, be it now said, they could under cover of the darkness have betaken themselves to the ships and escaped; yet they went to their several posts. Having laid their heads upon the breast of the fated Emperor, and pledged him their lives, there is no account of one in craven refuge at the break of day. The Emperor's devotion seems to have been a communicable flame.

This is the more remarkable when it is remembered that in the beginning the walls were relied upon to offset the superiority of the enemy in numbers, while now each knight and man-at-arms knew the vanity of that reliance-knew himself, in other words, one of scant five thousand men-to such diminished roll had the besieged been reduced by wounds, death and desertion-who were to muster on the ruins of the outer wall, or in the breaches of the inner, and strive against two hundred and fifty thousand goaded by influences justly considered the most powerful over ferocious natures-religious fanaticism and the assurance of booty without limit. The silence into which the Turkish host was sunk did not continue a great while. The Greeks on the landward walls became aware of a general murmur, followed shortly by a rumble at times vibrant-so the earth complains of the beating it receives from vast bodies of men and animals in hurried passage.

"The enemy is forming," said John Grant to his associate Carystos, the archer.

Minotle, the Venetian bayle, listening from the shattered gate of Adrianople, gave order: "Arouse the men. The Turks are coming."

Justiniani, putting the finishing touches upon his masked repairs behind what had been the alley or passage between the towers Bagdad and St. Romain, was called to by his lookout: "Come up, Captain-the infidels are stirring-they seem disposed to attack."

"No," the Captain returned, after a brief observation, "they will not attack to-night-they are getting ready."

None the less, without relieving his working parties, he placed his command in station.

At Selimbria and the Golden Gate the Christians stood to arms. So also between the gates. Then a deep hush descended upon the mighty works-mighty despite the slugging they had endured-and the silence was loaded with anxiety.

For such of my readers as have held a night-watch expectant of battle at disadvantage in the morning it will be easy putting themselves in the place of these warders at bay; they can think their thoughts, and hear the heavy beating of their hearts; they will remember how long the hours were, and how the monotony of the waiting gnawed at their spirits until they prayed for action, action. On the other hand, those without the experience will wonder how men can bear up bravely in such conditions-and that is a wonder.

In furtherance of his plan, Mahommed drew in his irregulars, and massed them in the space between the intrenchment and the ditch; and by bringing his machines and small guns nearer the walls, he menaced the whole front of defence with a line amply provided with scaling ladders and mantelets. Behind the line he stationed bodies of horsemen to arrest fugitives, and turn them back to the fight. His reserves occupied the intrenchments. The Janissaries were retained at his quarters opposite St. Romain.

The hordes were clever enough to see what the arrangement portended for them, and they at first complained.

"What, grumble, do they?" Mahommed answered. "Ride, and tell them I say the first choice in the capture belongs to the first over the walls. Theirs the fault if the city be not an empty nest to all who come after them."

The earth in its forward movement overtook the moon just before daybreak; then in the deep hush of expectancy and readiness, the light being sufficient to reveal to the besieged the assault couchant below them, a long-blown flourish was sounded by the Turkish heralds from the embrasure of the great gun.

Other trumpeters took up the signal, and in a space incredibly short it was repeated everywhere along the line of attack. A thunder of drums broke in upon the music. Up rose the hordes, the archers and slingers, and the ladder bearers, and forward, like a bristling wave, they rushed, shouting every man as he pleased. In the same instant the machines and light guns were set in operation. Never had the old walls been assailed by such a tempest of bolts, arrows, stones and bullets-never had their echoes been awakened by an equal explosion of human voices, instruments of martial music, and cannon. The warders were not surprised by the assault so much as by its din and fury; and when directly the missiles struck them, thickening into an uninterrupted pouring rain, they cowered behind the merlons, and such other shelters as they could find.

This did not last long-it was like the shiver and gasp of one plunged suddenly into icy water. The fugitives were rallied, and brought back to their weapons, and to replying in kind; and having no longer to shoot with care, the rabble fusing into a compact target, especially on the outer edge of the ditch, not a shaft, or bolt, or stone, or ball from culverin went amiss. Afterwhile, their blood warming with the work, and the dawn breaking, they could see their advantage of position, and the awful havoc they were playing; then they too knew the delight in killing which more than anything else proves man the most ferocious of brutes.

The movement of the hordes was not a dash wholly without system-such an inference would be a great mistake. There was no pretence of alignment or order-there never is in such attacks-forlorn hopes, receiving the signal, rush on, each individual to his own endeavor; here, nevertheless, the Pachas and Beys directed the assault, permitting no blind waste of effort. They hurled their mobs at none but the weak places-here a breach, there a dismantled gate.

Thousands were pushed headlong into the moat. The ladders then passed down to such of them as had footing were heavy, but they were caught willingly; if too short, were spliced; once planted so as to bring the coping of the wall in reach, they swarmed with eager adventurers, who, holding their shields and pikes overhead, climbed as best they could. Those below cheered their comrades above, and even pushed them up.

"The spoils-think of the spoils-the gold, the women!... Allah-il-Allah!... Up, up-it is the way to Paradise!"

Darts and javelins literally cast the climbers in a thickened shade. Sometimes a ponderous stone plunging down cleaned a ladder from top to bottom; sometimes, waiting until the rounds were filled, the besieged applied levers, and swung a score and more off helpless and shrieking. No matter-Allah-il-Allah! The living were swift to restore and attempt the fatal ascents.

Every one dead and every one wounded became a serviceable clod; rapidly as the dump and cumber of humanity filled the moat the ladders extended their upward reach; while drum-beat, battle-cry, trumpet's blare, and the roar of cannon answering cannon blent into one steady all-smothering sound.

In the stretches of space between gates, where the walls and towers were intact, the strife of the archers and slingers was to keep the Greeks occupied, lest they should reenforce the defenders hard pressed elsewhere.

During the night the blockading vessels had been warped close into the shore, and, the wall of the seafront being lower than those on the land side, the crews, by means of platforms erected on the decks, engaged the besieged from a better level. There also, though attempts at escalade were frequent, the object was chiefly to hold the garrison in place.

In the harbor, particularly at the Wood Gate, already mentioned as battered out of semblance to itself by the large gun on the floating battery, the Turks exerted themselves to effect a landing; but the Christian fleet interposed, and there was a naval battle of varying fortune.

So, speaking generally, the city was wrapped in assault; and when the sun at last rode up into the clear sky above the Asiatic heights, streets, houses, palaces, churches-the hills, in fact, from the sea to the Tower of Isaac-were shrouded in ominous vapor, through which such of the people as dared go abroad flitted pale and trembling; or if they spoke to each other, it was to ask in husky voices, What have you from the gates?

Passing now to the leading actors in this terrible tragedy. Mahommed retired to his couch early the night previous. He knew his orders were in course of execution by chiefs who, on their part, knew the consequences of failure. The example made of the Admiral in command of the fleet the day the five relieving Christian galleys won the port was fresh in memory. [Footnote: He was stretched on the ground and whipped like a common malefactor.]

"To-morrow, to-morrow," he kept repeating, while his pages took off his armor, and laid the pieces aside. "To-morrow, to-morrow," lingered in his thoughts, when, his limbs stretched out comfortably on the broad bronze cot which served him for couch, sleep crept in as to a tired child, and laid its finger of forgetfulness upon his eyelids. The repetition was as when we run through the verse of a cheerful song, thinking it out silently, and then recite the chorus aloud. Once he awoke, and, sitting up, listened. The mighty host which had its life by his permission was quiet-even the horses in their apartment seemed mindful that the hour was sacred to their master. Falling to sleep again, he muttered: "To-morrow, to-morrow-Irene and glory. I have the promise of the stars."

To Mahommed the morrow was obviously but a holiday which was bringing him the kingly part in a joyous game-a holiday too slow in coming.

About the third hour after midnight he was again awakened. A man stood by his cot imperfectly shading the light of a lamp with his hand.

"Prince of India!" exclaimed Mahommed, rising to a sitting posture.

"It is I, my Lord."

"What time is it?"

The Prince gave him the hour.

"Is it so near the break of day?" Mahommed yawned. "Tell me"-he fixed his eyes darkly on the visitor-"tell me first why thou art here?"

"I will, my Lord, and truly. I wished to see if you could sleep. A common soul could not. It is well the world has no premonitory sense."

"Why so?"

"My Lord has all the qualities of a conqueror."

Mahommed was pleased.

"Yes, I will make a great day of to-morrow. But, Prince of India, what shadows are disturbing thee? Why art thou not asleep?"

"I too have a part in the day, my Lord."

"What part?"

"I will fight, and"-

Mahommed interrupted him with a laugh.

"Thou!" and he looked the stooped figure over from head to foot.

"My Lord has two hands-I have four-I will show them."

Returning to his apartment, the Prince reappeared with Nilo.

"Behold, my Lord!"

The black was in the martial attire of a king of Kash-Cush-feathered coronet, robe of blue and red hanging from shoulder to heel, body under the robe naked to the waist, assegai in the oft-wrapped white sash, skirt to the knees glittering with crescents and buttons of silver, sandals beaded with pearls. On his left arm depended a shield rimmed and embossed with brass; in his right hand he bore a club knotted, and of weight to fell a bull at a blow. Without the slightest abashment, but rather as a superior, the King looked down at the young Sultan.

"I see-I understand-I welcome the four hands of the Prince of India," Mahommed said, vivaciously; then, giving a few moments of admiration to the negro, he turned, and asked:

"Prince, I have a motive for to-morrow-nay, by the cool waters of Paradise, I have many motives. Tell me thine. In thy speech and action I have observed a hate for these Greeks deep as the Shintan's for God. Why? What have they done to thee?"

"They are Christians," the Jew returned, sullenly.

"That is good, Prince, very good-even the Prophet judged it a justification for cleaning the earth of the detestable sect-yet it is not enough. I am not old as thou"-Mahommed lost the curious gleam which shone in the visitor's eyes-"I am not old as thou art; still I know hate like thine must be from a private grievance."

"My Lord is right. To-morrow I will leave the herd to the herd. In the currents of the fight I will hunt but one enemy-Constantine. Judge thou my cause."

Then he told of Lael-of his love for her-of her abduction by Demedes-his supplication for the Emperor's assistance-the refusal.

"She was the child of my soul," he continued, passionately. "My interest in life was going out; she reinspired it. She was the promise of a future for me, as the morning star is of a gladsome day. I dreamed dreams of her, and upon her love builded hopes, like shining castles on high hills. Yet it was not enough that the Greek refused me his power to discover and restore her. She is now in restraint, and set apart to become the wife of a Christian-a Christian priest-may the fiends juggle for his ghost!-To-morrow I will punish the tyrant-I will give him a dog's death, and then seek her. Oh! I will find her-I will find her-and by the light there is in love, I will show him what all of hell there can be in one man's hate!"

For once the cunning of the Prince overreached itself. In the rush of passion he forgot the exquisite sensory gifts of the potentate with whom he was dealing; and Mahommed, observant even while shrinking from the malignant fire in the large eyes, discerned incoherencies in the tale, and that it was but half told; and while he was resolving to push his Messenger of the Stars to a full confession, a distant rumble invaded the tent, accompanied by a trample of feet outside.

"It is here, Prince of India-the day of Destiny. Let us get ready, thou for thy revenge, I for glory and"-Irene was on his tongue, but he suppressed the name. "Call my chamberlain and equerry.... On the table there thou mayst see my arms-a mace my ancestor Ilderim [Footnote: Bajazet.] bore at Nicopolis, and thy sword of Solomon.... God is great, and the Jinn and the Stars on my side, what have we to fear?"

Within half an hour he rode out of the tent.

"Blows the wind to the city or from it?" he asked his chief Aga of Janissaries.

"Toward the city, my Lord."

"Exalted be the name of the Prophet! Set the Flower of the Faithful in order-a column of front wide as the breach in the gate-and bring the heralds. I shall be by the great gun."

Pushing his horse on the parapet, he beheld the space before him, down quite to the moat-every trace of the cemetery had disappeared-dark with hordes assembled and awaiting the signal. Satisfied, happy, he looked then toward the east. None better than he knew the stars appointed to go before the sun-their names were familiar to him-now they were his friends. At last a violet corona infinitely soft glimmered along the hill tops beyond Scutari.

"Stand out now," he cried to the five in their tabards of gold-"stand out now, and as ye hope couches in Paradise, blow-blow the stones out of their beds yonder-God was never so great!"

Then ensued the general advance which has been described, except that here, in front of St. Romain, there was no covering the assailants with slingers and archers. The fill in the ditch was nearly level with the outer bank, from which it may be described as an ascending causeway. This advantage encouraged the idea of pouring the hordesmen en masse over the hill composed of the ruins of what had been the towers of the gate.

There was an impulsive dash under incitement of a mighty drumming and trumpeting-a race, every man of the thousands engaged in it making for the causeway-a jam-a mob paralyzed by its numbers. They trampled on each other-they fought, and in the rebound were pitched in heaps down the perpendicular revetment on the right and left of the fill. Of those thus unfortunate the most remained where they fell, alive, perhaps, but none the less an increasing dump of pikes, shields, and crushed bodies; and in the roar above them, cries for help, groans, and prayers were alike unheard and unnoticed.

All this Justiniani had foreseen. Behind loose stones on top of the hill, he had collected culverins, making, in modern phrase, a masked battery, and trained the pieces to sweep the causeway; with them, as a support, he mixed archers and pikemen. On either flank, moreover, he stationed companies similarly armed, extending them to the unbroken wall, so there was not a space in the breach undefended.

The Captain, on watch and expectant, heard the signal.

"To the Emperor at Blacherne," he bade; "and say the storm is about to break. Make haste." Then to his men: "Light the matches, and be ready to throw the stones down."

The hordesmen reached the edge of the ditch; that moment the guns were unmasked, and the Genoese leader shouted:

"Fire, my men!-Christ and Holy Church!"

Then from the Christian works it was bullet, bolt, stone, and shaft, making light of flimsy shield and surcoat of hide; still the hordesmen pushed on, a river breasting an obstruction. Now they were on the causeway. Useless facing about-behind them an advancing wall-on both sides the ditch. Useless lying down-that was to be smothered in bloody mire. Forward, forward, or die. What though the causeway was packed with dead and wounded?-though there was no foothold not slippery?-though the smell of hot blood filled every nostril?-though hands thrice strengthened by despair grappled the feet making stepping blocks of face and breast? The living pressed on leaping, stumbling, staggering; their howl, "Gold-spoils-women-slaves," answered from the smoking hill, "Christ and Holy Church."

And now, the causeway crossed, the leading assailants gain the foot of the rough ascent. No time to catch breath-none to look for advantage-none to profit by a glance at the preparation to receive them-up they must go, and up they went. Arrows and javelins pierce them; stones crush them; the culverins spout fire in their faces, and, lifting them off their uncertain footing, hurl them bodily back upon the heads and shields of their comrades. Along the brow of the rocky hill a mound of bodies arises wondrous quick, an obstacle to the warders of the pass who would shoot, and to the hordesmen a barrier.

Slowly the corona on the Scutarian hills deepened into dawn. The Emperor joined Justiniani. Count Corti came with him. There was an affectionate greeting.

"Your Majesty, the day is scarcely full born, yet see how Islam is rueing it."

Constantine, following Justiniani's pointing, peered once through the smoke; then the necessity of the moment caught him, and, taking post between guns, he plied his long lance upon the wretches climbing the rising mound, some without shields, some weaponless, most of them incapable of combat.

With the brightening of day the mound grew in height and width, until at length the Christians sallied out upon it to meet the enemy still pouring on.

An hour thus.

Suddenly, seized with a comprehension of the futility of their effort, the hordesmen turned, and rushed from the hill and the causeway.

The Christians suffered but few casualties; yet they would have gladly rested. Then, from the wall above the breach, whence he had used his bow, Count Corti descended hastily.

"Your Majesty," he said, his countenance kindled with enthusiasm, "the Janissaries are making ready."

Justiniani was prompt. "Come!" he shouted. "Come every one! We must have clear range for the guns. Down with these dead! Down with the living. No time for pity!"

Setting the example, presently the defenders were tossing the bodies of their enemies down the face of the hill.

On his horse, by the great gun, Mahommed had observed the assault, listening while the night yet lingered. Occasionally a courier rode to him with news from this Pacha or that one. He heard without excitement, and returned invariably the same reply:

"Tell him to pour the hordes in."

At last an officer came at speed.

"Oh, my Lord, I salute you. The city is won."

It was clear day then, yet a light not of the morning sparkled in Mahommed's eyes. Stooping in his saddle, he asked: "What sayest thou? Tell me of it, but beware-if thou speakest falsely, neither God nor Prophet shall save thee from impalement to the roots of thy tongue."

"As I have to tell my Lord what I saw with my own eyes, I am not afraid.... My Lord knows that where the palace of Blacherne begins on the south there is an angle in the wall. There, while our people were feigning an assault to amuse the Greeks, they came upon a sunken gate"-

"The Cercoporta-I have heard of it."

"My Lord has the name. Trying it, they found it unfastened and unguarded, and, pushing through a darkened passage, discovered they were in the Palace. Mounting to the upper floor, they attacked the unbelievers. The fighting goes on. From room to room the Christians resist. They are now cut off, and in a little time the quarter will be in our possession."

Mahommed spoke to Kalil: "Take this man, and keep him safely. If he has spoken truly, great shall be his reward; if falsely, better he were not his mother's son." Then to one of his household: "Come hither.... Go to the sunken gate Cercoporta, pass in, and find the chief now fighting in the palace of Blacherne. Tell him I, Mahommed, require that he leave the Palace to such as may follow him, and march and attack the defenders of this gate, St. Romain, in the rear. He shall not stop to plunder. I give him one hour in which to do my bidding. Ride thou now as if a falcon led thee. For Allah and life!"

Next he called his Aga of Janissaries.

"Have the hordes before this gate retired. They have served their turn; they have made the ditch passable, and the Gabours are faint with killing them. Observe, and when the road is cleared let go with the Flower of the Faithful. A province to the first through; and this the battle-cry: Allah-il-Allah! They will fight under my eye. Minutes are worth kingdoms. Go thou, and let go."

Always in reserve, always the last resort in doubtful battle, always the arm with which the Sultans struck the finishing blow, the Janissaries thus summoned to take up the assault were in discipline, spirit, and splendor of appearance the elite corps of the martial world.

Riding to the front, the Aga halted to communicate Mahommed's orders. Down the columns the speech was passed.

The Flower of the Faithful were in three divisions dismounted. Throwing off their clumsy gowns, they stood forth in glittering mail, and shaking their brassy shields in air, shouted the old salute: "Live the Padishah! Live the Padishah!"

The road to the gate was cleared; then the Aga galloped back, and when abreast of the yellow flag of the first division, he cried: "Allah-il-Allah! Forward!"

And drum and trumpet breaking forth, a division moved down in column of fifties. Slowly at first, but solidly, and with a vast stateliness it moved. So at Pharsalia marched the legion Caesar loved-so in decision of heady fights strode the Old Guard of the world's last Conqueror.

Approaching the ditch, the fresh assailants set up the appointed battle-cry, and quickening t

he step to double time rushed over the terrible causeway.

Mahommed then descended to the ditch, and remained there mounted, the sword of Solomon in his hand, the mace of Ilderim at his saddle bow; and though hearing him was impossible, the Faithful took fire from his fire-enough that they were under his eye.

The feat attempted by the hordes was then repeated, except now there was order in disorder. The machine, though shaken and disarranged, kept working on, working up. Somehow its weight endured. Slowly, with all its drench and cumber, the hill was surmounted. Again a mound arose in front of the battery-again the sally, and the deadly ply of pikes from the top of the mound.

The Emperor's lance splintered; he fought with a pole-axe; still even he became sensible of a whelming pressure. In the gorge, the smoke, loaded with lime-dust, dragged rather than lifted; no man saw down it to the causeway; yet the ascending din and clamor, possessed of the smiting power of a gust of wind, told of an endless array coming.

There was not time to take account of time; but at last a Turkish shield appeared over the ghastly rampart, glimmering as the moon glimmers through thick vapor. Thrusts in scores were made at it, yet it arose; then a Janissary sprang up on the heap, singing like a muezzin, and shearing off the heads of pikes as reapers shear green rye. He was a giant in stature and strength. Both Genoese and Greeks were disposed to give him way. The Emperor rallied them. Still the Turk held his footing, and other Turks were climbing to his support. Now it looked as if the crisis were come, now as if the breach were lost.

In the last second a cry For Christ and Irene rang through the melee, and Count Corti, leaping from a gun, confronted the Turk.

"Ho, Son of Ouloubad! Hassan, Hassan!" [Footnote: One of the Janissaries, Hassan d'Ouloubad, of gigantic stature and prodigious strength, mounted to the assault under cover of his shield, his cimeter in the right hand. He reached the rampart with thirty of his companions. Nineteen of them were cast down, and Hassan himself fell struck by a stone.-VON HAMMER.] he shouted, in the familiar tongue.

"Who calls me?" the giant asked, lowering his shield, and gazing about in surprise.

"I call you-I, Mirza the Emir. Thy time has come. Christ and Irene. Now!"

With the word the Count struck the Janissary fairly on the flat cap with his axe, bringing him to his knees. Almost simultaneously a heavy stone descended upon the dazed man from a higher part of the wall, and he rolled backward down the steep.

Constantine and Justiniani, with others, joined the Count, but too late. Of the fifty comrades composing Hassan's file, thirty mounted the rampart. Eighteen of them were slain in the bout. Corti raged like a lion; but up rushed the survivors of the next file-and the next-and the vantage-point was lost. The Genoese, seeing it, said:

"Your Majesty, let us retire."

"Is it time?"

"We must get a ditch between us and this new horde, or we are all dead men."

Then the Emperor shouted: "Back, every one! For love of Christ and Holy Church, back to the galley!"

The guns, machines, store of missiles, and space occupied by the battery were at once abandoned. Constantine and Corti went last, facing the foe, who warily paused to see what they had next to encounter.

The secondary defence to which the Greeks resorted consisted of the hulk brought up, as we have seen, by Count Corti, planted on its keel squarely in rear of the breach, and filled with stones. From the hulk, on right and left, wings of uncemented masonry extended to the main wall in form thus:

[Illustration]

A ditch fronted the line fifteen feet in width and twelve in depth, provided with movable planks for hasty passage. Culverins were on the hulk, with ammunition in store.

Greatly to the relief of the jaded Christians, who, it is easy believing, stood not on the order of going, they beheld the reserves, under Demetrius Palaeologus and Nicholas Giudalli, in readiness behind the refuge.

The Emperor, on the deck, raised the visor of his helmet, and looked up at an Imperial flag drooping in the stagnant air from a stump of the mast. Whatever his thought or feeling, no one could discern on his countenance an unbecoming expression. The fact, of which he must have been aware, that this stand taken ended his empire forever, had not shaken his resolution or confidence. To Demetrius Palaeologus, who had lent a hand helping him up the galley's side, he said: "Thank you, kinsman. God may still be trusted. Open fire."

The Janissaries, astonished at the new and strange defence, would have retreated, but could not; the files ascending behind drove them forward. At the edge of the ditch the foremost of them made a despairing effort to resist the pressure rushing them to their fate-down they went in mass, in their last service no better than the hordesmen-clods they became-clods in bright harness instead of bull-hide and shaggy astrakhan.

From the wings, bolts and stones; from the height of the wall, bolts and stones; from the hulk, grapeshot; and the rattle upon the shields of the Faithful was as the passing of empty chariots over a Pompeiian street. Imprecations, prayers, yells, groans, shrieks, had lodgement only in the ear of the Most Merciful. The open maw of a ravenous monster swallowing the column fast as Mahommed down by the great moat drove it on-such was the new ditch.

Yet another, the final horror. When the ditch was partially filled, the Christians brought jugs of the inflammable liquid contributed to the defence by John Grant; and cast them down on the writhing heap. Straightway the trench became a pocket of flame, or rather an oven from which the smell of roasting human flesh issued along with a choking cloud!

The besieged were exultant, as they well might be-they were more than holding the redoubtable Flower of the Faithful at bay-there was even a merry tone in their battle-cry. About that time a man dismounted from a foaming horse, climbed the rough steps to the deck of the galley, and delivered a message to the Emperor.

"Your Majesty. John Grant, Minotle the bayle, Carystos, Langasco, and Jerome the Italian are slain. Blacherne is in possession of the Turks, and they are marching this way. The hordes are in the streets. I saw them, and heard the bursting of doors, and the screams of women."

Constantine crossed himself three times, and bowed his head.

Justiniani turned the color of ashes, and exclaimed:

"We are undone-undone! All is lost!" And that his voice was hoarse did not prevent the words being overheard. The fire slackened-ceased. Men fighting jubilantly dropped their arms, and took up the cry-"All is lost! The hordes are in, the hordes are in!"

Doubtless Count Corti's thought sped to the fair woman waiting for him in the chapel, yet he kept clear head.

"Your Majesty," he said, "my Berbers are without. I will take them, and hold the Turks in check while you draw assistance from the walls. Or"-he hesitated, "or I will defend your person to the ships. It is not too late."

Indeed, there was ample time for the Emperor's escape. The Berbers were keeping his horse with Corti's. He had but to mount, and ride away. No doubt he was tempted. There is always some sweetness in life, especially to the blameless. He raised his head, and said to Justiniani:

"Captain, my guard will remain here. To keep the galley they have only to keep the fire alive in the ditch. You and I will go out to meet the enemy." ... Then he addressed himself to Corti: "To horse, Count, and bring Theophilus Palaeologus. He is on the wall between this gate and the gate Selimbria.... Ho, Christian gentlemen," he continued, to the soldiers closing around him, "all is not lost. The Bochiardi at the Adrianople gate have not been heard from. To fly from an unseen foe were shameful, We are still hundreds strong. Let us descend, and form. God cannot"-

That instant Justiniani uttered a loud cry, and dropped the axe he was holding. An arrow had pierced the scales of his gauntlet, and disabled his hand. The pain, doubtless, was great, and he started hastily as if to descend from the deck. Constantine called out:

"Captain, Captain!"

"Give me leave, Your Majesty, to go and have this wound dressed."

"Where, Captain?"

"To my ship."

The Emperor threw his visor up-his face was flushed-in his soul indignation contended with astonishment.

"No, Captain, the wound cannot be serious; and besides, how canst thou get to thy ships?"

Justiniani looked over the bulwark of the vessel. The alley from the gate ran on between houses abutting the towers. A ball from one of Mahommed's largest guns had passed through the right-hand building, leaving a ragged fissure. Thither the Captain now pointed.

"God opened that breach to let the Turks in. I will go out by it."

He stayed no longer, but went down the steps, and in haste little short of a run disappeared through the fissure so like a breach.

The desertion was in view of his Genoese, of whom a few followed him, but not all. Many who had been serving the guns took swords and pikes, and gathering about the Emperor, cried out:

"Give orders, Your Majesty. We will bide with you."

He returned them a look full of gratitude.

"I thank you, gentlemen. Let us go down, and join our shields across the street. To my guard I commit defence of the galley."

Unfastening the purple half-cloak at his back, and taking off his helmet, he called to his sword-bearer: "Here, take thou these, and give me my sword.... Now, gallant gentlemen-now, my brave countrymen-we will put ourselves in the keeping of Heaven. Come!"

They had not all gained the ground, however, when there arose a clamor in their front, and the hordesmen appeared, and blocking up the passage, opened upon them with arrows and stones, while such as had javelins and swords attacked them hand to hand.

The Christians behaved well, but none better than Constantine. He fought with strength, and in good countenance; his blade quickly reddened to the hilt.

"Strike, my countrymen, for city and home. Strike, every one, for Christ and Holy Church!"

And answering him: "Christ and Holy Church!" they all fought as they had strength, and their swords were also reddened to the hilt. Quarter was not asked; neither was it given. Theirs to hold the ground, and they held it. They laid the hordesmen out over it in scattered heaps which grew, and presently became one long heap the width of the alley; and they too fell, but, as we are willing to believe, unconscious of pain because lapped in the delirium of battle-fever.

Five minutes-ten-fifteen-then through the breach by which Justiniani ingloriously fled Theophilus Palaeologus came with bared brand to vindicate his imperial blood by nobly dying; and with him came Count Corti, Francesco de Toledo, John the Dalmatian, and a score and more Christian gentlemen who well knew the difference between an honorable death and a dishonored life.

Steadily the sun arose. Half the street was in its light, the other half in its shade; yet the struggle endured; nor could any man have said God was not with the Christians. Suddenly a louder shouting arose behind them. They who could, looked to see what it meant, and the bravest stood stone still at sight of the Janissaries swarming on the galley. Over the roasting bodies of their comrades, undeterred by the inextinguishable fire, they had crossed the ditch, and were slaying the imperial body-guard. A moment, and they would be in the alley, and then-

Up rose a wail: "The Janissaries, the Janissaries! Kyrie Eleison!" Through the knot of Christians it passed-it reached Constantine in the forefront, and he gave way to the antagonist with whom he was engaged.

"God receive my soul!" he exclaimed; and dropping his sword, he turned about, and rushed back with wide extended arms.

"Friends-countrymen!-Is there no Christian to kill me?"

Then they understood why he had left his helmet off.

While those nearest stared at him, their hearts too full of pity to do him the last favor one can ask of another, from the midst of the hordesmen there came a man of singular unfitness for such a scene-indeed a delicate woman had not been more out of place-for he was small, stooped, withered, very white haired, very pale, and much bearded-a black velvet cap on his head, and a gown of the like about his body, unarmed, and in every respect unmartial. He seemed to glide in amongst the Christians as he had glided through the close press of the Turks; and as the latter had given him way, so now the sword points of the Christians went down-men in the heat of action forgot themselves, and became bystanders-such power was there in the unearthly eyes of the apparition.

"Is there no Christian to kill me?" cried the Emperor again.

The man in velvet stood before him.

"Prince of India!"

"You know me? It is well; for now I know you are not beyond remembering." The voice was shrill and cutting, yet it shrilled and cut the sharper.

"Remember the day I called on you to acknowledge God, and give him his due of worship. Remember the day I prayed you on my knees to lend me your power to save my child, stolen for a purpose by all peoples held unholy. Behold your executioner!"

He stepped back, and raised a hand; and ere one of those standing by could so much as cry to God, Nilo, who, in the absorption of interest in his master, had followed him unnoticed-Nilo, gorgeous in his barbarisms of Kash-Cush, sprang into the master's place. He did not strike; but with infinite cruel cunning of hand-no measurable lapse of time ensuing-drew the assegai across the face of the astonished Emperor. Constantine-never great till that moment of death, but then great forever-fell forward upon his shield, calling in strangled utterance: "God receive my soul!"

The savage set his foot upon the mutilated countenance, crushing it into a pool of blood. An instant, then through the petrified throng, knocking them right and left, Count Corti appeared.

"For Christ and Irene!" he shouted, dashing the spiked boss of his shield into Nilo's eyes-down upon the feathered coronal he brought his sword-and the negro fell sprawling upon the Emperor.

Oblivious to the surroundings, Count Corti, on his knees, raised the Emperor's head, slightly turning the face-one look was enough. "His soul is sped!" he said; and while he was tenderly replacing the head, a hand grasped his cap. He sprang to his feet. Woe to the intruder, if an enemy! The sword which had known no failure was drawn back to thrust-above the advanced foot the shield hung in ready poise-between him and the challenger there was only a margin of air and the briefest interval of time-his breath was drawn, and his eyes gleamed with vengeful murder-but-some power invisible stayed his arm, and into his memory flashed the lightning of recognition.

"Prince of India," he shouted, "never wert thou nearer death!"

"Thou-liest! Death-and-I"-

The words were long drawn between gasps, and the speech was never finished. The tongue thickened, then paralyzed. The features, already distorted with passion, swelled, and blackened horribly. The eyes rolled back-the hands flew up, the fingers apart and rigid-the body rocked-stiffened-then fell, sliding from the Count's shield across the dead Emperor.

The combat meantime had gone on. Corti, with a vague feeling that the Prince's flight of soul was a mystery in keeping with his life, took a second to observe him, and muttered: "Peace to him also!"

Looking about him then, he was made aware that the Christians, attacked in front and rear, were drawing together around the body of Constantine-that their resistance was become the last effort of brave men hopeless except of the fullest possible payment for their lives. This was succeeded by a conviction of duty done on his part, and of every requirement of honor fulfilled; thereupon with a great throb of heart, his mind reverted to the Princess Irene waiting for him in the chapel. He must go to her. But how? And was it not too late?

There are men whose wits are supernaturally quickened by danger. The Count, pushing through the intervening throng, boldly presented himself to the Janissaries, shouting while warding the blows they aimed at him:

"Have done, O madmen! See you not I am your comrade, Mirza the Emir? Have done, I say, and let me pass. I have a message for the Padishah!"

He spoke Turkish, and having been an idol in the barracks-their best swordsman-envied, and at the same time beloved-they knew him, and with acclamations opened their files, and let him pass.

By the fissure which had served Justiniani, he escaped from the terrible alley, and finding his Berbers and his horse, rode with speed for the residence of the Princess Irene.

Not a Christian survived the combat. Greek, Genoese, Italian lay in ghastly composite with hordesmen and mailed Moslems around the Emperor. In dying they had made good their battle-cry-For Christ and Holy Church! Let us believe they will yet have their guerdon.

About an hour after the last of them had fallen, when the narrow passage was deserted by the living-the conquerors having moved on in search of their hire-the Prince of India aroused, and shook himself free of the corpses cumbering him. Upon his knees he gazed at the dead-then at the place-then at the sky. He rubbed his hands-made sure he was sound of person-he seemed uncertain, not of life, but of himself. In fact, he was asking, Who am I? And the question had reference to the novel sensations of which he was conscious. What was it coursing through his veins? Wine?-Elixir?-Some new principle which, hidden away amongst the stores of nature, had suddenly evolved for him? The weights of age were gone. In his body-bones, arms, limbs, muscles-he recognized once more the glorious impulses of youth; but his mind-he started-the ideas which had dominated him were beginning to return-and memory! It surged back upon him, and into its wonted chambers, like a wave which, under pressure of a violent wind, has been momentarily driven from a familiar shore. He saw, somewhat faintly at first, the events which had been promontories and lofty peaks cast up out of the level of his long existence. Then THAT DAY and THAT EVENT! How distinctly they reappeared to him! They must be the same-must be-for he beheld the multitude on its way to Calvary, and the Victim tottering under the Cross; he heard the Tribune ask, "Ho, is this the street to Golgotha?" He heard his own answer, "I will guide you;" and he spit upon the fainting Man of Sorrows, and struck him. And then the words-"TARRY THOU TILL I COME!" identified him to himself. He looked at his hands-they were black with what had been some other man's life-blood, but under the stain the skin was smooth-a little water would make them white. And what was that upon his breast? Beard-beard black as a raven's wing! He plucked a lock of hair from his head. It, too, was thick with blood, but it was black. Youth-youth-joyous, bounding, eager, hopeful youth was his once more! He stood up, and there was no creak of rust in the hinges of his joints; he knew he was standing inches higher in the sunlit air; and a cry burst from him-"O God, I give thanks!" The hymn stopped there, for between him and the sky, as if it were ascending transfigured, he beheld the Victim of the Crucifixion; and the eyes, no longer sad, but full of accusing majesty, were looking downward at him, and the lips were in speech: "TARRY THOU TILL I COME!" He covered his face with his hands. Yes, yes, he had his youth back again, but it was with the old mind and nature-youth, that the curse upon him might, in the mortal sense, be eternal! And pulling his black hair with his young hands, wrenching at his black beard, it was given him to see he had undergone his fourteenth transformation, and that between this one and the last there was no lapse of connection. Old age had passed, leaving the conditions and circumstances of its going to the youth which succeeded. The new life in starting picked up and loaded itself with every burden and all the misery of the old. So now while burrowing, as it were, amongst dead men, his head upon the breast of the Emperor whom, treating Nilo as an instrument in his grip, he had slain, he thought most humanly of the effects of the transformation.

First of all, his personal identity was lost, and he was once more a Wanderer without an acquaintance, a friend, or a sympathizer on the earth. To whom could he now address himself with a hope of recognition? His heart went out primarily to Lael-he loved her. Suppose he found her, and offered to take her in his arms; she would repulse him. "Thou art not my father. He was old-thou art young." And Syama, whose bereavements of sense had recommended him for confidant in the event of his witnessing the dreaded circumstance just befallen-if he addressed himself to Syama, the faithful creature would deny him. "No; my master was old-his hair and beard were white-thou art a youth. Go hence." And then Mahommed, to whom he had been so useful in bringing additional empire, and a glory which time would make its own forever-did he seek Mahommed again-"Thou art not the Prince of India, my peerless Messenger of the Stars. He was old-his hair and beard were white-thou art a boy. Ho, guards, take this impostor, and do with him as ye did with Balta-Ogli stretch him on the ground, and beat the breath out of him."

There is nothing comes to us, whether in childhood or age, so crushing as a sense of isolation. Who will deny it had to do with the marshalling of worlds, and the peopling them-with creation?

These reflections did but wait upon the impulse which still further identified him to himself-the impulse to go and keep going-and he cast about for solaces.

"It is the Judgment," he said, with a grim smile; "but my stores remain, and Hiram of Tyre is yet my friend. I have my experience of more than a thousand years, and with it youth again. I cannot make men better, and God refuses my services. Nevertheless I will devise new opportunities. The earth is round, and upon its other side there must be another world. Perhaps I can find some daring spirit equal to the voyage and discovery-some one Heaven may be more willing to favor. But this meeting place of the old continents"-he looked around him, and then to the sky-"with my farewell, I leave it the curse of the most accursed. The desired of nations, it shall be a trouble to them forever."

Then he saw Nilo under a load of corpses, and touched by remembrance of the poor savage's devotion, he uncovered him to get at his heart, which was still beating. Next he threw away his cap and gown, replaced them with a bloody tarbousche and a shaggy Angora mantle, selected a javelin, and sauntered leisurely on into the city. Having seen Constantinople pillaged by Christians, he was curious to see it now sacked by Moslems-there might be a further solace in the comparison.

[Footnote: According to the earliest legends, the Wandering Jew was about thirty years old when he stood in the road to Golgotha, and struck the Saviour, and ordered him to go forward. At the end of every hundred years, the undying man falls into a trance, during which his body returns to the age it was when the curse was pronounced. In all other respects he remains unchanged.]

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top

shares