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Title: The Captain of the Janizaries - A story of the times of Scanderberg and the fall of Constantinople
Author: Ludlow, James M.
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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Transcriber's Note:

  Inconsistent hyphenation and spelling in the original document have
  been preserved. Obvious typographical errors have been corrected.

  Italic text is denoted by _underscores_.

  - The book uses both Palæologus and Palælogus.
  - The book uses both DeStreeses and De Streeses.
  In both cases, both spellings have been retained as printed.

  Page 304:  Ramedan should possibly be Ramadan.



     "_Your swarthy hero Scanderbeg,
     Gauntlet on hand and boot on leg,
     And skilled in every warlike art,
     Riding through his Albanian lands,
     And following the auspicious star
     That shone for him o'er Ak-Hissar._"

     LONGFELLOW



     THE CAPTAIN OF THE JANIZARIES

     _A STORY OF THE TIMES OF SCANDERBEG
     AND
     THE FALL OF CONSTANTINOPLE_

     BY JAMES M. LUDLOW, D.D. LITT.D

     ELEVENTH EDITION


     NEW YORK AND LONDON
     HARPER & BROTHERS PUBLISHERS



     Copyright, 1886, by DODD, MEAD & CO.

     Copyright, 1890, by JAMES M. LUDLOW.

     _Electrotyped by Dodd, Mead & Co._



PREFACE.


The story of the Captain of the Janizaries originated, not in the
author's desire to write a book, but in the fascinating interest of
the times and characters he has attempted to depict. It seems strange
that the world should have so generally forgotten George Castriot, or
Scanderbeg, as the Turks named him, whose career was as romantic as it
was significant in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean. Gibbon
assigns to him but a few brief pages, just enough to make us wonder
that he did not write more of the man who, he confessed, "with unequal
arms resisted twenty-three years the powers of the Ottoman Empire."
Creasy, in his history of the Turks, devotes less than a page to the
exploits of one who "possessed strength and activity such as rarely
fall to the lot of man," "humbled the pride of Amurath and baffled the
skill and power of his successor Mahomet." History, as we make it in
events, is an ever-widening river, but, as remembered, it is like a
stream bursting eastward from the Lebanons, growing less as it flows
until it is drained away in the desert.

Though our story is in the form of romance, it is more than "founded
upon fact." The details are drawn from historical records, such as the
chronicles of the monk Barletius--a contemporary, though perhaps a
prejudiced admirer, of Scanderbeg--the later Byzantine annals, the
customs of the Albanian people, and scenes observed while travelling
in the East.

The author takes the occasion of the publication of a new edition to
gratefully acknowledge many letters from scholars, as well as notices
from the press, which have expressed appreciation of this attempt to
revive popular interest in lands and peoples that are to reappear in
the drama of the Ottoman expulsion from Europe, upon which the curtain
is now rising.



THE CAPTAIN OF THE JANIZARIES.

CHAPTER I


From the centre of the old town of Brousa, in Asia Minor--old even at
the time of our story, about the middle of the fifteenth
century--rises an immense plateau of rock, crowned with the fortress
whose battlements and towers cut their clear outlines high against the
sky. An officer of noble rank in the Ottoman service stood leaning
upon the parapet, apparently regaling himself with the marvellous
panorama of natural beauty and historic interest which lay before him.
The vast plain, undulating down to the distant sea of Marmora, was
mottled with fields of grain, gardens enclosed in hedges of cactus,
orchards in which the light green of the fig-trees blended with the
duskier hues of the olive, and dense forests of oak plumed with the
light yellow blooms of the chestnut. Here and there writhed the heavy
vapors of the hot sulphurous streams springing out of the base of the
Phrygian Olympus, which reared its snow-clad peak seven thousand feet
above. The lower stones of the fortress of Brousa were the mementoes
of twenty centuries which had drifted by them since they were laid by
the old Phrygian kings. The flags of many empires had floated from
those walls, not the least significant of which was that of the
Ottoman, who, a hundred years before, had consecrated Brousa as his
capital by burying in yonder mausoleum the body of Othman, the founder
of the Ottoman dynasty of the Sultans.

But the Turkish officer was thinking of neither the beauty of the
scene nor the historic impressiveness of the place. His face, shaded
by the folds of his enormous turban, wore deeper shadows which were
flung upon it from within. He was talking to himself.

"The Padishah[1] has a nobler capital now than this,--across the sea
there in Christian Europe. But by whose hands was it conquered? By
Christian hands! by Janizaries! renegades! Ay, this hand!"--he
stripped his arm bare to the shoulder and looked upon its gnarled
muscles as he hissed the words through his teeth--"this hand has cut a
wider swathe through the enemies of the Ottoman than any other man's;
a swathe down which the Padishah can walk without tripping his feet.
And this was a Christian's hand once! Well may I believe the story my
old nurse so often told me,--that, when the priest was dropping the
water of baptism upon my baby brow, this hand seized the sacred
vessel, and it fell shattered upon the pavement. Ah, well have I
fulfilled that omen!"

The man walked to and fro on the platform with quick and jarring step,
as if to shake off the grip of unwelcome thoughts. There was a majesty
in his mien which did not need the play of his partially suppressed
fury to fascinate the attention of any who might have beheld him at
the moment. He was tall of stature, immensely broad at the shoulders,
deep lunged, comparatively light and trim in the loins, as the close
drawn sash beneath the embroidered jacket revealed: arms long; hands
large. He looked as if he might wrestle with a bear without a weapon.
His features were not less notable than his form. His forehead was
high and square, with such fulness at the corners as to leave two
cross valleys in the middle. Deep-set eyes gleamed from beneath broad
and heavy brows. The lips were firm, as if they had grown rigid from
the habit of concealing, rather than expressing, thought, except in
the briefest words of authority,--Cæsar-lips to summarize a campaign
in a sentence. The chin was heavy, and would have unduly protruded
were it not that there were needed bulk and strength to stand as the
base of such prominent upper features. Altogether his face would have
been pronounced hard and forbidding, had it not been relieved as
remarkably by that strange radiance with which strong intelligence and
greatness of soul sometimes transfigure the coarsest features.

These peculiarities of the man were observed and commented upon by two
officers who were sitting in the embrasure of the parapet at the
farther end of the battlement. The elder of the two, who had grown
gray in the service, addressed his comrade, a young man, though
wearing the insignia of rank equal to that of the other.

"Yes, Bashaw,[2] he is not only the right hand of the Padishah, but
the army has not seen an abler soldier since the Ottoman entered
Europe. You know his history?"

"Only as every one knows it, for in recent years he has written it
with his cimeter flashing through battle dust as the lightning through
clouds," replied the young officer.

The veteran warmed with enthusiasm as he narrated, "I well remember
him as a lad when he was brought from the Arnaout's[3] country. He was
not over nine years of age when Sultan Mahomet conquered the lands of
Epirus, where our general's father, John Castriot, was duke. As a
hostage young George Castriot was brought with his three brothers to
Adrianople."

"Are his brothers of the same metal?" asked the listener.

"Allah only knows what they would have been had not state
necessity----" The narrator completed the sentence by a significant
gesture, imitating the swirl of the executioner's sword as he takes
off the head of an offender.

"But George Castriot was a favorite of the Sultan, who fondled him as
the Roman Hadrian did his beautiful page, Antinous. And well he might,
for a lad more lithe of limb and of wit never walked the ground since
Allah bade the angels worship the goodly form of Adam.[4] Once when a
prize was offered for the best display of armor, and the provinces
were represented by their different champions in novel helmets and
corselets and shields, none of which pleased the imperial taste, it
was the whim of the Padishah to have young Castriot parade before the
judges panoplied only in his naked muscle, and to order that the prize
should be given to him, together with the title Iscanderbeg.[5] And
well he won it. In the after wrestling matches he put upon his hip the
best of them, Turcomans from Asia, and Moors from Africa, and
Giaours[6] from the West. And he was as skilful on a horse's legs as
he was on his own. His namesake, Alexander, could not have managed
Bucephalus better than he. I well remember his game with the two
Scythians. They came from far to have a joust with the best of the
Padishah's court. They were to fight singly: if one were overthrown,
the other, after the victor had breathed himself, was to redeem the
honor of his comrade. Scanderbeg sent his spear-head into the throat
of his antagonist at the first encounter, when the second barbarian
villain treacherously set upon him from the rear. The young champion
wheeled his horse as quickly as a Dervish twists his body, and with
one blow of his sword, clove him in twain from skull to saddle."

"Bravo!" cried the listener, "I believe it, for look at the arm that
he has uncovered now."

"It is a custom he has," continued the narrator. "He always fights
with his sword-arm bared to the shoulder. When he was scarce nineteen
years old he was at the siege of Constantinople, in 800 of the
Hegira,[7] with Sultan Amurath. His skill there won him a Sanjak.[8]
Since that time you know his career."

"Ay! his squadrons have shaken the world."

"He has changed of late, however; grown heavy at the brows. But he
comes this way."

As the general approached, the two bashaws bowed low to the ground,
and then stood in the attitude of profound obeisance until he
addressed them. His face gleamed with frank and genial familiarity as
he exchanged with them a few words; but it was again masked in sombre
thoughtfulness as he passed on.

Near the gate by which the fortress was entered from the lower town
was gathered a group of soldiers who were bantering a strange looking
creature with hands tied behind him--evidently some captive.

"What have you here?" said Scanderbeg, approaching them.

"That we cannot tell. It is a secret," replied the subaltern officer
in charge of the squad, making a low salâm, and with a twinkle in his
eyes which took from his reply all semblance of disrespect.

"But I must have your secret," said the general good-naturedly.

"It is not our secret, Sire," replied the man, "but his. He will not
tell us who he is."

"Where does he belong? What tongue has he, Aladdin? You who were once
interpreter to the Bey of Anatolia should know any man by his tongue."

"He has no tongue, Sire. He is dumb as a toad. His beard has gone
untrimmed so long that it has sewed fast his jaws. He has not
performed his ablutions since the last shower washed him, and his ears
are so filled with dirt plugs that he could not hear a thunder clap."

The face of the captive seemed to strangely interest the general, who
said as he turned away, "Send him to our quarters. The Padishah has
taken a fancy to deaf mutes of late. They overhear no secrets and tell
no tales. We will scrape him deep enough to find if he has a soul. If
he knows his foot from his buttocks he will be as valued a present to
His Majesty as a fifth wife.[9] Send him to our quarters."

The general soon returned to the fortress. A room dimly lighted
through two narrow windows that opened into a small inner court, and
contained a divan or couch, a table, and a motley collection of arms,
was the residence of the commandant. A soldier stood by the entrance
guarding the unfortunate captive.

"You may leave him with me," said Scanderbeg approaching.

The man was thrust into the apartment, and stood with head bowed until
the guard withdrew. The general turned quickly upon him as soon as
they were alone.

"If I mistake not, man, though your tongue be tied, your eye spake to
me by the gate."

"It was heaven's blessing upon my errand reflected there," replied the
man in the Albanian language. "I bear thee a message from Moses
Goleme, of Lower Dibria, and from all the provinces of Albania, from
every valley and every heart."

"Let me hear it, for I love the very flints on the mountains and every
pebble on the shore of old Albania," replied Scanderbeg eagerly.

"Heaven be praised! Were my ears dull as the stones they would open to
hear such words," said the man with suppressed emotion. "For since the
death of thy noble father--"

"My father's death! I had not heard it. When?" exclaimed the general.

"It is four moons since we buried him beneath the holy stones of the
church at Croia, and the Sultan sent us General Sebaly to govern in
his stead."

"Do you speak true?" cried Scanderbeg, laying his hand upon the man's
shoulder and glaring into his face. "My father dead? and a stranger
appointed in his stead? and Sultan Amurath has not even told me!
Beware, man, lest you mistake."

"I cannot mistake, Sire, for these hands closed the eyes of John
Castriot after he had breathed a prayer for his land and for his
son--one prayer for both. Moses Goleme was with us, for you know he
was thy father's dearest friend and wisest counsellor, and to him thy
father gave charge that word should be sent thee that to thee he
bequeathed his lands."

"Stop! Stop!" said Scanderbeg, pacing the little room like a caged
lion. "Let me think. But go on. He did not curse me, then? Swear to
me,"--and he turned facing the man--"swear to me that my father did
not curse me with his dying breath! Swear it!"

"I swear it," said the man, "and that all Albania prays to-day for
George Castriot. These are the tidings which the noble Moses bade me
bring thee, though I found thee at the Indus or under the throne of
the Sultan himself. I have no other message. That I might tell thee
this in the free speech of Albania I have kept dumb to all others. If
it be treason to the Sultan for thee to hear it, let my head pay the
penalty. But know, Sire, that our land will rest under no other rule
than that of a Castriot."

"A Castriot!" soliloquized the general. "Well, it is a better name
than Scanderbeg. Ho, guard! Take this fellow! Let him share your
mess!"

When alone the general threw himself upon the divan for a moment, then
paced again the apartment, and muttered to himself----

"And for what has a Castriot given himself to the Turk! Yet I did not
betray my land and myself. They stole me. They seduced my judgment as
a child. They flattered my conceit as a man. Like a leopard I have
fought in the Padishah's arena, and for a leopard's pay--the meat that
makes him strong, and the gilded cage that sets off his spots. I have
led his armies, for what? For glory. But whose glory? The Padishah
cries in every emergency, 'Where is _my_ Scanderbeg? Scanderbeg to the
rescue!' But it means, 'Slave, do my bidding!' And I, the tinselled
slave, bow my head to the neck of my steed, and the empire rings with
the tramp of my squadrons, and the praise of Scanderbeg's loyalty!
Pshaw! He calls me his lightning, but he is honored as the invisible
Jove who hurls it. And I am a Castriot! A Christian! Ay, a Christian
dog,[10] indeed, to fawn and lick the hands of one who would despise
me were he not afraid of my teeth. He takes my father's lands and
gives them to another; and I--I am of too little account to be even
told 'Thy father is dead.'"

Scanderbeg paused in the light that streamed through the western
window. It was near sunset, and a ruddy gleam shot across the room.

"This light comes from the direction of Albania, and so there comes a
red gleam--blood red--from Albania into my soul."

He drew the sleeve of the left arm and gazed at a small round spot
tattooed just above the elbow--the indelible mark of the Janizary.

"They that put it there said that by it I should remember my vow to
the Padishah. And, since I cannot get thee out, my little talisman, I
swear by thee that I shall never forget my vow; no, nor them that made
my child-lips take it, and taught me to abjure my father's name, my
country's faith, and broke my will to the bit and rein of their
caprice. It may be that some day I shall wash thee out in damned
Moslem blood. But hold! that would be treason. Scanderbeg a traitor?
How they will hiss it from Brousa to Adrianople; from the lips of
Vizier and pot-carrier! But is it treason to betray treason? But
patience! Bide thy time, Castriot!"

A slight commotion in the court drew the attention of Scanderbeg. In a
moment the sentry announced:

"A courier from His Majesty!"

The message told that the Ottoman forces had been defeated in
Europe--the noted bashaw, Schehadeddin, having been utterly routed by
Hunyades. The missive called the Sultan's "always liege and invincible
servant, Scanderbeg, to the rescue!" Within an hour a splendid suite
of officers, mounted on swift and gaily caparisoned steeds, gathered
about the great general, and at the raising of the horse-tail upon the
spear-head, dashed along the road to the coast of Marmora where
vessels were in waiting to convey them across to the European side.
Scanderbeg had but a moment's interview with the dumb captive,
sufficient to whisper,

"Return our salutation to the noble Moses Goleme; and say that George
Castriot will honor his confidence better in deeds than he could in
words. I know not the future, my brave fellow, and might not tell it
if I did, even to ears as deaf as yours. But say to Goleme that
Castriot swears by his beard--by the beard of Moses--that brighter
days shall come for Albania even if they must be flashed from our
swords. Farewell!"

The man fell at the general's feet and embraced them. Then rising he
raised his hand, "By the beard of Moses! Let that be the watchword
between our people and our rightful prince. Brave men scattered from
Adria to Hæmus will listen for that watchword. Farewell, Sire. By the
beard of Moses!"

Scanderbeg summoned a soldier and said sternly, "Take this fellow
away. He is daft as well as dumb and deaf. Yet treat him well. Such
creatures are the special care of Allah. Take him to the Bosphorus
that he may cross over to his kin, the Greeks, at Constantinople."

FOOTNOTES:

[1] A title of the Sultan.

[2] Bashaw; an old name for pasha.

[3] Arnaout; Turkish for Albanian, a corruption of the old Byzantine
word Arvanitæ.

[4] Koran, Chap. II.

[5] Iscander-Beg; or The Lord Alexander.

[6] Giaours; a term of reproach by which the Turks designate the
unbelievers in Mahomet, especially Christians.

[7] 800 of the Hegira; 1422 of the Christian era.

[8] Sanjak; a military and administrative authority giving the
possessor command of 5,000 horse.

[9] The Moslems are allowed four wives. Beyond this number their women
can be only concubines.

[10] The Moslems call Christians dogs.



CHAPTER II.


A little hamlet lay, like an eagle's nest, high on the southern slope
of the Balkan mountains. The half dozen huts of which it consisted
were made of rough stones, daubed within and without thick with clay.
The roofs were of logs, overlaid with mats of brushwood woven together
by flexible withes, and plastered heavily. The inhabitants were
goatherds. Their lives were simple. If they were denied indulgence in
luxuries, they were also removed from that contact with them which
excites desire, and so were contented. They seldom saw the faces of
any from the great world, upon so large a portion of which they looked
down. Their absorbing occupation was in summer to watch the flocks
which strolled far away among the cliffs, and in winter to keep them
close to the hamlet, for then terrific storms swept the mountains and
filled the ravines with impassable snow.

Milosch and his good wife, Helena--Maika Helena, good Mother Helena,
all the hamlet called her--were blessed with two boys. Their faces
were as bright as the sky in which, from their lofty lodgings, they
might be said to have made their morning ablutions for the eleven and
twelve years of their respective lives. Yet they were not children of
the cherubic type; rather tough little knots of humanity, with big
bullet-heads thatched over with heavy growths of hair, which would
have been red, had it not been bleached to a light yellow by sunshine
and cloud-mists. Instead of the toys and indolent pastimes of the
nursery they had only the steep rocks, the thick copse, the gnarled
trees, and the wild game of the mountains for their play-things. They
thus developed compactly knit muscles, depth of lung and thickness of
frame, which gave agility and endurance. At the same time, the
associations of their daily lives, the precipitous cliff, the
trembling edge of the avalanche, the caves of strange beasts, the wild
roaring of the winds, the awful grandeur of the storms, the impressive
solitude which filled the intervals of their play like untranslatable
but mighty whispers from the unknown world taking the place of the
prattle of this,--these fostered intrepidity, self-reliance, and
balance of disposition, if not of character. For religious discipline
they had the occasional ministrations of a Greek priest or missionary
monk from the Rilo Monastir, many leagues to the west of them. They
knew the Creed of Nicæa, the names of some of the saints; but of truly
divine things they had only such impressions as they caught from the
great vault of the universal temple above them, and from the
suggestions of living nature at their feet.

By the side of Milosch's house ran--or rather climbed and tumbled, so
steep was it--that road over the Balkans, through the Pass of Slatiza,
by which Alexander the Great, nearly two thousand years before, had
burst upon the Moesians. Again, within their father's memory, Bajazet,
the "Turkish Lightning" as he was called because of the celerity of
his movements, had flashed his arms through this Pass, and sent the
bolts of death down upon Wallachia, and poured terror even to the
distant gates of Vienna. Often had Milosch rehearsed the story of the
terrible days when he himself had been a soldier in the army of the
Wallachian Prince Myrtche; and showed the scar of the cut he had
received from the cimeter of a Turkish Janizary, whom he slew not far
from the site of their home.

Their neighbor, Kabilovitsch, a man well weighted with years, not only
listened to these tales, but added marvellous ones of his own;
sometimes relating to the wars of King Sigismund of Hungary, who,
after Prince Myrtche, had tried to regain this country from the cruel
rule of the Moslems; more frequently, however, his stories were of
exploits of anonymous heroes. These were told with so much enthusiasm
as to create the belief that the narrator had himself been the actor
in most of them. For Kabilovitsch was a strange character in the
little settlement; though not the less confided in because of the
mystery of his previous life. He had come to this out-of-the-way
place, as he said, to escape with his little daughter the incessant
raids and counter-raids of Turks and Christians, which kept the
adjacent country in alarm.

Good Uncle Kabilovitsch--as all the children of the hamlet called
him--named his daughter, a lass of ten summers, Morsinia, after the
famous peasant beauty, Elizabeth Morsiney, who had so fascinated King
Sigismund.

Morsinia often braided her hair, and sat beneath her canopy of
blossoming laurel, while Constantine, the younger of Milosch's boys,
dismounted from the back of his trained goat at the mimic threshold,
and wooed her on bended knee, as the good king wooed the beautiful
peasant. Michael, the elder boy, was not less ardent, though less
poetic, in the display of his passion for Morsinia. A necklace of
bear's claws cut with his own hand from a monster beast his father had
killed; a crown made of porcupine quills which he had picked up among
the rocks; anklets of striped snake skin--these were the pledges of
his love, which he declared he would one day redeem with those made of
gems and gold--that is, when he should have become a princely warrior.

To Constantine, however, the little maiden was most gracious. It was a
custom in the Balkan villages for the young people, on the Monday
after Easter, to twist together bunches of evergreens, and for each
young swain to kiss through the loops the maid he loved the best. With
adults this was regarded as a probationary agreement to marry. If the
affection were mutually as full flamed the following Easter, the kiss
through the loop was the formal betrothal. Constantine's impatience
wreathed the evergreens almost daily, and, as every kiss stood for a
year, there was awaiting them--if the good fairies would only make it
true--some centuries of nuptial bliss.

The little lover had built for himself a booth against the steep
rocks. Into this Morsinia would enter with bread and water, and
placing them upon the stone which answered for a table, say, in
imitation of older maidens assuming the care of husbands, "So will I
always and faithfully provide for thee." Then she would touch the
sides of the miniature house with a twig, which she called her
distaff, saying, "I will weave for thee, my lord, goodly garments and
gay." She would also sit down and undress and redress her doll, which
Constantine had carved from wood, and which they said would do for the
real baby that the bride was expected to array, in the ceremony by
which she acknowledged the obligations of wifehood.[11]

But Michael was not at all disconsolate at this preference shown his
brother; for he knew that Morsinia would prefer him to all the world
when she heard what a great soldier he had become. Indeed, on some
days Michael was lord of the little booth; and more than once the fair
enchantress put the evergreen loop around both the boys in as sincere
indecision as has sometimes vexed older hearts than hers.

FOOTNOTE:

[11] These are still Servian customs.



CHAPTER III.


In the winter of 1443--a few months subsequent to the events with
which our story begins--the Pass of Slatiza echoed other sounds than
the cry of the eagle, the bleating of the flocks, and the songs and
halloos of the mountaineers. Distant bugle calls floated between the
cliffs. At night a fire would flash from a peak, and be suddenly
extinguished, as another gleamed from a peak beyond. Strange men had
gone up and down the road. With one of these Uncle Kabilovitsch had
wandered off, and been absent several days. Great was the excitement
of the little folks when Milosch told them that a real army was not
far off, coming from the Christian country to the north of them, and
that its general was no other than the great Hunyades, the White
Knight of Wallachia--called so because he wore white armor--the son of
that same King Sigismund and the fair Elizabeth Morsiney. How little
Morsinia's cheeks paled, while those of the boys burned, and their
eyes flashed, as their father told them, by the fire-light in the
centre of their cabin, that the White Knight had already conquered the
Turks at Hermanstadt and at Vasag and on the banks of the Morava, and
was--if the story which Milosch had heard from some scouts were
true--preparing to burst through the Balkan mountains, and descend
upon the homes of the Turk on the southern plains. Little did they
sleep at night, in the excitement of the belief that, at any day, they
might see the soldiers--real soldiers, just like those of Alexander,
and those of Bajazet--tramping through the Pass. The tremor of the
earth, occasioned by some distant landslide, in their excited
imagination was thought to be due to the tramp of a myriad feet. The
hoot of the owl became the trumpet call for the onset: and the sharp
whistle of the wind, between leafless trees and along the ice-covered
rocks, seemed like the whizzing flight of the souls of the slain.

Once, just as the gray dawn appeared, Kabilovitsch, who had been
absent for several days, came hurriedly with the alarming news that
the Turks, steadily retiring before the Christians, would soon occupy
the Pass. They were already coming up the defiles, as the mists rise
along the sides of the mountains, in dense masses, hoping to gain such
vantage ground that they could hurl the troops of Hunyades down the
almost perpendicular slopes before they could effect a secure lodgment
on the summit. The children and women must leave herds and homes, and
fly instantly. The only safe retreat was the great cave, which the
mountaineers knew of, lying off towards the other Pass, that of
Soulourderbend.

The fugitives were scarcely gone when the mountain swarmed with
Moslems. The mighty mass of humanity crowded the cliffs like bees
preparing to swarm. They fringed the breastworks of native rock with
abattis made of huge trunks of trees. During the day the Turks had
diverted a mountain stream, so that, leaving its bed, it poured a thin
sheet of water over the steepest part of the road the Christians were
to ascend. This, freezing during the night, made a wall of ice. The
Christians were thus forced to leave the highway and attempt to scale
the crags far and near; a movement which the Turks met by spreading
themselves everywhere above them. Upon ledges and into crevices which
had never before felt the pressure of human feet clambered the
contestants. Every rock was empurpled with gore. Turkish turban and
Hungarian helmet were caught upon the same thorny bush; while the
heads which had worn them rolled together in the same gully, and
stared their deathless hatred from their dead eyes.

The Turks in falling back discovered the mouth of the cave in which
the peasants had taken refuge. As the Moslem bugles sounded the
retreat, lest they should be cut off by the Christians who had scaled
the heights on their flanks, they seized the women and children, who
soon were lost to each other's sight in the skurry of the retiring
host. The hands of Constantine were tied about the neck, and his legs
about the loins, of a huge Moslem, to whose keeping he had been
committed. An arrow pierced the soldier to the heart.

It seemed as if more than keenness of eye--some inspiration of his
fatherly instinct--led Kabilovitsch on through the vast confusion, far
down the slope, outrunning the fugitives and their pursuers, avoiding
contact with any one by leaping from rock to rock and darting like a
serpent through secret by-paths, until he reached the horsemen of the
Turks, who had not been able to follow the foot-soldiers up the steep
ascent. He knew that his little girl would be given in charge to some
one of these. He, therefore, concealed himself in the growing darkness
behind a clump of evergreen trees, close to which one must pass in
order to reach the horses. A moment later, with the stealth and the
strength of a panther, he leaped upon a Turk. The man let go the tiny
form of the girl he was carrying; but, before he could assume an
attitude of defence, the iron grip of Kabilovitsch was upon his
throat, and the steel of the infuriated old man in his heart. Under
the sheltering darkness, carrying his rescued child, Kabilovitsch
threaded his way along ledges and balconies of rock projecting so
slightly from the precipitous mountain that they would have been
discerned, even in daylight, by no eye less expert than his own. At
one place his way was blocked by a dead body which had fallen from the
ledge above, and been caught by the tangled limbs of the mountain
laurel. Without relinquishing his load, he pushed with his foot the
lifeless mass down through the entanglement, and listened to the
snapping of the bushes and the crashing of loosened stones, until the
heavy thud announced that it had found a resting place.

"So God rest his soul, be he Christian or Paynim!" muttered the old
man. "And now, my child, are you frighted?"

"No, father, not when you are with me," said Morsinia.

"Could you stand close to the rock, and hold very tight to the bush,
if I leave you a moment?"

"Yes, father, I will hold to the bush as tight as it holds to the
rock."

Kabilovitsch grasped a root of laurel, and, testing it with main
strength, swung clear of the ledge, until his foot rested upon another
ledge nearly the length of his body below. Bracing himself so that he
spanned the interval with the strength of a granite pillar, he bade
the child crawl cautiously in the direction of his voice. As she
touched his hands, he lifted her with perfect poise, and placed her
feet beside his own on a broad table rock.

"Now, blessed be Jesu, we are safe! Did I not tell you I would some
day take you to a cavern which no one but Milosch and I had ever seen?
Here it is. Unless Sultan Amurath hires the eagles to be his spies--as
they say he does--no eye but God's will see us here even when the sun
rises. You did not know, my little princess, what a coward your old
father had become, to run away from a battle. Did you, my darling?"
said he kissing her. "Never did I dream that Ar----, that Kabilovitsch
would fly like a frightened partridge through the bushes. But my
girl's heart has taken the place of my own to-night."

As he spoke he slipped from his shoulders the rough cape, or armless
jacket, of bear-skin, and wrapped the girl closely in it. He then
carried her beneath the roof of a little cave, where he enfolded her
in his arms, making his own back a barrier against the cutting night
wind and the whirling snow. The cold was intense. Thinking only of the
danger to the already half-benumbed and wearied body of the child, he
took off his conical cap, and unwound the many folds of coarse woollen
cloth of which it was made, and with it wrapped her limbs and feet.

Thus the night was passed. With the first streak of the dawn
Kabilovitsch crept cautiously from the ledge, and soon returned with
the news that the Turks had vanished, swept away by the tide of
Christian soldiers which was still pouring over and down the mountain
in pursuit.

Horrible was the scene which everywhere greeted them as they clambered
back toward the road. The dead were piled upon the dying in every
ravine. Red streaks seamed the white snow--channels in which the
current of many a life had drained away. The road was choked with the
hurrying victors. But the old man's familiarity with the ground found
paths which the nimble feet of the maid could climb; so that the day
was not far advanced when they stood on the site of their home.
Scarcely a trace of the little hamlet remained. Whatever could be
burned had fed the camp-fires of the preceding night. The houses had
been thrown down by the soldiers in rifling the grain bins which were
built between their outer and inner walls.

The old man sat down upon the door-stone of what had been his home.
His head dropped upon his bosom. Morsinia stood by his side, her arm
about his neck, and her cheek pressed close to his, so that her bright
golden hair mingled with his gray beard--as in certain mediæval
pictures the artist expresses a pleasing fancy in hammered work of
silver and gold. They scarcely noticed that a group of horsemen, more
gaily uniformed than the ordinary soldiers, had halted and were
looking at them.

"By the eleven thousand virgins of Coln! I never saw a more unique
picture than that," said one who wore a skull cap of scarlet, while an
attendant carried his heavy helmet. "If Masaccio were with us I would
have him paint that scene for our new cathedral at Milano, as an
allegory of the captivity in Babylon."

"Rather of the captivity in Avignon. It would be a capital
representation of the Holy Father and his daughter the Church,"
replied a companion laughing. "Only I would have the painter insert
the portrait of your eminence, Cardinal Julian, as delivering them
both."

"That would not be altogether unhistoric; for the deliverance was not
wholly wrought until our time," replied the cardinal, evidently
gratified with the flattering addition which his comrade, King
Vladislaus, had made to his pleasing conceit. "But if to-day's victory
be as thorough as it now looks, and we drive the Turks out of Europe,
it would serve as a picture of the captivity in which the haughty,
half-infidel emperor of the Greeks and his daughter, Byzantium, will
soon be to Rome."

"But, by my crown," said Vladislaus, "and with due reverence for the
great cardinal under whose cap is all the brain that Rome can now
boast of--I think the Greeks will find as much spiritual desolation in
Mother Church as these worthy people have about them here."

"I can pardon that speech to the newly baptized king of half-barbarian
Hungary, when I would not shrive another for it," replied Julian
petulantly. "The son of a pagan may be allowed much ignorance
regarding the mystery of the Holy See. But a truce to our badgering!
Let us speak to this old fellow. Good man, is this your house? By
Saint Catherine! the girl is beautiful, your highness."

"It was my home, Sire, yesterday, but now it is his that wants it,"
replied Kabilovitsch.

"And where do you go now?" asked the cardinal.

"Towards God's gate, Sire; and I wish I might see it soon, but for
this little one," said the old man, rising.

"Holy Peter let you in when you get there," rejoined His Eminence,
turning his horse away.

"Hold! Cardinal," replied the king. "I am surprised at that speech
from you. You have tried to teach me by lectures for a fortnight past
that Rome has temporal as well as spiritual authority, all power on
earth as well as in heaven. Now, by Our Lady! you ought to help this
good man over his earthly way towards God's gate, as well as wish him
luck when he gets there. But the priest preaches, and leaves the laity
to do the duties of religion. Credit me with a good Christian deed to
balance the many bad ones you remember against me, Cardinal, and I
will help the man. The golden hair of the child against the old man's
head were as good an aureole as ever a saint wore. And that Holy Peter
knows, if the Cardinal does not. Ho, Olgard! Take the lass on the
saddle with you. And, old man, if you will keep close with your
daughter, you will find as good provision behind the gate of
Philippopolis as that in heaven, if report be true. And, by Saint
Michael! if we go dashing down the mountain at this rate we will vault
the walls of that rich Moslem town as easily as the devil jumped the
gate of Paradise."

Kabilovitsch trudged by the side of Olgard, who held Morsinia before
him. It was hard for the old man to keep from under the hoofs of the
horses as the attendant knights crowded together down the narrow and
tortuous descent. Suddenly the girl uttered a cry, and, clapping her
hands, called,

"Constantine, Constantine!"

The missing lad, emerging from a copse, stood for an instant in
amazement at the apparition of his little playmate; then dashed among
the crowd toward her.

"Drat the witch!" said a knight--between the legs of whose horse the
boy had gone--aiming at him a blow with his iron mace. Constantine
would have been trampled by the crowding cavalcade, had not the strong
hand of a trooper seized him by his ragged jacket and lifted him to
the horse's crupper.

"So may somebody save my own lad in the mountains of Carpathia!" said
the rough, but kindly soldier.

"Ay, the angels will bear him up in their hands, lest he even dash his
foot against a stone, for thy good deed," exclaimed a monk, who, with
hood thrown back, and almost breathless with the effort to rescue the
lad himself, had reached him at the same moment.

"Good Father, pray for me!" said the trooper, crossing himself.

"Ay, with grace," replied the monk, extricating himself from the
crowd, and hasting back to the side of a wounded man, whom his
comrades were carrying on a stretcher which had been extemporized with
an old cloak tied securely between two stout saplings.

As night darkened down, the plain at the base of the mountain burst
into weird magnificence with a thousand campfires. The Turks were in
full retreat toward Adrianople, and joy reigned among the Christians.
It was the eve of Christmas. The stars shone with rare brilliancy
through the cold clear atmosphere.

"The very heavens return the salutation of our beacons," said King
Vladislaus.

A trumpet sounded its shrill and jubilant note, which was caught up by
others, until the woods and fields and the mountain sides were flooded
with the inarticulate song, as quickly as the first note of a bird
awakens the whole matin chorus of the summer time.

Cardinal Julian, reining his horse at the entrance to the camp,
listened as he gazed--

"'And with the angel there was a multitude of the heavenly host
praising God!' Let us accept the joy of this eve of the birth of our
Lord as an omen of the birth of Christian power to these lands, which
have so long lain in the shadow of Moslem infidelity and Greek heresy.
Our camps yonder flash as the sparks which flew from the apron of the
Infant Jesu and terrified the devil.[12] Sultan Amurath has been
scorched this day, though the infernal fiend lodge in his skin, as I
verily believe he does."

"Amurath was not in personal command to-day. At least so I am told,"
replied Vladislaus. "He is occupied with a rebellion of the
Caramanians in Asia. Carambey, the Sultan's sister's husband, led the
forces at the beginning of the fight. He was captured in the bog, and
is now in safe custody with the Servian Despot, George Brankovich.
Hunyades and the Despot have been bargaining for his possession. But
the real commandant, as I have learned from prisoners--at least he was
present at the beginning of the fight--was Scanderbeg."

"Scanderbeg?" exclaimed Julian with great alarm. "What! the Albanian
traitor, Castriot?--Iscariot, rather, should be his name--This then,
Your Majesty, is no night for revelry; but for watching. The flight of
the enemy, if Scanderbeg leads them, is only to draw us into a net.
What if before morning, with the Balkans behind us, we should be
assaulted with fresh corps of Turks on the front? There is no
fathoming the devices of Scanderbeg's wily brain. And never yet has
he been defeated, except to wrest the better victory out of seeming
disaster. Does General Hunyades know the antagonist he is dealing
with? that it is not some bey or pasha, nor even the Sultan himself,
but Scanderbeg? I have heard Hunyades say that since the days of
Saladin, the Moslems have not had a leader so skilful as that Albanian
renegade: that a glance of his eye has more sagacity in it than the
deliberations of a Divan:[13] and that not a score of knights could
stand against his bare arm. We must see Hunyades."

"I confess," replied King Vladislaus, "that I liked not the easy
victory we have had. I would have sworn to prevent a myriad foes
climbing the ice road we travelled yesterday, if I had but a company
of pikemen; yet ten thousand Turkish veterans kept us not back; and
they were led by Scanderbeg! There is mystery here. Jesu prevent it
should be the mystery of death to us all! Let's to Hunyades! If only
your wisdom or prayers, Cardinal, could reclaim Scanderbeg to his
Christian allegiance, I would not fear Sultan Amurath, though he were
the devil's pope, with the keys of death and hell in his girdle."

Hunyades was found with the advance corps of the Christians. But for
his white armor he could scarcely be distinguished from some subaltern
officer, as he moved among the men, inspecting the details of their
encampment. The contrast of the commander-in-chief with the kingly and
the ecclesiastical soldier was striking. He listened quietly to their
surmises and fears, and replied with as little of their excitement as
if he spoke of a new armor-cleaner:

"Yes! we shall probably have a raid from Scanderbeg before morning.
But we are ready for him. Do you look well to the rear, King
Vladislaus! And do you, Cardinal, marshal a host of fresh Latin
prayers for the dying; for, if Scanderbeg gets among your Italians,
their saffron skins will bleach into ghosts for fright of him."

The cardinal's face grew as red as his cap, as he replied:

"But for loyalty to our common Christian cause, and the example of
subordination to our chief, I would answer that taunt as it deserves."

FOOTNOTES:

[12] Vide Apochryphal Gospels.

[13] Divan; the Turkish Council of State.



CHAPTER IV.


The company which Kabilovitsch and the children had joined was halted
at the edge of the great camp. Other peasants and non-combatants
crowded in from their desolated homes; but neither Milosch's face, nor
Helena's, nor yet little Michael's, were among those they anxiously
scanned. The command of King Vladislaus secured for the three favored
refugees every comfort which the rude soldiers could furnish. The boy
and girl were soon asleep by a fire, while the old man lay close
beside them, that no one could approach without arousing him. He,
however, could not sleep. On the one side was the noisy revelry of
the victors; on the other, the darkness of the plain. Here and there
were groups of soldiers, and beyond them an occasional gleam of the
spear-head of some sentinel, who, saluting his comrade, turned at the
end of his beat.

The dusky form of a huge man attracted Kabilovitsch's eye. As the
stranger drew near, his long bear-skin cape terminating above in a
rough and ungraceful hood, and his long pointed shoes with blocks of
wood for their soles, indicated that he was some peasant. He seemed to
be wandering about with no other aim than to keep himself warm. Yet
Kabilovitsch noted that he lingered as he passed by the various
groups, as if to scan the faces of his fellow-sufferers.

"Heaven grant that all his kids be safe to-night!" muttered the old
man.

As the walking figure passed across the line of a fagot fire, he
revealed a splendid form; too straight for one accustomed to bend at
his daily toil.

"A mountaineer? a hunter?" thought Kabilovitsch, "for the
field-tillers are all round of shoulder, and bow-backed. But no! His
tread is too firm and heavy for that sort of life. One's limbs are
springy, agile, who climbs the crags. A hunter will use the toes more
in stepping."

Kabilovitsch's curiosity could not keep his eyes from growing heavy
with the cold and the flicker of the fire light, when they were forced
wide open again by the approach of the stranger. The old man felt,
rather than saw, that he was being closely studied from behind the
folds of the hood which the wanderer drew close over his face, to
keep out the cutting wind which swept in gusts down from the
mountains. He passed very near, and was talking to himself, as is apt
to be the custom of men who lead lonely lives.

"It is bitter cold," he said, with chattering teeth, "bitter cold, by
the beard of Moses!"

The last words startled Kabilovitsch so that he gave a sudden motion.
The stranger noticed it and paused. Gazing intently upon the old man,
who had now assumed a sitting posture, he addressed him--

"By the beard of Moses! it's an awful night, neighbor."

"Ay, by the beard of Moses! it is; and one could wear the beard of
Aaron, too, with comfort--Aaron's beard was longer than Moses' beard;
is not that what the priest says?" said Kabilovitsch, veiling his
excitement under forced indifference of manner, at the same time
making room for the visitor, who, without ceremony stretched himself
by his side, bringing his face close to that of the old man, and
glaring into it. Kabilovitsch returned his gaze with equal sharpness.

"What know you of the beard of Moses?" said the stranger. "Was it gray
or black?"

"Black," said Kabilovitsch, studying the other's face with suspicion
and surprise. "Black as an Albanian thunder cloud, and his eye was as
undimmed by age as that of the eagle that flies over the lake of
Ochrida."[14]

"You speak well," replied the stranger, pushing back his hood.

His face was massive and strong. No peasant was he, but one born to
command and accustomed to it.

"You are----Drakul?" asked the man.

"No."

"Harion?"

"No."

"Kabilovitsch?"

"Ay, and you?"

"Castriot."

Kabilovitsch sprang to his feet.

"Lie down! Lie down! Let me share your blanket," said the visitor.
"This air is too crisp and resonant for us to speak aloud in it; and
waking ears at night-time are over quick to hear what does not concern
them. We can muffle our speech beneath the blanket."

Kabilovitsch felt the hesitation of reverence in assuming a proximity
of such intimacy with his guest; but also felt the authority of the
command and the wisdom of the precaution. He obeyed.

"I feared that I should find no one who recognized our password. I
must see General Hunyades to-night; yet must not approach his
quarters. Can you get to his tent?"

"Readily," said Kabilovitsch. "During the day my little lass yonder
won the attention of King Vladislaus, and he gave me the password of
the camp to-night for her safety. '_Christus natus est_'."

"You must go to him at once, and say that I would see him here. You
will trust me to keep guard over these two kids while you are away? I
will not wolf them."

"Heaven grant that you may shepherd all Albania,"--and the old man was
off.

"I knew that the prodigal Prince George would come back some day,"
said he to himself. "Many a year have I kept my watch in the Pass, and
among the mountains of Albania. And many a service have I rendered as
a simple goatherd which I could not have done had I worn my country's
colors anywhere except in my heart. And, 'by the beard of Moses!'
During some weeks now I have carried many a message, had some fighting
and hard scratching which I did not understand, except that it was 'by
the beard of Moses!' And now Moses has come; refused at last to be
called the son of Pharaoh's daughter, and will free his people. God
will it! And George Castriot has lain under my blanket! I will hang
that blanket in the church at Croia as an offering to the Holy
Virgin.--But no, it belongs to the trooper. Heaven keep me discreet,
or, for the joy of it, I cannot do my errand safely. I'll draw my hood
close, lest the moon yonder should guess my secret."

Kabilovitsch was challenged at every turn as he wound between the
hundreds of camp-fires and tents; but the magic words, "Christus natus
est," opened the way.

A circle of splendid tents told him he drew near to headquarters. In
the midst of them blazed an immense fire. Camp-tables, gleaming with
tankards and goblets of silver, were ranged beneath gorgeous canopies
of flaxen canvas, which were lined with blue and purple tapestries. A
multitude of gaily dressed servitors thronged into and out of them.
Here was the royal splendor of Hungary and Poland; there the pavilion
of the Despot of Servia; there the glittering cross of Rome; and, at
the extreme end of this extemporized array of palatial and courtly
pride, the more modest, but still rich, banner of the White Knight.

Kabilovitsch approached the latter.

"Your errand, man?" said the guard, holding his spear across the
flapping doorway of the tent.

"Christus natus est!" was the response.

"That will do elsewhere, but not here," rejoined the guard.

"My business is solely with General Hunyades," said Kabilovitsch.

"It cannot be," said the spearman. "He has no business with any one
but himself. If you are a shepherd of Bethlehem come to adore the
Infant Jesu--as you look to be--you must wait until the morning."

"My message is as important to him as that of the angels on that
blessed night," said the goatherd, making a deep obeisance and looking
up to heaven as if in prayer, as he spoke.

"Then proclaim your message, old crook-staff! we have had glad tidings
to-day, but can endure to hear more," said the guard, pushing him
away.

"No ear on earth shall hear mine but the general's," cried the old
man, raising his voice: "No! by the beard of Moses! it shall not."

"A strange swear that, old leather-skin! Did you keep your sheep in
Midian, where Moses did, that you know he had a beard. Your cloak is
ragged enough to have belonged to father Jethro; and I warrant it is
as full of vermin as were those of the Egyptians after the plague
that Moses sent on them. But the ten plagues take you! Get away!"

"No, by the beard of Moses!" shouted Kabilovitsch.

"Let him pass!" said a voice from deep within the tent.

"Let him pass!" said another nearer.

"Let him pass!" repeated one just inside the outer curtain.

The goatherd passed between a line of sentinels, closely watched by
each. The tent was a double one, composing a room or pavilion,
enclosed by the great tent; so that there was a large space around the
private apartment of the general, allowing the sentinels to patrol
entirely about it without passing into the outer air.

At the entrance of the inner tent Hunyades appeared. He was of light
build but compactly knit, with ample forehead and generous, but
scarred face; which, however, was more significantly seamed with the
lines that denote thought and courage. He was wrapped in a loose robe
of costly furs. He waved his hand for Kabilovitsch to enter, and bade
the guards retire. Throwing himself on a plain soldier's couch, he
drew close to it a camp seat, and motioned his visitor to sit.

"You have news from the Albanians, by the beard of Moses?" said
Hunyades inquiringly.

A moment or two sufficed for the delivery of Kabilovitsch's message.

"Ho, guard! when this old man goes, let no one enter until he comes
back; then admit him without the pass, instantly," said Hunyades,
springing from the couch. "Now, old man, give me your bear skin--now
your shoes--your cap. Here, wrap yourself in mine. You need not shrink
from occupying Hunyades' skin for a while, since you have had to-night
a more princely soldier under your blanket. Did you say to the north?
On the edge of the camp? A boy and a girl by the fire; and he?"

The disguised general passed out.

FOOTNOTE:

[14] A lake in Albania.



CHAPTER V.


"By the beard of Moses! I'll break your head with my stick if you come
stumbling over me in that way," growled Scanderbeg from beneath his
blanket, as a peasant-clad man tripped against his huge form extended
by the camp fire.

"Then let the cold shrink your hulk to its proper size," replied the
stranger. "But you should thank me, instead of cursing me, for waking
you up; for your fire is dying out, and you would perish, sleeping in
the blanket that exposes your feet that it may cover your nose. But
I'll stir your fire and put some sticks on it, if I may sit by it and
melt the frost from my beard and the aches from my toes. But whom have
you here?"

The man stooped down and eagerly removed the blanket from the
partially covered faces of the children.

"Constantine!" he exclaimed, "God be praised! and Kabilovitsch's
girl,--or the starlight mocks me!"

"Father!" cried the boy, waking and throwing his arms about the neck
of the man who stooped to embrace him.

"And Michael? is he here, too?" asked Milosch.

"No, father," said the child. "We were parted at the cave, and I have
not seen him except in my dream."

"In your dream, my child? In your dream? Jesu grant he be not killed,
that his angel spirit came to you in your dream! Did he seem bright
and beautiful--more beautiful than you ever saw him before--as if he
had come to you from Paradise? No? Then he is living yet on the earth;
and by all the devils in hell and Adrianople! I shall find him, though
I tear him from the dead arms of the traitor Castriot himself, as I
was near to taking you, my boy, from the grip of the Turk whose heart
I pierced with an arrow the day of the fight;--but I was set upon and
nigh killed myself by a score of the Infidels."

"And our mother dear?" asked Constantine. "She is safe?"

"Ay! ay! safe in heaven, I fear, but we will not give up hope until we
have searched our camps to-morrow; nor then, until we have burned
every seraglio of the Turks from the mountains to the sea. But who
brought you and the lass here?" asked Milosch, eyeing the form of the
surly man beside him.

"Why, good Uncle Kabilovitsch did," said the boy, staring in amazement
at the spot now usurped by the strange figure of Scanderbeg.

"Kabilovitsch went to fetch some fire-peat from the gully I told him
of," muttered Scanderbeg.

"Yes, he is coming yonder," said Milosch, as Kabilovitsch's well-known
hood and cape were outlined against the white background of a
snow-covered fir tree a short distance off. "But he has found no fuel.
Wrap close, my hearties: you will have no more blaze to-night. Ha!
Kabilovitsch!" said he, raising his voice, as the familiar form seemed
about to pass by. "Has the fire in your eye been put out by the cold,
that you cannot find your own place, neighbor? I would have sworn
that, if Kabilovitsch were blind, he could find a lost kid on the
mountains; and now he hardly knows his own nest."

The assumed Kabilovitsch came near, and gave an awkward salute, which,
while intended to be familiar, was not sufficiently unlimbered of the
habit of authority to avoid giving the impression that its familiarity
was only assumed.

"By the beard of Moses! I had almost mistook my own camp, now the
fires are smouldering," said he, approaching.

"He is not Kabilovitsch," said Milosch, half to himself and half
aloud.

"No," replied Scanderbeg. "But I'll go and find Kabilovitsch. Perhaps
he has more peat than he can carry. And, stranger, I'll help you find
what you are seeking--for you seem daft with the cold--if you will
help me find him I am to look for. By the beard of Moses! that's a
fair agreement; is it not?"

"A strange swear, that!" said Milosch, looking after the two forms
vanishing among the fir trees. "It is some watchword, and I like it
not among these camp prowlers. I fear for Kabilovitsch. The newcomer
wore his clothes, which I would know if I saw them on the back of the
cardinal; for good Helena cut the hood for our neighbor as she cut the
skirt for his motherless child, little Morsinia there. Some mischief
is brewing. I shall watch and not sleep a wink."

Had one been lurking in the copse of evergreens to which the men
withdrew, he would have overheard conversation of which these
sentences are parts.

"Yes, General Hunyades, the time has come. I can endure the service of
the Sultan no longer. But for what I am about to do I alone am
responsible, and must decline to share that responsibility with any
other, either Moslem or Christian. I believe, Sire, that I am in this
directed by some higher power than my own caprice. I am compelled to
it by invisible forces, as really as the stars are dragged by them
through the sky yonder."

"No star," replied Hunyades, "has purer lustre than that of your noble
purpose, and none are led by the invisible forces to a brighter
destiny than is Scanderbeg."

"Let not your Christian lips call me Scanderbeg, but Castriot," said
his companion. "Yes, I believe that my new purpose comes from the
inbreathing of some celestial spirit, from some mysterious hearing the
soul has of the inarticulate voice of God. Else why should the thought
of it so strangely satisfy me? I cast myself down from the highest
pinnacle of honor and power and riches with which the Moslem service
can reward one;--for I am at the head of the army, and even the
Vizier has not more respect at Adrianople than have I wherever the
soldiers of the Sultan spread themselves throughout the world. To
leave the Padishah will be to leave every thing for an uncertain
future. Yet I am more than content to do it."

"Not for an uncertain future, noble Castriot," replied Hunyades
warmly, grasping his hand. "The highest position in the armies of
Christian Europe is yours. My own chieftaincy I could demit without
regret, knowing that it would fall into your hands. The army of Italy
you can take command of to-morrow if you will; for that
scarlet-knobbed coxcomb of an ecclesiastic, Julian, is not fitted for
it. Or Brankovitch, the Servian Despot, will hail you as chief
voivode.[15] You have but to choose from our armies, and put yourself
at the head of whatever nation you will: for the legions will follow
the pointing of your invincible sword as bravely as if it were the
sword of Michael, the Archangel."

"No! No! These things tempt me not," said Scanderbeg. "I must live
only for Albania. That strange spirit which counsels me comes into my
soul like a pure blast from off my Albanian hills. The voices that
call me are like the dying voice of my father, the sainted Duke John,
who prayed then for his land and for his son--for both in the one
breath that floated his soul to God. Let me look again upon the rocky
fastnesses of the Vitzi, the waters of little Ochrida and Skidar, and
call them mine; I shall then not envy even the plume on your helmet,
generous Hunyades; nor regret what I forsake among the Moslems,
though my estate were that of the entire empire which the Padishah
sees in his dreams, when, not the city of Adrian, but the city of
Constantine shall have become his capital."

"Christendom will hardly forgive the slight you put upon it, noble
Castriot, by declining some general command, and will soon grow
jealous of your exclusive devotion to little Albania," said Hunyades,
with evident candor.

"Christendom will not lose, but gain, thereby," replied Scanderbeg.
"For is not Albania, after all, a key point in the mighty battle which
is still to be waged with the Turk over these Eastern countries of
Europe, from Adria to the Euxine?"

"How so?" asked Hunyades. "Have we not this day broken the power of
the Turk in Europe? and is he not now in headlong haste to the sea of
Marmora?"

Scanderbeg replied with slow, but ominous, words:

"General Hunyades, the Moslem power was not this day broken. Trust not
the semblance. My arm could have hurled your soldiers down the
northern declivities of yonder mountains with as much ease as yours
shattered the Turkish ranks at Vasag and Hermannstadt. The armies
still in front of you wait but the word to assail your camp with dire
vengeance for their mysterious defeat--ay, mysterious to them. And the
Padishah is hasting with the hordes released by his victories over the
Caramanians, to join them. No, Sire, the battle for empire on these
plains, and in Macedonia, and along the Danube, has not ended: it has
but just begun. And Albania will be the key spot for a generation to
come. No Ottoman wave can strike central Europe but over the Albanian
hills. A Christian power entrenched there will be a counter menace to
every invasion from the side of the Moslem, and a tremendous auxiliary
in any movement from the side of Christendom. My military judgment
concurs with the voice of that spirit which speaks within me, and bids
me as a Christian to live for Albania."

"I see in your plan," replied Hunyades, "a gleam of that far wisdom
that won for you the title of 'The eye of the Ottoman,' as your valor
made you the 'right hand of the Sultan.' While my view of the relative
power of the two civilizations now fronting each other on our
battle-lines might be different from yours, and I should place the key
point in the great field rather on the lower Danube than so far to the
west, I yet submit my judgment to yours. Assign to me my part in the
affair you would execute, and, my word as a soldier and a Christian,
you shall have my help."

"Nay," replied Scanderbeg. "As I said, I can share the responsibility
of my action with no one. Grave charges will ring against my name. My
old comrades will scorn my deed as treacherous. Even history will fail
to understand me. Let me act alone; obeying that strange voice which
will justify me, if not before men, at least at the last day of the
world's judgment. The Moslem has wronged me; outraged my humanity;
slit the tongue of my conscience that it should not speak to me of my
duty; and tried to put out the eyes of my faith. The Divinity bids me
avenge myself. But the vengeance is only mine, and God's. No other
hand must be stained with the blood of it, least of all thine, noble
Hunyades. My plan must be all my own. I only ask that, when I have
extricated myself from Moslem ties, I may have the friendship of
Hunyades. Especially that the way may be left open for my passing
through the places now held by your troops, without challenge and
delay. All else has been arranged by a handful of faithful Albanian
patriots."

"It shall be as you desire, General Castriot. Choose your password,
and it shall open the way for you though it were through the back door
of the Vatican."

"Let then the 'beard of Moses' be respected. My trusty Albanians are
accustomed to it."

"Good!" replied Hunyades. "And I will seal our compact by taking
Adrianople in honor of the departure of its only defender."

"Nay," said Scanderbeg. "It will not be wise to press upon the
capital. Every approach is guarded more securely than were those at
Vienna by the Christians. The Padishah's engineers are more skilful
than any in the land of the Frank or German. The new compound of
saltpetre and sulphur, of which you hardly know the use, is buried
beneath every gate; and a spark will burst it as Ætna or Vesuvius.[16]
Even the valor of the White Knight cannot conquer the soulless
element. The black grains never blanch with fear. No panic can divert
a stone ball hurled from cannon so that it shall not find the heart of
the bravest. I advise that your armies pause awhile with the prestige
of having scaled the Balkans. In a few months opportunities may have
ripened. Once I am in Albania, Sultan Amurath shall know that the
name of Scanderbeg--the Lord Alexander--was not his, but Fate's
entitling; for, unless my destiny is misread, the Macedonian legions
of the Great Alexander were not swifter than my new Macedonian braves
shall be. This will encourage the Venetians and Genoese; and with
their navies on the Hellespont, the timid Palælogus pressing out from
his covert of Constantinople, and insurrection everywhere from the
Crimea to Peloponnesus, there will not, a generation hence, be left a
turban in Europe. Believe me, General, the Turk's grip of nearly a
century, since he pinched the continent at Gallipoli, cannot be
loosened in a day."

"To no other than Castriot would I yield my judgment; and not to him,
but that his words are as convincing as his sword. Then so let it be,"
was the reply of the Christian leader.

The Albanian disappeared.

FOOTNOTES:

[15] Voivode; a Servian and Albanian term for general.

[16] Gunpowder was at this time coming into general use.



CHAPTER VI.


Hunyades, closely muffled in his bear-skin disguise, returned to the
camp.

"A desperate adventure that of Castriot," thought he. "It is well that
he permits no voice but his own to speak his plans, and no ear but
mine to hear them.

"Hist!

"No; it is but the ice crackling from the balsams. Yet who knows what
interlopers there may have been? and if the brave Scanderbeg may not
be hamstrung before he reaches his own camp? The ride will be long and
rattling after he enters the Turkish lines. Will it excite no
suspicion? Nor his absence? Heaven guard the brave heart, for the very
mole holes in the ground are the Sultan's ears, into which he drinks
the secrets of his soldiers. By the way, I must lift the dirty cap
from the fellow who called me Kabilovitsch at the herdsman's fire; for
the messenger who brought me word surely said that only Castriot and
the two children were there. Who may this other one be? I must
discover; and if he knows aught he should not, he shall know no more
this side of hell-gate, or my dagger's point has grown so honest that
it has forgotten the way to a knave's heart."

Approaching the little group, Hunyades went behind them, that, if
possible, he might overhear some words before any persons there knew
of his presence.

Milosch had been ill at ease through the continued absence of his
friend Kabilovitsch, the peculiar action of the strange man who had
taken his place beneath the blanket, and the apparition of the one who
wore the cap and cape which he thought he could not mistake. There had
always been a mystery about Kabilovitsch's early life, which their
long and close neighborly relations upon the mountain had not enabled
him to solve. The girl, he often thought, was of too light a build and
too fair featured to be the child of the mountaineer. The story
Kabilovitsch often told about the early death of the child's mother,
Milosch's wife never heard without impatience and a shrug of the
shoulders. Who was the child? Could there be any plot to carry her
away among persons who knew the secret of her birth? Milosch could
reach one definite conclusion about the matter, and that was that he
ought to guard the child just now. So, with senses made alert by
suspicion, he heard the soft footfall of Hunyades through the
crust-broken snow; and though with head averted, noted his stealthy
approach. The caution observed by the stranger made Milosch feel
certain of the intended treachery. Loosening the short sheath-knife,
which hung by the ring in its bone handle from his girdle, he grasped
it tightly, and with a sudden bound faced the intruder.

"Your business, man?" said he, eyeing him as a hunter eyes a wolf to
anticipate the spring of the brute, that the knife may enter his
throat before the fangs strike.

"A rude greeting to a neighbor, that," was the quiet reply.

"A fair enough greeting to one who wears a neighbor's fleece, and
prowls by night about his flock. Stop! not a step nearer! or, by the
soul of Kabilovitsch, whom, for aught I know, you have murdered, I
will send you to meet him!"

A motion of the stranger toward his weapon was anticipated by the
mountaineer, who gripped the intruder with the strength of a bear,
pinioning his arms by his sides, and falling with him to the ground.
In an instant more, however, the dagger point of his antagonist began
to penetrate Milosch's thigh. Clenching tighter to prevent a more
deadly thrust, he felt beneath his opponent's rough outer robe the
hard corselet woven with links of iron--not the coarse fabric such as
was worn by common soldiers, but the lighter steel-tempered underwear
of knights and nobles.

"You have murdered another better than yourself, damned villain, and
have stolen his shirt. But it shall not save you this time."

As he let out these words one by one and breath by breath, Milosch
worked the knife into such a hold that he could press it into the back
of his antagonist. Slowly but surely the stout point made its way
between the hard links until the man's flesh quivered with the pain.
Then Milosch hissed through his clenched teeth:--

"Who are you? If you speak not, you die. If you lie, let the devil
shrive your black soul! for I'll send you to him on the knife point.
Speak!"

"I am General Hunyades," replied the almost breathless man.

The words relieved him from the pressure of the knife, but not from
the crunching hug of his captor.

"Prove it!" hissed Milosch. "I have heard that Hunyades has a scar on
the left side of the neck. Uncover your neck!"

Milosch released Hunyades' left hand sufficiently to allow him to
reach upward. In an instant the leathern string which bound the
bear-skin cape about his neck was broken, the lacings of a velvet
jacket loosened, and the fingers of Milosch led over the roughened
surface of the scarred skin.

The herdsman rose to his knees, and kissed the hand of the general.

"Strike thy dagger into me! for I have raised my hand against the
Lord's anointed," cried he in shame and fear.

"Nay, friend," said the chief; "the fault was mine, and yours shall be
the reward of the only man who ever conquered Hunyades. Your name, my
good fellow?"

"Milosch!"

"Milosch, the goatherd of the Pass? I have heard tell of your
strength; how you could out-crunch a bear; I believe it. You have been
faithful to your absent friend, as you have been severe with me."

"But what of my friend Kabilovitsch? You surely wear his gear," said
Milosch.

"Yes, I borrowed these of a passing stranger--I know not that he be
Kabilovitsch--with which I might pass disguised among the guards. The
owner of this cape and hood is keeping warm in a tent hard by until I
return. But whom have you here?"

"The lad is mine. The lass is my neighbor's. He calls her Morsinia, in
honor of your fair mother," replied Milosch.

"Then I must see her face. She should be fair with such a name."

As he raised the coarse-knit hood which closely wrapped her, a flicker
of the dying fire-light illumined for an instant the features of the
child. The uncombed mass of golden hair made a natural pillow in which
lay a face unsurpassed in balance of proportion and delicacy of detail
by any sculptor's art. Her forehead was high and full, but apparently
diminished by the wealth of curling locks that nestled upon brow and
temples; her nose straight and thin, typically Greek; her lips firm,
but arched, as with some abiding and happy dream; her skin, purest
white, tinged with the glow of youthful health, as the snow on the
Balkans under the first roseate gleam of the morning sun.

"A peasant's child?" asked the general. But without waiting for reply,
continued, "No, by the cheek of Venus! It took more than one
generation of noble culture, high thoughts and purest blood, to mould
such a face as that. She was not born in your neighbor's cot on the
mountains? Will you swear that she was? No? Then I will swear that she
was not. And the boy? Ah!" said he, scanning Constantine's face. "I
know his stock. He is a sprig of the same rough thorn-tree that came
near to tearing me to pieces just now. But his face is gentler than
yours. Yet, it is a strong one; very bold; broad-thoughted;
deep-souled; a sprig that may bear even better fruit than the old
one."

"Heaven grant it may!" said Milosch, fervently.

"Yes, if you will let me transplant it from these barren mountains to
the gardens of Buda and the banks of the Drave, it will get better
shelter than you can give it. The boy shall be my protégé for
to-night's adventure, if his father will enter my personal service.
You see, you gave me so warm a welcome that I am loath to part company
with you, my good fellow."

"Heaven bless you, Sire!" replied Milosch; "but my heart will cling to
these cliffs until I know that my faithful wife and other boy are no
longer among them."

"I shall give orders that the camp be searched," promised Hunyades.
"If they live, and have not been carried away by the Turks, they must
have sought refuge somewhere in the host. Farewell! When you will,
Hunyades shall stand the friend of Milosch."

The apparent old herdsman returned through the heart of the camp to
headquarters.

"Methinks, comrade, that you bandied words with a greater than you
knew, when you teased the old goatherd awhile ago," said a sentinel,
thrusting his thumb into the side of the spearman at the entrance to
the general's hut. "Do you note his mien as he comes yonder? That
crumpled old bear skin cannot hide his straight back; nor those shoes,
as big as Spanish galleons, break the firmness of his tread. If the
gust of wind should lift his cape you would see at least a golden
cross on his shoulders. You cannot hide a true soldier."

The bear-skin passed between the fluttering canvas without challenge.
Hunyades made a playful salute to Kabilovitsch, who rose to meet him.

"I found your camp. I have looked into the face of your little
daughter."

"Mary save her!" said the old man with gratified look.

"I say I saw your daughter, your _daughter_, you know," said the
general again, quizzing Kabilovitsch with his eyes.

"Ay, my daughter! and the Virgin Mother never sent a fairer child,
save Jesu himself, to prince or peasant."

"Come, now," said the general, "tell me, did the Holy Virgin send this
child to prince _or_ peasant?"

"Why?" said Kabilovitsch, "these horny hands should tell thee, Sire,
that I was not royal born."

"But the girl may be, if you were not. Is she your child?"

"Yes, my child, if heaven ever sent one to man."

"But, tell me," probed the general, "how did heaven send you the
maiden? Did the mother bring her, or did the angels drop her at your
door? For, if that girl be your child, heaven did not know you even by
sight; since it put not a freckle of your dark skin upon her fair
face, nor one of your bristles into her hair. The stars are not
begotten of storm-clouds; nor do I think she is your daughter."

To this the old man replied, more to himself than to his interrogator,
"If she is not mine by gift of nature, she is mine by gift of Him who
is above nature."

"I will not steal your secret," said Hunyades. "Her name has excited
my interest in her and her heaven-given or heaven-lent father. She
needs better protection than you can give her in the camp. I will send
her to headquarters."

"I would gratefully put her under your protection for a few days,"
said Kabilovitsch. "My duty takes me away from her for a while;
dangerous duty, Sire, and if I should fall--"

"If Kabilovitsch falls, Hunyades will be as true father to the lass.
Have you any special desire regarding her or yourself, my brave man?
You have but to name it."

"But one, Sire," replied Kabilovitsch. "That I may see her safely
conditioned at once. For it may be that before the day dawns I shall
be summoned. I serve a cause as mysterious as the Providence which
watches over it."

"An Albanian mystery? They are generally as inscrutable as a thunder
cloud; but are revealed when its lightning strikes!" replied Hunyades,
dismissing the old man, accompanied by two guards, who were
commissioned to obey implicitly any orders the herdsman might give
regarding the party of refugees by his camp-fire.



CHAPTER VII.


The Christian host prolonged the festival of the Nativity from day to
day, until the mustering forces of the Ottomans summoned them from
dangerous inactivity again to the march and the battle. The latter
they found at Mount Cunobizza, where the enemy had massed an enormous
force. The Christian army, with its splendid corps of Hungary, Poland,
Bosnia, Servia, Wallachia, Italy and Germany, was not a more
magnificent array than that of their Moslem opponents. For the most
part of the day the field was equally held, but in the afternoon the
Turkish left seemed to have become inspired with a strange fury. The
Janizaries, at the time renowned as the best disciplined and most
desperate foot-soldiers in the world, were rivalled in celerity and
intrepidity, in skilful manoeuvring and the tremendous momentum
with which they struck the foe, by other Moslem corps; such as the
squadrons of cavalry collected from distant military provinces, each
under its Spahi or fief-holder; and the irregular Bashi-Bazouks, who
seemed to have sprung from the ground in orderly array. Their diverse
accoutrements, complexions, and movements suggested the hundred arms
of some martial Briareus, all animated by a single brain. The war cry
of "The Prophet!" was mingled with that of "Iscanderbeg!" In the
thickest of the fight appeared the gigantic form of the circumcised
Albanian, his gaudy armor flashing with jewels,[17] his right arm
bared to the shoulder, his cimeter glancing as the lightning. The
Italian legions opposite him, upon the Christian left, were hurled
back again and again from their onslaught, and were pressed mile after
mile from the original battle site. Hunyades inflicted a compensatory
punishment upon the Moslem left, shattering its depleted ranks as a
battering ram crashes through the tottering walls of a citadel. The
chief of the Christians saw clearly Scanderbeg's plan[18] to leave the
victory in his hands, and at the opportune moment he wheeled his
squadrons to the assistance of King Vladislaus, thus combining in
overwhelming odds against the enemy's centre, which Scanderbeg had
effectually drained of its proper strength. As soon, however, as it
was evident that the Christians were the victors, Scanderbeg, by
superb generalship, interposed the Janizaries between the enemy and
the turbaned heads that, but for this, were being whirled in full
flight from the field. The rout was changed into orderly retreat.
Hunyades found it impossible to press the pursuit, and muttered,

"Scanderbeg commands both our armies to-day. We can only take what he
is minded to give."

At length night looked down upon the camps. Few tents were erected.
Hunyades sat for hours beneath a tree, waiting for he knew not what
developments. On the Turkish side even the Beyler Beys, the highest
commanders, were content to stretch their limbs with no other canopy
than the three horse-tails at the spear-head, the symbol of their rank
and authority. Far in the rear were the few pavilions of the suite of
the Grand Vizier, who represented the absent Sultan Amurath. Late into
the night the Vizier sat in counsel with the Sultan's Reis Effendi or
chief secretary, to whom was entrusted the seal of the empire. He was
enstamping the many despatches which fleetest horsemen carried to
distant Spahis, summoning them with their reserves to rally for the
defence of Adrianople.

Just before the dawn the secretary was left alone. Even he, and, in
his person, the empire, must catch an hour's sleep before the exciting
and exacting duties of the new day. He reclined among his papers. But
a summons awakened him: the messenger announcing Scanderbeg. The
guards withdrew to a respectful distance from the outside of the tent.

"Do not rise," said the general, gently pressing the secretary back to
his reclining posture. "I only need the imperial seal to this order."

The secretary scanned the paper with incredulous eyes. It was a
firman, or decree of the Sultan, passing the government of Albania
from General Sebaly to Scanderbeg, with absolute powers, and ordering
the commandant of the strong fortress of Croia to place all its
armament and that of adjacent strongholds in Scanderbeg's hand as the
viceroy of the Sultan. As the secretary lifted his face to utter an
inquiry for the relief of his amazement, knowing that the Sultan, then
absent in Asia, could not have ordered such a document, the strong
hand of Scanderbeg gripped his throat, and his poniard threatened his
heart.

"The mark!" whispered the assailant.

The terrified man tremblingly reached the seal, and pressed it against
the wax. The weapon then did its work, and so suddenly that the
secretary had no time for even an outcry. Then silently, so that the
guards, who were but a few paces distant, heard no commotion, he laid
the lifeless form on the divan, and covered it with the embroidered
cloak it had worn when living.[19]

Passing out, Scanderbeg gave orders that the tent should not be
entered by the guards until morning, that the secretary might rest. He
gave the password, "The Kaaba," as sharply as if his lips would take
vengeance on the once sacred, but now hated sound. His military staff
joined him at a little distance. Vaulting into the saddle he led the
way toward the north. At the edge of the camp by a rude bridge he
halted, and said to his attendants,

"I meet at this point the Beyler Bey of Anatolia, whose staff will be
my escort to his camp. The Padishah's cause needs closest conference
of all the commanders; for treason is abroad. Ah! I hear the escort.
Return to quarters, gentlemen!"

Riding forward alone in the direction of the noise, he cried, "Who
comes?"

"The Kaaba at Mecca," was the response.

"Well, if the Kaaba takes the trouble to come to me it is a good omen,
by the beard of Moses!"

"By the beard of Moses!" murmured a group of horsemen, bowing their
turbaned heads in the first gray light of the approaching day. The
cavalcade closed around the fugitive chieftain, and moved along in
silence, except to respond to the sentinels. As they passed the
extreme picket of the Turks they halted. A wardrobe had been secreted
in a cave beyond a copse near the road. Dismounting, the men exchanged
their turbans for caps of wolf or beaver skin. Their gaily trimmed
jackets, such as were worn by the Turkish foot-soldiers, gave place to
short fur sacks. Their flowing, bag-bottomed trousers were kicked off,
leaving abbreviated breeches of leather. In a few moments the
splendidly uniformed suite of a Moslem bey was transformed into a
rough, but exceedingly unique-looking, band of Albanian guerillas.
Scanderbeg assumed a helmet, the summit of which carried as a device
the head and shoulders of a goat--since the times of Alexander the
Great the symbol of the powers in, or bordering upon, Macedonia. The
Turkish uniforms were bundled upon the cruppers for future use.

The men stood for a moment, each by the side of his horse. At a motion
of the officer in charge they gave the salute; touching their bared
foreheads, and bowing to the ground. The officer then approached
Scanderbeg, and, presenting his sword, said:

"Sire! to thee, as the son of our Duke John, we give our swords
together with our hearts and our lives." Instantly every sword was
laid upon the ground; and the crisp air rattled with the cry, "Long
live Duke George! A Castriot forever!"

Scanderbeg gazed silently for a moment upon the faithful group. There
was no doubt of their loyalty: for they had proved it by an adventure
of rare daring in penetrating the Turkish camp. The face of the great
general, usually masking so completely his strongest feelings, lost
now its rigidity. His eyes were moist; his lips trembled; every
lineament was eloquent with the emotion he could neither conceal nor
tell in words. After a few moments' impressive silence, he returned
the sword to the officer, and, pointing westward, cried,

"Forward to Albania!"

FOOTNOTES:

[17] The old chronicles admit, as one weakness of Scanderbeg, a
fondness for personal decoration.

[18] The author adds these lines to the meagre details of this battle
as known, for the purpose of accounting for its immediate issue, and
for the subsequent events.

[19] Some historians represent Scanderbeg as having had Albanian
accomplices in this murder.



CHAPTER VIII.


"Thank Heaven! the plan did not fail," said the chief officer, riding
by the side of the fugitive general.

"In no particular has it failed, Colonel," replied Scanderbeg. "And
for this every praise is due your wise precautions. I have never known
better work of brain or nerve. With such grand soldiers as you and
your men, I fear nothing for Albania. But your name, Colonel?"

"Moses Goleme," replied the officer courteously.

Scanderbeg reined his horse, and gave him his hand heartily. "A man as
grand as he is brave! And do I really look into the face of him whom I
was to have sought out in Dibria, that I might tell him his words had
been to me like a voice from heaven? Heaven reward you, good Moses!
But you must vow to stand by me yet as patiently as you have done
hitherto--during my apostasy. I shall need your charity still; for I
am but a returning prodigal; a half-Christian; a man of strange ways;
of a temper which I understand not myself, and which will disappoint
you. Pledge me that you will be my good angel. Counsel me frankly,
fearlessly, as a man should always counsel a man. Rebuke me freely:
but bear with me in your heart, as you would with a child."

"I may not advise the most capable general in the world," replied
Moses Goleme. "I vow to obey. Let that be my part. As I have already
imperilled my estates by open opposition to the Turkish rule, and
given my life to the liberty of my country, so I offer all to thee,
Sire, the sovereign of my heart, until you shall be acknowledged the
sovereign of Albania, and a new empire be founded on the east of the
Adriatic which shall take the place of the decaying powers of Italy on
the west."

"The task your patriotism proposes is vast," replied Scanderbeg; "too
vast for one man and one lifetime."

"Too great for any but the great Castriot!" was the answer, evidently
as honest as it was reverent. "But you do me too much honor, General,
in praising my plan of meeting you. I was ably seconded by my men, and
especially by two of them. One of them was wounded."

"I trust you speak not of a brave fellow who brought me the time and
place of the rendezvous: for I never saw such strength and daring in
my life."

"The same, I fear," said Moses. "A Servian, whom I had not known
before yesterday. But he was boiling over with rage for the slaughter
of his family, and commended to me by our most trusted scout."

"Did he tell you how he found me out, and communicated your plan to
me?"

"No, for he was too severely hurt to speak much."

"I will tell that part for him, then," said Scanderbeg. "It was in the
hottest of the fight. My own body-guard was thrown into confusion. A
fellow, clad like one of my own staff, crowded close to my side. His
horse actually rested against my own, and I would have severed his
head from his shoulders for his impudent valor, had not his oath at
his beast been 'by the beard of Moses!' Seeing that I observed it he
grunted, 'At the brook to the north!' as he dodged the circles of the
cimeters; and 'Near the Roman road!' he hissed as he pared the cap
from a Christian's head with his sword; and 'At the ninth hour
to-night!' he shouted as he parried a thrust. Before I had breathing
space--for I was closely beset at the time--he had gone; borne back by
a Spahi,[20] who envied him his place and emulated his valor. But he
was not skilful in using his weapon or managing his horse. I am
grieved, but not surprised, at his receiving hurt. I thought he must
have fallen. But who was the other?"

"Yonder old fellow with a huge green turban on the saddle before him.
If his brain were as big as his head-piece, he could not have planned
better. He has dwelt about here lately."

"I must thank him in person," said Scanderbeg, riding back toward him.

"What!" he exclaimed as the full daylight fell upon the man's
features, "Kabilovitsch?"

The old man diverted Scanderbeg's compliments by an expression of
solicitude for Milosch, whom he had permitted to undertake the
desperate venture already narrated, although until a few days before
he, being a Servian, had no knowledge of the project of the Albanians.

"We must haste, Sire," said Moses. "It is advised that you cross to
the north of the pass in the Balkans, and take thence the valley way
between Caratova and the Egrisu. A message from General Hunyades
informs me that relays can be provided along the road, and that every
facility shall be given us."

"Kabilovitsch will accompany us?" asked Scanderbeg.

"On one condition, Sire," replied the old man. "My little daughter
must go with me: a lass of ten spring tides--"

"Impossible! for our ride must be night and day."

"Then I may follow, but cannot accompany you," said Kabilovitsch.

"I need such men as you with me. No true Albanian will delay for a
child. Country must be child and mother to us all," said the general.

The cheeks of Kabilovitsch whitened; his eyes flashed. Looking
Scanderbeg squarely in the face, he said quietly, but putting
intention into every word,

"George Castriot may lead, but may not rebuke the patriots who have
watched for Albania with sacrifices he knows not of, while he has been
among our country's enemies. An old man, thy father's friend before
thou wast born, may say that, Sire."

Scanderbeg grew pale in turn. He had been unaccustomed to brook
insubordination, however righteous. Who had dared to question him? Who
to fling the taunt into his face? The hot words were upon his lips.
But he paused, at first from the mere habit of self-restraint. Then,
because he was a wise man, and realized that he was no longer the
tyrant, with power of life and death over his soldiers--men who had
been hired, stolen, impressed into the service, and transformed into
mere machinery of flesh and blood--but was to be the public liberator
of a people every man of whom was already as free as he. Then, he had
become a just man. Strange and sanguinary as had been the events
accompanying his desertion of the Turks, he had taken this step only
after a deep moral struggle. He had revolted from his own past life;
and felt an inward disgrace for what had been his outward glory--the
service of the Moslem; he despised himself more than any other person
could. It was this sense of the justice of Kabilovitsch's rebuke that
checked the rage which had blanched his face, and sent the flush to
his temples, as he slowly, replied, "I bow to the merited chastisement
of your words. Your years and your better life give you license to
utter them. My future shall atone for the past. But cannot your child
be left safely where she is?"

"She is safe where she is; but I may not leave her without providing
for her future. Milosch is lying in a cottage but a little before us.
If his wounds are not fatal--as I believe they are not, though the
leech thought otherwise--I may bring the girl to him, and still
overtake you before you come in sight of the Black Mountains. I can
cross this country by paths through which I could not direct you.
During many years, for justice's sake and our country's, I have
wandered over these mountains where only the eagle's shadow has
fallen."

"I will stop with you at the cottage," said Scanderbeg, "for, though
the moments are precious, I would bless the brave fellow for his work
yesterday."

There were several wounded Christian soldiers at the little hovel. A
Greek monk was administering both spiritual and physical comfort; for
Rilo Monastir had sent its inmates along the track of the Christian
army in spite of the insults of the Latin soldiers, who, though in
sight of the common enemy of their faith, could not repress the
meanness of their sectarian jealousy and hatred. Milosch was doing
well. His wounds were, one in the fleshy part of the shoulder, the
other a contusion on the head, from a blow which had stunned him. A
few weeks would put him again upon his feet, though perhaps his
fighting days were over; for the flesh wound lay across an important
muscle, and would permanently destroy the strength of the right arm.

Milosch fell in with the proposition of Kabilovitsch regarding
Morsinia. Though a Servian, he had lost interest in his own country
because of the vacillating course of the Despot, George Brankovitch,
who was half Christian and half Moslem, according to the policy of the
moment. Milosch would identify himself with the cause of Albania, for
which he had already done and suffered so much.

The two men entered into what is known among the Servians and
Albanians as "Brotherhood in God," covenanting in the name of God and
St. John to devote their lives, each to the other, and both to their
common cause. The compact was sealed by each putting the left hand
upon the other's heart, and holding up the right hand in invocation of
the Divine witness. Kabilovitsch said:

"My brother, I commit to thy keeping our daughter, Morsinia, thine and
mine, from henceforth. She is all I have but life to share with thee,
which also I freely give."

To this Milosch replied:

"My brother, I commit to thy keeping our boy, Constantine, thine and
mine from henceforth. He is all I have that I wot of to share with
thee, but my life which--God spare it--I freely give."

"Bismallah!"[21] said Scanderbeg. "And if the girl and the boy were
the ones I saw asleep in each other's arms by the fire the other
night, the compact is good for two generations at least."

It was agreed that, upon his sufficient recovery, Milosch should bring
the children from the camp of Hunyades to Albania.

The ride by the Vitosh and Rilo Mountains where the mighty ranges of
the Balkans, the Upper Moesian, and the Rhodope are thrown close
together, was sufficiently grand to engross the eye and mind of the
dashing riders. Thus most of the day was passed in silence, broken
only by the clatter of the horses' hoofs against the rocks; the roar
of cascades making their awful plunge hundreds of feet from the
precipices; the complaint of rivers far down at the bottom of ravines,
fretting beneath the prison roof of ice and snow; and glorious pines,
pluming the brow of crag and ledge, through which the everlasting
winds breathed the dirge over fallen empires of men.

As they forced their way up a long and tedious ascent, Scanderbeg
joined Kabilovitsch and said:

"To relieve the tedium of this slow part of the journey you must tell
me about that lass you would not leave for the love of Albania. A
sweet face as I saw it. I could have run off with it myself, had I not
other business on hand. And I can pardon a father's heart for
clinging very closely to such a child. You will forget my rude speech
a while ago. I played with a little lass like that when I was a boy.
The face of your child, that night I watched for you, carried me back
to those happy days. I could see my little sweet-heart in her; though
thirty years have thrown their shadows of dark events across my
memory."

Kabilovitsch turned familiarly to Scanderbeg with the query,

"May I read your thoughts, Sire?"

"Yes, he is welcome to do so who can find my soul beneath this
battered face."

"That child was the fair Mara, the daughter of the noble George
Cernoviche, whose castle ruins lie now by the shore of Ochrida. Am I
not right?"

"Right! but I knew not of the fall of her father's house. Can you tell
me aught of the history of my little maiden. If she lives, she must be
a goodly matron now."

"Yes, I can tell her story and more. She married the noble Musache de
Streeses, whose castle once stood near the Skadar."[22]

"Ah! I have heard of his sad fate," replied the general. "Oh, for
vengeance on these villains who have despoiled the land! Musache de
Streeses was the richest of all the land-owners on the coast of Adria,
the soul of honor, a genuine patriot, with whom my father held
confidential intercourse. His purse and sword were freely offered for
service against the Turk. It was a favorite scheme of my father to
some day unite our families. I hear that my nephew, Amesa, has become
possessed of those estates, being also nephew to De Streeses, who was
slain by the Turks. But my fairy, Mara, you said was married to De
Streeses. It was she, then, who, with her infant child, was killed by
the Turks during the raid?"

"Noble Castriot! De Streeses and the Lady Mara were murdered, foully,
treacherously," said the old man, reining his horse, and speaking with
terrible passion.

"Oh, to take vengeance!" exclaimed Scanderbeg. "By the fair face of
Mara! this, with the thousand other murders of these years, shall be
washed out, if my sword drains a myriad veins of Turkish blood to make
sure of his who struck so brutal a blow!"

"Your sword need not search so wide as that," said Kabilovitsch. "The
family of De Streeses were murdered by hands we both know but too
well."

"How know you, Kabilovitsch?"

The man removed his cap as if inviting the inspection of his face,
and, lowering his voice, replied,

"I am not Kabilovitsch, I am Arnaud."

"Arnaud, the forester of De Streeses? Arnaud, whose shoulders I
bestrode before I ever mounted a steed?" exclaimed Scanderbeg, turning
his horse and stopping, but at his companion's motion indicating
caution, lowering his tone, and moving close beside him.

"The same, Sire. And the Turks who murdered the nobleman and his
beautiful wife were not such Turks as you have been accustomed to
command. Too white of skin and too black of heart were they. I would
not say this, but that I give you also my reasons for so grave an
accusation. Turks in raiding do not discriminate in their
depredations; but these harmed not a leaf beyond the castle of De
Streeses. Nor do Turks swear by St. John, as I heard one of them do as
he cursed a fellow villain for some slip in the plan. Nor again would
Turks, seeking only for plunder, have shown as much eagerness to kill
the little babe as they did to slay its father; and this they did,
searching even among the ashes for evidence that the tiny bones had
been sufficiently charred to prevent their recognition. But the child
was not in the castle at the time. My good wife was suckling it--the
Lady Mara being of delicate condition--and that night the babe was at
the lodge. As soon as the commotion was heard at the castle the child
was hidden in the copse."

"But where is this child now?" asked Scanderbeg eagerly.

"You have gazed upon her by my camp-fire, sire; and your soul saw in
her face that of the sainted Mara, though your eyes detected her not."

"And you know the perpetrator of this damnable deed?" asked
Scanderbeg.

"I may not say I know, since your noble father refused to believe that
any other than Turkish hands did it. But he who possesses the estate
now knows too much of this affair to thank God in his prayers for his
inheritance. I saved the child; yet Lord Amesa has sworn that once a
Turk who fell beneath his sword in a private brawl confessed to him
that his hands had strangled the infant on the night of the raid. Some
one interested had suspicion of where the truth lay, for my own cot
was raided, and my wife slain one night during my absence. But the
child was safe elsewhere. Since then, knowing that her life was secure
only through her being secreted, I have been a wanderer. A price was
secretly set upon my head by Amesa. In the mountains of Macedonia, in
the pass of the Balkans, have I kept watch over my sacred charge. I
want not to see Albania, but as I can see justice done in Albania.
Therefore I said I would go only if the lass might go with me, and
under the strong protection of a Castriot who knows the truth, whose
very soul recognized the child of Mara."

"The child's life shall be as sacred to me as if Mara had become my
wife as she vowed in her play, and the child were my own," said
Scanderbeg. "But this perplexes our cause. Amesa is one of our
bravest, wiliest voivodes. To antagonize him with this old charge
would imperil my reception with the people and the liberty of our
land. But I pledge you, my good Arnaud, that though vengeance waits,
it shall not sleep. In the time when it shall be most severe upon the
offender, and most honorable to the name of Albanian justice, the bolt
shall fall."

It was readily foreseen by both that only at the peril of her life
could Morsinia be allowed to accompany her foster father, Arnaud or
Kabilovitsch, to the camp of Castriot. The former forester would be
recognized and suspicion at once excited as to the person of his ward.
It was, therefore, determined that she should be domiciled safely in a
little hamlet on the borders of Albania, where her history was
unknown; and that, to elude suspicion, Milosch and the boy,
Constantine, should accompany her, as her father and brother, neither
of whom knew her true history. The "Brotherhood in God" between
Kabilovitsch and his old neighbor gave sufficient warrant for
Milosch's claim to paternity.

FOOTNOTES:

[20] Spahi: master of cavalry.

[21] Bismallah; "Please God," a Turkish common exclamation.

[22] Lake Scutari.



CHAPTER IX.


But while these refugees from the little hamlet on the mountains were
so favored of good Providence, what of the others? Our story must
return to the day of the battle in the Pass of Slatiza. Mother Helena
fell beneath the sword of a Turk while defending herself from his
insults. The boy, Michael, with arms bound above the elbows and drawn
back so that, while retaining the use of his hands, he could not free
himself, was driven along with others under guard of several soldiers.
As they descended the mountains the band of captives was steadily
increased by contributions from the cottages and hiding places along
the way. They were mostly boys and girls, the old men and women having
been slain or left to perish in the utter desolation which marked the
track of the army. Some of the captives were children too young to
endure the tramp, and were carried upon the horses of the mounted
soldiers. No one was treated unkindly. After the first day their bands
were untied so that they moved without weariness. They shared the best
of the soldiers' rations--sometimes feasting while their captors
fasted--and were snugly wrapped in the blankets by the camp-fires at
night. The daily march, after the Christian army had abandoned the
pursuit, was of but a few miles, with long intervals for rest. Indeed,
Michael thought that the troopers were more anxious about his being
kept in good condition, even in fresh and comely appearance, than
Mother Helena would have been. As they approached Philippopolis they
were all made to wash at a stream. Their matted locks were combed:--a
hard job with the mass of rebellious red bristles which stood about
Michael's head, like a nimbus on the wooden image of some Romish
saint. In some instances the captors went into the city and returned
with pretty skirts of bright colored wool or silk, and caps made of
shells and beads for the girls. Fantastic enough were the costumes and
toilets which the rough old troopers forced upon the little maidens;
but if they were pleasing to the captors they would prove, perhaps, as
pleasing to the rough slave buyers in the market square of
Philippopolis, who purchased the girls for disposal again at the
harems of the capital. An officer of excise presided over these sales,
and, before the property was delivered to the purchaser, retained
one-fifth the price as the share of the Sultan. If any of the girls
were, in the judgment of the officer, of peculiar beauty or promise,
they were reserved for the royal harem; the value of them being paid
to their captors out of the tax levied upon the others. This gave
occasion for the extravagant and often ludicrous costumes in which the
diverse tastes of the soldiers arrayed their captives for the contest
of beauty.

The boys, however, were not sold. They were the special property of
the Sultan, to be trained as Janizaries for military service, or
employed in menial positions about the royal seraglio. The captors
received rewards according to the number and goodly condition of the
lads they brought in.

The band of boys to which Michael was attached was marched at once to
Adrianople. Several hundreds were gathered in a great square court,
which was surrounded by barracks on three sides, and on the fourth
faced the river Marissa. A great soup kettle, the emblem of the
Janizary corps, was mounted upon a pole in the centre of the square,
and seemed to challenge the honors of the gilt star and crescent, the
emblem of royalty, that gleamed from the tall staff in an adjacent
court of the seraglio. There were scattered about utensils for
domestic use; the tools of carpenters, blacksmiths, armorers,
harness-makers and horse-shoers; old swords, battered helmets, broken
wagons, bow-guns, the figure heads of veteran battering rams; indeed
all the used and disused evidences that within these walls lived a
self-sustaining community, able to provide for themselves in war or in
peace.

For several days the new boys were fed with delicious milk and meats,
prepared by skilful hands of old soldiers, who knew the art of nursing
the sick almost as well as they knew that of making wounds. For a few
nights the lads slept upon soft divans, until every trace of weariness
from the journey had disappeared. They were then stripped naked and
examined carefully by the surgeons. If one were deformed, or
ill-proportioned, or failed to give promise of a strong constitution,
he was taken away to be trained as a woinak or drudge of the camps.
Perhaps three-fourths of the entire number in Michael's company were
thus branded for life with an adverse destiny.

The more favored lads were graded into ojaks, or messes; and among
them were daily contests in running and wrestling, according to the
results of which the ojaks were constantly changing their members; the
strongest and most agile living together in honorary distinction from
their fellows.

The officers in charge of these Janizary schools were old or crippled
men, whom years or wounds had rendered unfit for service in the field,
and who were assigned to the easier task in compensation for past
fidelity. The spirit of the veterans was thus infused into the young
recruits by constant contact and familiarity with them; and the rigid
habits of the after service were acquired almost insensibly through
the daily drill and discipline.

Michael's rugged health and mountain training enabled him to advance
rapidly through the various grades. Though almost the youngest in his
company, he was the first in the race, and no one could take him from
his feet in the wrestling match.

"A sturdy little Giaour," said old Selim, a fat and gouty Janizary,
the creases of whose double chin were good companions to the
sabre-scar across his cheek.

"Ay, tough and handy!" responded Mustapha, an old captain of the
corps, ogling Michael with his widowed eye, and stroking his beard
with his equally bereaved hand, as he watched the boy wriggling from
beneath to the top of a companion nearly double his size. "If the
little fellow is as agile in wit as he is in limb he will not long be
among the Agiamoglans.[23] A splendid build! broad in the shoulders;
deep-chested, but not flat; narrow loins; compact hips--just the make
of a lion. As lithe a lad as you were once, my now elephantine Selim,
when Bajazet stole you from your Hungarian home. Ah! you have changed
somewhat since the old Padishah had you for his page. I remember when
your waist was as trim as a squirrel's--but now--from the look of your
paunch I would think you were the soldier who drank up the poor
woman's supper of goat's milk, and had his belly ripped open by the
Padishah to discover his guilt.[24] Only goat's milk swells like that.
Let us see if some of the butter sticks not yet to your ribs," said
the old soldier, making a pass at his comrade's middle.

"That's not a true soldier's pass, to strike so low," said Selim,
laughing. "But you, Mustapha, were once a better runner than yon lad
will ever be."

"I was as good with my legs as with my arms," replied the veteran,
pleased with the compliment, and fondling his bare calves with his
hand. "But at what match did you see me run?"

"I only saw you run once," said Selim, "and that was at Angora, when
Timour the Lame[25] was after you to get your ugly head for the
pyramid of skulls he left there as a monument. But see the lad! He
tosses the big one as a panther topples an ox. We have not had his
match in the school since Scanderbeg was a boy."

"Poor Scanderbeg!" said Mustapha.

"How now!" inquired Selim, "is there any news from him?"

"Yes. He has met his first defeat. He was in command at the last
battle under the Balkans. Carambey got fast in a bog, in the first
battle, and Scanderbeg was unable to redeem the defeat in the second.
But he lived not to know it. He sent a host of gibbering Giaour ghosts
to hell while on his way to heaven. 'In the crossing of the cimeters
there is the gate of paradise,' says the Koran; and, though his body
could not be found, he went through the gate, beyond a doubt."

"That is a loss, comrade, the Padishah can never make good with any
man in the service. But have you not noted, Mustapha, that Scanderbeg
never fought so well against Christians as against the Caramanians,
the Kermians and rebellious Turks. In Anatolia I have seen his lips
burst with blood,[26] through sheer rage of fight; but in Servia he
seemed listless and without heart for the fray. The Grand Vizier has
noted it, and twitted him with remembering too well that he was
Christian born."

"And how did he take that?"

"Why, the color came to his face; his lips swelled; his whole body
shook;--just as I have seen him when compelled to restrain himself
from heading a charge, because the best moment for it had not
arrived."

"Did the Vizier take note of his manner?"

"Yes, and spoke of it to the Padishah. Amurath looked troubled, and I
overheard him say, 'I must not believe it, for I need him. No other
general can match Hunyades.' And the Padishah said well; and he had
done well if he had taken the Vizier's head from his shoulders for
such an insinuation. For Scanderbeg only half loyal were better than
all the rest of the generals licking the Padishah's feet. But,
Mustapha, we must train the little devil yonder to forget that he ever
heard the name of Jesu, Son of Mary, except from the Koran."

"Let us see if he has as much courage as he has cartilage," said
Mustapha. "The day is one fit for the water test. Let us have the
squad on the river's bank. If you will bring them, I will go and
arrange the test."

"It is too cold, and besides I do not like it," said Selim. "I have
known some of the best and hottest blood that ever boiled in a child's
veins to be chilled forever by it. It is too severe, except for
trout."

"But it is commanded. And to-day is as mild as we shall have for a
whole moon yet," was the reply, as Mustapha moved toward the water.

The river Marissa was covered with thin ice, not strong enough to bear
the weight of a person. A young woinak had attached a small red flag
to a block of wood, and whirled it out over the slippery surface some
three rods from the shore. The boys gathered naked and shivering at
the barrack doors, and, at a signal were to dash after the flag. All
hesitated at the strange and cruel command, until a whip, snapping
close to their bare backs, started them. Some slipped and fell upon
the rough and icy stones of the paving in the court. Others halted at
the river's edge. Only a few ventured upon the brittle ice; and they,
as it broke beneath them, scrambled back to the shore. One or two
fainted in the shock of the cold plunge, and were drawn in by the
woinaks. But three pressed on, breaking the ice before them with their
arms, or with the whole weight of their bodies, as they climbed upon
its brittle edge. Soon they were beyond their depth; one dared to go
no further, and, blue and bleeding, gave up the chase. The prize lay
between Michael and his companion. This boy was larger and older than
he; and finding that the ice would sustain his weight, stretched
himself on it, and crawled forward until he grasped the flag. But the
momentary pause, as he detached it from the wooden block and put it
between his teeth, was sufficient to allow the crackling bridge to
break beneath him; and he sunk out of sight. At the same instant
Michael disappeared. Though several yards from his companion, he
plunged beneath the ice, and reappeared carrying the flag in his teeth
and holding his comrade's head above the water until the woinaks could
reach and rescue them both.

"Bravo!" shouted the attendants. The boys were hurried into the
barracks, and given a hot drink made from a decoction of strong mints;
while the woinaks smeared their bodies with the same, and rubbed them
until the shock of their exposure was counteracted by the generous
return of the natural heat.

"I thought," said old Mustapha, "that we would have drowned some
to-day. It is a cruel custom; but it is worth months of other
practices to find out a lad's clear grit and power of endurance. The
two boys who got the flag will some day become as valiant as
ourselves, eh, Selim?" and the living eye of the veteran nodded to the
empty socket across his nose--the nearest approach to a wink he was
capable of.

"As the boys were floundering in the water," said Selim, "I thought of
a scene which I saw about at the same spot--now three score years have
gone since it--for it was just after I was brought into the Janizary's
school. Our Padishah's great grandfather, the first Amurath, had
erected a high seat or throne on the river's bank yonder. You know
that Saoudji, the Padishah's son, had joined the Greeks; but the young
traitor was captured. Well! old Amurath bade the executioner pass the
red hot iron before his son's eyes until the sight was dried up in
them. Then, while the blind prince was groping about and begging for
mercy, the Padishah, his father, commanded a circle of swordsmen to be
formed about him, swinging their cimeters, so that his head would fall
by the hand of him whom he chanced to approach. Thus it might be said,
that since he was a king's son, he had used the princely privilege of
selecting his own executioner. And having thus set them an example of
paternal duty, Amurath commanded the fathers of the Greek youths, whom
he had captured, to cut off the heads each of his own son. Those whose
fathers were not known or could not be found, were tied together in
groups and thrown into the stream; the Padishah betting heavily with
the Grand Vizier upon those who should float the longest. So, cruel
though our customs are, you see, Mustapha, we are not so barbaric as
our ancestors."

"Nor so abominably vicious as the Greeks," said Mustapha. "With them
the loving mothers put out the eyes of their children.[27] No, we are
quite gentle nurses of the lads committed to our charge, though
sometimes our tiger claws will prick through the velvet."

"Come, help me up! good Mustapha," said Selim, trying to rise from a
bench in the sunshine of the court where they were sitting. "The cold
stiffens my bones."

"Bah! comrade, you have no bones, only flesh and belly. How will you
balance your fat hulk on the bridge that is finer than a hair and
sharper than the edge of a sword that takes you over hell into
paradise? I fear me, Selim, that I shall have to content myself with
the company of the Prophet and the houris in heaven, for you will
never get there, unless I give you a lift across Al Sirat,"[28] said
Mustapha, giving his comrade a jerk which sent him far out into the
court, where with difficulty he kept his feet upon the slippery
stones.

The old fellow took the rough play good-naturedly, and replied,

"You will never see paradise, Mustapha. The houris will have nought to
do with so ugly a face as yours. It will turn them all squint-eyed to
look at you."

"Do you think I know not the art of love-making?" said Mustapha,
striking the attitude of a fashionable young man of the day.

Selim roared with laughter. "Mustapha making love? The thing is
impossible; since, if the houri be in the sunshine of your good eye,
you have no arm on that side to embrace her; and if you embrace her
with the arm you have got, you have no eye on that side to look upon
her beauty. Trust me, you old moulted peacock, that I shall get over
Al Sirat before Mustapha has found a houri----"

"Hist!" said Mustapha, pointing to the entrance of the square from the
seraglio court adjoining, and assuming an attitude of the gravest
dignity. In a moment more the two officers knelt, and resting their
foreheads on the ground, remained in that position until a lad of some
twelve years approached them and touched the head of each with his
foot, bidding them rise.

"I have come, good Selim, to see what new hounds you have for me,"
said the young Prince Mahomet.[29]

"Ah! my little Hoonkeawr![30] the Prophet, your namesake, has sent you
a fine one; as lithe as a greyhound and as strong as a mastiff; and,
if I mistake not, already trained for the game; for he came from the
Balkans, where foxes run wild when and where they will."

"That is capital. I shall like him," cried the prince, with delight.
"I must see him."

"Not to-day, your highness; for the boys are under the leech's charge.
They have been put to the water-test, and are all packed snugly in
their beds."

"The water-test, Selim, and you called me not?" said the boy, looking
furious in his rage. "You knew I wanted to see it; and you told me not
for spite. You will pay for this one day, you fat villain! And I want
the hunt now. I came for it; did I not, Yusef?" addressing a eunuch,
an old man with ashen face and decrepit body, but gorgeously arrayed,
who accompanied the prince as his constant attendant.

"We must wait, I suppose," said the man, with a supercilious tone and
toss of his head, as if to even speak in the presence of the soldiers
were a degradation to his dignity.

"To-morrow we will have the hunt in better style than we could arrange
it now were the boys able," said Selim, endeavoring to appease the
young tyrant.

The prince and his escort moved away without deigning a reply

"It is best not to insist," said the eunuch. "A wise maxim I will give
thee, my prince:--Beware of demanding the impossible--check back even
the desire of it. The rule of the Janizary school is that the boys
have rest after the water-test, and the Padishah would not allow even
his own son to break it. I would train thee to self-command; for the
time may come when thou shalt command the empire. Your brother,
Aladdin, is mortal."

"So you always interfere with me. You hate me, Yusef; I know you do. I
wish the boys had all been drowned in the river, and old Selim, and
you too," cried the royal lad, giving way to an outburst of childish
rage.

"Wait until thou canst get the bit between thy teeth before attempting
to run thine own gait," coolly replied the old eunuch.

FOOTNOTES:

[23] The Inexpert, or lower grade of Janizaries.

[24] An incident narrated in Turkish history.

[25] Timour-lenk or Timourlane; Timour the Lame.

[26] See old annals.

[27] Vide, the Greek Empress Irene and her son Constantine.

[28] The bridge over hell mentioned above.

[29] Afterward Sultan Mahomet II.

[30] Literally, Man of Blood, a title of the Sultan.



CHAPTER X.


Beyond the walls of the seraglio lay the royal hunting grounds. Many
acres of the city were enclosed within high walls of clayey earth,
packed into huge square blocks and dried in the sun; on the top and
outside of which bristled a miniature abattis of prickly vines. Some
parts of this park were adorned with every elegance that the art of
landscape gardening could devise. In the summer season these portions
were covered with floral beauties, interspersed with water-jets, which
tossed the light silver balls like fairy jugglers; broad basins
sparkling with gold fish; and walks leading to little kiosks and
arbors. Even its winter shroud could not conceal from the imagination
what must have been its living beauty in summer.

The greater part of this reserve was, however, left in its natural
state. Gnarled old olive trees twisted themselves like huge serpents
above the dense copses of elder and hazel bushes. Dusky balsams rose
in pyramids, overtopped by the pines, which spread their branches like
umbrellas. Here and there were open fields, encumbered with stinted
underbrush, and either broken with out-cropping rocks, or smooth with
strips of meadow land now white and glistening under the snow.

This section of the park presented a fascinating appearance on the day
of the fox-hunt. Scores of lads from the Janizary school were there,
dressed in all shades of bright-colored jackets, and short trousers
bagged at the knees; the lower part of the limbs being protected with
close-fitting stockings of leather, terminating in light, but strong,
sandals. Each wore a skull cap or fez of red flannel, from the top of
which and down the back hung a tassel, that, by its length and
richness, indicated some prize won by its wearer in previous games.
Old soldiers gathered here and there in groups; some, the Janizaries,
wearing tall sugar-loaf-shaped hats of gray; others, white turbans, or
green ones, indicating that their possessors had made a holy
pilgrimage to Mecca. Elegant burnooses, or sleeveless cloaks, of
white, black, orange and yellow silks, fluttered in the wind or were
gathered at the waist by rich sashes, from which hung great cimeters.

Near an open spot was a stand, or running gallery, enclosed in
lattice-work, from behind which the ladies of the harem could witness
the sports, themselves unseen. The presence of these invisible
beauties was indicated by the stiff, straight forms of the black
eunuchs, whose faces appeared above their white cloaks like heads of
ebony on statues of alabaster.

Prince Mahomet rode a horse, small but compactly built, with head and
mane suggestive of the power of his well-rounded muscles; slim ankles,
seemingly better adapted to carry the lighter form of a deer; jet
black, in strongest contrast with the white tunic and gaily
embroidered jacket of the little prince, as well as with the
saddle-cloth of purple silk, in which the star and crescent were
wrought with threads of gold. With merry shout the young tyrant chased
the boys, who, carrying wands decorated with ribbons, ran ahead of him
to clear the way.

"So it will be if he ever comes to the throne," said Selim to a
comrade. "Mahomet II. would follow no one. There would be no use of
viziers and generals, and he would even attempt to drive the
Janizaries like his sheep. It is well that Aladdin is the elder."

"But woe to Aladdin if Mahomet lives after his brother comes to the
throne," said the man addressed. "With such fire-boxes about him one
could justify the practice of a sovereign inaugurating his reign by
the slaughter of his next of kin."[31]

The woinaks brought in several crates, with latticed sides, containing
the foxes, which, one by one, were to be let loose for the chase; the
boys to act the part of hounds, and drive the game from the thickets,
in which they would naturally take refuge, out into the open space,
and within arrow range of the prince. Mahomet, by constant practice,
had acquired great dexterity in managing his steed, and almost
unerring aim in using the bow from the horse's back.

A splendid red fox was thrust out of the crate. For a moment he
remained crouching and trembling in his fright at the crowd; then
darted suddenly for the underbrush. The boys, imitating the sharp cry
or prolonged baying of a pack of hounds, scattered in different
directions; some disappearing in the copse; others stationing
themselves at the openings or run-ways where they thought the animal
would appear. The bugle of the white eunuch, who was constantly near
the prince, kept all informed of his position, so that reynard might
be driven toward him. In a few moments the arrow of Mahomet laid him
low.

A second fox was liberated--like many of the Sultan's nobler
creatures--only to fly to his speedy execution. The third animal was
an old one, who persisted in taking the direction opposite to that in
which the chasers would drive him. Again and again, as the boys closed
about him, he dashed through the thickest of their legs, leaving them
tumbled together in a heap. At one time he sprang through the opening
at which Michael, studying the tricks of the quick-witted brute, had
stationed himself. Sudden as were his movements, the young
mountaineer's were not less so; for, like a veritable hound, he threw
himself bodily upon the prey. Passing his right hand beneath the
entire length of the animal's body from the rear, he grasped his front
leg and bent it back beneath him; at the same time using his whole
weight to keep the animal's head close to the ground, so as to escape
his fangs. He had taken more than one beast in a similar way from the
holes in the old mountain pass. In the excitement of the sport he now
forgot that he was merely to enable another to get the game without
effort or danger.

Prince Mahomet rode to the spot toward which the fox had turned, and,
in a sudden outburst of anger at this interference with his shot,
drove the arrow at the two as they were struggling on the ground. The
whirring barb cut the arm of Michael before it entered the heart of
the prey. The sharp cry of pain uttered by the lad recalled Mahomet
from his insane rage. The rushing attendants showed pity for Michael,
but no one ventured a remonstrance against this act of imperial
cowardice and cruelty. A moment's examination showed that the lad's
wound was not serious, being only a cut through the flesh. But as the
pallor of his fright died away from his face, it was followed by a
deep flush of anger. Tears of vexation filled his eyes. His glance of
scorn was hardly swifter than his leap: for, with a bound, his arms
were around the prince's body, while his weight dragged him from the
saddle to the ground. Mahomet, rising, drew a jeweled dagger, and made
several hasty passes at his assailant, who, however, dextrously
avoided them. The posing of the lads would have done justice to the
fame of professional gladiators. The prince pressed upon his
antagonist with incessant thrusts, which, by skilful retreating and
parries with his bare arm, Michael avoided; until, with a ringing blow
upon Mahomet's wrist, he sent the weapon from his hand, and closed
with him; the prince falling to the ground beneath the greater
strength of Michael.

The spectators at this point interfered. As they rose the eunuch
grasped the little victor, and shaking him, cried: "I will cut the
throat of the Giaour cub of hell."

But the one hand of old Mustapha was upon the eunuch's throat, and his
one eye flashed like a discharging culverin, as he cried, "Had I
another hand to do it with, I would cut yours, you white-faced
imbecile! Don't you know that the boy belongs to the Janizaries? and
woe to him who is not a Janizary that lays a hand on him!"

"The prince's honor must be avenged," wheezed out the eunuch between
the finger grips of the old soldier. "I care not for the Janizary,
though you were the Aga[32] himself, instead of a mutilated slave."

The eunuch had drawn his dagger, and was working his hand into a
position whence he could strike, when old Selim's hand grasped his.

"None of that treachery, or we will let out of your leprous skin what
manhood is left in you, you blotch on your race! Touch one hair of
Black Khalil's[33] children and you die like the dog you are. Let him
go, Mustapha! His coward throat is no place for you to soil a brave
hand. We will get a snake to strangle him; a buzzard to pick his grain
of a soul out of his vile carcass;[34] an ass to kick him to death. We
must observe the proprieties."

"Pardon my heat!" said the eunuch. "My zeal for my prince has led me
too far."

"Not at all!" said Selim. "It is pleasant to see that you have some
heat in your cold blooded toad nature."

"It is better for us to retire," said the eunuch to Mahomet. "I shall
sound the signal for the close of the games."

Mahomet stood stubbornly for awhile; then turning to Michael said in a
tone which was strangely without a shade of anger or petulance in it:

"Say, young Giaour, you and I must have this out some day."

Michael could not help a half-smiling recognition of the boyish
challenge, and replied:

"I have seen more foxes than you have, and know some tricks I didn't
show you to-day."

As they moved out of the park, Yusef delivered a brief lecture to his
princely pupil. "Hark thee, my master. I warn thee, that thou have an
eye always open and a hand always closed to the Janizaries. They have
grown from being the heel to think that they are the head of the
state. They dictate to thy father, the Padishah, and snub the very
Vizier. I would have killed both those old imbeciles, but that it
would not have been politic. I am glad, too, that thou didst not let
thy dagger find the heart of the Balkan boy. That would not have been
politic. For, Allah grant! thou mayest one day be Padishah. Then this
day would be remembered against us."

"But, Yusef, I did not spare the boy. I think he spared me; and if I
ever get to be Padishah, I will make him my vizier, for his
cleverness. It would be a pity that so brave a man were elsewhere than
at my right hand. Though he angered me awfully at the moment, I shall
like that fellow. Did you see how he gripped the fox with his bare
arms? He must teach me how to do that. Was it between the hind legs he
thrust his hand, or across the beast's body? I could not see for my
being so mad because he spoiled for me a fine running shot."

"Thou art a strange child, Mahomet. Thou seemest to have forgotten
that the boy leaped at thy throat, and would have torn out thine eyes,
but that thou wast more valiant than he."

"Well, I should despise him as white-livered and milk-galled if he had
not sprung at me," said Mahomet. "Has not every noble fellow quick
blood, as well as a prince, Yusef? That boy shall be mine. He shall
teach me his tricks, and I shall give him all my sweetmeats; for they
get none of such things in the school."

"Ah! my little prince, thy head is as full of wit as a fig is of
seeds. Thou art gifted to know and use men. One that is born to rule
must make his passion bend to policy. He must not allow himself the
pleasure of hating those whom he can use. But take heed of this:--whom
he cannot use he must not love."

"But I was not born to rule, Yusef. If so, I would have been born
earlier, before my brother Aladdin cried in his nurse's arms, and
would not be comforted until they had covered the soft spot on his
bare head with a paper crown. Do you believe in omens, Yusef?"

"Not in such; only in dreams," said the eunuch.

"Well; I dreamed that our two heads--yours and mine, Yusef--were
together on a pike-staff, grinning at Aladdin's coronation."

"Nonsense, child!" said the eunuch, his white face bleaching a shade
whiter under the thought, as they passed through the gateway into the
seraglio grounds.

FOOTNOTES:

[31] The custom also in other Oriental nations than the Turkish.

[32] Aga; commander.

[33] Kara Khalil Tschendereli, the founder of the Janizaries in the
time of Sultan Orchan.

[34] According to a Moslem tradition the beautiful birds of paradise
hold in their crops the souls of holy martyrs until the resurrection.



CHAPTER XI.


The physical training of the young Janizaries consisted in such daily
exercises as would develop strength and tirelessness of muscle,
steadiness of nerve, keenness and accuracy of eye, as well as grace of
mien. They were also taught by expert workmen all the arts of daily
need; to make as well as to use the bow; to trim and balance the
arrow; to forge, temper, and sharpen the sword; to shoe the horse; to
make and mend their clothing and the entire trappings of their steeds;
to build and manage the keelless kaiks[35] which darted like fishes
through the surface of the river; to bind rafts into pontoons for the
crossing of streams; to reap and grind the grain, and cook their food.
Any special talent or adaptability was noted by the instructors, and
the Janizaries encouraged to attain to rare expertness in single arts.

The training in arms was especially severe, and under masters in
fencing, archery, riding, swimming, marching, deploying--the ablest
tacticians, whose wounds or age permitted their absence from active
campaigns, being found always at the head of the various departments.
The Janizary, while a mere lad in years, was often more than a match
in single combat for the most stalwart men in other corps, such as the
Piadé and Azabs among footmen, the Ouloufedji and Akindji among
troopers.

But, notwithstanding this individual prowess and ambition were
stimulated to the highest degree, they were disciplined to abject
obedience within the corps. Each one was as a part of some intricate
mechanism, all moved by one spring, which was the will of the chief
Aga. At a moment's notice they must start, in companies or alone; on
military expeditions, or secret service as spies and scouts; it might
be to the recesses of Asia or the upper Danube; to assail forts or to
conduct intrigues; having always but one incentive, that of the
common service and the common glory.

To develop in the same person these two seemingly antagonistic
qualities--of intensest individuality and abject subserviency to their
order--required the shrewdest manipulation of the mind and will of the
cadet from his earliest enrollment in childhood. As certain expert
horse-trainers control the spirit of noble steeds, without
extinguishing any of their fiery ardor, and tell the secret of their
power to those who come after them in the guild, so from the days of
Black Khalil this marvellous system of discipline had been perpetuated
among the corps, producing but rarely a weakling and as rarely a
rebel.

Michael learned his first lesson in subordination upon the return from
the hunt. While the Janizary officers were not displeased with the
prowess the little fellow had shown, even against the prince, it was
foreseen that such an impetuous nature needed the curb. For three days
he was confined to a room in solitude and silence. No one spoke or
listened to him. His only attendant was an old man, both deaf and
dumb, who evidently knew nothing and cared nothing for Michael's
offence or its punishment.

During this time the lad's suspense was terrible. Was he to be killed
for having assaulted the prince? Would they take him to the torture?
Perhaps this old man had been guilty of some such offence, and they
had cut his tongue and bored out his ears! He had heard of the searing
iron passed before the eyes, and then the life-long darkness. When he
slept his overwrought imagination fabricated horrid dreams in which
he was the victim of every species of cruelty. He fancied that he was
being eaten by a kennel of foxes, to whom he is given every day until
their hunger shall be satisfied; then taken away and reserved for
their next meal. He tried to compute how many days he would last.
Sometimes he imagined that he was exposed naked in the cold, and made
to stand day and night on the ice of the Marissa, until he should be
frozen: but his heart is so hot with his rebel spirit that it will not
freeze. Once he thought that Prince Mahomet came each day and stabbed
him with that pearl-set dagger he drew on him at the hunt.

His dreams were too frightful to allow him to sleep long at a time;
yet, when awake, his fears were such that he longed to get back again
among the terrible creatures of his fancy. Oh, that some one would
speak to him, and tell him his fate! He would welcome the worst
torture, if only he could be allowed to talk to the torturer.

After a while rage took the place of, or at least began to alternate
with, fear. He regretted that he had not killed the impudent prince.

"There stands his horse," he would say to himself--marking a line on
the wall--"now I leap; seize his dagger; strike him to the heart; and,
before they can stop me, plunge it into my own heart, so! Ah! when I
am out of this place I will kill him! I will! and go down to hell with
him!" And the little frame would swell, and the eyes gleam with
demoniacal light through the dusky chamber.

There are deep places even in a child's soul--ay, bottomless
depths--which, when unfretted by temptation, are so tranquil and
clear that the kindliness and joy of heaven are reflected in them,
warranting the saying of the old Jewish Rabbis, "Every child is a
prophet of the pure and loving God." But when disturbed by a sense of
wrong and injury, these depths in a child's heart may rage as a
caldron hot with the fires of hell; as a geyser pouring out the wrath
and hatred which we conceive to be born only in the nether world.

After a time Michael's fury died away. Another feeling took its
place--the crushing sense of his impotence. His will seemed to be
broken by the violence of its own spasm. He was stunned by his
realization of weakness. He fell with his face to the cold stones of
the floor, moaning at first, but soon passing into a waking stupor in
which only consciousness remained: hopeless, purposeless, without
energy to strive, and without strength to cry--a perfectly passive
spirit. The centipede that crawled from the dusty crevice of the
walls, and raised half his body to look at the strange figure lying
there, might have commanded him. The spider might have captured him,
and spun about his soul a web of destiny, if only he could have
conveyed a thought of it from his tiny eyes. For, as the body faints,
so also does the spirit under the pressure of woe.

The old mute brought in the meal on the third day, placed it beside
him, and retired. An hour later he returned and found the bread
untasted; the child in the same attitude, but not asleep. He touched
him with his foot, but evoked no sign that his presence was
recognized. He gazed for a few moments; then shook his head like an
artisan who, upon inspecting some piece of work he has been making, is
not satisfied with it.

He summoned Selim. The old soldier, finding that his entrance did not
arouse the lad, crossed his legs upon the floor beside him, and
waited. The light from the high window of the room fell upon Selim's
wrinkled face. But it seemed as if another light, one from within,
blended with it. His harsh features were permeated by a glow and
softness, as he gazed upon the exhausted child. His eyes filled with
tears; but they were speedily dried by the stare with which he turned
and looked first at the blank walls, and then, following back the ray
of light, to the window and beyond; his soul transported far away over
lands, through years, to a cottage on the banks of the Grau. He saw
there a face so beautiful! was it really of one he once called
"Mother?" or a dim and hazy recollection of a painting of the
Christian Madonna he had seen in his childhood? Happy groups of
village children were playing down among the lilies by the water's
edge, and over the hills gently sloping back from the river's bank.
Their faces were as clear cut there against the blue sky beyond the
window, as once--sixty years ago--they were against the green grass of
the meadow. He heard again the sweet ring of the chapel bell echoing
back from the ragged rocks of the opposite shore. And now the midnight
alarm! A fight with strange looking turbaned men! Flames bursting from
the houses of the hamlet! Men shrieking with wounds, and women
struggling in the arms of captors! And a little child, ah, so lonely
and tired with a long march! and that child--himself!--His eyes
rested as fondly upon Michael as did ever a father's upon his boy.

But as the wind extinguishes a candle, a movement of Michael sent all
the gleams gathered out of former days from old Selim's features.
Severity, almost savageness, took the place of kindliness among the
wrinkles of his countenance, as naturally as the waters of a rivulet,
held back for a moment by a child's hand, fill again their channels.

The boy raised his head. His face was pale; the eyes sunken; their
natural brilliance deepened, but as that of the flashing waters is
deepened when it is frozen into the glistening icicle. Or shall we say
that the dancing flames of the child's eyes had become the steady glow
of embered coals;--their life gone out, but the hot core left there,
not to cheer, only to burn. Those three days of silence, with their
successive dramas of mystery, terror, rage and depression, had wrought
more changes in him than many years of merely external discipline
would have done.

The close searching glance of Selim detected all this; and also that
the child was in a critical condition. The will was broken, but it was
not certain that this had not been accomplished by the breaking of the
entire spirit; instead of curbing, destroying it: not taming the
tiger's daring, but converting it into the sluggishness and timidity
of the cat.

"Michael!" cried he.

There was no response except the slight inclination of the head
indicating that the word had been heard.

"Follow me!"

The lad rose mechanically, showing no interest or attention beyond
that required for bodily obedience.

Pausing at the door-way the old man put his hand upon the boy's
shoulder and said sternly, yet with a caution ready to change his
tone--

"Do you know that we have power to more severely punish you?"

The words made no impression upon the child.

"The bastinado? The cage?" The boy raised his face, but upon it was no
evidence of fear; perhaps of scorn. He had suffered so much that
threats had no power over him.

Selim was alarmed at these symptoms. His experience with such cases
taught him that this lethargic spell must be broken at whatever cost.
Feeling must be excited; and if an appeal to the child's imagination
failed, physical pain must be inflicted. Something must rouse him, or
insanity might ensue.

A peculiar instrument of torture was a frame set with needles pointing
inwards. Into this sometimes a culprit was placed, and the frame
screwed so close about the person that he could not move from a fixed
position without forcing the needles into his flesh. This frame was
put about the boy. He stared stupidly at the approaching points, but
did not shrink. Selim pressed one of the needles quickly. Instantly
the boy uttered a cry of pain. His face blanched with fright. The
tears sprang to his eyes, and through them came an agonizing look of
entreaty.

Selim's whole manner changed as suddenly. Schooled as he was to
harshness; to strike one's head from his shoulders at the command of
the Aga without an instant's hesitation; to superintend the slow
process of a "discipline" by torture, without a remorseful
thought;--yet this was not his nature. And now that better, deeper,
truer nature, hitherto unexercised for years, asserted itself. His
heart went out to Michael the instant there was no further necessity
for its restraint.

"Bravo! my little hero," cried he, catching him to his arms. "You are
of the metal of the invincibles, and henceforth only valiant deeds,
bright honors and endless pleasures are to be yours. You shall lodge
with me to-night."

FOOTNOTE:

[35] Kaiks or caiques; light row-boats.



CHAPTER XII.


Selim's apartment was off from the common barracks of the Janizaries.
It was luxuriantly furnished in its way. Elegant rugs lay upon the
marble floor. A divan, with silken covering, filled one end of the
room. The walls were hung with a variety of richly wrought weapons and
armor:--short swords, long crescent-shaped cimeters, spears of
polished wood headed with glistening steel, helmets, breastplates,
greaves. Badges and honorary decorations shone among costly robes
which had accumulated since the days when he had been a page to the
Sultan Amurath I.

Upon a low table, reaching to the edge of the divan, had been placed
salvers holding cups and open dishes of silver. A woinak entered with
basins of scented water in which to wash the hands and bathe the face.

Selim placed his little guest by his side upon the divan. Mustapha
also appeared, and, removing his shoes, made a profound and dignified
salâm--quite in contrast with his usual rough and badgering manner
when with Selim--then placed himself beside his comrade upon the
cushions. An excellent repast was served. There was hare's flesh
chopped and rolled with rice into balls, made more savory with curry
sauce. Sweet cakes, pastry of figs and candied orange blossoms excited
a thirst for the sweetened water, which was so strongly flavored with
the juices of fruits that the more scrupulous Moslems refused to drink
it, lest they should disobey the command of the Koran prohibiting the
use of wine.

The two old men vied with each other in telling thrilling stories of
adventure in battle and on secret service; of the romance of castles
and courts; of how they won their honors and got their scars; of the
favors of princes and princesses; and of exploits in which, though the
rules of their order forbade their marrying, they retaliated the
captivity of the maiden's eye by capturing her person. The burden of
every story was the praise of the Janizary organization, which alone
enabled them to attain such glories and joys. The close brotherhood,
which gave to each the help of all the ten thousand, was commended by
incidents illustrating it. They told of their Aga or chief, who was
more powerful than the Grand Vizier--for sultans made these latter by
a word, and unmade them with equal caprice, often with the stroke of
the sword; but to touch a hair of the Aga would be for the Sultan to
lose the favor of the entire band, whom he regarded as the main
support of his throne, as their hands had won it for his fathers. Did
not the word of Mustapha and Selim, at the fox-hunt, cow the pride of
Yusef, who was next to the Capee Aga or chief of the white eunuchs?
Yet Selim and Mustapha were but captains in the Janizaries. No general
in any other arm of the service would have dared to antagonize the
eunuch as they did.

As Michael listened, his cheeks flushed and chilled by turns with the
excitement of his martial ambition. The dreams he used to have in his
mountain home, of being a soldier and coming back covered with badges
of honor to claim Morsinia as his bride, seemed to be dissolving into
the reality. Nor was his ardor damped when he learned from Selim that
the first step toward all this was the total surrender of himself to
the service of the brotherhood, in pledging and keeping obedience to
its rules; as a part of the body, like the hand, must never be severed
from the rest, but keep the contact perfect in every muscle and nerve,
in order to have the strength which only the health of the whole body
can give to it. Selim explained to him how wrong it had been for him
to seize the fox, no matter how excited he was, or how much daring it
showed to do so, since he had not been ordered to seize, but only to
turn the beast toward the Prince. Besides, to raise a hand against the
prince was treason--unless it were ordered by the chief of the
Janizaries. Therefore he had been punished according to the Janizary
discipline; though they would not have allowed any one else to touch
him--no not even the Padishah himself.

Michael's spirit was fully healed with such words. His depression gave
way to a hotter ambition and pride of expectation than he had ever
felt before, when Selim put upon his head the whitish gray cap, like
that worn by the dervishes, and differing from it only in having upon
the back a strip of wool which the old man thus explained, as he told
the story of the organization of the Janizary corps.

"The death angel, Azrael, has reaped the earth more than five times
since the mighty Othman,[36] who founded our empire, entered paradise.
His queen, Malkhatoon, the most beautiful of women, had given him two
sons. Never since Khalif Omar followed the Prophet was nobler
successor than would have been either Alaeddin or Orchan to Othman.
The stars shone not with deeper lustre than did the wisdom of
Alaeddin. The storm never burst more resistlessly on your Balkan
mountains than did the bravery and strength of Orchan beat down the
foe. To Orchan the empire came by will of Allah and Othman. But to
Alaeddin the new king said, 'Thou art wise, my brother, above all men.
Be thou the eyes of the throne, and I will be its arm!' So Alaeddin
was the great minister of the mighty Orchan. To Prince Alaeddin we owe
our best laws, our system of drilling and marching in all the Ottoman
armies.

"But two lights are better known than one. And in a dream the Angel
Gabriel, who knows the secrets of Allah regarding men, said to
Alaeddin, 'Go look into the eyes of Kara Khalil Tschendereli. We have
given him a thought for thee and thy people.' And Kara Khalil said,
'Know, O wise and virtuous Prince Alaeddin, I have been permitted in
my dreams to stand upon the wall Al Araf, that runs between paradise
and hell. In the third story of the seven which divide perdition I saw
the ghosts of the Giaours. But while I watched their torments the
spirit of Othman, the Blessed, came to me, and, pointing to a gate in
the wall, said, in a voice so sweet that all the birds in paradise
echoed it, but so strong that it shook the mighty wall Al Araf as if
it would fall, "I charge thee, as thou art a true believer in Mahomet,
open that gate that some of the believers in Jesu, Son of Mary, may
escape into paradise."

"'"What power have I for such a miracle, O Othman," I cried. But
Othman said:

"'"Thou shalt save the souls of the boys among the captives Allah
gives thee in battle. Is it not written in the Koran that all the
children are at their birth gifted with the true faith. Believe this,
and teach the captive boys to trust the Prophet, to breathe the holy
Islam of Father Abraham, and to draw the sword for Allah. So shalt
thou be a saviour of many souls. And such valor will Allah send these
rescued ones, and such blessings shall follow them, that the Giaour
children shall conquer for thee the Giaour nations."'

"And so, Michael," added Selim, "the wisdom of earth and heaven
appointed our order. We are still the Yeni Tscheri,[37] though a
century has gone by since we were founded; for the vigor of perpetual
youth is ours.

"When Orchan, at such advice of Alaeddin and Kara Khalil enrolled the
first of the new troop--bright Christian boys like yourself,
Michael--they were led to the old dervish, Hadji Beytarch, whose
sanctity was as the fragrance of paradise itself. The face of the holy
man caught the lustre of the prophecy from heaven. As he drew the
sleeve of his mantle over each bowed head--and the strip of wool on
our cap is the sign of his sleeve--he uttered this benediction: 'Thy
face shall be white and shining; thy right arm shall be strong; thy
sabre shall be keen; and thine arrows sharp. Thou shalt be fortunate
in fight, and thou shalt never leave the battle-field save as a
conqueror.'"

"And have they never been conquered?" asked Michael with incredulity.

"Never!" cried Selim.

"Except," added Mustapha, "that they might prepare themselves for some
greater victory. Allah sometimes makes known to us his will that we
should retreat; then we take up our kismet as joyfully as we would
shout the advance. That we may make sure of Allah's will, before
retreating we always assault the enemy thrice. If at that sacred
number we cannot conquer we know that the victory has been reserved,
still held for us, but in the closed hand of Fate."

"But what of those who were killed? I certainly saw many Janizaries
lying dead in the snows of the Balkans the day of the fight. Are they
not conquered?" asked the boy.

"Nay, more than conquerors," said Mustapha. "If one falls in battle
paradise flings wide its gates, and troops of angels and houris come
to lead his soul in a triumphal procession into that beautiful land
where the earth is like purest musk, and where the great Tuba tree
grows--a branch of which shades the kiosk of every believer, and bends
down to place its luscious fruit into his hand, if he so much as
desires it; where are grapes and pomegranates, and such as for spicy
sweetness have never been tasted on earth; where are streams of water
and milk and wine and honey, whose bottoms are pebbled with pearls and
emeralds and rubies; where the houris, the fairest of maidens, dwell
close beside the believer in pavilions of hollow pearls, and serve
every wish of the faithful even before he can utter it."[38]

But Michael's eyes were heavy; and as the old veterans diverted the
conversation to some matter of business between them, his excited
imagination reproduced the description of paradise in his dreams.
Only, the pavilion of pearl was shaped like good Uncle Kabilovitsch's
cot on the mountains, and the houris were all fair-haired Morsinias.

FOOTNOTES:

[36] Whence the word Ottoman. Also written Osman, whence the Osmanlis.

[37] Yeni Tscheri; new troop; corrupted in Janizary.

[38] _Vide_ Koran.



CHAPTER XIII.


Weeks and months passed away, during which the physical exercises of
the lads in the Janizary school were varied with lessons in the
Turkish language; and, in the case of a select number, in the Arabic,
mastering it at least sufficiently to read the Koran, large sections
of which they were compelled to commit to memory.

The teachers in the Janizary schools were far from ordinary men. They
were highly learned, and, like most Orientals of education, gifted
with great eloquence. After the daily tasks had been accomplished the
boys were gathered in a semicircle upon the floor about the
instructor, who sat cross-legged among them, and narrated in glowing
language the history of the Prophet and his successors in the
khalifate; inflaming their young minds with the most heroic and
romantic legends of Arabia and Egypt, Algiers and Granada, where the
Koran had conquered the faith of the people whom the swords of the
true Moslems had subdued. Wild stories of the early days of the Turks,
before Ertoghral,[39] "The Right-hearted Man," led the tribes from the
banks of the Euphrates; and earlier still when Seljuk[40] led his
people from north of the Caspian; of the settlement of their remote
ancestors in Afghanistan, where the great chief was first called
Sultan;[41] of how they had once held the religious faith of
Zoroaster. Indeed, myths from the very dawn of known history, when the
Turkius did all sorts of valiant deeds in far-off China.[42]

The Christian books were made to appear to the young proselyte as but
imperfect suggestions of the completed teaching of the book of
Mahomet; while the peculiar dogmas of the Christians were restated
with such shrewd perversion that to the child's judgment they seemed
puerile or untrue.

"Behold the sky!" one would exclaim. "Is it not one dome, like the
canopy of one mighty throne? Behold the light! Does it not pour from
one sun and fill all space with one flood? Breathe the air! Is it not
the same over all lands and in all lungs? Do not all birds fly with
one mechanism of wings? and all men live by the same beating of the
heart? How then can there be three Gods, Allah, and Jesu and Mary, as
the Christians teach?[43] What does reason say? What does the universe
testify? What says the true and wise believer?"

"There is one God and Mahomet is His Prophet," would be the response
of the pupils, bowing their heads to the floor.

"Can the less contain or give out the greater? Can a stone bring forth
the orange tree? Can a stick give birth to the eagle? A worm be the
father of a man? How, then, can we say with the Christians, that Mary
of Bethlehem is the mother of God? What says the faithful and wise
believer?"

"There is one God, and Mahomet is His prophet," would be the choral
response.

"Is God weak? Can men thwart His plans? Shall we then believe that the
infidel Jews crucified the Son of God?"

"God is great, and Mahomet is His Prophet," would roll up from the
lips of the scholars.

"Shall we, then, kiss the toe of the pope because he calls himself the
grand vizier of Allah, when our Janizaries can cut the throats of his
soldiers, as our brethren of Arabia destroyed the crusaders? Or shall
we kiss the hand of the patriarch of the Greeks, who claims supremacy
in the name of Allah, when already our arms have shut up the whole
Greek empire within the walls of Constantinople? What says the
faithful and wise believer?"

"God is great, and Mahomet is His Prophet," is the reply.

"Who would cringe and beg forgiveness at the feet of a dirty priest,
when the sword of every Janizary may open for him who holds it the
gate of paradise?"

Not only such arguments, but every event of the day that could
emphasize or illustrate the superiority of the Moslem faith, was
skilfully brought to bear upon the susceptible minds of the youths.
And within the first year of Michael's cadetship one such significant
event occurred.

In the year of the Hegira 822,[44] six months after the flight of
Scanderbeg, it was solemnly agreed between Christian and Moslem that
the sword should have rest for ten years. A stately ceremony was made
to seal the compact. Vladislaus of Hungary represented in his person
the pledge of kingly honor. Hunyades gave the sanction of a soldier's
word. And Cardinal Julian was supposed to have added to the treaty the
confirmation of all that was sacred in the religion of which he was so
exalted a representative. On behalf of the Christians, the concord was
signalized by an oath upon the Gospels. On the other side, Sultan
Amurath, in the presence of his generals and the holiest of the Moslem
dervishes, swore upon the Koran. This compact, guarded by all that men
hold to be honorable on earth and sacred in heaven, lulled the
suspicions of the Turks. The rigid drill, the alert espionage, the
raids along the border gave way to the indolence of the barracks and
the pastimes of the camp. Thousands of horses and their riders were
returned to till the fields in the Timars, Ziamets and Beyliks[45]
scattered throughout distant provinces. The Sultan retired to meditate
religion, or devise the things belonging to permanent peace, in his
secluded palace at Magnesia in Asia Minor. The death of his eldest
son, Prince Aladdin, led him to put the crown of associate Padishah
upon the brow of the young Mahomet that in these quiet times the
prince might learn the minor lessons of the art of ruling.

But this sense of security among the Turks offered too strong a
temptation to the cupidity of the Christian leaders. King Vladislaus
opposed conscientious objections to any breach of the compact.
Hunyades maintained his personal honor by at first refusing to draw
his sword. But Cardinal Julian stood sponsor to a breach of faith,
and announced that principle which has, in the estimate of history,
made his scarlet robe the symbol of his scarlet sin--that no faith
need be kept with infidels; and, in the name of the Holy Father,
granted absolution to the chief actors for what they were about to do.

Without warning, the tide of Christian conquest poured from Servia
eastward until it was checked in that direction by the Black Sea. The
hordes of Europe then turned southward, seized upon Varna, and pitched
their camps amid the pennants of their ill-gotten victory near to its
walls. To human sight no power could avert irrevocable disaster to the
arms, if not the subversion of the entire empire of the Ottomans in
Europe.

In their extremity the lands of the Moslem made their solemn appeal to
Allah. Every mosque resounded with reiterated prayers. The camps
echoed the pious invocations with loud curses and the rattle of the
preparation of armor. Scurrying messengers flew from the centre to the
circumference of the Ottoman domain, and hastily gathered legions
concentrated for one supreme blow in retaliation for the grossness of
the insult, and in vindication of what they believed to be the cause
of honor and truth, which, in their minds, was one with that of Allah
and the Prophet.

The Sultan hurried from his retreat, and with marvellous celerity
marshalled the faithful against the invaders at Varna. Riding at the
head of the Janizaries, he caused the document of the violated treaty
to be held aloft on a lance-head in the gaze of the two armies, and
with a loud voice uttered this prayer--a strange one for a Moslem's
lips--

"O, Thou insulted Jesu, revenge the wrong done unto Thy good name, and
show Thy power upon Thy perjured people!"

Victory hovered long between the contending hosts, but at last rested
with the Moslems. To make the intervention of Allah more apparent, it
was told everywhere, how, when Amurath believed that he was defeated,
and had given the order for retreat, a soldier seized the bridle of
the Sultan's horse and turned him back again toward the enemy. The
very beast felt the inspiration of heaven, and led the assault upon
the breaking columns of the Christians, until the victors returned,
bearing upon spear-points the heads of Cardinal Julian and King
Vladislaus; while Hunyades fled in disgrace from the field.

It is not to be wondered at that such an event, which led many whole
communities to renounce their alliance with the Christian powers, and
many of the chiefs of Bosnia and Servia to accept the Moslem faith,
should have rooted that faith more deeply in the hearts of those who
already held it. A flame of fanaticism ran throughout the Mohammedan
world. The most rabid sects increased in the number and fury of their
devotees. Many who were engaged in useful occupations left them to
became Moslem monks, spending their lives in meditation, if perchance
they might receive more fully the blessings which heaven seemed ready
to pour upon every true believer; or to become preachers of the
jehad--the holy war against the infidels.

In the schools of the Janizaries the fanaticism was fed and fanned to
a flame of utmost intensity. The square court within their barracks
was transformed into a great prayer place of the dervishes. Here the
Howlers formed their circles, and swaying backward and forward with
flying hair and glaring eyes, grunted their talismanic words from the
Koran, until they fell in convulsions on the pavement. And the
Wheelers spun round and round in their mystic motions until, full of
the spirit they sought, they dropped in the dizzying dance. Learned
sheiks preached the gospel of the sword, and the imams watered the
seed thus sown with fervent prayers, until the ardent souls of the
youth seemed to have lost their human identity, and to be transformed
into sparks and flashes of some celestial fire which was to destroy
the lands of the Christians.

Michael's mind was not altogether unimpressed by the religious
fanaticism that raged around him. While in quiet moments he was
troubled with what he heard against the Christian faith which he had
been taught in his mountain home, at other times he was caught in the
tide of the general enthusiasm and felt himself borne along with it,
swirled around in the rings of the mad maelstrom; not unwilling to
yield himself to the excitement, and yet by no definite purpose
committing himself to it. If it requires all the strength of an adult
mind, with convictions long held and character well formed, to
maintain its faith and principles against the attrition of daily
temptation in a Christian land, we must not be surprised if the child
gave way to the incessant appeal of the Moslem belief, accompanied as
it was by extravagant promises of secular pleasure, and counteracted
by no word of Christian counsel.

But the spiritual impulse in Michael was less active than the martial
instinct; and this latter was stimulated to the utmost by the
associations of every day and hour. The battles which were fought on
the great fields were all refought in the vivid descriptions of the
Janizary teachers, and sometimes in the mimic rencounters of the
playground. Michael rebelled against his childish years which
prevented his joining some of the great expeditions that were fitted
out;--against the Greeks of the Peloponnesus, the Giaour lands to the
north, and the Albanians on the west, who, under Scanderbeg, had
become the chief menace against the Ottoman power.

FOOTNOTES:

[39] About 1280 A. D.

[40] About the end of the tenth century.

[41] Between 997 and 1030 A. D.

[42] Tribes of Turkius were mentioned by Pliny.

[43] This perversion of the Christian dogma of the Trinity was taught
by heretical sects in the time of the Prophet Mahomet, and is embodied
in the Koran.

[44] A. D., 1444.

[45] Fiefs or portions of conquered lands given to soldiers.



CHAPTER XIV.


The career of Scanderbeg, or Castriot, as the Albanians love to call
their great national hero, makes one of the most illustrious pages in
history, whether we look for the display of personal courage, astute
generalship, or loftiest patriotism. His military renown, already so
wide-spread as the commander of the Turks, became universal through
the almost incredible skill with which, for many years, his handful of
patriots held the mountains of Albania against the countless armies of
the Sultan. His superlative devotion to his country, was maintained
with such sacrifices as few men have ever rendered to the holiest
cause. He resisted the bribes of riches, power and splendor with
which the Sultan, baffled by his arms, attempted to seduce his honor.
These things went far to atone for the treachery of his defection from
the Turkish service.

Upon his arrival in Albania, the citadel of Croia was given into his
hands by the commandant, who was either unsuspicious of the false
order that was sealed by the now dead hand of the Sultan's secretary,
or who had found that the wily Albanians had already access to its
gates. Sfetigrade and other prominent fortresses fell rapidly, won by
strategy or by the valorous assault of the patriots. The Albanians had
been almost instantaneously transformed into an invincible army by the
electric thrill which the coming of Castriot had sent everywhere, from
the borders of Macedonia to the western sea; and by the skill with
which that great captain organized his bands of Epirots and Dibrians.
An army of forty thousand Turks was at one time divided by his
masterly movements, and slain in detail. A second army met a similar
fate. The great Sultan himself attempted the capture of this Arnaout
"wild beast," as he had learned to call him. One hundred and fifty
thousand men, supplied from the far-reaches of Asia where the Ottoman
made most of his levies, swarmed like a plague of locusts through the
valleys of Epirus. By sheer momentum of numbers they pressed their way
up to the fortress of Sfetigrade.

The defence of this place is one of the most heroic in the annals of
war or patriotism. As the glacier melts at the touch of the warm earth
in the Alpine valleys so the mighty army of Amurath dissolved in blood
as it touched the beleaguered walls. At the same time Scanderbeg,
adopting some new expedient in every attack, made his almost nightly
raids through the centre of the Turkish host, like a panther through
the folds of the sheep, until Amurath cried in sheer vexation among
the generals, "Will none of you save us from the fury of that wild
beast?" The incessant slaughter that broke the bewildered silence of
the generals was the only response.

Thus passed some six years since the time when our story opens; years
which, had they stood by themselves, and not been followed by fifteen
years more of equal prowess, would have won for Scanderbeg the
unstinted praise of that distinguished writer who enrolls him among
the seven greatest uncrowned men of the world's history.[46]

During these years Castriot had studied with closest scrutiny the
character of his nephew, Amesa. His natural discernment, aided by his
long observation of human duplicity while among the Turks--and, indeed
by his own experience, as for many years he had masked his own
discontent and ultimate purpose--gave him a power of estimating men
which may be called a moral clairvoyance. He discovered that in his
nephew which led him to credit the story of Kabilovitsch--as the
forester Arnaud was still called, although some more than suspected
his identity. The chief saw clearly that Amesa's loyalty would be
limited by his selfish interests. Those interests now led him to most
faithful and apparently patriotic devotion. Besides, the loss or
alienation of so influential a young voivode, involving a schism in
the house of the Castriots, might be fatal to the Albanian cause. The
general, therefore, fed the ambition of his relative, giving him
honorable command, for which he was well fitted by reason of both
courage and genius. Nor did Amesa disappoint this confidence. His
sword was among the sharpest and his deeds most daring. The peasant
soldiers often said that Amesa was not unworthy the blood of the
Castriots. To Sultan Amurath's proposal of peace on condition of
Scanderbeg's simple recognition of the Ottoman's nominal suzerainty,
allowing him to retain the full actual possession of all his ancestral
holdings, Amesa's voice joined with that of Moses Goleme and the other
allied nobles in commending the refusal of their chief.

Amesa's courage and zeal seemed at times to pass the control of his
judgment. Thus, in a sharp battle with the Turks, during the temporary
absence of Castriot, who was resisting an encroachment of the
Venetians on the neighboring country of Montenegro, the fiery young
voivode was seized with such blind ferocity that he knew not where he
was. He had engaged a group of his own countrymen, apparently not
discerning his mistake until he had unhorsed one of them, whom he was
on the point of sabering, when his arm was caught by a comrade. The
endangered man was Kabilovitsch, who saw that there was a method in
Amesa's madness which it behoved him to note.

It was evident to Kabilovitsch not only that he was recognized by
Amesa, but also that the young voivode was more than suspicious of the
former forester's knowledge of the affair by which the magnificent
estate of De Streeses had passed into his hands. The good man's
solicitude was intense through fear that Amesa had become aware of the
escape of the child heir, and might discover some clue to her
whereabouts. Several times Milosch had visited the camp inquiring for
Kabilovitsch; and Constantine had made frequent journeys carrying
tidings of Morsinia's welfare. Had neither of these been spied upon?
Did no one ever pass the little hamlet where she was in covert who
recognized in the now daily developing womanly features the likeness
of her mother, Mara De Streeses?

A little after this assault of Amesa upon Kabilovitsch, came news
which startled the latter. To understand this the reader must
penetrate a wild mountainous district a double score of miles from the
camp of Castriot.

FOOTNOTE:

[46] Sir William Temple.



CHAPTER XV.


Out of a broad valley, through which lies the chief highway leading to
the north-west of Albania, there opens a narrow ravine which seems to
end abruptly against the precipitous front of a mountain range. But,
turning into this ravine, one is surprised to find that it winds
sharply, following a swift stream, and climbing for many miles through
the mountain, until it suddenly debouches into a picturesque valley,
which affords grazing space for sheep and enough arable land to
sustain the peasants who once dwelt there.

A hamlet nestled in this secluded vale. No road led beyond it, and it
was approached only by the narrow and tortuous path we have described.
A rude mill sentineled a line of three houses. These dwellings, though
simple in their construction, were quite commodious. A room of ample
dimensions was enclosed with walls of stone and loam, supporting a
conical roof of thatch. On three sides of this room and opening into
it were smaller chambers, having detached roofs of their own. The
central apartment was the common gathering place for quite an
extensive community, consisting of a family in three or four
generations; for each son upon marrying brought his wife to the
paternal homestead, and built a new chamber connecting with the
central one. The three houses contained altogether nearly a hundred
souls. The last of these dwellings was of ampler proportions than the
others, and was occupied by a branch of an ancient family to which the
inhabitants of the other houses were all of kin. By reason of its
antiquity as well as the comparative wealth of its occupants, it was
regarded as the konak, or village mansion; and the senior member of
its little community was recognized as the stargeshina, or chief of
the village.

It was the latter part of April; the day before that upon which from
time immemorial the peasants among these mountains had observed the
festival of Saint George, which they devoted to ceremonies
commemorative of the awakening summer life of the world.

It was still early in the afternoon, though the high mountain wall on
the west had shut out the sun, whose bright rays, however, still
burning far overhead, dropped their benediction of roseate shadows
into the valley they were not permitted to enter; loading the
atmosphere with as many tints as there were in Buddha's bowl when the
poor man threw in the bud of genuine charity, and it burst into a
thousand flowers.

A group of maidens gathered at the little mill, each holding an
earthen bowl to catch the glistening spray drops which danced from the
edge of the clumsy water-wheel. When these were filled they cast into
the "witching waters" the early spring flowers, anemones and violets
and white coral arbutus, which they had picked during the day. It was
a pleasing superstition that the water, having been beaten into spray,
received life from the flowers which the renewed vitality of the
awakening spring spirit had pressed up through the earth; and that, if
one should bathe in this on St. George's day, health and happiness
would attend him during the year.

"What is it?" cried one as a crackling in the bushes far above their
heads on a steep crag was followed in a moment by the beat of a
pebble, as it glanced from ledge to ledge almost to their feet.

"The sheep are not up there!" said another.

"Perhaps the Vili!"[47] suggested a third, "for I am sure that I have
seen one this very day."

"What was he like?" exclaimed several at once, while all kept their
eyes upon the cliff above.

"There! there! Did you see it?" Several avowed that they saw it
stealing along the very brow of the hill; but all agreed that it
passed so swiftly that they could not tell just what they saw.

"It was just so with the one I saw to-day," said the former speaker.
"I was on the ledge by the old eagle's nest, gathering my flowers. A
tall being passed below me on the path, dressed so beautifully that I
know it was none of us, and had dealings with none of us. It seemed
anxious not to be seen; for my little cry of surprise caused it to
vanish as if it melted into the foam of the stream as it plunges into
the pool."

"That was just like the Vili," interposed one. "They live under the
river's bank. They talk in the murmur of the streams. Old Mirko, who
used to work much in the mill, learned to understand what they said.
Did this one you saw have long hair? The Vili, Mirko said, always
did."

"I cannot say," replied the girl, "for its head was hidden in a
blossoming laurel bush between it and me."

"It was one," cried another, "for there are no blossoming laurels yet.
It was its long white hair waving in the wind, that you saw."

"Let us go down to the pool!" proposed one, "maybe we can see it
again."

"No! No!" cried the others, in a chorus of tremulous voices.

"No, indeed," said one of the larger girls, "for it might be they are
eating, or they are dancing the Kolo--which they always do as the sun
goes down, and if any body sees them then they get angry, and will
come to your house and look at you with the evil eye."

Hasting home with their bowls of water crowned with flowers, they told
their story to the stargeshina.

The old man laughed at their credulity:--

"Girls always see strange things on the eve of Saint George."

At the evening meal in the great room of the first house, the
patriarch, taking his cue from the story the girls belonging to that
household had told of their imagined vision, repeated legend after
legend about those strange beings that people the unknown caverns in
the mountains, and rise from the brooks, leaving the water-spiders to
mark the spot where they emerged so that they may find their way back
again, and of the wjeshtiges, who throw off their bodies as easily as
others lay aside their clothes, flit through the fire, ride upon the
sparks as horses, float on the threads of white smoke--all the time
watching the persons gathered about the blazing logs, that they may
mark the one who is first to die. "This doomed person," the old man
said, "they visit when he has gone to sleep, and, with a magic rod,
open his breast; utter in mystic words the day of his death; take out
his heart and feast upon it. Then they carefully close up the side,
and, though the victim lives on, having no heart, no spring of life in
him, sickens and droops until the fatal day; as the streams vanish
when cut off from the fountains whence they start."

These stories were followed by songs, the music of which was within a
narrow range of notes, and sung to the accompaniment of the gusle--a
rude sort of guitar with a single string. The subjects of these songs
and the ideas they contained were as limited in their range as the
notes by which they were rendered; such as the impossible exploits of
heroes, and improbable romances of love. The merit of the singing
generally consisted in the additions or variations with which the
genius of the performer enabled him to adorn the hackneyed music or
original narrative.

"Let Constantine take the gusle, and sing us the song about the
peasant maid who conquered the heart of the king," said the
stargeshina.

"Constantine is not here," replied a clear and sweet, but commanding
sort of voice. "He went out as it began to darken, and has not
returned."

The speaker rose as she said it, and went toward the large door of the
room to look out. She was a young woman of slender, but superb form,
which the costume of the country did not altogether conceal. She was
tall and straight, but moved with the graceful freedom of a child, for
her straightness was not that of an arrow--rather of the unstrung bow,
whose beauty is revealed by its flexibility. Her limbs were rounded
perfectly to the feminine model, but were evidently possessed of
muscular strength developed by daily exercise incident to her mountain
life. A glance at her would disprove that western theory which
associates the ideal of female beauty only with softness of fleshly
texture and lack of sinew. Her face was commanding, brow high, eyes
rather deep-set and blue, mouth small--perhaps too straight for the
best expression of amiability--chin full, and suggestive of firmness
and courage. As she gazed through the doorway into the night a
troubled look knit her features--just enough, however, to make one
notice rather the strong, steady and heroic purpose which conquered
it. When she turned again to the company the firelight revealed only a
girlish sweetness and gentleness of face and manner. She took the
gusle and sang a pretty song about the dancing of the witches; her
merry voice starting a score of other voices in the simple chorus.
Then followed a war song, in which the daughter of a murdered
chieftain calls upon the clan to avenge her father, and save their
land from an insulting foe. It was largely recitative, and rendered
with so much of the realistic in her tones and manner as to draw even
the old men to their feet, while, with waving hands and marching
stamp, they started the company in the refrain.

Milosch set the example of retiring when the evening was well
advanced. Though Constantine was still absent, it gave his father no
anxiety, for the boy was accustomed to have his own private business
with coons in the forest, and the eels in the pool, and, indeed, with
the stars too--for often he would lie for hours looking at them, only
Morsinia being allowed to interrupt his conference with the
bright-eyed watchers above.

FOOTNOTE:

[47] Still a Servian and Albanian superstition.



CHAPTER XVI.


Constantine, who was now a manly fellow of nearly eighteen years, had
left the house when it grew dark. The night was thick, for heavy
clouds had spread their pall over the sky. A little space from the
house was the kennel. A deep growl greeted his approach to it.

"Still, Balk!" muttered he, as he loosed an enormous mastiff, and led
the brute toward the side of the house on which the clijet, or
chamber, occupied by Morsinia was located.

"Down, Balk!" he said, as again and again the huge beast rose and
placed his paws upon his master's shoulders. Balk was tied within a
clump of elder-bushes a little way from the house, and at the opening
of a foot-path ascending the mountain. The young man lay down with his
head upon the mastiff. Nearly an hour passed; the silence unbroken
except by a querulous whine of the dog as his comrade refused to
indulge his playful spirit. Suddenly Balk threw up his head and
sniffed the air nervously. Yet no sound was heard, but the soughing of
the winds through the budding trees, and the murmur of the brook. The
animal became restless and would not lie down except at the sternly
whispered command.

Leaving him, Constantine opened the shutter of the clijet occupied by
his father and himself, and quietly entered. Though in the dark, he
strung a strong bow, balanced several arrows in his hand to determine
the best, saying to himself as he did so, "I can send these straight
in the direction of a sound, thanks to my night hunting!" A dagger was
thrust into the top of his leather hose. He wound his head in the
strooka--the cloth which answers for both cap and pillow to those who
are journeying among those mountains and liable to exposure without
bed or roof at night.

The noise though slight awakened Milosch, who had fallen into a light
sleep.

"Where now, my boy? No coon will come to you such a night as this."

"Father, I did not tell you, because you laugh at my fears," said
Constantine in a low tone. "But the anxiety of Uncle Kabilovitsch and
the great captain, too, when I went to camp last week, makes me more
cautious about Morsinia. The Vili are about, as the girls said."

"Nonsense, you child! It's a shame that a boy of your years should
believe such stuff. Besides what have the Vili to do with our
daughter?"

"Look here, father; when I was searching for a rabbit's burrow this
afternoon I saw the footprint of one of them, and it wore a soldier's
shoe too. That is the sort of Vili I believe in."

"Why, boy!" said Milosch, "your head is so full of soldiering that
rabbits' burrows look like soldiers' feet. Or your head is so turned
with love for our girl, that you must imitate the Latin knights, and
go watch beneath the shutter of your lady's castle. Go, along, then,
and let the night dews take the folly out of you. Foolish boy!" added
he, as he turned toward the wall.

Constantine went back to the dog. The huge beast had thrust himself
as far as the cord would allow him in the direction away from the
house, and stood trembling with excitement as he peered into the black
shadows which lay against the mountain. Constantine could detect no
unusual sound save the creaking of the gigantic limbs of the trees as
they rubbed against each other in the rising wind, the sharpening
whistle of the breeze, and the crackle of the dead brushwood. Yet the
mastiff's excitement increased. He strained the rope with his utmost
strength, but the hand of his master upon his neck checked the whining
growl.

A branch snapped on the hillside in the direction of the path.

"No wind did that," muttered he. A stone rolled down the declivity.

"No foot familiar with that path did that. You are right, Balk!" and
by main strength he pressed the mastiff's head to the ground, and,
with his arm about his neck, kept him crouching and silent.

Stealthy steps were heard.

"One! Two!" counted the boy. "You and I are enough for them, eh,
Balk?"

The dog licked the face of his master in token that he understood, and
would take his man if Constantine would do equally well.

"Three! Four! Five! A large band! Too many for us, Balk! We must rouse
the village----"

But at the moment he would have started, his attention was arrested by
low voices almost at his side.

"The clijet nearest. When she is taken I will sound the bugle
call--the Turkish call, so that your dash through the village will be
thought to be one of their dashes. Do as little real damage as you
can, keeping the appearance of a genuine raid; but no matter if you
have to cut the throats of a half-dozen or more; especially the
red-headed fellow you have seen in camp, and the old devil with the
paralyzed arm. I and Waldy will carry the girl, and wait for you by
the horses on the open road. Let's inspect!"

Two dusky outlines moved toward the house. Constantine cut the rope,
and, at a push of his hand the dog crawled a few feet until he was
clear of the copse; then sprang into the air. There was a hardly
audible exclamation of surprise and terror; a low growl of satisfied
rage, as when a tiger seizes the food thrown to him in his cage. One
man is down in death grapple with his strange assailant whose teeth
are at his throat. A sharp whiz and a cry of pain tell that the arrow
of Constantine has not missed its mark.

A second whiz, and the form topples!

The boy stood stupefied with the reaction of the moment. But the
multiplying footfalls along the ledge aroused him. He darted into the
house, swinging the great bar that turned on a peg in the door post
across the entrance, and thus securing it behind him. To arouse the
household was the work of a moment. A word explained all. Arms were
seized, not only by the men, but also by the women: for even to this
day a marauder will meet no more skilful and brave defenders of the
villages of Albania than the wives and daughters who encourage the men
by their example as well as by their words. Their hands are trained to
use the sword, the axe, the dagger; and the cry of danger transforms
the most domestic scene into an exhibition of Amazons.

The expected attack was delayed. Fears were excited lest the raiders
were about to set fire to the house. If such were the case, the policy
of the inmates was to sally forth and cut their way through the
assailants, at whatever cost. Some one must go out. It might be to
meet death at the door. Standing in a circle they hastily repeated the
Pater Noster, each one giving a word in turn; the one to whom the
"Amen" came accepting the appointment as directly from God. With drawn
weapons they gathered at the door, which was opened suddenly. No enemy
appearing, it was closed, leaving the new sentinel without.

After going a few paces the guard stumbled over the dead body of the
dog, by the side of which a man was vainly struggling to rise. Drawing
his dagger he would have completed the work of the mastiff's
fangs,--when he checked the impulse by better judgment--

"No, it's better to have him along with us. He'll come handy before we
get through this job!"

So, grasping the two arms of the wounded man in such a way as to
prevent his using a weapon, if strength enough should remain, he swung
the helpless hulk upon his back, as he had often carried the carcass
of a wolf down the mountain; and, giving the preconcerted signal at
the door, was instantly re-admitted.

The wounded man wore the Turkish uniform, and was evidently the
officer in charge of the raiding party. This fact sufficiently
explained the delay in following up the attack, for doubtless his men
were still waiting for the order which he would never give.

"We must rouse our neighbors," said the old man, who was recognized as
the commandant of the dwelling, and obeyed as such with that reverence
for seniority which is to this day a beautiful characteristic of the
Albanian people.

Constantine held a hurried, but confidential talk with Milosch, who
proposed that Constantine and his sister should undertake the
hazardous venture of alarming the next house. All remonstrated against
Morsinia's venturing, the patriarch refusing to allow it. Milosch
persuaded him with these words, which were not overheard by the
others--

"She is the chief object of attack; this I have discovered. If she
remains in the house she will be captured. Her only safety is to leave
it, and disappear in the darkness. Once out there she can hide near
by, or can thread her way up among the crags, where no stranger's foot
will ever come. She knows every stone and tree in the dark as well as
a mole knows the twists and turns of his burrow."

Morsinia caught at once the spirit of the adventure, and in her
eagerness preceded Constantine to the doorway. The thrill of fear on
her account gave way to a thrill of applause for her as she stood in
readiness. She had donned a helmet of thick half-tanned hides, and a
corsage of light iron links, looped together and tied with leathern
thongs, about her person. Her arms were left free for the use of the
bow and stock which swung from her shoulder, and the klaptigan, or
short dagger, which hung in the plaits of her kilt.

"The Holy Virgin protect her!" was the prayer which came from all
sides as she flung her arms about the neck of Milosch, and as she
afterward bowed her head to receive the kiss of the patriarch upon her
forehead. The light in the room was extinguished that their exit might
not be noted by any without when the door should open.

For a moment Constantine and Morsinia stood close to the door which
had closed behind them. Their keen hearing detected the fact that the
house was surrounded, though by persons stationed at a distance,
chiefly upon the higher slopes of the hills. The road to the next
house was evidently guarded.

Constantine insisted upon Morsinia's concealing herself rather than
attempting to go with him to the neighbors; but only after
remonstrance with him did she consent to his plan. Silently crossing
the road, and without so much as breaking a stick or rustling a dead
leaf beneath her feet--a dexterity acquired in approaching the timid
game with which the mountains abounded, and which she had often
hunted--she disappeared in the dense copse.

Constantine moved cautiously by the wayside, easily eluding the notice
of the men whose dark outlines were discerned by him as they stood on
guard at intervals along the road. He had nearly approached the
neighboring house when the still night air was rent with the shrill
note of a Turkish bugle call from the direction of the dwelling they
had left.

"Could it be that the captured officer had recovered sufficient
reason and strength to break from his captors and give the signal?"
thought Constantine. The call sounded again--it was evidently from a
distance, beyond the village. A score or more dim forms at the sound
gathered in the road; some emerging from the bushes near, others
descending from points high up the slopes on either side--their
hurried but muffled conversation showed that they were about to make
the appointed dash upon the doomed dwelling. But a second blare of
trumpets sounded far down toward the entrance of the valley, followed
by a clanging of armor and clatter of horses' feet. Torches glared far
away. A party was evidently just winding out of the defile into the
open space where the hamlet stood. Rescuers doubtless! for the first
party of raiders scattered to right and left, and were heard climbing
again up the wooded slopes. Morsinia hastened to Constantine, and
together they hurried to meet the new comers. But they were not
rescuers. They attacked the house with shouts of "Allah! Allah!" They
fired it with their torches. Some poured along the road toward the
next house.

They were genuine Turks. Unable to conquer Scanderbeg in battle, the
great army had spread everywhere to lay waste the country. In fertile
meadows, along every stream, wherever a castle or chalet was known to
be, raged the numberless soldiers, who, beaten in nobler fight, sought
vengeance by becoming murderers of the more helpless, and kidnappers
of women and children to fill their harems.

With flying feet Constantine and Morsinia outstripped the riders,
alarmed the second house, and ran to the third. Behind them the
crackling flames told that it was too late to return. All who could
escape gathered at the great konak. Since a similar raid, some years
before, this building had been converted into a rude fortification.
The wall which surrounded it, as an enclosure for sheep and cattle,
had been built up high and strong enough to prevent any approach to
the main structure by an anticipated foe, except as the scalers of the
wall should be exposed to the missiles of those within. The konak
proper was pierced with loop-holes, through which a shower of arrows
could be poured by unseen archers.

The court was already filled with the fugitives, while some had
entered the building, when it was surrounded by the Turks. Constantine
had gained from Morsinia a promise to avoid exposure; and had agreed
upon a place of meeting on the mountain, in the event of their both
surviving the conflict. But the eagerness of Constantine overcame his
discretion, and, heading a group of peasants who had not been able to
enter the konak, he mingled in a hand-to-hand fight with the
assailants. Morsinia's interest led her to closely watch the fray from
the bordering thicket, changing her position from time to time that
she might not lose sight of the well-known form of her foster-brother.
Seeing him endangered, she could not resist the vain impulse to fly to
his assistance; as if her arms could stay those of the stout troopers
who surrounded him; or as if a Turk could have respect for a woman's
presence. Scarcely had she moved from her covert when strong hands
seized her, and, by a quick movement, pinioned her arms behind her
back.

"Ho! man, guard this girl! If my houri escapes, your head shall be
forfeit," cried her captor, an officer, to a common soldier who was
holding his horse. In a moment he was lost to sight in the struggling
throng.

The wall was carried, and, though many a turban had rolled from the
lifeless head of its wearer, the building was finally fired--life
being promised to the women who should surrender. Some of these, who
were young, were thrust from the door by their kindred, who preferred
for them the chances of miserable existence as Turkish prey, to seeing
them perish with themselves. Most, however, fought to the last by the
side of their husbands and fathers, and were slain in the desperate
attempt to make their way from the flames which drove them out.

Constantine, by strange strength and skill, extricated himself from
the mêlée. A sharp flesh wound cooled his blind rage; and, realizing
that another's life, as dear to him as his own, was involved in his
safety, he withdrew from the danger, and sought Morsinia.

Not finding her during the night, he returned in the earliest dawn to
the konak. The building was in ruins; the ground strewn with dead and
wounded. With broken hearts the few who had escaped were bewailing
their loved ones killed or missing. But there was no tidings of
Morsinia. In vain the woods were searched; every old trysting place
sacred to some happy memory of the years they had spent together--the
eagle's crag, the cave in the ravine, the dense copse. But only
memories were there. Imagination supplied the rest--a horrid
imagination! The poor boy was maddened and crushed; at one moment a
fiend; at the next almost lifeless with grief.

An examination at the lower house discovered the body of his father,
Milosch. He had been killed outside the house; for his body, though
terribly gashed, was not burned, as were those found within the walls
of the building.

Constantine had, up to this time, regarded himself as a boy; now he
felt that he was a man, with more of life in its desirableness behind
than ahead of him: a desperate man, with but a single object to live
for, vengeance upon the Turk, and upon those who, worse than Turks, of
Albanian blood, had first attempted Morsinia's capture.

Yet there was another thing to live for. Perhaps she might be
recaptured. Improbable, but not impossible! That, then, should be his
waking dream. Such a hope--hope against hope--was all that could make
life endurable, except it were to drain the blood of her captors.

He was driven by the poignancy of his grief and the hot fury of his
rage, to make this double object an immediate pursuit. He felt that he
could not sleep again until he had tasted some of the vengeance for
which he thirsted.

But how could he accomplish it? He must lay his plan, for it were
worse than useless to start single-handed without one. He must plot
his tragedy before he began to execute it.

He sat down amid the ruins of the hamlet--amid the ruins of his
happiness and hopes--to plot. But he could devise nothing. His
attempts were like writing on the air. He sat in half stupor; his
power to think crushed by the dead weight of mingled grief and the
sense of impotency.

But suddenly he started----

"Fool! fool, that I am, to waste the moments! This very night it may
be done."

He hastily stripped the body of a dead Turkish soldier, and, rolling
the uniform into a compact bundle, plunged with it through the thicket
and up the steep mountain side.



CHAPTER XVII.


The valley in which the little hamlet lay, as well as the ravine by
which it was approached, was exceedingly tortuous. The stream which
seemed to have made these in its ceaseless windings, sometimes almost
doubled upon itself, as if the spirit of the waters were the prey of
the spirit of the hills that closed in upon its path, and thus it
sought to elude its pursuer. Though it was fully twenty miles from the
demolished konak to where the narrow valley debouched into the open
plain, it was not more than a quarter of this distance in a straight
line between those points. The interjacent space was, however,
impassable to any except those familiar with its trackless rocks. From
a distance the mountain lying between seemed a sheer precipice. But
Constantine knew every crevice up which a man could climb; the
various ledges that were connected, if not by balconies broad enough
for the foot, at least by contiguous trunks of trees, balustrades of
tough mountain laurel, or ropes of wild vine. He could cross this wall
of rock in an hour or two, but the Turkish raiders would occupy the
bulk of the day in making the circuit of the road. Indeed they would
in all probability not leave the security of the great ravine, and
strike the highway, until night-fall; for the terror of Scanderbeg's
ubiquity was always before the Turks. It was this thought that had
prompted Constantine's sudden action when he started up from his
despairing reverie amid the embers of his home.

It was still early in the afternoon when, having passed with the
celerity of a goat among the crags, he looked down from the further
side of the great barrier upon the Turkish company. He stood upon a
ledge almost above their heads; and never did an eagle's eye take in a
brood upon which he was about to swoop, more sharply than did
Constantine's observe the details of the camp below him.

There were the horses tethered. Yonder was a group of officers playing
at dice. In a circle of guards beyond, a few women and children; and
among them--could he mistake that form?

The soldiers were preparing their mess. Some were picking the feathers
from fowls; others building fires. Then his surmise had been correct,
that they would not leave the valley until night.

Constantine donned the Turkish uniform he had brought with him, and
climbed down the mountain. Sentinels were posted here and there upon
bold points from which they might get a view of the great plain
beyond. Toward this they kept a constant watch, as one of them
remarked to his comrade upon a neighboring pinnacle of rock: "Lest
some of Scanderbeg's lightning might be lying about loose." Posing
like a sentinel whenever he was likely to be observed, Constantine
passed through their lines, the guards being too far apart to detect
one another's faces. Hailed by a sentinel, he gave back the playful
salute with a wave of his hand.

Emboldened by the success of his disguise, he descended to a ledge so
near the group of officers that he could easily hear their
conversation. They did not use the pure Turkish speech, but sometimes
interspersed it with Servian, for many of the officers, as well as the
men, in the Sultan's armies were from the provinces where the Turkish
tongue was hardly known. The common soldiers in this group Constantine
observed used the Servian altogether.

"Good!" said he to himself, "point number one in my plot."

"The highest throw wins the choice of the captives," cried one of the
officers. "What say you, Oski?"

"Agreed," replied the one addressed, "but she will never be your houri
in paradise, Lovitsch?"

"Why not?"

"Because the Koran forbids casting lots?"

"Well," replied his comrade. "I will take my beauty now, in this
world, rather than wait for the next. So here goes!"

"By Khalif Omar's big toe! You have won, Oski. Which will you take?"

"The little one with the bright black eyes," replied Oski; "unless you
can prevail upon Captain Ballaban to give me his. The man who owns
that girl will never have any houris in paradise. They would all die
for jealousy."

"Captain Ballaban is his name," murmured Constantine to himself.
"Good! Point number two in my plot."

"I would not have her for a gift," said Lovitsch, "for she has a
strange eye--the evil eye perhaps--at least there is something in it I
cannot fathom. She looks straight through a man. I touched her under
the chin, when those gentle blue orbs burst with fire. There was as
much of a change in her as there is in one of our new-fashioned cannon
when it is touched off; quiet one moment, and sending a bullet through
you the next. She's the daughter of the devil, sure."

"You are a bold soldier, Lovitsch, to be afraid of a girl," laughed
his comrade. "I would like the chance of owning that beauty. If I
could not manage her I could sell her. She would bring a bag of gold
at Adrianople. Captain Ballaban will probably give her as a present to
Prince Mahomet. He can afford to do so, for the prince has shown him
wonderful favors. Think of a young Janizary, who has not seen nineteen
summers, with a captain's rank, and commanding such greybeards as we!"

"No doubt the prince favors him," replied Lovitsch, "but that will not
account for his advance in the Janizary's corps. Nothing but real grit
and genius gets ahead among those fellows. The prince can give his
jewels and gold, but he could not secure a Janizary's promotion to a
soldier any more than he could bring him to disgrace without the
consent of the Aga. No, comrade, Ballaban was born a soldier, and has
won every thread in his captain's badge by some exploit or sage
counsel. But I wish he was back with us. I like not being left in
charge of such a motley troop as this. If Scanderbeg should close up
the mouth of this ravine with a few score of his spavined cavalry, we
would be like so many eggs in a bag, to be smashed together, without
Ballaban's wit to get us out."

"I think the captain has returned, for, if I mistake not, I saw his
red head a little while ago glowing like a sunset on the crag yonder,"
replied Oski, looking up toward the spot where Constantine was
sitting.

----"Good! said Constantine, holding his council of war with his own
thoughts. "The captain looks like me before sunset. Perhaps I can look
like him after sunset. One advantage of having a head tiled in red!
But I will not show it again. Point number three in my plot."----

"Quite likely the captain has returned, and is prowling about,
inspecting everything, from the horses'-tails to our very faces, that
he may read our thoughts. That is his way," said Lovitsch, glancing
around.

"Which way did he go?"

"You might as well ask which track the Prophet's horse took through
the air when he carried his rider on the night journey to heaven. A
messenger from the chief Aga met him just as we were finishing the
fight last night, and, with a word turning over the command to me, he
mounted his horse and was off. Perhaps he heads some other raid
to-night; or, for aught I know, may be conferring with Scanderbeg in
the disguise of a Frankish general; for that Ballaban's brain is as
prolific of schemes and tricks as this ant's nest is full of
eggs"--turning over a stone as he spoke.

The afternoon waned, and, as the night fell, preparations were made
for the march. When it was dark a light bugle note called in the
sentinels, and the company moved forward.



CHAPTER XVIII.


In the gathering gloom Constantine approached the extreme edge of the
camp, where those who were to bring up the rear had just mounted. A
soldier, somewhat separated from the others, was leading several
horses; either a relay in case of accident to the others, or those
animals whose saddles had been emptied during the fight at the konak.
Constantine's appearance was evidently a surprise to the soldier, who
eyed him closely, but made no movement indicating suspicion beyond
that of a rather pleased curiosity. The man made a low salâm, bowing
his turban to the saddle bow, and addressed him--

"Will you not mount, Sire?" Without responding Constantine leaped into
a saddle.

"You will pardon me, Captain," continued the soldier. "You are
welcome back, for we are in better heart when you are with us."

"Thanks, good fellow," said Constantine, "but I have not returned
yet--at least my return must not be known to the troops until the
morning. We will take your tongue out if you tell any one I am back
without bidding."

The man gave a quick glance as if perplexed. Constantine's hand was
upon his dagger. But the soldier's doubt was relieved as he seemed to
be confident of the familiar form of his captain; and he explained his
apparent suspicion by quickly adding--

"You speak the Servian excellent well, Captain."

"One must get used to it, and every other tongue, in commanding such a
mixed crew as the Sultan gathers into his army," said Constantine.

"You Janizaries are wonderful men," replied the soldier. "You know all
languages. There was the little Aga I once"--

"No matter about that now," said Constantine, interrupting him. "I
want you for a special duty. Can I trust you to do me an errand? If
you do it well you will be glad of it hereafter."

"Ay, ay, Sire! with my life; and my lips as mute as the horse's."

"I captured a girl last night. She knows something I would find out by
close questioning. I must have her brought to the rear."

"Ay! the girl Koremi holds?"

"Yes, tell Koremi to loiter a little with her until I come up. We must
not go far from this defile before I find out what she knows, if I
have to discover it with my dagger in her heart; for there are
traitors among us. Last night there were Arnaouts dressed as Moslems
in the fight."

"That I know," said the soldier, "for I tripped over a fellow myself,
hiding in the bushes, who swore at me in as good round Arnaout tongue
as they speak in hell. I ran him through and found a Giaour corslet
under his jacket. If there are traitors among us we will broil them
over our first camp-fire, that they may scent hell before they get
there."

"You see then why I must find out what I can at once," said the
assumed captain. "Some of our men are in league with the Arnaouts. I
can find out from that girl every one of them. Impress this upon
Koremi; and if he hesitates to let the girl drift to the rear, you can
tell him that he will be suspected of being in league with the
rascals."

Constantine took the ropes which held the horses the man was leading;
and, bidding him to haste, but be cautious that no one but Koremi
should know the message, followed slowly behind.

It was nearly an hour later when the form of the soldier appeared in
the road just before him.

"Right!" said Constantine.

"Right!" was the response, first to the assumed captain, then repeated
to some one behind him. Two other forms appeared; one of them a woman.

Anticipating his orders, the second trooper untied a rope from about
his own waist, and handed it, together with the rein of the horse the
woman rode, to Constantine. Then, making a low obeisance, the two
troopers withdrew a little distance to the rear.

The other end of the rope which Constantine held was about the waist
of the captive. Drawing the led horse close to his own, and dropping
his turban more over his face, Constantine closely scrutinized the
features of the woman. She was Morsinia. It was difficult for him to
repress the excitement and delay the revelation of his true person,
but the hazard of the least cry of surprise or recognition on her part
nerved him to coolness.

"Where are you taking me? If you have the courage, kill me," said the
girl.

Constantine replied only by whistling a snatch of an Albanian air.

"Are you an Albanian renegade?" continued the girl. "Could you not be
content to sell yourself to fight for the Turk against other enemies,
but must be a double traitor, and kill and kidnap your own kind?"

The whistling continued. But as the soldiers were a little removed, he
said in a low voice, disguising his natural tones:

"I am an Albanian, and if you will not speak, but only obey, I can
save you."

"Jesu grant you are true!" was the tremulous response.

"This will prove it," muttered he, reaching toward her, and with his
knife cutting a broad strap which bound her limbs to the saddle. "If
tied elsewhere, here is the knife."

The way, which had been narrowed by the projection of the mountains on
either side, now widened a little. Constantine knew the spot well.
There had once been a mill and peasant's hut there, and now quite a
plat of grass was growing from the soft soil. The eye could not
discern it, for the darkness was rayless. But Constantine remembered
the grassy stretch was just round the point of rock they were passing.
The horses were walking slowly, being allowed by their riders to pick
their way along the stony road. As they turned the rock a strong wind
rushed through the ravine, wailing a requiem over the now deserted
settlement and the dead leaves of last year, which it whirled in
eddies; and singing a lullaby through the trees to the new-born leaves
of the spring time, which were rocked on the cradling branches. This,
together with the clatter of the horses' feet before and behind them,
enabled Constantine to draw the captive's horse and his own upon the
soft turf without being heard. Halting them at a few yards' distance,
they allowed the men who had followed them to pass by, and sat in
silence until the lessening sound told them that the soldiers had made
another turn in the road. Then, wheeling the horses, Constantine gave
loose rein back over the track they had come. After a short ride he
dismounted, and closely examining the way, led the horses to one side,
up a path, and down again to a little plateau, perhaps a furlong from
the main road, where a grazing patch would keep them from being
betrayed by the neighing. He dreaded the fatigue of further journey to
his comrade; for even his own ordinarily tireless frame was beginning
to feel the drain of the terrible night and day they had passed
through.

Constantine threw off his turban and stretched his strong arms to
lift the captive from her horse, exclaiming with delight in his own
familiar tones,--

"I am no Albanian, dear Morsinia, but--"

"Constantine!" she cried.

He laid an almost lifeless form upon the turf, for the shock of the
revelation had been too much for her jaded nerves and excited brain.
Unrolling the cloth of his turban he spread it over her person, while
his own breast was her pillow. Slowly she recovered strength and
self-command.

In a few words the mutual stories of the hours of their separation
were told. Morsinia had been treated with exceeding kindness and
respect, as the captive of the chief officer of the expedition, who
seemed to be a person of some distinction, though she had not seen
him. Constantine insisted upon his companion's seeking sleep, but by
his inquiries, did as much as her own thoughts to keep her awake; so
that at the dawn they confessed that the eyes of neither had been
closed. The necessity of procuring food led them to start at daybreak
for the nearest settlement. They descended to the road and retraced
the course of the preceding night; for it was useless to return to the
wrecked hamlet. They had gone but a short distance when they heard the
sound of a body of cavalry directly in front of them, riding rapidly
up the valley. There was no time to avoid the approaching riders
either by flight or concealment. Constantine said hastily,

"Remember, if they are Turks, I too am a Turk, and you are my captive.
If they are friends, all is well. Stay where you are, and I will ride
forward to meet them."



CHAPTER XIX.


The newcomers proved to be a detachment of Albanians. Constantine was
instantly captured notwithstanding his declaration that his dress was
only assumed.

"Aha! you are a Christian now in a Turk's skin, are you? But yesterday
you were a Turk in a Christian's feathers," was the taunt with which
he was greeted by one of the foremost riders, who continued his
bantering. "Your face is honest, if your heart is not, you Moslem
devil; for your ugly features will not lie though your tongue does. I
would know that square jaw and red head equally well now, were it
under the tiara of the pope instead of under the turban; and I would
cut your throat if you carried St. Peter's key in your girdle; you
change-skinned lizard!"

"Who is he?" cried the horsemen, gathering about.

"Why! the very knave who escaped us about sundown yesterday, after
spying our camp; and he has the impudence to ask us to take him
prisoner that he may spy us again."

"Let us hamstring him!" cried another, "and, unless St. Christopher
has turned Moslem in paradise and helps the rascal, he will find no
legs to run away with again."

"Set him up for a mark when we halt," proposed a third. "A ducat to
him whose arrow can split his ear without tearing the cheek at forty
paces!"

Constantine was helpless as they adjusted a halter about his neck,
with which to lead him at the side of a horseman, the butt of the
scurrilous wit and sharper spear-points of his half mad and half merry
captors.

They had gone but a few paces when the colonel commanding the
detachment made his way through the troopers to the front. He was a
venerable man with long flowing white beard. His bodily strength
seemed to come solely from the vitality of nerve and the dominance of
his spirit; for he was well worn with years.

"What is this noise about?" he asked sternly.

Before any could reply he stared with a moment's incredulity and
wonder at Constantine, who relieved his doubts by recognizing him.

"Colonel Kabilovitsch!" cried he, doffing his turban as if it had been
a Christian cap.[48] "Your men are playful fellows, as frolicksome as
a cat with a mole."

"But why are you here, my boy? and why this disguise?" interrupted
Kabilovitsch.

The explanation was given in a few words;--on the one side the story
of the slaughter at the village, and the adventures of Morsinia and
Constantine; on the other of how the news of the Turkish raid reached
the camp at Sfetigrade about noon, and the rescuing party had started
at once under Kabilovitsch's command, and ridden at breakneck speed
during the entire night in the hope of meeting the Turks before they
emerged from the narrow valley.

Learning now that they were too late for this, Kabilovitsch halted his
command, and with Constantine sought the place where Morsinia was in
waiting. When the old man heard that the first assailants of the
hamlet had been Albanians in disguise his rage was furious; and
through his incautious words Morsinia learned more of her relation to
the voivode Amesa than her reputed father had ever told her; for the
mystery of her family had never been fully explained in her hearing.
It had heretofore been deemed best that the girl should not be made
the custodian of her own secret, lest her childish prattle might
reveal it to others. Yet she had guessed the greater part of the
problem of her identity. But Kabilovitsch was now led by the new
curiosity which his inadvertent expressions had awakened in her, as
well as by the remarkably discreet and cautious judgment she had
displayed, to tell her the entire story of her own life. This was not,
however, until orders had been passed through the troop for rest, and
the fires hastily kindled along the roadside had prepared their
refreshing breakfasts.

Removed from the hearing of all others, Kabilovitsch rehearsed to
Morsinia and Constantine what the reader already knows of her
extraction and early residence in Albania. He advised her to extreme
caution against the slightest reference to herself as the young Mara
de Streeses, and that she should insist upon her identity as the
daughter of the Servian peasant Milosch and the sister of Constantine.

Morsinia buried her fair face in the gray beard of the old man, as
years ago she had done when they sat upon the door-stone of their
Balkan home, and sobbed as if his words had orphaned her. In a few
moments she looked up into his fine but wrinkled face, and drawing it
down to hers, kissed him as she used to do, and said lovingly,

"I must believe your words; but my heart holds you as my father: for
father you have been to me, and child I shall be to you so long as God
gives us to one another."

The old man pressed her temples between his rough hands, and looked
long into her deep blue eyes, as he said slowly,

"Ay, father and mother both was I to thee, my child, from that
terrible night, sixteen years ago. My rough arms have often cradled
thee. But now you have a nobler and stronger protector in our
country's father, the great Castriot. To him you must go; for it is no
longer safe in these lonely valleys. Under his strong arm and
all-watchful eye you will be amply protected. There are nameless
enemies of the old house of De Streeses whom we must avoid as
vigilantly as we avoid the Turks."

It was determined that Constantine should make a detour with her, and
approach Sfetigrade from the south, giving out that they were
fugitives from the lower country, which the enemy had also been
raiding.

The colonel stated to his under officers, in hearing of the men, that
the young Turk was really one of Castriot's scouts, and that the young
woman was an accomplice. Borrowing from one and another sufficient
Albanian costumes to substitute for Constantine's disguise,
Kabilovitsch dismissed the couple.

There was no end to the badgering the officious soldier who had first
arrested the scout received at the hands of his comrades. They jeered
at his double mistake in taking the fellow yesterday as a Turkish spy
in Albanian uniform, because he had slipped away so shrewdly, and now
again being duped by him a real Albanian in Turkish disguise. Some
threw the halter over the fellow's neck; others made mimic preparation
for hamstringing him; while one presented him with an immense scroll
of bark purporting to be his commission as chief of the department of
secret service, finishing the mock presentation by shivering the bark
over the fellow's head. The unhappy man contented himself
philosophically:--

"No wonder General Castriot baffles the enemy when his own men cannot
understand him. You were all as badly twisted by that fellow's tricks
as I was. But I will never interfere with that red head again, though
he wears a turban and is cutting the throat of the general himself."

Two days later a beautiful girl accompanied by her brother--who was as
unlike her as the thorn bush is unlike the graceful flowering clematis
that festoons its limbs, both of them in apparent destitution,
refugees from near the Greek border--entered the town of Sfetigrade.
By order of the general, to whom their piteous story was told by
Kabilovitsch--for he had chanced, so he said, to come upon them as
they were inquiring their way to the town--they were quartered with a
family whose house was not far from the citadel. For some weeks the
girl was an invalid. A raging fever had been induced by over
excitement and the subsequent fatigue of the long journey. Colonel
Kabilovitsch could not refrain from expressing his interest in the
young woman by almost daily calls at the cottage where she lay. One
day, when it was supposed by the surgeon that she might not live, the
old man was observed to stand long at the cot upon which the sick girl
was lying. A look of agony overspread his features when the surgeon,
who had been feeling her pulse, laid her almost nerveless hand beneath
the blanket.

"Dear, good old man," said the housewife. "I warrant he has laid some
pretty one of his own in the ground. Maybe a child, or a lover,
sometime back in the years. These things do come to us over and over
again."

The brother of the sick girl scarcely noticed the visits of Colonel
Kabilovitsch, except to respond to his questions when no one but
himself could give the exact information about the patient's
condition; for none watched with her so incessantly.

But her marvellous natural vitality enabled the sufferer to outlive
the fever; and, as she became convalescent, the old colonel seemed to
forget her. His interest was apparently in her suffering rather than
in herself.

FOOTNOTE:

[48] Moslems do not remove the hat in making salutation.



CHAPTER XX.


The battlements of Sfetigrade lay, like a ruffled collar, upon
enormous shoulders of rock rising high above the surrounding country.
Over them rose, like a massive head, the citadel with its bartizans
projecting as a crown about the brow. The rock upon which the
fortification stood was scarped toward the valley, so that it could be
climbed only with the help of ladders, even though the assailants were
unresisted by its defenders. The few spots which nature had left
unguarded were now choked with abattis, or overlooked by bastions so
skilfully constructed as to need far less courage and strength for
their defence than were possessed by the bands of Dibrian and Epirot
patriots who fought from behind them.

The assaults which Sultan Amurath launched against the place had been
as frequent as the early summer showers, and his armies were beaten to
pieces as the rain rebounded in spray and ran in streams from the
rocks. The chagrin of the baffled Sultan reflected itself in the
discouragement of his generals and the demoralization of their men.
The presence of his majesty could not silence the mutual
recriminations, the loud and rancorous strife with which brave
officers sought to lay upon one another the responsibility for their
defeat, rather than confess that the daily disasters were due to the
superior genius commanding among their foes. Especially was the envy
of the leaders of the other corps and branches of the service excited
against the Janizaries, to whose unrivalled training and daring were
due whatever minor victories had been won, and whatever exploits
worthy of mention had been performed.

A lofty tent, whose projecting centre-pole bore the glittering brass
crescent and star, and before the entrance to which a single
horse-tail hung from the long spear, denoted the headquarters of a
Sanjak Bey. In front of the tent walked two men in eager, and not
altogether amiable, conversation. The one was the Bey, whose huge
turban of white, inwound with green, indicated that his martial zeal
was supplemented by equal enthusiasm for his faith; and that he had
added to the fatigue of many campaigns against the infidels the toil
of a more monotonous, though more satisfactory, pilgrimage to Mecca.
His companion was an Aga of the Janizaries, second only in rank to the
chief Aga.

The latter was speaking with a wrath which his courteous words but ill
concealed--

"I do not impugn your honor or the sincerity of your motives,
Caraza-Bey, in making your accusation against our Captain Ballaban;
but the well-known jealousy which is everywhere manifested against our
corps compels me to believe not a single word to the discredit of him
or any of the Yeni-Tscheri without indubitable proof. I would allow
the word of Captain Ballaban--knowing him so well as I do--to outweigh
the oaths on the Koran of a score of those who, like yourself, have
reason to be jealous of his superior courage."

"But your upstart captain's guilt can be proved, if not to your
personal satisfaction, at least before those who will not care to ask
your assent to their judgment," replied the other, not attempting to
veil his hatred of the Aga, any more than his purpose of crushing the
one of whom they were speaking.

"What will the lies of a whole sanjak of your hirelings avail against
the honor of a Janizary?" replied the Aga. "If two horse-tails[49]
hung from the standard yonder, I would not publicly disgrace Captain
Ballaban by so much as ordering an inquiry at your demand. The
Janizaries will take no suggestion from any but the Padishah."

"A curse on the brag of the Janizaries! The arrogancy of the Christian
renegades needs better warrant than Ballaban can give it," sneered the
Bey. "If you like, let the matter rest as it is. The whole army
believes that one of your dervish-capped heroes--the best of the
brood, I imagine--deserted his comrades in battle, and all for the
sake of a captive girl."

"It is a lie!" shouted the Aga, drawing his sword upon him.

The attitude of the two officers drew a crowd, who rushed from all
sides to witness the duel. Both were masters of sword play, so that
neither obtained any sanguinary advantage before they were separated
by the arrival of the chief Aga, who forbade his subaltern to continue
the conflict. Upon hearing the occasion of the affray, the chief said:

"The trial of Captain Ballaban shall be had, with the publication of
the fact that Caraza-Bey has assumed the position of his accuser; and,
in the event of his charge proving false, he shall atone for his
malice by submitting to any punishment the captain may indicate; and
the force of the Janizaries shall execute it, though they cut the
throats of his entire command in order to do it. We must first
vindicate the honor of the corps, and then take vengeance upon its
detractors. I demand that Caraza-Bey make good his charge to-morrow at
the sixth hour, or accept the judgment of coward and vilifier, which
our court shall then proclaim to the army."

At the appointed time on the day following, the tent of the chief Aga
was the gathering place of the notable officers of the corps. Without,
it differed from hundreds of other tents only in its size, and in the
pennant indicating the rank of its occupant. Within, it was lined with
a canopy of finest silk and woollen tapestries, on the blue background
of which crescents and stars, cimeters and lance-heads, battle-axes,
shields, turbans and dervish caps were artistically grouped with texts
from the Koran, and skilfully wrought in braids and threads of gold.
The canvas sides of the tent were now removed, making it an open
pavilion, and inviting inspection and audience from any who desired to
approach. A divan was at one side, and made a semicircle of about half
the tent. Upon this sat the chief Aga, his cushion slightly raised
above those at his side, which were occupied by the agas of lower
rank. A group of officers filled the space beneath the tent; and
soldiers of all grades made a dense crowd for several rods beyond into
the open air.

The chief Aga waved his hand to an attendant, and the military court
was formally opened. Several cases were disposed of before that of
Captain Ballaban was called.

There was led in a stalwart soldier of middle age. Two witnesses
deposed that, in a recent assault upon the enemy's works at
Sfetigrade, when there was poured upon the assailants a shower of
arrows and stones from the battlements above, this man, without orders
from his officer, had cried, "Give way! Give way!" and that to this
cry and his example were due the confusion of ranks and the retreat
which followed.

The chief Aga turned and looked silently upon the man, awaiting his
reply to the accusation. The accused was speechless. The chief then
turned to the Aga to whose division the culprit belonged, that he
might hear any plea that he should be pleased to offer for the
soldier; but the Aga's face was stolid with indifference. The chief,
without raising his head, sat in silence for a moment, as in solemn
act of weighing the case. He then muttered an invocation of Allah as
the Supreme Judge. He paused. A gleam of light circled above the man;
a hissing sound of the cimeter and a thud were heard. The culprit's
head rolled to the ground. His trunk swayed for an instant and fell.

This scene was apparently of little interest to the spectators. A
second case only tested their patience. One was charged with having
failed to deliver an order from the colonel of his orta, or regiment,
to a captain of one of the odas, or companies. Both these officers
testified, the one to having sent the order, the other to not having
received it, and on this account to have failed to occupy a certain
position with his men in a recent engagement with the enemy. The
culprit alleged that it was impossible to deliver the order because of
the enemy's movements at the time. The Aga of the division, being
appealed to by the silent gaze of the judge, simply said:

"The man is brave;" when, by a motion of the hand, the judge dismissed
the soldier together with the case.

The expectation not only of common soldiers, but also of officials,
led them to crane their necks to look at the next comer. Even the
ordinarily immobile features of the chief relaxed into an expression
of anxiety as a young man walked down the aisle made by the reverent
receding of the crowd to either side. He was not graceful in form. His
body was beyond the proportion of his legs; though his arms
compensated for any lack in the length of his lower limbs. His neck
was thick, the head round, with full development of forehead, though
that portion of his face was somewhat concealed by the short, bushy
masses of red hair which protruded beneath his rimless Janizary cap.
His face was homely, but strongly marked, evincing force of character
as clearly as the convolutions of his muscles evinced animal strength
and endurance. The brightness of his eye atoned for any lack of beauty
in his features; as did his free and manly bearing make ample amends
for deficiency in grace of form. Altogether he was a man to attract
one's attention and hold it pleasantly.

Though he bent low to the earth in his obeisance to the chief officer
of his troop, it was without the suggestion of obsequiousness, with
that dignity which betokens real reverence and crowns itself with the
honor it would give to another.

The chief Aga announced that, although the witnesses in this case were
not of the order of the Yeni-Tscheri, and, therefore, had no claim to
the consideration of the court, yet it pleased him in this peculiar
case to waive the right to try the matter exclusively among
themselves, that the good name of the Yeni-Tscheri might suffer no
reproach. "Caraza-Bey," added the chief, "for some reason best known
to himself does not accept the privilege we have extended him, to
speak in our official presence what he has freely spoken elsewhere. We
shall, therefore, hear any witnesses he may have sent."

One Lovitsch, belonging to the irregular auxiliary troops, testified
that Captain Ballaban had organized a raid upon an Albanian village,
and engaged himself and company for the venture; but had left them in
the heat of the fight, not rejoining them until the second day. A
common soldier deposed that the captain returned to the company early
in the second evening, and induced him, the witness, and Koremi, to
whom the captain had entrusted a beautiful captive, to bring the girl
to the rear, under plea of getting from her information regarding the
enemy; and had then mysteriously disappeared with her. Koremi
corroborated this testimony.

Captain Ballaban gave a look of puzzled curiosity as he heard this;
but otherwise evinced not the slightest emotion.

The crowd gazed upon the young captain with disappointment while
testimony was being given. The agas present being unable to conceal
the deep anxiety depicted upon their countenances, as they leaned
forward with impatience to hear from his lips some exonerating
statement, which, however, they feared could not be given. A few faces
wore a look of contemptuous triumph. But two persons maintained
composure. It might be expected that the chief Aga, from his
familiarity with such scenes, if not from the propriety of his being
the formal embodiment of the rigid and remorseless court of the
Janizaries, whose decrees he was to announce, would show no emotion,
however strong his sympathy with the prisoner.

The endangered man answered his gaze with equal stolidity when the
judge turned to him for his defence; but he remained speechless. A
shudder of horror ran through the crowd. The executioner stepped
forward to the side of the apparently convicted person. A slight
ringing sound, as the long curve of the well-tempered blade grazed the
ground, sent to every heart the chilling announcement of his
readiness. The chief Aga turned to the others, but sought in vain any
palliatory suggestion or appeal for mercy, except in the mute agony of
their looks. The chief then raised his eyes as if for the invocation
of Allah's confirmation of the sentence as just. But his prayer was a
strange one:--"Oh, Allah! thou hast given a wondrous spirit to this
man; a courage worthy of the soul of Othman himself!" Then rising with
excitement he addressed the throng in rapid speech.

"Look upon this man, my brothers of the shining face![50]

"Did he quail at the ring of the executioner's sword? Did he even
change color when he heard the damning testimony? A true son of Kara
Khalif is he. A word from his lips would have exonerated him, yet he
would not speak it lest it should reveal the secrets of our service,
which he would keep with dead lips rather than live to tell them. But
I shall be his witness; and you, my brothers, shall be his judges.
Captain Ballaban was recalled from the raid by our brother Sinam, aga
of the division to which the captain belongs. But, alas! the sword of
Scanderbeg has loosed Sinam's soul for flight to paradise, and he
could not testify to this man's fidelity. But I know the order of
Sinam; in this very tent it was written. And though the faithful
messenger who carried it was slain in after conflict, the order was
executed by Captain Ballaban to every letter: every moment of his
absence from the raid is accounted for on my tablets"--tapping his
forehead as he spoke.

A loud shout burst from the crowd which made the tent shake as if
filled with a rising wind.

"Ballaban! Ballaban!" cried the multitude, lifting the brave fellow
upon their shoulders.

"Take that for your grin when you thought he was guilty!" shouted one,
as he delivered a tremendous blow upon the face of another.

"Death to Caraza-Bey! Down with the lying villain!" rose the cry, the
crowd beginning to move, as if animated by a common spirit, to seek
the envious commandant of the neighboring corps. But they halted at
the tent side waiting for the sign of permission from their chief,
who, by the motion of his hand forbade the assault which would have
brought on a terrific battle between the Janizaries and their rivals
throughout the army.

"We shall deal with Caraza-Bey hereafter, if his shame does not send
him skulking from the camps," said the chief, resuming his sitting
posture, and restoring order about him.

"Summon the witnesses again," he proceeded.

"You Lovitsch testified truly as to Captain Ballaban's absence, and
may go. But you twin rascals who swore to his escape with the girl,
your heads shall go to Caraza-Bey, and your black souls to the seventh
hell.[51] Executioner, do your office!"

"Hold!" cried Ballaban, as the man drew his cimeter. "Upon my return
to the company I found my fair captive gone, and under such strange
circumstances that I can see that these good fellows may be honest in
what they have stated. I bespeak thy mercy, Sire, for them."

"Captain Ballaban's will shall be ours," replied the chief, with a
wave of his hand dismissing the assemblage. As the crowd withdrew, he
said, "My brothers, the agas, will remain, and Captain Ballaban."

The sides of the tent were put up. The guard patrolled without at a
distance of sixty paces, that no one might overhear the conversation
in the council.

FOOTNOTES:

[49] Two horse-tails; the symbol of a Beyler Bey, a chief bey of
Europe or Asia.

[50] A title of Janizaries given them by the dervish who blessed the
order at its institution in the days of Orchan.

[51] According to the Moslems, hell is divided into seven stories or
cellars, the lowest being reserved for hypocrites.



CHAPTER XXI.


"Has Captain Ballaban any explanation of this conspiracy against him?"
asked one.

"None!" was the laconic reply. But after a moment's pause he added:
"Perhaps there was no conspiracy, except as our jealous neighbors are
willing to take advantage of every unseemly circumstance that can be
twisted to point against any of the Yeni-Tscheri. This may explain
something. The girl that I captured at the Giaour village was no
common peasant, by the cheek of Ayesha! Her face, as lit by the
blazing konak, was of such beauty as I have never seen except in some
dreams of my childhood. Her voice and manner in commanding me to
liberate her were those of one well-born or used to authority. It was
well that I bethought me to give her into the keeping of that
dull-headed Koremi, or she might have bewitched me into obeying her
and letting her go. My belief is that the girl was rescued. It may be
that our men were heavily bribed to give her up, or that some one
personated myself and demanded her, and that the story of my return
may be thus accounted for, but I cannot see any treachery in Koremi's
manner. If she was of any special value to Scanderbeg he would find
some way of running her off, though he had to make a league with the
devil and assume my shape to do it. The Arnaouts, you know, believe
that the Vili are in collusion with Scanderbeg, and that one of them,
a he-vili, Radisha, or some such sprite, is his body servant. That
will account for it all," added he, laughing at the conceit.

"But," said the second Aga, "Caraza-Bey's insult was none the less, if
your surmise be true. We must wash it out in the blood of a hundred or
so of his hirelings to-morrow."

The chief shook his head.

"But," continued the second Aga, "the jealousy of our corps must be
punished. You see how near it came to losing for us the life of one of
our bravest. Caraza-Bey must fight me to-morrow."

"Bravo!" cried all; while one added, "And let the challenge be public,
that the entire force of the Yeni-Tscheri be on hand and all the
troops of the Beyler Bey of Anatolia, and--" lowering his voice-- "we
can manage it so that the fight become general, and teach these
reptiles of Asiatics that the Yeni-Tscheri are the right hand and the
brain of the empire."

"Ay, _are_ the empire!" said another. "Let us have a scrimmage that
will be interesting. The war with Scanderbeg is getting monotonous.
One day he comes into our camp, like a butcher into a slaughter pen,
and the next day we are marched out to him, to be slaughtered
elsewhere. It requires one to be full of Islam, the Holy Resignation,
to stand this sort of life. Yes! let's do a little fighting in our own
way and get rid of some of this soldier spawn which the Padishah has
brought with him from across the Bosphorus!"

"But you forget, my brothers," said Ballaban, "that this fight with
the Sanjak Bey does not belong to any one beside myself. His lie was
about me. I then am the man to take off his head; and I think I can do
it with as good grace as the executioner was nigh to taking off mine
just now."

"No, Captain!" said the chief. "Your rank is as yet below the Bey's,
and he would make that an excuse for declining the gage. Besides,"
said he, lowering his voice, "I have special service for you
elsewhere, which cannot be delayed."

When the agas, making the low courtesy, retired, the chief walked with
Ballaban.

"Captain, I have heard no report of the errand upon which you were
sent."

"No, Sire, I was arrested the moment I returned to camp."

"You succeeded, I know, from the movements of the enemy: although the
slowness of the Padishah in ordering an advance, when Scanderbeg was
diverted by your ruse, prevented our taking advantage of it."

"Yes," said Ballaban, "I succeeded as well as any one could, not being
seconded from headquarters. But I did some service incidentally, and
picked up some helpful information. The night after leaving the hamlet
we fired, I fell in with a company of Arnaouts who were coming to the
rescue. They would have got into the narrow valley before our men got
out, had I not managed to trick them. I was in disguise and readily
passed for an Arnaout lout, giving them false information about the
direction our party had taken, and so lost them an hour or two, and
saved the throats of Lovitsch's fellows, a mere rabble, good enough
for a raid, but not to be depended upon for a square fight. But we
must have no more raids. Scanderbeg has means of communication as
quick and subtle as if the clouds were his signals and the stars were
his beacons.

"I then came upon a Dibrian settlement, pretending to be a fugitive
from the valleys to the north; and entertained the villagers with
bug-a-boo stories about the hosts of men with turbans on their heads
and little devils on their shoulders who had destroyed all that
country, and were now pouring down toward the south.

"By the way," continued Ballaban laughing, "there was an old fellow
there, very lame, with a patch over one eye, who could hardly stand
leaning on his staff, he was so palsied with age. But the one eye that
was open was altogether too bright for his years; and his legs didn't
shake enough for one who rattled his staff so much. So I put him down
as one of Scanderbeg's lynxes--they are everywhere. I described to him
the Moslem movements in such a way as to let a trained soldier believe
that we had entirely changed front, with the prospective raising of
the siege of Sfetigrade and alliance with the Venetians for carrying
the war farther to the north. The old codger took the bait, and asked
fifty questions in the tone of a fellow whose head had been used for a
mush-pot instead of a brain-holder; but every question was in its
meaning as keen as a dagger-thrust into the very ribs of the military
situation. Well! I helped him to all the information he wanted; when
with a twinkle in his eye, he hobbled away, as wise as an owl when a
fresh streak of day-light has struck him: and before night the whole
country to the borders of Sternogovia was alive with Scanderbeg's
scouts; and every cross-path was a rendezvous of his broken-winded
cavalry.

"I saw one thing which gave me a hint I may use some day. At a village
the women were carrying water from a spring far down in a ravine,
though there was a fine flowing fountain quite near them. It seems
that a dog had got into the fountain about a month before, and was
drowned. These Dibrians believe that, if any one should drink the
water of such a spring before as many days have passed as the dog has
hairs on his tail, the water will make his bowels rot, and his soul go
into a dog's body when he dies.

"The next night I spent inside the walls of Sfetigrade."

"No!" cried the chief. "Why, man, you must fly the air with the
witches!"

"Not at all, I have some acquaintances in that snug little place; and
when they go to bed they hang the key of the town on a moonbeam for
me. If it is not there, I have only to vault over the walls, or sail
over them on the clouds, or burrow under them with the moles, or hold
my breath until I turn into a sprite, like the wizards on the Ganges,
and lo! I am in. Well! that night I lodged with a worthy family of
Sfetigrade, pretending that I was a poor fugitive from the very town
we had raided a few nights before. And, by the hair of the beautiful
Malkhatoon![52] I saw there the very captive I had taken. She lay
asleep on a cot just within a doorway--unless I was asleep myself and
dreaming, as I half believe I was."

"Yes, it was a dream of yours, no doubt, Captain," said the chief,
"for when a young fellow like you once gets a fair woman in his arms,
as you say you had her in yours the night of the raid, she never gets
out of the embrace of his imagination. He will see her everywhere, and
go about trying to hug her shadow. Beware illusions, Captain! They use
up a fellow's thoughts, make him too meek-eyed to see things as a
soldier should. The love passion will take the energy out of the best
of us, as quickly as the fire takes the temper out of the best
Damascene blade."

"I thank you for your counsel, Aga," replied Ballaban, his face
coloring as deep as his hair. "But there was one thing I saw with a
waking eye."

"And what was that?"

"That there was but one well of water in the town of Sfetigrade; the
one in the citadel court. But another thing I didn't see, though I
searched the place for it;--and that was a dog to throw into the well;
or I would have thirsted the superstitious garrison out. They have
eaten up the last cur."

"Then the surrender must come soon," said the Aga.

"No," replied Ballaban, "for the voivode Moses Goleme came into the
town as I was leaving, driving a flock of sheep which he had stolen
from us; for he had cut off an entire train of provisions which had
been sent to our camp from Adrianople."

"Then I must have you off at once on another errand, Captain. You see
yonder line of mountains off to the northwest. It may be necessary to
shift the war to that region for a while. Ivan Beg,[53] the
brother-in-law of Scanderbeg, has raised a pack of wild fiends among
those hills of his, and is driving out all our friends. Nothing can
stand against him unless it be the breasts of the Yeni-Tscheri.
Scanderbeg may compel us to raise the siege of Sfetigrade, for he
bleeds us daily like a leech. A diversion after Ivan Beg will at least
be more honorable than a return to Adrianople. Now I would know
exactly the passes and best places for fortification in Ivan's
country; and you, Captain, are the man to find them out. You should be
off at once. Take your time and spy thoroughly, making a map and
transmitting to me your notes. And while there feel the people. It is
rumored that the young voivode, Amesa, is restless under the
leadership of Scanderbeg. If a dissension could be created among these
Arnaouts, it would be well. Amesa has a large personal following in
that north country; for his castle is just on the border of it."

"But," replied Ballaban, "I must first pluck the beard of that
cowardly Caraza-Bey!"

"No! I forbid it. Your blood is worth more in your own veins than
anywhere else. I should not consent to your risking a drop of it in
personal combat with any one except Scanderbeg himself."

The fight between the second Aga and Caraza-Bey did not take place.
That worthy was conveniently sent by Sultan Amurath, who had learned
of the feud, to look after certain turbulent Caramanians; and leaving
behind him a wake of curses upon all Janizaries from the chief to the
pot-scourers, he took his departure for the Asiatic provinces.

Had he remained, the Turks would have had enough to occupy them
without this gratuitous mêlée. For during the night scouts brought
word that Scanderbeg had massed all his forces, that were not behind
the walls of Sfetigrade, at a point to the right of the Turkish lines.
Hardly had the army been faced to meet this attack, when scouts came
from the left, reporting serious depredations on that flank. Amurath,
in the uncertainty of the enemy's movement, divided his host. The
Asiatics were given the northern and the Janizaries the southern
defence; either of them outnumbering any force Scanderbeg could send
against them. But, as a tornado cuts its broad swath through a forest,
uprooting or snapping the gigantic trees, showing its direction only
by the after track of desolation, which it cuts in almost unvarying
width, while beyond its well defined lines scarcely a branch is broken
or a nest overturned among the swaying foliage--so Scanderbeg swooped
from east to west through the very centre of the Turkish encampment,
gathering up arms and provisions, and strewing his track with the
bodies of the slain. By the time that the Moslems were sufficiently
concentrated to offer effective resistance the assailants were gone.

At the head of the victorious band Scanderbeg rode a small and
ungainly, but tough and tireless animal--like most of the Albanian
horses, which were better adapted to threading their way down the
pathless mountain sides, than to curveting in military parade--their
lack of natural ballast being made up by the enormous burdens they
were trained to carry.

The figure and bearing of Scanderbeg, however, amply compensated the
lack of martial picturesqueness in his steed. He was in full armor,
except that his sword arm was bared. His beard of commingled yellow
and gray fell far down upon the steel plates of his corselet. A helmet
stuck far back upon his head, showed the massive brow which seemed of
ampler height, from the Albanian custom of clipping short, or shaving
the hair off from the upper forehead.

Wheeling his horse, he engaged in conversation with a stout, but
awkward soldier.

"You and your beast are well matched, Constantine. You both need
better training before you are fit to parade as prisoners of Amurath.
You sit your horse as a cat rides a dog, though you do hold on as well
with your heel as she with her claws. Your short legs would do better
to clamp the belly of a crocodile."

"Yes, we are both accustomed to marching and fighting in our own way,
rather than in company," replied Constantine. "But the beast has not
failed me by a false step; not when we leaped the fallen oak and
landed in the gulch back yonder. The beast came down as safely and
softly as on the training lawn."

"And you have done as well yourself," replied the general. "That was a
bad play though you had with the Turk as we cut our way through the
last knot of them. But for a side thrust which I had time to give at
your antagonist, while waiting for the slow motions of my own, I fear
that your animal would be lighter now by just your weight. You strike
powerfully, but you do not recover yourself skilfully. A good
swordsman would get a response into your ribs before you could deal
him a second. Here, I will show you! Now thrust! Strike! No, not so;
but hard, villainously, at me, as if I were the Turk who stole your
girl! So! Again! Again!--Now learn this movement"--pressing his own
sword steadily against his companion's, and bending him back until he
was almost off his horse. "And this," dealing so tremendous a slash
with the back of the sword that Constantine's arm was almost numbed by
the effort to resist it.--"And this!" transmitting a twisting motion
from his own to his opponent's weapon, so that for one instant they
seemed like two serpents writhing together; but at the next
Constantine's sword was twirled out his hand.

"You will make a capital swordsman with practice, my boy. And the
girl? Keep a sharpened eye for her; and tell me if so much as a new
spider's web be woven at her door."

A peasant woman stood by the path as they proceeded, holding out her
hand for alms, as she ran beside the general's horse. He leaned toward
her to give something; but, as his hand touched hers, she slipped a
bit of white rag into it:

"The map of the roads, Sire, twixt this and Monastir!"

"And your son, my good woman?" inquired the general kindly.

"Ah! the Virgin pity me, Sire, for he died. We could not stop the
bleeding, for the lance's point had cut a vein. But I have a daughter
who can take his place. She knows the signals--for he taught them to
her--and can make the beacon as well as he; and is as nimble of foot
to climb the crag. But please, Sire, the child did not remember if the
enemy going west was to be signalled by lighting the beacon before or
after the bright star's setting."

"Just after, good mother. If they go to the east and cross the
mountain, fire the beacon just before the star sets. And the brightest
of all stars be for your own hope and comfort!"

"And for dear Albania's and thine own!" replied the woman,
disappearing in the crowd, as a man dashed close to Scanderbeg on a
well-jaded steed.

"The Turkish auxiliaries will be at the entrance to the defile in
thirty hours."

"Your estimate of their number, neighbor Stephen?"

"From three to five thousand."

"Not more?"

"Not more in the first detachment. A second of equal size follows, but
a day in the rear."

"Good! Take with you our nephew, Musache de Angeline, and five hundred
Epirots each. This will be sufficient to prevent the first detachment
getting out of the pass. I will strike the second from the rear as
soon as they enter the pass. They can not manoeuvre in that crooked
and narrow defile, and we will destroy them at our leisure. Strike
promptly. Farewell!"

"Miserable sheep!" he muttered, "why will these Turks so tempt me to
slaughter them?"

FOOTNOTES:

[52] Bride of Othman.

[53] Ivo, the Black, or Tsernoi, from whom the mountain country to the
north of Albania was called Tsernogorki, or, in its Latinized form,
Montenegro.



CHAPTER XXII.


Upon the southern slope of the Black Mountain--that is, on the rising
uplands which lead from Albania to Montenegro--lay the ancient and
princely estates of the De Streeses. A dense forest of pines spread
for miles, like a myriad gigantic pillars in some vast temple. They
seemed to support, as it were, some Titanic dome surrounded with
pinnacles and turrets, a huge cluster of jagged rocks, which was
called by those who gazed upon it from leagues away "The Eyrie." In
the midst of these great monoliths, and hardly distinguishable from
them, rose the walls of the new castle which the voivode Amesa had
built upon the ruins of that destroyed at the time of the massacre of
its former possessor.

The horse of the voivode stood within the court, his head drooping,
and the white sweat-foam drying upon his heated flanks. His master
paced up and down the enclosure, engaged in low but excited
conversation with a soldier.

The voivode was of princely mien; tall, but compactly built; face full
in its lower development, and somewhat sensual; eyes gray and
restless, which gave one at first a sharp, penetrating glance, and
then seemed to hide behind the half-closed lids, like some wild animal
that inspects the hunter hastily, then takes to covert.

"You are sure, Drakul, that the party which drove you from the hamlet
were Turks, and not Arnaouts in disguise, like yourselves?"

"I could not mistake," said Drakul, a hard-faced man, one of whose
eyebrows was arched higher than the other, and whose entire
countenance was distorted from the symmetrical balance of its two
sides, giving an expression of duplicity and cruelty. "I could not
mistake, noble Amesa, for I have too often eyed those rascals over the
point of my sword not to know a Turk in the dark. But all the fiends
combined against us that night. We left our two best men dead, and the
two we wanted, the boy and the girl, escaped us. The she-witch did not
come back to the village the next day; but the red-headed imp did, and
raved like a hyena when he found the girl missing. I watched him as he
suddenly went off, doubtless, to some spot they both knew of. The
young thief stole the clothes off a dead Turk. The next day we spied
him again; this time with that Arnaud-Kabilovitsch, Albanian-Servian,
forester-colonel, or whatever he may be, who came back when Castriot
did. The fellow escaped us a second time."

"Track him! track him!" cried Amesa spitefully. "I will make you rich,
Drakul, the day you bring me that fox's brush of red hair from his
head."

"I have tracked him and could take you to the very spot where he and
the girl are to-day," said the man. "Come this way, my noble
Amesa,"--leading him to the side of the court commanding a far stretch
of country to the north-west. "Now let your eye follow Skadar[54]
along the left shore: then up the great river.[55] Not two leagues
from the mountain spur that bends the stream out of your sight, at the
hamlet just off the road into your Uncle Ivan's country--"

"The stargeshina has a red goitre like a turkey cock? I know every hut
in the hamlet," interrupted Amesa. "But why think you she is there?"

"Why? I have seen her, and him with her. I followed the fellow day
after day. Once I saw him yonder on the spur. He clipped the bark of a
tree, and in the smoothed spot cut a line. A little beyond he did the
same thing again. He spied this way and that way with all the pains
one would take to pick a way for an army. Then he took a roll of paper
from his bosom, and marked down something for every mark he had made
upon the trees. And when he was out of sight I took the range of his
marks, and by St. Theckla! they pointed straight to a path which led
down the mountain to the ford in the great river that is opposite the
old turkey cock's konak."

"But you may have mistaken the man," suggested Amesa.

"Not I, Sire. I know his head as well as a bull knows a red rag; and
his duck legs, and his walk like an ambling horse."

"It is he," submitted Amesa. "But how know you that the girl was there
in the hamlet?"

"Did I not see her, my noble Amesa? And could I not know her from the
look of her father? If I could forget him living, I have never passed
a night without seeing his face as it was dead, when we dragged him to
the burning beams of the old house that stood on this----"

"Silence!" cried Amesa in a sudden burst of rage. "How dare you allude
to my uncle's death without my bidding?"

There was a pause for a few moments, during which Amesa stamped
heavily upon the stone pavement of the court as he walked, like one
endeavoring to shake off from his person some noisome thing that
troubled him. The man resumed--

"Besides, the children of the village said she was a stray kid there,
and not of kin to anybody. And while I was there the same stump-headed
fellow who marked the direction came to the hamlet."

"Be ready to accompany me to-morrow, Drakul. You can say that we are
scouting."

FOOTNOTES:

[54] Lake Scadar or Scutari.

[55] The Tsernoyevitcha, the great river of Montenegro which empties
into Lake Scutari.



CHAPTER XXIII.


The lake of Skadar lay like an immense _lapis lazuli_ within its
setting of mountains, which, on the east, were golden with the rays of
the declining sun, and on the west, enameled in emerald with the dense
shadows their summits dropped upon them. The surface of the water was
unbroken, save here and there by black spots where a pair of loons
shrieked their marital unhappiness, or a flock of wild ducks floated,
like a miniature fleet, about the reed-fringed shores of some little
island. Had there been watchers on the fortress of Obod, which lay on
the cliff just above where the Tsernoyevitcha enters Skadar, they
would have espied a light shallop gliding along the eastern bank of
the lake. This contained the voivode Amesa and his attendant. Just at
night-fall they reached the cavern, whose hidden recesses begot a
hundred legends which the weird shadows of the cave clothed in forms
as fantastic as their own, and which still flit among the hamlets of
Montenegro. It was said that whoever should sleep within the cave
would rest his head on the bosoms of the nymphs:--only let him take
care that their love does not prevent his ever waking. Amesa and his
companion were courageous, but discretion led them to wind the strooka
about their heads, and seek without a couch of pine needles between
the enormous roots of the trees which had dropped them.

The dawn had just silvered the east, and the coming sun transformed
the cold blue tints of Skadar into amber, when they entered the river.
The great stream wound through the broad lowlands of Tsetinie, girdled
with rocky hills. Then it dashed in impetuous floods between more
straightened banks, or lingered, as if the river spirit would bathe
himself in the deep pools that were cooled by the springs at their
bottoms. Though familiar with the phenomenon, they loitered that they
might watch the schools of fish which were so dense in places as to
impede the stroke of the oar blade, and tint the entire stream with
their dull silvery gleam.[56] Emerging from a tortuous channel,
through which the river twisted itself like a vast shining serpent,
they came to a cluster of houses that nestled in a gorge. These houses
were made of stone, and so covered with vines as to be hardly
distinguishable from the dense shrubbery that clambered over the
rocks about them.

Amesa was warmly greeted by the stargeshina who occupied the konak, or
principal house. The older people remembered the visitor as the comely
lad who, before the return of George Castriot, was almost the only
male representative of that noble family left in the land. The voivode
was honored with every evidence that the villagers felt themselves
complimented by the visit of their guest, whatever business or caprice
might have brought him thither.

A simple repast was provided, in which the courtesy of the service on
the part of the stargeshina more than compensated any poverty in the
display of viands;--though there were set forth meats dried in strips
in the smoke of an open fire; eggs; sweet, though black bread; and
wine pressed from various mountain berries, and allowed to ferment in
skins. As they sat beside a low table at the doorway of the konak, the
stargeshina offered a formal salâm, the zdravitsa, which was half a
toast and half a prayer, and extended his hand to Amesa in the
protestation of personal friendship. At the meal the glories of
Castriot and Ivan Beg--or Ivo, as the peasants called him--were duly
recited.

"But why," said the old man, rising to his feet with the enthusiasm of
the sentiment--"Why should the country sing the praises of George
Castriot, who for thirty years was willing to be a Turk and fight for
an alien faith? Your shoulders, noble Amesa--Prince Amesa, my loyal
heart would call you--could as well have borne the burden of the
people's defence. Your arm could strike as good a blow as his for
Albania. Your blood is that of the Castriots, and untainted by Moslem
touch. Your estates, since you have become heir to the lands of De
Streeses, make you our richest and most influential voivode."

These words made the eyes of Amesa flash, not with any novel pleasure,
rather with an ambition to which he was no stranger. But the flash was
smothered at once by the half-closed eyelids, and he responded--

"I ought not to hear such words, my good friend. My Uncle George is
the hero of the hour. The people need a hero in whom they believe; and
the very mystery of his life for the thirty years among the Turks, and
the romance of his return, make him a convenient hero."

"But Sire, my noble--my Prince Amesa--do you not daily hear such words
as I speak? The thought is as common as the Pater Noster, and echoes
from Skadar to Ochrida. It was but a week since a young Albanian
passed through this border country, whispering everywhere that the
land was ready to cry Amesa's name rather than the reformed renegade,
George Castriot's; that Scanderbeg, the Lord Alexander, the strutting
title the Turks gave him, was an offence to the free hearts of the
people."

"Ah! and what sort of a man for look was this Albanian?" asked Amesa
in surprise.

"A sturdy youth of, say, twenty summers, with hair like a turban which
had been worn by a dozen slaughtered Turks, so blood red is it."

Amesa gave a puzzled look toward Drakul, who was eating his meal at a
little distance, but whose ears seemed to prick up like those of a
horse at this description.

"It is likely that he may be again in the village this very night. Our
neighbor next lodged him. I will ask him if he will return," said the
stargeshina, leaving the konak for a little.

"It is he; it's that Constantine," said Drakul, coming nearer to
Amesa. "The wily young devil is ready to betray your Uncle George.
That will make the matter easier."

"The way is clear, then," replied Amesa. "I am glad that the raid was
not successful. It might have led to further blood. With this fellow
in league with us, it is straight work and honorable."

The stargeshina reported the man would probably be in again that very
night, and added:

"I would you could see him; for though he is fair spoken, there is
some mystery in his going day after day among these mountains, like a
hound who is looking for a lost scent."

"Perhaps he is attracted here by some of the fair maidens of the
hamlets," suggested Amesa, looking at Drakul, who was tearing a bit of
jerked meat in his teeth, apparently intent only upon that selfish
occupation.

"It may well be, for our neighbor here has harbored a bit of stray
womanhood which might tempt a monk to lodge there rather than in his
cell," said the old man.

A shout from above them attracted their attention to a merry company
which was coming down the mountain. It was the procession of the
Dodola. Drought threatened to destroy the scanty grain growing in the
narrow valleys, and the vines on the terraces cut out of the steep
hills. According to an ancient custom, a young maiden had been taken
by her companions into the woods, stripped of her usual garments, and
reclothed in the leaves and flowers of the endangered vegetation. Long
grasses and stalks of grain were matted in many folds about her
person, and served as a base for artistic decoration with every
variety of floral beauty. Her feet were buskined in clover blossoms. A
kilt of broad-leaved ferns hung from her waist, which was belted with
a broad zone of wild roses. White and pink laurel blossoms made her
bodice. An ivy wreath upon her brows was starred with white daisies,
and plumed with the stems and hanging bells of the columbine.

The Dodola thus appeared as the impersonation of floral nature athirst
for the vivifying rains. Her attendants, who led her in a leash of
roses, chanted a hymn, the refrain of which was a prayer to Elijah,
who, since he brought the rain at Carmel, is supposed by the peasants
of Albania to be that saint to whom Providence has committed the
shepherding of the clouds. As the procession wound down the terraced
paths between the houses, the Dodola was welcomed by the matrons of
the hamlet, who stood each in her own doorway, with hair gathered
beneath a cap of coins, teeth enameled in black, fingers tipped
brownish-red with henna. The maidens sung a verse of their hymn at
each cottage; and, at the refrain, the housewife poured upon the head
of the leaf-clad Dodola a cup of water; repeating the last line of
the chorus, "Good Saint Elias, so send the rain!"

As the Dodola paused before the konak, Amesa said, quite
enthusiastically, and designing to be overheard by the fair girl who
took the part of thirsting nature, "If Elias can refuse the prayer of
so much womanly beauty, I swear, by Jezebel, that I shall hereafter
believe, with the Turks, that the austere old prophet has become
bewitched with the houris in paradise, and so does not care to look
into the faces of earthly damsels."

"You may still keep your Christian faith, for the Dodola has won the
favor of the Thunderer,"[57] replied the stargeshina. "Listen to his
love-making in response to the witchery of that wild dove! Do you hear
it?"

The distant murmur of a coming shower confirmed the credulity of the
peasants.

"Yes, soon the Holy Virgin will turn her bright glances upon us,"[58]
said he looking at the sky.

"Who is that wild dove who acts the Dodola?" inquired Amesa.

"The one I told you of, who has come into our neighbor's cot," replied
the old man. "But only the sharp eyes of the crows saw where she came
from. Did she not speak our tongue and know our ways as well as any of
us, I should say she was one of the Tsigani who were driven out of the
morning land by Timour.[59] Yet it may be that her own story is true.
She says she had two lovers in her village; and these two were
brothers in God, who had taken the vow before heaven and St. John to
help and never to hinder each other in whatever adventure of love or
brigandage, at cost of limb or life. But as the hot blood of neither
of these lovers could endure to see this nymph in the arms of the
other, it was determined that she should be slain by the hand of both,
rather than that the sacred brotherhood should be broken. By her own
father's hearth the two daggers were struck together at her heart. But
the strong arms of the slayers collided, and both blows glanced. She
escaped and fled, and came hither."

"And you believe this story?" asked Amesa, with a look of incredulity
mingled with triumph, as of one who knew more than the narrator.

"I believe her story, noble Amesa, because--because no one has told me
any other. But--" He shook his head.

"Does not the young stranger you spoke of know something of her, that
he prowls about this neighborhood?" asked the guest.

"It may be. I had not thought it, but it may well be! Hist--!"

The Dodola passed by, returning to her own cottage. As she did so her
bright black eyes glanced coquettishly at the stranger from beneath
her disarranged chaplet of flowers and dishevelled hair. She soon
returned, having assumed her garments as a peasant maid, but with
evident effort to make this simple attire set off the great natural
beauty of face and form, of which she was fully conscious. Her
forehead was too low; but Pygmalion could not have chiselled a brow
and temples upon which glossy black ringlets clustered more
bewitchingly. Her eyes flashed too cold a fire light to give one the
impression of great amiability in their possessor; but the long lashes
which drooped before them, partially veiled their stare so as to give
the illusion of coyness, if not of maidenly modesty. Her mouth was
perhaps sensuously curved; but was one of those marvellously plastic
ones which can tell by the slightest arching or compressing of the
lips as much of purpose or feeling as most people can tell in
words:--dangerous lips to the possessor, if she be guileless and
unsuspicious, for they reveal too much of her soul to others who have
no right to know its secrets; dangerous lips to others if she would
deceive, for they can lie, consummately, wickedly, without uttering a
word. Her complexion was scarcely brunette; rather that indescribable
fairness in which the whiteness of alabaster is tinged with the blood
of perfect health, slightly bronzed by constant exposure to the
sunshine and air--a complexion seldom seen except in Syria, the Greek
Islands, or Wales. Her form was faultless,--just at that stage of
development when the grace and litheness of childhood are beginning to
be lost in the statelier mysteries of womanly beauty; that transition
state between two ideals of loveliness, which, from the days of
Phidias, has lured, but always eluded, the artist's skill to
reproduce.

The girl's face flushed with the consciousness of being gazed at
approvingly by the courtly stranger. But the pretty toss of her head
showed that the blush was due as much to the conceit of her beauty as
to bashfulness. As she talked with the other maidens, she glanced
furtively toward the door of the konak, where Amesa sat. The young
voivode foresaw that it would not be difficult to entice the girl
herself to be the chief agent in any plan he might have for her
abduction.

He needed, however, to make more certain of her identity with the
object of his search. He could discern no trace of Mara De Streeses in
her face; much less in her manner. Since Drakul had suggested it, he
imagined a resemblance to De Streeses himself, whose bearing was
haughty and his temperament fiery.

The evening brought the young man of whom the stargeshina had spoken.
His resemblance to the description given him of Constantine left no
doubt in Amesa's mind of his being the mysterious custodian of the
heiress to his estates. The young Servian he supposed would at once
recognize him as Amesa; for, as a prominent officer in the army, his
face would be well known to all who had been in Castriot's camps, even
if the gossip of the villagers did not at once inform him of his
presence. It were best then, thought Amesa, to boldly confront him;
win him, if possible, to his service; if not, destroy him.

The young stranger was at once on frolicksome terms with the village
girls and lads; and Amesa thought he observed that through it all the
fellow kept a sharp, if not a suspicious, eye upon him. Lest he should
escape, the voivode invited him to walk beyond the houses of the
village. When out of sight and hearing he suddenly turned upon the
young man, and, laying a hand upon his shoulder, exclaimed,

"You are known, man!"

Upon the instant the stranger was transformed from the sauntering
peasant into a gladiator, with feet firmly planted, the left hand
raised as a shield, and the right grasping a yataghan which had been
concealed upon his person. Amesa, though the aggressor, was thrown
upon the defensive, and was compelled to retreat in order to gain time
for the grip of his weapon.

The two men stood glaring into each other's eyes as there each to read
his antagonist's movement before his hand began to execute it.

"I did not know that a Servian peasant was so trained," said Amesa,
still retreating before the advance of his opponent, who gave him no
opportunity to assume the offensive.

"For whom do you take me that you dare to lay a rough hand on me?"
said the man, half in menace, and yet apparently willing to discover
if his assailant were right in his surmise.

"Arnaud's man and I need not be enemies," said Amesa, seeing no chance
of relieving himself from the advantage the other had gained in the
sword play. "I can reward you better than he or Castriot."

A smile passed over the man's face, which Amesa might have detected
the meaning of had his mind been less occupied with thoughts about his
personal safety from the yataghan, whose point was seeking his throat
according to the most approved rules of single combat.

"And what if I am Arnaud's man?"

As he said this the yataghan made a thorough reconnoissance of all the
vulnerable parts of Amesa's body from the fifth rib upwards, followed
by Amesa's dagger in ward.

"You do not deny it?" said the Albanian between breaths.

"I deny nothing. Nor need I confess anything, since you say I am
known."

"Shall we be friends?" asked Amesa, cautiously lowering his arm.

"You made war, and can withdraw its declaration, or take the
consequences," was the reply.

The two men put up their weapons.

"So good a soldier as you are should not be here guarding a girl,"
said Amesa.

"Guarding a girl?" said the man in amazement, but, recollecting
himself, added, "And why not guard a girl?"

"Come," replied Amesa, "you and I can serve each other. You can do
that for me which no other man can; and I can give to you more gold
than any other Albanian can."

"And when you are king of Albania, Prince Amesa, you can reward me
with high appointment," said the stranger with a slight sneer, which,
however, Amesa did not notice, at the moment thinking of what the
stargeshina had said of the man's interest in the movement against his
uncle's leadership.

"You have but to ask your reward when that event comes," he replied.

"I will swear to serve Amesa against Scanderbeg to the death," said
the man offering his hand.

"You know the girl's true story?" asked Amesa.

"Of course," was the cautious reply. "But of that I may not speak a
word. I can leave his service whose man you say I am, but I cannot
betray anything he may have told me. As you know the girl's story it
is needless to tempt me to divulge it," added he, with shrewd
non-committal of himself to any information that the other might
recognize as erroneous.

"You speak nobly for a Servian," said the voivode.

"How do you know I am a Servian?" asked the stranger.

"Partly from your accent. You have not got our pure Albanian tongue,
though it is now six years you have been talking it. And then
Arnaud--Colonel Kabilovitsch--came back as a Servian. Is it not so?"
asked Amesa, noticing the surprised look which the mention of
Kabilovitsch's name brought to the man's face.

For a while the stranger was lost in thought; but with an effort
throwing off a sort of reverie, he said:

"Pardon my silence. I have been thinking of your proposal. May I
follow you to the village after a little? I would think over how best
I can meet your proposition, my Prince Amesa."

"I will await you at the konak. But first let us swear friendship!"
said the voivode.

"Heartily!" was the response. "With Amesa as against Scanderbeg."

"You will induce the girl to go with me to my castle. She will fare
better there than here, playing Dodola to these ignorant peasants."

"It is agreed."

As Amesa disappeared, the man sat down upon a huge root of a tree,
which for lack of earth had twined itself over the rock. He buried
his face in his hands--

"Strange! strange! is all this. Kabilovitsch? the girl? Not my little
playmate on the Balkans--sweet faced Morsinia. The Dodola here is not
she. If Uncle Kabilovitsch is Colonel Kabilovitsch, or this Arnaud he
speaks of, then this treacherous Amesa is on the wrong track. Can it
be that Constantine--dear little Constantine--is in Albania, and that
I am mistaken for him? No, this is impossible. But still I must be
wary, and not do that which would harm a golden hair of Morsinia's
head, if she be living, or Constantine's, or Uncle Kabilovitsch's.
There's some mystery here. Only one thing is certain--Amesa mistakes
this pretty impudent Dodola girl for somebody else. To get her off
with him may serve that somebody else: for the voivode is a villain:
that much is sure. The cursed Giaour serpent! I will help him to get
this saucy belle of the hamlet, and so save somebody else, whoever she
may be who is the game for which he lays his snares."

An hour later the Dodola, whose name was Elissa, passed Amesa and
blushed deeply.

The family at whose house the girl was living made no objection to
Amesa's request that she should be transferred to the protection of
the voivode. The elders of the village acquiesced; for, said one,

"We do not know who she is, and may get into difficulty through
harboring her."

Another averred his belief that she was possessed of the evil eye; for
he had observed her staring at the olive tree the day before it was
struck by lightning; and he declared that half the young men of the
hamlet were bewitched with her.

A sharp-tongued dame remarked that some of the older men would rather
listen to the merry tattle of the sprite than to the most serious and
wholesome counsel of their own wives.

FOOTNOTES:

[56] Still noted by travellers on this river.

[57] An Albanian title of Elijah.

[58] The Albanians regard Mary as the sender of lightning.

[59] Tsigani; a word by which Slavic people designate the gypsies, who
are supposed by them to have come from India in the time of Tamerlane.



CHAPTER XXIV.


"Do you know the mind of Gauton who commands at the citadel in
Sfetigrade?" asked Amesa of his new confederate, as they parted.

"I have talked with him," replied the man. "He is very cautious."

"Discover his opinion on the matter of my advancement," said Amesa.

"Send him some gift," suggested the man, "I will take it to him. He is
very fond of dogs, and I learn that he has just lost a valuable
mastiff. Could you replace it from your kennels at the castle?"

"No, but I have a greyhound, of straight breed since his ancestors
came out of the ark. His jaws are as slender as a heron's beak: chest
deep as a lion's: belly thin as a weasel's: a double span of my arms
from tip to tail. To-morrow night meet me at the castle. Should I not
have arrived, this will give you admission," presenting him with a
small knife, on the bone handle of which was a rude carving of the
crest of Amesa. "Give it to the warden. He will recognize it."

Long before the arrival of Amesa and Drakul at the castle in company
with Elissa, the stranger, whom the reader will recognize as Captain
Ballaban dressed as an Albanian peasant, had been admitted. He had
wandered about the court, mounted the parapet, inspected the
draw-bridge and portcullis, clambered down and up again the almost
precipitous scarp of the rock, and asked a hundred questions of the
servants regarding the paths by which the castle was approached. The
old warden entertained him with stories of Amesa's early life, his
acquisition of the estate, and his prowess in battle; in all of which,
while the warden intended only the praise of his master, he discovered
to the attentive listener all the weaknesses of the voivode's
character.

Upon Amesa's arrival late in the day, Ballaban avoided much
intercourse with him, except in relation to the selection of the dog.
To Elissa he gave a few words of advice, to the effect that she was
now the object of the young lord's adoration; and that, in order to
secure her advantage, she should make as much as possible a mystery of
her previous life. With this council--which was as much as he dared to
venture upon in his own ignorance of the exact part he was
playing--Ballaban departed, leading a magnificent hound in leash. A
little way from the castle he sat down, and drawing from his breast a
roll of paper, added certain lines and comments, as he muttered to
himself,--

"I have made neater drawings than this for old Bestorf in the school
of the Yeni-Tscheri, but none that will please the Aga more. There is
not a goat path on the borders that I have not got. A sudden movement
of our armies, occupying ground here and here and here, where I have
blazed the trees, would hold this country against Ivan Beg and
Scanderbeg. And with this black-hearted traitor, Amesa, in my
fingers!--Well! Let's see! I will force him into open rebellion
against Scanderbeg, unless he is deeper witted than he seems. But
which plan would be best in the long run?--to stir up a feud between
him and Scanderbeg, and let them cut each other's throats? Or,
inveigle him to open alliance with our side, under promise of being
made king of Albania? That last would settle all the Moslem trouble
with these Giaours. And it could be done. The Padishah offered
Scanderbeg the country on condition of paying a nominal tribute, and
would offer the same to Amesa. And Amesa would take it, though he had
to become Moslem. I will leave these propositions with the Aga," said
he, folding up the papers, and putting them back into his bosom. "In
either case I shall keep my vow with Amesa to help him against
Scanderbeg. But the devil help them both!"

Whistling a snatch of a rude tune, part of which belonged to an
Albanian religious hymn he had heard in his rambles, and part to a
Turkish love song--swinging his long arms, and striding as far at each
step as his short legs would allow him, he went down the mountain.



CHAPTER XXV.


"Who comes here?" cried the sentinel at the bottom of the steep road
which led up to the gate at the rear of the town of Sfetigrade.

The man thus challenged made no reply except to speak sharply to a
large hound he was leading, and which was struggling to break away
from him. In his engrossment with the brute he did not seem to have
heard the challenge. As he came nearer the sentinel eyed him with a
puzzled, but half-comical look, as he soliloquized,--

"Ah, by the devil in the serpent's skin, I know him this time. He is
the Albanian Turk we were nigh to hamstringing. If I mistake that red
head again it will be when my own head has less brain in it than will
balance it on a pike-staff, where Colonel Kabilovitsch would put it if
I molested this fellow again. I'll give him the pass word, instead of
taking it from him; that will make up for past mistakes."

The sentinel saluted the new comer with a most profound courtesy, and,
shouldering his spear, marched hastily past him, ogling him with a
sidelong knowing look.

"Tako mi Marie!"[60]

"Tako mi Marie!" responded the man, adding to himself, "but this is
fortunate; the fellow must be crazy. I thought I should have had to
brain him at least."

As he passed by, the sentinel stood still, watching him, and muttered,

"How should I know but Castriot himself is in that dog's hide."

The dog turned and, attracted by the soldier's attitude, uttered a low
growl.

"Tako mi Marie! and all the other saints in heaven too, but I believe
it is the general in disguise," said the sentinel.

"Tako mi Marie!" said the stranger saluting the various guards, whom
he passed without further challenge, through the town gates and up to
the main street.

The great well, from which the beleaguered inhabitants of Sfetigrade
drew the only water now accessible, since the Turks had so closely
invested the town, was not far from the citadel. It was very deep,
having been cut through the great layers of rock upon which the upper
town stood. Above it was a great wheel, over the outer edge of which
ran an endless band of leather; the lower end dipping into the water
that gleamed faintly far below. Leathern sockets attached to this belt
answered for buckets, which, as the wheel was turned, lifted the water
to the top, whence it ran into a great stone trough. The well was
guarded by a curb of stones which had originally been laid compactly
together; but many of them had been removed, and used to hurl down
from the walls of the citadel upon the heads of the Turks when they
tried to scale them.

The dog, panting with the heat, mounted one of the remaining stones,
and stretched his long neck far down to sniff the cool water which
glistened a hundred feet below him. The man shouted angrily to the
beast, and so clumsily attempted to drag him away that both dog and
stone were precipitated together into the well.

"A grapple! a rope!" shouted the man to a crowd who had seen the
accident from a distance. "Will no one bring one?" he cried with
apparent anger at their slow movements--"Then I must get one myself."

The crowd rushed toward the well. The man disappeared in the opposite
direction.

It was several hours before the dead dog was taken from the polluted
water. The Dibrian soldiers refused to drink from it. The superstition
communicated itself like an epidemic, to the other inhabitants. For a
day or two bands sallied from Sfetigrade, and brought water from the
plain: but it was paid for in blood, for the Turkish armies, aware of
the incident almost as soon as it occurred, drew closer their lines,
and stationed heavy detachments of Janizaries at the springs and
streams for miles around. The horrors of a water-famine were upon the
garrison. In vain did the officers rebuke the insane delusion. The
common soldiers, not only would not touch the water, but regarded the
accident as a direct admonition from heaven that the town must be
surrendered. Appeals to heroism, patriotism, honor, were less potent
than a silly notion which had grown about the minds of an otherwise
noble people--as certain tropical vines grow so tough and in such
gradually lessening spirals about a stalwart tree that they choke the
ascending sap and kill it. They who would have drunk were prevented
by the others who covered the well with heavy pieces of timber, and
stood guard about it.

FOOTNOTE:

[60] Help me, Mary!



CHAPTER XXVI.


In vain did Castriot assault the Turks who were intrenched about the
wells and springs in the neighborhood. Now and then a victory over
them would be followed by a long procession from the town, rolling
casks, carrying buckets, pitchers, leather bottles and dug-out
troughs. The amount of water thus procured but scarcely sufficed to
keep life in the veins of the defenders: it did not suffice to nourish
heart and courage. It was foreseen that Sfetigrade must fall.

Constantine was in the madness of despair about Morsinia. Her fate in
the event of capture was simply horrible to contemplate. Yet she could
hardly hope to make her way through the Turkish lines. Constantine was
at the camp with Castriot when it was announced that the enemy had at
length got possession of every approach to the town, so that there was
no communication between the Albanians within and those without,
except by signaling over the heads of the Turks. Castriot determined
upon a final attack, during which, if he should succeed in uncovering
any of the gates of the town, the people might find egress.

Constantine begged to be allowed the hazardous duty of entering, by
passing in disguise through the Turkish army, and giving the
endangered people the exact information of Castriot's purpose. Taking
advantage of his former experience, he donned the uniform of a
Janizary, easily learned the enemy's password, and at the moment
designated to the besieged by Castriot's signal--just as the lower
star of the Great Dipper disappeared behind the cliff--he emerged from
the dense shadows of an angle of the wall. He was scarcely opposite
the gate when the drawbridge lowered and rose quickly. The portcullis
was raised and dropped an instant later, and he was within the town.

Throwing off his disguise, he went at once toward the commandant's
quarters to deliver despatches from Castriot. But a shout preceded
him--

"The destroyer! The destroyer! Death to the destroyer!"

Multitudes, awakened by the shouting, came from the houses and
soldiers' quarters. Constantine was seized by the crowd, who yelled:

"To the well with him! Let the dog's soul come into him!"

He was borne along as helplessly as a leaf in the foaming cataract.

"To the well! To the well with the poisoner!"

The cry grew louder and shriller; the multitude maddening under the
intense fury of their mutual rage, as each coal is hotter when many
glow with it in the fire. Women mingled with soldiers, shrieking their
insane vengeance, until the crowd surged with the victim around the
well. The planks were torn off by strong hands. The horror of the deed
they were about to commit made them pause. Each waited for his
neighbor to assume the desperate office of actually perpetrating what
was in all their hearts to do.

At length three of the more resolute stepped forward as executioners
of the popular will. The struggling form of Constantine was held erect
that all might see him. Torches waved above his head. One stood upon
the well curb, and, dropping a torch into the dark abyss, cried with a
loud voice--

"So let his life be put out who destroys us all!"

"So let it be!" moaned the crowd; the wildness of their wrath somewhat
subdued by the impressiveness of the tragedy they were enacting.

The well hissed back its curse as the burning brand sunk into the
water.

But a new apparition burst upon the scene. Suddenly, as if it had
risen from the well, a form draped in white stood upon the curb. Her
long golden hair floated in the strong wind. Her face, from sickness
white as her robe, had an unearthly pallor from the excitement, and
seemed to be lit with the white heat of her soul. Her sunken eyes gave
back the flare of the torches, as if they gleamed with celestial
reprobation.

"The Holy Virgin!" cried some.

"One of the Vili!" cried others.

The crowd surged back in ghostly fear.

"Neither saint nor sprite am I," cried Morsinia. "Your own wicked
hearts make you fear me. It is your consciences that make you imagine
a simple girl to be a vengeful spirit, and shrink from this horrid
murder, to the very brink of which your ignorance and wretched
superstition have led you. Blessed Mary need not come from Heaven to
tell you that a man--a man for whom her Son Jesu died--should not be
made to die for the sake of a dead dog. I, a child, can tell you
that."

"But the well is accursed and the people die," said a monk, throwing
back his cowl, and reaching out his hand to seize her.

"And such words from you, a priest of Jesu!" answered the woman,
warding him off by the scathing scorn of her tones. "Did not Jesu say,
'Come unto Me and drink, drink out of My veins as ye do in Holy
Sacrament?' Will He curse and kill, then, for drinking the water which
you need, because a dog has fallen into it?"

These words, following the awe awakened by her unexpected appearance,
stayed the rage of the crowd for a moment. But soon the murmur rose
again--

"To the well!"

"He is a murderer!"

"It is just to take vengeance on a murderer!"

The woman raised her hand as if invoking the witness of Heaven to her
cause, and exclaimed--

"But _I_ am not a murderer. A curse on him who slays the innocent. I
will be the sacrifice. I fear not to drink of this well with my dying
gasp. Unhand the man, or, as sure as Heaven sees me, I shall die for
him!"

A shudder of horror ran through the crowd as the light form of the
young woman raised itself to the very brink of the well. It seemed as
if a movement, or a cry, would precipitate her into the black abyss.
The crowd was paralyzed. The silence of the dead fell upon them, as
she leaned forward for the awful plunge.

Those holding Constantine let go their grip.

At this moment the commandant appeared. He had, indeed, been a silent
witness of the scene, and was not unwilling that the superstition of
the soldiers should thus have a vent, thinking that with the sacrifice
of the supposed offender they might be satisfied, and led to believe
that the spirit of the well was appeased. He hoped that thus they
might be induced to drink the water. But he recoiled from permitting
the sacrifice of this innocent person, lest it should blacken the
curse already impending.

"I will judge this case," he cried. "Man, who are you?"

"I bear you orders from General Castriot," replied Constantine,
handing him a document.

By the light of a torch the officer read,

     "In the event of being unable to hold out, signal and make a
     sally according to directions to be given verbally by the
     bearer.

     CASTRIOT."

Turning to the crowd, the commandant addressed them.

"Brave men! Epirots and Dibrians! We are being led into some mistake.
My message makes it evident that on this man's life depends the life
of every one of us----"

His voice was drowned by wild cries that came from a distant part of
the town. The cries were familiar enough to all their ears; but they
had heretofore heard them only from beneath the walls without. They
were the Turkish cries of assault. "Allah! Allah! Allah! Allah!"
rolled like a hurricane along the streets of Sfetigrade. The gates had
been thrown open by some Dibrian, whom superstition and a
thirst-fevered brain had transformed into a traitor.

"Quick!" cried Constantine. "Fire three powder flashes from the
bastion, and follow me."

"Brave girl!" said he to Morsinia, grasping her hand and drawing her
toward the citadel.

"It is too late!" replied the commandant. "All the ports are occupied
by the enemy. We can but die in the streets."

"To the north gate, then! Burst it open, and cut your way to the east.
Castriot will meet you there. I will to the bastion."

"We must go with them," said Morsinia. "Better die in the streets than
be taken here."

"No, you shall not die, my good angel. I have prepared for this.
First, I will fire the signal." In a few seconds three flashes
illumined the old battlements.

Returning to Morsinia, he said quietly, "I have prepared for this,"
and unwound from about his body a strong cord, looped at intervals so
that it could be used for a ladder. Fastening this securely, he
dropped the end over the wall. Descending part way himself, he opened
the loops one by one for the feet of his companion; and thus they
reached a narrow ledge some twenty feet below the parapet. From this
to the next projection broad enough to stand upon, the rock was steep
but slanting; so that, while one could not rest upon it, it would
largely overcome the momentum of the descent. Fastening a cord
securely beneath the arms of Morsinia, he let her down the slope to
the lower ledge. Then, tying the rope to that above, he descended
himself to her side. From this point the path was not dangerous to one
possessed of perfect presence of mind, and accustomed to balance the
body on one foot at a time. Thanks to her mountain life, and the
strong stimulus to brain and nerve acquired by her familiarity with
danger, Morsinia was undizzied by the elevation. Thus they wound their
way toward the east side of the wall; and, as they neared the base of
the cliff, sat down to reconnoitre.

Above them frowned the walls of the citadel. Just beneath them were
many forms, moving like spectres in the darkness which was fast
dissolving into the gray morning twilight. The voices which came up to
their ears proved that they were Turks. For Morsinia to pass through
them without detection would be impossible. To remain long where they
were would be equally fatal.

But their anxiety was relieved by a well known bugle-call. At first it
sounded far away to the north.

"Iscanderbeg! Iscanderbeg!" cried the Turks, as they were deployed to
face the threatening assault. But scarcely had they formed in their
new lines when the sound, as of a storm bursting through a forest,
indicated that the attack was from the south.

Taking the Turks who were still outside the walls at a disadvantage,
Castriot's force made terrible havoc among them, sweeping them back
pell-mell past the eastern front and around the northern, so as to
leave the north gate clear for the escape of any who might emerge
from it.

But, alas, for the valor of the commandant and the noble men who
followed him! few succeeded in cutting their way through the swarm of
enemies that had already occupied the streets of Sfetigrade.

This movement, however, enabled Constantine and Morsinia to descend
from their dangerous eyrie. The apparition of their approach from that
direction was a surprise to the general.

"Why, man, do you ride upon bats and night-hawks, that you have flown
from yonder crag? I shall henceforth believe in Radisha and his
beautiful demon. And may I pray thy care for myself in battle, my fair
lady?"



CHAPTER XXVII.


The fall of Sfetigrade, while a material loss to the Albanian cause,
served rather to exalt than to diminish the prestige of their great
general. The fame of Scanderbeg brightened as the gloomy tidings of
the fate of the stronghold spread; for that event, due to a
circumstance which no human being could control, gave his enemies
their first success, after nearly seven years of incessant effort,
with measureless armaments, innumerable soldiery and exhaustless
treasure.

The adversity also developed in Scanderbeg new qualities of greatness,
both military and moral. As the effort to drain a natural spring only
evokes its fuller and freer flow, so disappointment augmented his
courage, impoverishment in resources enlarged the scheme of his
projects, and the defeat of one plan by circumstances suggested other
plans more novel and shrewd. The sight of the Turkish ensign floating
from the citadel of Sfetigrade disheartened the patriots. The tramp of
fresh legions from almost all parts of the Moslem world was not so
ominous of further disaster as were the whispers of discontent from
more than one who, like Amesa, had ambitions of their own, or, like
brave Moses Goleme, were discouraged regarding ultimate success. But
the great heart of Castriot sustained the courage of his people, and
his genius devised plans for the defence of his land which, for
sixteen years yet, were to baffle the skill and weary the energies of
the foe.

The chief gave orders that Morsinia, having eluded capture, should
occupy for the day his own tent; for the Albanian soldiers, as a rule,
were destitute of the luxury of a canvas covering. Returning toward
the middle of the morning, and having need to enter, he bade
Constantine call her. No response being given, Castriot raised the
curtain of the tent. Upon a rude matting, which was raised by rough
boards a few inches from the earth, her limbs covered with an
exquisitely embroidered Turkish saddle cloth, Morsinia lay asleep. Her
neck and shoulders were veiled with her hair, which, rich and
abundant, fell in cascades of golden beauty upon the ground.

The great man stood for a moment gazing upon the sleeping girl. His
ordinarily immobile features relaxed. His face, generally
passionless, unreadable as that of the sphinx, and impressive only for
the mystery of the thoughts it concealed, now became suffused with
kindly interest. His smile, as if he had been surprised by the
fairness of the vision, was followed by a look of fatherly tenderness.
The tears shot into his eyes; but with a deep breath he dropped the
curtain, and turned away. Of what was he thinking? Of little Mara
Cernoviche, his playmate far back in the years? or of himself during
those years? Strange that career among the Turks! and equally strange
all the years since he had looked upon the little child asleep by the
camp fire at the foot of the Balkans! One who gazed into his face at
that moment would have discovered that the rough warrior spirit was an
outer environment about a gentle and loving nature.

He was interrupted by officers crowding about him, bringing
intelligence of the enemy, or asking questions relative to the
immediate movements of their own commands. These were answered in
laconic sentences, each one a flash of strategic wisdom.

In the first leisure he put his hand fondly upon Constantine's head,
and said quietly as he seated himself upon a rock near the tent door--

"Tell me of last night."

As Constantine narrated what the reader is already familiar with,
dwelling especially upon Morsinia's part in the scene at the well, and
her courage in the descent from the wall, Scanderbeg exclaimed
eagerly--

"A true daughter of Musache De Streeses and Mara Cernoviche! The very
impersonation of our Albania! Her spirit is that of our heroic people,
fair as our lakes and as noble as our mountains! But these scenes are
too rough for her. Her soul is strong enough to endure; but so is the
diamond strong enough to keep its shape and lustre amid the stones
which the freshet washes together. But it is not well that it should
be left to do so. Besides, the diamond's strength and inviolable
purity will not prevent a robber from stealing it. There are envious
eyes upon our treasure. We had better have our diamond cut and set and
put away in a casket for a while. We will send her to Constantinople.
There she will have opportunity to gain in knowledge of the world, and
in the courtly graces which fit her princely nature."

"Would not Italy be better?" suggested Constantine.

"No," said Scanderbeg. "The Italians are uncertain allies. I know not
whom to trust across the Adriatic. But Phranza, the chamberlain at
Constantinople, is a noble man. I knew him years ago when I was
stationed across the Bosphorus, and had committed to me nearly all the
Ottoman affairs, so far as they affected the Greek capital. He is one
of the few Greeks we may implicitly trust. And, moreover, he agrees
with me in seeking a closer alliance between our two peoples. If the
Christian power at Constantinople could be roused against the Turk on
the east, while we are striking him on the west, we could make the
Moslem wish he were well out of Europe. But Italy will do nothing."

"The Holy Father can help, can he not?" asked Constantine.

"The Holy Father does not to-day own himself. He is the mere
foot-ball of the secular powers, who kick him against one another in
their strife. No, our hope is in putting some life into the old Greek
empire at Constantinople. The dolt of an emperor, John, is dead,
thanks to Azrael[61]! In Constantine, who has come to the throne,
Christendom has hope of something better than to see the heir of the
empire of the Cæsars dancing attendance upon Italian dukes; seeking
agreement with the Pope upon words of a creed which no one can
understand; and demoralizing, with his uncurtained harem, the very
Turk. If the new emperor has the sense of a flea he will see that the
Moslem power will have Constantinople within a decade, unless the
nations can be united in its defence. I would send letters to Phranza,
and you must be my envoy. With Morsinia there, we shall be free from
anxiety regarding her; for no danger threatens her except here in her
own land--to our shame I say it. A Venetian galley touches weekly at
Durazzo, and sails through the Corinthian gulf. You will embark upon
that to-morrow night."

"But Colonel Kabilovitsch?" inquired Constantine.

"He has already started for Durazzo, and will make all arrangements.
Nothing is needed here but a comely garment for Morsinia, who left
Sfetigrade with a briefer toilet than most handsome women are willing
to make. Colonel Kabilovitsch will see that you are provided with
money and detailed instructions for the journey."

A soldier appeared with a bundle. "A rough lady's maid!" said the
general, "but a useful one I will warrant."

Unrolling the bundle, it proved to be a rich, but plain, dress,
donated from a neighboring castle.

An hour later Scanderbeg held Morsinia by both hands, looking down
into her eyes. It was a picture which should have become historic. The
giant form of the grim old warrior contrasted fully with that of the
maiden, as some gnarled oak with the flower that grows at its base.

"Keep good heart, my daughter," said the general, imprinting a kiss
upon her fair brow.

She replied with loving reverence in her tone and look, "I thank you,
Sire, for that title; for the father of his country has the keeping of
the hearts of all the daughters of Albania."

It were difficult to say whether the sweet loveliness in the lines of
her face, or the majesty of character and superb heroism that shone
through them, gave her the greater fascination as she added,

"If Jesu wills that among strangers I can best serve my country, there
shall be my home."

"But you will not long be among strangers. Your goodness will make
them all friends. Beside, God will keep such as you, for he loves the
pure and beautiful."

Morsinia blushed as she answered,

"And does God not love the true and the noble? So he will keep thee
and Albania. Does not the sun send down her[62] beams as straight over
Constantinople as over Croia? and does she not draw the mists by as
short a cord of her twisted rays from the Marmora as from the
Adriatic? Then God can be as near us there as here; and our prayers
for thee and our land will go as speedily to the Great Heart over all.
The Blessed Mary keep you, Sire!"

"Ay, the Blessed Mary spake the blessing through your lips, my child,"
responded Scanderbeg as he lifted her to her horse.

Constantine released himself from the general's hearty embrace, and
sprang into the saddle at her side. Preceded and followed by a score
of troopers they disappeared in the deep shadows of a mountain path.

FOOTNOTES:

[61] The death angel.

[62] In Albanian speech the sun is feminine.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


Durazzo lies upon a promontory stretching out into the Adriatic. The
walls which surrounded it at the time of our story, told, by the
weather-wear of their stones, the different ages during which they had
guarded the little bay that lies at the promontory's base. A young
monk,[63] Barletius, to whom Colonel Kabilovitsch introduced the
voyagers, as a travelling companion for a part of their journey,
pointed out the great and rudely squared boulders in the lower course
of masonry, as the work of the ancient Corcyreans, centuries before
the coming of Christ. The upper courses, he said, were stained with
the blood of the Greek soldiers of Alexius, when the Norman Robert
Guiscard assaulted the place, hundreds and hundreds of years ago.

Indeed, to the monk's historic imagination, the world seemed still
wrapped in the mists of the older ages; and, just as the low lying
haze, with its mirage effect, contorted the rocks along the shore into
domes and pinnacles, so did his fancy invest every object with the
greatness of the history with which the old manuscripts had made him
familiar.

While Morsinia listened with a strange entertainment to his rhapsodic
narrations, Constantine was busy studying the graceful lines of the
Venetian half-galley that lay at the base of the cliff, and upon which
they were to embark; her low deck, cut down in the centre nearly to
the water's edge; her sharp, swan-necked prow raised high in air, and
balanced by the broad elevation at the stern; the lateen sail that,
furled on its boom, hung diagonally against the slender mast; the rows
of holes at the side, through which in calm weather the oars were
worked; the gay pennant from the mast-head, and the broad banner at
the stern, which spread to the light breeze the Lion of St. Mark.

They were soon gliding out of the harbor of Durazzo, at first under
the regularly timed stroke of a score of oarsmen. Rounding the
promontory, the west wind filled the sail; and, careening to the
leeward, the galley danced toward the south through the light spray of
the billows which sung beneath the prow like the strings of a zither.

Perhaps it was this music of the waves--or it may have been that the
wind was blowing straight across from Italy; or, possibly, it was the
beauty of the maiden reclining upon the cushioned dais of the stern
deck--that led the weather-beaten sailing master to take the zither,
and sing one after another of Petrarch's love songs to Laura. Though
his voice was as hoarse as the wind that crooned through the cordage,
and his language scarcely intelligible, the flow of the melody told
the sentiment. Constantine's eyes sought the face of his companion, as
if for the first time he had detected that she was beautiful. And
perhaps for the first time in her life Morsinia felt conscious that
Constantine was looking at her;--for she generally withstood his gaze
with as little thought of it as she did that of the sky, or of
Kabilovitsch. Even the monk turned his eyes from the magnificent
shores of Albania, with their beetling headlands and receding bays, to
cast furtive glances upon the maiden.

The monk's face was a striking one. He was pale, if not from holy
vigil, from pouring over musty secular tomes. He had caught the spirit
of the revival of learning which, notwithstanding all the superstition
of ecclesiastics, was first felt in the cloisters of the church. His
forehead was high, but narrow; his eyes mild, yet lustrous; his lower
features almost feminine. One familiar with men would have said, "Here
is a man of patient enthusiasm for things intellectual, a devotee to
the ideal. He may be a philosopher, a poet, an artist; but he could
never make a soldier, a diplomat, or even a lover, except of the most
Platonic sort. Just the man for a monk. If all monks were like him,
the church would be enriched indeed; but, if all like him were monks,
the world would be the poorer."

Among other passengers was a Greek monk, Gennadius. This man's full
beard and long curly forelocks hanging in front of his ears, were in
odd contrast with the smooth face and shaven head of the Latin monk.
Though strangers, they courteously saluted each other. However sharp
might be the differences in their religious notions, they soon felt
the fraternity such as cultured minds and great souls realize in the
presence of the sublimities of nature. They studied each other's faces
with agreeable surprise as the glories about them drew from their lips
vivid outbursts of descriptive eloquence, in which, speaking the Latin
or Greek with almost equal facility, they quoted from the classic
poets with which they were equally familiar.

As the galley turned eastward into the Corinthian gulf there burst
upon them a panorama of natural splendor combined with classic
enchantment, such as no other spot on the earth presents. The
mountainous shores lay about the long and narrow sea, like sleeping
giants guarding the outflow of some sacred fountain. Back of the
northern coast rose, like waking sentinels, the Helicon and Parnassus,
towering thousands of feet into the air; their tops helmeted in ice
and plumed with fleecy clouds. The western sun poured upon the track
of the voyagers floods of golden lustre which lingered on the still
waters, flashed in rainbows from the splashing oars, gilded with glory
the hither slope of every projection on either shore, and filled the
great gorges beyond with dark purple shadows.

As Morsinia reclined with her head resting on Constantine's shoulder,
and drank in the gorgeous, yet quieting, scene, the two monks stood
with uncovered heads and, half embracing, chanted together in Greek
one of the oldest known evening hymns of the Christian church. In free
translation, it ran thus:--

     "O Jesu, the Christ! glad light of the holy!
       The brightness of God, the Father in heaven!
     At setting of sun, with hearts that are lowly,
       We praise Thee for life this day Thou hast given."

"I love that hymn," said Gennadius, "because it was written long
before the schism which rent the Holy Church into Latin and Greek."

"We will rejoice, then, that by the inspiration of the Holy Father,
Eugenius, and the assent of your patriarch, the wound in the body of
Christ has, after six centuries, at last been healed," replied
Barletius.

"I fear that the healing is but seeming," said the Greek. "I was a
member of the council of Florence, and know the motives of the men who
composed it, and the exact meaning of the agreement--which means
nothing. Your Pope cares not a scrap of tinsel from his back for the
true Christian dogma; and while his ambition led him to desire to
become the uniter of Christendom, his own bishops, who know him well,
were gathered in synod at Basil, and pronounced him heretic, perjurer
and debauchee."

"But you Greeks were doubtless more honest," said Barletius, with a
tone and look of sarcasm.

"Humph!" grunted Gennadius, walking away; but turning about quickly he
added,

"How could we be honest when, for the sake of the union, we assented
to a denial of our most sacred dogmas by allowing the _Filioque_?[64]
It is not in the power of men living to change the truth as expressed
through all past ages in the creed of the true church. Our emperor
yielded the points to the Latins; but holy Mark of Ephesus and Prince
Demetrius, our emperor's brother, did not. They retired in disgust
from Italy. Why, the very dog of the emperor, that lay on his
foot-cloth, scented the heresy to which his master was about to
subscribe, and protested against the sacrilege by baying throughout
the reading of the act of union. And I learn that the clergy and
populace at Byzantium are foaming with rage at this impiety of our
Latinizing emperor. I am hasting thither that I may utter my voice,
too, in my cell in prayer, and from the pulpit of St. Sophia, against
the unholy alliance."

"Yet," said Barletius, with scorn, "your emperor and church
authorities subscribed. What sort of a divine spirit do you Greeks
possess, that prompts you to confess what you do not believe?"

"I feel your taunt," replied Gennadius. "It is both just and unjust.
Have not some of your own prelates lately taught that the end
justifies the means? The union, though wrong in itself, was
justified--according to Latin ethics--by the result to be secured, the
safety of both Greek and Latin churches from being conquered by the
Turks. Our Eastern empire, the glory of the later Cæsars, has already
become reduced to the suburbs of Byzantium. The empire of Justinian
and Theodosius has not to-day ten thousand soldiers to withstand the
myriads of the Sultan. There must be union. We must have soldiers,
even if we buy them with the price of an article of the creed--nay the
loan of the article--for the union will not stand when danger has
passed. Conscience alone is one thing: conscience under necessity--I
speak the ethics of you Latins--is another thing. But I abhor the
deceit. Your bishop, whom you call Pope, has no reverence from our
hearts, though we were to kiss his toe. You are idolaters with your
images of Mary and the saints. _Filioque_ is a lie!" cried the Greek,
giving vent to his prejudice and spite.

Barletius in the meantime had felt other emotions than the holiest
being kindled within him by these hot words of his companion; and when
the Greek had flashed his unseemly denunciation at _Filioque_, the
Latin's soul burst in responsive rage. But he was not accustomed to
harsh debate. Words were consumed upon his hot lips, or choked in his
fury-dried throat. His frame trembled with the pent wrath. His hands
clenched until the nails cut into the flesh. But alas for the best
saintship, if temptation comes before canonization! The thin hand was
raised, and it fell upon the holy brother's face. The blow was
returned. But neither of them had been trained to carnal strife, nor
had they the skill and strength to do justice to their noble rage.
Constantine, who leaped forward to act as peace-maker, stopped to
laugh at the strange pose of the antagonists; for the Greek had
valiantly seized the cowl of the Latin, and drawn it down over his
face; while Barletius' thin fingers were wriggling through Gennadius'
beard, and both were prancing as awkwardly as one-day-old calves about
the narrow deck, with the imminent prospect of cooling their spirits
by immersion in the water.

The presence of this danger led Constantine to separate the scufflers;
although his laughter at the contestants had made his limbs almost as
limp as theirs. The ecclesiastical champions stood glaring their
celestial resentment, the one white, the other red, like two statues
of burlesque gladiators carved respectively in marble and porphyry.

The conflict might have been renewed had not Morsinia risen from her
cushion, and approached them. But no sooner did Gennadius realize the
danger of having so much as his gown touched by a woman, than he
bolted to the other end of the galley, and sat down, with fright and
shame, upon a coil of ropes. The Greek had been trained at the
monastery on Mount Athos. From that masculine paradise the fair
daughters of Eve were as carefully excluded as if they were still the
agents of Satan, and sent by the devil to work the ruin of those who,
by lofty meditation and unnatural asceticism, would return to the
pre-marital Adamic state of innocence. During the long twilight, and
when the night left only the outlines of the mountains sharply defined
high up against the star-lit sky, Gennadius still sat motionless; his
legs crossed beneath him; his head dropped upon his bosom. He gave no
response to the salutation of the attendant who brought him the
evening meal: nor would he touch it. When the sailors sung the songs
whose melody floated over the sea, keeping time to the cadences of the
light waves which bent but did not break the surface, the monk put his
fingers into his ears. He tried to drive out worldly thoughts by
recalling those precepts of an ancient saint which, for four hundred
years, had been prescribed at Mount Athos for those who would quiet
their perturbed souls and rise into the upper light of God. They were
such as these. "Seat thyself in a corner; raise thy mind above all
things vain and transitory; recline thy beard and chin upon thy
breast; turn thy eyes and thoughts toward the middle of thy belly, the
region of the navel; and search the place of the heart, the seat of
the soul, which when discovered will be involved in a mystic and
ethereal light."

Barletius, equally chagrined by his display of temper before the
laity, sought relief by inflicting upon himself a task of Pater
Nosters, which he tallied off on his beads, made of olive-wood and
sent him by a learned monk at Bethlehem.

When his punishment seemed accomplished, Morsinia asked him,

"Good father, why did you quarrel with the stranger?"

Barletius entered into a long explanation of the faith of the Roman
Church at the point challenged by the Greek.

"I understand your words," said Morsinia, "but I do not understand
their meaning."

"It is not necessary that you should, my child. If Holy Church
understands, it is enough. A child may not understand all that the
mother knows; yet believes the mother's word. So should you believe
what Mother Church says."

"I would believe every word that Mother Church speaks, even though I
do not understand why she speaks it," said Morsinia reverently. "But
how can one believe another's words when one does not know what they
mean; when they give no thought? Now what you say about the
'procession of the spirit,' and the 'begetting of the Son,' I do not
get any clear thought about; and how then can I believe it in my
heart."

The monk cast a troubled look upon the fair inquirer, and replied--

"Then you must simply believe in Holy Church which believes the
truth."

"And say I believe the creed, when I only believe that the Church
believes the creed?" queried the girl.

"It is enough. Happy are you if you seek to know no more. Beware of an
inquisitive mind. It leads one astray from truth, as a wayward
disposition soon departs from virtue. Credo! Credo! Credo! Help thou
mine unbelief! should be your prayer. Restrain your thoughts as the
helmsman yonder keeps our prow on the narrow way we are going. How
soon you would perish if you should attempt to find your way alone out
there on the deep! Woe to those who, like these wretched Greeks,
depart from truth, and teach men so. Anathema, Maranatha!"

"But, tell me, good father, can that be necessary to be believed,
about which whole nations, like the Greeks, differ from other nations,
like the Latins? I have seen Greeks at their worship, and bowed with
them, and felt that God was near and blessing us all. And I have heard
them say, when they were dying, that they saw heaven open; and they
reached out their arms to be taken by the angels. Does not Jesu save
them, though they may err about that which we trust to be the truth?"

"My child, you must not think of these things," said Barletius kindly.
"It is better that you sleep now. The air is growing chill. Wrap your
cloak closely even beneath the deck."

He walked away, repeating a line from Virgil as he scanned the
star-gemmed heavens.

"Suadentque cadentia sidera somnos."

Wrapping his hood close over his face, he lay down upon the deck.

FOOTNOTES:

[63] Marinus Barletius, a Latin monk of the time, has given us in his
chronicles, the most extended account of Scanderbeg.

[64] Filioque; "and the Son." The Latin Church holds that the Holy
Spirit proceeds from the Father _and the Son_. The Greeks deny the
latter part of the proposition.



CHAPTER XXIX.


Two new comers joined the party at Corinth, where, crossing the
isthmus on horses, they re-embarked. One was Giustiniani, a Genoese,
of commanding form and noble features, the very type of chivalric
gentility, bronzed by journeyings under various skies, and scarred
with the memorials of heroic soldiership on many fields. The other was
a Dacian, short of stature, with broad and square forehead, and a
crooked neck which added to the sinister effect of his squinting eyes.

"Well, Urban," said the Genoese, "you still have confidence in your
new ordnance, and think that saltpetre and charcoal are to take the
place of the sword, and that every lout who can strike a fire will
soon be a match for a band of archers:--Eh!"

"Yes, Sire, and if the emperor would only allow me a few hundred
ducats, I would cast him a gun which, from yonder knoll, would heave a
stone of five talents'[65] weight, and crash through any galley ever
floated from the docks of Genoa or Venice. Four such guns on either
side would protect this isthmus from a fleet. But, I tell you, noble
Giustiniani, that without taking advantage of our new science, the
emperor cannot hold out long against the Turk. The Turk is using
gunpowder. He is willing to learn, and has already learned, what the
emperor will find out to his cost, that the walls of Constantinople
itself cannot long endure the battering of heavy cannon."

"You are right, Urban," replied the Genoese. "The Turk is also ahead
of us in the art of approaching citadels. I have no doubt that his
zigzag trenches[66] give the assailant almost equality with the
besieged in point of safety. I will gladly use my influence at the
court of Byzantium in behalf of your scheme for founding large cannon,
Urban; if, perchance, the defence of the empire may receive a tithe of
the treasure now squandered in princely parades and useless
embassages."

The galley glided smoothly through the little gulf of Ægina, with its
historic bays of Eleusis and Salamis. Giustiniani and Urban discussed
the disposition of the Greek and Persian fleets during the ancient
fight at Salamis, as they moved under the steep rocky hill on which
Xerxes sat to witness the battle. They soon rounded the headland,
opposite the tomb of Themistocles, and anchored in the harbor of the
Piræus.

This port of Athens was crowded with shipping. There were Spanish
galleasses like floating castles, with huge turrets at stem and stern,
rowed by hundreds of galley slaves. Other vessels of smaller size
floated the standard of France. Those of the maritime cities of Italy
vied with one another in the exquisite carving of their prows and the
gaiety of their banners.

The chief attention was centred upon a splendid galley of Byzantium,
whose deck was covered with silken awnings, beneath which a band of
music floated sweet strains over the waters. This was the vessel of
the imperial chamberlain, Phranza, who, having been entertained in
Athens with honors befitting his dignity, was now about to return to
Constantinople.

Giustiniani ordered his galley alongside of that of the chamberlain,
by whom he was received with distinguishing favors. Constantine took
this opportunity to deliver, through the Genoese, Scanderbeg's letters
to Phranza. They were read with evident gratification by the
chamberlain. With a hearty welcome, not devoid of some curiosity on
his part, as he scrutinized the appearance of the strangers, he
invited Constantine and his companion to complete their journey in his
galley.

Morsinia was at first as much dazed by the splendor, as she was
mortified by her ignorance of the formalities, with which she was
received. But the natural dignity of her bearing stood her in good
stead of more courtly graces: for these modern Greeks emulated those
of ancient times in the reverence they paid to womanly beauty. The
chamberlain was somewhat past middle life. He was a man whose studious
habits, as the great historian of his times, did not dull his
brilliancy as the master of etiquette. Nor had his astuteness as a
statesman been acquired by any sacrifice of his taste for social
intrigues. The diversions from the cares of state, which other great
men have found at the gaming-table or in their cups, Phranza sought in
studying the mysteries of female character; admiring its virtues, and
yet not averse to finding entertainment in its foibles. A true Greek,
he believed that physical beauty was the index of the rarer qualities
of mind and heart. He would have been a consenting judge at the trial
of that beautiful woman in the classic story, the perfection of whose
unrobed form disproved the charge of her crime. He was such an ardent
advocate of the absolute authority of the emperor that, though of
decided aristocratic tendencies, he held that no marriage alliance,
however high the rank of the bride, could add to the dignity of the
throne: indeed, that beauty alone could grace the couch of a king;
that the first of men should wed the fairest of women, and thus
combine the aristocracy of rank with the aristocracy of nature. He had
frequent opportunities to express his peculiar views on this subject;
for, among the problems which then perplexed his statecraft, was that
of the marriage of the emperor--that the succession might not be left
to the hazard of strife among the families of the blood of the
Palæologi. Had the choice of the royal spouse been left entirely in
his hands, he would have made the selection on no other principle than
that adopted by the purveyor of plumage for the court, who seeks the
rarest colors without regard to the nesting-place of the bird.

The genuine politeness of the courtier, together with Morsinia's
womanly tact in adapting herself to her new environment, soon relieved
her from the feeling of restraint, and the hours of the voyage passed
pleasantly. Her conversation, which was free from the conventionalities
of the day, was, for this very reason, as refreshing to Phranza as the
simple forms of nature--the mountain stream, the tangles of vines and
wild flowers--are to the habitués of cities. There was a native poetry
in her diction, an artlessness in her questions, and a transparent
honesty in her responses. Indeed, her very manner unveiled the
features of so exalted and healthy a mind, of a disposition so frank
and ingenuous, of a character so delicately pure and exquisitely
beautiful, that they compensated many fold any lack of artificial
culture. The great critic of woman forgot to study her face: he only
gazed upon it. He ceased to analyze her character: he simply felt her
worth.

But no fairness of a maiden, be she Albanian or Greek, can long
monopolize the attention of an elderly man whose swift vessel bears
him through the clustering glories of the Ægean. Nor could any awe for
his rank, or interest in his learned conversation, absorb Morsinia
from these splendors which glowed around her. They gazed in silence
upon the smooth and scarcely bending sea, which, like a celestial
mirror, reflected all the hues of the sky--steely blue dissolving into
softest purple; white mists transfused by sunset's glow into billows
of fire; monolithic islands flashing with the colors of mighty agates
in the prismatic air; clouds white as snow and clear cut as diamonds,
lifting themselves from the horizon like the "great white throne" that
St. John saw from the cliffs of Patmos yonder.

Crossing the Ægean, the voyagers hugged the old Trojan coast until off
the straits of the Hellespont. They lay during a day under the lee of
Yeni Sheyr shoals, and at night ran the gauntlet of the new Turkish
forts, Khanak-Kalesi and Khalid-Bahar, at the entrance to the Sea of
Marmora. Two days later there broke upon the view that most queenly of
cities, Byzantium, reclining upon the tufted couch of her seven hills,
by the most lovely of seas, like a nymph beside her favorite fountain.
The galley glided swiftly by the "Seven Towers," which guard on
Marmora the southern end of the enormous triple wall. The bastions and
towers of this famous line of defenses cut their bold profile against
the sky for a distance of five or six miles in a straight line, until
the wall met the extremity of the Golden Horn on the north; thus
making the city in shape like a triangle--the base of gigantic
masonry; the sides of protecting seas.

Gay barges and kaiks shot out from the shore to form a welcoming
pageant to the returning chamberlain. With easy oars they drifted
almost in the shadows of the cypress trees which lined the bank and
hid the residences of wealthy Greek merchants and the pavilions of
princes. The lofty dome of St. Sophia flashed its benediction upon the
travelers, and its challenge of a better faith far across the
Bosphorus to the Asiatic Moslem, whose minarets gleamed like
spear-heads from beside their mosques. From the point where the Golden
Horn meets the strait of the Bosphorus and the sea of Marmora, rose
the palace of the emperor, embowered in trees, and surrounded with
gardens which loaded the air with the perfume of rarest flowers and
the song of birds. Rounding the point into the Golden Horn, the grim
old Genoese tower of Galata, on the opposite bank, saluted them with
its drooping banner. They dropped anchor in the lovely harbor. Strong
arms with a few strokes sent the tipsy kaiks from the galley through
the rippling water to the landing. An elegant palanquin brought the
wife of Phranza to meet her lord. Another, which was designed for the
chamberlain, he courteously assigned to Morsinia; while Constantine
and the gentlemen of the suite mounted the gaily caparisoned horses
that were in readiness. The chamberlain insisted upon Morsinia and
Constantine becoming his guests, at least until their familiarity with
the city should make it convenient for them to reside elsewhere.

FOOTNOTES:

[65] A modern Greek talent weighs 125 English pounds.

[66] The present art of "slow approach" was an invention of the Turks.



CHAPTER XXX.


The house of Phranza was rather a series of houses built about a
square court, in which were parterres of rarest plants, divided from
each other by walks of variegated marble, and moistened by the spray
of fountains.

Morsinia's palanquin was let down just within the gateway. A young
woman assisted her to alight, and conducted her to apartments
elegantly furnished with all that could please a woman's eye, though
she were the reigning beauty of a court, instead of one brought up as
a peasant in a distant province, and largely ignorant of the arts of
the toilet. She was bewildered with the strangeness of her
surroundings, and sat down speechless upon the cushion to gaze about
her. Was she herself? It required the remembrance that Constantine was
somewhere near her to enable her to realize her own identity, and that
she had not been changed by some fairy's wand into a real princess.

"Will my lady rest?" said the attendant, in softest Greek.

Morsinia was familiar with this language, which was used more or less
everywhere in Servia and Albania; but she had never heard it spoken
with such sweetness. The words would have been restful to hear, though
she had not understood their meaning. Without hesitation she resigned
herself to the hands of the servant, who relieved her of her outer
apparel. Another maiden brought a tray of delicate wafers of wheat,
and flasks of light wine, with figs and dates. A curtain in the wall,
being drawn, exposed the bath; a great basin of mottled marble, and a
little fountain scattering a spray scented with roses.

Morsinia began to fear that she had been mistaken for some great lady,
whose wardrobe was expected to be brought in massive chests, and whose
personal ornaments would rival the toilet treasures of the Queen of
Sheba. There entered opportunely several tire-women, laden with silks
and linens, laces and shawls, every portion of female attire, in every
variety of color and shape--from the strong buskin to the gauze veil
so light that it will hide from the eye less than it reveals to the
imagination.

The guest was about to question her attendants, when one gave her a
note, hastily written by Constantine, and simply saying--

"Be surprised at nothing." Phranza had expressed to Constantine the
deep interest of the emperor in the career of Scanderbeg, and his
plans for Morsinia.

"Scanderbeg," said he, "is the one hero of our degenerate age; the
only arm not beaten nerveless by the blows of the Turk. I have asked
nothing concerning yourself, my young man; nor need I know more than
that such a chieftain is interested in you and your charge. Your great
captain informs me (reading from a letter), that any service we may
render you here will be counted as service to Albania; and that any
favor we may bestow upon the lady will be as if shown to his own
child. Is she of any kin to him?"

"I may not speak of that," replied the youth, "except to tell that her
blood is noble, and that General Castriot has made her safety his
care. An Albanian needs but to know that this is the will of our
loving and wise chieftain, to defend Morsinia with his life."

"You speak her name with familiarity," said Phranza.

"It is the custom of our people," replied Constantine, coloring. "The
trials of our country have thrown nobles and peasants into more
intimate relations than would perhaps be allowed in a settled
condition. This, too, may have influenced General Castriot in sending
her here, where her life may be more suitable to her gentle blood."

"It is enough!" exclaimed Phranza. "If our distance from Albania, and
our own pressing difficulties and dangers do not allow us to send aid
to your hero, we can show him our respect and gratitude by treating
her, whom he would have as his child, as if she were our own. And now
for yourself--well! you shall have what, if I mistake you not, your
discreet mind and lusty muscles most crave--an opportunity 'to win
your spurs,' as the western knights would say. Events are thickening
into a crash, the out-come of which no one can foresee, except that
the Moslem or the Christian shall hold all from the Euxine to the
Adriatic. This double empire cannot long exist. Scanderbeg's arms
alone are keeping the Sultan from trying again the strength of our
walls. A disaster there; an assault here! You serve the one cause
whether here or there."

"I give my fealty to the emperor as I would to my general," replied
the young man warmly.

Constantine found himself arrayed before night in the costume of a
subaltern officer of the imperial guard, and assigned to quarters at
the barracks in the section of the city near to the house of the
chamberlain. His brief training under the eye of Castriot, and his
hazardous service, had developed his great natural talent for
soldiership into marvellous acquirements for one of his years. With
the foils, in the saddle, in mastery of tactics, in engineering
ability displayed at the walls--which were being constantly
strengthened--he soon took rank with the most promising. By courtesy
of the chamberlain he was allowed the freest communication with
Morsinia, and was often the guest of her host; especially upon
excursions of pleasure up the Golden Horn to the "Sweet Waters," along
the western shore of the Bosphorus, to the Princess Island, and such
other spots on the sea of Marmora as were uninfested by piratical
Turks.

Morsinia became the favorite not only of the wife of Phranza, but of
the ladies of the court, and the object of especial devotion on the
part of the nobles and officers of the emperor's suite.

But it would have required more saintliness of female disposition than
was ever found in the court of a Byzantine emperor, to have smothered
the fires of jealousy, when, at a banquet given at the palace,
Morsinia was placed at the emperor's right hand. It might not be just
to Phranza to say that to his suggestion was due the praise of
Morsinia's beauty and queenly bearing, which the emperor overheard
from many of the courtiers' lips. Perhaps the charms of her person
forced this spontaneous commendation from them: as it was asserted by
some of the more elderly of the ladies--whom long study had made
proficient in the art of reading kings' hearts from their faces, that
the monarch found an Esther in the Albanian.

The reigning beauty at the court of Constantine Palælogus at this time
was the daughter of a Genoese admiral. Though not reputed for
amiability, she won the friendship of Morsinia by many delicate
attentions. Gifts of articles of dress, ornaments and such souvenirs
as only one woman can select for another, seemed to mark her
increasing attachment. A box of ebony, richly inlaid with mother of
pearl, and filled with delicious confections, was one day the offering
upon the shrine of her sisterly regard. The wife of Phranza, in whose
presence the box was opened, on learning the name of the donor,
besought Morsinia not to taste the contents; and giving a candied fig
to a pet ape, the brute sickened and died before the night.

An event contributed to the rumors which associated the name of the
fair Albanian with the special favors of the emperor. An embassage
from the Doge of Venice had brightened the harbor with their galleys.
A gondola sheathed in silver, floated upon the waters of the Golden
Horn, like a white swan, and was moored at the foot of the palace
garden--the gift of the Doge. Another, its counterpart, was in the
harbor of Venice--the possession of the daughter of the Doge; but
waiting to join its companion, if the imperial heart could be
persuaded to accept with it the person of its princely owner. Better
than the ideal marriage of Venice with the sea--the ceremony of which
was annually observed--would be the marriage of the two seas, the
Adriatic and the Ægean; and the reunion of their families of confluent
waters under the double banner of St. Mark and Byzantium. But the
Grand Duke Lucas Notaris, who was also grand admiral of the empire,
declared openly that he would sooner hold alliance with the Turk than
with a power representing that schismatic Latin Church. The hereditary
nobles protested against such a menace to social order as, in their
estimate, a recognition of a republic like Venice would be. But it was
believed that more potent in its influence over the emperor than these
outcries, was the whisper of Phranza that the silver gondola of Venice
was fairer than its possessor; and that queenly beauty awaited
elsewhere the imperial embrace.

No habitué of the court knew less of this gossip than Morsinia
herself; nor did she suspect any unusual attention paid her by the
emperor to be other than an expression of regard for Castriot, whose
ward she was known to be. Or if, when they were alone, his manner
betrayed a fondness, she attributed it to his natural kindliness of
disposition, or to that desire for recreation which persons in middle
life, burdened with cares, find in the society of the young and
beautiful; for no purpose of modesty could hide from Morsinia the
knowledge which her mirror revealed. She had, too, the highest respect
for the piety of the emperor; the deepest sympathy with him in his
distress for the evils which were swarming about his realm; and a true
admiration for the courage of heart with which he bore up against
them. It was therefore with a commingling of religious, patriotic,
and personal interest that she gave herself up to his entertainment
whenever he sought her society. That she might understand him the
better, and be able to converse with him, she learned from Phranza
much of the history of recent movements, both without and within the
empire. So expert had she become in these matters that the chamberlain
playfully called her his prime minister.



CHAPTER XXXI.


One evening the lower Bosphorus and the Golden Horn were alive with
barges and skiffs, which cut the glowing water with their spray-plumed
prows and flashing blades. Thus the tired day toilers were accustomed
to seek rest, and the idlers of fashion endeavored to quicken their
blood in the cool wind which, from the heights of the Phrygian
Olympus, poured across the sea of Marmora. The Emperor, attended by
one of his favorite pages, appeared upon the rocky slope which is now
known as Seraglio Point. A number of boats, containing the ladies and
gentlemen of the court, drew near to the shore. It was the custom of
his majesty to accept the brief hospitality of one and another of
these parties, and for the others to keep company with him; so that
the evening sail was not unlike a saloon reception upon the water. The
dais of Phranza's boat was, on the evening to which we refer,
occupied by Morsinia alone; and, as the rowers raised the oars in
salute of his majesty, he waved his hand playfully to the others,
saying:

"The chamberlain is so occupied to-day that he has no time to attend
to his own household. I will take his place, with the permission of
the dove of Albania."

"Your Majesty needs rest," said Morsinia, making place for him at her
side on the dais, which filled the stern of the barge, and over which
hung a silken awning. "Your face, Sire, betokens too much thought
to-day."

Throwing himself down, he replied lazily: "I would that our boat were
seized by some sea sprite, and borne swift as the lightnings to where
the sun yonder is making his rest, beyond the Hellespont, beyond the
pillars of Hercules, beyond the world! But you shall be my sprite for
the hour. Your conversation, so different to that of the court, your
charming Arnaout accent, and thoughts as natural as your mountain
flowers, always lead me away from myself."

"I thank heaven, Sire, if Jesu gives to me that holy ministry,"
replied she blushing deeply and diverting the conversation. "But why
are you so sad when everything is so beautiful about us? Is it right
to carry always the burden of empire upon your heart?"

"Alas!" replied he, "I must carry the burden while I can, for the time
may not be far distant when I shall have no empire to burden me.
Events are untoward. While Sultan Amurath lives our treaty will
prevent any attack upon the city. But if another should direct the
Moslem affairs, our walls yonder would soon shake with the assault of
the enemy of Christendom. Nothing but the union of the Christian
powers can save us."

"And you have the union with Rome?" suggested Morsinia.

"A union of shadows to withstand an avalanche," replied the Emperor.
"The Pope is impotent. He can only promise a score of galleys and his
good offices with the powers. At the same time our monks have almost
raised an insurrection against the throne for listening to the
proposition of alliance to which my lamented brother subscribed during
the last days of his reign."

"But God," replied Morsinia, "is wiser than we, and will not allow the
throne of the righteous to be shaken. I have looked to-day at the
marvellous dome of St. Sophia. As I gazed into its mighty vault, and
thought of the great weight of the stones which made it, I looked
about to see upon what it rested. The light columns and walls, far
spread, seemed all insufficient to support it. As I stood looking, I
was at first so filled with fear that I dared not linger. But then I
remembered that a great architect had made it; and that so it had
stood for many centuries, and had trembled with songs of praise from
millions upon millions of worshippers who in all these generations
have gathered under it. Then I stood as quietly beneath it as I am now
under the great vault of the sky. And surely, Sire, this Christian
empire was founded in deeper wisdom than that of the architect. Are
not the pillars of God's promises its sure support? Have not holy men
said that so long as the face of Jesu[67] looks down from above the
great altar, the sceptre shall not depart from him who worships before
it?"

"But," said Palælogus, "God rejects His people for their sins. The
empire's misfortunes have not been greater than its crimes. As the
rising mists return in rain, so the sins of Constantinople, rising for
centuries, will return with storms of righteous retribution. And I
fear it will be in our day; for the clouds hang low, and mutter
ominously, and there is no bright spot within the horizon."

"Say not so, my Emperor!" cried Morsinia earnestly. "A breath of wind
is now scattering yonder cloud over Olympus; and the lightest moving
of God's will can do more. Do you not remember the words of a holy
father, which I have often heard one of our Latin priests repeat to
those fearful because of their past lives;--'Beware lest thou carry
compunctions for the past after thou hast repented and prayed. That is
to doubt God's grace.' But I am a child, Sire, and should not speak
thus to the Emperor."

"A child?" said his majesty, gazing upon her superb form and strong
womanly features. "Well! a child can see as far into the sky as the
most learned and venerable; and your faith, my child, rests me more
than all the earth-drawn assurances of my counsellors. Where have you
learned so to trust? I would willingly spend my days in the convent of
Athos or Monastir to learn it! But I fear me the holy monks have it
not of so strong and serene a sort as yours."

"I have learned it, Sire, as my heart has read it from my own life. My
years are scarcely more numerous than my rescues have been, when to
human sight there was no escape from death, or what I dreaded worse
than death. I have learned to hold a hand that I see not; and it has
never failed. Nor will it fail the anointed of the Lord; for such thou
art. But see! yonder comes my brother Constantine. I know him from his
rowing. They who learn the oars on mountain lakes never get the stroke
they have who learn it at the sea."

The Emperor turning in the direction indicated, frowned, and said
angrily,

"Your brother has forgotten the regulations, and is in danger of
discipline for rowing within the lines allowed only to the court."

The boat came nearer; not steadily, but turning to right and left,
stopping and starting as if directed by something at a distance which
the rower was watching.

The Emperor's attention was turned almost at the same instant to a
light boat shooting toward them from an opposite direction. The
occupant of this was a monk. His black locks, mingled with his black
beard, gave a wildness to his appearance, which was increased by the
excited and rapid manner of his propelling the craft.

"Something unusual has occurred, or they would wait the finding of
another messenger than he," said the Emperor.

The monk's boat glided swiftly. When within a few yards of the barge
in which the Emperor was the man stood up, his eyes flashing, and his
whole attitude that of some vengeful fiend. "Hold!" shouted the rowers
of the royal barge, endeavoring to turn the craft so as to avoid a
collision.

"The man is crazed!" said Morsinia.

But at the instant when the two boats would have come together,
another, that of Constantine, shot between them and received the blow.
Its thin sides were broken by the shock.

The monk who had come to the very prow, and drawn a knife from his
bosom, cried out, "To the devil with the Prince of the Azymites."[68]

He leaped upon Constantine's boat in order to reach that containing
the Emperor: but was caught in the strong arms of Constantine who fell
with him into the water. The monk gripped with his antagonist so that
they sank together. In a few seconds, however, Constantine emerged. A
thin streamer of blood floated from him. He was drawn upon the barge.
Morsinia's hand tore off the loose gold-laced jacket, and found the
wound to be a deep, but not dangerous flesh cut across the shoulder.
It was several moments before the monk appeared. He gasped and sank
again forever.

Constantine stated that the day before, while aiding in the erection
of a platform for some small culverin that Urban had cast, the latter
spoke to him of the marvellous mosaic ornamentation in the vestibule
of the little church just beyond the walls, and took him thither. The
monk was there, and passed in and out, evidently demented, and
muttering to himself curses upon the Latinizers. Constantine thought
little of this at the time; for a mad monk was not an uncommon sight
in the city. But observing the same man at the quay hiring a boat, he
determined to watch him. Hence the sequel.

FOOTNOTES:

[67] A face of Christ was wrought in mosaic in the wall above the
chancel of St. Sophia. The Turks still have a traditional saying that
the Christian shall not again possess Constantinople until the face of
Jesus appears visibly in St. Sophia. At the time of its capture by the
Moslems this picture of Christ was painted over. It is now again dimly
discerned through the fading and scaling paint.

[68] The "Azymites" were those who used unleavened bread in the
sacrament, and at the time of which we are writing the word was used
among the Greeks as a term of reproach to the Latinizers, that is,
those who favored union with the Latin Church.



CHAPTER XXXII.


The members of Phranza's family were dining, as was their custom on
pleasant days, under the great fig tree in the garden; a favorite spot
with the chamberlain when allowed that privacy of life and domestic
retirement which were seldom enjoyed by one whose duty it was to show
the courtesies of the empire to ambassadors and distinguished visitors
from the ends of the earth.

"I would willingly exchange conditions with old Guerko, the gate
keeper, to-day," said Phranza, pushing from him the untasted viands.
"The gate-keeper of an empire has less liberty and rest."

"What new burden has the council put upon you, my lord?" said his
wife.

"Remember that your little prime minister will help you," interposed
Morsinia playfully.

Phranza glanced with a kindly but troubled look at her----

"The wheels of the public good grind up the hearts of individuals
remorselessly," continued the good man. "Here am I with a spouse as
fair as Juno; yet I must leave her for months, and maybe years, that I
may seek a spouse for the Emperor. I am to make a tour of all
Christian courts; sampling delicate bits of female loveliness, and
weighing paternal purses. But sacred policy takes the place of holy
matrimony among the great. An emperor and empress are not to be man
and wife, but only the welding points of two kingdoms, though their
hearts are burned and crushed in the nuptials. I had hoped that his
majesty would assert his sovereignty sufficiently to declare that, in
this matter, he would exercise the liberty which the commonest boor
possesses, and choose who should share his couch, and be the mother of
his children. But the very day after his escape from the mad monk, he
put the keeping of his royal heart into the hands of his ministers.
The shock of the attempt upon his life, or something else (glancing at
Morsinia), seems to have turned his head with fear for the succession.
So, to-morrow I sail to the Euxine to inspect the Circassian beauties,
who are said to bloom along its eastern shore. But my dear wife will
be consoled for my absence by the return of our nephew Alexis, who, I
learn from my letters, is already at Athens, having wearied of his
sojourn among the Italians, and will be with you before many days.
Heaven grant that he has not become tainted with the vices of the
Italians, which are even worse than those of the Byzantines. I trust
he will find his aunt's care, and the sisterly offices of our Albanian
daughter, more potently helpful than my counsel would have been."

The magnificent retinue, the splendid galleys, the untold treasures
scraped from the bottom of the imperial coffers, with which, on the
following day, the chamberlain sailed away through the Bosphorus to
the Euxine, were but poor compensation to his loving household for his
prolonged absence. Nor was his place adequately filled by Alexis with
his fine form and western elegance of manners. In one respect
Phranza's wish was met; for if the care of his aunt was not
appreciated by the young man, the sisterly offices of the fair
Albanian were.

Morsinia's respect for the absent Phranza led her to allow more
attention from Alexis than her heart, or even her judgment, would have
suggested. The young nobleman soon entangled himself in the web of her
unconscious fascination. It was not until with passionate ardor he
told his love, that Morsinia realized her fatal power over him. But
with a true woman's frankness and firmness, she endeavored to dispel
the illusion his ardent fancy had created.

"If I have not yet won you," cried the impetuous youth, "do not tell
me that my suit is hopeless. It was folly in me to dream that you
would see in me anything worthy of your love, so soon as your
transcendent beauty of face and soul made me feel that you were all
worthy of mine. Let me prove myself by months or years of devotion,
if you will. If I do not now merit your esteem, surely the charm of
daily looking upon you will make me better; the sweetness of your
spirit will change mine; then as you see in me some impression of your
own goodness, you will not scorn and repel me. I beg that you will
make of me what you will, and love me as you can. I am not harder than
the marble of which Pygmalion made the statue he loved. Mould me,
Morsinia!"

"It is not that you are not worthy of me, Alexis. The nephew of
Phranza need not humiliate himself at the feet of any king's daughter.
But--but--it may not be! It cannot be!" and, gently releasing the hand
she had allowed him to seize, she withdrew to her own chamber.

Alexis stood for a moment as if stupefied with his disappointment.
This feeling was followed by a chagrin, which showed itself in the
deep color mounting his haughty face. Then rage ensued, and he stamped
upon the ground as if crushing some helpless thing beneath his feet,
and muttered to himself:

"If not I, no man shall have her and live. Can it be that Albanian
Constantine? Who is that vagrant? that menial? that hell-headed
hireling who follows her? Angels and toads do not brood together; and
he is of no kin to her."



CHAPTER XXXIII.


Through a narrow street, lighted by the lanterns which hung before the
doors of the few wine shops that were still open--for the hour was
late--a man, wrapped in a hooded cloak, went stumbling over the dogs
that were asleep in the middle of the way, and not unfrequently over
the watchmen lying upon the mats before the closed entrances to the
bazaars they were guarding. He entered one wine shop after another,
muttering an oath of disappointment as he withdrew from each. At
length he turned into an alley, which seemed like a mere crevice in
the compact mass of houses, and threaded his way between windowless
and doorless walls, until the passage widened into a small and filthy
court. At the extreme rear of this a lamp was just flickering with its
exhausted oil, and only sufficed to show him a doorway. Rapping gently
he called in Italian:

"Pedro! Giovan!"

The door was opened by a short, stout man with bullet head, who spread
himself across the entrance and peered into the face of the late
comer. Two villainous looking men stared through the lurid glare of a
rush light on a low table, at which, squatted on the ground, they were
playing dice. A purse or pouch of gold thread, decorated with some
device wrought with pearls and various precious stones, lay beside
them.

"Ah, the gentleman from Genoa!" exclaimed one. "You are quite welcome
to our castle. Ricardo, where is the stool? Well! if you can't find
it, lie down, and let the gentleman sit on your head."

"You appear to be in luck, Pedro, if I am to judge from the purse
yonder," said the visitor. "Your lady has taken you back to her
affection, and given you this as a love token, I suppose."

"I'll tell you the secrets of my lady's chamber, Signior, when you
tell me those of yours," replied Pedro.

"Perhaps," interposed Giovan, "the gentleman would have us help him in
to the secrets of his lady's chamber. How now, Signior Alexis, have
you trapped a new beauty so soon in Byzantium?"

"Let's throw for this before we talk," interposed Ricardo, holding the
purse in one hand and a dice cup in the other. "One business at a
time."

The three men threw. The stake fell to Ricardo, who thrust the rich
prize into his dirty pocket, where a third of the contents of the
purse had previously been deposited.

"May I see the little bag?" asked Alexis.

"No!" was the surly response.

"You see, Signior," interposed Giovan, in an attempt to mitigate the
rudeness of his comrade, "You see it was a trust from--from a dead
man, who was afraid to take it with him to purgatory, lest the fire
might tarnish it. So we keep it for him until he comes back. And we
are still in the trust business, Signior! Our credit is without a
stain. You know it was just a suspicion of our integrity--we would not
have our honor even suspected by the police--that led us to leave
Genoa. Will you trust us with any little business?"

"Do you know the Albanian officer in the emperor's guards?" asked
Alexis.

"No, and want to know nothing about officers of any sort," growled
Giovan.

"Ay!" interposed Ricardo, "the red-topped fellow, with a body like
Giovan's, and the neck the right height to come under my sword arm?"
making the gesture of cutting off one's head with a sabre. "Does he
disturb you?"

"Yes!"

"It will be worth a hundred ducats," said Giovan.

"A hundred and fifty," said Ricardo; and, lowering his voice to the
others, added, "I need fifty, and I would take only my even share."

"You shall have it," said Alexis, counting out the gold. "If you
deceive me, you know that one word from me here in Byzantium will cost
you your heads. Good night!"

When he had gone, Giovan said in low voice:

"I say, Pedro, we will divide a thousand ducats out of this."

"How?" exclaimed the two.

"The young officer is brother to the lady at the grand chamberlain's.
She will pay heavy ransom if we deliver him instead of--" drawing his
finger across his throat. "Of course we should have to leave
Byzantium. But Ricardo and I have concluded that it were best to be
gone anyhow; for the people here are so poor that our business does
not thrive. This purse once held ducats, but when we took it, it had
only silver bits. We pocket-bankers need better constituency."

"Yes, we had better get out of this," said Pedro. "General Giustiniani
has come to live in Galata.[69] He got his weasel-eyes on me yesterday
as I was doing a little business by the old wharf. That man knows too
much, he does. But he'll never get me on the galley benches again. I'd
crawl like a mud turtle on the bottom of Marmora before I'd go under
the hatches a second time. I like freedom and fresh air, I do--"
blowing out of his face the thick smoke emitted by the wick floating
on the surface of a saucer of oil.

"Right!" said Giovan. "Let's get out of this if we can do so with
enough gold to pay our royal travelling expenses. But if we spare the
neck of that fellow who is in Signior Alexis' way, where will we keep
him that Alexis will not know it?"

"Our mansion here is hardly commodious enough for so distinguished and
lively a guest as the young officer will be likely to be," said
Ricardo, scraping the spiders' webs from the low ceiling of the room
with his cap.

"Try the old water vault," suggested Pedro.

"Good!" said Ricardo, "when the Albanian goes to the walls, as he does
every day, he will pass near to the opening."

FOOTNOTE:

[69] A suburb of Constantinople, occupied by the Genoese.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


The day following the three ruffians lingered about the site of the
old Hippodrome--through the open space of which the citizens passed in
going from one part of the city to another. Toward evening a stone was
thrown against the bronze-sheathed column, or walled pyramid, which
still held some of the great plates that in the palmy days of
Byzantium made it one of the wonders of the city. It was the signal
for alertness. A short-bodied, long-armed, red-haired man, dressed in
the white kilt and gold-embroidered jacket of a citizen, sauntered
leisurely through the Hippodrome. He measured with his eye the space
which once blazed with the splendor of fashion, when, beneath the
imperial eye of a Justinian or Theodosius, the horses of Araby and
Thracia ran, and the factions of "the Blues" and "the Greens" shouted,
and the whirling wheels of the golden chariots sprinkled the dust upon
the multitudes.

The man paused to gaze at the bronze column of three intertwined
serpents, with silver-crested heads, which was believed to have been
brought from the temple at Delphi to his new city by the great
Constantine. He stood reverently before the tall Egyptian obelisk of
rose-granite, whose light red glowed with deeper hue in the eastern
flush of the twilight sky; puzzled over its vertical lines of
hieroglyphs which thirty centuries had not obliterated, and studied
the figures on its marble base, representing the machines used by the
engineers of Theodosius in hoisting the great monolith to its place,
a thousand years ago. Broken statues--the spoil of conquered cities in
generations of Greek prowess which shamed the supineness of the
present, stood or lay about the grand pillar of porphyry, which was
once surmounted by the statue of Apollo wrought by Phidias.

"Shame for such neglect!" muttered the man. "A people that cannot keep
its art from cracking to pieces with age, cannot long keep the old
empire of the Cæsars."

The narrow street to the north of the Hippodrome square shut out the
remnant of daylight as the man turned into it. His attention was drawn
by the groaning of some poor outcast crouching in the dark shadow of
an angle in the wall. As he stooped to inspect this object a stunning
blow fell upon his head. Two stalwart men instantly pinioned his arms.
They rolled his helpless body a few yards, and carried or slid it down
a flight of steps into a dark cavern, whose sides echoed their
footfalls and whispers, as if it were the place of the last Judgment
where the secrets of life are all to be proclaimed. Reaching the
bottom, one of the men produced a light. The glare seemed to excavate
a hollow sphere out of the thick darkness, but revealed nothing,
except the spectral flash of the bats flitting around the heads of the
intruders, and the damp earthen floor upon which the men had thrown
their victim. At length great forms rose through the gloom, like the
trunks of a forest. The water of a subterranean lake gleamed from near
their feet, but its smooth black sheen was soon lost in the darkness.
A small boat, or raft, was near, into which the man was lifted; one
of the ruffians sitting on his feet, the other by his head, while the
third propelled the craft by pushing against great granite pillars
between which they passed. After going some distance the boat ground
its bottom against a mass of fallen masonry and dirt, which made a
sort of island, perhaps twenty feet across. Here they landed, and
dragged their victim.

"What would you have with me?" said the prostrate man.

"It is enough that we have you," said Pedro, in broken Greek. "We want
nothing more; not even to keep your miserable carcass, since we have
already got our pay for burying it. I'll be your father-confessor and
shrive you. If you like the Latin--Absolvo te! and away go your sins
as easily as I can strip this gold-laced jacket off your back. Or if
you prefer the Greek--By the horns of Nebuchadnezzar, I've forgotten
the priestly words! But I'll shrive you all the same without the holy
mumble. And if you want to pray a bit yourself, why fold your feet in
front of your nose and kneel on your back."

"Why do you kill me?" said the man. "I am nothing to you."

"Nothing to us, but something to him who has hired us. As honest men
we must do what we were paid to do."

"Unless I can pay you more," said the man, instantly taking a hopeful
hint.

"Do you wear the belt of Phranza, that you think you can pay so much?"
replied one of the ruffians, feeling about the person of the helpless
man.

"What I have I give--a hundred ducats."

"A hundred! Are you love-crossed that you value life so little? You'll
skin well, my gentle lambkin; and as you are half tanned already, we
will sell your hide to the buskin maker for almost that sum; and your
fat (feeling his ribs) will grease a hundred galley masts. A thousand
ducats is your value, you Albanian imp!"

"I do not possess so much," said the victim.

"But your sister does," said the ruffian; and not noting the surprised
look of the man, continued: "We have arranged for that. Your life is
worth to us just one thousand ducats of gold. Sign this!" producing a
bit of paper on which was something written.

"I cannot read it in this light. You read it. I may trust such honest
fellows as you are."

The man read--"To my sister, the Albanian, at the house of Phranza. I
am in danger from which I can escape only if you will give the bearer
one thousand ducats. Speak not to any one of it, or my life is
forfeit. That you may know this is genuine the bearer will show you my
ring and a clip of my hair."

"Give me your ring; and, comrade, warm the wax to seal the letter,"
said Giovan.

"But I am not the man you seek," said the victim.

"And who in the devil's name are you then?"

"A mere stranger."

"Prove it!"

"Take the ring, and the lady will not recognize it."

"We shall see," said the ruffian, "but we will take the hundred
ducats now to pay for any trouble you have put us to."

His belt was stripped off, and its golden contents ripped out. The
victim was untied, first having been completely disarmed. The three
men entering the boat, pushed off in the direction from which they had
entered.

The island prisoner watched the receding light as it flashed its long
rays on the water, illumined the arches of the roof, and lit the
crouching figures in the boat. The multiplying pillars became like a
solid wall as the light receded, until at length the darkness was
complete. The sound of the boat as it scratched against the stone at
the landing, gave place to the most oppressive silence.

To attempt escape in the direction of the entrance would be folly. If
he could find his way his captors would doubtless be on guard and
easily overpower him, as he would have to wade or swim. But to remain
where he was would be as hazardous, for the wretches would not risk
exposure for the sake of the hundred ducats they had secured; but
would probably return and put him out of the way of witnessing against
them.

As he meditated, a low rumble like distant thunder, ran along the
arches. "Some passing vehicle in the city above," he concluded.

A light drip, as of a bat's wing touching the water! Another! and
another! "Strange that they should be so regular!" thought the man.
"There must be some inlet: I will explore."

He walked cautiously into the water in the direction of the sound.
Soon he was beyond his depth; but, being an expert swimmer, kept on;
his outstretched arms answering as antennæ of some huge water-spider,
and guarding him from collision with the pillars.

The dripping sound became louder. Now it was just above his head. He
felt his way with his hands until it became evident that he was at the
end or side of the subterranean lake. But the shore was steep; indeed,
a wall. Fixing his fingers into the crevices between the stones, he
was able to raise himself half out of the water. Reaching up with one
hand he felt the curved edge of a viaduct, by which the dark lake was
evidently fed, or had been in earlier days. But, bah! The water now
trickling through it was foul. The spring had been stopped, and the
viaduct become a sewer; fed doubtless through its rents with the
soakage of the city.

But might there not be an opening into the upper air? If not, a great
human mole--especially if, to blind scratching power, he adds the
skill of one trained in the art of engineering--can possibly make an
opening.

The prisoner climbed into the viaduct. It was large enough to allow
him to crawl a short distance. A faint glimmer of light proved the
correctness of his surmise that it was connected with the surface. But
fallen stones blocked his way. As he lay planning with fingers and
brain for his further progress, voices sounded from the reservoir.
They were those of two of the cut-throats returning. He pushed himself
back to the opening. His captors had missed him at the island. If
they knew of this sluice, or chanced to come upon it in their search,
he was lost in his present position; for a pair of bare heels was the
only weapon he could show against their sharp daggers. He let himself
down into the water, and swam silently away. The light, however, from
his captors' lamp came nearer.

"Hist!" said one. "He is yonder; perhaps by the devil's window."

The boat pushed directly toward the viaduct he had left.

While they explored the opening, which might well be called the window
into the blackness of darkness of the nether world, their victim swam
rapidly, keeping always in the shadow of the great pillars. But the
boat was upon his track again.

The fugitive now made a fortunate discovery. Several feet below the
surface of the water the base of each pillar projected far enough for
standing room. This base had probably marked the height to which the
water was originally allowed to rise. By standing upon one of these
projections, he was able to move round the pillar, so as to keep its
huge block between himself and his pursuers. Thus they passed him. By
the light in the boat he could discern the ground or shore near which
was the entrance.

Returning to coast the other side of the cavern, they had passed close
by him, when, his foot slipping, he was projected into the water. The
wretches hailed with grim joy the splash, and turned the boat in the
direction of the noise. But, dropping beneath the surface, the man
swam to a pillar near by, from which he watched their baffled circuit
of his former retreat.

This chase could not be kept up endlessly. Plunging again under the
water, he swam directly to the boat. Rising suddenly, he grasped its
side with main weight and overturned it. The cries of the men and the
splashing of the boat echoed a hundred times among the arches; while
the hissing oil of the open lamp, which, poured on the surface of the
water, blazed for a moment, made as near a representation of
pandemonium as this world ever affords, except in the brain of the
demented.

Though the captive had endeavored to keep his bearings, and had not
lost for an instant his presence of mind, the swirling of the boat had
destroyed all impression of the direction he should take. He
remembered that on one of the pillars the projecting base was broken.
It was that on which he had stood when he caught a glimpse of the
ground near the entrance. If he could find that pillar again he could
take his bearings as readily as if a star guided him. Several pillars
were tried before the talismanic one was discovered. Feeling the
broken place, and recalling the way in which he stood upon the narrow
ledge when he saw the entrance, he took his course accordingly, and
swam on.

One of his pursuers had evidently found a lodgment somewhere, and was
calling lustily to his comrade for help. But there came back no answer
to his call.

On went the swimmer until the light of the outer world gleamed through
the crevice of the door, twenty or thirty feet above him, and he
crawled upon the ground.

Squeezing the water from his garments, he climbed the stairway, and,
opening the heavy and worm-eaten doors, peered out. The street was
crowded with passers; for another day had come since his entrance to
the old reservoir. In his half naked and bedrabbled condition he
hesitated to make his exit, and returned to the bottom of the stairs.
A hand on the door above made him leap to one side.

Giovan entered. Peering intensely into the shadows, he descended the
steps. Pausing a moment he whistled through his teeth. There was no
response. He whistled louder on his fingers. A shout came back.

"Help! Giovan--help!"

Giovan's dagger protruded from his belt. Another's hand suddenly drew
it, and, before he had recovered from his surprise, it entered his
neck to the haft. The Italian's short breeches, velveteen jacket and
skull cap were made to take the place of the remnant of the prisoner's
once most reputable wardrobe, and he sallied forth.



CHAPTER XXXV.


Later in the day the gate keeper at Phranza's mansion put into
Morsinia's hand a letter left with him by an Italian laboring man. It
was addressed--"To the Albanian lady," and read thus:

"Your brother's life is threatened by some secret enemy. Let him
exercise an Albanian's caution! This is the advice of a stranger."

A little before this, as the "poor Italian" was moving away from the
gate of Phranza, a gorgeous palanquin, with silken canopy and sides
latticed with silver rods, was borne in by four stout and well-formed
men, with bare legs and arms, purple short trousers, embroidered
jackets, and jaunty red caps, whose long tassels hung far down their
backs.

The "Italian" stepped into an angle that the palanquin might pass; and
stood gazing a long time after it had disappeared. At length, turning
away, he said to himself:

"Strange! It must be that my imagination has been disturbed by the
scenes of last night. But the lady in yonder palanquin is my dream
made real. The pretty face of the child with whom I once played on the
mountains must have cut its outlines somewhere on my brain, for I seem
to see it everywhere. My captive in the mountains of Albania had the
same features--though I saw them only under the flash of a torch.
Imagination that, surely! The girl at Sfetigrade was similar. And now
this one! The aga's advice to beware female illusions was good. But
she may be the Albanian lady after all. Impossible! Stupidity! Perhaps
my chosen houri in paradise is only flashing her beauty upon my soul
from these fair earthly faces, and so training me first to love her as
an ideal, that the joy of the realization may be perfect. But, tut!
tut! silly boy that I am!"

Whistling monotonously he turned down a street.

A short, crooked-necked officer passed along. His face at the moment
was the picture of dissatisfaction. The "Italian" stopped him, and,
with a courtesy which belied his common apparel, addressed him:--

"Captain Urban of the engineers, is it not?"

"And who are you?" was the surly, yet half respectful, reply, as the
one addressed glanced into the other's face.

"One who knows that the cannon you are casting are not heavy enough to
lodge a ball against the old tower of Galata yonder across the Golden
Horn, much less breach a fortification; and further, that all you can
cast at this rate from now until the Turks take Byzantium would not
enable you to throw ten shot an hour."

"By the brass toe of St. Peter! man, I was just saying the same thing
to myself," replied Urban.

"And the Emperor's treasury, when he has bought himself a wife, will
not have enough left to buy saltpetre with which to fire the guns, if
he should allow you brass enough for the casting," added the stranger.

"True again, my man; and the Emperor's service in the meantime does
not yield stipend enough for an officer to live upon decently. If you
were better dressed, my prince of lazaroni, I couldn't afford to ask
you to drink with me; but this cheap shop will shame neither your
looks nor my purse. Come in."

"Who are you, my good fellow?" asked Urban, as he drained a cup of
mastic-flavored wine. "Were not your voice different, and your
pronunciation of Greek rather provincial, with a slight Servian
brogue, I would take you for one of our young engineers. You are not
an Italian, spite of your garb."

"No," was the reply, "I was once in the employ of the Despot of
Servia, engineer and artillery-man; but I think of entering the
service of the Sultan. He pays finely, and gives one who loves the
science of war a chance to use his genius."

"For such a chance and good pay I would serve the devil," said Urban.
"The Greek emperor here is no saint, and yet I have served him for a
crust. I am not bound to him by any tie. If you find good quarters
with the Turks, give me a hint, and I will join you."

The stranger eyed him closely as he said this, and replied in low
tones--"Captain Urban, I am a Moslem; Captain Ballaban of the Janizary
corps. And I bear you a commission from the Padishah. To seek you is a
part of my business in Constantinople. I do not ask you to take my
word for this, but if you will accompany me, I will give you proof of
my authority. A thousand ducats I will put into your hand within an
hour, with which you may taste the Padishah's liberality and imagine
what it shall be when you accompany me to Adrianople."

The two men left the wine shop together and entered a bazaar. The
stranger whispered to the merchant who was nearly buried amid huge
piles of goods of every antique description; strange patterned
tapestries, rugs of all hues and sizes, ebony boxes inlaid with silver
and ivory, shields bossed and graven, spear-heads, cimeters and
daggers. The salesman made as low a salâm as his crowding wares would
permit, and, opening a way through the heaps of merchandise, conducted
the visitors into an inner room.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


To better understand the events just recited, we must trace some
scenes which had been enacted elsewhere.

During the sojourn of Constantine and Morsinia in Constantinople, the
Turks had made no progress toward the conquest of Albania. The walls
of Croia, upon which they turned their thousands of men, and
exhaustless resources of siege apparatus, served only to display the
valor and skill of the assailants, the superior genius of Castriot,
and the endurance of his bands of patriots.

The haughty Sultan Amurath, broken in health, more by the chagrin of
his ill success than by exposures or casual disease, retired to
Adrianople, in company with his son, Prince Mahomet, who was satisfied
with a few lessons in the science of military manoeuvering as taught
by the dripping sword of Castriot; and preferred to practice his
acquirements upon other and less dangerous antagonists. Prince Mahomet
had scarcely withdrawn to Magnesia in Asia Minor, and celebrated his
nuptials with the daughter of the Turkoman Emir, when news was brought
of the death of his father.

The prince was hardly twenty-one years of age; but his first act was
ominous of the promptitude, self-assertion and diligence of the whole
subsequent career of this man, whose success on the field and in the
divan made him the foremost monarch of his age.

On hearing the news he turned to Captain Ballaban, for whom the young
Padishah entertained the fondest affection, and who had accompanied
him to Magnesia in the capacity of kavass.--

"I shall leave to you, Captain, the duty of representing me at the
burial of my royal father at Brusa, after which meet me at
Adrianople."

Leaping into the saddle, he cried to the company about him, "Let those
who love me, follow me!" and spurred his Arab steed to the Hellespont.

The magnificent cortege of the dead Sultan moved rapidly from the
European capital of the Turks to their ancient one in Asia Minor. The
thoughts of the attendants were more toward the new hand which would
distribute the favors or terrors of empire, than toward the hand which
was now cold.

Captain Ballaban was in time to join the reverent circle which
committed the royal body to its ancestral resting place. They buried
it with simple sepulchral rites, in the open field, unshadowed by
minaret or costly mosque or memorial column; that, as the dying
Padishah had said, "the mercy and blessing of God might come unto him
by the shining of the sun and moon, and the falling of the rain and
dew of heaven upon his grave."

Sultan Mahomet II. was scarcely within the seraglio at Adrianople when
Captain Ballaban reported for duty. Passing through the outer or
common court, he entered by the second gate into the square surrounded
by the barracks of the Janizaries, who, as the body guard of the
monarch, occupied quarters abutting on those of the Sultan.

Near the third gate was gathered a crowd of Janizaries, in angry
debate; for as soon as they realized that the firm and experienced
hand of Amurath was no longer on the helm, the pride and audacity of
this corps inaugurated rebellion.

"The Janizaries have saved the empire, let them enjoy it," cried one.

"Our swords extended the Moslem power, so will we have extension of
privilege," cried another.

"Why should Kalil Pasha be Grand Vizier instead of our chief Aga?
Kalil is one of the Giaour Ortachi.[70]

"Down with the Vizier!" rang among the barracks.

"A mere child is Padishah! one of no judgment the Hunkiar!"

"My brothers," said Captain Ballaban. "You know not the new Padishah.
Well might Amurath have said to him what Othman said to Orchan: 'My
son, I am dying: and I die without regret, because I leave such a
successor as thou art.' Believe me, my brothers, if Mahomet is young,
he is strong. If he is inexperienced in the methods of government, it
is because heaven wills that he shall invent better ones."

"Your head is turned by the Padishah's favors," muttered an old
guardsman.

"But am I not a Janizary?" cried the captain, "and it is as a Janizary
that the Padishah loves me, as he loves us all. I once heard him say
that the white wool on a Janizary's cap was more honorable than the
horse tail on the tent spear of another. Old Selim here can tell you
that, as a child, Mahomet was fonder of the Janizary's mess than of
the feast in the harem."

"Yes," said old Selim, with voice trembling through age, but loud with
the enthusiasm excited by the captain's appeal. "My hands taught
Mahomet his first parries and thrusts; and he would sit by our fire to
listen to the stories of the valor of our corps, and clap his hands,
and cry 'good Selim, I would rather be a Janizary than be a prince.'"
The old man's eyes filled with tears as he added, "And all the four
thousand prophets bless the Padishah!"

While this scene was being enacted without, the young Sultan was
reclining, with the full sense of his new dignity, upon the sofa which
had never been pressed except by the person of royalty. It was covered
with a cloth of gold and crimson velvet, relieved by fringes of
pearls. Before it was spread a carpet of silk, an inch thick, whose
softness, both of texture and tints, made a luxuriant contrast with
its border, which was crocheted with cords of silver and gold. The
walls of his chamber were enriched with tiles of alabaster, agate, and
turquoise. The ceiling was plated with beaten silver, hatched at
intervals with mouldings of gold; near to which were windows of
stained glass made of hundreds of pieces closely joined to form
transparent mosaic pictures, through which the variegated light
flooded the apartment.

Mahomet was himself in striking contrast with his surroundings. He was
dressed in négligé, with loose gown, large slippers, and white skull
cap.

Before the Sultan stood the Grand Vizier, Kalil, bedizened in the
costume of his office:--an enormous turban in whose twisted folds was
a band of gold; a bournous of brocade, enlivened by flowers wrought
upon it in green and red; and a cashmere sash gleaming with the
jewelled handle of his yataghan.

"They are even now in revolt, your Majesty," said the Vizier. "Your
safety will be best served by severe measures. They say the iron has
not grown into your nerves yet."

The Sultan colored. After a moment's pause he replied. "When Captain
Ballaban comes we will think of that matter."

"The captain had just arrived as I entered, Sire."

"Then announce to the Janizaries that the seven thousand falconers and
game keepers which my father allowed to eat up our revenue, as the
bugs infest the trees, are abolished; and their income appropriated to
the better equipment of the Janizaries."

"But, Sire, would you sharpen the fangs of----"

"Silence! I have said it," said Mahomet, striking his hand on his
knee. "But what is this demand from Constantinople?"

"That the pay for the detention of your Cousin Orkran at
Constantinople shall be doubled, or the Greeks will let him loose to
contest the throne with your Majesty."

"Assent to the demand," said the Sultan. "The time will the sooner
come to avenge the insult, if we seem not to see it."

The Vizier continued looking at his tablets. "Maria Sultana[71] asks,
through the Kislar Aga, that she may be allowed, since the death of
her lord, to return to her kindred."

"Let her go! She is a Giaour whose cursed blood was not bettered by
six and twenty years' habitation with my father. She is fair enough in
her wrinkles for some Christian prince, and George Brankovitch needs
to make new alliances."

"Hunyades"--said the Vizier.

"Ay, make peace with him, and with Scanderbeg, too, if that wild beast
can be tamed, which I much doubt."

The Sultan rose from his cushion, his form animated with strong
excitement, and, putting his hand upon the shoulders of the
Vizier--who drew back at the strange familiarity--and looking him
fixedly in the face, he whispered: "Everything must wait,"--and the
words hissed in the hot eagerness with which he said them--"until--I
have Constantinople."

Turning upon his heel, he withdrew toward his private chamber.

The Sultan threw himself upon his bed. The Capee Aga, or chief of the
white eunuchs, whose duty it was to act as valet-de-chambre, as well
as to stand at the right hand of the Sultan on state occasions, began
to draw the curtains around the silver posts upon which the bed
rested.

"You may leave me," said his majesty. "Nay, hold! Send Captain
Ballaban of the Janizaries."

As the young officer entered, the face of the Sultan relaxed.

"You make me a man again, comrade," said he, grasping his hand. "These
few days playing Sultan make me feel as old as the empire. I hate
this parade of boring viziers and mincing eunuchs; and to be shut up
here with these palace proprieties is as irksome to me as Timour's
iron cage was to my grandfather Bajazet. I think I shall put my harem
on horse-back, and take to the fields. Scudding out of Albania with
Scanderbeg at one's heels were preferable to this busy idleness. You
have had a rapid ride to get from Brusa so soon, and look winded. Roll
yourself on that wolf's skin. I killed that fellow in Caramania. By
the turban of Abraham! your red head looks well against the black
hide. But why don't you laugh? Have they made a Padishah of you, too,
that you must mask your face with care?"

"I have a care, Sire," said the soldier.

"Tell me it," said the Sultan, "and I'll make it fly away as fast as
the Prophet's horse took him to the seventh heaven."

"The Janizaries are restless, Sire."

"Does not the donative I have announced pacify them?"

"I have not heard of it," said the officer.

"Listen! Is not that their shout?" Shout after shout rent the air from
the court without.

The Janizary turned pale; but in a moment said, "Your donative has
been announced. They are cheering your Majesty."

"Long live the Padishah!" "Long life to Mahomet!" rang again and
again.

"I thank you, Sire," eagerly cried the young man, kissing the hand of
the Sultan.

"What else would they have?" asked he.

"Nothing but chance to show their gratitude by valiant service," was
the reply.

"This they shall have, with you to lead them," putting his hand on the
young officer's shoulder.

"Nay, Sire, I may not supplant those who are my superiors by virtue of
service already rendered."

"But I command it. The corps shall to-morrow be put under your orders
as their chief Aga."

"I beg your Majesty to desist from this purpose," said Ballaban. "The
spirit of the corps, its efficiency, depends upon the strictest
observance of the ancient rules of Orchan and Aladdin. By them we have
been made what we are."

"But," cried Mahomet angrily, "there shall be no other will than mine
throughout the army."

"I would have no other will than thine, Sire," was the response; "but
it were well if your will should be to leave the Janizaries' rule
untouched."

"You young rebel!" cried Mahomet, half vexed yet half pleased as,
bursting into a laugh, he dashed over the face of his friend a jar of
iced sherbet which was upon a lacquered stand at his side.

"You may thank the devil that it wasn't the arrow I once shot you
with," said the playful tyrant, as Ballaban jumped to his feet.

"If you were not the Sultan now, I would pull you from the bed, as I
pulled you from your horse that day," replied the good-natured
favorite, making a motion as if to execute the threat.

"You are right," said Mahomet rising. "I am Sultan! Sultan? pshaw! Yet
Sultan, surely." He paced the floor in deep agitation, and at length
said, "I have a duty to perform, than which I would rather cut off my
arms."

"Let me do the deed, though it takes my arm and my life," said
Ballaban eagerly.

"You know not what it is, my old comrade."

"But I pledge before I know," was the response which came from
stiffened lips and bowed head, as the captain made his obeisance.

The Sultan looked him in the face long and earnestly, and then,
turning away, said:

"No! no! there are hands less noble than yours."

"But try me, Sire."

"You know the custom of our ancestors, approved by the wisdom of
divans, as an expedient essential to the peace and safety of the
empire, that--But I can not speak it: nor will I ask it of you. Leave
me, Captain. Come to-morrow at this hour. I shall need the relief of
your company then, even more than to-day."

FOOTNOTES:

[70] Brothers of the infidels.

[71] One of the sultanas of Amurath II. and daughter of George
Brankovitch, Despot of Servia.



CHAPTER XXXVII.


An hour later the Kislar Aga, chief of the black eunuchs in charge of
the royal harem, was announced.

"Well, Sinam, have any of your herd of gazelles escaped?" asked the
Sultan.

"None. But Mira Sultana would pay her homage at your Majesty's feet."

"Mira, the Greek?" said Mahomet, the deep color rising to his temples.

Lowering his tone to a whisper, he conversed for a few moments with
the eunuch, who prostrated himself upon the ground, and with harsh,
yet thin voice, said:

"Your Majesty is wise, very wise. Your will is that of Allah, the
Great Hunkiar. It shall be done."

Mira was a beautiful woman. The light texture of her robe revealed a
perfect form; and the thin veil lent a charm to her face, such as
shadows send across the landscape.

Mahomet shuddered, as the kneeling woman embraced his feet. The words
of her congratulation to the young monarch, her protestation of
devotion to him as to his father, though uttered with the sweetest
voice he had ever heard, and with evident honesty, sent a visible
tremor through the frame of her listener. And when she added, "My
child, Ahmed, the image of his noble father and thine, will serve thee
with his life, and"--

"It is well! It is well," interrupted the Sultan. "Be gone now!"

The morning following was one in which the hearts of the citizens of
Adrianople stood almost throbless with horror. Mothers clasped their
babes with a shudder to their breasts; and fathers stroked the fair
hair of their boys, and thanked Allah that no tide of royal blood ran
in their veins. A story afterward floated over the lands of Moslem and
Christian, as terrible as a cloud of blood, dropping its shadow into
palace and cottage, and dyeing that page of history on which Mahomet's
name is written with a damning blot.

While Mira Sultana was bowing at the feet of the new monarch,
congratulating him upon his accession to the throne, her infant son,
Ahmed, half brother to Mahomet, was being strangled in the bath by his
orders. Another son of Amurath, Calapin, had, through his mother's
timely suspicion, escaped to the land of the Christians.

It was late in the day when Captain Ballaban appeared for audience
with the Sultan. His Majesty was apparently in the gayest of moods.

"Come, toss me the dice! We have not played since I laid aside my
manhood and put on the Padishah's cloak. Come! What? Have you no stake
to put up? Then I will stake for both. A Turkoman, the father of my
own bride, has sent me a bevy of women, Georgians, with faces as fair
as the shell of an ostrich's egg,[72] and voices as sweet as of the
birds which sang to the harp of David.[73] The choice to him who wins!
What! does not that tempt the cloud to drift off your face? Then have
your choice without the toss. What! still brooding?" added he, growing
angry. "By the holy house at Mecca! I'll make you laugh if I tickle
your ribs with my dagger's point."

"You made me promise that I would be true to you, my Padishah, and if
I should laugh to-day I would not be true," replied Ballaban quietly.
"My face wears the shadows which the people have thrown into it."

"The people?" said Mahomet growing pale.

"Ay, the people have heard the wailing of the Sultana."

"For what? Tell me for what?" asked the Sultan with feigned surprise.

Ballaban narrated the story which was on every one's lips.

"It is treason against me," cried the monarch. Summoning the Capee Aga
he bade him call the divan.

The great personages of the empire were speedily gathered in the
audience room. At the right of the Sultan stood the Grand Vizier and
three subordinate viziers. On his left was the Kadiasker, the chief of
the judges, with other members of the ulema or guild of lawyers,
constituting the high court. The Reis-Effendi, or clerk, stood with
his tablets before the seat of the Sultan. The rear of the room was
filled with various princes and high officials.

Turning to the Kadiasker, the Sultan asked:

"What is the denomination of the crime, and the penalty of him who,
unbidden by the Padishah, shall put to death a child of royal blood?"

The Kadiasker, after a moment's evident surprise at the question,
pronounced slowly the following decision:

"It were a double crime, Sire, being both murder and treason. And if
perchance the child were fatherless, let a triple curse come upon the
slayer. For what saith the Book of the Prophet?[74] 'They who devour
the possessions of orphans unjustly, shall swallow down nothing but
fire into their bellies, and shall broil in raging flames.' If such
be the curse of Allah upon him who shall despoil the child of his
rightful goods, much more does Allah bid us visit with vengeance one
who despoils the child of that chiefest possession--his life. Such is
the law, O Zil Ullah."[75]

Turning to the Kislar Aga, Mahomet commanded him to give testimony.

The Nubian trembled as he looked into the blanched face of the Sultan;
but soon recovered his self possession sufficiently to read his
master's thoughts, and said,

"The child of Mira Sultana was found dead at the bath while in the
hands of Sayid."

"Was Sayid the child's appointed attendant?" asked the Kadiasker.

"He was not," was the response.

"Let him die!" said the judge slowly.

"Let him die!" repeated the Grand Vizier.

The Sultan bowed in assent and withdrew.

The swift vengeance of the Padishah was hailed with applause by the
officials, as if it had erased the blood guilt from the robe of royal
honor; but the people shook their heads, and kept shadows on their
faces for many days.

"I tire of this life in the barracks," said Captain Ballaban to the
Sultan, shortly after this event.

"Speak honestly, man," was the reply. "You tire of me; my heart is not
large enough to entertain one of such ambition."

"Nay, Sire, but I would get nearer to the innermost core of your
heart, into that which is your deepest desire."

"And where, think you, is that spot?" said the Sultan smiling.

"Constantinople," was the laconic response.

"Ah! true lover of mine art thou, if you would be there. Until I put
the Mihrab[76] in the walls of St. Sophia, I shall not sleep without
the dream that I have done it. Know you not the dream of Othman? how
the leaves of the tree which sprang from his bosom when the fair
Malkhatoon, the mother of all the Padishahs, sank upon it, were shaped
like cimeters, and every wind turned their points toward
Constantinople? My waking and sleeping thoughts are the leaves. The
spirit of Othman breathes through my soul and turns them thither. Go!
and prepare my coming. The walls withstood my father Amurath. Discover
why? I hear that Urban, the cannon founder, is in the pay of the
Greeks. He who discovered a way to turn the Dibrians against
Sfetigrade can find a way to turn a foreigner's eyes from the battered
crown of the Cæsars to something brighter--Go, and Allah give you
wisdom!"

The reader is acquainted with the immediate sequel of Captain
Ballaban's departure, his adventure with the Italian desperadoes at
the old reservoir, and his success with Urban.

FOOTNOTES:

[72] The type of a beautiful complexion according to the Koran, Chap.
XXXVII.

[73] Koran, Chap. XXXIV.

[74] Koran, Chap. IV.

[75] Shadow of God, one of the titles of the Sultan.

[76] The niche in mosques, on the side toward Mecca, in the direction
of which the Moslems turn their faces to pray.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


The siege and capture of Constantinople by the Turks in 1453, was,
with the exception of the discovery of America, the most significant
event of the fifteenth century. The Eastern Roman Empire then
perished, after eleven centuries of glory and shame; of heroic
conquests, and pusillanimous compromises with other powers for the
privilege of existence; exhibiting on its throne the virtues and
wisdom of Theodosius and Justinian, and the vices and follies of
emperors and empresses whose names it were well that the world should
forget.

But the historic importance of the siege was matched by the thrilling
interest which attaches to its scenes.

The last of the Constantines, from whose hands the queenly city was
wrested, was worthy the name borne by its great founder, not, perhaps,
for his display of genius in government and command, but for the pious
devotion and sacrificial courage with which he defended his trust. A
band of less than ten thousand Christians, mostly Greeks, and a few
Latins whose love for the essential truth of their religion was
stronger than their bigotry for sect, withstood for many weeks the
horrors which were poured upon them by a quarter of a million Moslems.
These foes were made presumptuous by nearly a century of unchecked
conquest; their hot blood boiled with fury and daring excited by the
promises of their religion, which opened paradise to those that
perished with the sword; and they were led by the first flashings of
the startling genius and audacity of Mahomet II.

The Bosphorus was blockaded six miles above the city by the new
fortress, Rumili-Hissar, the Castle of Europe; answering across the
narrow strait to Anadolu-Hissari--the Castles of Asia.

A fleet of three hundred Moslem vessels crowded the entrance to the
Bosphorus, to resist any Western ally of the Christians that might
have run the gauntlet of forts which guarded the lower entrance to
Marmora. At the same time this naval force threatened the long water
front of the city with overwhelming assault. The wall which lay
between the sea of Marmora and the Golden Horn, and made the city a
triangle, looked down upon armies gathered from the many lands between
the Euphrates and Danube;--the feudal chivalry from their ziamets
under magnificently accoutred beys; the terrible Akindji, the mounted
scourge of the borders of Christendom; the motley hordes of Azabs,
light irregular foot-soldiers,--these filling the plains for miles
away:--while about the tents of the Sultan were the Royal Horse
Guards, the Spahis, Salihdars, Ouloufedji and Ghoureba, rivals for the
applause of the nations, as the most daring of riders and most skilful
of swordsmen: and the Janizaries, who boasted that their tread was as
resistless as the waves of an earthquake.

Miners from Servia were ready to burrow beneath the walls. A great
cannon cast by Urban, the Dacian, who had deserted from the Christian
to the Moslem camp, gaped ready to hurl its stone balls of six hundred
pounds weight. It was flanked by two almost equally enormous
fire-vomiting dragons, as the new artillery was called: while fourteen
other batteries of lesser ordnance were waiting to pour their still
novel destruction upon the works. Ancient art blended with modern
science in the attack; for battering rams supplemented cannon, and
trenches breast-deep completed the lines of shields. Moving forts of
wood antagonized, across the deep moat, the old stone towers, which
during the centuries had hurled back their assailants in more than
twenty sieges. The various hosts of besiegers in their daily movements
were like the folds of an enormous serpent, writhing in ever
contracting circles about the body of some helpless prey. From dawn to
dark the walls crumbled beneath the pounding of the artillery; but
from dark to dawn they rose again under the toil of the sleepless
defenders.

Thousands, impelled by the commands of the Sultan, and more, perhaps,
by the prospect of reward in this world, and in another, out of which
bright-eyed houris were watching their prospective lords, mounted the
scaling ladders only to fill with their bodies the moat beneath. At
the point of greatest danger the besieged were inspired with the
courage of their Emperor, and by the aid of the bands of Italians whom
the purse and the appeals of John Giustiniani had brought as the last
offering of the common faith of Christendom upon the great altar
already dripping with a nation's blood.

Sometimes when the Christians, whose fewness compared with the
assailants compelled them to serve both day and night, were
discouraged by incessant danger and fatigue, a light form in helmet
and breastplate moved among them, regardless of arrows and bullets of
lead: now stooping to staunch the wounds of the fallen; now mounting
the parapet, where scores of stout soldiers shielded her with their
bodies, and hailed her presence with the shout of "The Albanian! The
Albanian!" The reverence which the soldiers gave to the devoted nuns,
who were incessant in their ministry of mercy, was surpassed by that
with which they regarded Morsinia. She had become in their eyes the
impersonation of the cause for which they were struggling.

The interruption by the war of the negotiations with the Emir of
Trebizond, whose daughter had been selected as the imperial spouse,
revived the rumors which had once associated the fair Albanian's name
with that of his Majesty; and gave rise to a nick-name, "the Little
Empress," which, among the soldiers, came to be spoken with almost as
much loyalty of personal devotion, as if it had received the imperial
sanction.

Constantine's solicitude led him to remonstrate with Morsinia for the
exposure of her person to the dangers of the wall: but she replied--

"Have you not said, my dear brother, that the defence is hopeless?
that the city must fall? What fate then awaits me? The Turks have
service for men whom they capture, which, though hard, is not damning
to body and soul. What if they send you to the mines, to the galleys?
What if they slay you? You can endure that. Yet I know that you
yourself would perish in the fight before you would submit to even
such a fate. But what is the destiny of a woman who shall fall into
their hands? It is better to die than to be taken captive. And is not
yonder breach where the men of the true God are giving their lives for
their faith, as sacred as was ever an altar on earth? Is not the crown
of martyrdom better than a living death in the harem of the infidel?
The arrow that finds me there on the wall shall be to me as an angel
from heaven; and a death-wound received there will be as painless to
my soul as the kiss of God."

"But this must not be!" cried Constantine. "Our valor, if it does not
save the city, may lead to surrender upon terms which shall save all
the lives of the people."

"It is impossible," replied she. "His Majesty informed me yesterday
that Mahomet had pledged to his soldiers the spoil of the city, with
unlimited license to pillage."

Constantine was silent, but at length added. "If worst comes, it will
then be time enough to expose your life."

"But the end is near, dear Constantine. The city is badly provisioned.
The poor are already starving. The garrison is on allowance which can
sustain it but a few days. Besides, as you have told me, the Italians
are at feud with the Greeks, and ready to open the gates if famine
presses upon them."

"Yes, curses on the head of that monk Gennadius, who sends insult to
our allies every day from his cell!" muttered Constantine. "But I
cannot see you in danger, Morsinia. Promise me--for your life is
dearer to me than my own--that you will not go upon the walls. I need
not the solemn oath to our brave Castriot, and that to our father
Kabilovitsch, that I will guard you. But, if not for my sake, then for
their sake, take my counsel. I know that you are under the special
care of the Blessed Jesu. Has He not shielded us both--me for your
sake--many times before?"

"Your words are wise, my brother. You need not urge the will of
Castriot and father Kabilovitsch, for your own wish is to me as sacred
as that of any one on earth," said she, looking him in the eyes with
the reverence of affection, and yielding to his embrace as he kissed
her forehead.

"But," added she, "I must exact of you one promise."

"Any thing, my darling, that is consistent with your safety," was the
quick reply.

"It is this. Promise me, by the Virgin Mother of God, that you will
not allow me to become a living captive to the Turk."

"Not if my life can shield you. This you know!"

"Yes, I would not ask that, but something harder than that you should
die for me."

A pallor spread over the face of Constantine, for he suspected her
meaning, yet asked, "And what--what may that be?"

"Take my life with your own hand, rather than that a Turk should touch
me," said Morsinia, without the slightest tremor in her voice.

Constantine stood aghast. Morsinia continued, taking his strong right
hand in hers, and raising it to her lips--

"That were joy, indeed, if the hand of him who loves me, the hand
which has saved me from danger so often--could redeem me from this
which I fear more than a thousand deaths! Promise me for love's sake!"

"I may not promise such a thing," said the young lover, with a voice
which showed that her request had cut him to the heart.

"Then you love me not," said the girl, turning away.

But the look upon Constantine's face showed the terrible tragedy which
was in his soul, and that such an accusation brought it too near its
culmination. Instantly she threw herself into his arms.

"Forgive me! forgive me!" cried she. "I will not impugn that love
which has proved itself too often. But let us speak calmly of it. Why
should you shrink from this?" she asked, leading him to a seat beside
her.

"Because I love you. My hand would become paralyzed sooner than touch
rudely a hair of your head."

"Nay, in that you do not know yourself," said Morsinia. "Would you not
pluck a mole from my face if I was marred by it in your eyes!"

"But that would be to perfect, not to harm you," said Constantine.

"And did you not hold the hand of the poor soldier to-day, while the
leech was cutting him, lest the gangrene should infect his whole body
with poison? And would you not have done so had he been your long lost
brother, Michael, whom you loved? And would you not have done it more
willingly because you loved him?"

"Yes," said Constantine, "but that would be to save life, not to
destroy it."

"But what, my brother dear, is the fairness of a face compared with
the fairness of honor? What the breath of the body, when both the body
and the soul in it are threatened with contamination of such an
existence as every woman receives from the Turk?"

"I cannot argue with you, Morsinia. My nature rebels against the deed
you propose."

"But," replied she, "is not love nobler, and should it not be
stronger, than nature? If nature should rebel against love, let love
crush the rebellion, and show its sovereignty. If my hand should
tremble to do aught that your true service required, I would accuse my
hand of lack of devotion. But I think that men do not know the fulness
of love as women do."

"Let me ask the question of you, Morsinia," replied the young lover
after a pause. "Could you take my life as I lie here? Will your hand
mix the poison to put to my lips in the event of the Turk entering the
city? My life will be worse than death in its bitterness if you are
lost to me."

Morsinia pondered the question, growing pale with the fearfulness of
the thought. For a while she was speechless. The imagination started
by Constantine's question seemed to stun her. She stared at the vague
distance. At length she burst into tears, and laying her head upon her
companion's shoulder, said:

"I love you too dearly, Constantine, to ask that of you which you
shrink from doing. There is another who can render me the service."

"Who would dare?" said Constantine, rising and gazing wildly at her.
"Who would dare to touch you, even at your own bidding?"

"I would," said Morsinia quietly. "And this I shall save for the
moment when I need the last friend on earth," she added, drawing from
her dress the bright blade of an Italian stiletto. "Perhaps, my heart
would tremble, and my flesh shrink from the sharp point, though I love
not myself as I love you."

"Let us talk no more of this," said Constantine, "but leave it for the
hour of necessity, which happily I think will not soon come. I must
tell you now for what I sought you. I have been ordered this very
night to aid in a venture which, heaven grant! shall re-provision the
city. Several large galleys, laden with corn and oil, are now coming
up the sea from Genoa. If they see the cordon of the enemy's ships
drawn across the harbor, not knowing the extremity to which the city
is reduced, they may return without venturing an encounter. I am to
reach them, and, if possible, induce them to cut their way through.
The great chain at the entrance to the Golden Horn will be lowered at
the opportune moment, and all the shipping in the harbor will make an
attack upon the enemy's fleet. Of this our allies must be informed. As
soon as it is dark I shall drift in a swift little skiff between these
Turkish boats; and before the dawn I shall be far down on Marmora.
To-morrow night, if your prayers are offered, Jesu will grant us
success."

With a kiss he released himself from her embrace and was gone.



CHAPTER XXXIX.


Constantine eluded the heavy boats of the Turks, which were anchored
to prevent their drifting away upon the swift current with which the
Black Sea discharges itself through the Bosphorus into Marmora. Upon
meeting the befriending galleys, it was with little difficulty that he
persuaded the Genoese captains to risk the encounter with the Turkish
fleet. As Constantine pointed out to the Italian captains, the
enormous navy of the blockaders, formed in the shape of a crescent,
and stretched from the wall of the city across to the Asiatic shore,
presented a more formidable obstacle to the eye than to the swift and
skilfully manned Genoese galleys. The Turkish boats were generally but
small craft, and laden down to the water's edge with men. The Genoese
had four galleys, together with one which belonged to Byzantium.

These were vessels of the largest size, constructed by men who had
learned to assert their prowess as lords of the sea. They were armed
with cannon adapted to sweep the deck of an adversary at short
range:--a weapon which the Turks had not yet floated, though they were
in advance of the Christians in using such artillery on land. The high
sides of the Christian galleys, moreover, prevented their being
boarded except with dangerous climbing, while the defenders stood
ready to pour the famous liquid called "Greek fire" upon the heads of
those who should attempt it. Besides, heaven favored the Christians;
for a strong gale was blowing, which, while it tossed the boats of
their adversaries beyond their easy control, filled the sails of the
Genoese, and sent them bounding over the waves: the oarsmen sitting
ready to catch deftly into the bending billows with their blades. Each
of the five vessels chose for a target a large one of the Turks, and
clove it with its iron prow: while the cannon swept the Turkish
soldiers by hundreds from other boats near to them. Passing through
the thin crescent, the Christian galleys skilfully tacked, and,
careening upon their sides, again assailed the Turks before they could
evade their swift and resistless momentum. Again and again the galleys
passed, like shuttles on a loom, through the line of the enemy,
sinking the unwieldy hulks and drowning the crowded crews.

From the walls and house tops of the city went up huzzas for the
victors and praises to heaven. From the shores of Asia, and from below
the city wall, thousands of Moslems groaned their imprecations. The
Sultan raged upon the beach, as he saw one after another of his
pennants sink beneath the waves. Dashing far into the sea upon his
horse, he vented his impotent fury in beating the water with his mace,
shrieking maledictions into the laughing winds, and invoking upon the
Christians curses from all the Pagan gods and Moslem saints.

At one moment the Byzantine galley was nearly overcome, having been
caught in a group of Turkish boats, whose occupants climbed her sides,
and did murderous work among the crew. Though ultimately rescued by
the Genoese, it was only after severe loss.

But above all other casualties the Christians mourned the fate of
young Constantine. With almost superhuman strength he had cut down
several assailants; but was finally set upon by such odds that he was
pressed over the low bulwarks, and fell into the sea. The galley with
its consorts made way to the chain at the entrance to the Golden Horn,
where the rich stores, a thousand times richer now in the necessity
which they relieved, were received amid the acclamations of the
grateful Greeks.

But woe,--Oh, so heavy! crushed one solitary heart. Her eyes stared
wildly at the messenger who brought the fatal tidings; and stared,
hour by hour, in their stony grief, upon the wall of her apartment.
Kind attendants spoke to her, but she heard them not. Her soul seemed
to have gone seeking in other worlds the soul of her lover. The
servants, awed by the majesty of her sorrow, sat down in the court
without, and waited: but she called them not. Daylight faded into
darkness. The lamp which was brought she waved with her hand to have
taken away. The maidens who came to disrobe her for the night found
her bowed with her face upon the couch; and, receiving no response to
their proffered offices, retired again to wait.

The morning came; and the cheer of the sunlight which, quickening the
outer world, poured through the windows high in the walls of her
apartment, seemed to awaken her from her trance. But how changed in
appearance! The ruddy hue of health, and the bronzing of daily
exposure to the open air, seemed alike to have been blanched by that
which had taken hope from her soul. Her eyes were sunken, and the
lustre in them, though not lessened, now seemed to come from an
infinite depth--from some distant, inner world which had lost all
relation to this, as a passing star. Morsinia rose, weak at first; but
her limbs grew strong with the imparted strength of her will. She ate;
and speaking aloud--but more in addressing herself than her
attendants--said: "I will away to the walls!"

Through the masses of debris, and among the groups of men who were
resting and waiting to take the places of their wearied comrades on
the ramparts, she went straight to the gate of St. Romanus, where the
assaults were most incessant. The cry of "The Little Empress!" gave
way to that of "The Panurgia! The Panurgia!"[77] as some, though
familiar with her form, were startled by the almost unearthly change
of her countenance. She returned no salutation as was usual with her,
but, as if impelled by some superhuman purpose, her beauty lit as with
a halo by the majesty of a celestial passion, she climbed the steps
into the tottering tower above the gate. A strong, but gentle hand was
put upon her arm. It was that of the Emperor.

"My daughter, you must not be here. Come away!"

She looked at him for an instant in hesitation; and then, bowing her
head, responded in scarcely audible voice:

"I will obey you, Sire," and added, speaking to herself--

"It is _his_ will too."

"I know your grief," said his majesty kindly, "and now, as your
Emperor, I must protect you against yourself."

"I want no protection," cried the broken-hearted girl. "Oh, let me
die! For what should I live?"

"My dear child," said the Emperor with trembling voice, while the
tears filled his eyes. "In other days your holy faith taught me how to
be strong. Now, in your necessity, let me repeat to you the lesson.
For what shall _you_ live? For what should _I_ live? I am Emperor, but
my empire is doomed. I live no longer for earthly hope, but solely to
do duty; nothing but duty, stern duty, painful every instant, crushing
always, but a burden heaven imposed on a breaking heart. That heaven
appoints it--that, and that alone--makes me willing to live and do it.
When the time comes I shall seek death where the slain lie the
thickest. But not to-day; for to-day I can serve. Live for duty! Live
for God! The days may not be many before we shall clasp hands with
those who, now invisible, are looking upon us. Let us go and cheer the
living before we seek the companionship of the dead."

As the Emperor spoke, his face glowed with a majesty of soul which
made the symbol of earthly majesty that adorned his brow seem poor
indeed.

Gazing a moment with reverent amazement at the man who had already
received the divine anointing for the sacrifice of martyrdom he was so
soon to offer, Morsinia responded:

"Your words, Sire, come to me as from the lips of God. I will go and
pray, and then--then I shall live for duty."

FOOTNOTES:

[77] The Panurgia, a name given to the Holy Virgin, who at a former
siege of Constantinople, in 1422, was imagined to have appeared upon
the wall for its defense.



CHAPTER XL.


Mahomet had not expended all his petulant rage upon feelingless waves
and distant Christians. He summoned to his presence the Admiral of his
defeated fleet, Baltaoghli, and ordered that he should be impaled.

The Admiral had shown as much naval skill as could, perhaps, have been
exhibited with the unwieldy boats at his command; and, moreover, had
brought from the fight an eyeless socket to attest his bravery and
devotion. The penalty, therefore, which Mahomet attached to his
misfortune, brought cries of entreaty in his behalf from other brave
officers, especially from the leading Janizaries. This opposition at
first confirmed the determination of the irate despot. But soon the
petition of the honored corps swelled into a murmur, which the more
experienced of his advisers persuaded Mahomet to heed.

The Sultan had schooled himself to obey the precept which Yusef, the
eunuch, who instructed his childhood, had imparted, viz, "Make passion
bend to policy." He therefore apparently yielded, so far at least as
to compromise with those whom he feared to offend, and commuted the
Admiral's sentence to a flogging.

The brave man was stretched upon the ground by four slaves. Turning to
Captain Ballaban, the Sultan bade him lay on the lash. Ballaban
hesitated. Drawing near to Mahomet, he said respectfully, but firmly,

"The Janizaries are soldiers, not executioners, Sire."

Mahomet's rage burst as suddenly as powder under the spark.

"Away with the rebel!" cried he. "We will find the executioner for
him, too, who dares to disobey our orders."

Seizing his golden mace, the Sultan himself beat the prostrate form of
the Admiral until it was senseless.

Wearying of his bloody work, Mahomet glared like a half satiated beast
upon those about him.

"Where is the damned rebel who dares dispute my will? Did no one
arrest him?"

"The order was not so understood," said an Aga who was near.

"You understand it now," growled the infuriated, yet half-ashamed,
monarch. "Arrest him!--But no! Let these slaves go search for the
runaway. It shall be their office to deal with one who dares to break
with my will."

The Janizaries returned to their places near the walls.

Mahomet was ill at ease when his better judgment displaced his unwise
passion. His love for Ballaban, the manliness of the captain's reply
to the unreasonable order, and the danger of injuring one who stood so
high in the estimate of the entire Janizary corps, were not outweighed
even by the sense of the indignity which the act of disobedience had
put upon the royal authority.

The slaves, not daring to venture among the Janizaries in their search
for Captain Ballaban, easily persuaded themselves that he must have
fled; and that, perhaps, he might be lurking somewhere on the shore,
as this was the only way of escape. Their search was rewarded. Though
in the disguise of scant garments, utterly exhausted so that he could
make no resistance, their victim was readily recognized by his form
and features, which were too peculiar to be mistaken. The captain had
apparently attempted to escape by water; perhaps, had ventured upon
some chance kaik or raft, and been wrecked in the caldron which the
strong south wind made with the current pouring from the north.

His wet garments, such as he had not stripped off, and his exhausted
look confirmed their theory.

One of their number brought the report to the Grand Vizier, Kalil, who
repeated it to the Sultan.

"I will deal with him in person. Let no one know of the capture until
I have seen him," said Mahomet, seeking an opportunity to revoke the
threat against his friend, which he had uttered in insane rage; and,
at the same time, to cover his imperial dignity by the semblance of a
trial.

The culprit was brought in the early evening to the Sultan's tent. A
large lantern of various colored crystals hung from the ridge-pole,
and threw its beautiful, but partly obscured, light over the arraigned
man.

His captors had clothed him in the uniform of the Janizaries.

"His face has a strange look, as if another's soul had taken lodging
behind the familiar lineaments," the Sultan remarked to Kalil as he
scanned the culprit closely.

"Do you know, knave, in whose presence you are?" said Mahomet,
sternly.

"I know not, Sire, except that the excellent adornment of your person
and pavilion suggest that I am in the presence of his majesty the--"

"Silence, villain! do you mock me?" cried the Padishah, in surprise at
the man's assumed ignorance.

"I mock thee not, Sire," said the victim, bowing with courtly
reverence, and speaking in a sort of patois of Greek and Turkish. "But
I was about to say that I know thee not, except that from the
excellence of thy person and estate thou art none less"----

"Silence, you dog! This is no time for your familiar jesting,
Ballaban. Speak pure tongue, or I'll cut thine from thy head!"
interrupted the Padishah.

"I speak as best I can," replied the man, "for I was not brought up to
the Turkish tongue. I presume that I address the king of the Turks."

"Miserable wretch!" hissed his majesty, drawing his jewelled sword.
"Dare you call me king of the _Turks_? TURKS! thou circumcised
Christian dog! thou pup of Nazarene parentage! thou damned infidel,
beplastered with Moslem favors!"[78]

"It would seem that I needed Moslem favors, which in my destitute
condition and imminent danger, I most humbly crave," replied the
object of this contumely.

"Are you mad?" shrieked the Sultan, rising and glaring into the
other's face. "You _are_ mad, man. Poor soul! Ay! Ay! I see it now.
Some demon has possessed you. Some witch has blown on the knots
against you."[79]

"I am not mad, Sire," said the culprit, "but a poor castaway on your
coast."

"Hear him, poor fellow! so mad that he knows not himself. Well! well!
I must forgive you then for not knowing me," said Mahomet, with
genuine pity. "Did you love me so, old comrade, that my harsh words
knocked over your reason? or did your reason, toppling over, lead you
to challenge me as you did? We must cure this malady, though it takes
the treasure of the empire to do it." Lowering his voice he addressed
the Vizier:

"I could not believe that my faithful comrade would have rebelled. It
was not he, but the demon who has possessed him. Think you not so,
good Kalil?"

The Vizier bowed in assent to the Sultan's theory, and whispered, "It
provides a wise escape from antagonizing the Janizaries. But you
should summon a physician."

Clapping his hands, an attendant appeared, who was dispatched for the
court physician; a man of fame in his profession, whose duty it was to
be always within call of the Sultan.

The physician entering, examined the culprit, looking into his eyes,
balancing his head between his hands to determine if there were any
sudden disturbance of the proportionate avoirdupois; noting if his
tongue lay in the middle of his mouth, and feeling his pulse. At
length he said in low voice to the Sultan and Vizier:

"There is, Sire, no outward evidences of lacking wit. I would have him
speak."

"He is the Janizary, Captain Ballaban," whispered the Vizier. "You
will observe that the wit is clean gone from him. Tell us your story,
Ballaban, or whoever you are."

"I beg the favor of your excellency, your lordship, Sire; for, since
you deny that you are the king of the Turks, I know not what title to
give to your authority. I am your prisoner. I fought on the Byzantine
galley as Jesu gave me strength, but was unfortunate enough to fall
overboard, and fortunate enough to avoid capture by the Turkish boats,
as I dived beneath them, or rested myself below their sterns until I
reached the shore. But as heaven willed it, I landed below the walls
of the city. I was altogether weaponless, having shuffled off my
armor that I might swim--and altogether blown by my effort--or, by
the bones of Abraham! I had never been captured by the cowardly slaves
you sent. I ask only the treatment of an honorable enemy."

"By the beard of the Prophet!" exclaimed Mahomet, "if he were a
Christian I would give him liberty for the valor of his speech. Some
of the spirit of our gallant Ballaban is still left in him. The
witches could not take the great heart out of him, though they stole
away his wits. What say you, Sage Murta?" The physician replied,
knitting his brows and stroking his chin--

"The Padishah is wise. The man is mad. But since his heart is not
touched by the demon, but only his memory erased and his imagination
distorted, my science tells me there is hope of his cure."

"What medicament have you for a diseased mind?" asked the Sultan.

With reverent pomposity, but in low voice not overheard by the
patient, the physician uttered the prescription:

"First, we have the religious cure--if so be that the man is under the
charm of the evil spirits--Find thee a cord with eleven knots tied on
it:--for such was the number on the cord with which the daughters of
Lobeid, the Jew, bewitched the Prophet. As thou untiest the knots
repeat the last two chapters of the Koran, which the Angel Gabriel
revealed as the talisman, saying--

"'I fly for refuge unto the Lord of the daybreak, that he may deliver
me from the mischief of the night, when it cometh on; and from the
mischief of women, blowing on the knots; and from the mischief of the
envious; and from the mischief of the whisperer, the devil, who slyly
withdraweth, who whispereth evil suggestions into the breasts of men:
and from genii and men.'

"If this should fail--as I have known it to fail in the case of those
who were not born in the sacred family of Islâm--we should try the
virtues of the heritage bowl, which is much esteemed among the
Giaours. I have possessed myself of one, once the property of an
ancient family. It is made of silver, and engraved with forty-one
padlocks. A decoction mixed in this bowl, and poured on the head of
the patient any time within seven weeks after the day on which they
celebrate the imagined rising of Jesu, son of Mary, from the dead,
will often break the most malignant spell. The Christian Paska[80] is
just past; so that it will be opportune."

"But should this likewise fail?" asked Mahomet, impatient with the
sage's prolixity.

"Ah! we shall then have to try our strictly human remedies. This
ailment is called by the Latin disciples of Galen, _dementia_, which
signifieth that the man's mind, his natural thoughts, have gone away
from him. We must recall them. For this we must have some strong
appeal to that which was his hottest passion or interest before his
mind flew away from him. Do you know the absorbing humor of this man?
Was he a lover? If so, we must find the fair one who has robbed him of
his better part, and, restoring her to him, we shall restore him to
himself."

"Nay," said Mahomet. "Captain Ballaban was never enamored of woman.
The maid who lured the Prophet from the charms of Ayesha and
Hafsa,[81] would not have turned Ballaban's head. I once offered him
the choice of a bevy of Georgians; but he would not even look at them.
He is a soldier; from tassel to shoe-thong a soldier."

"Ah! then we have the remedy at hand," said Murta, rolling his eyes as
if reading the prescription in the air. "Give him command; military
excitement; honors of the field. When the cimeters gleam then will
reason flash again. And my science is at fault if the simple summons
to some high duty work not a counter charm to break the spell that is
on him, though it were woven by the mystic dance of all the genii and
devils."

"We will try this last remedy first," said Mahomet. "Dismiss him. Let
him go as he will, without hindrance or seeming to follow, until my
orders be brought him by his Aga. In the meantime search the shore for
the knotted cord the witches may have blown upon. And, good Murta,
send for the silver bowl; for my brain is that hot that I fear me the
Giaour ghosts we have sent gibbering to hell during the last few days
have left the spell of their evil eyes upon me too."

The following day was not far advanced when Captain Ballaban was
summoned to the Sultan's tent, the rumor of his restoration to royal
favor having been made to precede the summons. In fact, after the
affair of the preceding afternoon, Ballaban had not gone to the sea
shore, but retired to his own quarters, where he loyally awaited
either his death summons, or an invitation for some wild frolic with
the Padishah; he knew not which, so thought about neither; but busied
himself over a plan for a new gun-carriage he was going to submit to
Urban.

With assumed stolidity he entered the royal tent. As he rose from his
obeisance upon the earth, his majesty embraced him with boyish
delight.

"Your old self again: I see your soul in your face. I'd give half the
horse-tails in the empire rather than lose that shock of hair from my
sight, or the glowing brain that is under it from my councils, my
red-headed angel!"

"There is no need to lose it, except by cutting it off at my
shoulders," said Ballaban, falling in with the humor of the Sultan,
yet watchful not to be taken unawares, if, in its fitfulness, that
humor should turn.

"I have a grand service for you, if you have skill and courage enough
to execute it," said Mahomet, watching the effect on his friend.

The captain's eyes flashed with the prospect, as he said:

"I wait your plan, Sire; only let it be bold."

"I have no plan, you must make one. I would see if your brain is as
square as the pot you keep it in," said the Sultan, tapping him on the
head with a jewelled whip staff, and adding,

"It is evident, Captain, that we must get possession of the Golden
Horn; for so long as the enemy hold that for their harbor, we cannot
prevent their reprovisioning the city as they did yesterday; and a few
more such auxiliaries as they brought, indeed, another such leader as
the Genoese Giustiniani, would compel us to raise the siege. How can
we take the harbor? Our boats can never raise the chain at the mouth."

"That has been my problem since the siege began," said Ballaban. "I
remember while in Albania, as I lodged one night in a village, I met
with some Italian officers, who had come to offer their swords to
Castriot. They told how they moved their fleet overland, several miles
on a roadway of timbers.[82] We can use that device. The thing is not
impracticable; for there is a depression to the north of Galata,
through which from the Bosphorus to the inland extremity of the Golden
Horn is but five or six miles. Our vessels are not large; could be
transported with the multitudes of our troops, and on the still water
of the harbor would soon, by superior numbers, capture those of the
Christians."

"A good conception!" said Mahomet, "and if my reading has not been at
fault, the Roman Augustus did something similar.[83] It shall be done.
Let it not be said that the Ottoman was surpassed in daring or
difficulty of enterprise by Pagan or Christian. You shall perform it,
Ballaban. The woods above Galata will serve for planking, and the
engineers can be spared from before the walls until it is
accomplished."

A few days later a large fleet of the Moslems was conveyed overland,
by means of a roadway of greased timbers. To the amazement of the
Christians their adversary's navy no longer lay idly upon the
Bosphorus, but was transformed into a line of floating batteries
within the harbor of the Golden Horn, and from their rear soon
destroyed the fleet of the defenders.

FOOTNOTES:

[78] The Ottomans regard the appellation of "King of the TURKS" as an
insult, since the Turks are comparatively few of the many subjects of
the Sultan in Europe. Some of the most distinguished servants of the
empire are of Christian parentage, and either have been conquered or
have voluntarily submitted to the domination of the Moslem.

[79] The Moslem superstition led them to believe that witches, by
tying knots in a cord and blowing on them, brought evil to the person
they had in mind.

[80] Easter.

[81] The Coptic Mary with whom the Prophet was said to have been
enamored.

[82] In 1437 the Venetians carried many large ships across the country
from the river Adige to the lake of Garda.

[83] At Actium.



CHAPTER XLI.


The city was now completely invested. Menaced from all sides, the
defenders were not sufficient in numbers to guard the many approaches.
Yet the daily fighting was desperate, for the Moslems were inspired by
the certainty of success, while the Christians were nerved with the
energy of despair. To end the siege Mahomet designated a time for a
combined assault from sea and land.

As the fatal day dawned, numberless hordes moved towards the walls.
The great ditches were soon filled with the dead bodies of thousands
of the least serviceable soldiers, who had been driven from behind by
the lances of the trained bands, that they might thus worry the
patience and exhaust the resources of the brave defenders, without
taxing the best of the Moslem troops. The carcasses of the slain made
a highway for the living, over which they poured against the gate of
St. Romanus. The four grim towers toppled beneath the pounding of
great stone balls hurled from the cannon of Urban. The defenders were
driven off the adjacent walls by the storms of bullets and arrows that
swept them. At the critical moment the Janizaries, unwearied as yet by
watching or fighting, twelve thousand strong, as compact a mass
beneath the eye of the Sultan as the weapon he held in his hand, moved
to where the breach was widest.

"The spoil to all! A province to him who first enters!" cried the
Sultan, waving his iron battle mace. Hassan, the giant, first mounted
the rampart, and fell pierced with arrows and crushed with stones. But
through the gap his dying valor had made in the ranks of the foe first
rushed the company of Ballaban.

In vain did the people crowd beneath the dome of St. Sophia, grasping
with hopeless hope an ancient prophecy that at the extreme moment an
angel would descend to rescue the city. Alas! only the angel of death
came that day; and to none brought he more welcome news than to the
Emperor,--"Thy prayer is answered; for thou hast fallen where the dead
lie thickest!" Near the gateway of St. Romanus, where he had met the
first of the invaders, under the piles of the dead, gashed by sabre
strokes and crushed beneath the feet of the victors, lay the body of
Constantine Palæologus, the noblest of the Cæsars of the Eastern
Empire!

The Turks placed his ghastly head between the feet of the bronze
horse, a part of the equestrian statue of Justinian, where it was
reverently saluted even by the Moslems, who paused in the rage of the
sack to think upon the virtue and courage of the unfortunate monarch.

Captain Ballaban had pressed rapidly through the city to the doors of
St. Sophia. The oaken gates flew back under the axes of the Moslems.
Monks and matrons, children and nuns, lords and beggars were crowded
together, not knowing whether the grand dome would melt away and a
legion of angels descend for their relief, or the vast enclosure would
become a pen of indiscriminate slaughter. The motley and helpless
misery excited the pity of the captors. Ballaban's voice rang through
the arches, proclaiming safely to those who should submit. That he
might the better command the scene, he made his way to the chancel in
front of the grand altar. It was filled with the nuns, repeating their
prayers. Among them was the fair Albanian. Her face was but partly
toward him, yet he could never mistake that queenly head. She was
addressing the Sisters. Holding aloft the bright shaft of a stiletto,
she cried,--

"Let us give ourselves to heaven, but never to the harem!"

Ballaban paused an instant. But that instant seemed to him many
minutes. As, under the lightning's flash, the whole moving panorama of
the wide landscape seems to stand still, and paints vividly its
prominent objects, however scattered, upon the startled eye of the
beholders; so his mind marvellously quickened by the excitement, took
in at once the long track of his own life. He saw a little child's
hand wreathing him with flowers plucked beside a cottage on the
Balkans; a lovely captive whose face was lit by the blazing home in a
hamlet of Albania; a form of one at Sfetigrade lying still and faint
with sickness, but radiant as with the beginning of transfiguration
for the spirit life; and the queenly being who was borne in the
palanquin through the gate of Phranza. But how changed! How much more
glorious now! Earthly beauty had become haloed with the heavenly. He
never had conceived of such majesty, such glory of personality, such
splendor of character, as were revealed by her attitude, her eye, her
voice, her purpose.

"But now," thought he, "the descending blade will change this utmost
sublimity of being into a little heap of gory dust!"

All this flashed through his mind. In another instant his strong hand
had caught the arm of the voluntary sacrifice. The stiletto, falling,
caught in the folds of her garments, and then rang upon the marble
floor of the chancel. Morsinia uttered a shriek and fell, apparently
as lifeless as if the blade had entered her heart.

The Janizary stood astounded. A tide of feeling strange to him poured
through his soul. For the first time in his life he felt a horror of
war. Not thousands writhing on the battle field could blanch his cheek
with pity for their pangs: but that one voice rang through and through
him, and rent his heart with sympathetic agony. Her cry had become a
cry of his own soul too.

For the first time he realized the dignity of woman's character. This
woman was not even wounded. She had fallen beneath the stroke of a
thought, a sentiment, a woman's notion of her honor! The women he had
known had no such fatal scruples. Other captive beauties soon became
accustomed to their new surroundings. Many even offered to buy with
their charms an exchange of poverty for the luxuries of the harem of
Pashas and wealthy Moslems. Was this a solitary woman's tragedy of
virtue? Or was it some peculiar teaching of the Christian's faith that
inspired her to such heroism? However it came, the man knew that with
her it was a mighty reality; this instinct of virtue; this sanctity of
person.

And this woman was his dream made real! A celestial ideal which he had
touched!

The man's brain reeled with the shock of these tenderer and deeper
feelings, coming after the wildness of the battle rage. He grasped the
altar for support. The blood seemed to have ceased to bound in his
veins, the temples to be pulseless; a band to have been drawn tightly
about his brain so as to paralyze its action. He felt himself falling.
A deathly sickness spread through his frame. He was sure he had
fainted. He thought he must have been unconscious for a while. Yet
when he opened his eyes, the soldier near him was in the same attitude
of dragging a nun by her wrists as when he last saw him. Time had
stood still with his pulses. He shuddered at the cruelty on every
side, as the shrieks from the high galleries were answered by those in
distant alcoves and from the deep crypt. He watched the groups of old
men and children, monks and senators, nuns and courtesans, tied
together and dragged away, some for slaughter, some for princely
ransom, some for shame.

The building was well emptied when the Sultan entered.

He at once advanced to the altar and proclaimed:

"God is God; there is but one God, and Mahomet is the apostle of God!"

"But whom have we here, Captain Ballaban?"

"Your Majesty, I am guarding a beautiful captive whom I would not have
fall into the hands of the common soldiers; I take it, of high
estate," replied the Janizary, knowing that such an introduction to
the royal attention alone could save her from the fate which awaited
the unhappy maidens, most of whom were liable to be sold to brutal
masters and transported to distant provinces.

The Sultan gazed upon the partly conscious woman, and commanded,----

"Let her be veiled! Seek out a goodly house. Find the Eunuch Tamlich."
Ballaban shuddered at this command, and was about to reply, when his
judgment suggested that he was impotent to dispute the royal will
except by endangering the life or the welfare of his captive.

The safest place for her was, after all, with the maidens who were
known to be the choice of the Sultan, and thus beyond insult by any
except the imperial debauchee.

Mahomet II. gave orders for the immediate transformation of the
Christian temple of St. Sophia into a Mosque. In a few hours
desolation reigned in those "Courts of the Lord's House," which, when
first completed, ages ago, drew from the imperial founder, the remark:
"Oh, Solomon! I have surpassed thee!" and which, though the poverty of
later monarchs had allowed it to become sadly impaired, was yet
regarded by the Greek Christians as worthy of being the vestibule of
heaven.

The command of the Sultan: "Take away every trace of the idolatry of
the infidel!" was obeyed in demolishing the rarest gems of Christian
art to which attached the least symbolism of the now abolished
worship. The arms were chiseled off the marble crosses which stood out
in relief from the side walls, and from the bases of the gigantic
pillars. The rare mosaics which lined the church as if it were a vast
casket--the fitting gift of the princes of the earth to the King of
Kings--were plastered or painted over. The altar, that marvellous
combination of gold and silver and bronze, conglomerate with a
thousand precious stones, was torn away, that the red slab of the
Mihrab might point the prayers of the new devotees toward Mecca. The
furniture, from that upon the grand altar to the banners and mementoes
of a thousand years, the donations of Greek emperors and sovereigns of
other lands, was broken or torn into pieces. There remained only the
grand proportions of the building--its chief glory--enriched by
polished surfaces of marble and porphyry slabs; the superb pillars
brought by the reverent cupidity of earlier ages from the ruined
temple of Diana at Ephesus, the temple of the Sun at Palmyra, the
temple on the Acro-Corinthus, and the mythologic urn from Pergamus,
which latter, having been used as a baptismal font by the followers of
Jesus, was now devoted to the ablutions of the Moslems.

From St. Sophia the Sultan passed to the palace of the Greek Cæsars.

"Truly! truly!" said he "The spider's web is the royal curtain; the
owl sounds the watch cry on the towers of Afrasiab," quoting from the
Persian poet Firdusi, as he gazed about the deserted halls. He issued
his mandate which should summon architects and decorators, not only
from his dominions, but from Christian nations, to adorn the splendid
headland with the palatial motley of walls and kiosks which were to
constitute his new seraglio.

The considerateness of Ballaban led him to select the house of Phranza
as the place to which Morsinia was taken. The noble site and
substantial structure of the mansion of the late chamberlain commended
it to the Sultan for the temporary haremlik; and the familiar rooms
alleviated, like the faces of mute friends, the wildness of the grief
of their only familiar captive.



CHAPTER XLII.


Constantine, after his escape from the Sultan's tent, where he had
been taken for the demented Ballaban, was unable to enter
Constantinople before it fell. His heart was torn with agonizing
solicitude for the fate of Morsinia. He knew too well the
determination of the dauntless girl in the event of her falling into
the hands of the Turks. Filling his dreams at night, and rising before
him as a terrible apparition by day, was that loved form, a suicide
empurpled with its own gore. Yet love and duty led him to seek her, or
at least to seek the certainty of her fate. He therefore disguised
himself as a Moslem and mingled with the throng of soldiers and
adventurers who entered the city under its new possessors. He wandered
for hours about the familiar streets, that, perchance, he might come
upon some memorial of her. The secrets of the royal harem he could not
explore, even if suspicion led his thought thither. The proximity of
the residence of Phranza was guarded by the immediate servants of the
Sultan, so that he was deprived of even the fond misery of visiting
the scenes so associated with his former joy.

In passing through one of the narrowest and foulest streets--the only
ones that had been left undisturbed by the Vandalism of the
conquerors--he came upon an old woman, hideous in face and decrepit,
whom he remembered as a beggar at the gate of Phranza. From her he
learned many stories of the last hours of the siege.

According to her story she had gone among the first to St. Sophia.
When the Moslems entered they tied her by a silken girdle to the
person of the Grand Chamberlain, and, amid the jeers of the soldiers,
marched them together to the Hippodrome. She remembered the Sultan as
he rode on his horse,--how he struck with his battle hammer one of the
silver heads of the bronze serpents, and cried: "So I smite the heads
of the kingdoms!" Just as he did so he turned, and saw her in her rags
tied to the courtly-robed lord, and in an angry voice commanded that
the princely man be loosed from contact with the filthy hag. Phranza
was taken away: but nobody cared to take her away. She was trampled by
the crowd, but lived. And nobody thought of turning her out of her
hovel home. She was as safe as is a rat when the robbers have killed
the nobler inmates of a house.

The woman said that she had heard that the daughter of Phranza was
sent away somewhere to an island home. But the Albanian
Princess,--Yes, she knew her well; for no hand used to drop so
bountifully the alms she asked, or said so kindly "Jesu pity you, my
good woman!" as did that beautiful lady. The beggar declared that she
stood near her by the altar in St. Sophia. "She looked so saintly
there! There was a real aureole about her head as she prayed, so she
was a saint indeed. Then she raised her dagger!" But the wretched
watcher could watch no longer, though she heard her cry, so wild that
she would never cease to hear it.

The beggar ceased her story; all her words had cut through her
listener's heart as if they had been daggers.

"It is well!" he said, "I will go to Albania. Among those who loved
her I will worship her memory; and, under Castriot, I will seek my
revenge."



CHAPTER XLIII.


Morsinia's fears, and her horror at the anticipated life in the harem,
were not confirmed by its actual scenes. Except for the constant
surveillance of the Nubian eunuchs and female attendants, there was no
restriction upon her liberty. She passed through the familiar
corridors, and rested upon the divan in what had been her own chamber
in better days. Other female captives became her companions; but among
them were none of those belonging to Constantinople. Suburban
villages were represented; but most of the odalisks[84] were
Circassian beauties, whose conduct did not indicate that they felt any
shame in their condition. They indulged in jealous rivalry, estimating
their own worth by the sums which the agents of the Sultan had paid
their parents for their possession; or bantering one another as to who
of their number would first meet the fancy of their royal master.
There were several Greeks, who, with more modesty of speech, spared
none of the arts of the toilet to prepare themselves to better their
condition in the only way that was now open to them. A Coptic girl had
been sent by Eenal, the Borghite Khalif of Egypt, as a present to the
Sultan. Her form was slight, and without the fullness of development
which other races associate with female beauty, but of wonderful grace
of pose and motion; her face was broad; eyes wide and expressionless;
mouth straight. Yet her features had that symmetry and balance which
gave to them a strange fascination. The Turcoman Emir who had already
given his daughter to Mahomet--the nuptials with whom he was
celebrating when called to the throne--exercised still further his
fatherly office in presenting to his son-in-law as fine a pair of
black eyes as ever flashed their cruel commands to an amative heart.
To study this physiognomical museum afforded Morsinia an entertaining
relief from the otherwise constant torture of her thoughts.

To her further diversion one was introduced into the harem who spoke
her own Albanian tongue. This new comer was of undoubted beauty, so
far as that quality could be the product of merely physical elements.
It was of the kind that might bind a god on earth, but could never
help a soul to heaven. Her lower face, with full red lips arching the
pearliest teeth, and complexion ruddy with the glow of health, shading
into the snowy bosom, might perhaps serve to make a Venus; but her
upper features, the low forehead and dilated nostrils, could never
have been made to bespeak the thoughtful Minerva in this retreat of
those, who, to the Moslem imagination, are the types of heavenly
perfection. Her eyes were bright, but only with surface lustre. Her
nature evidently contained no depths which could hold either noble
resentment or self sacrificing love; either grand earthly passion or
heavenly faith.

This woman's vanity did not long keep back the story of her life. She
told of her conquest of the village swains who fought for the
possession of her charms; of the devotion of an Albanian prince who
took her dowerless in preference to the ladies of great family and
fortune, and would have bestowed upon her the heirship to his estates:
of how she was stolen away from the great castle by a company of
Turkish officers, who afterward fought among themselves for the
privilege of presenting her to the Validé Sultana;[85] for it was
about the time of the Ramedan feast when the Sultan's mother made an
annual gift to her son of the most beautiful woman she could secure.
The vain captive declared that the jealousy of the odalisks at
Adrianople had led the Kislar Aga to send her here to Constantinople.

"And who was the Albanian nobleman whose bride you had become?" asked
Morsinia.

"Oh, one who is to be king of Albania one day, the Voivode Amesa."

"Ah!" said Morsinia, "this is news from my country. When was it
determined that Amesa should be king?"

"Oh! every one speaks of it at the castle as if it were well
understood. And when he becomes king then he will claim me again from
Mahomet, though he must ransom me with half his kingdom. Yes, I am to
be a queen; and indeed I may be one already, for perhaps Lord Amesa is
now on the throne. And that is the reason I wear the cord of gold in
my hair; for one day my royal lover will put the crown here."

The bedizened beauty rose and paced to and fro through the great
salôn. The pride which gave the majestic toss to her head, however it
would have marred that ethereal form which the inner eye of the
moralist or the Christian always sees, and which is called character,
only gave an additional charm to her;--as the delicate yet stately
comb of the peacock adds to the fascination of that bird. Her carriage
combined the gracefulness of perfect anatomy and health with the
dignity which conceit, thoroughly diffused in muscle and nerve, lent
to all her movements. With that step upon it no carpet beneath a
throne would have been dishonored. Her dress was in exquisite keeping
with her person. The close fitting zone or girdle about her waist left
the bust uncontorted; a model which needed no device to supplement
the perfection of nature. A robe of purple velvet trailed luxuriantly
behind; but in front was looped so as to display the loose trousers of
white silk which were gathered below the knee and fell in full ruffles
about the unstockinged ankles, but not so low as to conceal the rings
of silver which clasped them, and the slippers of yellow satin, ending
in long and curved points, which protruded from beneath.

As the other women gazed at this self-assumed queen of the harem the
green fire of jealousy flashed alike from black eyes and blue. The
straight thin noses of the Greeks for the moment forgot their classic
models, and dilated as if in rivalry of that flattened feature of the
Egyptian; while the straight mouth of the daughter of the Nile writhed
in indescribable curves, indicative of commingled wrath, hatred, pique
and scorn.

This parade would have produced in Morsinia the feeling of contempt,
were it not for that sisterly interest which was awakened by the fact
that she was her own country-woman. Morsinia's face, usually calm in
its great dignity and reserve, now flushed with the struggle between
indignation and pity for the girl.

At this moment the purple hangings which separated the salôn from the
open court were held aside by the silver staff of the eunuch in
charge; and the young Padishah stood as a spectator of the scene.

"Ah! Tamlich," cried he, addressing the black eunuch, "you were right
in saying that the great haremlik at Adrianople, with its thousand
goddesses, could not rival this temporary one for the fairness of the
birds you have caged in it."

The women made the temineh--a salutation with the right hand just
sweeping the floor, and then pressed consecutively to the heart, the
lips and the forehead; a movement denoting reverence, and, at the same
time, giving field for the display of the utmost grace of motion.

The Padishah passed among these his slaves with the license which
betokened his absolute ownership; stroking their hair and toying with
their persons according to his amiable or insolent caprice. Morsinia,
however, was spared this familiarity. The Sultan himself colored
slightly as he addressed her a few words in Greek, of which language,
in common with several others, he knew enough to act as his own
interpreter. His questions were respectful, all limited to her comfort
in her new home. With Elissa, the queenly Albanian, he was at once on
terms of intimacy. Her manner betokened that she gave to him only too
willingly whatever he might be disposed to take.

As the Sultan withdrew, the eunuch Tamlich remarked to him:

"My surmise of your Excellency's judgment was verified. Said I not
that the two Arnaouts were the fairest? And did I not behold your
Majesty gaze longest upon them?"

"I commend your taste, Tamlich," replied Mahomet. "But those two are
as unlike as a ruby and a pearl."

"But as fair as either, are they not? The chief hamamjina[86] declares
that the blue-eyed one has the most perfect form she ever saw; and
that it is a form which will improve with years. Morsinia Hanoum[87]
will be more fit for Paradise, while Elissa Hanoum may lose the grace
of the maiden as a matron. But the cherry is ripe for the plucking
now."

"I like the ruby better than the pearl," said the Sultan. "I cannot
quite fathom the deep eye of the latter. She thinks too much. I would
not have women think. They are to make us stop thinking. The problems
of state are sufficiently perplexing: I want no human problem in my
arms."

"But one who thinks may have some skill in affording amusement. Have I
not heard thee say, Sire, 'Blessed is the one who can invent a new
recreation?' That requires thinking."

"Right, Tamlich! can she sing?"

"Ay! your Majesty, to the Greek cythera; and such songs that, though
they know not a word of them--for the songs are in her own Arnaout
tongue--the odalisks all fall to weeping."

"I like not such singing," said Mahomet. "To make people think with
her thoughtful eyes is bad enough in a woman. To make them weep with
her voice is wicked, is Christian. I will give her away to some one
who wants a wife that thinks. There is Hamed Bey, one of the
muderris[88] who is to be put at the head of my new chain of
Ulemas.[89] He will want a wife who thinks; and his eyes are that
blind with dry study that it will do him good to weep. But who is the
woman? I think I saw her face in St. Sophia the day of our entry."

"She belonged to the house-hold of Phranza, the Chamberlain, who
possessed this very house," replied the eunuch. "And I think, from its
goodly size and decoration, he must have used the treasury of the
empire freely."

"To Phranza! Why, I have a daughter of his in the nursery at
Adrianople. His wife I have given to the Master of the Horse.[90] His
son I have this day sent to hell for his insolence. But she is an
Arnaout; therefore not of kin to Phranza. Search out her story,
Tamlich! For a member of the family of Phranza, and not of his blood,
may be of some political consequence. I will keep her. But get her
story, Tamlich, get her story!"

"I have it already, Sire," replied the eunuch.

"Ah!"

"She is a ward of Scanderbeg, the Arnaout traitor, sent to
Constantinople to escape the danger of capture by thine all-conquering
arms. But the bird fled from the fowler into the snare."

"Perhaps a child of Scanderbeg! Eh, Tamlich? One at least whose life
is of great value to him, and was to the Greek empire. I will inform
Scanderbeg that she is in my possession. By the dread of what may
happen to her I shall the easier force that ravening brute to make
terms; for I am tired of battering my sword against his rocks, trying
to prick his skin. Keep her close, Tamlich, keep her close!"

FOOTNOTES:

[84] Odalisk; the title of a childless inmate of the harem.

[85] Mother of the Sultan.

[86] Hamamjina; bath attendant.

[87] Hanoum; a title given to matrons.

[88] Muderris; professors in the high schools.

[89] Chain of Ulemas; a renowned system of colleges.

[90] Gibbon; Chapter LXVIII.



CHAPTER XLIV.


Late in the day the Sultan retired to a neighboring mansion, once
possessed by the Greek Grand Duke, Lucas Notaras, and there sought
relaxation from the incessant cares of the empire. The day had been
wearisome. Architects had submitted plans for the detailed
ornamentation of the new seraglio which was rising on the Byzantine
Point. One of the plans led to dispute between the Padishah and the
chief Mufti, the expounder of the Moslem law. It was occasioned thus.
The porphyry column[91] which stood hard by the palace of the Greek
emperors, had once served to hold aloft the bronze statue of Apollo, a
precious relic of ancient Greek mythology. This was afterward
reverenced by the people as the figure of the Emperor Constantine the
Great, or worshipped by them as that of Christ. An architect proposed
that the time-glorious shaft should now be surmounted by the colossal
statue of Mahomet II. The Mufti declared the project to be impious, as
tempting to idolatry, against which the Koran was so clear and
denunciatory, and also the Sounna or traditional sayings of the
Prophet. The Sultan's pride rebelled against this assumption of an
authority above his own. But the Sultan's superstitious regard for the
faith among the people, which led him to wash his hands and face
openly whenever he spoke with the architect, who was a Christian
engaged at great cost from Italy, also led him to fear to break with
the prescriptions and customs of his religion in this matter. He
contented himself with an oath that he had sooner lost the honor of a
campaign than the privilege of seeing himself represented as the
conqueror of both Constantine and Christ. Generals, too, had been in
council with him that day regarding the conduct of intrigues for the
possession of the Peloponnesus, and about the wars in Servia, Boznia
and Trebizond. Ill tidings had come from Albania, where Scanderbeg was
consuming the Turkish armies, as a great spider entraps in his webs
and at his leisure devours a swarm of hornets, which, could they have
free access to him, would instantly sting him to death. The messenger
who brought this news was rewarded by having hurled at his head an
immense vase of malachite, in the exertion of lifting which the
imperial wrath was sufficiently eased to allow of his turning to other
business. A plan for the reception of the inmates of the grand harem
at Adrianople, when they should be transported to the spacious
buildings being constructed for them in the seraglio, was also a
pleasing diversion, and led the Sultan to make the brief visit to the
fair ones at the house of Phranza, which has been described. But the
nettled spirit of the Padishah was far from subdued. He had during the
day given an order, the sequel to which we must relate, and which,
while it disturbed his conscience and flooded him at moments with the
sense of self-contempt, also inflamed his natural passion for cruelty.
He determined to drown the noble, and to satiate the the vicious,
craving by an hour or two of unrestrained debauch.

In the court of the house of the Grand Duke Notaras was spread the
royal banquet. Rarest viands were flanked by flagons of costliest
wines. Upon the momentary surprise of the steward when he received the
order to provide the wines, the monarch cried in a contemptuous tone:

"Ah! I know your thoughts. It is not according to the Koran that wine
should be drunk. But by the staff of Moses,[92] which they found in
the palace of the Cæsars yonder, I swear that Mahomet the Emperor
shall not yield to Mahomet the Prophet in everything. The Prophet made
laws to suit his own taste, so will I[93]. He can have Mecca and
Medina and Jerusalem; but I shall reign without him in my own palace
in Stamboul, which I have captured with my own hand. Bring the wine,
or I'll spill your black blood as a beverage to those in hell! It will
be sweet enough for your kin who are black with roasting. I will have
wine to-day! Cool it in all the snows from Mount Olympus yonder; for
my blood is as hot as if I were shod with fire; and my skull boils
like a pot."[94]

About the table were divans cushioned with down and covered with
yellow silk. The Padishah took his seat upon the highest cushion. By
his side stood the chief of the black eunuchs, splendidly[95] attired
in the waistcoat of flower embroidered brocade, tunic of scarlet,
flowing trousers, red turban, and half boots of bronzed leather. He
held a wand of silver covered with elegant tracery and topped in
filagree. As he waved this symbol of his office, there came from the
various doors opening into the court groups of the harem women. They
were draped in gauze, in the folds of which sparkled diamonds and
glowed the hues of precious stones selected by the taste of the chief
eunuch to set off the complexion and hair of their various wearers,
and at the same time to facilitate their grouping into sets of
dancers. The court was made radiant with these beautiful forms, which
moved in circles or in spirals about the fountains and under the
orange trees, whose white blossoms and golden fruit in simultaneous
fulness completed the picture for the eye, while their fragrance
loaded the air with its delicate delight.

The Kislar Aga had arranged a scene which especially pleased the
monarch, whose head was already swimming with the combined effect of
the mazy dance and the fumes of the wine. An attendant led into the
court, held partly by a strong leash and partly by the voice of his
trainer, a magnificent leopard. With utmost grace the beast leaped
over the ribboned wand, falling so softly to the ground that, though
of enormous weight, he would not seemingly have broken a twig had it
lain beneath his feet. In imitation of this, a eunuch led into the
court by a leash of roses a Circassian dancer, the gift of a
Caramanian prince. Her form was as free from the hindrances of dress
as that of her spotted competitor; except that a bright gem burned
upon her forehead, in the node which gathered a part of her hair;
while the abundance of her tresses was either held out on her snowy
arms, or fell about her as a veil almost to her feet. With a hundred
variations the girl repeated the motions of the leopard, leaping the
wands with equal grace as she came to them in the measures of the
dance.

The great brute had laid his head in the lap of his trainer, and was
watching his beautiful rival with apparent enjoyment; only now and
then uttering a low growl as if in jealousy, when the Bravo! of the
Sultan rewarded some especially fascinating movement. The girl came to
the side of the magnificent monster and dropped her long hair over his
head. The brute closed his eyes as if soothed by the wooing of the
maiden. Cautiously, but encouraged by the low voice of the trainer,
she placed her head upon the mottled and living pillow. A great paw
was thrown about her shoulder.

The Sultan was in ecstasy of applause, and shouted:

"A collar of gold for each of them!"

The girl attempted to rise, but her splendid lover seemed to have
become really enamored of the beautiful form he held. Her slightest
motion was answered by a growl; while the swaying of his tail
indicated that, as among human kind, so with the brutes, the softest
sentiments were to be guarded by those of a severer nature; that
baffled love must meet the avenging of cruel wrath. Like the affection
of some men, that of the leopard was limited to its own gratification,
and utterly regardless of the comfort of its object; for the fondness
of the brute was not such as to prevent his long nails protruding
through their velvet covering, and entering the bare flesh of the
girl. She quivered with pain, yet, at the quick warning of the
trainer, she made no outcry. The man drew from his pocket a small bit
of raw flesh, and diverted the eyes of the brute from the blood
streaming at each claw-puncture on the neck and bosom of his victim.
The leopard savagely snapped at the morsel, and, at the same instant
struck it with his paw, and leaped to seize it as it was hurled many
feet away. The girl as quickly darted to a safe distance. Attendants
instantly appeared and surrounded the beast with their spear points.
He crouched at the feet of the trainer, and whined in fear until he
was led out.

The girls then encircled the seat of the Sultan, and vied with one
another in the simulated attempt to throw over him a spell. Nor was
the attempt merely simulated, as each one displayed the utmost art of
beauty and manner to win from the half-drunken tyrant some token of
his favor.

When Elissa came near the Sultan, he bade her play with him as the
Circassian did with the leopard. He held her and exclaimed to the
others:

"Beware your leopard when he growls! but where is the other Arnaout? I
will have the pearl with the ruby of the harem! where is she, I say?
Did I not order you to bring all the odalisks to my feast?"

"From your Majesty's orders but lately, Sire, I supposed--" began the
eunuch.

"Supposed? You are to obey, not to suppose," cried the demented man,
slashing at him with the cimeter that lay at his feet.

"But she is not robed for the feast."

"Bring her as she is, and robe her here. You said that she was fairer
than this one. If she is not fairer than this one, the leopard's claws
will grip her, and the beast shall have your black body for his next
supper. Bring her!"

The eunuch soon returned with Morsinia. She wore a sombre feridjé, or
cloak completely enveloping the person. This she had on at the moment
she was summoned, and the eunuch obeyed literally the mandate of the
monarch to bring her as she was.

As she stood before the Sultan she appeared, in contrast with her half
naked and bejeweled sisters, like a prophetess; some female Elijah
before Ahab surrounded by his household of Jezebels. Throwing back the
yashmak, or long veil--the one Moslem costume she had very willingly
assumed after her captivity--she gazed upon the tyrant with a look of
amazed inquiry of his meaning in summoning her to such a place. The
sovereignty of her soul asserted and expressed itself in her noble
brow, her clear and steady eye, her dauntless bearing.

"Sire, I have obeyed," said she, making the obeisance which in form
was obsequious, but which she executed with such dignity that even the
dull wit of the reveller felt that she had not really humbled herself
before him by so much as the shadow of a thought.

"Disrobe her!" cried the monarch.

The woman stepped back, as if to avoid the contact of her person with
the black eunuch; but as suddenly threw off the feridjé herself. If
she had seemed a gloomy prophetess before, her appearance now would
have suggested to an ancient Greek the apparition of Pudicitia, the
goddess of modesty. Her gown of rich pearl-tinted cloth covered her
shoulders; and, though opened upon the bosom, it was to show only the
thick folds of white lace which embraced the throat in a ruffle, and
was clasped with a single gem--a cameo presented to her by the Greek
Emperor.

The bearing of the woman gave a temporary check to the abominable rage
of the royal wretch, and recalled him to his better judgment. For it
was a peculiarity of Mahomet that no passion or debauch could
completely divert him from carrying out any plan he had devised
pertaining to his imperial ambition. As certain musicians perform
without the sacrifice of a note the most difficult pieces, when too
drunk to hold a goblet steadily to their lips, and as certain noted
generals have staggered through the battle without the slightest
strategic mistake, so Mahomet never lost sight of a political or
military purpose he had formed. While sleeping and waking, in the
wildest revelry and in the privacy of his unspeakable sensuality, that
project blazed before him like a strong fire-light through the haze.

"Take her away! Take her away!" said he to the eunuch, recollecting
his purpose of using her in his negotiations with Scanderbeg; and
covering his retreat from his original command by the remark, "She is
the woman who thinks, I want none such to put her head against my
heart. She might discover my thoughts; and by the secrets of Allah!
if a hair of my beard knew one of my thoughts I would pluck it out and
burn it."[96]

As Morsinia withdrew, a eunuch approached and whispered to the Sultan.

"Ah! it is good! good!" cried the Monarch. "My Lord, the Grand Duke
Notaras, will revisit his mansion. For him we have provided a feast
such as his master Palæologus never gave him. Ah! my lovely Arnaout
shall sit at my right hand--for the queen of beauty has precedence
to-day," said he, addressing Elissa. "And the Egyptian shall make me
merry with the music of her voice, which I doubt not is sweeter than
the strains of her native Memnon. And, Tamlich, you shall do me the
honor of representing the king of Nubia, and lie there opposite."

The eunuch stood bewildered; for never before had a Moslem proposed to
introduce into his harem the person of any man, as now the Duke of
Notaras was to look upon the beauties who should be reserved solely
for the feasting of the Padishah's eyes.

Mahomet, knowing his thoughts, bade him obey, and cried,

"Let the fair houris veil their faces with their blushes. Bring in
Notaras!"

Three blacks entered, each bearing a great salver, on which was a
covered dish of gold.

"To Tamlich I demit the honors of the board," said he, waving the
foremost waiter toward the eunuch, whose face almost blanched at the
strange turn affairs were taking, or perhaps with the suspicion that
to-morrow his head would fall from his shoulders as the penalty of
having witnessed the Padishah disgrace himself.

The attendants placed the dishes before the eunuch and the two favored
beauties. The covers removed revealed the ghastly sight of three human
heads, their unclosed eyes staring upward from their distorted faces
and gory locks. The eunuch leaped from the divan. The women fell back
shrieking and fainting. They were the heads of the Grand Duke Notaras
and his two children.

Well did the Sultan need the strong diversion of the drunken revelry
to drown the thoughts of what he knew to be transpiring at the hour.
In spite of his royal word to the distinguished captive who had made
his submission absolute, except to the extent of seeing his children
dishonored to the vilest purposes, Mahomet had ordered that Notaras
should be beheaded at the Hippodrome, having been first compelled to
witness the decapitation of his family.

Even Mahomet was sobered by the horrid ghoulism he had devised, and
dismissed the terror-stricken revelers with a volley of curses.

FOOTNOTES:

[91] Porphyry column; now the famous Burnt Column.

[92] Staff of Moses; one of the relics held sacred by the Greeks at
the time.

[93] Gibbon's statement of Mahomet II's. opinion.

[94] Punishment of those in hell, according to Koran.

[95] See effigy in the museum of the Elbicei-Atika at Constantinople.

[96] A similar remark was made afterward by Mahomet II. to a chief
officer who asked him his plans for a certain campaign.



CHAPTER XLV.


The courage of Morsinia when she appeared before Mahomet had been
stimulated by an event which occurred a little before her summons.

She was sitting by the latticed window in the house of Phranza. It
overlooked the wall surrounding the garden, which on that side was a
narrow enclosure. This had been her favorite resort in brighter days.
From it she could see what passed in the broad highway beyond, while
the close latticed woodwork prevented her being seen by those without.
While musing there she was strangely attracted by an officer who
frequently passed. His shape and stature reminded her strongly of
Constantine. As he turned his face toward the mansion the features
seemed identical with those of her foster brother. Recovering from the
stroke of surprise this apparition gave her, Morsinia rubbed her eyes
to make sure she was not dreaming, and looked again. He was in
conversation with another. It could not be Constantine, for, aside
from the general belief in Constantine's death before the termination
of the siege, this person was saluted with great reverence by the
soldiers who passed by, and approached with familiarity by other
officers of rank.

The sight brought into vivid conviction what had long been her day
dream, namely, that Michael, her childhood playmate, might be living,
and if so, would probably be among the Turkish soldiers; for his
goodly physique and talent, displayed as a lad, would certainly have
been cultivated by his captors. She now felt certain of her theory. So
strong was the impression, and so active and exciting her thoughts as
she endeavored to devise a way by which the discovery might be
utilized to the advantage of both, that even the loathsome splendor of
the Sultan's garden party, had not impressed her as it otherwise would
have done.

For several days after she was almost oblivious to the monotony of the
harem life; so busy was she with her new problem. She determined that,
at any cost, she would bring herself into communication with the
officer, and, if her theory should be confirmed, declare herself, and
boldly propose that he should rescue her. For she could not conceive
that, however much he had become accustomed to Turkish life, he had
lost all yearning for his liberty and all impression of his Christian
faith.

But how could she convey any intelligence to him? Except through the
eunuchs, the inmates of the harem had little communication with the
outer world. The customs of life there were as inflexible as the
walls.

To her natural ingenuity, now so quickened by necessity and hope,
there at length appeared an end thread of the tangle. The women of the
harem relieved the tedium of their existence by making various
articles, the construction of which might not mar the delicacy of
their fingers; such as needlework upon their own clothing, coverings
for cushions, curtains, tapestried hangings, spreads for couches,
cases in which the Koran could be kept so that even when being read
it need not be touched by the fingers, bags of scented powders, and
the like. Many of these articles were disposed of at the bazaars of
the city, and the proceeds spent by the odalisks at their own caprice;
generally for confections and gew-gaws. At the time there was quite a
demand for articles made in the harem. Many thousands of Moslems had
been imported from Asia Minor to take the place of the rapidly
disappearing Greek population. Large stores of articles were sent from
the great harem at Adrianople, and sold for fabulous prices in the
bazaars of Stamboul, as the new capital was called by the Turks. The
agents for the sale of these things were generally the female
attendants at the harem, who had free association with the bazaar
keepers. Sometimes these women sold directly to the individual
purchasers without going to the trade places. An officer or young
citizen was often inveigled into buying, and paying exorbitant prices
too, on hearing that some odalisk had set longing eyes upon him, and
wrought the purse or belt, the dagger-sheath or embroidered jacket, as
a special evidence of her favor. Many were the stories which the
gallants of the city and garrison were accustomed to tell, as they
displayed their purchases, about nocturnal adventures, in which they
were guided only by a pair of bright eyes, and of favors received from
beauties whose names, of course, prudence forbade them to mention. All
the traditions of lovers, romances of moon-shadowed grottoes, and all
the stories of castles with the thread at the window, that have been
told from the beginning of the world, had their counterpart in those
the swains of Stamboul told about the Sultan's earthly paradise at
Adrianople, or those which, in their amatory bantering, they had made
to cluster about the villa of the late Phranza at the new capital.

An old woman, who, formerly a servant in the harem, had been given by
the Validé Sultana, the mother of Amurath, to a subaltern officer as
wife, but had long been a widow, was permitted freely to enter the
haremlik, and engaged as a convenient broker between those within and
those without. One day Morsinia, in giving her some of her handiwork
for sale, held up an elegant case of silk containing several little
crystals, or phials, of atar of roses.

"Kala-Hanoum, do you know the young Captain Ballaban?"

"Ay, the Knight of the Golden Horn?" asked the woman.

"And why do they call him that?"

"Because," she replied, "his head glows like one, I suppose."

"Yes, he is the man--Well! find him--Tell him any story you please
about my beauty."

"I need not invent one; I must only tell the truth to bewitch him,"
replied the old dame, with real fondness and admiration. "But that
will be difficult. I can invent a lie better than describe the truth,
unless you help me."

"Well," said Morsinia, "tell him as much truth about my appearance as
you can, and invent the rest. Tell him--let me see--that my eyes are
as bright as the stars that shine above the Balkans."

"Do they shine there more brilliantly than here where they make their
toilet in the Bosphorus?" asked the woman.

"Oh! yes," said Morsinia, "for the air is clearest there of any place
on the earth. Tell him, too, that my teeth are as white as the snows
that lie in the pass of Slatiza."

"Where is that?" queried the messenger.

"Oh! it is a grotto I have heard of, that lies very high up toward the
sky, where the snows are unsoiled by passing through the clouds,
which, you know, always tints them. And then tell him that altogether
I am as queenly as--as--well! as the wonderful Elizabeth Morsiney, the
bride of the Christian king Sigismund."

"Elizabeth Morsiney? yes, I will remember that name, if some day you
will tell me her story."

"That I will," said Morsinia. "And tell the young officer that the
odalisk who made this lovely case has dreamed of him ever since she
was a child."

"He cannot resist that," said the woman.

"But you must sell it to no one else. And see this elegant sash of
cashmere! I will give it to you to sell on your own account, Hanoum,
if you bring me some sure evidence that he has bought the case of
perfume. And be sure to tell him that just when the sun is setting he
must go somewhere alone, and look at the sun through each of the
little phials, and he may see the face of her who sent them; for you
know that a true lover can always see the one who sends a phial of
atar of roses in the sun glints from its sides. And when you bring me
evidence that he has bought it, then, good Kala, you shall have the
sash of cashmere." The old woman's cupidity hastened her feet upon
her errand.



CHAPTER XLVI.


"Peace be with thee!" said the old woman, dropping a low courtesy to
the officer, as he walked near the new buildings of the seraglio.

"Peace be unto _thee_, and the mercy of God and His blessing,[97] good
woman!" replied the soldier; but waving his hand, added kindly, "I
have no need of your harem trumpery."

"But see this!" said she, showing the elegant case of perfumery. "This
holds the essence of the flowers of paradise."

"Go along, old mother! I would have no taste for it if it contained
the sweat of the houris."[98]

"But this case was made especially for you, Captain Ballaban."

"Or for any other man whose purse will buy it," replied he, moving
away.

The woman followed closely, chattering into his deaf ears.

"But, could you see her that made it, you would not decline to buy,
though you gave for it half the gold you found in the coffers of the
rich Greeks the day your valor won the city, brave Captain; and the
cost of it is but a lira;[99] and the maiden is dying of love for
you."

"Then why does she not give it to me as a present? Love asks no
price," said he, just turning his head.

"That she would, but for fear of offending your honor by slighting
your purse," said the quick-witted woman.

"Well said, mother! I warrant that the Beyler Bey, or the noble
Kaikji,[100] who made love to you never got you for nothing."

"Indeed, no! He paid the Validé Sultana ten provinces, and a brass
buckle besides, to prevent her giving me to Timour; who took it so
hard that he would have broken his heart, but that the grief went the
wrong way and cracked his legs, and so they call him Timour-lenk. That
was the reason he made war on the Ottomans. It was all out of jealousy
for me," said she, making a low and mock courtesy. "But if you could
see the beautiful odalisk who made this! Her form is as stately as the
dome of St. Sophia."

"She's too big and squatty, if she's like that," laughed the officer.

"Her face glows in complexion like the mother of pearl," went on the
enthusiastic saleswoman.

"Too hard of cheek!" sneered the other. "Even yours, Hanoum, is not so
hard as mother of pearl."

"A neck like alabaster----"

"Cold! too cold! I would as soon think of making love to a
gravestone," was the officer's comment.

"And such melting lips----"

"Yes, with blisters! I tell you, old Hanoum, I'm woman proof. Go
away!"

"And her eyes shine through her long lashes like the stars through the
fir trees on the Balkans."

"Tut! Woman, you never saw the stars shine on the Balkans. They do
shine there, though, like the very eyes of Allah. A woman with such
eyes would frighten the Padishah himself."

Kala Hanoum took courage at this first evidence of interest on the
part of the officer, and plied her advantage.

"And her teeth are as white as the snows in the grotto of Slatiza--"

"The grotto of Slatiza? You mean some bear's cave. But the snows are
white there, whiter and purer than anywhere else on earth, except as I
once saw them, so red with blood, there in the Pass of Slatiza. But
how know you of Slatiza, my good woman?"

"And altogether she is as fair as the bride of Sigismund of Hungary,"
said Kala, without regarding his question.

"And who was she, Hanoum?" asked the man, with curiosity fully
aroused.

"Why, Elizabeth Morsiney, of course."

The officer turned fully toward the woman, and scanned closely her
features as if to discover something familiar. Was there not some hint
to be picked from these words?

"Hanoum, who told you to say that?"

The woman in turn studied his face before she replied. She would
learn whether the allusions had excited a pleasant interest, or roused
antagonism in him. It required but a moment for her to discover that
Morsinia had given her some clue that the man would willingly follow,
so she boldly replied:

"The odalisk herself has talked to me of these things."

"The odalisk! What is she like?" said he eagerly. "Describe her to
me."

"Why, I have been describing her for this half-hour; but you would not
listen. So I will go off and do my next errand."

The woman turned away, but, as she intended it should be, the officer
was now in the attitude of the beggar.

"Hold, Hanoum, I will buy your perfume--But tell me what she is like
in plain words. Is she of light hair?"

"Ay, as if she washed it in the sunshine and dried it in the
moonlight, and as glossy as the beams of both."

"Think you she belonged to Stamboul before the siege?"

"Ay, and to the great Scanderbeg before that."

The officer was bewildered and stood thinking, until Kala interrupted
him.

"But you said you would buy it, Captain."

"Did I? Well, take your lira."

As the woman took the piece of money she added: "And don't forget that
the odalisk said she had dreamed of you since she was a child, and
that at sunset if you looked through the phials you would see her
face."

"Nonsense, woman!"

"But try it, Sire, and maybe the noble Captain would send something to
the beautiful odalisk?"

"Yes, when I see her in the phial I will send her myself as her
slave."

The man thrust the silken case into the deep pocket of his flowing
vest and went away.

Then began a struggle in Captain Ballaban. Since the capture of the
fair girl by the altar of St. Sophia, he had been unable to efface the
remembrance of her. She stood before him in his dreams: sometimes just
falling beneath the dagger; sometimes in the splendor which he
imagined to surround her in the harem; often in mute appeal to him to
save her from the nameless horrors which her cry indicated that she
dreaded. When waking, his mind was often distracted by thoughts of
her. The presence of the Sultan lost its charm, for he had come to
look upon him as her owner, and to feel himself in some way despoiled.
He was losing his ambition for distant service, and found himself
often loitering in the vicinity of the Phranza palace.

This feeling which, perhaps, is experienced by most men, at least once
in life, as the spell of a fair face is thrown over them, was
associated with a deeper and more serious one in Captain Ballaban.

From the day of her capture until now he had felt almost confident of
her identity with his little playmate in the mountain home. She thus
linked together his earliest and later life; and, as he thought of
her, he thought of the contrast in himself then and now. The things
he used to muse about when a child, his feelings then, his purposes,
his religious faith, all came back to him, and with a strange strength
and fascination. He began to realize that, though he was an enthusiast
for both the Moslem belief and the service of the Ottoman, yet he had
become such, not in his own free choice, but by the overpowering will
of others. At heart he rebelled, while he could not say that he had
come to disbelieve a word of the Koran, and was not willing to harbor
a purpose against the sovereignty of the Padishah. Still he was
compelled to confess to himself that, if the fair woman were indeed
his old play-mate, and there was open a way by which he could release
her from her captivity, he would risk so much of disloyalty to the
Sultan as the attempt should require. Indeed, he argued to himself
that, except in the mere form of it, it would not be disloyalty; for
what did Mahomet care for one woman more or less in his harem? And was
this woman not, after all, more his property than she was that of the
Padishah? He had captured her; perhaps twice; and had saved her life
in St. Sophia, for only his hand caught her dagger. She was his!

Then he became fond of indulging a day dream. The Sultan sometimes
gave the odalisks to his favorite pashas and servants. What if this
one should be given to him?

He had gone so far as once to say in response to the Sultan, who
twitted him for being in love, that he imagined such to be the case,
and only needed the choice of His Majesty to locate the passion. But
he did not dare to be more specific, lest he might run across some
caprice of the Sultan; for he felt sure that so beautiful an odalisk
as his captive would not long be without the royal attention.

Old Kala Hanoum's information regarding the fair odalisk allayed the
turmoil in Ballaban's breast, in that it gave certainty to his former
suspicions. For her words about the stars above the Balkans, the snows
of Slatiza, and Elizabeth Morsiney, were not accidental. He had no
doubt that the Albanian odalisk was the little lady to whom he once
made love in the bowers of blackberry bushes, and vowed to defend like
a true knight, waving his wooden sword over the head of the goat he
rode as a steed. In the midst of such thoughts and emotions, Captain
Ballaban awoke to full self-consciousness, and said to himself----

"I am in love! But I am a fool! For a man with ambition must never be
in love, except with himself. Besides, this woman I love is perhaps
half in my imagination; for I never yet caught a full view of her
face. As for her being my little Morsinia--Illusion! No! this is no
illusion! But what if she be the same! Captain Ballaban, are you going
to be a soldier, or a lover? Take your choice; for you can't be both,
at least not an Ottoman soldier and a lover of a Christian girl."

Rubbing his hand through his red hair, as if to pull out these
fantasies, he strode down to the water's edge, and, tossing a Kaikji a
few piasters, was in a moment darting like an arrow across the
harbor;--a customary way the captain had of getting rid of any
vexation. The cool evening breeze wooed the over-thoughtfulness from
his brain, or he spurted it out through his muscles into the oar
blades, which dropped it into the water of oblivion.

He was scarcely aware that he was becoming more tranquil, when a quick
cry of a boat keeper showed that he had almost run down the old tower
of white marble which rises from a rocky islet, just away from the
mainland on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus.

"Kiss-Koulessi, the Maiden's Tower, this," he muttered. "Well, I have
fled from the fortress of one maiden to run against that of another.
Fate is against me. Perhaps I had better submit. Why not? Wasn't
Charis a valiant general of the old Greeks, who sent him here, once on
a time, to help the Byzantines? Well! He had a wife, the fair
Boiidion, the 'heifer-eyed maiden.' And here she lies beneath this
tower. The world would have forgotten General Charis, but for his wife
Damalis, whom they have remembered these two thousand years. A wife
_may_ be the making of a man's fame. If the Sultan would give me my
pick of the odalisks I think I would venture."

These thoughts were not interrupted, only supplemented, by the sun's
rays, now nearly horizontal, as striking the water far up the harbor
of Stamboul, they poured over it and made it seem indeed a Golden
Horn, the open end of which extended into the Bosphorus. The ruddy
glow tipped the dome of St. Sophia as with fire; transformed the gray
walls of the Genoese tower at Galata into a huge porphyry column,
sparkling with a million crystals; and made the white marble of the
Maiden's Tower blush like the neck of a living maiden, when kissed
for the first time by the hot lips of her lover.

So the Captain thought: and was reminded to inspect the silken
treasure he had purchased. He would look through the phials, as--who
knows--he might see the face of her who sent them. If looking at the
red orb of the sun, just for an instant, made his eyes see a hundred
sombre suns dancing along the sky, it would not be strange if his long
meditation upon a certain radiant maiden should enable him to see her,
at least in one shadowy reproduction of his inner vision.

He drew the silken case from his pocket. It was wrought with real
skill, and worth the lira, even if it had contained nothing, and meant
nothing. The little phials were held up one by one, and divided the
sun's beams into prismatic hues as they passed through the twisted
glass. In each was a drop or two of sweet essence, like an imprisoned
soul, waiting to be released, that it might fly far and wide and
distill its perfume as a secret blessing.

"But this one is imperfect," muttered the Captain, as he held up a
phial that was nearly opaque. It was larger than the others, and
contained a tightly wrapped piece of paper. "The clue!" said he, and,
after a moment's hesitation, broke the phial. Unwinding the paper, he
read:

"You are Michael, son of Milosch. I am Morsinia, child of
Kabilovitsch. For the love of Jesu! save me from this hell. We can
communicate by this means."

It was a long row that Captain Ballaban took that night upon the
Bosphorus. Yet he went not far, but back and forth around the new
seraglio point, scarcely out of sight of the clear-cut outline of the
Phranza Palace, as it stood out against the sky above the ordinary
dwellings of the city. The dawn began to peer over the hills back of
Chalcedon, and to send its scouts of ruddy light down the side of Mt.
Olympus, when he landed. But the length of the night to him could not
be measured by hours. He had lived over again ten years. He had gone
through a battle which tired his soul as it had never been tired under
the flashing of steel and the roar of culverin. Only once before,
when, as a mere child he was conquered by the terrors of the
Janizaries' discipline, had he suffered so intensely. Yet the battle
was an undecided one. He staggered up the hill from the landing to the
barracks with the cry of conflict ringing through his soul. "What
shall I do?" On the one side were the habit of loyalty, his oath of
devotion to the Padishah, all his earthly ambition which blazed with
splendors just before him--for he was the favorite of both the Sultan
and the soldiers--and all that the education of his riper years had
led him to hope for in another world. On the other side were this new
passion of love which he could no longer laugh down, and the appeal of
a helpless fellow creature for rescue from what he knew was injustice,
cruelty and degradation;--the first personal appeal a human being had
ever made to him, and he the only human being to whom she could
appeal. To heed this cry of Morsinia he knew would be treason to his
outward and sworn loyalty. To refuse to heed it he felt would be
treason to his manhood. What could he do? Neither force was
preponderating.

The battle wavered.

What did he do? What most people do in such circumstances--he
temporized: said, "I will do nothing to-day." Like a genuine Turk he
grunted to himself, "Bacaloum!" "We shall see!"

But though he arranged and ordered an armistice between his contending
thoughts, there was no real cessation of hostilities. Arguments
battered against arguments. Feelings of the gentler sort mined
incessantly beneath those which he would have called the braver and
more manly. And the latter counter-mined: loyalty against love:
ambition against pity.

But all the time the gentler ones were gaining strength. On their side
was the advantage of a definite picture--a lovely face; of an
immediate and tangible project--the rescue of an individual. The
danger of the enterprise weighed nothing with him, or, at least, it
was counter-balanced by the inspiriting anticipation of an adventure,
an exploit:--the very hazard rather fascinating than repelling. Yet he
had not decided.

FOOTNOTES:

[97] Koran, Chapter IV. "When you are saluted with a salutation,
salute the person with a better salutation, or at least return the
same."

[98] According to the Koran the houris perspire musk.

[99] About an English pound sterling.

[100] Kaikji; a common boatman.



CHAPTER XLVII.


Captain Ballaban was summoned by the Sultan.

"Well, comrade," said Mahomet, familiarly throwing his arm about his
friend, much to the disgust of the Capee Aga, the master of
ceremonies, through whom alone it was the custom of the Sultans to be
approached.

"Well! comrade, I gave a necklace worth a thousand liras to a girl who
pleased me in the harem."

"Happy girl, to have pleased your Majesty. That was better than the
necklace," replied Ballaban.

"Think you so? Let me look you through and through. Think you there is
nothing better in this world than to please the Padishah? Ah! it is
worth a kingdom to hear that from a man like you, Ballaban. Women say
it; but they can do nothing for me. They dissipate my thoughts with
their pleasuring me. They make me weak. I have a mind to abolish the
whole harem. But to have a man, a strong man, a man with a head to
plot for empire and to marshal armies, a man with an arm like thine to
make love to me! Ah, that is glorious, comrade. But let me make no
mistake about it. You love me? Do you really think no gold, no honors,
could give you so much pleasure as pleasing me? Swear it! and by the
throne of Allah! I will swear that you shall share my empire. But to
business!" dropping his voice, and in the instant becoming apparently
forgetful of his enthusiasm for his friend.

"We make a campaign against Belgrade. I must go in person. Yet
Scanderbeg holds out in Albania. It is useless meeting him in his
stronghold. You cannot fight a lion by crawling into his den. He must
be trapped. Work out a plan."

"I have one which may be fruitful," instantly replied Captain
Ballaban.

"Ah! so quick?"

"No, of long hatching, Sire. I made it in my first campaign in Albania
with your royal father. The young Voivode Amesa is nephew to
Scanderbeg. He is restless under the authority of the great general:
has committed some crime which, if known, would bring him to ruin: is
popular with the people of the north."

"Capital!" said Mahomet eagerly. "I see it all. Work it out! Work it
out! He may have anything, if only Scanderbeg can be put out of the
way, and the country be under our suzerainty. Work it out! And the
suzerain revenues shall all be yours; for by the bones of Othman!
there is not a province too great for you if only you can settle
affairs among the Arnaouts.

"And now a gift! I will send you the very queen of the harem."

"My thanks, Padishah, but I----" began Ballaban, when he was cut short
by the Sultan.

"Not a word! not a word! I know you decline to practice the softer
virtues, and prefer to live like a Greek monk. But you must take her.
If you like her not, drown her. But you shall like her. By the dimple
in the chin of Ayesha! she is the most perfect woman in the empire."

"But," interposed Ballaban, "I am a Janizary, and it is not permitted
a Janizary to marry."

"A fig for what is permitted! When the Padishah gives, he grants
permission to enjoy his gifts. Besides, you need not marry. You can
own her; sell her if you don't like her. But you must take her."

"Of what nation is she? Perhaps I could not understand her tongue,"
objected Ballaban.

"So much the better," said Mahomet. "Women are not made to talk. But
this woman is an Arnaout, from Scanderbeg's country."

Captain Ballaban could scarcely believe his ears.

This then is Morsinia! To have her, to save her without breach of
loyalty! This was too much. With strangely fluttering heart he
acquiesced, and his thanks were drawn from the bottom of his soul.

The next day he sought Kala Hanoum, and sent by her to Morsinia a gem
enclosed in a pretty casket, with which was a note, reading,--

"It shall be so. Patience for a few days, and our hearts shall be made
glad."

How strangely Fate had planned for him! It must have been Fate; for
only powers supernal could have made the gift of the Padishah so
fitting to his heart. No chance this! His secret passion, unbreathed
to any ear on earth, had been a prayer heard in heaven!

Ballaban was now an undoubting Moslem that he found Kismet on the side
of his inclinations. He belonged to Islâm, the Holy Resignation;
resigned to the will of Providence, since Providence seemed just now
to have resigned itself to his will. He was surprised at the ecstatic
character his piety was taking on. He could have become a dervish:
indeed his head was already whirling with the intoxication of his
prospects.

Captain Ballaban, like a good Moslem, went to the Mosque. He made his
prayer toward the Mihrab; but his eyes and thoughts wandered to the
spot at the side of it, where he had saved the life of Morsinia; and
he thanked Allah with full soul that he had been allowed to save her
for himself.

The Padishah, the following day, bade Ballaban repair to a house in
the city, and be in readiness to receive the gift of heaven and of his
own imperial grace. On reaching the place an elderly woman--the
Koulavous, an inevitable attendant upon marriages--conducted him
through the selamlik and mabeyn to the haremlik of the house. The
bride or slave, as he pleased to take her, rose from the divan to meet
him. Though her thick veil completely enveloped her person, it could
not conceal her superb form and marvellous grace. His hand trembled
with the agitation of his delight as he exercised the authority of a
husband or master, and reverently raised the veil.

He stood as one paralyzed in amazement. She was not Morsinia. She was
Elissa!

He dropped the veil.

Strange spirits seemed to breathe themselves in succession through his
frame.

First came the demon of disappointment, checking his blood, stifling
him. Not that any other mortal knew of his shattered hopes; but it was
enough that he knew them. And with the consciousness of defeat, a
horrible chagrin bit and tore his heart, as if it had been some dragon
with teeth and claws.

Then came the demon of rage; wild rage; wanting to howl out its fury.
He might have smitten the veiled form, had not the latter, overcome by
her bewilderment and the scorn of him she supposed to have been a
lover, already fallen fainting at his feet.

Then rose in Ballaban's breast the demon of vengeance against the
Sultan. Had Mahomet been present he surely had felt the steel of the
outraged man. Only the habit of self-control and quiet review of his
own passions prevented his seeking the Padishah, and taking instant
vengeance in his blood.

Then there came into him a great demon of impiety, and breathed a
curse against Allah himself through his lips.

But finally a new spirit hissed into his ears. It was Nemesis. He felt
that this was the moment when a just retribution had returned upon
himself. For he well knew the face that lay weeping beneath the heap
of bejewelled lace and silk. It was that of the Dodola, whom he had
flung into the arms of the Albanian Voivode Amesa when he was awaiting
the embrace of some more princely maiden. And now the sarcasm of fate
had thrown her into his arms.

"Allah! Thou wast even with me this time," he confessed back of his
clenched teeth.

"But doubtless," he thought, "it was through the information I gave to
the Aga that this girl has been stolen away from Amesa."

"Would that heaven rid me of her so easily!" he muttered. "Yet that is
easy; thanks to our Moslem law, which says, 'Thou mayest either retain
thy wife with humanity or dismiss her with kindness.'[101] Yet I
cannot dismiss her with kindness. She can not go back to the royal
harem. If I dismiss her I harm her, and Allah's curse will be fatal
if I wrong this creature again--to say nothing of the Padishah's if I
throw away his gift. I must keep her. Well! Bacaloum! Bacaloum! It is
not so bad a thing after all to have a woman like that for one's
slave; for a wife without one's heart is but a slave. Well!" He raised
the veil again from the now sitting woman.

The mutually stupid gaze carried them both through several years which
had passed since they had parted at Amesa's castle.

Elissa was easily induced to tell her story. Assuming that it might be
already known to her new lord, she gave it correctly; and therefore it
differed substantially from that she had told to Morsinia. She had
been but a few days in Amesa's home when he discovered that she was
not the person he had presumed her to be. In an outburst of rage he
would have taken her life, but was led by an old priest to adopt a
more merciful method of ridding himself of her. To have returned her
to the village above the Skadar would have filled the country with the
scandal, and made Amesa the laughing stock of all. She was therefore
sent within the Turkish lines, with the certainty of finding her way
to some far-distant country. Her beauty saved her from a common fate,
and she was sent as a gift to the young Padishah by an old general,
into whose hands she had fallen.

Ballaban assured the woman of his protection, and also that the time
would come when he would compensate her for any grief she had endured
through his fault. In the meantime she was retained in the luxurious
comfort of her new abode.

FOOTNOTE:

[101] Koran, Chap. II.



CHAPTER XLVIII.


Captain Ballaban was almost constantly engaged at the new seraglio. It
was being constructed not only with an eye to its imposing appearance
from without and its beauty within, such as befitted both its splendid
site between the waters and the splendor of the monarch whose palace
it was to be; but also with a view to its easy defence in case of
assault. Upon the young officer devolved the duty of scrutinizing
every line and layer that went into the various structures.

He was especially interested in the side entrances, and communications
between the various departments of the seraglio. He gave orders for a
change to be made in the line of a partition and corridor, and also
for a slight variation in the position of a gateway in the walls
dividing the mabeyn[102] court from that of the haremlik. Just why
these changes were made, perhaps the architects themselves could not
have told; nor were they interested to enquire, supposing that they
were made at the royal will. Ballaban was disposed to indulge a little
his own fancy. If there was to be a broad entrance for public display,
and then a narrow passage for the Sultan only, why not have a way
through which he could imagine a fair odalisk fleeing from insult and
torture into the arms of--himself? But Ballaban's face grew pale as he
watched the completion of a sluice way leading from a little chamber,
down through the sea wall, to meet the rapid current of the Bosphorus.
He remembered the declaration of the Padishah, that, if ever an
odalisk were unfaithful to him, she should be sewn into a bag,
together with a cat and a snake, and drowned in Marmora.[103]

In the meantime old Kala Hanoum was amazed at the number of articles
of Morsinia's handiwork she was able to induce the young captain to
purchase. Indeed, he never refused. And quite frequently she was the
bearer of gifts, generally confections, sometimes little rolls of silk
suitable for embroidery with colored threads or beads, accompanied by
the name of some fellow officer of the Janizaries from whom apparently
an order for work was given; the Captain acting as an agent in a sort
of co-partnership with Kala. Of course this was only secret mail
service between Ballaban and the odalisk. If Kala suspected it, her
commissions were so largely remunerative that she silenced the thought
of any thing but legitimate business.

Ballaban devised plans for her escape which Morsinia found it
impracticable to execute from her side of the harem wall; and her
shrewdest suggestions were pronounced equally unsafe by the strategist
without. Ballaban had caught glimpses of Morsinia while loitering
among the trees at the upper end of the Golden Horn, by the Sweet
Waters, where the ladies of the harem were taken by the eunuchs on
almost weekly excursions. He had proposed to have in readiness two
horses, that, if she should break from the attendants, they might flee
together. But before this could be accomplished, the excursions were
discontinued, as the attention of all was turned to a new pleasure.

The grand haremlik was at length completed. Perhaps no place on earth
was so suggestive of indolent and sensual pleasure as this. There were
luxurious divans, multiplying mirrors, baths of tempered water,
fountains in which perfumes could be scattered with the spray, broad
spaces for the dance, half hidden alcoves for the indulgence in that
which shamed the more public eye, and gardens in which Araby competed
with Africa in the display of exotic fruits and flowers.

A day was set for the reception of the grand harem from
Adrianople--which contained nearly a thousand of the most beautiful
women in the world--into this new paradise. The Kislar Aga had
arranged a pageant of especial magnificence, which could be witnessed
by the people at a distance. Two score barges, elegantly decorated,
rowed by eunuchs, their decks covered with divans, were to receive the
odalisks from Adrianople at the extreme inner point of the seraglio
water front on the Golden Horn. The Validé Sultana's barge was to lead
the procession, which should float to the cadences of music far out
into the harbor. At the same time, the Sultan in his kaik, and the
women of the temporary haremlik, each propelling a light skiff
decorated with flags and streamers, were to move from the extreme
outer point of the seraglio grounds, until the two fleets should
meet, when, amid salvos of artillery from the shores, the odalisks
with the Sultan were to turn about and lead their sisters to the water
gate of the haremlik. Orders were given forbidding the people to
appear upon the water, or upon the shores within distance to see
distinctly the faces of the ladies of the harem.

Every evening at sundown a patrol of eunuchs made a cordon of boats a
few hundred yards from the shore, within which, screened by distance
from the eyes of common men, the odalisks went into training for the
great regatta. The Padishah, sitting in his barge, encouraged their
rivalry by gifts for dexterity in managing the little boats, for
picturesqueness of dress and for grace of movement, as with bared arms
and streaming tresses, they propelled the kaiks.

Morsinia found herself one of the most dexterous in handling the oars.
The free life of her childhood on the Balkans and among the peasants
of upper Albania, had developed muscle which this new exercise soon
brought into unusual efficiency. She observed that the attendant
eunuchs were deficient in this kind of strength, and had no doubt
that, with her own light weight, she could drive the almost
imponderable kaik swifter than any of them.

The young Egyptian woman was her only competitor for the honor of
leading the fleet on the day of the regatta. To add to the interest of
the training, Mahomet ordered that the two should race for the honor
of being High Admiral of the harem fleet; and one evening announced
that the competitive trial should take place the next afternoon. The
course was fixed for a half mile, just inside of Seraglio Point,
where the waters of the harbor are still, unvexed by the rapid current
which pours along the channel of the Bosphorus. The flag-boat was to
be anchored almost at the meeting of the inner and outer waters.

That night Morsinia wrote a note containing these words--

     "About dusk just below the Seven Towers watch for kaik.

     MORSINIA."

Kala Hanoum was commissioned early the following morning to deliver a
pretty little sash, wrought with stars and crescents, to Captain
Ballaban. Morsinia was careful to show Kala the scarf, and dilate upon
the peculiar beauty of the work until the woman's curiosity should be
fully satisfied; thus making sure that she would not be tempted to
inspect it for herself. She then wrapped the note carefully within the
scarf, and tied it strongly with a silken cord.

Old Kala had a busy day before her, with a dozen other commissions to
discharge. But fortune favored her in the early discovery of the well
known shape of the Captain in ordinary citizen's dress, as he was
engaged in eager conversation with the Greek monk, Gennadius, whom the
Sultan had allowed to superintend the worship of the Christians still
resident in the city. Indeed Mahomet was wise enough to even pension
some of the Greek clergy to keep up the establishment of their faith;
for he feared to antagonize the millions in the provinces of Greece
who could not be persuaded to embrace Islam; and was content to exact
from them only the recognition of his secular supremacy. Kala Hanoum
had too much reverence in her nature to interrupt a couple of such
worthies; so she followed a little way behind them. They came to the
gate-way--a mere hole in the wall--which led to what was known as the
Hermit's Cell, the abode of Gennadius during the siege. The spiritual
pride of the monk had prevented his exchanging this for a more
commodious residence into which the Sultan would have put him. He said
he only wanted a place large enough to weep in, now that the people of
the Lord were in captivity.

The monk had entered the little gateway, and his companion was
following, when Kala's instinct for business got the better of her
reverence; and, darting forward, she thrust the little roll into his
hand just as he was stooping to enter the gate, not even glancing at
his face. She said in low voice, not caring to be overheard by the
monk:

"A part of your purchase yesterday, Sire, which you have forgotten."

She waited for no reply, but trotted off, muttering to herself:

"That's done, now for old Ibrahim the Jew."

The contrast between Morsinia and the Egyptian as they presented
themselves for the contest, afforded a capital study in racial
physique. The latter was rather under size, with scarcely more of
womanly development than a boy. Her face was almost copper colored;
her hair jet and short. The former was tall, with femininity stamped
upon the contour of bust and limb; her face pale, even beneath the
mass of her light locks.

The kaiks were of thinnest wood that could be held together by the
web-like cross bracing, and seemed scarcely to break the surface of
the water when the odalisks stepped into them. Morsinia had brought a
feridjé of common sort; saying to the eunuch, whose attention it
attracted, that yesterday she was quite chilled after rowing, and to
day had taken this with her by way of precaution. She might have found
something more beautiful had she thought in time; but it would be dark
when they returned. Besides, it would be a capital brace for her feet;
the crossbar arranged for that purpose being rather too far away from
the seat. So saying she tossed it into the bottom of the kaik before
the officious eunuch could provide a better substitute.

The Padishah's bugle sounded the call. It rang over the waters,
evoking echoes from the triple shore of Stamboul, Galata and Skutari,
which died away in the distant billows of Marmora. As it was to be the
last evening before the pageant of the grand reception, the time was
occupied in making final arrangements for the order in which the boats
should move; so that it was growing dark when the Padishah reminded
the chief marshal that they must have the race for the Admiral's
badge. Katub, a fat and indolent eunuch, was ordered to moor his kaik,
for the stake boat, as far out toward the swift current as safety
would permit.

The two competitors darted to the side of Mahomet's barge. From a long
staff, just high enough above the water to be reached by the hand,
hung a tiny streamer of silk, the broad field of which was dotted with
pearls. This was to be the possession of the fair rower who, rounding
the stake boat first, could return and seize it.

The Sultan threw a kiss to the fair nymphs as a signal for the start.
Myriads of liquid pearls, surpassing in beauty those upon the
streamer, dropped from the oar blades, and strewed the smooth surface;
or were transformed into diamonds as they sunk swirling into the
broken water. The spray rose from the sharp prows in sheafs, golden as
those of grain, in the ruddy reflection of the western sky. Each
graceful kaik, and the more graceful form that moved it, almost
created the illusion of a single creature; some happy denizen of
another world disporting itself for the luring of mortals in this.

The boats kept close company. The Egyptian was expending her full
strength, but her companion, with longer and fewer strokes, was
apparently reserving hers. They neared the stake. The Egyptian, having
the inside, began to round it; but the Albanian kept on, now with
rapid and strong strokes. The spectators were amazed at her tactics.

"She is making too wide a sweep," said the Sultan.

"She does not seem inclined to turn at all," observed the Kislar Aga.

"She will strike the current if she turn not soon," rejoined Mahomet
excitedly.

The prow of her kaik turned off westward.

"She is in the stream!" cried several. "She will be overturned!" But
on sped the kaik, heading full down the current, which, catching it
like some friendly sprite from beneath, bore it quickly out of sight
around the Seraglio Point; and on--on into a thick mist which was
rolling up, as if sent of heaven to meet it, from the broad expanse of
the sea.

"An escape!" cried the Sultan. "After her every one of you black
devils!"

The eunuchs wasted several precious moments in getting the command
through their heads, and, even when they started, it was evident that
their muscles were too flaccid, their spines too limp, and their wind
not full enough to overhaul the flying skiff of the Albanian.

"To shore! To horse!" cried the raging monarch.

A quarter of an hour later, horsemen were clattering down the stony
street along the water front of Marmora, pausing now and then to stare
out into the sea mist, dashing on, stopping and staring, and on again.
The foremost to reach the Castle of the Seven Towers left orders to
scour the shore, and to set patrol to prevent any one landing. Some
were ordered to dart across to the islands. Within an hour from the
escape every inch of shore, and the great water course opposite the
city, were under complete surveillance.

Just before this was accomplished a man arrived at the water's edge,
close to the south side of the great wall of which the Castle of Seven
Towers was the northern flank. He held two horses, saddled and bagged,
as if for a distant journey. A second man appeared a moment later, who
came up from a clump of bushes a little way below.

"In good time, Marcus!" said the new comer, who stooped close to the
water and listened, putting his hand to his ear so as to exclude all
sounds except such as should come from the sea above.

"Listen! an oar stroke! Yes! Keep everything tight, Marcus."

Darting into the copse, in a moment more the man was gliding in a
kaik, with a noiseless stroke, out in the direction of the oar splash
of the approaching boat. Nearer and nearer it came. The night and the
mist prevented its being seen. The man moved close to its line. It was
a light kaik, he knew from the almost noiseless ripple of the water as
the sharp prow cut it. The man gave a slight whistle, when the stroke
of the invisible boat ceased, and the ripple at its prow died away.

"Morsinia!"

"Ay, thank heaven!" came the response.

"Speak not now, but follow!" and he led the way cautiously toward the
little beach where the horses were heard stamping. They were several
rods off, piloting themselves by the sound.

"Hark!" said the man, stopping the boats. Hoofs were heard
approaching, and voices--

"She might have put across to the Princess Island," said one.

"Nonsense!" was the reply. "She would only imprison herself by
that--more likely she has gone clean across to Chalcedon. But I hold
that she has played fox, and turned on her trail. Ten liras to one
that she is by this time in Galata with some of the Genoese Giaours.
If so, she will try to escape in a galley; but that can be prevented:
for the Padishah will overhaul every craft that sails out until he
finds her. But hoot, man! what have we here? Two horses! A woman's
baggage! She has an accomplice! An elopement! The horses are tied.
The runaway couple haven't arrived yet. Dismount, men! we will lie in
wait along the shore here. Yes, let their two horses stand there to
draw them to the spot by their stamping. Send ours out of hearing. Now
every man to his place! Silence!"

"Back! Back! We are pursued on land," said the man in the boat to
Morsinia, and both boats pushed noiselessly out again from the shore.

"I had prepared for this, Morsinia. You must come into my boat; we
will row below for a mile, where we can arrange it at the shore."

Quietly they shot down in the lessening current, until they turned
into a little cove made by a projecting rock. As lightly as a fawn the
girl leaped to the beach. Her companion was by her side in an instant.
She drew back, and gave no return to his warm embrace, but said
heartily:

"Thank Heaven, and you, Michael!"

"Michael?" exclaimed the man. "Indeed I do not wonder that you think
me a spirit, and call me by the name of my dead brother. But this
shall assure you that I am Constantine, and in the flesh," cried he,
as he pressed a kiss upon her lips.

Morsinia was dazed. She tried to scan his face. She fell as one
lifeless into his arms.

He seated himself on the rock and held her to his heart. For a while
neither could speak.

"Is it real?" said she at length, raising her head and feeling his
face with her hand. "But how"----

Voices were heard shouting over the water.

"We must be gone," said Constantine.

The excitement of her discovery that her lover was still living, and
her bewilderment at his appearance instead of Michael, were too much
for Morsinia. Constantine carried the exhausted girl into his boat,
which was larger than hers. Towing her little kaik out some distance
he tipped it bottom upwards, and let it drift away.

"That will stop the hounds," muttered he. "They will think you have
been overturned."

With tremendous, but scarcely audible, strokes he ploughed away
westward. It was not until far from all noise of the pursuers that he
paused.

FOOTNOTES:

[102] The mabeyn lies between the selamlik (general reception room for
men) and the haremlik; and is the living apartment for men.

[103] The sluice which was supposed to have been used for this purpose
is still seen at Old Seraglio Point.



CHAPTER XLIX.


Imminent as was the danger still, the curiosity of both at the
strangeness of the Providence which had brought them back to each
other, as from the dead, was such that they must talk; and the
freshness of the newly-kindled love stole many a moment for endearing
embrace. Indeed an hour passed, and the night might have flown while
they loitered, were it not that the rising wind brought a distant
sound which awakened them to the remembrance that they were still
fugitives.

Constantine at length insisted that his companion should lie upon the
bottom of the boat, and take needed rest.

"If I had now my feridjé!" said she.

"I have provided for that," replied Constantine. "Yours would be
recognized. I have one belonging to the common women, which will be
better." In addition to the feridjé, the foresight of Constantine had
laid in warm wraps and a store of provisions. These were packed in
bundles that they might be carried conveniently on horses, in the
hand, or in the boat, as necessity should compel.

"I cannot rest," said Morsinia, "when there is so much to say and
hear."

"But you must lie down. I will tell you my story; then you can tell me
yours."

"But can we not stop?"

"No. It will not be safe to do so yet."

"I have learned to trust your guidance as well as your love," said
she, and reclined in the stern of the boat.

The moon rose near to midnight. The fog illumined by it made them
clearly visible to each other, while it shut out the possibility of
their being seen by any from a distance.

"It is the blessing of Jesu upon us," said Morsinia. "The same as when
He stood upon the little lake in Galilee, like a form of light, and
said, 'Be not afraid.'"

Constantine gave his story in hasty sentences and detached portions,
breaking it by pauses in which he listened for pursuers, or gave his
whole strength to the oars, or, more frequently, did nothing but gaze
at his companion: more than once reaching out his hand to touch her,
and see if she were not an apparition.

He told of his escape from the Turks, his arrest as a lunatic and the
scene before the Sultan, his return to Constantinople after its
capture, and the apparent evidence he there had from the old beggar,
of Morsinia's death: with all of which the reader is familiar. He also
related how he had gone to Albania. The report of Morsinia's death had
caused the greatest grief to Kabilovitsch, and thrown General Castriot
into such a rage that he found easement for it in a special raid upon
the Turkish camp; which raid was remembered, and was still spoken of
by the soldiers, as the "Call of the Maiden." For as Castriot returned
from fearful slaughter, in which he had completely riddled the enemy's
quarters, captured their commander and compelled them to break up the
campaign, the general was overheard to say, "The maiden's spirit
called us and we have answered." Without knowing the meaning of these
words the soldiers probably assumed that they were a reference to the
Holy Virgin Mary, whose blessing Castriot had invoked upon the
enterprise. After that Sultan Mahomet sent a special embassage and
proposal of peace to Albania. In the royal letter he stated,

"She whom the Emperor of the Greeks was unable to keep for Scanderbeg
is now in the custody of the royal harem, safe and inviolate; to be
delivered into Scanderbeg's hand as a pledge of a treaty by which
Scanderbeg shall agree to cease from further depredations and invasion
of Macedonia, and to submit to hold his kingdom in fief to the Ottoman
throne."

The letter ended with a boastful reference to the Sultan's conquest of
Constantinople, Caramania and other countries, and the threat of
invading Albania with a host so great as to cover all its territory
with the shadow of the camps.

Castriot's reply, when known, filled the Dibrians and Epirots with
greatest enthusiasm. It closed with the words,--

"What if you have subjugated Greece, and put into servitude them of
Asia! These are no examples for the free hearts of Albania!"[104]

The news contained in Mahomet's missive led Castriot to allow
Constantine to go to Constantinople, that he might discover, if
possible, whether Morsinia was really living, and was the person
referred to by the Sultan. On reaching the city, Constantine had
sought out the monk Gennadius, with whom he had been often thrown
before and during the siege. From him he learned nothing of Morsinia
except the old story of her self-sacrifice by the side of the
altar;--which story had become so adorned with many additions in
passing from mouth to mouth, that the "Fair Saint of Albania" was
likely to be enrolled upon the calendar of the holy martyrs.
Constantine was returning with the monk from the church of Baloukli,
where they had gone to see the perpetuated miracle of the fishes which
leaped from the pan on hearing of the capture of the city, and which
are still, with one side black with the frying, swimming in the tank
of holy water. He had just reached the little gate of the monk's
lodging when Morsinia's message was put into his hand by a little old
woman.

"But how did you know of my arrival in Constantinople?" Constantine
asked, as he concluded his account.

The question led to Morsinia's story, and the revelation that his
brother Michael was still living, an officer of the Sultan, as like to
Constantine as one eye to the other; their mistaken identity by Kala
Hanoum having led to the present happy denouement. The mutual
narratives of the past grew into plans for the future, the chief part
of which related to the restoration of Michael from the service of the
Moslem.

While they talked, the day broke over the Asiatic coast. The faint
glow of light rapidly changed into bars of gold, which were
transformed into those of silver, and melted again into a broad sheen
of orange and purple tints. But for the shadowed slopes of the eastern
shore that lay between the water and the sky, this would have made
Marmora like an infinite sea of glory.

But there was a fairer sight before the eyes of Constantine; one more
suggestive of the heavenly. It was the face of his beloved, now first
clearly seen. It seemed to him that she could not have been more
enchanting if he had discovered her by the "River of the Water of
Life" in the Golden City, where only he had hoped ever again to gaze
upon her.

FOOTNOTE:

[104] According to Knowles, this was a part of Scanderbeg's reply to
Amurath II.



CHAPTER L.


The fugitives landed a good score of miles from Stamboul, on the
northern shore of Marmora, and struck the highway which runs westward,
following the coast line to Salonika, where it divides, bending south
into Greece, and branching north through Macedonia. The fugitives
followed the latter highway. The country through which they passed was
at the time conquered by the Moslem, but was dotted over with the
settlements of the adherents to the old faith, who kept the watchfires
of hope still burning in their hearts, though they were extinguished
on the mountains. It was by this route that Constantine had gone to
Stamboul. He was therefore familiar, not only with the way, but with
the people; and easily secured from them concealment when necessary,
and help along the journey. His belt had been well filled with gold by
Castriot, so that two fleet horses and all provisions were readily
supplied.

Their journey was saddened by their solicitude for the fate of
Albania. Before Constantine had left that country, Moses Goleme,
wearied with the incessant sacrifices he was compelled to make, and
discouraged by what he deemed the impossibility of longer holding out
against the Turks, had quarreled with Castriot, and thrown off his
allegiance. He had even been induced by Mahomet's pledge of liberty to
Albania--if only Castriot were overthrown--to enter the service of the
enemy. The wily Sultan had placed him in command of an invading army,
with which, however, he had returned to his country only to meet an
overwhelming defeat at the hands of the great captain, and to flee in
disgrace to Constantinople.

This swift vengeance administered by the patriots did not entirely
crush the dissatisfaction among the people. Their fields were wasted
by the long war; for half a generation had passed since it began. Only
the personal magnetism of their chief held the factions to their
doubtful loyalty.

After several weeks' journeying, our fugitives reached the camp of
Castriot. It little resembled the gorgeous canvas cities of the Turks
they had passed. The overspreading trees were, in many instances, the
only shelter of voivodes and princely leaders, the story of whose
exploits floated as an enchantment to the lovers of the heroic in all
lands.

But the simple welcome they received from the true hearts of their
countrymen was more to Morsinia and Constantine than any stately
reception could have been. Kabilovitsch's joy was boundless. The
venerable man had greatly failed, worn by outward toil, and more by
his inward grief. Castriot had grown prematurely old. His hair was
whitened; his eyes more deeply sunken beneath the massive brows; his
shoulders a little bowed. Yet there was no sign of decrepitude in face
or limb. His aspect was sterner, and even stronger, as if knit with
the iron threads of desperation.

As Kabilovitsch, whom the wanderers had first sought upon their
arrival, led them to Castriot, the general gazed upon them silently
for a little. Years, with their strange memories, seemed to flit, one
after another, across his scarred face. Taking Morsinia's hands in
his, he stood looking down into her blue eyes, just as he had done
when years ago, he bade her farewell. Then he kissed her forehead as
he said:

"Thank heaven! there is not yet a wrinkle on that fair brow. But I
wronged you, my child, in sending you among strangers. Can you forgive
the blunder of my judgment? It was my heart that led me wrong."

"I have nothing to forgive thee," replied Morsinia. "Though I have
suffered, to gaze again into thy face, Sire, takes away even the
memory of it all. I shall be fully blessed if now I can remove some of
those care marks from thy brow."

"Your return takes away from me twice as many years as those you have
been absent, and I shall be young again now--as young almost as
Kabilovitsch," added he, with a kindly glance at the old veteran,
whose battered dignity had given place to an almost childish delight.

The scene within the tent was interrupted by a noise without. A crowd
of soldiers had gathered, and were gazing from a respectful distance
at a strange-looking man: "A man of heaviness and eaten up with
cares." He was clad in the coarsest garments; his beard untrimmed;
hatless; a rope about his neck. As Scanderbeg came out of the tent,
the man threw himself at his feet, and cried, as he bowed his head
upon the ground:

"Strike, Sire! I have sold my country. I have returned to die under
the sword of my true chief, rather than live with the blessing of his
enemies. The curse on my soul is greater than I could bear, with all
the splendid rewards of my treason. Take out the curse with my blood!
Strike, Sire! Strike!"

He was Moses Goleme. Castriot stood with folded arms and looked upon
the prostrate man. His lips trembled, and then were swollen, as was
noted of them when his soul was fired with the battle rage. Then every
muscle of his face quivered as if touched by some sharp pain. Then
came a look of sorrow and pity. His broad bosom heaved with the
deep-drawn breath as he spoke.

"Moses Goleme, rise! Your place is at no man's feet. For twenty years
you watched by Albania, while I forgot my fatherland. Your name has
been the rallying cry of the patriot; your words the wisdom of our
council; your arm my strength. Brave man! take Castriot's sword, and
wear it again until your own heart tells you that your honor has been
redeemed. Rise!"

Untying the rope from the miserable man's neck, he flung it far off,
and cried,--

"So, away with whatever disgraces the noble Goleme! My curse on him
who taunts thee for the past! Let that be as a hideous dream to be
forgotten. For well I know, brave comrade, that thy heart slept when
thou wast away. But it wakes again. Thou art thy true self once more!"

The broken-hearted man replied, scarcely raising his eyes as he spoke:

"My hands are not worthy to touch the sword of Castriot. Let me
cleanse them with patriot service. Tell me, Sire, some desperate
adventure, where, since thou wilt not slay me, I may give my wretched
life for my country."

"No, Moses, you shall keep your life for Albania. I know well the
strength of your temptation. My service is too much for any man. Were
it not that I am sustained by some strange invisible spirit, I too
would have yielded long ago. But enough! The old command awaits thee,
Moses."

The man looked upon Castriot with grateful amazement. But he could not
speak, and turned away.

At first he was received sullenly by the soldiers; but when the story
of Castriot's magnanimity was repeated, the camps rang with the cry,
"Welcome, Goleme!" That his restoration might be honored, a grand raid
through the Turkish lines was arranged for the next night. The watch
cry was, "By the beard of Moses!" and many a veteran then wielded his
sword with a courage and strength he had not felt for years. Even old
Kabilovitsch, whose failing vigor had long excused him from such
expeditions, insisted upon joining in this. Constantine then rewhetted
his steel for valiant deeds to come. And, as the day after the fight
dawned, Moses Goleme led back the band of victors, laden with spoil.
As he appeared, to make his report to the chief, his face was flushed
with the old look; and, grasping the hand of Castriot, he raised it to
his lips and simply said:

"I thank thee, Sire!" and retired.



CHAPTER LI.


Captain Ballaban was among the first to learn of the personality of
the odalisk who had escaped at the time of the race. His first thought
was to aid her in eluding pursuit, presuming that she had gone alone
and without accomplice. But when the horses were discovered at the
Seven Towers, he gave way to a fit of jealousy. In his mind he accused
Morsinia of having made him her dupe; for, notwithstanding his
assurances of aid, she had evidently made a confidant of another. His
better disposition, however, soon led him to believe that she had been
spirited away through some plan devised in the brain of Scanderbeg.
While he rejoiced for her, he was disconsolate for himself; and
determined that, upon his return to the war in Albania, to which field
he knew it was the purpose of the Padishah to transfer him, he would
discover the truth regarding her. He had learned from her secret
missives, which Kala Hanoum had brought him before the flight, of the
death of his father Milosch and his mother Helena, and the supposed
death of his brother Constantine. There were, then, no ties of
kinship, and but this one tie of affection to Morsinia, to divide his
allegiance to the Padishah. And Morsinia had faded again from reality,
if not into his mere dream, at least into the vaguest hope. His ardent
soul found relief only by plunging into the excitement of the military
service.

Mahomet had not exhausted his favors to Ballaban by the gift of the
Albanian Venus, Elissa. Summoning him one day he repeated his purpose
of designating him as the chief Aga of the Janizaries, the old chief
having been slain in a recent engagement. Ballaban remonstrated, as
once before, against this interference with the order of the corps, in
which the choice of chief Aga was left to the vote of the soldiers
themselves.

Mahomet replied angrily--"I tell you, Ballaban, my will shall now be
supreme over every branch of my service. My fathers felt the
independence of the Janizaries to be a menace to their thrones. Their
power shall be curbed to my hand, or the whole order shall be
abolished."

"Beware!" replied Ballaban. "You know not the alertness of the lion
whose lair you would invade. I will serve my Padishah with my life in
all other ways, but my vows forbid my treachery to my corps. Strike
off my head, if you will, but I cannot be Aga, except by the sovereign
consent of my brothers."

"I shall not take off your head, comrade," replied Mahomet. "I need
what is in it too much, though it belongs to a young rebel. But
begone! I shall work my plans without asking your advice in the
matter."

A firman was issued by which the Padishah claimed the supreme power of
appointing to command in all grades of the military service. Within an
hour after its proclamation, the Janizaries were in open defiance of
the sovereign. Before their movements could be anticipated, the great
court in front of the selamlik in the seraglio was filled with the
enraged soldiery. That sign of terror which had blanched the faces of
former Padishahs--the inverted soup-kettle--was planted before the
very doors of the palace, and the Sultan was a prisoner within.

"Recall the firman! Long live the Yeni-Tscheri!" rang among the
seraglio walls, and was echoed over the city.

The Sultan not appearing, there rose another cry, at first only a
murmur, but at length pouring from thousands of hoarse throats,--

"Down with Mahomet! Live the Yeni-Tscheri!"

Still the Sultan made no response. There was a hurried consultation
among the leaders of the insurgents. Then a rapid movement throughout
the crowd. For a moment it seemed as if they had turned every man
against his fellow. But Mahomet's experienced eye, as he watched from
the latticed window, saw that the swarm of men was only taking shape.
The mob was transformed into companies. Between the ranks passed men,
as if they rose out of the ground; some dragging cannon; some bearing
scaling ladders.

Mahomet appeared upon the platform, dressed in full armor. He raised
his sword, when silence fell upon the multitude.

"I am your Padishah."

"Long live Mahomet!" was the cry.

"Do I not command every faithful Ottoman? Who will follow where
Mahomet leads?"

"All! all!" rang the response.

"Then reverse the kettle!" commanded he, his face lit with the
assumption of victory.

"Reverse the firman!" was the answer.

"Never!" cried the monarch, infuriated with this unexpected challenge
of his authority.

The Janizaries retreated a few steps from the platform. The Padishah
assumed that they were awed by his determination, and smiled in his
triumph. But his face was as quickly shaded with astonishment; for the
movement of the insurgents was only to allow the cannon to be
advanced.

The sagacity of the monarch never forsook him. Not even the wildness
of passion could long lead him beyond the suggestion of policy.
Raising his hand for silence, he again spoke.

"We are misunderstanding each other, my brave Yeni-Tscheri. If you
have grievance let your Agas present it, for the Padishah shall be the
father of his people, and the Yeni-Tscheri are the eldest born of his
children."

The Sultan withdrew. Eight Agas held a hurried consultation, and
presented themselves to the sovereign to offer him absolute and
unquestioning obedience upon the condition of their retaining as
absolute and unquestioned self-government within the corps.

While they were in consultation, Captain Ballaban appeared among the
troops. He waved his hand to address them.

"He is bought by the Padishah. We must not hear him," cried one and
another.

"My brothers!" said the Captain, having after a few moments gained
their attention. "I love the Padishah. But I adore that royal hand
chiefly because, beyond that of any of the heirs of Othman, it has
already bestowed favor upon our corps. But our order is sacred. He may
command to the field, and in the field, but it must be from without.
We must choose our own Aga as of old."

"Long live Ballaban!" rose from every side.

The speaker broke into a rhapsodic narration of the glories of the
corps, interwoven with the recital of the exploits of the Padishah,
during which he was interrupted by cheer after cheer, mingled with the
cry of "Ballaban! Ballaban forever!"

The Sultan, hearing the shout, shrewdly seized upon the opportunity it
suggested, and leaving the Agas, rushed to the platform. He shouted--

"Allah be praised! Allah has given one mind to the Padishah and to his
faithful Yeni-Tscheri. Ballaban forever! Yes, take him! Take him for
your Aga! The will of the corps and the will of the sovereign are one,
for it is the will of Allah that sways us all!"

The soldiers, caught by the enthusiasm of the instant, repeated the
shout, drowning the voices of the few who were clear-headed enough to
remember that the firman had not been withdrawn.

"Ballaban! Long live Ballaban Aga! Long live Mahomet Padishah!"

The Agas appeared, but were impotent to assert their dissent. As well
might they have attempted to howl down a hurricane as to make
themselves heard in the confusion. Indeed, their presence upon the
platform was regarded by the corps as their endorsement of the
Padishah's desire, and served to stimulate the enthusiasm that broke
out in redoubled applause.

Mahomet followed up his advantage, and formally confirmed the apparent
election by announcing--

"A donative! A double pay to every one of the Yeni-Tscheri! and the
Padishah's fifth of the spoil shall be divided to the host!"

The multitude were wild with delight. The inverted soup-kettle was
turned over, and swung by its handle from the top of the staff;
following which, the crowd poured out from the court.[105]

Within a few days Ballaban, as chief Aga, led his corps toward
Albania.



CHAPTER LII.


After the defeat of Moses as a Turkish leader, and his return to his
patriotic allegiance, there was a lull in active hostilities between
the two powers. Amesa, like other of the prominent voivodes in
Scanderbeg's army, took the occasion offered to look after his own
estates. He had added somewhat to his local importance by marrying the
daughter of a neighboring land-owner. But neither conjugal delights,
nor the additional acres his marriage brought him, covered his
ambition. His envy of Castriot had deepened into inveterate hatred.

The Voivode sat alone in the great dining hall of his castle. It was
late in the night. As the blazing logs at one end of the room cast
alternately their glare and shadows around, the rude furniture seemed
to be thrown into a witching dance. Helmets and corselets gleamed
bravely from their pegs, suggesting that they were animated by heroic
souls. The great bear-skin, with its enormous head, lying at the
Voivode's feet, crouched in readiness to receive the lunge of the
boar's tusks which threatened it from the corner. Pikes, spears, bows
and broad-mouthed arquebuses were ranged about, as if to defend their
owner, should any demon inspire these lifeless forms for sudden
assault upon him.

Amesa had been sitting upon a low seat between the fire and a
half-drained tankard of home-brewed liquor, his brows knit with the
concentration of his thoughts.

A slight sound without arrested his attention.

"Drakul is late, but is coming at last. If only he has brought me the
red forelock of that fellow who used to be always crossing my track,
and has now come back to Albania!" he said, in a tone of musing, but
intended to be heard by the delinquent as the great oaken door creaked
behind him. Raising his eyes, but not turning his head to look, Amesa
changed his soliloquy into a volley of oaths at the comer.

"I thought your name-sake, Drakul, had run off with you, you lazy
imp.[106] What kept you?"

"A long journey," was the reply.

Amesa started to his feet, for the voice was not that of Drakul. He
faced one whose appearance was not the less startling because it was
familiar.

"I have brought the red forelock myself," said the visitor.

Amesa stared stupidly an instant, then reached toward his weapon lying
upon the table near.

"Stop!" said the man, laying the flat side of his sword across the
Voivode's arm before he could grasp his yataghan.

"How dare you intrude yourself unbidden here!" cried the enraged
Amesa.

"It required no daring," was the cool reply, "for I am the stronger."

"Help! Help!" shouted the voivode, as he realized that he would not be
permitted to reach his weapon.

The door swung, and a band of strange men stood in the opening.

"I feared, noble Amesa," said the intruder, "that I should not be a
welcome guest, and so brought with me a party of friends to help me to
good cheer while under your roof. You need not disturb your servants
to help you, for, if they should hear, they could not obey, as they
are all safely guarded in their quarters. If they should come out they
might be harmed. Let them rest. Retire, men! You recognize me, Lord
Amesa?"

"Ay. You are Arnaud's whelp," sneered the entrapped man.

"More gentle words would befit the courtesy of my host," was the quiet
reply. "But you are as much mistaken as when you took the simple
witted Elissa on my commendation. Do not respond, Sire! In your heat
you might say that which pride would prevent your recalling. I am a
Moslem soldier, and you are my prisoner; as secure as if you were in
Constantinople." The visitor threw off the Albanian cape, and
revealed the elegantly wrought jacket of the Janizary Aga.

"And what would you have of me? Is there nothing that can satisfy you
less than my life?" asked Amesa.

"My noble Amesa," said Ballaban Aga, taking a seat and motioning the
Voivode to another. "Years ago I gave you my word in honor that I
would serve you against Scanderbeg. I have come to redeem that pledge,
and you must help me."

"How can that be, if you are an officer of the Moslems?" asked Amesa,
taking the seat, and adopting the low tone of the other; for these
words had excited in him all his cupidity, and stirred his natural
secretiveness and habit of sinister dealing. His eyes ceased to glare
like a tiger's when at bay; they shone now like a snake's.

"Amesa must enter the service of the Padishah."

"Impossible!" cried he; but in a tone that indicated, not indignant
rejection of the proposition; rather doubt of its practicability.

"But first you must raise here in Albania the standard of revolt
against Scanderbeg, claiming the title of king of Epirus and the
Dibrias for yourself. Scanderbeg's sword will, of course, compel the
next step--your safety in the Turkish camp. The Padishah will then
become your patron, offering to withdraw his armies and restore the
ancient liberties of the country, with the solitary limitation that
you shall acknowledge the suzerainty of the Sultan. The revenues you
may collect shall remain in your possession for the strengthening of
your local power. The defection of Moses Goleme well nigh destroyed
the leadership of Scanderbeg--yours will complete the work. Yet it
will not be defection; rather, as Moses Goleme regarded it, the truest
service of your country, because the only service that is
practicable."

"But I cannot thus break with the patriot leaders," said Amesa,
apparently having felt a real touch of honor.

"It must be," replied the Aga. "You cannot longer remain as you are,
even if you would. You, Sire, have been guilty of some great crime.
Nay, do not deny it! Nor need you take time to give expression to any
wrath you may feel on being plainly accused of it," continued
Ballaban, silencing Amesa more effectively by the straight look into
his eyes than by his words. "My moments here are too few to talk about
the matter, and you should have exhausted any feeling you may have had
in private penitence heretofore, rather than reserve it until another
person lays it to your charge. But the point is this:--Scanderbeg is
aware of your crime, and awaits only the opportune moment to punish
you as it deserves."

"How do you know that?" said Amesa, the bright gleam of his eye
changing to a stony stare, as the color failed from his face, and he
leaned back in ghastly consternation.

"It is enough that I know it. The Janizaries have not roamed these
Albanian hills for twelve years without finding out the secrets of the
country. The holes in the ground are our ears, and the very owls spy
for us through the dark. But enough of words. Sign this, and set to it
your seal!"

Ballaban presented a parchment, offering formally, in the name of the
Sultan, the government of Albania to Amesa, on the condition set forth
above.

"I would consider the"--began Amesa; but he was cut short by
Ballaban--

"No! sign instantly! I have done for you all the considering that is
necessary, and must be gone."

"But," began Amesa again, "so important a matter--"

"Sign instantly!" repeated Ballaban; and, pointing to the door where
the soldiers stood waiting their orders--"or neither Amesa nor his
castle will exist until the day breaks."

The baffled man took from a niche in the wall a horn of thickened ink,
and, with the wooden pen, made his signature, and pressed the ancient
seal of the De Streeses against the ball of softened wax attached to
it.

"This will serve to keep you true: for if by the next fulness of the
moon Amesa's standard be not raised against Scanderbeg's, this, as
evidence of your treason, shall be read in all your Albanian camps,"
said Ballaban, placing the document in his bosom. "And should you need
to confer with your new friends, your faithful Drakul may inquire at
our lines for Ballaban Badera, Aga of the Janizaries."

With a low salâm he withdrew. A few muffled orders, a shuffling of
feet, and the castle was as quiet as the stars that looked down upon
it.

FOOTNOTES:

[105] The firman of Sultan Mahomet was never revoked, and from his
time until the extinction of the order of Janizaries by Sultan
Mahmoud, in 1834, the Padishah always appointed the Chief Aga.

[106] The word Drakul signifies in Servian "the Devil."



CHAPTER LIII.


The martial pride of the Ottoman never made a more imposing
demonstration than when his armies deployed upon the plain of
Pharsalia[107] in Thessaly, and threatened the southern frontier of
Albania. Nor had Jove, who, according to the mythologic conception,
held his court upon the summit of the not distant Olympus--looked down
upon such a display of earthly power since, fifteen centuries before,
the armies of Pompey and Cæsar there contended for the domination of
the Roman world. For Mahomet II. had sworn his mightiest oath, that,
by one blow, he would now sweep all the Arnaout rebels into the sea;
and that the waves of the Adriatic over against Italy, and those of
the Mediterranean which washed the Greek peninsula, and the Euxine
that stayed the steps of the Muscovite, should sing with their
confluent waves the glories of the European Empire of the Ottoman
which lay between them.

The menace to Scanderbeg's domain was not chiefly in the numbers of
men whom the redoubtable Isaac Pasha now commanded in the name of the
Sultan; but in the fact that the mighty host was accompanied by Amesa,
the new "King of Albania."

The defection of the Voivode had sent consternation through the hearts
of the patriots. Their leaders looked with suspicion into one
another's faces as they gathered in council; for no one knew but that
his comrade was in secret league with the enemy. Wearied with trials,
the soldiers whispered in the camps that Amesa was a Castriot as well
as Scanderbeg. Italians of rank, who had loaned their swords to the
great chieftain, were returning to their homes, saying that it was not
worth while to risk their lives and fortunes in defending a people who
were no longer agreed in defending themselves. Scanderbeg, apparently
unwilling or unable to cope with this double danger,--the power of the
Ottoman without, and a civil war within his land--retired to
Lyssa,[108] far away to the north.

The Turks determined to inaugurate their final conquest, by the formal
coronation of their ally, so that, heralded by King Amesa's
proclamations, they might advance more readily to the occupation of
the land. The day was set for the ceremony of the royal investiture.
As their scouts, ranging far and wide, reported no enemy to be near,
the attention of the army was given to preparation for the splendid
pageants, the very story of which should awe the simple peasant
population into submission, or seduce their hearts with the hope of
having so magnificent a patron.

The day before that appointed for this glorious dawn of the new
royalty, was one of intense heat, in the middle of July. The snows had
melted even from the summit of the Thessalian Olympus, though its bare
pinnacle yonder pierced the sky nearly ten thousand feet above the
sea. Armor was heaped in the tents. Horses unsaddled were gathered in
stockades, or tethered far out on the glassy plain. Soldiers
stretched themselves under the shadow of the trees, or wandered in
groups through the deserted gardens and orchards of the neighboring
country, feasting upon the early ripened fruits. Only the eagles that
circled the air high above the vast encampment, or perched upon the
crags of distant hills, seemed to have any alarm; for now and then
they darted off with a shrill cry.

But an eye, like that of a mysterious retributive Providence, was
peering through the thicket that crested a high hill. Scanderbeg,
presumed to be far away, had studied the plain long and intently;
when, turning to Constantine, who was at his side, he said:

"Now plan me a raid through that flock of silly sheep. Where would you
strike, my boy?"

Constantine replied, "There is but one point at which we could enter
the plain,--through yonder depression. The hills on either side would
conceal the advance until well upon them. Besides, the narrowness of
the valley, and the growth of trees would prevent their meeting us
with more than man for man."

Scanderbeg shook his head.

"The Turks know that place invites attack as well as we do, and have
ranged so as to prevent surprise there. But yonder line of trees and
copse leads almost to the centre of their camp."

"But it is exposed to view on either side," replied Constantine.

"So much the better," said Castriot, "and therefore it is not guarded
even in Isaac Pasha's thought. It would take longer after the alarm to
range against us there than in the ravine. Their cavalry is all on
this side the trees. They could not cut through the bushes before we
were by the horse-tails yonder, there by the Pasha's tent."

"But is it not too open?" said Constantine, almost incredulous.

"Yes, at any other time than this, when the Turks are not dreaming of
our being within a dozen leagues of them. The very boldness of such an
attack as this at high noon-tide will be better for us than any
scheming. And, if I mistake not, and our beasts are not too jaded by
the long march, we shall have the souls out of a thousand or so of the
Turks before they can get their bodies into armor. And I give to you,
my boy, the care of our nephew, Amesa. Be diverted by no side play,
but cut your way straight to him. If possible, spare his life, but he
must never get a crown upon his head."

As silently as the summer's fleecy clouds gather into the storm, the
band of patriots, summoned from their various quarters, gathered
behind the spur of the hill. The Turks were startled as with a sudden
rising tempest. Beys and Pashas and Agas had scarcely emerged from
their tents, when five thousand Albanian cavalrymen were already
turning the line of the woods. On they came with the celerity of a
flock of birds just skimming the ground. The sentry flew as the leaves
before the wind. The very multitude of the Turks, driven toward the
centre, but fed the dripping swords of the assailants. Among the tents
wound the compact array of Albanian riders, like a huge serpent. On
and on it rolled, scarcely pausing to repel attack. Dividing, one
part crushed the headquarters of Isaac, while the other wrapped in its
crunching folds the splendid camp of Amesa.

Bravely did this young Absalom defend his unfledged royalty.
Surrounded by a group of Albanian renegades like himself, he fought
desperately, well knowing the dire vengeance which should follow his
capture. But one by one they fell. Amesa remained almost alone, as yet
unharmed. The captain of the Albanian troops commanded a halt, and,
dismounting, he demanded Amesa's surrender.

"To none but a Castriot will a Castriot surrender!" cried the
infuriate man, making a lunge at the challenger. The thrust was
avoided.

"You shall surrender to another," cried the Albanian officer. "Stand
back, men, he shall yield to me alone."

"Who are you?" growled the challenged man.

"One who has the right to avenge the wrong done to Mara de Streeses,"
was the reply.

Quick as a panther Amesa leaped upon him. But the tremendous blow he
aimed, might as well have been delivered against a rock, as against
the sword of Constantine. The effort threw him off his balance; and
before he could recover himself, the tremendous slash of his opponent,
though warded, brought him to the ground. In an instant Constantine's
knee was upon his breast, and his sword at his throat.

"Do you surrender?"

"Yes!" groaned the helpless man.

He was instantly disarmed, and bound by the girth to a horse.

FOOTNOTES:

[107] Vide Knowles, History of the Turks, and Albanian Chronicles.

[108] Modern Alessio.



CHAPTER LIV.


The corps of Janizaries had been quartered at some distance from the
main body of the Turks. Their new Aga comprehended at once the
significance of the turmoil in the camp, and hastened to the defence.
Though he moved rapidly, and with a well conceived plan of confronting
the enemy, yet, most of his troops being foot-soldiers, he was unable
to confront the swift-riding squadrons of Scanderbeg. These assailants
withdrew from the field, but only to return again and again upon the
panic stricken Turks, whose fears had magnified the numbers of their
foes into scores of thousands. So rapidly did assault follow assault,
and from such diverse quarters, that the Moslem fright imagined one
attack was headed by the terrible Ivan Beg with his savage
Montenegrins, and another by Hunyades, a report of whose alliance with
Scanderbeg had reached the camps before the battle. Indeed the rumble
of a coming thunder storm was interpreted into the clamor and tread of
unknown myriads ready to burst through the mountains. Never did a more
insane panic steal away the courage of soldiers and the judgment of
generals. Late in the day the plain of Pharsalia was the scene of one
vast wreck. Overturned tents displayed immense stores of burnished
arms and vestments, provisions of need and luxury, standards for the
field and banners for the pageant; and everywhere strewn amid this
debris of pomp and pride the half-armored bodies of the slaughtered
Turks. In narrow mountain valleys the freshet following the sudden
tempest, never changed the bloom of the summer gardens more
completely, than this panic, following Scanderbeg's raid, changed the
splendid camp of the morning into the desolation upon which the
setting sun cast, as a fitting omen, its red rays. Indeed, we can
conceive no similitude by which to express the contrast better than
that of Amesa himself, in the morning adorned in the splendor of his
royal expectation, and at night lying bound with ropes at the feet of
Scanderbeg.

The grand old chieftain looked at the renegade for a moment with pity
and scorn; then turned away, saying,--

"Let him lie there until Captain Constantine, to whom he belongs,
shall come."

But Constantine came not. Though the main body of the Turks had taken
to precipitate flight, the Janizaries had managed, by their unbroken
and orderly retreat, to cover the rear, and prevent pursuit by
Scanderbeg. Ballaban had reached the group engaged in the capture of
Amesa, and almost rescued him. This would have been accomplished had
not Constantine and a handful of his company made a living wall
between the Janizaries and those who were leading away the miserable
man. Ballaban, feeling the responsibility of saving him whom he had
led into this shameful misfortune, pressed to the very front.

"By the sword of the Prophet! the fellow fights bravely," he
exclaimed, as he watched Constantine, baffling a half dozen
Janizaries who were pressing upon him.

"Back, men! I would measure my arm against his," he cried, as he laid
his sword against that of his unknown antagonist.

Both were in complete armor, their faces concealed by the closed
helmets. The soldiers stood as eager spectators of the masterly sword
play. The two men seemed evenly matched,--the same in stature and
build. There was, too, a surprising similarity in movement--the very
tactics of the Janizary in thrust and parry being repeated by the
Albanian; their swords now flashing like interlacing flames; the sharp
ring as the Albanian smote upon the polished metal of his antagonist's
armor, answered by the duller thud as the Janizary's blow fell upon
the thick leather which encased the panoply of his opponent. Then both
stood as if posing for the sculptor; their sword points crossing;
their eyes glaring beneath the visors; the slightest movement of a
muscle anticipated by either--then again the crash.

But Constantine was exhausted by his previous engagement with Amesa.
In an unlucky moment the sword turned in his hand. The steadiness of
the grip was lost. He managed to ward the blow which the Aga
delivered; but, foreseeing that he could not recover his grasp soon
enough to return it, and that his opponent was thrown slightly off his
perfect poise by his exertion, he dropped his sword, and closed with
him. They fell to the ground; but the Aga, more alert at the instant,
was uppermost, and his dagger first in position for the fatal cut.

"I can not slay so valiant a man as you," said Ballaban. "You
surrender?"

"I must," was the response. As they rose, Ballaban looked a moment
upon the vanquished, and said,

"I would know the name of my worthy antagonist, for worthier I never
found. Scanderbeg himself could not have done better. But I had the
advantage of being in better wind at the start, or, Allah knows, I had
fared hard."

"It is enough that I am your prisoner," said Constantine, "and that I
have detained my conqueror long enough to prevent the recapture of
that Albanian traitor, Amesa. You can have me willingly, now that you
cannot have him."

The Albanian threw up his visor. Ballaban stared at the face. It was
as familiar as his own which he saw daily in the polished brass
mirror. The Janizaries stared with almost equal amazement.

"No wonder he fought so well, Aga!" said one, "for he is thy other
self."

"Let him be brought to our headquarters when we halt," said Ballaban,
remounting his horse, and dashing away to another part of the field.



CHAPTER LV.


Night brought little sleep to the Turkish host. Though danger was
past, a sense of humiliation and chagrin was shared by officers and
men, as they realized that their defeat was due to their own folly
more than to the strength of their foe. In every tentless group the
men disturbed the quiet of the night with their ceaseless quarrels.
Members of the different commands, hopelessly confused in the general
flight, rivalled one another in the rancor and contempt of their
mutual recriminations as much as they ever emulated one another in the
courage and prowess of a well fought field. Among those of highest
rank bitter and insulting words were followed by blows, as if the
general disgrace could be washed out by a gratuitous spilling of their
own blood.

But a different interest kept Ballaban waking. Beneath the great tree,
which had been designated as the headquarters of the Janizaries, and
from a limb of which was suspended the symbolic kettle, his prisoner
had been awaiting the Chief Aga. The glimpse of his face at the time
of the capture had awakened in the Janizary more than a suspicion of
the personality of the captive; while the name of Ballaban, which he
had heard from the soldiers, revealed to the Albanian that of his
captor. With impatience the Aga conversed with the various commanders
who thronged him, and as soon as possible dismissed them. When they
were alone Constantine rose, and, without completing his salâm,
exclaimed,

"You play more roughly, Michael, than when last we wrestled together
among the rocks of Slatiza."

"Ah, my brother Constantine, I thought of you when you gripped me in
the fight to-day; for it was the same old hug with which we rolled
together long ago. I would have known you, had you only given me time
to think, without your raising the visor."

The brothers stood for a moment in half embrace, scanning each other's
face and form. An onlooker would have noted that their mutual
resemblance was not in the details of their features, so much as in
certain marked peculiarities; such as the red and bristling hair,
square face, prominent nose and chin. Constantine's forehead was
higher than Michael's, which had more breadth and massiveness across
the brows. In speaking, Constantine's eye kindled, and his plastic
lips gave expression to every play of sentiment: while Michael's face
was as inflexible as a mask; the deep light of his glance as
thoroughly under control of his will as if it were the flash of a dark
lantern; his appearance revealing not the shadow of a thought, not the
flicker of an emotion, beyond that he chose to put into words. This
physiognomical difference was doubtless largely due to the training of
years. The Janizary's habit of caution and secretiveness evolved, as
it were, this invisible, but impenetrable, visor. The custom of
unquestioning obedience to another, and that of the remorseless
prosecution of whatever he regarded as politic for the service, gave
rigidity to the facial muscles; set them with the prevalent purpose;
stereotyped in them the expression of determination. A short beard
added to the immobile cast of his countenance. Thus, though when
separated the two men might readily be taken the one for the other,
when together their resemblance served to suggest as wide contrasts.

The entire night was spent by the brothers in mutual narrations of
their eventful lives. Though their careers had been so distinct, in
different lands, under rival civilizations, in the service of
contending nations, and inflamed by the incentives of antagonistic
religions, yet their roads had crossed at the most important points in
each. They learned to their astonishment that the most significant
events, those awakening the deepest experience in the one life, had
been due to the presence of the other. As Michael told of his raid
upon the Albanian village, Constantine supplied the key to the mystery
of the escape of his fair captive, and the arrest of Michael for
having at that time deserted his command. Then Michael in turn
supplied the key to Constantine's arrest by Colonel Kabilovitsch's men
as a Turkish spy. Constantine solved the enigma of Amesa's overtures
to Michael in reference to the Dodola Elissa; and Michael solved that
of Constantine's rough handling by the garrison of Sfetigrade for
having dropped the dog into the well. Constantine unravelled the
diabolical plot which had nearly been tragic for Michael in the old
reservoir at Constantinople; and Michael as readily unravelled that of
the serio-comic drama in the tent of Mahomet, when Constantine's life
was saved through the assumption that he was his lunatic brother.
Constantine supplied to Michael the missing link in the story of
Morsinia's escape from Constantinople; and Michael supplied that
which was wanting of Constantine's knowledge of the story of her
escape from death in the horrors of the scene in St. Sophia after the
capture of the city. They had, under the strange leadings of what both
their Christian and Moslem faith recognized as a Divine Providence,
been more to each other than they could have been had their lives
drifted in the same channel during all these years. In the old boyhood
confidence, which their strange meeting had revived, Michael did not
withhold the confession of Morsinia's influence upon him, though she
had been to him more of an ideal than a real person, a beautiful
development to his imagination out of his childhood memory of his
little playmate in the Balkans. Nor did Constantine hesitate to
declare the love and betrothal by which he held the charming reality
as his own. He told, too, of her real personality as the ward of
Scanderbeg, and the true heir of the splendid estates until recently
held by Amesa.

The dawn brought duties to the Aga which precluded further conference
with Constantine.

"We must part, my dear brother," said Michael. "Our armies will
probably return through Macedonia, and abandon the campaign: for such
is the unwise determination of our commander Isaac. You must escape
into your own lines. That can be easily arranged. We may not meet
again soon; but I swear to you, by the memory of our childhood, that
your personal interest shall be mine. Aside from the necessities of
the military service, we can be brothers still. And Morsinia, that
angel of our better natures; you must let me share with you, if not
her affection, surely her confidence. I could not woo her from you if
I would; but assure her that, though wearing the uniform of an enemy,
I shall be as true in my thoughts of her as when we played by the old
cot on the mountains; and as when I pledged my life to serve her while
she was in the harem at Stamboul."

"But why must this war against Castriot continue? I would that our
compact were that of the armies to which we belong," said Constantine.

"It is impossible for a Janizary to sheath the sword while Scanderbeg
lives," replied the Aga. "Our oath forbids it. He once was held by the
vow of the Prophet's service, and deserted it. I know his temptation
was strong. In my heart I might find charity for him." The speaker
hesitated as if haunted by some troublesome memory, then
continued--"But a Janizary may show no charity to a renegade. Besides,
he is the curse of Albania. But for his ambition, these twelve years
of blood would have been those of peace and happiness through all
these valleys, under the sway of our munificent and wise Padishah."

"Your own best thoughts, Michael, should correct you. What are peace
and its happy indolence compared with the cause of a holy faith?"

"You speak sublimely, my brother," replied Michael, "but your faith
gains nothing by this war. Under our Padishah's beneficence the
Giaours are protected. The Greeks hold sufficient churches, even in
Stamboul, for the worship of all who remain in that faith. Indeed, I
have heard Gennadius the monk of whom you were speaking awhile
ago--say that he would trust his flock to the keeping of the Moslem
stranger sooner than to the Pope of Rome. I have known our Padishah
defend the Greek Giaours from the tyranny of their own bishops. He
asks only the loyalty of his people to his throne, and awaits the will
of Allah to turn them to his faith; for the Book of the Prophet says
truly, Allah will lead into error whom he pleaseth and whom he
pleaseth he will put in the right way.[109] Believe me, my brother,
Albania's safety is only in submission. The Fate that directs all
affairs has indubitably decreed that all this vast peninsula between
Adria and Ægea shall lie beneath the shadow of the Padishah's sceptre;
for he is Zil-Ullah, the shadow of God. Who can resist the conqueror
of the capital of your Eastern Christian Empire; the conqueror of
Athens, and of the islands of the sea?"

"Let us then speak no more of this," said Constantine. "Our training
has been so different, that we can not hope to agree. But we can be
one in the kindliness of our thoughts, as we are of one blood. Jesu
bless you, my brother!"

"Allah bless you, Constantine!" was the hearty response, as the two
grasped hands. Eyes which would not have shown bodily pain by so much
as the tremor of their lids, were moist with the outflow of those
springs in our nature that are deeper than courage--springs of
brotherly affection, fed by hallowed memories of the long ago.

Two Janizaries accompanied Constantine beyond the Turkish lines.

"What new scheme has the Aga hatched in his brain now?" said one of
them, as they returned.

"He has twisted that fellow's brain so that he will never serve
Scanderbeg truly again," was the knowing reply. "The Aga is the very
devil to throw a spell over a man. They say that when he captured the
fellow yesterday, he had only to squint into his face a moment, when,
as quick as a turn of a foil, the man changed his looks, and was as
much like the Aga as two thumbs."

FOOTNOTE:

[109] Koran, Chapter VI.



CHAPTER LVI.


The splendor of the victory, and the inestimable spoil which fell into
the hands of the Albanians, elated the patriot braves; and the good
news flew as if the eagles that watched the battles from afar were its
couriers. Castriot, however, seemed to be oblivious to the general
rejoicing. The wrath he had displayed during the time of Amesa's
menace from the ranks of the enemy, was displaced by pity as he looked
upon the contemptible and impotent man. He touched him with his foot,
and said, in half soliloquy--

"And in this body is some of the blood of the Castriots! Humph!"

Turning away he paced the tent--

"And why not Castriot's blood in Amesa! It is not too immaculate to
flow in his veins, since it has filled my own. I was a Turk, too,
once. But----" looking at the wrinkles upon his hand--"growing old in
a better service may atone somewhat for the shame of earlier days. And
these hands never murdered a peaceful neighbor and his innocent wife,
and robbed a child of her inheritance--though they did murder that
poor Reis-Effendi. But God knows it could not be helped. But what is
one man that he shall condemn another!" An officer approached for
orders.

"What, Sire, shall be done with the prisoner?"

"Let him lie until Constantine comes!" was the response.

Late in the night the general sat gazing upon the miserable heap of
humanity that crouched by the tent side. Amesa raised himself as far
as his bonds would permit, and began to speak.

"Silence!" demanded Castriot, but without taking his eyes from the
prisoner.

A subaltern, anxious to induce the general to take needed rest, again
suggested some disposition of the prisoner for the night.

"Let him lie until Constantine comes!"

"Captain Constantine has been captured, Sire," replied the officer;
"men who were with him have returned, and so report."

"By whom captured?" asked the general in alarm.

"By Janizaries."

Castriot smiled, and asked, "It is certain he was not slain?"

"Certain, Sire, for Ino saw him being taken away."

"Let the prisoner lie there until Captain Constantine returns."

The morning found Amesa still bound. No one had been allowed to speak
to him, nor he to utter a word.

During Castriot's absence from the tent not one approached it; only
the guard patrolled at the distance of a couple of rods.

"The torture of such a villain's thoughts will be more cruel than our
taunts or swords. Let him lie there, and tear himself with his own
devil claws!" had been Castriot's order.

Toward noon the camp rang with cheers. Scouts reported that
Constantine had escaped, and was returning. Castriot alone seemed
unsurprised, though gratified with the news. He went to the edge of
the camp to meet him.

"Well, my boy, your brother was not so well pleased with your looks,
and let you go sooner than I thought he would. I expected you not
until to-night."

"My brother? How knew you, Sire, that I had seen him? for I have told
it to none."

"Then tell it to none. To warn you of that I came to meet you, lest
your tongue might be unwise. Did you not tell me yourself that
Ballaban was the Moslem name of your brother?"

"But how knew you that he was in this service?" asked Constantine.

"As I know every officer in the enemy's service in Albania above an
ojak's command. And the Aga of the Janizaries is to my mind as the
commander of the expedition. And I will tell you more, my boy;--unless
the Padishah has gone daft with his chagrin over this defeat, Ballaban
Aga will command the next campaign against us: for none save he kept
his wits in the fight yesterday. His plan was masterful, and saved the
whole Moslem army. He held his Janizaries so well in hand, and so well
placed, that I could not follow up our advantage, nor even strike to
rescue you. Ballaban evidently has been much in the Albanian wars, and
has learned my methods better than any of our own officers. Should he
succeed to the horse-tails, the war hereafter will not be so one-sided
as it has been. Mark that, my dear fellow. But we must look to our
royal prisoner, after I have heard your story."

Late in the day Castriot summoned Moses Goleme, Kabilovitsch, and
Constantine. Amesa was unbound, and was bidden to speak what he could
in extenuation of his treason. The Voivode protested his innocence of
any designs against the liberties of his country; and declared that he
had despaired of obtaining her independence under Castriot's
leadership. Better was it to take the virtual freedom of Albania under
the Sultan's nominal suzerainty, than to longer wage a hopeless war.
In this he was seconded, he said, by the noblest generals and
patriots. He was about to mention them; but was forbidden to utter so
much as a suspicion against any one.

"I would not know them," said the magnanimous chief. "I will not have
a shadow of distrust in my mind toward any who have not drawn sword
against us. Let them keep their thoughts in their own breasts. Noble
Moses, your lips shall pronounce the sentence due Amesa's treason."

The Dibrian general was silent.

"Then, if Moses speaks no condemnation, no other lips shall," said
Castriot.

Amesa threw himself at the feet of the chief, and began to pour forth
his gratitude.

"The life thou hast spared, Sire, shall ever be thine. My sword shall
be given to thee as sovereign of my heart, as well as of my country."

"Hold!" said Castriot. "What says Arnaud, the forester?"

Amesa raised his face, blanched as suddenly with horror as it had been
flushed with elation. The venerable Kabilovitsch sat in silence for a
time, lost in the vividness of his recollections. At length, with slow
speech and tremulous voice, he portrayed the scenes of that terrible
night when the castle of the gallant De Streeses was destroyed, its
owner slain, the fair Mara driven back into the flames from which she
would have fled.

"It is a lie," shouted Amesa. "The deed was wrought by Turks!"----

"Thy words condemn thee!" said Castriot. "The crime was not laid to
thy charge, Amesa. But now it shall be. Let Drakul be brought."

Soldiers led in the man. The villain, whose hand had stayed at no deed
of daring or cruelty, was now seized with such cowardly fright that he
could scarce keep his legs. He was dragged before the extemporized
court. In answer to questions, he admitted his part, not only in the
original murders, but also in the raid upon the hamlet where Amesa had
suspected the heiress of De Streeses to be concealed.

Amesa's rage at this betrayal burst forth in savage oaths, mingled
with such contradictory denials of his story as clearly confirmed its
truth.

"For his treason against my authority, I refuse to take vengeance,"
said Castriot. "But Albania, appealing for God's aid in establishing
its liberties, must, in God's name, do justice. What says Colonel
Kabilovitsch?"

The old man spoke as if the solemnity of the Last Judgment had fallen
upon him,--

"As soon I must go before Him whose mercy I shall so sadly need for
the sins of my own life, I forgive Amesa the cruelty with which he has
followed me. God is my witness, that my personal grievance colors not
a thought of my heart. But, as I shall soon stand before the Judge,
together with the noble De Streeses, who was robbed of life in its
meridian, and that bright spirit whose cry for Amesa's mercy I heard
from out the flames, I say, Let justice be done! and let the soul of
the murderer be sent to confront his victims there before their God!"

"Amen!" said Constantine. Moses Goleme was silent.

Amesa had lost all his bravado. He trembled as would the meanest of
men who should bow his neck to the sword. He confessed his crime, and
piteously begged for his life; or, at least, that time should be given
him to make preparation for what he dreaded worse than death. A spirit
already damned seemed to have taken possession of his quivering frame.

"Your life, Amesa," said the chief, "is forfeit for your crimes. On
the citadel walls of Croia, when we shall have returned there, as the
sun sets, so shall your life! Jesu grant that, through your
repentance and the prayers of Mother Church, your soul may rise again
in a better world!"

"Amen!" responded all.

The army returned from the Thessalian border through the country
northward, everywhere received with ovations by the people. The fate
of Amesa, though commiserated, was as generally commended. No one,
however attached by association to the once popular Voivode, raised a
voice in dissent from the sentence, or in pity for the culprit.



CHAPTER LVII.


The news reached Morsinia at Croia long before the return of the army.
She took little joy in the hearty and generous acclaim that welcomed
her to her inheritance. She had no vanity to be stimulated by the
popular stories which associated her beauty with her wealth. Her
thoughts seemed to be palled with heaviness, rather than canopied by
the bright prospects which fortune had spread for her.

When Castriot officially announced to her the restoration of the
DeStreeses' property, she refused to enter upon her estates, which
were to come to her through the ceremony of blood in the execution of
her enemy.

"No! Let them be confiscate to the State. I cheerfully surrender their
revenues for Albania. I ask nothing more than to be the instrument of
so aiding our noble cause and its noble leader," said she.

"Albania will insist that you shall obtain your right. From voivode to
lowest peasant, the people will be content only as the daughter of
DeStreeses graces his ancient castle."

"But," responded she, "I shall never enter its doors over the body of
my enemy. May not some other fate be his?"

"Law should be sacred," said Castriot.

"But is it not a law of Albania that even a murderer need not be
executed if all the family of his victim unite in his behalf, and he
pay the Krwnina?[110] Am I not all the family of DeStreeses? Let then
the estates be the Krwnina."

"That cannot be," replied Castriot. "The law requires the price of
blood to be paid by the murderer, and the estates belong not to Amesa.
Besides, Albania will be better served by your occupation of the
castle, reviving its ancient prestige, and proclaiming thus that the
reign of justice has been restored in our land."

"But let justice be mingled with mercy," said Morsinia.

"Nay, the mercy would dilute the quality of the justice."

"Can there be no mitigation of our cousin Amesa's fate, which shall
not prejudice the right?" asked the fair intercessor. "If Jesu prayed
to his Father that His murderers might be forgiven, may not I plead
that my father, the father of his country, shall be gracious to him
who has wronged me?"

Castriot was absorbed in deep thought. At length he replied:

"Ah, how little we men, schooled to revenge and bloodshed, know what
justice is, and what mercy is, as these sentiments move in the heart
of the Eternal! Your pure soul, my child, has closer kinship with
heaven than ours. I fear to deny your request, lest I should offend
that mysterious Spirit which has seemed to counsel me since, in the
land of the Moslems, I swore to return to my Christian faith; and
which, in my prayers and dreams, has been strangely associated with
you. In all that is right and good your conscience shall still inspire
mine: for you are my good angel. Amesa's life shall be spared. But no
breath of his must so much as taint the air of Albania. I am summoned
by my old ally, Ferdinand of Naples, to assist in driving the French
from his domains. Amesa shall go with me, and be kept in custody among
strangers. But it must be proclaimed from the citadel of Croia that
his life is restored him by the daughter of Musache de Streeses.

"And yet, my dear child," continued he, "in these rude times you
cannot dwell alone in the castle. You need a protector who is not only
wise and brave, and loyal to Albania, but loyal to you. My duties
elsewhere will prevent my rendering that service. Colonel
Kabilovitsch's age is stealing the alertness from his energies. Our
Constantine--Ah! Does the blush tell that I am right?" He took her
hand, as he asked: "May I exercise the father's privilege, according
to our Albanian custom, and put this hand into Constantine's, to keep
and to defend?"

Morsinia replied frankly. "Since, Sire, I may not give my estates to
my country, bestow them upon whom you will; and my hand must go to
him, who, since we were children, has held my heart."

The following day, as the sun gilded the walls of Croia with his
setting rays, an immense concourse of soldiers and peasants gathered
within the citadel court. The executioner led the traitor, followed by
a priest, out upon the bastion. A trumpet sounded, and the silence
which followed its dying note was broken by the voice of the crier,
who announced that, in the name of God and the sovereign people, and
by the ordaining of George, Duke of Albania, the decree of justice
should be executed upon the Voivode Amesa. Then followed the record of
his crimes, together with the declaration that his appearance in arms
among the enemy, having been, according to his declaration, not
treason against his country, but rebellion against the military
chieftaincy of Duke George, was by the grace of that high official
forgiven; and further that the sentence of death for his foul murder
of Musache De Streeses and his wife Mara Cernoviche, was, through the
intercession of Mara, sole survivor of that ancient house, and by the
authority of Duke George, commuted to perpetual banishment from the
realm, in such place and condition as seemed best to the Duke for the
security of the land.

The people stood in amazement as they listened. The relief from the
horror of the anticipated spectacle, when the head of the former
favorite should be held up by the executioner, led them to accept
complacently this turn in affairs, even though their judgment did not
commend it. In a few moments the cry rose, "Live Duke George! A
Castriot forever!" Soon it changed to wilder enthusiasm, "Long live
Mara De Streeses!" This storm of applause could not be stilled until
Morsinia permitted herself to be led by Castriot to the edge of the
battlement.

As the sun was setting, the huge mass of the citadel rose like a
mighty altar from the bosom of the gloom which had already settled
about its base. Slowly the shadow had climbed its side, crowding the
last bright ray until it vanished from the top of the parapet. It was
at this instant that Morsinia appeared. The citadel beneath her was
sombre as the coming night which enwrapped it, but her form was
radiant in the lingering splendor of the departing day. As she raised
her hand in response to the grateful clamor of the people, she seemed
the impersonation of a heavenly benediction. The multitude gazed in
reverent silence for a moment. Then, as the sun dropped behind the
western hill, veiling the glory of this apparition, they made the very
sky resound with their shouts; and in the quick gathering darkness
went their ways.

A few weeks later, the castle of De Streeses was decked with banners,
whose bright colors rivalled the late autumnal hues of the forest from
the midst of which it rose. Multitudes of people all day long thronged
the paths leading up to it from the valleys around. Gorgeously arrayed
voivodes, accompanied by their suites, made the ravines resound with
their rattling armor; and bands of peasants, in cheap but gaudy
finery, threaded through the by paths. Those who possessed tents
brought them. Others, upon their arrival in the proximity of the
castle, erected booths and festooned them with vines, which the
advancing season had painted fiery red or burst into gray feathery
plumes. From cleared places near the castle walls rose huge spirals of
smoke, as oxen and sheep, quartered or entire, were being roasted, to
feed the multitude of guests; while great casks of foaming beer and
ruddy sparkling wine excited and slaked their thirst. The recent
defeat of the Turks had led to the withdrawal of their armies, at
least until winter should have passed; and the people of the northern
country gave themselves up to the double celebration of the well-won
peace and the nuptials of Mara De Streeses.

Within the castle the great and the dignified of the land abandoned
themselves to equal freedom with the peasants, in the enjoyment of
games, and the observance of simple and fantastic national customs.
Morsinia and Constantine kissed again through the ivy wreath, as in
the days of childhood. The new matron's distaff touched the oaken
walls of the great dining hall; and her hand spread the table with
bread and wine and water, in formal assumption of her office as
housewife. When she undressed and dressed again the babe, borrowed
from a neighboring cottage, she received sundry scoldings and many
saws of nursery advice from a group of peasant mothers. The happy
couple were almost buried beneath the buckets of grain, which some of
the guests poured over them, as they wished them all the blessings of
the soil. When they approached the fire place they were showered with
sparks, as some one struck the huge glowing log and invoked for them
the possession of herds and flocks and friends as many as the
fireflecks that flew.

Gifts were offered: those of the poor and rich being received with
equal grace;--a rare breed of domestic fowls following a case of
cutlery from Toledo in Spain; and a necklace of pearls preceding a
hound trained by some skillful hunter. On opening the casket which
Castriot presented, as he kissed the golden cluster upon the forehead
of the bride, there was found within a cap of sparkling gems, such as
is worn by oriental brides, a parchment commissioning Constantine as a
voivode in the Albanian service, with governor's command of the Skadar
country.

The blessing of the priest was supplemented by those of the old men,
which were put in form of prophecies. Kabilovitsch inclosed the happy
couple in outstretched arms, and gazing long into their faces, said:

"As on that night at the foot of the Balkans I wrapped you, my
children, in my blanket, and, in my absence, another greater than we
knew, our generous Castriot, took my place to watch over you; so now,
as soon I must leave you forever, One greater than man knows, even our
Covenant God, shall be your guardian!"

A man, apparently decrepit with the weight of years, assumed the
privilege of a venerable stranger upon such occasions, and came to
utter his prophecy. His head was covered with a close fitting fur
cap, which concealed his brow to the eyes. Straggling gray locks hung
partly over his face and down his neck. As he spoke, Constantine
started with evident amazement, which was, however, instantly checked.
The bride seemed strangely fascinated. Kabilovitsch, who had been too
much absorbed with his own thoughts to notice the stranger's approach,
lifted his head quickly, and put his hand to his ear, as if catching
some faint and distant sound. This was the old prophet's blessing--

"Allah ordains that these walls, consecrated to Justice, and inhabited
by Love, shall from this day be guarded by Peace. Even the Moslem's
sword shall be stayed from hence!"

He bowed to the floor, touching with his lips the spot where Morsinia
had stood. Before the guests could fully comprehend this scene, he was
gone. But lying on the floor where he had bowed was a silken case,
elegantly wrought. Morsinia uttered a subdued, yet startled, cry as
she seized it. The gift seemed to have thrown a spell about her; for,
with paled cheeks, she asked that she might retire to rest awhile in
her chamber.

"A wjeshtize!" cried several, looking out from the door through which
the man had passed.

"Heaven grant he has left no curse!" exclaimed others.

The silken case contained several crystals of atar of roses. In one of
these, which was larger than the others, gleamed, instead of the
perfumed drop, a splendid diamond. Upon a piece of parchment, as fine
as the silk of which the case was made, Morsinia read--

     "My pledge to give my life for thine shall be kept when need
     requires--Meanwhile know that the Padishah, the rightful
     Lord of Albania, has bestowed this castle upon Ballaban
     Badera, Aga of the Janizaries, who in turn bestows it upon
     Mara De Streeses--

     "Signed,
     "MICHAEL."

       *       *       *       *       *

Our story has covered a period of thirteen years. For eleven years
more the genius of Scanderbeg, which his perhaps too partial
countrymen used to compare to that of Alexander and Pyrrhus, withstood
the whole power of the Ottoman Empire, directed against him by the
most skilful generals of the age. Sinam and Assem, Jusem and Caraza,
Seremet and the puissant Sultan Mahomet himself successively appeared
in the field; but retreated, leaving their thousands of slain to
attest the invincibility of the Albanian chief. Only one Ottoman
commander ventured to return for a second campaign. The old Latin
chronicles of the monk Marinus Barletius--who records the deeds of
Castriot in thirteen volumes--assign this honorable distinction to the
Janizary, Ballaban Badera. In six campaigns this redoubtable warrior
desolated Albania. From Thessaly, northward over the land, poured the
Moslem tide, but it stayed itself at the waters of Skadar; and, as if
fate had approved the prophecy of the aged stranger at the nuptials of
Constantine and Morsinia, the castle of De Streeses during all these
terrible years, looked down upon bloodless fields. Though his lands
were ravaged, the courage of Castriot was not wearied, nor was his
genius baffled, until, in the year 1467, there came upon him a
mightier than Ballaban, a mightier than Mahomet. In the presence of
the last enemy he commended his country to the valor of his voivodes,
his family to the protection of friends,[111] and his soul to the
grace of Jesu, his Saviour. They buried him in the old church at
Lyssa. Years after, no Scanderbeg succeeding Scanderbeg, the Turks
possessed the land. They dug up his bones, and, inclosing their
fragments in silver and gold, wore them as amulets. Pashas and Viziers
esteemed themselves happy, even in subsequent centuries, if they might
so much as touch a bone of Scanderbeg; "For perchance," they said,
"there may thus be imparted to us some of that valor and skill which
in him were invincible by the might of men."

FOOTNOTES:

[110] The price of blood, generally 1000 piastres among the poorer
classes, which was paid by the culprit to the village where the crime
was committed, and by it paid to the general government.

[111] Castriot married late in life.


THE END.





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we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



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