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" What vessel is that which lags so much behind the others ?” inquired the Emperor.
“I know not, sire."
“It must be the Bucentaur,” replied Justiniani, who had shortly before returned from his mission. “I have
er at Genoa. She is slow, in truth; but none will do greater execution when she is once among them No fear of any attack, my liege, from the land; the Infidels are as much excited as we are. I saw the Sultan himself, on that noble white horse of his, galloping down to the Seven Towers ; and they say that Achmet Pasha, and Baltha Ogli, and Calil Pasha, are all in the fleet."
“ Who commands it ?” inquired Phranza.
The Bucentaur having come up abreast of the other ships, the squadron, again crowding all canvas, bore up the strait. When almost abreast of the Seven Towers, De Rushton gave orders that the Unicorn should allow the S. Irene to pass.
The imperial eagle came proudly on, leading the way: the Unicorn and the Dolphin abreast behind her, the S. Francis and the Bucentaur last. At the same moment the sun, which had been behind a cloud, burst forth in its afternoon splendour, dazzling and perplexing the Infidels, rendering every object clear and distinct to the Christians. On their left, the walls of Constantinople were a living mass of heads; and as the Eagle flag passed the Seven Towers, one long, loud, continued cheer ran along the city wall, and passed on and on, till it lost itself in the distance. Men threw
caps, women waved their shawls and handkerchiefs, and the cheer was returned in quick succession from the five ships. Constantine had given orders that the great banner of the Empire should be planted where
he stood; and the Sultan, on his white steed Pasha, was almost as conspicuous an object on the sea shore.
At half-past three o'clock, Baltha Ogli made the signal to the wings of the Crescent to get into action.
Instantly a flight of arrows and quarrels were volleyed forth from the right horn, that under the walls of the city ; but they fell far short of the S. Irene, and the men replied by a derisive cheer.
“ Justiniani,” cried the Emperor, “spur to the Contoscalion, and bid them open their fire. If they wait till the ships are abreast, the opportunity will be lost."
Justiniani rode off, the great guns roared one after the other, and a dense cloud of smoke blotted out all view of the squadron. Presently the cannon boomed from the ships ; and to those on the walls all was confusion. Shouts, cries, firing, hissing of Greek Fire, shrieks, told that the fight was going on; but that was all.
Around the Emperor crowded the royal party,—all but Theodora. She was leaning on the wall of the terrace, and hiding her face in her hands,
“ Cheer up, lady,” said Constantine ; "this will not last long."
“You had better go in, Theodora," said her father.
“No, I am best here,” she said. Oh, merciful Panaghia, what was that ?"
From the midst of that dense cloud of smoke shot a perfect geyser of Greek Fire, spreading far and wide, and followed in its descent by shrieks, groans, and outcries, that echoed above all the other sounds from Chalcedon to Galata.
“Some one is hard pressed,” said the Exarch ; “hark to the cannon!"
They were fired for the time with such extreme velocity,
that the excitement grew intense. On a sudden there was a dead pause.
“ That's bad,” said Justiniani.
“O God, that a breeze would spring up !” burst from the lips of Constantine.
Not immediately, but it did spring up. Now the face of the battle was indeed changed. Far ahead of the other vessels was the Bucentaur, having won her way nearly so far as to be abreast of S. Sophia, and clearly certain to make the harbour. Surrounded on all sides with the Turkish boats, but still fighting at a distance with them, and every stitch of canvas set, bore along the Dolphin and the S. Francis; the Unicorn, once the first, was now running in right under the guns of the Contoscalion; while the S. Irene, driven out into the middle of the channel, was in a pitiable state. Ten or twelve boats were hooked to her side; the Turks were swarming up her like bees; Baltha Ogli's own galley lay close astern of her ; everywhere the soldiers were pushing their assailants down with long pikes; the sails were cut to pieces with bolts from cross-bows and musket-balls.
“God help her!” cried the Exarch. Even Theodora, so close was the fight, could discern the imminent danger of De Rushton, and fell on her knees, clasping her hands together in an agony of supplication. At length-it seemed as a last resource- the Imperial Eagle was run up reversed, as a signal of distress, that the other ships might come to her assistance. Too
eager for their own safety to pay any attention to their over-matched companion, the Dolphin, the S. Francis, and the Unicorn fought on their way inch by inch ; but, in a minute, the sails of the Bucentaur, now certainly free from danger, shivered, her helm was put down, and she swung round again into the heat of the battle.
“Bravo, Bucentaur! bravo, Bucentaur! The Virgin the Protectress !" was the shout that ran along the walls.
“S. Luke for Genoa!” shouted Justiniani ; 6 all will be well yet.”
On it went, the great lumbering ship, dashing aside the Turkish boats, as a whale might pass through a shoal of herrings; and bearing down on the windward side of the S. Irene, poured in a deadly shower of Greek fire on the boats, trapped, as it were, between the two vessels. Leaving that side to the care of his ally, De Rushton evidently concentrated all his efforts on the leeward side, and the Turks were clearly baffled there also. Boats were hurriedly pushed off, men leaped into the water, and presently the Imperial Eagle again floated proudly as before.
“Take her in tow, take her in tow, Bucentaur !" cried Justiniani, as if he could be heard.
“He will,” said Constantine; “God be praised ! But look! the other galleys are crowding up !—they will have a hard fight of it yet.”
“ Two are safe, sire, at least,” said Phranza; for now the Dolphin and the S. Francis had beaten off all their assailants, had rounded the Seraglio Point, and were tacking into the Golden Horn. Already the blacksmiths were at work, the great chain relaxed, and, amidst cheers that burst from both sides of the Horn, they sailed slowly and majestically into the harbour. The Unicorn was still hardly beset.
In the meantime, messengers were continually despatched by the Sultan, both by sea and land, to every portion of his vast armament. Now it was an order to Calil Pasha to urge on the transmission of the lighter artillery to the sea side; a command which the wily Pasha took all possible care to make every show of obeying, while in reality retarding the workmen: now it was an urgent injunction to Baltha Ogli to close in with the galleys around the vessels that yet lay in the power of the Infidels : now it was a threat of death to the Capitan Pasha if he allowed any one of the Christian vessels to enter the Horn. The sun was now almost in the very horizon; his slant rays shot along the channel, topping the waves with the lustre of rubies, or falling more mournfully on broken hulks, dismantled masts, useless oars, dead bodies, and all the wreck of a battle. Still the two great vessels, the Bucentaur and the S. Irene, were fighting in a shoal of the Moslem boats ; but gradually forcing their way onwards and approached so nearly by the Unicorn as to be able to render her some assistance in her great strait. Three times, however, that day, the Emperor gave up De Rushton and his Genoese ally for lost men: three times a vigorous effort drove back the boarders, and allowed some faint progress to be made. The wind kept steady the whole afternoon to the same point; yet it was past seven o'clock when the vessels rounded the Seraglio Point, and steered right up towards the harbour.
Here the Turkish boats dared not follow : the artillery, now reduced to two or three barrels of gunpowder in all, was too well served, from the city side: and the Genoese merchants of Galata brought one or two smaller pieces to bear upon the scene of action : less moved by the danger of Constantinople, than by that of the Bucentaur. But Baltha Ogli, dreading the rage of the Sultan beyond all other perils, crowded all sail on the six galleys that were the flower of the fleet, bade the slaves row their best, and pursued.
“Now, my lords,” said Constantine, who had till then kept his post in the gardens of Phranza, “our place is by the Horn. Follow me. Is there a horse in waiting ?"