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The Captain of the Janizaries: A Story of the Times of Scanderberg and the Fall of Constantinople

213 pages
Library of Alexandria
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 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.