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Romanus, towers were moved on rollers to the ditch outside the city, from which ladders could be extended to the wall. The immense cannons were placed in position, and on the morning of the eighth of April, 1453, preparations were completed.
Nor during all these months were the inhabitants of the city inactive, yet the defense was weak. From the time the first dark clouds of danger had begun to threaten, thousands deserted their homes and firesides and left the city to the defense of the few. Finally, out of over 100,000 inhabitants only 6,000 could be found to take up arms and with the emperor repel the invaders, and these were stationed at the weakest points.
Day after day did the Turks attempt to enter the city, and as often were they repulsed by this Gideon's band.
The first assault was a failure, and the treasures of Constantinople lay still untouched by impious hands. Six weeks dragged slowly on-weeks of anxious suspense and hope, weeks, every day of which was filled with preparations. Reinforcements were received by the Turks. Three hundred boats were transported ten miles overland to the harbor in the dead of night.
More cannons were pointed towards walls already shattered. Mohammed had cause to believe that the city could not withstand another attack, and it was divinely revealed to him that the twenty-ninth of May should be the day of a second assault. On the eve of the twenty-ninth, as the sun sank to the western sky, it saw a sight weird and strange. From the domes inside the city was reflected its golden light, and flashing in the sun shone the polished weapons of a restless army outside the wall. The sun went down, the stars came out and shone upon a scene, weirder, stranger still.
The Sultan strode among his men and told them of the Paradise that waits for those who bravely fight and die. A province would he give to him who first should scale the city wall. He told them of rich treasures that would all be theirs if victory they gained upon the morrow; and not till midnight did he find his tent to indulge in a few hours of fitful sleep.
From watch towers all along the wall, night guards watched the Moslem hosts below. There was no sleep in Constantinople that night. If we had wended our way through the deserted streets to the church of St. Sophia, we would have seen the Greek emperor, Constantine, ride up, dismount, and, with his few chosen knights, enter the magnificent portals, and, on bended knee, with head low bo wed before the images of the virgin and numerous saints, in vain implore, in a fervent prayer, their mercy for safe deliverance.
Before the altar, under dimly burning tapers he knelt. Above him circled a gorgeous dome, which for centuries had echoed with many supplications to the Almighty. Upon the walls, hundreds of costly jewels reflected the low, flickering rays, and as he thought that for the last time he gazed upon these sacred walls, with bitter tears, his brave
heart sank within him. To-morrow his scepter would be wrested from him.
Ere the morrow's sun had set, the altar where he had knelt so many times would be defiled, and he who prayed there now would be no more. Fate thus whispered to the imperial head. But not without a struggle would he surrender the empire of his fathers, and walking out into the night again he ascended the tower to watch. Slowly the hours dragged on; all was still, save the muffled tread of soldiers outside the city, and, as the dawn approached, the watchfires grew less and less distinct and slowly sank to ashes.
Far in the east, a faint streak of grey announced the break of morn. A moment, and a dozen cannons volleyed forth with loud report. The calm was changed into a mighty storm. The thunders of battle furiously roared within and without. Loud rose commands of generals in the heart of bloody conflict. Clouds of dust and smoke overwhelmed women and children wandering the streets in a heart-rending search for a last refuge. What an awful vision of human ambition and revenge! Shrieks of the wounded, groans of the dying, wild exclamations, cheers and struggles of the living, awe-inspiring martial music rising here and there above the clash and clang of arms. Like a mighty whirlwind, on, on, towards St. Romanus' gate advance attacking thousands.
For a moment they waver; hand to hand in a death struggle they grapple with resisting Greeks. Back, slowly back, they force the few that struggle hardest; then, with a mighty, sudden onslaught, down the handful of Greeks that remain. Then arises, from two hundred thousand throats, the wild cry of victory. Allah Ekber, Allah Ekber! rends the air, and the Byzantine empire, in one brief day has fallen! The flickering light of the eastern Roman empire has been extinguished once for all! The faithful emperor, Constantine, was among the slain. All save a few of his brave soldiers died fighting at the gate. That night the setting sun beheld a different sight. No army lay encamped outside the city wall, but high over the ramparts floated an alien flag-the star and crescent of the Turks.