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   Chapter 12 MUALOX AND HIS WORLD.

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 10141

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Mualox, after the departure of the king and 'tzin, ascended the tower of the old C?, and remained there all night, stooped beside the sacred fire, sorrowing and dreaming, hearkening to the voices of the city, or watching the mild-eyed stars. So the morning found him. He, too, beheld the coming of the sun, and trembled when the Smoking Hill sent up its cloud. Then he heaped fresh fagots on the dying fire, and went down to the court-yard. It was the hour when in all the other temples worshippers came to pray.

He took a lighted lamp from a table in his cell, and followed a passage on deeper into the building. The way, like that to the golden chamber, was intricate and bewildering. Before a door at the foot of a flight of steps he stopped. A number of earthen jars and ovens stood near; while from the room to which the door gave entrance there came a strong, savory perfume, very grateful to the sense of a hungry man. Here was the kitchen of the ancient house. The paba went in.

This was on a level with the water of the canal at the south base; and when the good man came out, and descended another stairway, he was in a hall, which, though below the canal, was dusty and perfectly dry. Down the hall further he came to a doorway in the floor, or rather an aperture, which had at one time been covered and hidden by a ponderous flag-stone yet lying close by. A rope ladder was coiled up on the stone. Flinging the ladder through the door, he heard it rattle on the floor beneath; then he stooped, and called,-

"Tecetl, Tecetl!"

No one replied. He repeated the call.

"Poor child! She is asleep," he said, in a low voice. "I will go down without her."

Leaving the lamp above, he committed himself to the unsteady rope, like one accustomed to it. Below all was darkness; but, pushing boldly on, he suddenly flung aside a curtain which had small silver bells in the fringing; and, ushered by the tiny ringing, he stepped into a chamber lighted and full of beauty,-a grotto carven with infinite labor from the bed-rock of the lake.

And here, in the day mourned by the paba, when the temple was honored, and its god had worshippers, and the name of Quetzal' was second to no other, not even Huitzil's, must have been held the secret conclaves of the priesthood,-so great were the dimensions of the chamber, and so far was it below the roll of waters. But now it might be a place for dwelling, or for thought and dreaming, or for pleasure, or in which the eaters of the African lotus might spend their hours and days of semi-consciousness sounding of a life earthly yet purely spiritual. There were long aisles for walking, and couches for rest; there were pictures, flowers, and a fountain; the walls and ceiling glowed with frescoing; and wherever the eye turned it rested upon some cunning device intended to instruct, gladden, comfort, and content. Lamplight streamed into every corner, ill supplying the perfect sunshine, yet serving its grand purpose. The effect was more than beautiful. The world above was counterfeited, so that one ignorant of the original and dwelling in the counterfeit could have been happy all his life long. Scarcely is it too much to say of the master who designed and finished the grotto, that, could he have borrowed the materials of nature, he had the taste and genius to set a star with the variety and harmony that mark the setting of the earth's surface, and of themselves prove its Creator divine.

THE FORTUNATE HERO, STANDING SO CALMLY BEFORE THEM

In the enchantment of the place there was a peculiarity indicative of a purpose higher than mere enjoyment, and that was the total absence of humanity in the host of things visible. Painted on the ceiling and walls were animals of almost every kind common to the clime; birds of wondrous plumage darted hither and thither, twittering and singing; there, also, were flowers the fairest and most fragrant, and orange and laurel shrubs, and pines and cedars and oaks, and other trees of the forest, dwarfed, and arranged for convenient carriage to the azoteas; in the pictures, moreover, were the objects most remarkable in the face of nature,-rivers, woods, plains, mountains, oceans, the heavens in storm and calm; but nowhere was the picture of man, woman, or child. In the frescoing were houses and temples, grouped as in hamlets and cities, or standing alone on a river's bank, or in the shadow of great trees; but of their habitants and builders there was not a trace. In fine, the knowledge there taught was that of a singular book. A mind receiving impressions, like a child's, would be carried by it far enough in the progressive education of life to form vivid ideas of the world, and yet be left in a dream of unintelligence to people it with fairies, angels, or gods. Almost everything had there a representation but humanity, the brightest fallen nature.

Mualox entered as one habituated to the chamber. The air was soft, balmy, and pleasant, and the illumination mellowed, as if the morning were shut out by curtains of gossamer tinted wit

h roses and gold. Near the centre of the room he came to a fountain of water crystal clear and in full play, the jet shooting from a sculptured stone up almost to the ceiling. Around it were tables, ottomans, couches, and things of vertu, such as would have adorned the palace; there, also, were vases of flowers, culled and growing, and of such color and perfume as would have been estimable in Cholula, and musical instrument, and pencils and paints.

It was hardly possible that this conception, so like the Restful World of Brahma, should be without its angel; for the atmosphere and all were for a spirit of earth or heaven softer than man's. And by the fountain it was,-a soul fresh and pure as the laughing water.

The girl of whom I speak was asleep. Her head lay upon a cushion; over the face, clear and almost white, shone a lambent transparency, which might have been the reflection of the sparkling water. The garments gathered close about her did not conceal the delicacy and childlike grace of her form. One foot was exposed, and it was bare, small, and nearly lost in the tufted mattress of her couch. Under a profusion of dark hair, covering the cushion like the floss of silk, lay an arm; a hand, dimpled and soft, rested lightly on her breast. The slumber was very deep, giving the face the expression of dreamless repose, with the promise of health and happiness upon waking.

The paba approached her tenderly, and knelt down. His face was full of holy affection. He bent his cheek close to her parted lips, listening to her breathing. He brought the straying locks back, and laid them across her neck. Now and then a bird came and lighted on the table, and he waved his mantle to scare it away. And when the voice of the fountain seemed, under an increased pulsation of the water, to grow louder, he looked around, frowning lest it might disturb her. She slept on, his love about her like a silent prayer that has found its consummation in perfect peace.

And as he knelt, he became sad and thoughtful. The events that were to come, and his faith in their coming, were as actual sorrows. His reflections were like a plea addressed to his conscience.

"God pardon me, if, after all, I should be mistaken! The wrong would be so very great as to bar me from the Sun. Is any vanity like that which makes sorrows for our fellows? And such is not only the vanity of the warrior, and that of the ruler of tribes; sometimes it is of the priests who go into the temples thinking of things that do not pertain to the gods. What if mine were such?

"The holy Quetzal' knows that I intended to be kind to the child. I thought my knowledge greater than that of ordinary mortals; I thought it moved in fields where only the gods walk, sowing wisdom. The same vanity, taking words, told me, 'Look up! There is no abyss between you and the gods; they cannot make themselves of the dust, but you can reach their summit almost a god.' And I labored, seeking the principles that would accomplish my dream, if such it were. Heaven forgive me, but I once thought I had found them! Other men looking out on creation could see nothing but Wisdom-Wisdom everywhere; but I looked with a stronger vision, and wherever there was a trace of infinite Wisdom, there was also for me an infinite Will.

"Here were the principles, but they were not enough. Something said to me, 'What were the Wisdom and Will of the gods without subjects?' It was a great idea: I thought I stood almost upon the summit!

"And I set about building me a world, I took the treasure of Quetzal', and collected these marvels, and bought me the labor of art. Weavers, florists, painters, masons,-all toiled for me. Gold, labor, and time are here,-there is little beauty without them. Here is my world," he said aloud, glancing around the great hall.

"I had my world; next I wanted a subject for my will. But where to go? Not among men,-alas, they are their own slaves! One day I stood in the tianguez where a woman was being sold. A baby in her arms smiled, it might have been at the sunshine, it might have been at me. The mother said, 'Buy.' A light flashed upon me-I bought you, my poor child. Men say of the bud, It will be a rose, and of the plant, It will be a tree; you were so young then that I said, 'It will be a mind.' And into my world I brought you, thinking, as I had made it, so I would make a subject. This, I told you, was your birthplace; and here passed your infancy and childhood; here you have dwelt. Your cheeks are pale, my little one, but full and fresh; your breath is sweet as the air above a garden; and you have grown in beauty, knowing nothing living but the birds and me. My will has a subject, O Tecetl, and my heart a child. And judge me, holy Quetzal', if I have not tried to make her happy! I have given her knowledge of everything but humanity, and ignorance of that is happiness. My world has thus far been a heaven to her; her dreams have been of it; I am its god!"

And yet unwilling to disturb her slumber, Mualox arose, and walked away.

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