MoboReader> Literature > The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico

   Chapter 28 LOVE ON THE LAKE

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 10990

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"What can they mean? Here have they been loitering since morning, as if the lake, like the tianguez, were a place for idlers. As I love the gods, if I knew them, they should be punished!"

So the farmer of the chinampa heretofore described as the property of the princess Tula gave expression to his wrath; after which he returned to his employment; that is, he went crawling among the shrubs and flowers, pruning-knife in hand, here clipping a limb, there loosening the loam. Emerging from the thicket after a protracted stay, his ire was again aroused.

"Still there! Thieves maybe, watching a chance to steal. But we shall see. My work is done, and I will not take eyes off of them again."

The good man's alarm was occasioned by the occupants of a canoe, which, since sunrise, had been plying about the garden, never stationary, seldom more than three hundred yards away, yet always keeping on the side next the city. Once in a while the slaves withdrew their paddles, leaving the vessel to the breeze; at such times it drifted so near that swells, something like those of the sea when settling into calm, tumbled the surface; far to the south, however, he discerned the canoe, looking no larger than a blue-winged gull.

"It is coming; I see the prow this way. Is the vase ready?"

"The vase! You forget; there are two of them."

Hualpa looked down confused.

"Does the 'tzin intend them both for Tula?"

Hualpa was the more embarrassed.

"Flowers have a meaning; sometimes they tell tales. Let me see if I cannot read what the 'tzin would say to Tula."

And Io' went forward and brought the vases, and, placing them before him, began to study each flower.

"Io'," said Hualpa, in a low voice, "but one of the vases is the 'tzin's."

"And the other?" asked the prince, looking up.

Hualpa's face flushed deeper.

"The other is mine. Have you not two sisters?"

Io's eyes dilated; a moment he was serious, then he burst out laughing.

"I have you now! Nenetzin,-she, too, has a lover."

The hunter never found himself so at loss; he played with the loops of his escaupil, and refused to take his eyes off the coming canoe. Through his veins the blood ran merrily; in his brain it intoxicated, like wine.

"And pleasanter yet to be made noble and master of a palace over by Chapultepec," Io' answered. "But see! Yonder is a canoe."

"From the city?"

"It is too far off; wait awhile."

But Hualpa, impatient, leaned over the side, and looked for himself. At the time they were up in the northern part of the lake, at least a league from the capital. Long, regular he could see the voyageurs reclining in the shade of the blue canopy, wrapped in escaupils such as none but lords or distinguished merchants were permitted to wear.

The leisurely voyageurs, on their part, appeared to have a perfect understanding of the light in which they were viewed from the chinampa.

"There he is again! See!" said one of them.

The other lifted the curtain, and looked, and laughed.

"Ah! if we could send an arrow there, just near enough to whistle through the orange-trees. Tula would never hear the end of the story. He would tell her how two thieves came to plunder him; how they shot at him; how narrowly he escaped-"

"And how valiantly he defended the garden. By Our Mother, Io', I have a mind to try him!"

Hualpa half rose to measure the distance, but fell back at once. "No. Better that we get into no difficulty. We are messengers, and have these flowers to deliver. Besides, the judge is not to my liking."

"Tula is merciful, and would forgive you for the 'tzin's sake."

"I meant the judge of the court," Hualpa said, soberly. "You never saw him lift the golden arrow, as if to draw it across your portrait. It is pleasanter sitting here, in the shade, rocked by the water."

"I have heard how love makes women of warriors; now I will see,-I will see how brave you are."

"Ho, slaves! Put the canoe about; yonder are those whom I would meet," Hualpa shouted.

The vessel was headed to the south. A long distance had to be passed, and in the time the ambassador recovered himself. Lying down again, and twanging the chord of his bow, he endeavored to compose a speech to accompany the delivery of the vase to Tula. But his thoughts would return to his own love; the laugh with which Io' received his explanation flattered him; and, true to the logic of the passion, he already saw the vase accepted, and himself the favored of Nenetzin. From that point the world of dreams was but a step distant; he took the step, but was brought back by Io'.

"They recognize us; Nenetzin waves her scarf!"

The approaching vessel was elegant as the art of the Aztecan shipmaster could make it. The prow was sculptured into the head and slender, curved neck of a swan. The passengers, fair as ever journeyed on sea wave, sat under a canopy of royal green, above which floated a panache of long, trailing feathers, colored like the canopy. Like a creature of the water, so lightly, so gracefully, the boat drew nigh the messengers. When alongside, Io' sprang aboard, and, with boyish ardor, embraced his sisters.

"What has kept you so?"

"We stayed to see twenty thousand warriors cross the causeway," replied Nenetzin.

"Where can they be going?"

"To Cholula."

The news excited the boy; turning to speak to Hualpa, he was reminded of his duty.

"Here is a messenger from Guatamozin,-the lord Hualpa, who slew the tiger in th

e garden."

The heart of the young warrior beat violently; he touched the floor of the canoe with his palm.

And Tula spoke. "We have heard the minstrels sing the story. Arise, lord Hualpa."

"The words of the noble Tula are pleasanter than any song. Will she hear the message I bring?"

She looked at Io' and Nenetzin, and assented.

"Guatamozin salutes the noble Tula. He hopes the blessings of the gods are about her. He bade me say, that four mornings ago the king visited him at his palace, but talked of nothing but the strangers; so that the contract with Iztlil', the Tezcucan, still holds good. Further, the king asked his counsel as to what should be done with the strangers. He advised war, whereupon the king became angry, and departed, saying that a courier would come for the 'tzin when his presence was wanted in the city; so the banishment also holds good. And so, finally, there is no more hope from interviews with the king. All that remains is to leave the cause to time and the gods."

A moment her calm face was troubled; but she recovered, and said, with simple dignity,-

"I thank you. Is the 'tzin well and patient?"

"He is a warrior, noble Tula, and foemen are marching through the provinces, like welcome guests; he thinks of them, and curses the peace as a season fruitful of dishonor."

Nenetzin, who had been quietly listening, was aroused.

"Has he heard the news? Does he not know a battle is to be fought in Cholula?"

"Such tidings will be medicine to his spirit."

"A battle!" cried Io'. "Tell me about it, Nenetzin."

"I, too, will listen," said Hualpa; "for the gods have given me a love of words spoken with a voice sweeter than the flutes of Tezca'."

The girl laughed aloud, and was well pleased, although she answered,-

"My father gave me a bracelet this morning, but he did not carry his love so far as to tell me his purposes; and I am not yet a warrior to talk to warriors about battles. The lord Maxtla, even Tula here, can better tell you of such things."

"Of what?" asked Tula.

"Io' and his friend wish to know all about the war."

The elder princess mused a moment, and then said gravely, "You may tell the 'tzin, as from me, lord Hualpa, that twenty thousand warriors this morning marched for Cholula; that the citizens there have been armed; and to-morrow, the gods willing, Malinche will be attacked. The king at one time thought of conducting the expedition himself; but, by persuasion of the paba, Mualox, he has given the command to the lord Cuitlahua."

Io' clapped his hands. "The gods are kind; let us rejoice, O Hualpa! What marching of armies there will be! What battles! Hasten, and let us to Cholula; we can be there before the night sets in."

"What!" said Nenetzin. "Would you fight, Io'? No, no; come home with us, and I will put my parrot in a tree, and you may shoot at him all day."

The boy went to his own canoe, and, returning, held up a shield of pearl and gold. "See! With a bow I beat our father and the lord Hualpa, and this was the prize."

"That a shield!" Nenetzin said. "A toy,-a mere brooch to a Tlascalan, I have a tortoise-shell that will serve you better."

The boy frowned, and a rejoinder was on his lips when Tula spoke.

"The flowers in your vases are very beautiful, lord Hualpa. What altar is to receive the tribute?"

Nenetzin's badinage had charmed the ambassador into forgetfulness of his embassy; so he answered confusedly, "The noble Tula reminds me of my duty. Before now, standing upon the hills of Tihuanco, watching the morning brightening in the east, I have forgotten myself. I pray pardon-"

Tula glanced archly at Nenetzin. "The morning looks pleasant; doubtless, its worshipper will be forgiven."

And then he knew the woman's sharp eyes had seen into his inner heart, and that the audacious dream he there cherished was exposed; yet his confusion gave place to delight, for the discovery had been published with a smile. Thereupon, he set one of the vases at her feet, and touched the floor with his palm, and said,-

"I was charged by Guatamozin to salute you again, and say that these flowers would tell you all his hopes and wishes."

As she raised the gift, her hand trembled; then he discovered how precious a simple Cholulan vase could become; and with that his real task was before him. Taking the other vase, he knelt before Nenetzin.

"I have but little skill in courtierly ways," he said. "In flowers I see nothing but their beauty; and what I would have these say is, that if Nenetzin, the beautiful Nenetzin, will accept them, she will make me very happy."

The girl looked at Tula, then at him; then she raised the vase, and, laughing, hid her face in the flowers.

But little more was said; and soon the lashings were cast off, and the vessels separated.

On the return Hualpa stopped at Tenochtitlan, and in the shade of the portico, over a cup of the new beverage, now all the fashion, received from Xoli the particulars of the contemplated attack upon the strangers in Cholula; for, with his usual diligence in the fields of gossip, the broker had early informed himself of all that was to be heard of the affair. And that night, while Io' dreamed of war, and the hunter of love, the 'tzin paced his study or wandered through his gardens, feverishly solicitous about the result of the expedition.

"If it fail," he repeated over and over,-"if it fail, Malinche will enter Tenochtitlan as a god!"

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