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   Chapter 32 MONTEZUMA GOES TO MEET CORTES

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 10776

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Came the eighth of November, which no Spaniard, himself a Conquistador, can ever forget; that day Cortes entered Tenochtitlan.

The morning dawned over Anahuac as sometimes it dawns over the Bay of Naples, bringing an azure haze in which the world seemed set afloat.

"Look you, uncles," said Montezuma, yet at breakfast, and speaking to his councillors: "they are to go before me, my heralds; and as Malinche is the servant of a king, and used to courtly styles, I would not have them shame me. Admit them with the nequen off. As they will appear before him, let them come to me."

And thereupon four nobles were ushered in, full-armed, even to the shield. Their helms were of glittering silver; their escaupiles, or tunics of quilted mail, were stained vivid green, and at the neck and borders sparkled with pearls; over their shoulders hung graceful mantles of plumaje, softer than cramoisy velvet; upon their breasts blazed decorations and military insignia; from wrist to elbow, and from knee to sandal-strap, their arms and legs were sheathed in scales of gold. And so, ready for peaceful show or mortal combat,-his heroes and ambassadors,-they bided the monarch's careful review.

"Health to you, my brothers! and to you, my children!" he said, with satisfaction. "What of the morning? How looks the sun?"

"Like the beginning of a great day, O king, which we pray may end happily for you," replied Cuitlahua.

"It is the work of Huitzil'; doubt not! I have called you, O my children, to see how well my fame will be maintained. I wish to show Malinche a power and beauty such as he has never seen, unless he come from the Sun itself. Earth has but one valley of Anahuac, one city of Tenochtitlan: so he shall acknowledge. Have you directed his march as I ordered?"

And Cacama replied, "Through the towns and gardens, he is to follow the shore of the lake to the great causeway. By this time he is on the road."

Then Montezuma's face flushed; and, lifting his head as it were to look at objects afar off, he said aloud, yet like one talking to himself,-

"He is a lover of gold, and has been heard speak of cities and temples and armies; of his people numberless as the sands. O, if he be a man, with human weaknesses,-if he has hope, or folly of thought, to make him less than a god,-ere the night fall he shall give me reverence. Sign of my power shall he find at every step: cities built upon the waves; temples solid and high as the hills; the lake covered with canoes and gardens; people at his feet, like stalks in the meadow; my warriors; and Tenochtitlan, city of empire! And then, if he greet me with hope or thought of conquest,-then-" He shuddered.

"And then what?" said Cuitlahua, upon whom not a word had been lost.

The thinker, startled, looked at him coldly, saying,-

"I will take council of the gods."

And for a while he returned to his choclatl. When next he looked up, and spoke, his face was bright and smiling.

"With a train, my children, you are to go in advance of me, and meet Malinche at Xoloc. Embrace him, speak to him honorably, return with him, and I will be at the first bridge outside the city. Cuitlahua and Cacama, be near when he steps forward to salute me. I will lean upon your shoulders. Get you gone now. Remember Anahuac!"

Shortly afterward a train of nobles, magnificently arrayed, issued from the palace, and marched down the great street leading to the Iztapalapan causeway. The house-tops, the porticos, even the roofs and towers of temples, and the pavements and cross-streets, were already occupied by spectators. At the head of the procession strode the four heralds. Silently they marched, in silence the populace received them. The spectacle reminded very old men of the day the great Axaya' was borne in mournful pomp to Chapultepec. Once only there was a cheer, or, rather, a war-cry from the warriors looking down from the terraces of a temple. So the cortege passed from the city; so, through a continuous lane of men, they moved along the causeway; so they reached the gates of Xoloc, at which the two dikes, one from Iztapalapan, the other from Cojohuaca, intersected each other. There they halted, waiting for Cortes.

And while the train was on the road, out of one of the gates of the royal garden passed a palanquin, borne by four slaves in the king's livery. The occupants were the princesses Tula and Nenetzin, with Yeteve in attendance. In any of the towns of old Spain there would have been much remark upon the style of carriage, but no denial of their beauty, or that they were Spanish born. The elder sister was thoughtful and anxious; the younger kept constant lookout; the priestess, at their feet, wove the flowers with which they were profusely supplied into ramilletes, and threw them to the passers-by. The slaves, when in the great street, turned to the north.

"Blessed Lady!" cried Yeteve. "Was the like ever seen?"

"What is it?" asked Nenetzin.

"Such a crowd of people!"

Nenetzin looked out again, saying, "I wish I could see a noble or a warrior."

"That may not be," said Tula. "The nobles are gone to receive Malinche, the warriors are shut up in the temples."

"Why so?"

"They may be needed."

"Ah! was it thought there is such danger? But look, see!" And Nenetzin drew back alarmed, yet laughing.

There was a crash outside, and a loud shou

t, and the palanquin stopped. Tula drew the curtain quickly, not knowing but that the peril requiring the soldiery was at hand. A vendor of little stone images,-teotls, or household gods,-unable to get out of the way, had been run upon by the slaves, and the pavement sprinkled with the broken heads and legs of the luckless lares. Aside, surveying the wreck, stood the pedler, clad as usual with his class. In his girdle he carried a mallet, significant of his trade. He was uncommonly tall, and of a complexion darker than the lowest slaves. While the commiserate princess observed him, he raised his eyes; a moment he stood uncertain what to do; then he stepped to the palanquin, and from the folds of his tunic drew an image elaborately carved upon the face of an agate.

"The good princess," he said, bending so low as to hide his face, "did not laugh at the misfortune of her poor slave. She has a friendly heart, and is loved by every artisan in Tenochtitlan. This carving is of a sacred god, who will watch over and bless her, as I now do. If she will take it, I shall be glad."

"It is very valuable, and maybe you are not rich," she replied.

"Rich! When it is told that the princess Tula was pleased with a teotl of my carving, I shall have patrons without end. And if it were not so, the recollection will make me rich enough. Will she please me so much?"

She took from her finger a ring set with a jewel that, in any city of Europe, would have bought fifty such cameos, and handed it to him.

"Certainly; but take this from me. I warrant you are a gentle artist."

The pedler took the gift, and kissed the pavement, and, after the palanquin was gone, picked up such of his wares as were uninjured, and went his way well pleased.

At the gate of the temple of Huitzil' the three alighted, and made their way to the azoteas. The lofty place was occupied by pabas and citizens, yet a sun-shade of gaudy feather-work was pitched for them close by the eastern verge, overlooking the palace of Axaya', and commanding the street up which the array was to come. In the area below, encompassed by the Coatapantli, or Wall of Serpents, ten thousand warriors were closely ranked, ready to march at beat of the great drum hanging in the tower. Thus, comfortably situated, the daughters of the king awaited the strangers.

When Montezuma started to meet his guests, the morning was far advanced. A vast audience, in front of his palace, waited to catch a view of his person. Of his policy the mass knew but the little gleaned from a thousand rumors,-enough to fill them with forebodings of evil. Was he going out as king or slave? At last he came, looking their ideal of a child of the Sun, and ready for the scrutiny. Standing in the portal, he received their homage; not one but kissed the ground before him.

He stepped out, and the sun, as if acknowledging his presence, seemed to pour a double glory about him. In the time of despair and overthrow that came, alas! too soon, those who saw him, in that moment of pride, spread his arms in general benediction, remembered his princeliness, and spoke of him ever after in the language of poetry. The tilmatli, looped at the throat, and falling gracefully from his shoulders, was beaded with jewels and precious stones; the long, dark-green plumes in his panache drooped with pearls; his sash was in keeping with the mantle; the thongs of his sandals were edged with gold, and the soles were entirely of gold. Upon his breast, relieved against the rich embroidery of his tunic, symbols of the military orders of the realm literally blazed with gems.

About the royal palanquin, in front of the portal, bareheaded and barefooted, stood its complement of bearers, lords of the first rank, proud of the service. Between the carriage and the doorway a carpet of white cloth was stretched: common dust might not soil his feet. As he stepped out, he was saluted by a roar of attabals and conch-shells. The music warmed his blood; the homage was agreeable to him,-was to his soul what incense is to the gods. He gazed proudly around, and it was easy to see how much he was in love with his own royalty.

Taking his place in the palanquin, the cortege moved slowly down the street. In advance walked stately caciques with wands, clearing the way. The carriers of the canopy, which was separate from the carriage, followed next; and behind them, reverently, and with downcast faces, marched an escort of armed lords indescribably splendid.

The street traversed was the same Malinche was to traverse. Often and again did the subtle monarch look to paves and house-tops, and to the canals and temples. Well he knew the cunning guest would sweep them all, searching for evidences of his power; that nothing would escape examination; that the myriads of spectators, the extent of the city, its position in the lake, and thousands of things not to be written would find places in the calculation inevitable if the visit were with other than peaceful intent.

At a palace near the edge of the city the escort halted to abide the coming.

Soon, from the lake, a sound of music was heard, more plaintive than that of the conchs.

"They are coming, they are coming! The teules are coming!" shouted the people; and every heart, even the king's, beat quicker. Up the street the cry passed, like a hurly gust of wind.

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