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   Chapter 36 ENNUYé IN THE OLD PALACE.

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 10301

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"Father, holy father!-and by my sword, as belted knight, Olmedo, I call thee so in love and honor,-I have heard thee talk in learned phrase about the saints, and quote the sayings of monks, mere makers of books, which I will swear are for the most part dust, or, at least, not half so well preserved as the bones of their scribblers,-I say I have thus heard thee talk and quote for hours at a time, until I have come to think thy store of knowledge is but jargon of that kind. Shake thy head! Jargon, I say a second time."

"It is knowledge that leadeth to righteousness. Bien quisto! Thou wouldst do well to study it," replied the padre, curtly.

A mocking smile curled the red-haired lip of the cavalier. "Knowledge truly! I recollect hearing the Se?or Hernan once speak of thee. He said thou wert to him a magazine, full of learning precious as breadstuffs."

"Right, my son! Breadstuffs for the souls of sinners irreverent as-"

"Out with it!"

"As thou."

"Picaro! Only last night thou didst absolve me, and, by the Palmerins, I have just told my beads!"

"I think I have heard of the Palmerins," said the priest, gravely; "indeed, I am certain of it; but I never heard of them as things to swear by before. Hast thou a license as coiner of oaths?"

"Cierto, father, thou dost remind me of my first purpose; which was to test thy knowledge of matters, both ancient and serious, outside of what thou callest the sermons of the schoolmen. And I will not take thee at disadvantage. O no! If I would play fairly with the vilest heathen, and slay him with none but an honest trick of the sword, surely I cannot less with thee."

"Slay me!"

"That will I,-in a bout at dialectics. I will be fair, I say. I will begin by taking thee in a field which every knight hath traversed, if, perchance, he hath advanced so far in clerkliness as to read,-a field divided between heralds, troubadours, and poets, and not forbidden to monks; with which thou shouldst be well acquainted, seeing that, of late days at least, thou hast been more prone to knightly than saintly association!"

"Santa Maria!" said Olmedo, crossing himself. "It is our nature to be prone to things sinful."

"I smell the cloister in thy words. Have at thee! Stay thy steps."

The two had been pacing the roof of the palace during the foregoing passage. Both stopped now, and Alvarado said, "Firstly,-nay, I will none of that; numbering the heads of a discourse is a priestly trick. To begin, by my conscience!-ho, father, that oath offends thee not, for it is the Se?or Hernan's, and by him thou art thyself always ready to swear."

"If thou wouldst not get lost in a confusion of ideas, to thy purpose quickly."

"Thank thee. Who was Amadis de Gaul?"

"Hero of the oldest Spanish poem."

"Right!" said the knight, stroking his beard. "And who was Oriana?"

"Heroine of the same story; more particularly, daughter of Lisuarte, King of England."

"Thou didst reprove me for swearing by the Palmerins; who were they?"

"Famous knights, who founded chivalry by going about slaying dragons, working charities, and overthrowing armies of heathen, for the Mother's sake."

"Excellently answered, by my troth! I will have to lead thee into deeper water. Pass we the stories of Ruy Diaz, and Del Carpio, and Pelayo. I will even grant that thou hast heard of Hernan Gonzales; but canst thou tell in how many ballads his prowess hath been sung?"

Olmedo was silent.

"Already!" cried Alvarado, exultant. "Already! By the cross on my sword, I have heard of thirty. But to proceed. Omitting Roland, and Roncesvalles, and the brethren of the Round Table, canst thou tell me of the Seven Lords of Lares?"

"No. But there is a Lord of whom I can tell thee, and of whom it will be far more profitable for thee to inquire."

"I knew a minstrel-a rare fellow-who had a wondrous voice and memory, and who sang fifteen songs all about the Lords of Lares; and he told me there were as many more. O, for the time of the true chivalry, when our Spanish people were song-lovers, and honor was of higher esteem than gold! In one respect, Olmedo, I am more Moslem than Christian."

The padre crossed himself.

"Mahomet-so saith history-taught his warriors that Paradise lieth in the shade of crossing scimitars,-as unlike thy doctrine as a stone is unlike a plum. Picaro! It pleaseth me; it hardeneth the heart and grip; it is more inspiring than clarions and drums."

Olmedo looked into the blue eyes of the knight, now unusually bright, and said, "Thou didst jest at my knowledge; now I ask thee, son, is it not better to have a mind full of saintly lore than one which nothing holds but swords and lances and high-bred steeds? What dost thou know but war?"

"The taste of good wine," said Alvarado, seriously; "and by Sta. Agnes, holy father, I would I had my canteen full; the smoke from these dens is turning me into a Dutch sausage. Look to the towers of yon temple,-the great one just before us. How the clouds ascending from them poison the morning air! When my sword is at the throats of the fire-keepers, Heaven help me to slay them!"

Alvarad

o then took the tassels of the cord around the good man's waist, and pulled him forward. "Come briskly, father! This roof is all the field left us for exercise; and much do I fear that we will dream many times of green meadows before we see them again." Half dragging him, the knight lengthened his strides. "Step longer, father! Thou dost mince the pace, like a woman."

"Hands off, irreverent!" cried the padre, holding back. "My feet are not iron-shod, like thine."

"What! Didst thou not climb the mountains on the way hither barefooted? And dost now growl at these tiles? Last night Sandoval shod his mare, the gay Motilla, with silver, which he swore was cheaper, if not better, than iron. When next we take a morning trot, like this, cierto, I will borrow two of the precious shoes for thee."

Olmedo's gown, of coarse, black woollen serge, was not a garment a Greek, preparing for a race, would have chosen; the long skirts hampered his legs; he stumbled, and would have fallen, but for his tormentor.

"Stay thee, father! Hast been drinking? Not here shouldst thou kneel unless in prayer; and for that, bethink thee, house-tops are for none but Jews." And the rough knight laughed heartily. "Nay, talking will tire thee," he continued. "Take breath first. If my shield were at hand, I would fan thee. Or wouldst thou prefer to sit? or better still, to lie down? Do so, if thou wouldst truly oblige me; for, by my conscience, as Cortes sweareth, I have not done testing thy knowledge of worthy things outside the convent libraries. I will take thee into a new field, and ask of the Moorish lays; for, as thou shouldst know, if thou dost not, they have had their minstrels and heroes as fanciful and valiant as infidels ever were; in truth, but little inferior to the best of old Castile."

Olmedo attempted to speak.

"Open not thy mouth, father, except to breathe. I will talk until thy tire is over. I was on the Moors. A fine race they were, bating always their religion. Of their songs, thou hast probably heard that mournful roundelay, the Loves of Gazul and Abindarraez; probably listened to Tales of the Arabian Nights, or to verses celebrating the tournaments in the Bivarrambla. Certainly, thou hast heard recitals of the rencontres, scimitar in hand, between the Zegris and Abencerrages. By Sta. Agnes! they have had warriors fit for the noblest songs. At least, father, thou knowest-" He stopped abruptly, while a lad mounted the roof and approached them, cap in hand.

"Excellent Se?or, so it please thee, my master hath somewhat to say to thee in his chamber below. And"-crossing himself to Olmedo-"if the holy father will remember me in his next prayer, I will tell him that Bernal Diaz is looking for him."

"Doth thy master want me also?"

"That is Diaz's massage."

"What can be in the wind now?" asked Alvarado, musingly.

"Hadst thou asked me that question-"

"Couldst thou have answered? Take the chance! What doth thy master intend?"

"Look, Don Pedro, and thou, good father," replied the page; "look to the top of yon pile so ridiculously called a temple of-"

"Speak it, as thou lovest me," cried Alvarado.

"Wilt thou pronounce it after me?"

"That will I; though, cierto, I will not promise my horse if I fail."

"Huitzilpotchli," said the boy, slowly.

"The saints defend us!" exclaimed the knight, crossing himself. "Where didst thou get so foul a name?"

"Of the Do?a Marina. Well, the Se?or Hernan, my master, designeth visiting those towers, and seeing what horrors they hold."

Olmedo's countenance became unusually grave. "Holy Mother, keep his temper in check, that nothing rash be done!"

Alvarado received the news differently. "Thou art a good boy, Orteguilla," he said. "I owe thee a ducat. Remind me of the debt when next thou seest me with gold. Espiritu Santo! Now will I take the rust out of my knees, and the dull out of my head, and the spite from my stomach! Now will I give my sword, that hath hungered so long, to surfeit on the heart-eaters! Bien Quisto! What jargon didst thou use a moment ago when speaking of the temple?"

"Huitzilpotchli," said the boy, laughing.

"Murrain take the idol, if only for his name's sake! Come; we shall have a good time."

The knight turned to descend. Orteguilla caught him by the mantle. "A word, Don Pedro."

"Picaro! A thousand of them, quickly!"

"Thou didst promise me a ducat-"

"Truly, and thou shalt have it. Only wait till the division cometh, and thy master saith to me, 'Take thy share.'"

"Thou hearest, father?"

"How! Dost doubt me?"

The boy stepped back. "No. Alvarado's promise is good against the world. But dost thou not think the Se?or Hernan will attack the temple?"

"Cierto, with horse, foot, guns, Tlascalans, and all."

"He goeth merely on a visit, and by invitation of Montezuma, the king."

Olmedo's face relaxed, and he rubbed his hands; but the captain said, dismally, "By invitation! Picaro! Instead of the ducat, that for thy news!" And he struck open-handedly at the page, but with such good-will that the latter gave him wide margin the rest of the day.

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