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   Chapter 37 ALVARADO FINDS THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 16588

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


There was a bluster of trumpets and drums, and out of the main gate of the palace in which he was lodged, under the eyes of a concourse of spectators too vast to be nearly estimated, Cortes marched with the greater part of his Christians. The column was spirited, even brilliant. Good steeds had improved with rest; while good fare, not to speak of the luxury of royal baths, had reconstituted both footmen and riders. At the head, as guides, walked four commissioners of the king,-stately men, gorgeous in escaupiles and plumed helms.

The Spaniards were full of glee, vented broad exaggerations, and manifested the abandon I have seen in sailors ashore the first time after a long voyage.

"Be done, good horse!" said Sandoval to Motilla, whose blood warmed under the outcry of trumpet and clarion. "Be done!"

Montejo laughed. "Chide her not! She feels the silver on her heels as a fine lady the ribbons on her head."

"No," said Alvarado, laying his lance half in rest, "Motilla is a Christian, and the scent of the pagan is in her nostrils."

"Up with thy lance, Se?or Capitan! The guides, if they were to look back, would leave us without so much as good day."

"Cierto, thou 'rt right! But how pleasant it would be to impale two of them at once!"

"Such thy speculation? I cannot believe thee. I have been thy comrade too long," said Leon, gravely.

Alvarado turned curtly, as if to say, "Explain thyself."

"The gold in their ears and on their wrists, Se?or,-there were thine eyes. And thou didst look as if summing up,-ear-rings, four; bracelets, six; sundries, three; total, thirteen ounces pure. Confess thee, confess thee!"

The laugh was loud and long.

I have already given the reader an idea of the tianguez, or market, whither Cortes, by request, was first conducted. It is sufficient to say now, that the exhibition of the jewellers attracted most attention; in front of their booths many of the footmen actually broke ranks, determined to satisfy themselves if all they there saw was indeed of the royal metal. Years after, they vaunted the sight as something surpassing all the cities of Europe could display.

Cortes occupied himself questioning the guides; for which purpose Marina was brought forward. Nothing of importance escaped him.

At one of the corners, while the interpreter was in the midst of a reply, Cortes' horse suddenly stopped, startled by an obstacle in the way. Scarcely a lance-length off, pictures of terror, stood four slaves, richly liveried, and bearing a palanquin crowned by a green panache.

"By Our Lady, I will see what is here contained!"

So saying, Alvarado spurred impetuously forward. The guides threw themselves in his way; he nearly rode one of them down; and, laughing at the fright of the slaves, he drew aside the curtain of the carriage, and peered in.

"Jesu!" he cried, dropping the cloth, and reining his horse back.

"Hast thou the fiend there? Or only a woman?" asked Cortes.

"A paragon, an houri, your excellency! What a rude fellow I have been! She is frightened. Come hither, Marina. Say to the girl-"

"Not now, not now!" said Cortes, abruptly. "If she is pretty, thou wilt see her again."

Alvarado frowned.

"What! angry?" continued the general. "Out on thee, captain! How can an untaught infidel, though paragon and houri, understand knightly phrases? What the merit of an apology in her eyes? Pass on!"

"Perhaps thou 'rt right. Stand aside! Out of the way there!" And as if to make amends, he cleared a passage for the slaves and their burden.

"To the devil all of ye!" he replied, to the laughter of his comrades. "Ye did not see her, nor know ye if she is old or young, harridan or angel."

From the market, the column marched back to the great temple, with which, as it rose, broad and high, like a terraced hill, between the palace they occupied and the sun at rising, they were somewhat familiar. Yet, when fairly in view of the pile, Cortes called Olmedo to his side.

"I thank thee, Father Bartolomé. That thou art near, I feel better. A good surcoat and shield, as thou knowest, give a soldier confidence in battle; and so, as I come nigh yon abomination, full of bloody mysteries, called worship, and carven stones, called gods,-may they be accursed from the earth!-I am pleased to make use of thee and thy holiness. Doubtless the air of the place is thick with sorceries and evil charms; if so, thy crucifix hath more of safeguard than my sword. Ride nearer, father, and hearken, that thou mayst answer what more I have to say. Would not this pile look the better of a cross upon every tower?"

"Thy zeal, my son, I commend, and thy question strictly hath but one answer," Olmedo replied. "The impulse, moreover, is to do at once what thou hast suggested. Roll away a stone, and in its bed plant a rose, and the blooming will be never so sweet; and so, never looketh the cross so beautiful as when it taketh the place of an idol. And for the conversion of heathen, the Holy Mother careth not if the worship be under Christian dome or in pagan chamber."

"Say'st thou so!" said Cortes, checking his horse. "By my conscience, I will order a cross!"

"Be not so fast, I pray you. What armed hand now putteth up, armed hand must keep; and that is war. May not the good end be reached without such resort? In my judgment we should first consult the heathen king. How knowest thou that he is not already inclined to Christian ways? Let us ask him."

Cortes relaxed the rein, and rode on convinced.

Through the gate of the coatapantli, amid much din and clangor, the entire column entered the yard of the temple. On a pavement, glassy-smooth, and spotless as a good housewife's floor, the horsemen dismounted, and the footmen stood at rest. Then Cortes, with his captains and Marina, approached the steps, where he was received by some pabas, who offered to carry him to the azoteas,-a courtesy he declined with many protestations of thanks.

At the top, under a green canopy, and surrounded by courtiers and attendants, Montezuma stood, in the robes of a priest, and with only his sceptre to indicate his royalty.

"You have my welcome, Malinche. The ascent is wearisome. Where are the pabas whom I sent to assist you?"

The monarch's simple dignity affected his visitors, Cortes as much as the others.

"I accept thy welcome, good king," he replied, after the interpretation. "Assure thyself that it is given to a friend. The priests proffered their service as you directed; they said your custom was to be carried up the steps, which I grant accords with a sovereign, but not with a warrior, who should be superior to fatigue."

To favor a view of the city, which was after a while suggested, the king conducted Cortes to the southern side of the azoteas, where were also presented a great part of the lake, bordered with white towns, and the valley stretching away to the purple sierras. The train followed them with mats and stools, and erected the canopy to intercept the sun; and thus at ease, the host explained, and the guest listened. Often, during the descriptions, the monarch's eyes rested wistfully on his auditor's face; what he sought, we can imagine; but well I ween there was more revelation in a cloudy sky than in that bloodless countenance. The demeanor of the Spaniard was courtierly; he failed not to follow every gesture of the royal hand; and if the meaning of what he heard was lost because of the strange language, the voice was not. In the low, sad intonations, unmarked by positive emphasis, he divined more than the speaker read in his face,-a soul goodly in all but its irresolution. If now and then the grave attention relaxed, or the eye wandered from the point indicated, it was because the city and lake, and the valley to the mountains, were, in the visitor's mind, more a military problem than a picture of power or beauty.

The interview was at length interrupted. Two great towers crowned the broad azoteas of the temple, one dedicated to Tezca', the other to Huitzil'. Out of the door of the latter issued a procession of pabas, preceded by boys swinging censers, the smoke of which was sickening sweet. Tlalac, the teotuctli, came last, walking slowly, bareheaded, barefooted, his gown trailing behin

d him, its sleeves and front, like his hands and face, red with the blood of recent sacrifice. While the gloomy train gathered about the astonished Christians, the heathen pontiff, as if unconscious of their presence, addressed himself to the king. His words were afterwards translated by Marina.

"To your application, O king, there is no answer. What you do will be of your own inspiration. The victims are removed; the servants of the god, save whom you see, are in their cells. If such be thy will, the chamber is ready for the strangers."

Montezuma sat a moment hesitant, his color coming and going; then, feeling the gaze of his guest upon him, he arose, and said kindly, but with dignity, "It is well. I thank you." Turning to Cortes, he continued, "If you will go with me, Malinche, I will show you our god, and the place in which we celebrate his worship. I will explain our religion, and you may explain yours. Only give me respect for respect."

Bowing low, Cortes replied, "I will go with thee, and thou shalt suffer no wrong from the confidence. The hand or tongue that doeth grievance to anything pertaining to thy god or his worship shall repeat it never." The last sentence was spoken with a raised voice, and a glance to the captains around; then, observing the frowns with which some of them received the notice, he added, almost without a pause, to Olmedo, "What saith the Church of Christ?"

"That thou hast spoken well, for this time," answered the priest, kissing the crucifix chained to his girdle. "Go on. I will go with thee."

Then they followed the king into the sanctuary, leaving the teotuctli and his train on the azoteas.

I turn gladly from that horrible chamber. With quite as much satisfaction, I turn from the conversation of the king and Cortes. Not even the sweet voice of Marina could make the Aztec theogony clear, or the Catholic commentary of the Spaniard interesting.

Alvarado approached the turret door with loathing. Staggered by the stench that smote him from within, he stopped a moment. Orteguilla, the page, pulled his mantle, and said, "I have news for thee. Wilt thou hear?"

"Picaro! To-morrow, if the Mother doth spare me so long, I will give thee a lash for every breath of this sin-laden air thou makest me draw with open mouth. As thou lovest life, speak, and have done!"

"What if I bring thee a message of love?"

"If thou couldst bring me such a message from a comely Christian maiden, I would kiss thee, lad."

Orteguilla held out an exquisite ramillete. "Seest thou this? If thou carest and wilt follow me, I will show thee an infidel to swear by forever."

"Give me the flowers, and lead me to the infidel. If thou speakest truly, thy fortune is made; if thou liest, I will fling thee from the temple."

He turned from the door, and was conducted to the shade of the turret of Tezca'.

"I was loitering after the tall priest, the one with the bloody face and hands,-what a monster he is!" said the page, crossing himself,-"when a slave came in my way, offering some flowers, and making signs. I spoke to him. 'What do you want?' 'Here is a message from the princess Nenetzin.' 'Who is she?' 'Daughter of the great king.' 'Well, what did she say?' 'She bade me'-and, se?or capitan, these are almost his words,-'she bade me give these flowers to one of the teules, that he might give them to Tonatiah, him with the red beard.' I took the present, and asked, 'What does the princess say to the Tonatiah?' 'Let him read the flowers,' the fellow answered. I remembered then that it is a custom of this people to send messages in that form. I asked him where his mistress was; he told me, and I went to see her."

"What of her? Is she handsome?"

"Here she is; judge thou."

"Holy Mother! 'Tis the girl I so frightened on the street. She is the pearl of the valley, the light of the world!" exclaimed Alvarado. "Stay thou, sir page. Interpret for me. I will speak to her."

"Simply, then. Thou knowest I am not so good an Aztec as Marina."

Nenetzin was sitting in the shade of the turret. Apart several paces stood her carriage-bearers. Her garments of finest cotton, white as snow, were held close to her waist by a green sash. Her ornaments-necklace, bracelets, and anklets-were of gold, enriched by chalchuites. Softest sandals protected her feet; and the long scarf, heavy with embroidery, and half covering her face, fell from her head to the mat of scarlet feathers upon which she was sitting.

When the tall Spaniard, in full armor, except the helmet, stopped thus suddenly before her, the large eyes dilated, the blood left her cheeks, and she shrank almost to the roof. Was it not as if the dream, so strange in the coming, had vitalized its subject, and sent it to her, a Fate the more irresistible because of its peculiarities,-the blue eyes, the forehead womanly white, the hair long and waving, the beard dyed, apparently, in the extremest brightness of the sun,-all so unheard of among the brown and olive children of Anahuac? And what if the Fate had come demandingly? Refuse! Can the chrysalis, joyous in the beauty of wings just perfected, refuse the sun?

The cavalier could not mistake the look with which she regarded him. In pity for her fear, in admiration of her beauty, in the native gallantry of his soul, he knelt, and took her hand, and kissed it; then, giving it back, and looking into her face with an expression as unmistakable as her own, he said,-

"My beautiful princess must not be afraid. I would die sooner than harm her."

While the page interpreted, as best he could, the captain smiled so winsomely that she sat up, and listened with a smile in return. She was won, and shall we say lost? The future comes rapidly now to answer for itself.

"Here is the message," Alvarado continued, "which I could not read; but if it meant to tell me of love, what better can I than give it back to tell the same story for me?"

He kissed the flowers, and laid them before her. Picking them up, she said, with a laugh, "Tonatiah is a poet,-a god and a poet."

He heard the interpretation, and spoke again, without relaxing his ardent gaze.

"Jesu Christo! That one so beautiful should be an infidel! She shall not be,-by the holy sepulchre, she shall not! Here, lad, take off the chain which is about my neck. It hath an iron crucifix, the very same my mother-rested be her soul!-gave me, with her blessing and prayer, what time I last bade her farewell."

Orteguilla took off the chain and crucifix, and put them in the cavalier's hand.

"Will my beautiful princess deign to receive these gifts from me, her slave forever? And in my presence will she put them on? And for my sake, will she always wear them? They have God's blessing, which cannot be better bestowed."

Instead of laying the presents down to be taken or not, this time he held them out to her directly; and she took them, and, childlike, hung them around her neck. In the act, the scarf fell, and left bare her head and face. He saw the glowing countenance, and was about to speak further, when Orteguilla stopped him.

"Moderate thyself, I pray thee, Don Pedro. Look at the hounds; they are closing us in. The way to the turret is already cut off. Have a care, I pray!"

The tone of alarm had instant effect.

"How! Cut off, say'st thou, lad?" And Alvarado sprang up, his hand upon his sword. He swept the circle with a falcon's glance; then turning once more to the girl, he said, resuming the tenderness of voice and manner, "By what name may I know my love hereafter?"

"Nenetzin,-the princess Nenetzin."

"Then farewell, Nenetzin. Ill betide the man or fortune that keepeth thee from me hereafter! May I forfeit life, and the Holy Mother's love, if I see thee not again! Farewell."

He kissed his mailed hand to her, and, facing the array of scowling pabas, strode to them, and through their circle, with a laugh of knightly scorn.

At the door of the turret of Huitzil' he said to the page, "The love of yon girl, heathen no longer, but Christian, by the cross she weareth,-her love, and the brightness of her presence, for the foulness and sin of this devil's den,-what an exchange! Valgame Dios! Thou shalt have the ducat. She is the glory of the world!"

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