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   Chapter 43 THE LORD HUALPA FLEES HIS FORTUNE

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 13558

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


The 'tzin Guatamo sat at breakfast alone in his palace near Iztapalapan. The fare was simple,-a pheasant, bread of maize, oranges and bananas, and water from the spring; and the repast would have been soon despatched but for the announcement, by a slave in waiting, of the lord Hualpa. At mention of the name the 'tzin's countenance assumed a glad expression.

"The lord Hualpa! The gods be praised! Bid him come."

Directly the visitor appeared at the door, and paused there, his eyes fixed upon the floor, his body bent, like one half risen from a salutation. The 'tzin went to him, and taking his hand said,-

"Welcome, comrade. Come and account for yourself. I know not yet how to punish you; but for the present, sit there, and eat. If you come from Tenochtitlan this morning, you must bring with you the appetite which is one of the blessings of the lake. Sit, and I will order your breakfast."

"No, good 'tzin, not for me, I pray you. I am from the lake, but do not bring any blessing."

The 'tzin resumed his seat, looking searchingly and curiously at his guest, and pained by his manner and appearance. His face was careworn; his frame bent and emaciated; his look constantly downward; the voice feeble and of uncertain tone; in short, his aspect was that of one come up from a battle in which shame and grief had striven with youth of body and soul, and, fierce as the struggle had been, the end was not yet. He was the counterpart of his former self.

"You have been sick," said the 'tzin, afterwhile.

"Very sick, in spirit," replied Hualpa, without raising his eyes.

The 'tzin went on. "After your desertion, I caused inquiry to be made for you everywhere,-at the Chalcan's, and at your palace. No one could give me any tidings. I sent a messenger to Tihuanco, and your father was no better informed. Your truancy has been grievous to your friends, no less than to yourself. I have a right to call you to account."

"So you have; only let us to the garden. The air outside is sweet, and there is a relief in freedom from walls."

From habit, I suppose, they proceeded to the arena set apart for military exercise. No one was there. The 'tzin seated himself on a bench, making room for Hualpa, who still declined the courtesy, saying,-

"I will give an account of myself to you, brave 'tzin, not only because I should, but because I stand in need of your counsel. Look for nothing strange; mine is a simple story of shame and failure. You know its origin already. You remember the last night I spent with you here. I do, at least. That day the king made me happier than I shall ever be again. When I met you at the landing, the kiss of my betrothed was sweet upon my lips, and I had but one sorrow in the world,-that you were an exile, and could not take part, as you so wished and deserved, in the battle which my hand was to precipitate next noon. I left you, and by dawn was at my post in the temple. The hours were long. At last the time came. All was ready. The ten thousand warriors chosen for the assault were in their quarters. The lord Cuitlahua was in the tower of Huitzil', with the teotuctli and his pabas, at prayer. We awaited only the king's word. Finally, Io' appeared. I saw him coming. I raised the stick, my blood was warm, another instant and the signal would have been given-" Hualpa's voice trembled, and he stopped.

"Go on," said the 'tzin. "What restrained you?"

"I remembered the words of the king,-'Io' will come to you at noon with my commands,'-those were the words. I waited. 'Strike!' said Io'. 'The command,-quick!' I cried. 'As you love life, strike!' he shouted. Something unusual had taken place; I hesitated. 'Does the king so command?' I asked. 'Time never was as precious! Give me the stick!' he replied. But the duty was mine. 'With your own hand give the signal,'-such was the order. I resisted, and he gave over the effort, and, throwing himself at my feet, prayed me to strike. I refused the prayer, also. Suddenly he sprang up, and ran out to the verge of the temple overlooking the street. Lest he should cast himself off, I followed. He turned to me, as I approached, and cried, with upraised hands, 'Too late, too late! We are undone. Look where they carry him off!' 'Whom?' I asked. 'The king-my father-a prisoner!' Below, past the coatapantli, the royal palanquin was being borne, guarded by the strangers. The blood stood still in my heart. I turned to the prince; he was gone. A sense of calamity seized me. I ran to the tower, and called the lord Cuitlahua, who was in time to see the procession. I shall never forget the awful look he gave me, or his words." Hualpa again paused.

"What were they?" asked the 'tzin.

"'My lord Hualpa,' he said, 'had you given the signal when Io' came to you first, I could have interposed my companies, and saved him. It is now too late; he is lost. May the gods forgive you! A ruined country cannot.'"

"Said he so?" exclaimed the 'tzin, indignantly. "By all the gods, he was wrong!"

At these words, Hualpa for the first time dared look into the 'tzin's face, surprised, glad, yet doubtful.

"How?" he asked. "Did you say I was right?"

"Yes."

Tears glistened in the Tihuancan's eyes, and he seized and kissed his friend's hand with transport.

"I begin to understand you," the 'tzin said, still more kindly. "You thought it your fault that the king was a prisoner; you fled for shame."

"Yes,-for shame."

"My poor friend!"

"But consider," said Hualpa,-"consider how rapidly I had risen, and to what height. Admitting my self-accusations, when before did man fall so far and so low? What wonder that I fled?"

"Well, you have my judgment. Seat yourself, and hear me further."

Hualpa took the seat this time; after which the 'tzin continued. "The seizure was made in the palace. The king yielded to threats of death. He could not resist. While the strangers were bearing him past the teocallis, and you were looking at them, their weapons were at his throat. Had you yielded to Io's prayer, and given the signal, and had Cuitlahua obeyed, and with his bands attempted a rescue, your benefactor would have been slain. Do not think me dealing in conjectures. I went to him in the street, and prayed to be allowed to save him; he forbade me. Therefore, hold not yourself in scorn; be happy; you saved his life a second time."

Again Hualpa gave way to his gratitude.

"Nor is that all," the 'tzin continued. "In my opinion, the last rescue was nobler than the first. As to the lord Cuitlahua, be at rest. He was not himself when he chid you so cruelly; he now thinks as I do; he exonerates you; his messengers have frequently come, asking if you had returned. So, no more of shame. Give me now what else you did."

The

sudden recall to the past appeared to throw Hualpa back; his head sunk upon his breast again, and for a time he was silent; at length he replied, "As I see now, good 'tzin, I have been very foolish. Before I go on, assure me that you will listen with charity."

"With charity and love."

"I have hardly the composure to tell what more I did; yet the story will come to you in some form. Judge me mercifully, and let the subject be never again recalled."

"You have spoken."

"Very well. I have told you the words of the lord Cuitlahua; they burnt me, like fire. Thinking myself forever disgraced, I descended from the azoteas to the street, and there saw the people's confusion, and heard their cries and curses. I could not endure myself. I fled the city, like a guilty wretch. Instinctively, I hurried to Tihuanco. There I avoided every habitation, even my father's. News of evil travels fast. The old merchant, I knew, must needs hear of the king's seizure and what I regarded as my crime. So I cared not to meet his eyes. I passed the days in the jungles hunting, but the charm of the old occupation was gone; somehow my arrows flew amiss, and my limbs refused a long pursuit. How I subsisted, I scarcely know. At last, however, my ideas began to take form, and I was able to interrogate myself. Through the king's bounty, I was a lord, and owner of a palace; by his favor, I further reflected, Nenetzin was bound to me in solemn betrothal. What would she think of me? What right had I, so responsible for his great misfortune, to retain his gifts? I could release her from the odious engagement. At his feet I could lay down the title and property; and then, if you refused me as a soldier or slave, I could hide myself somewhere; for the grief-struck and unhappy, like me, earth has its caverns and ocean its islands. And so once more I hurried to Tenochtitlan. Yesterday I crossed the lake. From the Chalcan I heard the story which alone was needed to make my humiliation complete,-how Nenetzin, false to me, betrayed the great purpose of her father, betook herself to the stranger's house, adopted his religion, and became his wife or-spare me the word, good 'tzin. After that, I lost no time, but went to the palace, made way through the pale-faced guards at the gate and doors, each of whom seemed placed there to attest the good king's condition and my infamy. Suitors and lords of all degrees crowded the audience-chamber when I entered, and upon every face was the same look of sorrow and dejection which I had noticed upon the faces of the people whom I passed in the street. All who turned eyes upon me appeared to become accusers, and say, 'Traitor, behold thy victim!' Imagine the pressure upon my spirit. I made haste to get away,-unseemly haste. What my salutation was I hardly know. I only remember that, in some form of speech, I publicly resigned all his honorable gifts. I remember, also, that when I took what I thought was my last look at him,-friend, patron, king, father,-may the gods, who have forbidden the relation, forgive the allusion!-I could not see him for tears. My heart is in my throat now; then it nearly choked me. And so ends my account. And once more, true friend, I come to you, Hualpa, the Tihuancan, without title, palace, or privilege; without distinction, except as the hero and victim of a marvellous fortune."

The 'tzin was too deeply touched, too full of sympathy, to reply immediately. He arose, and paced the arena awhile. Resuming his seat again, he asked simply, "And what said the king?"

"To what?"

"Your resignation."

"He refused to take back his gifts. They could not revert, he said, except for crime."

"And he was right. You should have known him better. A king cannot revoke a gift in any form."

After a spell of silence, the 'tzin spoke again.

"One matter remains. You are not guilty, as you supposed; your friends have not lost their faith in you; such being the case, it were strange if your feelings are as when you came here; and as purposes too often follow feelings, I ask about the future. What do you intend? What wish?"

"I see you understand me well, good 'tzin. My folly has been so great that I feel myself unworthy to be my own master. I ought not to claim a purpose, much less a wish. I came to your door seeking to be taken back into service; that was all the purpose I had. I rely upon your exceeding kindness."

Hualpa moved as if to kneel; but the 'tzin caught him, and said, "Keep your seat." And rising, he continued, severely, "Lord Hualpa,-for such you still are,-all men, even the best, are criminals; but as for the most part their crimes are against themselves, we take no notice of them. In that sense you are guilty, and in such degree that you deserve forfeiture of all the king refused to take back. Put pass we that,-pass the folly, the misconduct. I will not take you into service; you have your old place of friend and comrade, more fitting your rank."

Hualpa's face brightened, and he answered,-

"Command me, O 'tzin! With you I can be brave warrior, good citizen, true friend; without you, I am nothing. Whatever the world thinks of me, this I know,-I can reinstate myself in its good opinion before I can in my own. Show me the way back to self-respect; restore me that, and I will be your slave, soldier, comrade,-what you will."

"It is well," said Guatamozin, smiling at his earnestness. "It is well. I can show you the way. Listen. The war, about which we have so often talked, thanks to the gods! is finally at hand. The public opinion has done its work. The whole nation would throw itself upon the strangers to-morrow, but for the king, who has become their shield; and he must be rescued; otherwise, we must educate the people to see in him an enemy to be removed. We cannot spare the time for that, and consequently have tried rescue in many ways, so far in vain. To-morrow we try again. The plot is arranged and cannot fail, except by the king's own default. Reserving explanation, I congratulate you. You are in time; the good fortune clings to you. To-morrow I will set your feet in the way you seek."

Hualpa gazed at him doubtingly. "To-morrow!" he said. "Will you trust me so soon, and in a matter so high?"

"Yes."

"Will my part take me from you?"

"No."

"Then I thank you for the opportunity. On the teocallis, that dreadful morning, I lost my assurance; whether it will ever return is doubtful; but with you, at your side, I dare walk in any way."

"I understand you," the 'tzin replied. "Go now, and get ready. Unless the king fail us, we will have combat requiring all our strength. To the bath first, then to breakfast, then to find more seemly garments, then to rest. I give you to midnight. Go."

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