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   Chapter 45 THE PUBLIC OPINION MAKES WAY

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 11392

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


In the tianguez, one market-day, there was an immense crowd, yet trade was dull; indeed, comparatively nothing in that way was being done, although the display of commodities was rich and tempting.

"Holy gods, what is to become of us?" cried a Cholulan merchant.

"You! You are rich. Dulness of the market cannot hurt you. But I,-I am going to ruin."

The second speaker was a slave-dealer. Only the day before, he had, at great cost, driven into the city a large train of his "stock" from the wilderness beyond the Great River.

"Tell me, my friend," said a third party, addressing the slave-dealer, though in hearing of the whole company, "heard you ever of a slave owning a slave?"

"Not I."

"Heard you ever of a man going into the market to buy a slave, when he was looking to become one himself?"

"Never."

"You have it then,-the reason nobody has been to your exhibition."

The bystanders appeared to assent to the proposition, which all understood but the dealer in men, who begged an explanation.

"Yes, yes. You have just come home. I had forgotten. A bad time to be abroad. But listen, friend." The speaker quietly took his pipe from his mouth, and knocked the ashes out of the bowl. "We belong to Malinche; you know who he is."

"I am not so certain," the dealer replied, gravely. "The most I can say is, I have heard of him."

"O, he is a god-"

"With all a man's wants and appetites," interposed one.

"Yes, I was about to say that. For instance, day before yesterday he sent down the king's order for three thousand escaupiles. What need-"

"They were for his Tlascalans."

"O, possibly. For whom were the cargoes of cotton cloth delivered yesterday?"

"His women," answered the other, quickly.

"And the two thousand sandals?"

"For his soldiers?"

"And the gold of which the market was cleaned last week? And the gold now being hunted in Tustepec and Chinantla? And the tribute being levied so harshly in all the provinces,-for whom are they?"

"For Malinche himself."

LOOKED GLOOMILY INTO THE WATER

"Yes, the god Malinche. Slave of a slave! My friend," said the chief speaker to the slave-dealer, "there is no such relation known to the law, and for that reason we cannot buy of you. Better go back with all you have, and let the wilderness have its own again."

"But the goods of which you spoke; certainly they were paid for," said the dealer, turning pale.

"No. There is nothing left of the royal revenue. Even the treasure which the last king amassed, and walled up in the old palace, has been given to Malinche. The empire is like a man in one respect, at least,-when beggared, it cannot pay."

"And the king?"

"He is Malinche's, too."

"Yes," added the bystander; "for nowadays we never see his signet, except in the hands of one of the strangers."

The dealer in men drew a long breath, something as near a sigh as could come from one of his habits, and said, "I remember Mualox and his prophecy; and, hearing these things, I know not what to think."

"We have yet one hope," said the chief spokesman, as if desirous of concluding the conversation.

"And that?"

"Is the 'tzin Guatamo."

* * *

"What luck, Pepite?"

"Bad, very bad."

The questioner was the wife of the man questioned, who had just returned from the market. Throwing aside his empty baskets, he sat down in the shade of a bridge spanning one of the canals, and, locking his hands across his bare knees, looked gloomily in the water. His canoe, with others, was close at hand.

The wife, without seeming to notice his dejection, busied herself setting out their dinner, which was humble as themselves, being of boiled maize, tuna figs, and tecuitlatl, or cheese of the lake. When the man began to eat, he began to talk,-a peculiarity in which he was not altogether singular.

"Bad luck, very bad," he repeated. "I took my baskets to the old stand. The flowers were fresh and sweet, gathered, you know, only last night. The market was full of people, many of whom I knew to be rich enough to buy at two prices; they came, and looked, and said, 'They are very nice, Pepite, very nice,' but did not offer to buy. By and by the sun went up, and stood overhead, and still no purchaser, not even an offer. It was very discouraging, I tell you; and it would have been much more so, if I had not pretty soon noticed that the market-people around me, fruiterers and florists, were doing no better than I. Then I walked about to see my friends; and in the porticos and booths as elsewhere in the square,-no trade; plenty of people, but no trade. The jewellers had covered their fronts with flowers,-I never saw richer,-you should have been there!-and crowds stood about breathing the sweet perfume; but as to purchasing, they did nothing of the sort. In fact, may the mitlou[46] of our little house fly away to-night, if, in the whole day, I saw an instance of trade, or so much as a cocoa-bean pass from one hand to another!"

"It has been so many days now, only not quite so bad, Pepite," the wife said, struggling to talk cheerfully. "What did they say was the cause? Did any one speak of that?"

"O yes, everybody. Nothing else was talked. 'What is the use of working? Why buy or sell? We have no longer a king or country. We are all slaves now. We belong to Malinche. Afterwhile, because we are poor, he will take us off to some of his farms, like that one he has down in Oajaca, and set us to working, and keep the fruits, while he gives us the pains. No, we do not want anything; the less we have, the lighter will be our going down.' That is the way the talk went all day."

For the first time the woman threw off her p

retence of cheerfulness, and was still, absorbed in listening and thinking.

"Belong to Malinche! We? And our little ones at home? Not while the gods live!" she said, confidently.

"Why not? You forget. Malinche is himself a god."

A doubt shook the strong faith of the wife; and soon, gloomy and hopeless as Pepite, she sat down by him, and partook of the humble fare.

* * *

"The nation is dying. Let us elect another king," said an old cacique to a crowd of nobles, of whom he was the centre, in the pulque chamber of the Chalcan. Bold words, which, half a year before, would have been punished on the spot; now, they were heard in silence, if not with approbation. "A king has no right to survive his glory," the veteran continued; "and how may one describe his shame and guilt, when, from fear of death, he suffers an enemy to use him, and turn his power against his people!"

He stopped, and for a time the hush was threatening; then there was clapping of hands, and voices cried out,-"Good, good!"

"May the gods forgive me, and witness that the speech was from love of country, not hatred of Montezuma," said the cacique, deferentially.

"Whom would you have in his place? Name him," shouted an auditor.

"Montezuma,-if he will come back to us."

"He will not; he has already refused. Another,-give us another!"

"Be it so!" said the veteran, with decision. "My life is forfeit for what I have said. The cell that holds the king Cacama and the good lord Cuitlahua yawns for me also. I will speak." Quaffing a bowl of pulque, he added, "Of all Anahuac, O my brothers, who, with the fewest years, is wisest of head and bravest of heart, and therefore fittest to be king in time like this?"

The question was of the kind that addresses itself peculiarly to individual preferences,-the kind which has afflicted the world with its saddest and greatest wars; yet, strange to say, the company, as with one voice, and instantly, answered,-

"The 'tzin, the 'tzin. Guatamo, the 'tzin!"

* * *

In the evening time three pabas clomb the stairs by which the top of the turret of Huitzil' on the teocallis was reached from the azoteas. Arrived at the top, they found there the night-watcher, who recognized the teotuctli, and knelt to him.

"Arise, and get you down now," the arch-priest said; "we would be alone awhile."

On a pedestal of stone, or rather of many stones, rested the brazier, or urn, that held the sacred fire. In it crackled the consuming fagots, while over it, with unsteady brilliancy, leaped the flames which, for so many leagues away, were as a beacon in the valley. The three stopped in the shadow of the urn, and might have studied the city, or those subjects greater and more fascinating,-mysteries now, to-night, forever,-Space, and its children, the Stars; but it was not to indulge a common passion or uncertain speculations that Tlalac had brought from their temples and altars his companions, the high-priests of Cholula and Tezcuco. And there for a long time they remained, the grave and holy servants of the gods of the New World, talking earnestly, on what subject and with what conclusion we may gather.

"He is of us no longer," said Tlalac, impressively. "He has abandoned his people; to a stranger he has surrendered himself, his throne and power; he spends his days learning, from a new priesthood, a new creed, and the things that pertain to a god of whom everything is unknown to us, except that he is the enemy of our gods. I bore his desertion patiently, as we always bear with those we love. By permission, as you heard, he came one day to worship Huitzil'; the permission was on condition that there should be no sacrifices. Worship without sacrifice, my brethren! Can such thing be? When he came, he was offered rescue; the preparations were detailed to him; he knew they could not fail; the nobles begged him to accept the offer; I warned him against refusal; yet, of choice, he went back to Malinche. Then patience almost forsook me. Next, as you also know, came the unpardonable sin. In the chamber below-the chamber sanctified by the presence of the mighty Huitzil'-I will give you to see, if you wish, a profanation the like of which came never to the most wicked dream of the most wicked Aztec,-an altar to the new and unknown God. And to-morrow, if you have the curiosity, I will give you to see the further sight,-a service, mixed of singing and prayer, by priests of the strange God, at the same time, and side by side with the worship of our gods,-all with the assent-nay, by order-of Montezuma. Witness these crimes once, and your patience will go quickly, whereas mine went slowly; but it is gone, and in its stead lives only the purpose to do what the gods command."

"Let us obey the gods!" said the reverend high-priest of Cholula.

"Let us obey the gods!" echoed his holy brother of Tezcuco.

"Hear me, then," said Tlalac, with increased fervor. "I will give their command. 'Raise up a new king, and save yourselves, by saving our worship in the land!' so the gods say. And I am ready."

"But the law," said the Tezcucan.

"By the law," answered Tlalac, "there can be kings only in the order of election."

"And so?"

"Montezuma-must-DIE!"

Tlalac said these terrible words slowly, but firmly.

"And who will be the instrument?" they asked.

"Let us trust the gods," he answered. "For love of them men go down to death every day; and of the many lovers, doubt not some one will be found to do their bidding."

And so it was agreed.

* * *

And so, slowly but surely, the Public Opinion made its way, permeating all classes,-laborers, merchants, warriors, and priests.

* * *

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