MoboReader> Literature > The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico

   Chapter 47 THE CELLS OF QUETZAL’ AGAIN

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 9252

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


"A victim! A victim!"

"Hi, hi!"

"Catch him!"

"Stone him!"

"Kill him!"

So cried a mob, at the time in furious motion up the beautiful street. Numbering hundreds already, it increased momentarily, and howled as only such a monster can. Scarce eighty yards in front ran its game,-Orteguilla, the page.

The boy was in desperate strait. His bonnet, secured by a braid, danced behind him; his short cloak, of purple velvet, a little faded, fluttered as if struggling to burst the throat-loop; his hands were clenched; his face pale with fear and labor. He ran with all his might, often looking back; and as his course was up the street, the old palace of Axaya' must have been the goal he sought,-a long, long way off for one unused to such exertion and so fiercely pressed. At every backward glance, he cried, in agony of terror, "Help me, O Mother of Christ! By God's love, help me!" The enemy was gaining upon him.

The lad, as I think I have before remarked, had been detailed by Cortes to attend Montezuma, with whom, as he was handsome and witty, and had soon acquired the Aztecan tongue and uncommon skill at totoloque, he had become an accepted favorite; so that, while useful to the monarch as a servant, he was no less useful to the Christian as a detective. In the course of his service, he had been frequently intrusted with his royal master's signet, the very highest mark of confidence. Every day he executed errands in the tianguez, and sometimes in even remoter quarters of the city. As a consequence he had come to be quite well known, and to this day nothing harmful or menacing had befallen him, although, as was not hard to discern, the people would have been better satisfied had Maxtla been charged with such duties.

On this occasion,-the day after the interview between the 'tzin and Mualox,-while executing some trifling commission in the market, he became conscious of a change in the demeanor of those whom he met; of courtesies, there were none; he was not once saluted; even the jewellers with whom he dealt viewed him coldly, and asked not a word about the king; yet, unaware of danger, he went to the portico of the Chalcan, and sat awhile, enjoying the shade and the fountain, and listening to the noisy commerce without.

Presently, he heard a din of conchs and attabals, the martial music of the Aztecs. Somewhat startled, and half hidden by the curtains, he looked out, and beheld, coming from the direction of the king's palace, a procession bearing ensigns and banners of all shapes, designs, and colors.

At the first sound of the music, the people, of whom, as usual, there were great numbers in the tianguez, quitted their occupations, and ran to meet the spectacle, which, without halting, came swiftly down to the Chalcan's; so that there passed within a few feet of the adventurous page a procession rarely beautiful,-a procession of warriors marching in deep files, each one helmeted, and with a shield at his back, and a banner in his hand,-an army with banners.

At the head, apart from the others, strode a chief whom all eyes followed. Even Orteguilla was impressed with his appearance. He wore a tunic of very brilliant feather-work, the skirt of which fell almost to his knees; from the skirt to the ankles his lower limbs were bare; around the ankles, over the thongs of the sandals, were rings of furbished silver; on his left arm he carried a shield of shining metal, probably brass, its rim fringed with locks of flowing hair, and in the centre the device of an owl, snow-white, and wrought of the plumage of the bird; over his temples, fixed firmly in the golden head-band, there were wings of a parrot, green as emerald, and half spread. He exceeded his followers in stature, which appeared the greater by reason of the long Chinantlan spear in his right hand, used as a staff. To the whole was added an air severely grand; for, as he marched, he looked neither to the right nor left,-apparently too absorbed to notice the people, many of whom even knelt upon his approach. From the cries that saluted the chief, together with the descriptions he had often heard of him, Orteguilla recognized Guatamozin.

The procession wellnigh passed, and the young Spaniard was studying the devices on the ensigns, when a hand was laid upon his shoulder; turning quickly to the intruder, he saw the prince Io', whom he was in the habit of meeting daily in the audience-chamber of the king. The prince met his smile and pleasantry with a sombre face, and said, coldly,-

"You have been kind to the king, my father; he loves you; on your hand I see his signet

; therefore I will serve you. Arise, and begone; stay not a moment. You were never nearer death than now."

Orteguilla, scarce comprehending, would have questioned him, but the prince spoke on.

"The chiefs who inhabit here are in the procession. Had they found you, Huitzil' would have had a victim before sunset. Stay not; begone!"

While speaking, Io' moved to the curtained doorway from which he had just come. "Beware of the people in the square; trust not to the signet. My father is still the king; but the lords and pabas have given his power to another,-him whom you saw pass just now before the banners. In all Anahuac Guatamozin's word is the law, and that word is-War." And with that he passed into the house.

The page was a soldier, not so much in strength as experience, and brave from habit; now, however, his heart stood still, and a deadly coldness came over him; his life was in peril. What was to be done?

The procession passed by, with the multitude in a fever of enthusiasm; then the lad ventured to leave the portico, and start for his quarters, to gain which he had first to traverse the side of the square he was on; that done, he would be in the beautiful street, going directly to the desired place. He strove to carry his ordinary air of confidence; but the quick step, pale face, and furtive glance would have been tell-tales to the shopkeepers and slaves whom he passed, if they had been the least observant. As it was, he had almost reached the street, and was felicitating himself, when he heard a yell behind him. He looked back, and beheld a party of warriors coming at full speed. Their cries and gestures left no room to doubt that he was their object. He started at once for life.

The noise drew everybody to the doors, and forthwith everybody joined the chase. After passing several bridges, the leading pursuers were about seventy yards behind him, followed by a stream of supporters extending to the tianguez and beyond. So we have the scene with which the chapter opens.

The page's situation was indeed desperate. He had not yet reached the king's palace, on the other side of which, as he knew, lay a stretch of street frightful to think of in such a strait. The mob was coming rapidly. To add to his horror, in front appeared a body of men armed and marching toward him; at the sight, they halted; then they formed a line of interception. His steps flagged; fainter, but more agonizing, arose his prayer to Christ and the Mother. Into the recesses on either hand, and into the doors and windows, and up to the roofs, and down into the canals, he cast despairing glances; but chance there was not; capture was certain, and then the-SACRIFICE!

That moment he reached a temple of the ancient construction,-properly speaking, a C?,-low, broad, massive, in architecture not unlike the Egyptian, and with steps along the whole front. He took no thought of its appearance, nor of what it might contain; he saw no place of refuge within; his terror had become a blind, unreasoning madness. To escape the sacrifice was his sole impulse; and I am not sure but that he would have regarded death in any form other than at the hands of the pabas as an escape. So he turned, and darted up the steps; before his foremost pursuer was at the bottom, he was at the top.

With a glance he swept the azoteas. Through the wide, doorless entrance of a turret, he saw an altar of stainless white marble, decorated profusely with flowers; imagining there might be pabas present, and possibly devotees, he ran around the holy place, and came to a flight of steps, down which he passed to a court-yard bounded on every side by a colonnade. A narrow doorway at his right hand, full of darkness, offered him a hiding-place.

In calmer mood, I doubt if the young Spaniard could have been induced alone to try the interior of the C?. He would at least have studied the building with reference to the cardinal points of direction; now, however, driven by the terrible fear, without thought or question, without precaution of any kind, taking no more note of distance than course, into the doorway, into the unknown, headlong he plunged. The darkness swallowed him instantly; yet he did not abate his speed, for behind him he heard-at least he fancied so-the swift feet of pursuers. Either the dear Mother of his prayers, or some ministering angel, had him in keeping during the blind flight; but at last he struck obliquely against a wall; in the effort to recover himself, he reeled against another; then he measured his length upon the floor, and remained exhausted and fainting.

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