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

   Chapter 50 THE PABA’S ANGEL

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 20379

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


If I were writing a tale less true, or were at all accomplished in the charming art of the story-teller, which has come to be regarded as but little inferior to that of the poet, possibly I could have disguised the incidents of the preceding chapters so as to have checked anticipation. But many pages back the reader no doubt discovered that the C? in which the page took shelter was that of Quetzal'; and now, while to believe I could, by any arrangement or conceit consistent with truth, agreeably surprise a friend, I must admit that he is a dull witling who failed, at the parting of the curtain as above given, to recognize the child of the paba,-Tecetl, to whom, beyond peradventure, the memory of all who follow me to this point has often returned, in tender sympathy for the victim of an insanity so strange or-as the critic must decide-a philosophy so cruel.

Now, however, she glides again into the current of my story, one of those wingless waifs which we have all at one time or another seen, and which, if not from heaven, as their purity and beauty suggest, are, at least, ready to be wafted there.

I stop to say that, during the months past, as before, her life had gone sweetly, pleasantly, without ruffle or labor or care or sickness, or division, even, into hours and days and nights,-a flowing onward, like time,-an existence so serenely perfect as not to be a subject of consciousness. Her occupation was a round of gentle ministrations to the paba. Her experience was still limited to the chamber, its contents and expositions. If the philosophy of the venerable mystic-that ignorance of humanity is happiness-was correct, then was she happy as mortal can be, for as yet she had not seen a human being other than himself. Her pleasure was still to chatter and chirrup with the friendly birds; or to gather flowers and fashion them into wreaths and garlands to be offered at the altar of the god to whom she herself had been so relentlessly devoted; or to lie at rest upon the couch, and listen to the tinkling voices of the fountain, or join in their melody. And as I do not know why, in speaking of her life, I should be silent as to that part which is lost in slumber, particularly when the allusion will help me illustrate her matchless innocency of nature, I will say, further, that sleep came to her as to children, irregularly and in the midst of play, and waking was followed by no interval of heaviness, or brooding over a daily task, or bracing the soul for a duty. In fact, she was still a child; though not to be thought dealing with anything seraphic, I will add, that in the months past she had in height become quite womanly, while the tone of her voice had gained an equality, and her figure a fulness, indicative of quick maturity.

Nor had the "World" undergone any change. The universal exposition on the walls and ceiling remained the same surpassing marvel of art. At stated periods, workmen had come, and, through the shaft constructed for the purpose, like those in deep mines, lifted to the azoteas such plants and shrubs as showed signs of suffering for the indispensable sun; but as, on such occasions, others were let down, and rolled to the vacant places, there was never an abatement of the garden freshness that prevailed in the chamber. The noise of the work disturbed the birds, but never Tecetl, whose spirit during the time was under the mesmeric Will of the paba.

There was a particular, however, in which the god who was supposed to have the house in keeping had not been so gracious. A few days before the page appeared at the door,-exactness requires me to say the day of the paba's last interview with Guatamozin,-Mualox came down from the sanctuary in an unusual state of mind and body. He was silent and exhausted; his knees tottered, as, with never a smile or pleasant word, or kiss in reply to the salutation he received, he went to the couch to lie down. He seemed like one asleep; yet he did not sleep, but lay with his eyes fixed vacantly on the ceiling, his hand idly stroking his beard.

In vain Tecetl plied all her little arts; she sang to him, caressed him, brought her vases and choicest flowers and sweetest singing-birds, and asked a thousand questions about the fair, good Quetzal',-a topic theretofore of never-failing interest to the holy man.

She had never known sickness,-so kindly had the god dealt by her. Her acquaintance with infirmity of any kind was limited to the fatigue of play, and the weariness of tending flowers and birds. Her saddest experience had been to see the latter sicken and die. All her further knowledge of death was when it came and touched a plant, withering leaf and bud. To die was the end of such things; but they-the paba and herself-were not as such: they were above death; Quetzal' was immortal, and, happy souls! they were to serve him for ever and ever. Possessed of such faith, she was not alarmed by the good man's condition; on the contrary, taking his silence as a wish to be let alone, she turned and sought her amusements.

And as to his ailment. If there be such a thing as a broken heart, his was broken. He had lived, as noticed before, for a single purpose, hope of which had kept him alive, survivor of a mighty brotherhood. That hope the 'tzin in the last interview took away with him; and an old man without a hope is already dead.

Measuring time in the chamber by its upper-world divisions, noon and night came, and still the paba lay in the dismal coma. Twice the slave had appeared at the door with the customary meals. Tecetl heard and answered his signals. Meantime,-last and heaviest of misfortunes,-the fire of the temple went out. When the sacred flame was first kindled is not known; relighted at the end of the last great cycle of fifty-two years, however, it had burned ever since, served by the paba. Year after year his steps, ascending and descending, had grown feebler; now they utterly failed. "Where is the fire on the old C??" asked the night-watchers of each other. "Dead," was the answer. "Then is Mualox dead."

And still another day like the other; and at its close the faded hands of the sufferer dropped upon his breast. Many times did Tecetl come to the couch, and speak to him, and call him father, and offer him food and drink, and go away unnoticed. "He is with Quetzal'," she would say to herself and the birds. "How the dear god loves him!"

Yet another, the fourth day; still the sleep, now become a likeness of death. And Tecetl,-she missed his voice, and the love-look of his great eyes, and his fondnesses of touch and smile; she missed his presence, also. True, he was there, but not with her; he was with Quetzal'. Strange that they should forget her so long! She hovered around the couch, a little jealous of the god, and disquieted, though she knew not by what. She was very, very lonesome.

And in that time what suspense would one familiar with perils have suffered in her situation! If the paba dies, what will become of her? We know somewhat of the difficulties of the passages in the C?. Can she find the way out alone? The slave will, doubtless, continue to bring food to the door, so that she may not starve; and at the fountain she will get drink. Suppose, therefore, the supplies come for years, and she live so long; how will the solitude affect her? We know its results upon prisoners accustomed to society; but that is not her case: she never knew society, its sweets or sorrows. With her the human life of the great outside world is not a thing of conjecture, or of dreams, hopes, and fears, as the future life with a Christian; she does not even know there is such a state of being. Changes will take place in the chamber; the birds and plants, all of life there besides herself, will die; the body of the good man, through sickening stages of decay, will return to the dust, leaving a ghastly skeleton on the couch. Consequently, hers will come to be a solitude without relief, without amusement or occupation or society, and with but few memories, and nothing to rest a hope upon. Can a mind support itself, any more than a body? In other words, if Mualox dies, how long until she becomes what it were charity to kill? Ah, never mortal more dependent or more terribly threatened! Yet she saw neither the cloud nor its shadow, but followed her pastimes as usual, and sang her little songs, and slept when tired,-a simple-hearted child.

I am not an abstractionist; and the reader, whom I charitably take to be what I am in that respect, has reason to be thankful; for the thought of this girl, so strangely educated,-if the word may be so applied,-this pretty plaything of a fortune so eccentric, opens the gates of many a misty field of metaphysics. But I pass them by, and, following the lead of my story, proceed to say that, in the evening of the fourth day of the paba's sickness, the bell, as usual, announced the last meal at the door of the chamber. Tecetl went to the couch, and, putting her arms around the sleeper's neck, tried to wake him; but he lay still, his eyes closed, his lips apart,-in appearance, he was dying.

"Father, father, why do you stay away so long?" she said. "Come back,-speak to me,-say one word,-call me once more!"

The dull ear heard not; the hand used to caressing was still.

Tenderly she smoothed the white beard upon his breast.

"Is Quetzal' angry with me? I love him. Tell him how lonely I am, and that the birds are not enough to keep me happy when you stay so long; tell him how dear you are to me. Ask him to let you come back now."

Yet no answer.

"O Quetzal', fair, beautiful god! hear me," she continued. "Your finger is on his lips, or he would speak. Your veil is over his eyes, or he would see me. I am his child, and love him so much; and he is hungry, and here are bread and meat. Let him come for a little while, and I will love you more than ever."

And so she prayed and promised, but in vain. Quetzal' was obdurate. With tears fast flowing, she arose, and stood by the couch, and gazed upon the face now sadly changed by the long abstinence. And as she looked, there came upon her own face a new expression, th

at which the very young always have when at the side of the dying,-half dread, half curiosity,-wonder at the manifestation, awe of the power that invokes it,-the look we can imagine on the countenance of a simple soul in the presence of Death interpreting himself.

At last she turned away, and went to the door. Twice she hesitated, and looked back. Wherefore? Was she pondering the mystery of the deep sleep, or expecting the sleeper to awake, or listening to the whisper of a premonition fainter in her ears than the voice of the faintest breeze? She went on, nevertheless; she reached the door, and drew the curtain; and there, in the full light, was Orteguilla.

That we may judge the impression, let us recall what kind of youth the page was. I never saw him myself, but those who knew him well have told me he was a handsome fellow; tall, graceful, and in manner and feature essentially Spanish. He wore at the time the bonnet and jaunty feather, and the purple mantle, of which I have spoken, and under that a close black jerkin, with hose to correspond; half-boots, usual to the period, and a crimson sash about the waist, its fringed ends hanging down the left side, completed his attire. Altogether, a goodly young man; not as gay, probably, as some then loitering amongst the alamedas of Seville; for rough service long continued had tarnished his finery and abused his complexion, to say nothing of the imprints of present suffering; yet he was enough so to excite admiration in eyes older than Tecetl's, and more familiar with the race.

The two gazed at each other, wonder-struck.

"Holy Mother!" exclaimed Orteguilla, the bread in his hand. "Into what world have I been brought? Is this a spirit thou hast sent me?"

In his eyes, she was an angel; in hers, he was more. She went to him, and knelt, and said, "Quetzal', dear Quetzal',-beautiful god! You are come to bring my father back to me. He is asleep by the fountain."

In her eyes, the page was a god.

The paba's descriptions of Quetzal' had given her the ideal of a youth like Orteguilla. Of late, moreover, he had been constantly expected from Tlapallan, his isle of the blest; indeed, he had come,-so the father said. And the house was his. Whither would he go, if not there? So, from tradition oft repeated, from descriptions colored by passionate love, she knew the god; and as to the man,-between the image and his maker there is a likeness; so saith a book holier than the teoamoxtli.

The page, as we have seen, was witty and shrewd, and acquainted well with the world; his first impression went quickly; her voice assured him that he was not come to any spirit land. The pangs of hunger, for the moment forgotten, returned, and I am sorry to say that he at once yielded to their urgency, and began to eat as heroes in romances never do. When the edge of his appetite was dulled, and he could think of something else, an impulse of courtesy moved him, and he said,-

"I crave thy pardon, fair mistress. I have been so much an animal as to forget that this food is thine, and required to subsist thee, and, perhaps, some other inhabiting here. I admit, moreover, that ordinarily the invitation should proceed from the owner of the feast; but claim thy own, and partake with me; else it may befall that in my great hunger thy share will be wanting. Fall to, I pray thee."

Still kneeling, she stared at him, and, folding her hands upon her breast, replied, "Quetzal' knows that I am his servant. Let him speak so that I may understand."

"Por cierto!-it is true! What knoweth she of my mother tongue?"

And thereupon, in the Aztecan, he asked her to help herself.

"No," said she. "The house and all belong to you. I am glad you have come."

"Mine? Whom do you take me for?"

"The good god of my father, to whom I say all my prayers,-Quetzal'!"

"Quetzal', Quetzal'!" he repeated, looking steadily in her face; then, as if assured that he understood her, he took one of the goblets of chocolate, and tried to drink, but failed; the liquid had been beaten into foam.

"In the world I come from, good girl," he said, replacing the cup, "people find need of water, which, just now, would be sweeter to my tongue than all the honey in the valley. Canst thou give me a drink?"

She arose, and answered eagerly, "Yes, at the fountain. Let us go. By this time my father is awake."

"So, so!" he said to himself. "Her father, indeed! I have eaten his supper or dinner, according to the time of day outside, and he may not be as civil as his daughter. I will first know something about him." And he asked, "Your father is old, is he not?"

"His beard and hair are very white. They have always been so."

Again he looked at her doubtingly. "Always, said you?"

"Always."

"Is he a priest?"

She smiled, and asked, "Does not Quetzal' know his own servant?"

"Has he company?"

"The birds may be with him."

He quit eating, and, much puzzled by the answer, reflected.

"Birds, birds! Am I so near daylight and freedom? Grant it, O Blessed Mother!" And he crossed himself devoutly.

Then Tecetl said, earnestly, "Now that you have eaten, good Quetzal', come and let us go to my father."

Orteguilla made up his mind speedily: he could not do worse than go back the way he came; and the light here was so beautiful, and the darkness there so terrible: and here was company. Just then, also, as a further inducement, he heard the whistle of a bird, and fancied he distinguished the smell of flowers.

"A garden," he said, in his soul,-"a garden, and birds, and liberty!" The welcome thought thrilled him inexpressibly. "Yes, I will go"; and, aloud, "I am ready."

Thereupon she took his hand, and put the curtains aside, and led him into the paba's World, never but once before seen by a stranger.

This time forethought had not gone in advance to prepare for the visitor. The master's eye was dim, and his careful hand still, in the sleep by the fountain. The neglect that darkened the fire on the turret was gloaming the lamps in the chamber; one by one they had gone out, as all would have gone but for Tecetl, to whom the darkness and the shadows were hated enemies. Nevertheless, the light, falling suddenly upon eyes so long filled with blackness as his had been, was blinding bright, insomuch that he clapped his hand over his face. Yet she led him on eagerly, saying,-

"Here, here, good Quetzal'. Here by the fountain he lies."

All her concern was for the paba.

And through the many pillars of stone, and along a walk bounded by shrubs and all manner of dwarfed tropical trees, half blinded by the light, but with the scent of flowers and living vegetation in his nostrils, and the carol of birds in his ears, and full of wonder unspeakable, he was taken, without pause, to the fountain. At sight of the sparkling jet, his fever of thirst raged more intensely than ever.

"Here he is. Speak to him,-call him back to me! As you love him, call him back, O Quetzal'?"

He scarcely heard her.

"Water, water! Blessed Mother, I see it again! A cup,-quick,-a cup!"

He seized one on the table, and drank, and drank again crying between each breath, "To the Mother the praise!" Not until he was fully satisfied did he give ear to the girl's entreaty.

Looking to the couch, whither she had gone, he saw the figure of the paba stretched out like a corpse. He approached, and, searching the face, and laying his hand upon the breast over the heart, asked, in a low voice, "How long has your father been asleep?"

"A long time," she replied.

"Jesu Christo! He is dead, and she does not know it!" he thought, amazed at her simplicity.

Again he regarded her closely, and for the first time was struck by her beauty of face and form, by the brightness of her eyes, by the hair, wavy on the head and curling over the shoulders, by the simple, childish dress, and sweet voice; above all, by the innocence and ineffable purity of her look and manner, all then discernible in the full glare of the lamps. And with what feeling he made discovery of her loveliness may be judged passably well by the softened tone in which he said, "Poor girl! your father will never, never wake."

Her eyes opened wide.

"Never, never wake! Why?"

"He is dead."

She looked at him wistfully, and he, seeing that she did not understand, added, "He is in heaven; or, as he himself would have said, in the Sun."

"Yes, but you will let him come back."

He took note of the trustful, beseeching look with which she accompanied the words, and shook his head, and, returning to the fountain, took a seat upon a bench, reflecting.

"What kind of girl is this? Not know death when he showeth so plainly! Where hath she been living? And I am possessed of St. Peter's keys. I open Heaven's gate to let the heathen out! By the bones of the saints! let him get there first! The Devil hath him!"

He picked up a withered flower lying by the bowl of the fountain, and went back to Tecetl.

"You remember how beautiful this was when taken from the vine?"

"Yes."

"What ails it now?"

"It is dead."

"Well, did you ever know one of these, after dying, to come back to life?"

"No."

"No more can thy father regain his life. He, too, is dead. From what you see, he will go to dust; therefore, leave him now, and let us sit by the fountain, and talk of escape; for surely you know the way out of this."

From the flower, she looked to the dead, and, comprehending the illustration, sat by the body, and cried. And so it happened that knowledge of death was her first lesson in life.

And he respected her grief, and went and took a bench by the basin, and thought.

"Quetzal', Quetzal',-who is he? A god, no doubt; yes, the one of whom the king so liveth in dread. I have heard his name. And I am Quetzal'! And this is his house-that is, my house! A scurvy trick, by St. James! Lost in my own house,-a god lost in his own temple!"

And as he could then well afford, being full-fed, he laughed at the absurd idea; and in such mood, fell into a revery, and grew drowsy, and finally composed himself on the bench, and sunk to sleep.

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