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

   Chapter 53 THE HEART CAN BE WISER THAN THE HEAD

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 19708

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


I will now ask the reader to make a note of the passage of a fortnight. By so doing he will find himself close upon the 24th of June,-another memorable day in the drama of the conquest.

'Tzin Guatamo, as is already known, had many times proven himself a warrior after the manner of his country, and, in consequence, had long been the idol of the army; now he gave token of a ruling faculty which brought the whole people to his feet; so that in Tenochtitlan, for the first time in her history, were seen a sceptre unknown to the law and a royalty not the king's.

He ruled in the valley everywhere, except in the palace of Axaya'; and around that he built works, and set guards, and so contrived that nothing passed in or out without his permission. His policy was to wait patiently, and in the mean time organize the nation for war; and the nation obeyed him, seeing that in obedience there was life; such, moreover, was the will of Huitzil'.

As may be thought, the Christians thus pent up fared illy; in fact, they would have suffered before the fortnight was gone but for the king, who stinted himself and his household in order to divide with his keepers the supplies sent in for his use.

In the estimation of the people of the empire, it was great glory to have shut so many teules in a palace, and held them there; but the success did not deceive the 'tzin: in his view, that achievement was not the victory, but only the beginning of the war; every hour he had news of Malinche, the real antagonist, who had the mind, the will, and the hand of a warrior, and was coming with another army, more numerous, if not braver, than the first one. In pure, strong love there is an element akin to the power of prophecy,-something that gives the spirit eyes to see what is to happen. Such an inspiration quickened the 'tzin, and told him Anahuac was not saved, though she should be: if not, the conquerors should take an empty prize; he would leave them nothing,-so he swore,-neither gods, gold, slaves, city, nor people. He set about the great idea by inviting the New World-I speak as a Spaniard-to take part in the struggle. And he was answered. To the beloved city, turned into a rendezvous for the purpose, flocked the fighting vassals of the great caciques, the men of the cities, and their dependencies, the calpulli, or tribes of the loyal provinces, and, mixed with them, wild-eyed bands from the Unknown, the wildernesses,-in all, a multitude such as had never been seen in the valley. At the altars he had but one prayer, "Time, time, O gods of my fathers! Give me time!" He knew the difference between a man and a soldier, and that, likewise, between a multitude and an army. As he used the word, time meant organization and discipline. He not only prayed, he worked; and into his work, as into his prayers, he poured all his soul.

The organization was simple: first, a company of three or four hundred men; next an army of thirty or forty companies,-a system which allowed the preservation of the identity of tribes and cities. The companies of Cholula, for example, were separate from those of Tezcuco; while the Acolmanes marched and fought side by side with the Coatopecs, but under their own chiefs and flags. The system also gave him a number of armies, and he divided them,-one to raise supplies, another to bring the supplies to the depots, a third to prepare material of war; the fourth was the active or fighting division; and each was subject to take the place of the other. To the labor of so many hands, systematized and industriously exerted, though for a fortnight, almost everything is possible. One strong will, absolutely operative over thousands, is nearer omnipotency than anything else human.

The climate of the valley, milder and more equable than that of Naples, permits the bivouac in all seasons. The sierra west of the capital, and bending around it like a half-drawn bow, is marked on its interior, or city side by verdant and watered vales; these were seized; and the bordering cliffs, which theretofore had shaded the toiling husbandman, or been themselves the scenes of the hunter's daring, now hid the hosts of New World's men, in the bivouac, biding the day of battle.

War, good reader, never touches anything and leaves it as it was. And the daughter of the lake, fair Tenochtitlan, was no exception to the law. The young master, having reduced the question of strategy to the formula,-a street or a plain, chose the street, and thereby dedicated the city to all of ruin or horror the destroyer could bring. Not long, therefore, until its presence could have been detected by the idlest glance: the streets were given up to the warriors; the palaces were deserted by families; houses conveniently situated for the use were turned into forts; the shrubbery garnishing roofs that dominated the main streets concealed heaps of stones made ready for the hand; the bridges were taken up, or put in condition to be raised; the canoes on the lakes were multiplied, and converted to the public service; the great markets were suspended; even the sacred temple were changed into vast arsenals. When the 'tzin, going hither and thither, never idle, observed the change, he would sigh, but say to himself, "'Tis well. If we win, we can restore; if we lose,-if we lose,-then, to the strangers, waste, to the waters, welcome!"

And up and down, from city to bivouac and back again, passed the minstrels, singing of war, and the pabas, proclaiming the oracles and divine promises; and the services in the temples were unintermitted; those in the teocallis were especially grand; the smoke from its turrets overhung the city, and at night the fire of Huitzil', a new star reddening in the sky, was seen from the remotest hamlet in the valley. The 'tzin had faith in moral effects, and he studied them, and was successful. The army soon came to have, like himself, but one prayer,-"Set us before the strangers; let us fight!"

And the time they prayed for was come.

* * *

The night of the 23d of June was pleasant as night can be in that region of pleasant nights. The sky was clear and starry. The breeze abroad brought coolness to outliers on the housetops, without threshing the lake to the disturbance of its voyageurs.

Up in the northeastern part of the little sea lay a chinampa at anchor. Over its landing, at the very edge of the water, burned a flambeau of resinous pine. Two canoes, richly decorated, swung at the mooring. The path from the landing to the pavilion was carpeted, and lighted by lamps pendent in the adjoining shrubbery. In the canoes the slaves lay at rest, talking idly, and in low voices crooning Indian songs. Close by the landing, on a bench, over which swayed the leaves of an immense banana-tree, rested a couple of warriors, silent, and nodding, as it were, to the nodding leaves. From the rising to the setting of the day's sun, many a weary league, from the city to the vales of the Sierra in which bivouacked the hope of Anahuac, had they travelled,-Hualpa and Io'. One familiar with the streets in these later days, at sight of them would have said, "Beware! the 'tzin is hereaway." The three were almost as one,-so had their friendship grown. The pavilion, a circular canopy, spread like a Bedouin's tent, was brightly lighted; and there, in fact, was the 'tzin, with Tula and Yeteve, the priestess.

Once before, I believe, I described this pavilion; and now I know the imagination of the reader will give the floating garden richer colors than lie within compass of my pen; will surround it with light, and with air delicious with the freshness of the lake and the exhalations of the flowers; will hover about the guardian palm and willow trees, the latter with boughs lithe and swinging, and leaves long and fine as a woman's locks; will linger about the retreat, I say, and, in thought of its fitness for meeting of lovers, admit the poetry and respect the passion of the noble Aztec.

Within, the furniture was as formerly; there were yet the carven stools, the table with its bowl-like top, now a mass of flowers, a couch draped with brilliant plumage, the floor covered with matting of woven grasses, the hammock, and the bird-cage,-all as when we first saw them. Nenetzin was absent, and alas! might never come again.

And if we enter now, we shall find the 'tzin standing a little apart from Tula, who is in the hammock, with Yeteve by her side. On a stool at his feet is a waiter of ebony, with spoons of tortoise-shell, and some xicaras, or cups, used for chocolate.

Their faces are grave and earnest.

"And Malinche?" asked Tula, as if pursuing a question.

"The gods have given me time; I am ready for him," he replied.

"When will he come?"

"Yesterday, about noon, he set out from Tezcuco, by way of the shore of the lake; to-night he lodges in Iztapalapan; to-morrow, marching by the old causeway, he will re-enter the city."

"Poor, poor country!" she said, after a long silence.

The words touched him, and he replied, in a low voice, "You have a good heart, O Tula,-a good heart and true. Your words were what I repeat every hour in the day. You were seeing what I see all the time-"

"The battle!" she said, shuddering.

"Yes. I wish it could be avoided; its conditions are such that against the advantage of arms I can only oppose the advantage of numbers; so that the dearest of all things will be the cheapest. I must take no account of lives. I have seen the streets run with blood already, and now,-Enough! we must do what the gods decree. Yet the slaughter shall not be, as heretofore, on one side alone."

She looked at him inquiringly.

"You know the custom of our people to take prisoners rather than kill in battle. As against the Tlascalans and tribes, that was well enough; but new conditions req

uire new laws, and my order now is, Save nothing but the arms and armor of the strangers. Life for life as against Malinche! And I could conquer him, but-"

He stopped, and their glances met,-his full of fire, hers sad and thoughtful.

"Ah, Tula! your woman's soul prompts you already of whom I would speak,-the king."

"Spare me," she said, covering her face with her hands. "I am his child; I love him yet."

"So I know," he replied; "and I would not have you do else. The love is proof of fitness to be loved. Nature cannot be silenced. He is not as near to me as to you; yet I feel the impulse that moves you, though in a less degree. In memory, he is a part of my youth. For that matter, who does not love him? He has charmed the strangers; even the guards at his chamber-door have been known to weep at sight of his sorrow. And the heroes who so lately died before his prison-gates, did not they love him? And those who will die to-morrow and the next day, what else may be said of them? In arms here, see the children of the valley. What seek they? In their eyes, he is Anahuac. And yet-"

He paused again; her hands had fallen; her cheeks glistened with tears.

"If I may not speak plainly now, I may not ever. Strengthen yourself to hear me, and hear me pitifully. To begin, you know that I have been using the king's power without his permission,-that, I say, you know, and have forgiven, because the usurpation was not of choice but necessity, and to save the empire; but you will hear now, for the first time probably, that I could have been king in fact."

Her gaze became intent, and she listened breathlessly.

"Three times," he continued, "three times have the caciques, for themselves and the army, offered me the crown. The last time, they were accompanied by the electors,[48] and deputations from all the great cities."

"And you refused," she said, confidently.

"Yes. I will not deny the offer was tempting,-that for the truth. I thought of it often; and at such times came revenge, and told me I had been wronged, and ambition, whispering of glory, and, with ready subtlety, making acceptance appear a duty. But, Tula, you prevailed; your love was dearer to me than the crown. For your sake, I refused the overture. You never said so,-there was no need of the saying,-yet I knew you could never be queen while your father lived."

Not often has a woman heard such a story of love, or been given such proofs of devotion; her face mantled, and she dropped her gaze, saying,-

"Better to be so loved than to be queen. If not here, O 'tzin, look for reward in the Sun. Surely, the gods take note of such things!"

"Your approval is my full reward," he replied. "But hear me further. What I have said was easy to say; that which I go to now is hard, and requires all my will; for the utterance may forfeit not merely the blessing just given me, but your love,-more precious, as I have shown, than the crown. You were in the palace the day the king appeared and bade the people home. The strangers were in my hand at the time. O, a glad time,-so long had we toiled, so many had died! Then he came, and snatched away our triumph. I have not forgotten, I never can forget the disappointment. In all the labor of the preparation since, I have seen the scene, sometimes as a threat, sometimes as a warning, always a recurring dream whose dreaming leaves me less resolved in the course I am running. Continually I find myself saying to myself, 'The work is all in vain; what has been will be again; while he lives, you cannot win.' O Tula, such influence was bad enough of itself. Hear now how the gods came in to direct me. Last night I was at the altar of Huitzil', praying, when the teotuctli appeared, and said, ''Tzin Guatamo, pray you for your country?' 'For country and king,' I answered. He laid his hand upon my shoulder, 'If you seek the will of the god with intent to do what he imposes, hear then: The king is the shield of the strangers; they are safe while he lives; and if he lives, Anahuac dies. Let him who leads choose between them. So the god says. Consider!' He was gone before I could answer. Since that I have been like one moving in a cloud, seeing nothing clearly, and the duty least of all. When I should be strongest, I am weakest. My spirit faints under the load. If the king lives, the empire dies: if it is to die, why the battle, and its sacrifices? This night have I in which to choose; to-morrow, Malinche and action! Help me, O Tula, help me to do right! Love of country, of king, and of me,-you have them all. Speak."

And she answered him,-

"I may not doubt that you love me; you have told me so many times, but never as to-night. I thank you, O 'tzin! Your duties are heavy. I do not wonder that you bend under them. I might say they are yours by gift of the gods, and not to be divided with another, not even with me; but I will give you love for love, and, as I hope to share your fortunes, I will share your trials. I am a woman, without judgment by which to answer you; from my heart I will answer."

"From your heart be it, O Tula."

"Has the king heard the things of which you have spoken?"

"I cannot say."

"Does he know you were offered the crown?"

"No; the offer was treason."

"Ah, poor king, proud father! The love of the people, that of which you were proudest, is lost. What wretchedness awaits you!"

She bowed her head, and there was a silence broken only by her sobs. The grief spent itself; then she said, earnestly,-

"I know him. He, too, is a lover of Anahuac. More than once he has exposed himself to death for her. Such loves age not, nor do they die, except with the hearts they animate. There was a time-but now-No matter, I will try. 'Let him who leads choose': was not that the decree, good 'tzin?"

"Yes," he replied.

"Must the choice be made to-night?"

"I may delay until to-morrow."

"To-morrow; what time?"

"Malinche will pass the causeway in the cool of the morning; by noon he will have joined his people in the old palace; the decision must then be made."

"Can you set me down at the gate before he passes in?"

The 'tzin started. "Of the old palace?" he asked.

"I wish to see the king."

"For what?"

"To tell him the things you have told me to-night."

"All?"

"Yes."

His face clouded with dissatisfaction.

"Yes," she continued, calmly; "that, as becomes a king, he may choose which shall live,-himself or Anahuac."

So she answered the 'tzin's appeal, and the answer was from her heart; and, seeing of what heroism she dreamed, his dark eyes glowed with admiration. Yet his reply was full of hopelessness.

"I give you honor, Tula,-I give you honor for the thought; but forgive me if I think you beguiled by your love. There was a time when he was capable of what you have imagined. Alas! he is changed; he will never choose,-never!"

She looked at him reproachfully, and said, with a sad smile, "Such changes are not always of years. Who is he that to-night, only to-night, driven by a faltering of the will, which in the king, my father, is called weakness, brought himself prayerfully to a woman's feet, and begged her to divide with him a burden imposed upon his conscience by a decree of the gods? Who is he, indeed? Study yourself, O 'tzin, and commiserate him, and bethink you, if he choose not, it will be yours to choose for him. His duty will then become yours, to be done without remorse, and-"

She hesitated, and held out her hand, as if to say, "And I can love you still."

He caught the meaning of the action, and went to her, and kissed her forehead tenderly, and said,-

"I see now that the heart can be wiser than the head. Have your way. I will set you down at the gate, and of war there shall be neither sign nor sound until you return."

"Until I return! May be I cannot. Malinche may hold me prisoner."

From love to war,-the step was short.

"True," he said. "The armies will await my signal of attack, and they must not wait upon uncertainties."

He arose and paced the floor, and when he paused he said, firmly,-

"I will set you down at the gate in the early morning, that you may see your father before Malinche sees him. And when you speak to him, ask not if I may make the war: on that I am resolved; but tell him what no other can,-that I look forward to the time when Malinche, like the Tonatiah, will bring him from his chamber, and show him to the people, to distract them again. And when you have told him that, speak of what the gods have laid upon me, and then say that I say, 'Comes he so, whether of choice or by force, the dread duty shall be done. The gods helping me, I will strike for Anahuac.' And if he ask what I would have him do, answer, A king's duty to his people,-die that they may live!"

Tula heard him to the end, and buried her face in her hands, and there was a long silence.

"Poor king! poor father!" she said at last. "For me to ask him to die! A heavy, heavy burden, O 'tzin!"

"The gods help you!" he replied.

"If Malinche hold me prisoner, how will the answer avail you?"

"Have you not there two scarfs,-the one green, the other white?"

"Yes."

"Take them with you, and from the roof, if your father resolve not, show the green one. Alas, then, for me! If, in its stead, you wave the white one, I shall know that he comes, if so he does, by force, and that"-his voice trembled-"it is his will Anahuac should live."

She listened wistfully, and replied, "I understand; Anahuac saved means Montezuma lost. But doubt him not, doubt him not; he will remember his glory's day, and die as he has lived."

* * *

An hour later, and the canoe of the 'tzin passed into one of the canals of the city. The parting on the chinampa may be imagined. Love will have its way even in war.

* * *

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