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   Chapter 54 THE CONQUEROR ON THE CAUSEWAY AGAIN

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 8447

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


As predicted by the 'tzin, the Spaniards set out early next morning-the morning of the 24th of June-by the causeway from Iztapalapan, already notable in this story.

At their head rode the Se?or Hernan, silent, thoughtful, and not well pleased; pondering, doubtless, the misconduct of the adelantado in the old palace to which he was marching, and the rueful condition it might impose upon the expedition.

The cavaliers next in the order of march, which was that of battle, rode and talked as men are wont when drawing nigh the end of a long and toilsome task. This the leader at length interrupted,-

"Se?ores, come near. Yonder ye may see the gate of Xoloc," he continued, when they were up. "If the heathen captains think to obstruct our entry, they would do well, now that our ships lie sunken in the lake, to give us battle there. Ride we forward to explore what preparations, if any, they have made."

So they rode, at quickened pace, arms rattling, spurs jingling, and found the gate deserted.

"Viva compa?eros!" cried Cortes, riding through the shadow of the battlements. "Give the scabbards their swords again. There will be no battle; the way to the palace is open." And, waiting till the column was at their heels, he turned to the trumpeters, and shouted, cheerily, "Ola, ye lazy knaves! Since the march began, ye have not been heard from. Out now, and blow! Blow as if ye were each a Roland, with Roland's horn. Blow merrily a triumphal march, that our brethren in the leaguer ahead may know deliverance at hand."

The feeling of the chief spread rapidly; first, to the cavaliers; then to the ranks, where soon there were shouting and singing; and simultaneous with the trumpetry, over the still waters sped the minstrelsy of the Tlascalans. Ere long they had the answer of the garrison; every gun in the palace thundered welcome.

Cortes settled in his saddle smiling: he was easy in mind; the junction with Alvarado was assured; the city and the king were his, and he could now hold them; nevertheless, back of his smile there was much thought. True, his enemies in Spain would halloo spitefully over the doughty deed he had just done down in Cempoalla. No matter. The Court and the Council had pockets, and he could fill them with gold,-gold by the caravel, if necessary; and for the pacification of his most Catholic master, the Emperor, had he not the New World? And over the schedule of guerdons sure to follow such a gift to such a master he lingered complacently, as well he might. Patronage, and titles, and high employments, and lordly estates danced before his eyes, as danced the sun's glozing upon the crinkling water.

One thought, however,-only one,-brought him trouble. The soldiers of Narvaez were new men, ill-disciplined, footsore, grumbling, discontented, disappointed. He remembered the roseate pictures by which they had been won from their leader before the battle was joined. 'The Empire was already in possession; there would be no fighting; the march would be a promenade through grand landscapes, and by towns and cities, whose inhabitants would meet them in processions, loaded with fruits and flowers, tributes of love and fear,'-so he had told them through his spokesmen, Olmedo, the priest, and Duero, the secretary. Nor failed he now to recall the chief inducements in the argument,-the charms of the heathen capital, and the easy life there waiting,-a life whose sole vexation would be apportionment of the lands conquered and the gold gathered. And the wonderful city,-here it was, placid as ever; and neither the valley, nor the lake, nor the summering climate, nor the abundance of which he had spoken, failed his description; nothing was wanting but the people, THE PEOPLE! Where were they? He looked at the prize ahead; gyres of smoke, slowly rising and purpling as they rose, were all the proofs of life within its walls. He swept the little sea with angry eyes; in the distance a canoe, stationary, and with a solitary occupant, and he a spy! And this was the grand reception promised the retainers of Narvaez! He struck his mailed thigh with his mailed hand fiercely, and, turning in his saddle, looked back. The column was moving forward compactly, th

e new men distinguishable by the freshness of their apparel and equipments. "Bien!" he said, with a grim smile and cunning solace, "Bien! they will fight for life, if not for majesty and me."

Close by the wall Father Bartolomé overtook him, and, after giving rein to his mule, and readjusting his hood, said gravely, "If the tinkle of my servant's bell disturb not thy musing, Se?or,-I have been through the files, and bring thee wot of the new men."

"Welcome, father," said Cortes, laughing. "I am not an evil spirit to fly the exorcisement of thy bell, not I; and so I bid thee welcome. But as for whereof thou comest to tell, no more, I pray. I know of what the varlets speak. And as I am a Christian, I blame them not. We promised them much, and-this is all: fair sky, fair land, strange city,-and all without people! Rueful enough, I grant; but, as matter more serious, what say the veterans? Came they within thy soundings?"

"Thou mayest trust them, Se?or. Their tongues go with their swords. They return to the day of our first entry here, and with excusable enlargement tell what they saw then in contrast with the present."

"And whom blame they for the failure now?"

"The captain Alvarado."

Cortes' brows dropped, and he became thoughtful again, and in such temper rode into the city.

Within the walls, everywhere the visitors looked, were signs of life, but nowhere a living thing; neither on the street, nor in the houses, nor on the housetops,-not even a bird in the sky. A stillness possessed the place, peculiar in that it seemed to assert a presence, and palpably lurk in the shade, lie on the doorsteps, issue from the windows, and pervade the air; giving notice so that not a man, new or veteran, but was conscious that, in some way, he was menaced with danger. There is nothing so appalling as the unaccountable absence of life in places habitually populous; nothing so desolate as a deserted city.

"Por Dios!" said Olmedo, toying with the beads at his side, "I had rather the former reception than the present. Pleasanter the sullen multitude than the silence without the multitude."

Cortes made him no answer, but rode on abstractedly, until stopped by his advance-guard.

"At rest!" he said, angrily. "Had ye the signal? I heard it not."

"Nor did we, Se?or," replied the officer in charge. "But, craving thy pardon, approach, and see what the infidels have done here."

Cortes drew near, and found himself on the brink of the first canal. He swore a great oath; the bridge was dismantled. On the hither side, however, lay the timbers, frame and floor. The tamanes detailed from the guns replaced them.

"Bartolomé, good father," said Cortes, confidentially, when the march was resumed, "thou hast a commendable habit of holding what thou hearest, and therefore I shame not to confess that I, too, prefer the first reception. The absence of the heathen and the condition of yon bridge are parts of one plan, and signs certain of battle now ready to be delivered."

"If it be God's will, amen!" replied the priest, calmly. "We are stronger than when we went out."

"So is the enemy, for he hath organized his people. The hordes that stared at us so stupidly when we first came-be the curse of the saints upon them!-are now fighting men."

Olmedo searched his face, and said, coldly, "To doubt is to dread the result."

"Nay, by my conscience! I neither doubt nor dread. Yet I hold it not unseemly to confess that I had rather meet the brunt on the firm land, with room for what the occasion offers. I like not yon canal, with its broken bridge, too wide for horse, too deep for weighted man; it putteth us to disadvantage, and hath a hateful reminder of the brigantines, which, as thou mayest remember, we left at anchor, mistresses of the lake; in our absence they have been lost,-a most measureless folly, father! But let it pass, let it pass! The Mother-blessed be her name!-hath not forsaken us. Montezuma is ours, and-"

"He is victory," said Olmedo, zealously.

"He is the New World!" answered Cortes.

And so it chanced that the poor king was centre of thought for both the 'tzin and his enemy,-the dread of one and the hope of the other.

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