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


The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 11221

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

Scarce five weeks before, Cortes sallied from the palace with seventy soldiers, ragged, yet curiously bedight with gold and silver; now he returned full-handed, at his back thirteen hundred infantry, a hundred horse, additional guns and Tlascalans. Surely, he could hold what he had gained.

The garrison stood in the court-yard to receive him. Trumpet replied to trumpet, and the reverberation of drums shook the ancient house. When all were assigned to quarters, the ranks were broken, and the veterans-those who had remained, and those who had followed their chief-rushed clamorously into each other's arms. Comradeship, with its strange love, born of toil and danger, and nursed by red-handed battle, asserted itself. The men of Narvaez looked on indifferently, or clomb the palace, and from the roof surveyed the vicinage, especially the great temple, apparently as forsaken as the city.

And in the court-yard Cortes met Alvarado, saluting him coldly. The latter excused his conduct as best he could; but the palliations were unsatisfactory. The general turned from him with bitter denunciations; and as he did so, a procession approached: four nobles, carrying silver wands; then a train in doubled files; then Montezuma, in the royal regalia, splendid from head to foot. The shade of the canopy borne above him wrapped his person in purpled softness, but did not hide that other shadow discernible in the slow, uncertain step, the bent form, the wistful eyes,-the shadow of the coming Fate. Such of his family as shared his captivity brought up the cortege.

At the sight, Cortes waited; his blood was hot, and his head filled with the fumes of victory; from a great height, as it were, he looked upon the retinue, and its sorrowful master; and his eyes wandered fitfully from the Christians, worn by watching and hunger, to the sumptuousness of the infidels; so that when the monarch drew nigh him, the temper of his heart was as the temper of his corselet.

"I salute you, O Malinche, and welcome your return," said Montezuma, according to the interpretation of Marina.

The Spaniard heard him without a sign of recognition.

"The good Lady of your trust has had you in care; she has given you the victory. I congratulate you, Malinche."

Still the Spaniard was obstinate.

The king hesitated, dropped his eyes under the cold stare, and was frozen into silence. Then Cortes turned upon his heel, and, without a word, sought his chamber.

The insult was plain, and the witnesses, Christian and infidel, were shocked; and while they stood surprised, Tula rushed up, and threw her arms around the victim's neck, and laid her head upon his breast. The retinue closed around them, as if to hide the shame; and thus the unhappy monarch went back to his quarters,-back to his captivity, to his remorse, and the keener pangs of pride savagely lacerated.

For a time he was like one dazed; but, half waking, he wrung his hands, and said, feebly, "It cannot be, it cannot be! Maxtla, take the councillors and go to Malinche, and say that I wish to see him. Tell him the business is urgent, and will not wait. Bring me his answer, omitting nothing."

The young chief and the four nobles departed, and the king relapsed into his dazement, muttering, "It cannot be, it cannot be!"

The commissioners delivered the message. Olid, Leon, and others who were present begged Cortes to be considerate.

"No," he replied; "the dog of a king would have betrayed us to Narvaez; before his eyes we are allowed to hunger. Why are the markets closed? I have nothing to do with him."

And to the commissioners he said, "Tell your master to open the markets, or we will for him. Begone!"

And they went back and reported, omitting nothing, not even the insulting epithet. The king heard them silently; as they proceeded, he gathered strength; when they ceased, he was calm and resolved.

"Return to Malinche," he said, "and tell him what I wished to say: that my people are ready to attack him, and that the only means I know to divert them from their purpose is to release the lord Cuitlahua, my brother, and send him to them to enforce my orders. There is now no other of authority upon whom I can depend to keep the peace, and open the markets; he is the last hope. Go."

The messengers departed; and when they were gone the monarch said, "Leave the chamber now, all but Tula."

At the last outgoing footstep she went near, and knelt before him; knowing, with the divination which is only of woman, that she was now to have reply to the 'tzin's message, delivered by her in the early morning. Her tearful look he answered with a smile, saying tenderly, "I do not know whether I gave you welcome. If I did not, I will amend the fault. Come near."

She arose, and, putting an arm over his shoulder, knelt closer by his side; he kissed her forehead, and pressed her close to his breast. Nothing could exceed the gentleness of the caress, unless it was the accompanying look. She replied with tears, and such breaking sobs as are only permitted to passion and childhood.

"Now, if never before," he continued, "you are my best beloved, because your faith in me fell not away with that of all the world besides; especially, O good heart! especially because you have to-day shown me an escape from my intolerable misery and misfortunes,-for which may the gods who have abandoned me bless you!"

He stroked the dark locks under his hand lovingly.

"Tears? Let there be none for me. I am happy. I have been unresolved, drifting with uncertain currents, doubtful, yet hopeful, seeing nothi

ng, and imagining everything; waiting, sometimes on men, sometimes on the gods,-and that so long,-ah, so long! But now the weakness is past. Rejoice with me, O Tula! In this hour I have recovered dominion over myself; with every faculty restored, the very king whom erst you knew, I will make answer to the 'tzin. Listen well. I give you my last decree, after which I shall regard myself as lost to the world. If I live, I shall never rule again. Somewhere in the temples I shall find a cell like that from which they took me to be king. The sweetness of the solitude I remember yet. There I will wait for death; and my waiting shall be so seemly that his coming shall be as the coming of a restful sleep. Hear then, and these words give the 'tzin: Not as king to subject, nor as priest to penitent, but as father to son, I send him my blessing. Of pardon I say nothing. All he has done for Anahuac, and all he hopes to do for her, I approve. Say to him, also, that in the last hour Malinche will come for me to go with him to the people, and that I will go. Then, I say, let the 'tzin remember what the gods have laid upon him, and with his own hand do the duty, that it may be certainly done. A man's last prayer belongs to the gods, his last look to those who love him. In dying there is no horror like lingering long amidst enemies."

His voice trembled, and he paused. She raised her eyes to his face, which was placid, but rapt, as if his spirit had been caught by a sudden vision.

"To the world," he said, in a little while, "I have bid farewell. I see its vanities go from me one by one; last in the train, and most glittering, most loved, Power,-and in its hands is my heart. A shadow creeps upon me, darkening all without, but brightening all within; and in the brightness, lo, my People and their Future!"

He stopped again, then resumed:-

"The long, long cycles-two,-four,-eight-pass away, and I see the tribes newly risen, like the trodden grass, and in their midst a Priesthood and a Cross. An age of battles more, and, lo! the Cross but not the priests; in their stead Freedom and God."

And with the last word, as if to indicate the Christian God, the report of a gun without broke the spell of the seer; the two started, and looked at each other, listening for what might follow; but there was nothing more, and he went on quietly talking to her.

"I know the children of the Aztec, crushed now, will live, and more,-after ages of wrong suffered by them, they will rise up, and take their place-a place of splendor-amongst the deathless nations of the earth. What I saw was revelation. Cherish the words, O Tula; repeat them often; make them an utterance of the people, a sacred tradition; let them go down with the generations, one of which will, at last, rightly interpret the meaning of the words Freedom and God, now dark to my understanding; and then, not till then, will be the new birth and new career. And so shall my name become of the land a part, suggested by all things,-by the sun mildly tempering its winds; by the rivers singing in its valleys; by the stars seen from its mountain-tops; by its cities, and their palaces and halls; and so shall its red races of whatever blood learn to call me father, and in their glory, as well as misery, pray for and bless me."

In the progress of this speech his voice grew stronger, and insensibly his manner ennobled; at the conclusion, his appearance was majestic. Tula regarded him with awe, and accepted his utterances, not as the song habitual to the Aztec warrior at the approach of death, nor as the rhapsody of pride soothing itself; she accepted them as prophecy, and as a holy trust,-a promise to be passed down through time, to a generation of her race, the first to understand truly the simple words,-Freedom and God. And they were silent a long time.

At length there was a warning at the door; the little bells filled the room with music strangely inharmonious. The king looked that way, frowning. The intruder entered without nequen; as he drew near the monarch's seat, his steps became slower, and his head drooped upon his breast.

"Cuitlahua! my brother!" said Montezuma, surprised.

"Brother and king!" answered the cacique, as he knelt and placed both palms upon the floor.

"You bring me a message. Arise and speak."

"No," said Cuitlahua, rising. "I have come to receive your signet and orders. I am free. The guard is at the door to pass me through the gate. Malinche would have me go and send the people home, and open the markets; he said such were your orders. But from him I take nothing except liberty. But you, O king, what will you,-peace or war?"

Tula looked anxiously at the monarch; would the old vacillation return? He replied firmly and gravely,-

"I have given my last order as king. Tula will go with you from the palace, and deliver it to you."

He arose while speaking, and gave the cacique a ring; then for a moment he regarded the two with suffused eyes, and said, "I divide my love between you and my people. For their sake, I say, go hence quickly, lest Malinche change his mind. You, O my brother, and you, my child, take my blessing and that of the gods! Farewell."

He embraced them both. To Tula he clung long and passionately. More than his ambassadress to the 'tzin, she bore his prophecy to the generations of the future. His last kiss was dewy with her tears. With their faces to him, they moved to the door; as they passed out, each gave a last look, and caught his image then,-the image of a man breaking because he happened to be in God's way.

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