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

   Chapter 59 IN THE LEAGUER YET

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 13099

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Guatamozin took little rest that night. The very uncertainty of the combat multiplied his cares. It was not to be supposed that his enemy would keep to the palace, content day after day with receiving assaults; that was neither his character nor his policy. To-morrow he would certainly open the gates, and try conclusions in the streets The first duty, therefore, was to provide for such a contingency. So the 'tzin went along all the streets leading to the old palace, followed by strong working-parties; and where the highest houses fronted each other, he stopped, and thereat the details fell to making barricades, and carrying stones and logs to the roofs. As a final measure of importance, he cut passages through the walls of the houses and gardens, that companies might be passed quickly and secretly from one thoroughfare to another.

Everywhere he found great cause for mourning; but the stories of the day were necessarily lost in the demands of the morrow.

He visited his caciques, and waited on the lord Cuitlahua to take his orders; then he passed to the temples, whence, as he well knew, the multitudes in great part derived their inspiration. The duties of the soldier, politician, and devotee discharged, he betook himself to the chinampa, and to Tula told the heroisms of the combat, and his plans and hopes; there he renewed his own inspirations.

Toward morning he returned to the great temple. Hualpa and Io', having followed him throughout his round, spread their mantles on the roof, and slept: he could not; between the work of yesterday and that to come, his mind played pendulously, and with such forceful activity as forbade slumber. From the quarters of the strangers, moreover, he heard constantly the ringing of hammers, the neighing and trampling of steeds, and voices of direction. It was a long night to him; but at last over the crown of the White Woman the dawn flung its first light into the valley; and then he saw the palace, its walls manned, the gunners by their pieces, and in the great court lines of footmen, and at the main gate horsemen standing by their bridles.

"Thanks, O gods!" he cried. "Walls will not separate my people from their enemies to-day!"

With the sunrise the assault began,-a repetition of that of the day before.

Then the guns opened; and while the infidels reeled under the fire, out of the gates rode Cortes and his chivalry, a hundred men-at-arms. Into the mass they dashed. Space sufficient having been won, they wheeled southward down the beautiful street, followed by detachments of bowmen and arquebusiers and Tlascalans. With them also went Mesa and his guns.

When fairly in the street, environed with walls, the 'tzin's tactics and preparation appeared. Upon the approach of the cavalry, the companies took to the houses; only those fell who stopped to fight or had not time to make the exit. All the time, however, the horsemen were exposed to the missiles tossed upon them from the roofs. Soon as they passed, out rushed the infidels in hordes, to fall upon the flanks and rear of the supporting detachments. Never was Mesa so hard pressed; never were helm and corselet so nearly useless; never gave up the ghost so many of the veteran Tlascalans.

At length the easy way of the cavalry was brought to a stop; before them was the first barricade,-a work of earth and stones too high to be leaped, and defended by Chinantlan spears, of all native weapons the most dreaded. Nevertheless, Cortes drew rein only at its foot. On the instant his shield and mail warded off a score of bronzed points, whirled his axe, crash went the spears,-that was all.

Meantime, the eager horsemen in the rear, not knowing of the obstacle in front, pressed on; the narrow space became packed; then from the roofs on the right hand and the left descended a tempest of stones and lances, blent with beams of wood, against which no guard was strong enough. Six men and horses fell there. A cry of dismay arose from the pack, and much calling was there on patron saints, much writhing and swaying of men and plunging of steeds, and vain looking upward through bars of steel. Cortes quitted smashing spears over the barricade.

"Out! out! Back, in Christ's name!" he cried.

The jam was finally relieved.

Again his voice,-

"To Mesa, some of ye; bring the guns! Speed!"

Then he, too, rode slowly back; and sharper than the shame of the retreat, sharper than the arrows or the taunts of the foe, sharper than all of them together, was the sight of the six riders in their armor left to quick despoilment,-they and their good steeds.

It was not easy for Mesa to come; but he did, opening within a hundred feet of the barricade. Again and again he fired; the smoke wreathed blinding white about him.

"What sayest thou now?" asked Cortes, impatiently.

"That thou mayest go, and thou wilt. The saints go with thee!"

The barricade was a ruin.

At the first bridge again there was a fierce struggle; when taken, the floor was heaped with dead and wounded infidels.

And so for hours. Only at the last gate, that opening on the causeway to Iztapalapan, did Cortes stay the sally. There, riding to the rear, now become the front, he started in return. Needless to tell how well the Christians fought, or how devotedly the pagans resisted and perished. Enough that the going back was more difficult than the coming. Four more of the Spaniards perished on the way.

At a late hour that night Sandoval entered Cortes' room, and gave him a parchment. The chief went to the lamp and read; then, snatching his sword from the table, he walked to and fro, as was his wont when much disturbed; only his strides were longer, and the gride of the weapon on the tiled floor more relentless than common.

He stopped abruptly.

"Dead, ten of them! And their horses, captain?"

"Three were saved," replied Sandoval.

"By my conscience, I like it not! and thou?"

"I like it less," said the captain, na?vely.

"What say the men?"

"They demand to be led from the city while yet they have strength to go."

Cortes frowned and continued his walk. When next he stopped, he said, in the tone of a man whose mind was made up,-

"Good night, captain. See that the sentinels sleep not; and, captain, as thou goest, send hither Martin Lopez, and mind him to bring one or two of his master carpenters. Good night."

The mind of the leader, never so quick as in time of trouble, had in the few minutes reviewed the sortie. True, he had broken through the barricad

es, taken bridge after bridge, and driven the enemy often as they opposed him; he had gone triumphantly to the very gates of the city, and returned, and joined Olmedo in unctuous celebration of the achievement; yet the good was not as clear and immediate as at first appeared.

He recalled the tactics of his enemy: how, on his approach, they had vanished from the street and assailed him from the roofs; how, when he had passed, they poured into the street again, and flung themselves hand to hand upon the infantry and artillery. And the result,-ten riders and seven horses were dead; of the Tlascalans in the column nearly all had perished; every Christian foot-soldier had one or more wounds. At Cempoalla he himself had been hurt in the left hand; now he was sore with contusions. He set his teeth hard at thought of the moral effect of the day's work; how it would raise the spirit of the infidels, and depress that of his own people. Already the latter were clamoring to be led from the city,-so the blunt Captain Sandoval had said.

The enemy's advantage was in the possession of the houses. The roofs dominated the streets. Were there no means by which he could dominate the roofs? He bent his whole soul to the problem. Somewhere he had read or heard of the device known in ancient warfare as mantelets,-literally, a kind of portable roof, under which besiegers approached and sapped or battered a wall. The recollection was welcome; the occasion called for an extraordinary resort. He laid the sword gently upon the table, gently as he would a sleeping child, and sent for Lopez.

That worthy came, and with him two carpenters, each as rough as himself. And it was a picture, if not a comedy, to watch the four bending over the table to follow Cortes, while, with his dagger-point, he drew lines illustrative of the strange machine. They separated with a perfect understanding. The chief slept soundly, his confidence stronger than ever.

Another day,-the third. From morn till noon and night, the clamor of assault and the exertion of defence, the roar of guns from within, the rain of missiles from without,-Death everywhere.

All the day Cortes held to the palace. On the other side, the 'tzin kept close watch from the teocallis. That morning early he had seen workmen bring from the palace some stout timbers, and in the great court-yard proceed to frame them. He plied the party with stones and arrows; again and again, best of all the good bowmen of the valley, he himself sent his shafts at the man who seemed the director of the work; as often did they splinter upon his helm or corselet, or drop harmless from the close links of tempered steel defending his limbs. The work went steadily on, and by noon had taken the form of towers, two in number, and high as ordinary houses. By sunset both were under roof.

CORTES DREW REIN ONLY AT ITS FOOT

When the night came, the garrison were not rested; and as to the infidels, the lake received some hundreds more of them, which was only room made for other hundreds as brave and devoted.

Over the palace walls the besiegers sent words ominous and disquieting, and not to be confounded with the half-sung formulas of the watchers keeping time on the temples by the movement of the stars.

"Malinche, Malinche, we are a thousand to your one. Our gods hunger for vengeance. You cannot escape them."

So the Spaniards heard in their intervals of unrest.

"O false sons of Anahuac, the festival is making ready; your hearts are Huitzil's; the cages are open to receive you."

The Tlascalans heard, and trembled.

The fourth day. Still Cortes kept within the palace, and still the assault; nor with all the slaughter could there be perceived any decrease either in the number of the infidels or the spirit of their attack.

Meantime the workmen in the court-yard clung to the construction of the towers. Lopez was skilful, Cortes impatient. At last they were finished.

That night the 'tzin visited Tula. At parting, she followed him to the landing. Yeteve went with her. "The blessing of the gods be upon you!" she said; and the benediction, so trustful and sweetly spoken, was itself a blessing. Even the slaves, under their poised oars, looked at her and forgot themselves, as well they might. The light of the great torch, kindled by the keeper of the chinampa, revealed her perfectly. The head slightly bent, and the hands crossed over the breast, helped the prayerful speech. Her eyes were not upon the slaves, yet their effect was; and they were such eyes as give to night the beauty of stars, while taking nothing from it, neither depth nor darkness.

The canoe put off.

"Farewell," said Io'. His warrior-life was yet in its youth.

"Farewell," said Hualpa. And she heard him, and knew him thinking of his lost love.

In the 'tzin's absence the garrison of the temple had been heavily reinforced. The azoteas, when he returned, was covered with warriors, asleep on their mantles, and pillowed on their shields. He bade his companions catch what slumber they could, and went into the grimy but full-lighted presence-chamber, and seated himself on the step of the altar. In a little while Hualpa came in, and stopped before him as if for speech.

"You have somewhat to say," said the 'tzin, kindly. "Speak."

"A word, good 'tzin, a single word. Io' lies upon his mantle; he is weary, and sleeps well. I am weary, but cannot sleep. I suffer-"

"What?" asked the 'tzin.

"Discontent."

"Discontent!"

"O 'tzin, to follow you and win your praise has been my greatest happiness; but as yet I have done nothing by myself. I pray you, give me liberty to go where I please, if only for a day."

"Where would you go?"

"Where so many have tried and failed,-over the wall, into the palace."

There was a long silence, during which the supplicant looked on the floor, and the master at him.

"I think I understand you," the latter at length said. "To-morrow I will give you answer. Go now."

Hualpa touched the floor with his palm, and left the chamber. The 'tzin remained thoughtful, motionless. An hour passed.

"Over the wall, into the palace!" he said, musingly. "Not for country, not for glory,-for Nenetzin. Alas, poor lad! From his life she has taken the life. Over the wall into the-Sun. To-morrow comes swiftly; good or ill, the gifts it brings are from the gods. Patience!"

And upon the step he spread his mantle, and slept, muttering, "Over the wall, into the palace, and she has not called him! Poor lad!"

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