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: 18515

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The duty Hualpa had been charged with by the 'tzin was not difficult of performance; for the bridges of the capital, even those along the beautiful street, were much simpler structures than they appeared. When he had seen the balustrades and flooring and the great timbers that spanned the canal-the first one south of the old palace-torn from their places, and hauled off by the canoemen whom he had collected for the purpose, he returned to the temple to rejoin his master.

The assault upon the palace, when he reached that point, was more furious than at any previous time. The companies in the street were fighting with marvellous courage, while the missiles from the azoteas and westward terraces of the temple, and all the houses around, literally darkened the air. Amidst the clamor Hualpa caught at intervals the cry,-"The 'tzin, the 'tzin!" He listened, and all the loyal thousands seemed shouting, "The 'tzin, the 'tzin! Al-a-lala!"

"Has anything befallen the 'tzin?" he asked of an acquaintance.

"Yes, thanks to Huitzil'! He has broken one of Malinche's towers to pieces, and killed everybody in it."

Hualpa's love quickened suddenly. "Blessed be all the gods!" he cried, and, passing on, ascended to the azoteas. It may have been the battle, full of invocations, as battles always are; or it may have been that Io', in full enjoyment of his command, and so earnest in its performance, stimulated his ambition; or it may have been the influence of his peculiar sorrow, the haunting memories of his love, and she, its star, separated from him by so little,-something made him restless and feverish. He talked with the caciques and priests; he clomb the turret, and watched the smoke go softly up, and hide itself in the deeper blue of the sky; with Io', he stood on the temple's verge, and witnessed the fight, at times using bow and sling; but nothing brought him relief. The opportunity he had so long desired was here calling him, and passing away. O for an hour of liberty to enact himself!

Unable to endure the excitement, he started in search of the 'tzin, knowing that, wherever he was, there was action, if not opportunity. At that moment he saw a cacique in the street plant a ladder against the wall of the palace not far from the main gate. The Tlascalans defending at that point tried to throw it off, but a shower of stones from the terrace of the temple deluged them, and they disappeared. Up went the cacique, up went his followers; they gained the crest; then the conflict passed from Hualpa's view.

"Io'," he said, "when the 'tzin comes back, tell him I have gone to make a way for him through yon wall."

"Have a care, comrade; have a care!"

Hualpa put an arm around him, and replied, smiling, "There is one over the wall now: if he fears not, shall I? And then,"-he whispered low,-"Nenetzin will despise me if I come not soon."

A dawning fell upon Io', and from that time he knew the power of love.

"The gods go with you! Farewell."

Hualpa set about his purpose deliberately. Near the door of the presence-chamber there was a pile of trophies, shields, arms, and armor of men and horses; he made some selections from the heap, and carried them into the chamber. When he came out, under his panache there was a steel cap, and under his mantle a cuirass; and to some dead Spaniard he was further beholden for a shield and battle-axe,-the latter so called, notwithstanding it had a head like a hammer, and a handle of steel pointed at the end and more than a yard in length.

Thus prepared, he went down into the street, and forced his way to the ladder planted near the gate; thence to the crest of the wall. A hundred arrows splintered against his shield, as he looked down upon the combat yet maintained by the brave cacique at the foot of the banquette.

The wall, as I think I have elsewhere said, was built of blocks of wrought stone, laid in cement only a little less hard than the stone, and consequently impervious to any battery against its base; at the same time, taken piece by piece from the top, its demolition was easy. Hualpa paused not; between the blocks he drove the pointed handle of his axe: a moment, and down fell the capping-stone; another followed, and another. Alike indifferent to the arrows of the garrison and the acclamations of the witnesses outside, looking neither here nor there, bending every faculty to the task, he did in a few minutes what seemed impossible: through a breach wide enough for the passage of a double sedan, foemen within and without the wall saw each other.

And there was hastening thither of detachments. Up the ladder and over the wall leaped the devoted infidels, nothing deterred by waiting swords and lances; striking or dying, they shouted, "The 'tzin, the 'tzin! Al-a-lala!" Live or die, they strove to cover the steadfast workman in the breach.

De Olid, at the time in charge of the palace, drew nigh, attracted by the increasing uproar.

"Ye fools! Out on ye! See ye not that the dog is hiding behind a Christian shield! Run, fly, bring a brace of arquebusiers! Bring the reserve guns! Upon them, gentlemen! Swords and axes! The Mother for us all! Christo, Christo!"

And on foot, and in full armor, he pushed into the press; for, true to his training, he saw that the laborer behind the shining shield was more worthy instant notice than the hordes clambering over the wall.

Still the breach widened and deepened, and every rock that tumbled from its place contributed to the roadway forming on both sides of the wall to facilitate the attack. But now the guns were coming, and the arquebusiers made haste to plant their pieces, against which the good shield might not defend. Suddenly Hualpa stood up, his surcoat whitened with the dust of the mortar; without a word he descended to the street: the work was done,-a way for the 'tzin was ready! Scarcely had he touched the pavement before the guns opened; scarcely had the guns opened before the gorge was crowded with infidels rushing in. The palace, wanting the column absent with Cortes, was in danger. To the one point every Christian was withdrawn; even the sick and wounded staggered from the hospital to repel the attack. With all his gallantry, De Olid was beaten slowly back to the house. Cursed he the infidels, prayed he the return of Cortes,-still he went back. In the midst of his perplexity, a messenger came to tell him the enemy was breaking through the wall of the western front.

Hualpa had not only made another breach,-De Olid found him inside the enclosure, with a support already too strong for the Tlascalans.

The fight the good captain was called to witness was that of native against native; and, had the peril been less demanding, he would have enjoyed its novelties. An astonishing rattle of shields and spears, mixed with the clash of maquahuitls, and a deafening outcry from the contending tribes saluted him. Over the fighting lines the air was thick with stones and flying javelins and tossing banners. Quarter was not once asked. The grim combatants engaged each other to conquer or die. Hither and thither danced the priests, heedless of the danger, now cursing the laggards, now blessing the brave. And at times so shrilly blew the conchs that where they were nothing might be heard but the shriller medley of war-cry answering war-cry.

I doubt if the captain took other note of the fight than its menace to the palace; and if he prayed the return of Cortes a little more fervently than before, it was not from fear, or confusion of mind; for straightway he appealed to that arm which had been the last and saving resort of the Christians in many a former strait. Soon every disengaged gun was in position before the western door of the palace, loaded full of stones not larger than bird's-eggs, and trained, through the crowd, upon the breach,-and afterwards there were those who charged that the captain did not wait for all his Tlascalans to get out of the way. The guns opened with united voices; palace and paved earth trembled; and the smoke, returning upon the pieces, enveloped everything, insomuch that the door of the house was not to be seen, nor was friend distinguishable from enemy.

If my reader has been in battle, he knows the effect of that fire too well to require description of me; he can hear the cries of the wounded, and see the ghastly wrecks on the pavement; he can see, too, the recoil of the Aztecs, and the rush of the Tlascalans, savagely eager to follow up their advantage. I leave the scene to his fancy, and choose rather to go with a warrior who, availing himself of the shrouding of the smoke, pushed through the throng behind the guns, and passed into the palace. His steps were hurried, and he looked neither to the right nor left; those whom he brushed out of the way had but time to see him pass, or to catch an instant's view of a figure of motley appurtenances,-a Christian shield and battle-axe, a close cap of steel, and the gleam of a corselet under the colorless tatters of a surcoat of feather-work,-a figure impossible to identify as friend or foe. The reader, however, will recognize Hualpa coming out of the depths of the battle, but going-whither?

Once before, as may be

remembered, he had been in the ancient house,-the time when, in a fit of shame and remorse, he had come to lay his lordship and castle at the king's feet; then he had entered by the eastern portal, and passed to the royal presence under guidance: this time his entry was from the west, and he was alone, and unacquainted with the vast interior, its halls, passages, courts, and chambers. In his first visit, moreover, peace had been the rule, and he could not go amiss for friends: now the palace was a leaguered citadel, and he could hardly go amiss for enemies.

Whatever his purpose, he held boldly on. It is possible he counted on the necessities of the battle requiring, as in fact they did, the presence of every serviceable man of the garrison. The few he met passed him in haste, and without question. He avoided the courts and occupied rooms. In the heart of the building he was sensible that the walls and very air vibrated to the roar without; and as the guns in the eastern front answered those in the western, he was advised momentarily of the direction in which he was proceeding, and that his friends still maintained the combat.

Directly three men passed clad in nequen; they were talking earnestly, and scarcely noticed him; after them came another, very old, and distinguished by a green maxtlatl over his white tunic,-one of the king's councillors.

"Stay, uncle," said Hualpa, "stay; I have a question to ask you."

The old man seemed startled.

"Who are you?" he inquired.

Hualpa did not appear to hear him, but asked, "Is not the princess Nenetzin with the king, her father?"

"Follow this hall to its end," replied the ancient, coldly. "She is there, but not with the king, her father. Who is he," he continued, after a pause,-"who is he that asks for the false princess?"

With a groan Hualpa passed on.

The hall ended in a small patio, which, at sight, declared itself a retreat for love. The walls were finished with a confusion of arabesque moulding, brilliantly and variously colored; the tracery around the open doors and windows was a marvel of the art; there were flowers on the floor, and in curious stands, urns, and swinging baskets; there were also delicate vines, and tropical trees dwarfed for the place, amongst which one full grown banana lifted its long branches of velvet green, and seemed to temper the light with dewy coolness; in the centre, there was a dead fountain. Indeed, the patio could have been but for the one purpose. Here, walled in from the cares of empire, where only the day was bold enough to come unbidden, the wise Axaya' and his less fortunate successors, Tecociatzin and Avizotl, forgot their state, and drank their cups of love, and were as other men.

All the beauty of the place, however, was lost on Hualpa. He saw only Nenetzin. She was sitting, at the time, in a low sedilium, her white garments faintly tinted by the scarlet stripes of a canopy extended high overhead, to protect her from the too ardent sun.

At the sound of his sandals, she started; and as he approached her, she arose in alarm. In sooth, his toilette was not that most affected for the wooing of women; he brought with him the odor of battle; and as he knelt but a little way from her, she saw there was blood upon his hands, and upon the axe and shield he laid beside him.

"Who are you?" she asked.

He took off the steel cap and shapeless panache, and looked up in her face.

"The lord Hualpa!" she exclaimed. Then a thought flashed upon her mind, and with terror in every feature, she cried, "Ah, you have taken the palace! And the Tonatiah?"-she clasped her hands despairingly,-"dead? a captive? Where is he? I will save him. Take me to him."

At these words, the uncertain expression with which he had looked up to her upon baring his head changed to utter hopelessness. The hurried sentences tore his heart, like talons. For this he had come to her through so much peril! For this he was then braving death at her feet! His head sunk upon his breast, and he said,-

"The palace is not ours. The Tonatiah yet lives, and is free."

With a sigh of relief, she resumed her seat, asking,-

"How came you here?"

He answered without raising his eyes, "The keepers of the palace are strong; they can stay the thousands, but they could not keep me out."

The face of the listener softened; she saw his love, and all his heroism, but said, coldly,-

"I have heard that wise men do such things only of necessity."

"I do not pretend to wisdom," he replied. "Had I been wise, I would not have loved you. Since our parting at Chapultepec, where I was so happy, I have thought you might be a prisoner here, and in my dreams I have heard you call me. And a little while ago, on the temple, I said to Io', 'Nenetzin will despise me, if I come not soon.' Tell me, O Nenetzin, that you are a prisoner, and I will take you away. Tell me that the stories told of you on the streets are not true, and-"

"What stories?" she asked.

"Alas, that it should be mine to tell them! And to you, Nenetzin, my beautiful!"

With a strong effort, he put down the feeling, and went on,-

"There be those who say that the good king, your father, is in this prison by your betrayal; they say, too, that you are the keeper of a shrine unknown to the gods of Anahuac; and yet more shamelessly, they say you abide here with the Tonatiah, unmindful of honor, father, or gods known or unknown. Tell me, O Nenetzin, tell me, I pray you, that these are the tales of liars. If you cannot be mine, at least let me go hence with cause to think you in purity like the snow on the mountain top. My heart is at your feet,-O crush me not utterly!"

Thereupon, she arose, with flushed face and flashing eyes, never so proud, never so womanly.

"Lord Hualpa, were you more or less to me than you are, I would make outcry, and have you sent to death. You cannot understand me; yet I will answer-because of the love which brought you here, I will answer."

She went into a chamber, and returning, held up the iron cross, more precious to her, I fear, as the gift of Alvarado than as the symbol of Christ.

"Look, lord Hualpa! This speaks to me of a religion better than that practised in the temples, and of a God mightier than all those known in Anahuac,-a God whom it is useless to resist, who may not be resisted,-the only God. There, in my chamber, is an altar to Him, upon which rests only this cross and such flowers as I can gather here in the morning; that is the shrine of which you have heard upon the street. I worship at no other. As to the king, I did come and tell the strangers of the attack he ordered. Lord Hualpa, to me, as is the destiny of every woman, the hour came to choose between love and father. I could not else. What harm has come of my choice? Is not the king safe?"

At that moment, the noise which had all the time been heard in the patio, as of a battle up in the air, swelled trebly loud. The tendrils of the vines shook; the floor trembled.

"Hark!" she said, with an expression of dread. "Is he not safer than that other for whom I forsook him? Yet I thought to save them both; and saved they shall be!" she added, with a confident smile. "The God I worship can save them, and He will."

Then she became silent; and as he could tell by her face that she was struggling with a painful thought, he waited, listening intently. At length she spoke, this time with downcast eyes:-

"It would be very pleasant, O Hualpa, to have you go away thinking me pure as snow on the mountain-top. And if-if I am not,-then in this cross"-and she kissed the symbol tearfully-"there is safety for me. I know there is a love that can purify all things."

The sensibilities are not alike in all persons; but it is not true, as some philosophers think, that infidels, merely because they are such, are incapable of either great joy or great grief. The mother of El Chico reviled him because he took his last look at Granada through tears; not less poignant was the sorrow of Hualpa, looking at his love, by her own confession lost to him forever; his head drooped, and he settled down and fell forward upon his face, crushed by the breath of a woman,-he whom a hundred shields had not sufficed to stay!

For a time nothing was heard in the patio but the battle. Nenetzin stirred not; she was in the mood superinduced by pity and remorse, when the mind merges itself in the heart, and is lost in excess of feeling.

At length the spell was broken. A woman rushed in, clapping her hands joyfully, and crying,-

"Be glad, be glad, O Nenetzin! Malinche has come back, and we are saved!"

And more the Do?a Marina would have said, but her eyes fell upon the fallen man, and she stopped.

Nenetzin told his story,-the story women never tire of hearing.

"If he stays here, he dies," said Marina, weeping.

"He shall not die. I will save him too," said Nenetzin, and she went to him, and took his hands, bloody as they were, and, by gentle words, woke him from his stupor. Mechanically he took his cap, shield, and mace, and followed her,-he knew not whither.

And she paused not until he was safely delivered to Maxtla, in the quarters occupied by the king.

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