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: 5797

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

The chinampa, at its anchorage, swung lightly, like an Indian cradle pendulous in the air. Over it stooped the night, its wings of darkness brilliant with the plumage of stars. The fire in the city kindled by Cortes still fitfully reddened the horizon in that direction,-a direful answer to those who, remembering the sweetness of peace in the beautiful valley, prayed for its return with the morning.

Yeteve, in the hammock, had lulled herself into the sleep of dreams; while, in the canoe, Hualpa and the oarsmen slept the sleep of the warrior and laborer,-the sleep too deep for dreams. Only Tula and the 'tzin kept vigils.

Just outside the canopy, in sight of the meridian stars, and where the night winds came sighing through the thicket of flowers, a petate had been spread for them; and now she listened, while he, lying at length, his head in her lap, talked of the sorrowful time that had befallen.

He told her of the mantas, and their destruction; of how Hualpa had made way to the presence of Nenetzin, and how she had saved his life; and as the narrative went on, the listener's head drooped low over the speaker's face, and there were sighs and tears which might have been apportioned between the lost sister and the unhappy lover; he told of the attack upon the palace, and of the fall of Iztlil', and how, when the victory was won, Malinche flung the gods from the temple, and so terrified the companies that they fled.

"Then, O Tula, my hopes fell down. A people without gods, broken in spirit, and with duty divided between two kings, are but grass to be trodden. And Io',-so young, so brave, so faithful-"

He paused, and there was a long silence, devoted to the prince's memory. Then he resumed,-

"In looking out over the lake, you may have noticed that the city has been girdled with men in canoes,-an army, indeed, unaffected by the awful spectacle of the overthrow of the gods. I brought them up, and in their places sent the companies that had failed me. So, as the sun went down, I was able to pour fresh thousands upon Malinche. How I rejoiced to see them pass the wall with Hualpa, and grapple with the strangers! All my hopes came back again. That the enemy fought feebly was not a fancy. Watching, wounds, battle, and care have wrought upon them. They are wasting away. A little longer,-two days,-a day even,-patience, sweetheart, patience!"

There was silence again,-the golden silence of lovers, under the stars, hand-in-hand, dreaming.

The 'tzin broke the spell to say, in lower tones and with longer intervals,-

"Men must worship, O Tula, and there can be no worship without faith. So I had next to renew the sacred fire and restore the gods. The first was easy: I had only to start a flame from the embers of the sanctuaries; the fire that burned them was borrowed from that kept immemorially on the old altars. The next duty was harder. Th

e images were not of themselves more estimable than other stones; neither were the jewels that adorned them more precious than others of the same kind: their sanctity was from faith alone. The art of arts is to evoke the faith of men: make me, O sweetheart, make me master of that art, and, as the least of possibilities, I will make gods of things least godly. In the places where they had fallen, at the foot of the temple, I set the images up, and gave each an altar, with censers, holy fire, and all the furniture of worship. By and by, they shall be raised again to the azoteas; and when we renew the empire, we will build for them sanctuaries richer even than those of Cholula. If the faith of our people demand more, then-"

He hesitated.

"Then, what?" she asked.

He shuddered, and said lower than ever, "I will unseal the caverns of Quetzal', and,-more I cannot answer now."

The influence of Mualox was upon him yet.

"And if that fail?" she persisted.

Not until the stars at the time overhead had passed and been succeeded by others as lustrous, did he answer,-

"And if that fail? Then we will build a temple,-one without images,-a temple to the One Supreme God. So, O Tula, shall the prophecy of the king, your father, be fulfilled in our day."

And with that up sprang a breeze of summery warmth, lingering awhile to wanton with the tresses of the willow, and swing the flowery island half round the circle of its anchorage; and from the soothing hand on his forehead, or the reposeful motion of the chinampa, the languor of sleep stole upon his senses; yet recollection of the battle and its cares was hard to be put away:-

"I should have told you," he said, in a vanishing voice, "that when the companies abandoned us, I went first to see our uncle, the lord Cuitlahua. The guards at the door refused me admittance; the king was sick, they said."

A tremor shook the hand on his forehead, and larger grew the great eyes bending over him.

"Did they say of what he was sick?" she asked.

"Of the plague."

"And what is that?"

"Death," he answered, and next moment fell asleep.

Over her heart, to hush the loudness of its beating, she clasped her hands; for out of the chamber of the almost forgotten, actual as in life, stalked Mualox, the paba, saying, as once on the temple he said, "You shall be queen in your father's palace." She saw his beard of fleecy white, and his eyes of mystery, and asked herself again and again, "Was he indeed a prophet?"

And the loving child and faithful subject strove hard to hide from the alluring promise, for in its way she descried two living kings, her father and her uncle; but it sought her continually, and found her, and at last held her as a dream holds a sleeper,-held her until the stars heralded the dawn, and the 'tzin awoke to go back to the city, back to the battle,-from love to battle.

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