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: 7429

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02

"Leave the city, now so nearly won! Surely, father, surely thou dost jest with me!"

So Cortes said as he sat in his chamber, resting his arm on the table, the while Olmedo poured cold water on his wounded hand.

The father answered without lifting his face,-

"Go, I say, that we may come back assured of holding what we have won."

"Sayest thou so,-thou! By my conscience, here are honor, glory, empire! Abandon them, and the treasure, a part of which, as thou knowest, I have already accounted to his Majesty? No, no; not yet, father! I cannot-though thou may'st-forget what Velasquez and my enemies, the velveted minions of the court, would say."

"Then it is as I feared," said Olmedo, suspending his work, and tossing his hood farther back on his shoulders. "It is as I feared. The good judgment which hath led us so far so well, and given riches to those who care for riches, and planted the Cross over so many heathen temples is, at last, at fault."

The father's manner was solemn and reproachful. Cortes turned to him inquiringly.

"Se?or, thou knowest I may be trusted. Heed me. I speak for Christ's sake," continued Olmedo. "Leave the city we must. There is not corn for two days more; the army is worn down with wounds and watching; scarcely canst thou thyself hold an axe; the men of Narvaez are mutineers; the garden is full of graves, and it hath been said of me that, for want of time, I have shorn the burial service of essential Catholic rites. And the enemy, Se?or, the legions that broke through the wall last evening, were new tribes for the first time in battle. Of what effect on them were yesterday's defeats? The gods tumbled from the temple have their altars and worship already. Thou may'st see them from the central turret."

The good man was interrupted. Sandoval appeared at the door.

"Come," said Cortes, impatiently.

The captain advanced to the table, and saluting, said, in his calm, straightforward way,-

"The store for the horses is out; we fed them to-night from the rations of the men. I gave Motilla half of mine, and yet she is hungry."

At these words, the hand Olmedo was nursing closed, despite its wound, as upon a sword-hilt, vice-like, and up the master arose, brow and cheek gray as if powdered with ashes, and began to walk the floor furiously; at last he stopped abruptly:-

"Sandoval, go bid the captains come. I would have their opinions as to what we should do. Omit none of them. Those who say nothing may be witnesses hereafter."

The order was given quietly, with a smile even. A moment the captain studied his leader's face, and I would not say he did not understand the meaning of the simple words; for of him Cortes afterwards said, "He is fit to command great armies."

Cortes sat down, and held out the hand for Olmedo's ministrations; but the father touched him caressingly, and said, when Sandoval was gone,-

"I commend thee, son, with all my soul. Men are never so much on trial as when they stand face to face with necessity; the weak fight it, and fall; the wise accept it as a servant. So do thou now."

Cortes' countenance became chill and sullen. "I cannot see the necessity-"

"Good!" exclaimed Olmedo. "Whatsoever thou dost, hold fast to that. The captains will tell thee otherwise, but-"

"What?" asked Cortes, with a sneer. "The treasure is vast,-a million pesos or more. Dost thou believe they will go and leave it?"

But Olmedo was intent upon his own thought.

"Mira!" he said. "If the captains say there is a necessity, do thou put in thy denial; stand on thy opinion boldly; and when thou givest up, at last, yield thee to that other necessity, the demand of the army. And so-"

"And so,"

Cortes said with a smile, which was also a sneer, "and so thou wouldst make a servant of one necessity by invoking another."

"Yes; another which may be admitted without danger or dishonor. Thou hast the idea, my son."

"So be it, so be it,-aguardamonos!"

Thereupon Cortes retired within himself, and the father began again to nurse the wounded hand.

And by and by the chamber was filled with captains, soldiers, and caciques, whose persons, darkly visible in the murky light, testified to the severity of the situation: rusted armor, ragged apparel, faded trappings, bandaged limbs, countenances heavy with anxiety, or knit hard by suffering,-such were the evidences.

In good time Cortes arose.

"Ola, my friends," he said, bluntly. "I have heard that there are among ye many who think the time come to give the city, and all we have taken, back to the infidels. I have sent for ye that I may know the truth. As the matter concerneth interests of our royal master aside from his dominion,-property, for example,-the Secretary Duero will make note of all that passeth. Let him come forward and take place here."

The secretary seated himself by the table with manuscript and pen.

"Now, gentlemen, begin."

So saying, the chief dropped back into his seat, and held the sore hand to Olmedo for further care,-never speech more bluff, never face more calm. For a time, nothing was heard but the silvery tinkle of the falling water. At length one was found sturdy enough to speak; others followed him; and, at last, when the opinion was taken, not a voice said stay; on the contrary, the clamor to go was, by some, indecently loud.

Cortes then stood up.

"The opinion is all one way. Hast thou so written, Se?or Duero?"

The secretary bowed.

"Then write again,-write that I, Hernan Cortes, to this retreat said, No; write that, if I yield my judgment, it is not to any necessity of which we have heard as coming from the enemy, but to the demand of my people. Hast thou so written?"

The secretary nodded.

"Write again, that upon this demand I ordered Alonzo Avila and Gonzalo Mexia to take account of all the treasure belonging to our master, the most Christian king; with leave to the soldiers, when the total hath been perfected and the retreat made ready, to help themselves from the balance, as each one may wish. Those gentlemen will see that their task be concluded by noon to-morrow. Hast written, Duero?"

"Word for word," answered the secretary.

"Very well. And now,"-Cortes raised his head, and spoke loudly,-"and now, rest and sleep who can. This business is bad. Get ye gone!"

And when they were alone, he said to Olmedo,-

"I have done ill-"

"Nay," said the father, smiling, "thou hast done well."

"Bastante,-we shall see. Never had knaves such need of all their strength as when this retreat is begun; yet of what account will they be when loaded down with the gold they cannot consent to leave behind?"

"Why then the permission?" asked the father.

Cortes smiled blandly,-

"If I cannot make them friends, by my conscience! I can at least seal their mouths in the day of my calamity."

Then bowing his head, he added,-

"Thy benediction, father."

The blessing was given.

"Amen!" said Cortes.

And the priest departed; but the steps of the iron-hearted soldier were heard long after,-not quick and determined as usual, but slow and measured, and with many and long pauses between. So ambition walks when marshalling its resources; so walks a heroic soul at war with itself and fortune! He flung himself upon his couch at last, saying,-

"In my quiver there are two bolts left. The saints help me! I will speed them first."

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