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   Chapter 67 THE DEATH OF MONTEZUMA

The Fair God; or, The Last of the 'Tzins: A Tale of the Conquest of Mexico By Lew Wallace Characters: 10706

Updated: 2017-12-01 00:02


Again Martin Lopez had long conference with Cortes; after which, with his assistant carpenters, he went to work, and, until evening time, the echoes of the court-yard danced to the sounds of saw and hammer.

And while they worked, to Cortes came Avila and Mexia.

"What thou didst intrust to us, Se?or, we have done. Here is a full account of all the treasure, our royal master's included."

Cortes read the statement, then called his chamberlain, Christobal de Guzman.

"Go thou, Don Christobal, and bring what is here reported into one chamber, where it may be seen of all. And send hither the royal secretaries, and Pedro Hernandez, my own clerk."

The secretaries came.

"Now, Se?ores Avila and Mexia, follow my chamberlain, and in his presence and that of these gentlemen, take from the treasure the portion belonging to his Majesty, the emperor. Of our wounded horses, then choose ye eight, and of the Tlascalans, eighty, and load them with the royal dividend, and what more they can carry; and have them always ready to go. And as leaving anything of value where the infidels may be profited is sinful, I direct,-and of this let all bear witness, Hernandez for me, and the secretaries for his Majesty,-I direct, I say, that ye set the remainder apart accessible to the soldiers, with leave to each one of them to take therefrom as much as he may wish. Make note, further, that what is possible to save all this treasure hath been done. Write it, good gentlemen, write it; for if any one thinketh differently, let him say what more I can do. I am waiting to hear. Speak!"

No one spoke.

And while the division of the large plunder went on, and afterwards the men scrambled for the remainder, Montezuma was dying.

In the night a messenger sought Cortes.

"Se?or," he said, "the king hath something to ask of you. He will not die comforted without seeing you."

"Die, say'st thou?" and Cortes arose hastily. "I had word that his hurts were not deadly."

"If he die, Se?or, it will be by his own hand. The stones wrought him but bruises; and if he would let the bandages alone the arrow-cut would shortly stop bleeding."

"Yes, yes," said Cortes. "Thou wouldst tell me that this barbarian, merely from being long a king, hath a spirit of such exceeding fineness that, though the arrow had not cut him deeper than thy dull rowel marketh thy horse's flank, yet would he die. Where is he now?"

"In the audience chamber."

"Bastante! I will see him. Tell him so."

Cortes stood fast, thinking.

"This man hath been useful to me; may not some profit be eked out of him dead? So many saw him get his wounds, and so many will see him die of them, that the manner of his taking off may not be denied. What if I send his body out and indict his murderers? If I could take from them the popular faith even, then-By my conscience, I will try the trick!"

And taking his sword and plumed hat and tossing a cloak over his shoulder he sought the audience chamber.

There was no guard at the door. The little bells, as he threw aside the curtains, greeted him accusingly. Within, all was shadow, except where a flickering lamplight played over and around the dais; nevertheless, he saw the floor covered with people, some prostrate, others on their knees or crouching face down; and the grim speculator thought, as he passed slowly on, Verily, this king must also have been a good man and a generous.

The couch of the dying monarch was on the dais in the accustomed place of the throne. At one side stood the ancients; at the other his queens knelt, weeping. Nenetzin hid her face in his hand, and sobbed as if her heart were breaking; she had been forgiven. Now and then Maxtla bent over him to cleanse his face of the flowing blood. A group of cavaliers were off a little way, silent witnesses; and as Cortes drew near, Olmedo, who had been in prayer, extended toward the sufferer the ivory cross worn usually at his girdle.

"O king," said the good man imploringly, "thou hast yet a moment of life, which, I pray thee, waste not. Take this holy symbol upon thy breast, cross thy hands upon it, and say after me: I believe in One God, the Father Almighty, in our Lord Jesus Christ, the only begotten Son of God, and in the Holy Ghost, the Lord and Giver of Life. Then pray thou: O God the Father of Heaven, O God the Son, Redeemer of the World, O God the Holy Ghost, O Holy Trinity, One God, have mercy upon my soul! Do these things, say these words, O king, and thou shalt live after thy bones have gone to dust. Thou shalt live forever, eternally happy."

Courtiers and cavaliers, the queens, Nenetzin, even Cortes, watched the monarch's waning face; never yet were people indifferent to the issue-the old, old issue-of true god against false. Marina finished the interpretation; then he raised his hand tremulously, and put the holy sign away, saying,-

"I have but a moment to live, and will not desert the faith of my fathers now."

A great sigh of relief broke from the infidels; the Christians shuddered, and crossed themselves; then Cortes stepped to Olmedo's side.

"I received your message, and am here," said he, sternly. He had seen the cross rejected.

The king turned his pale face, and fixed his glazing eyes upon the conqueror; and such power was there in the look that the latter added, wit

h softening manner, "What I can do for thee I will do. I have always been thy true friend."

"O Malinche, I hear you, and your words make dying easy," answered Montezuma, smiling faintly.

With an effort he sought Cortes' hand, and looking at Acatlan and Tecalco, continued,-

"Let me intrust these women and their children to you and your lord. Of all that which was mine but now is yours,-lands, people, empire,-enough to save them from want and shame were small indeed. Promise me; in the hearing of all these, promise, Malinche."

Taint of anger was there no longer on the soul of the great Spaniard.

"Rest thee, good king!" he said, with feeling. "Thy queens and their children shall be my wards. In the hearing of all these, I so swear."

The listener smiled again; his eyes closed, his hand fell down; and so still was he that they began to think him dead. Suddenly he stirred, and said faintly, but distinctly,-

"Nearer, uncles, nearer."

The old men bent over him, listening.

"A message to Guatamozin,-to whom I give my last thought as king. Say to him, that this lingering in death is no fault of his; the aim was true, but the arrow splintered upon leaving the bow. And lest the world hold him to account for my blood, hear me say, all of you, that I bade him do what he did. And in sign that I love him, take my sceptre, and give it to him-"

The voice fell away, yet the lips moved; lower the ancients stooped,-

"Tula and the empire go with the sceptre," he murmured, and they were his last words,-his will.

A wail from the women proclaimed him dead.

The unassoilzied great may not see heaven; they pass from life into history, where, as in a silent sky, they shine for ever and ever. So the light of the Indian King comes to us, a glow rather than a brilliance; for, of all fates, his was the saddest. Better not to be than to become the ornament of another's triumph. Alas for him whose death is an immortal sorrow!

Out of the palace-gate in the early morning passed the lords of the court in procession, carrying the remains of the monarch. The bier was heavy with royal insignia; nothing of funeral circumstance was omitted; honor to the dead was policy. At the same time the body was delivered, Cortes indicted the murderers; the ancients through whom he spoke were also the bearers of the dead king's last will; back to the bold Spaniard, therefore, came the reply,-

"Cowards, who at the last moment beg for peace! you are not two suns away from your own graves! Think only of them!"

And while Cortes was listening to the answer, the streets about the palace filled with companies, and crumbling parapet and solid wall shook under the shock of a new assault.

Then Cortes' spirit arose.

"Mount, gentlemen!" he cried. "The hounds come scrambling for the scourge; shame on us, if we do not meet them. And hearken! The prisoners report a plague in the city, of which the new king is dying, and hundreds are sick. It is the small-pox."

"Viva la viruela!" shouted Alvarado.

The shout spread through the palace.

"Where God's curse is," continued Cortes, "Christians need not stay. To-night we will go. To clear the way and make this day memorable let us ride. Are ye ready?"

They answered joyously.

Again the gates were opened, and with a goodly following of infantry, into the street they rode. Nothing withstood them; they passed the canals by repairing the bridges or filling up the chasms; they rode the whole length of the street until the causeway clear to Tlacopan was visible. St. James fought at their head; even the Holy Mother stooped from her high place, and threw handfuls of dust in the enemy's eyes.

In the heat of the struggle suddenly the companies fell back, and made open space around the Christians; then came word that commissioners from king Cuitlahua waited in the palace to treat of peace.

"The heathen is an animal!" said Cortes, unable to repress his exultation. "To cure him of temper and win his love, there is nothing like the scourge. Let us ride back, gentlemen."

In the court-yard stood four caciques, stately men in peaceful garb. They touched the pavement with their palms.

"We are come to say, O Malinche, that the lord Cuitlahua, our king, yields to your demand for peace. He prays you to give your terms to the pabas whom you captured on the temple, that they may bring them to him forthwith."

The holy men were brought from their cells, one leaning upon the other. The instructions were given; then the two, with the stately commissioners, were set without the gate, and Cortes and his army went to rest, never so contented.

They waited and waited; but the envoys came not. When the sun went down, they knew themselves deceived; and then there were sworn many full, round, Christian oaths, none so full, so round, and so Christian as Cortes'.

A canoe, meantime, bore Io' to Tula. In the quiet and perfumed shade of the chinampa he rested, and soothed the fever of his wound.

Meanwhile, also, a courier from the teotuctli passed from temple to temple; short the message, but portentous,-

"Blessed be Huitzil', and all the gods of our fathers! And, as he at last saved his people, blessed be the memory of Montezuma! Purify the altars, and make ready for the sacrifice, for to-morrow there will be victims!"

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