Part 4 out of 8
them to be silent, telling them that it was written of old that
there is a time to play and dance and a time to cease from dancing,
for in this alone they would not obey me. Never could I be at
peace because of them then or thereafter, and not till now did I
learn how great a treasure is solitude.
Still we were allowed to walk together under the trees, and though
the clamour of music pursued us wherever we went, we were soon deep
in talk. Then it was that I learned how dreadful was the fate
which overshadowed me.
'Know, O Teule,' said Otomie, for she would call me by the old name
when there were none to hear; 'this is the custom of our land, that
every year a young captive should be chosen to be the earthly image
of the god Tezcat, who created the world. Only two things are
necessary to this captive, namely, that his blood should be noble,
and that his person should be beautiful and without flaw or
blemish. The day that you came hither, Teule, chanced to be the
day of choosing a new captive to personate the god, and you have
been chosen because you are both noble and more beautiful than any
man in Anahuac, and also because being of the people of the Teules,
the children of Quetzal of whom so many rumours have reached us,
and whose coming my father Montezuma dreads more than anything in
the world, it was thought by the priests that you may avert their
anger from us, and the anger of the gods.'
Now Otomie paused as one who has something to say that she can
scarcely find words to fit, but I, remembering only what had been
said, swelled inwardly with the sense of my own greatness, and
because this lovely princess had declared that I was the most
beautiful man in Anahuac, I who though I was well-looking enough,
had never before been called 'beautiful' by man, woman, or child.
But in this case as in many another, pride went before a fall.
'It must be spoken, Teule,' Otomie continued. 'Alas! that it
should be I who am fated to tell you. For a year you will rule as
a god in this city of Tenoctitlan, and except for certain
ceremonies that you must undergo, and certain arts which you must
learn, none will trouble you. Your slightest wish will be a law,
and when you smile on any, it shall be an omen of good to them and
they will bless you; even my father Montezuma will treat you with
reverence as an equal or more. Every delight shall be yours except
that of marriage, and this will be withheld till the twelfth month
of the year. Then the four most beautiful maidens in the land will
be given to you as brides.'
'And who will choose them?' I asked.
'Nay, I know not, Teule, who do not meddle in such mysteries,' she
answered hurriedly. 'Sometimes the god is judge and sometimes the
priests judge for him. It is as it may chance. Listen now to the
end of my tale and you will surely forget the rest. For one month
you will live with your wives, and this month you will pass in
feasting at all the noblest houses in the city. On the last day of
the month, however, you will be placed in a royal barge and
together with your wives, paddled across the lake to a place that
is named "Melting of Metals." Thence you will be led to the
teocalli named "House of Weapons," where your wives will bid
farewell to you for ever, and there, Teule, alas! that I must say
it, you are doomed to be offered as a sacrifice to the god whose
spirit you hold, the great god Tezcat, for your heart will be torn
from your body, and your head will be struck from your shoulders
and set upon the stake that is known as "post of heads."'
Now when I heard this dreadful doom I groaned aloud and my knees
trembled so that I almost fell to the ground. Then a great fury
seized me and, forgetting my father's counsel, I blasphemed the
gods of that country and the people who worshipped them, first in
the Aztec and Maya languages, then when my knowledge of these
tongues failed me, in Spanish and good English. But Otomie, who
heard some of my words and guessed more, was seized with fear and
lifted her hands, saying:
'Curse not the awful gods, I beseech you, lest some terrible thing
befall you at once. If you are overheard it will be thought that
you have an evil spirit and not a good one, and then you must die
now and by torment. At the least the gods, who are everywhere,
will hear you.'
'Let them hear,' I answered. 'They are false gods and that country
is accursed which worships them. They are doomed I say, and all
their worshippers are doomed. Nay, I care not if I am heard--as
well die now by torment as live a year in the torment of
approaching death. But I shall not die alone, all the sea of blood
that your priests have shed cries out for vengeance to the true
God, and He will avenge.'
Thus I raved on, being mad with fear and impotent anger, while the
princess Otomie stood terrified and amazed at my blasphemies, and
the flutes piped and the dancers danced behind us. And as I raved
I saw that the mind of Otomie wandered from my words, for she was
staring towards the east like one who sees a vision. Then I looked
also towards the east and saw that the sky was alight there. For
from the edge of the horizon to the highest parts of heaven spread
a fan of pale and fearful light powdered over with sparks of fire,
the handle of the fan resting on the earth as it were, while its
wings covered the eastern sky. Now I ceased my cursing and stood
transfixed, and as I stood, a cry of terror arose from all the
precincts of the palace and people poured from every door to gaze
upon the portent that flared and blazed in the east. Presently
Montezuma himself came out, attended by his great lords, and in
that ghastly light I saw that his lips worked and his hands writhed
over each other. Nor was the miracle done with, for anon from the
clear sky that hung over the city, descended a ball of fire, which
seemed to rest upon the points of the lofty temple in the great
square, lighting up the teocalli as with the glare of day. It
vanished, but where it had been another light now burned, for the
temple of Quetzal was afire.
Now cries of fear and lamentation arose from all who beheld these
wonders on the hill of Chapoltepec and also from the city below.
Even I was frightened, I do not know why, for it may well be that
the blaze of light which we saw on that and after nights was
nothing but the brightness of a comet, and that the fire in the
temple was caused by a thunderbolt. But to these people, and more
especially to Montezuma, whose mind was filled already with rumours
of the coming of a strange white race, which, as it was truly
prophesied, would bring his empire to nothingness, the omens seemed
very evil. Indeed, if they had any doubt as to their meaning, it
was soon to be dispelled, in their minds at least. For as we stood
wonder-struck, a messenger, panting and soiled with travel, arrived
among us and prostrating himself before the majesty of the emperor,
he drew a painted scroll from his robe and handed it to an
attendant noble. So desirous was Montezuma to know its contents,
that contrary to all custom he snatched the roll from the hands of
the counsellor, and unrolling it, he began to read the picture
writing by the baleful light of the blazing sky and temple.
Presently, as we watched and he read, Montezuma groaned aloud, and
casting down the writing he covered his face with his hands. As it
chanced it fell near to where I stood, and I saw painted over it
rude pictures of ships of the Spanish rig, and of men in the
Spanish armour. Then I understood why Montezuma groaned. The
Spaniards had landed on his shores!
Now some of his counsellors approached him to console him, but he
thrust them aside, saying:
'Let me mourn--the doom that was foretold is fallen upon the
children of Anahuac. The children of Quetzal muster on our shores
and slay my people. Let me mourn, I say.'
At that moment another messenger came from the palace, having grief
written on his face.
'Speak,' said Montezuma.
'O king, forgive the tongue that must tell such tidings. Your
royal sister Papantzin was seized with terror at yonder dreadful
sight,' and he pointed to the heavens; 'she lies dying in the
Now when the emperor heard that his sister whom he loved was dying,
he said nothing, but covering his face with his royal mantle, he
passed slowly back to the palace.
And all the while the crimson light gleamed and sparkled in the
east like some monstrous and unnatural dawn, while the temple of
Quetzal burned fiercely in the city beneath.
Now, I turned to the princess Otomie, who had stood by my side
throughout, overcome with wonder and trembling.
'Did I not say that this country was accursed, princess of the
'You said it, Teule,' she answered, 'and it is accursed.'
Then we went into the palace, and even in this hour of fear, after
me came the minstrels as before.
THE ARISING OF PAPANTZIN
On the morrow Papantzin died, and was buried with great pomp that
same evening in the burial-ground at Chapoltepec, by the side of
the emperor's royal ancestors. But, as will be seen, she was not
content with their company. On that day also, I learned that to be
a god is not all pleasure, since it was expected of me that I must
master various arts, and chiefly the horrid art of music, to which
I never had any desire. Still my own wishes were not allowed to
weigh in the matter, for there came to me tutors, aged men who
might have found better employment, to instruct me in the use of
the lute, and on this instrument I must learn to strum. Others
there were also, who taught me letters, poetry, and art, as they
were understood among the Aztecs, and all this knowledge I was glad
of. Still I remembered the words of the preacher which tell us
that he who increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow, and moreover I
could see little use in acquiring learning that was to be lost
shortly on the stone of sacrifice.
As to this matter of my sacrifice I was at first desperate. But
reflection told me that I had already passed many dangers and come
out unscathed, and therefore it was possible that I might escape
this one also. At least death was still a long way off, and for
the present I was a god. So I determined that whether I died or
lived, while I lived I would live like a god and take such
pleasures as came to my hand, and I acted on this resolve. No man
ever had greater or more strange opportunities, and no man can have
used them better. Indeed, had it not been for the sorrowful
thoughts of my lost love and home which would force themselves upon
me, I should have been almost happy, because of the power that I
wielded and the strangeness of all around me. But I must to my
During the days that followed the death of Papantzin the palace and
the city also were plunged in ferment. The minds of men were
shaken strangely because of the rumours that filled the air. Every
night the fiery portent blazed in the east, every day a new wonder
or omen was reported, and with it some wild tale of the doings of
the Spaniards, who by most were held to be white gods, the children
of Quetzal, come back to take the land which their forefather
But of all that were troubled, none were in such bad case as the
emperor himself, who, during these weeks scarcely ate or drank or
slept, so heavy were his fears upon him. In this strait he sent
messengers to his ancient rival, that wise and severe man Neza, the
king of the allied state of Tezcuco, begging that he would visit
him. This king came, an old man with a fierce and gleaming eye,
and I was witness to the interview that followed, for in my quality
of god I had full liberty of the palace, and even to be present at
the councils of the emperor and his nobles. When the two monarchs
had feasted together, Montezuma spoke to Neza of the matter of the
omens and of the coming of the Teules, asking him to lighten the
darkness by his wisdom. Then Neza pulled his long grey beard and
answered that heavy as the heart of Montezuma might be, it must
grow still heavier before the end.
'See, Lord,' he said, 'I am so sure that the days of our empire are
numbered, that I will play you at dice for my kingdoms which you
and your forefathers have ever desired to win.'
'For what wager?' asked Montezuma.
'I will play you thus,' answered Neza. 'You shall stake three
fighting cocks, of which, should I win, I ask the spurs only. I
set against them all the wide empire of Tezcuco.'
'A small stake,' said Montezuma; 'cocks are many and kingdoms few.'
'Still, it shall serve our turn,' answered the aged king, 'for know
that we play against fate. As the game goes, so shall the issue
be. If you win my kingdoms all is well; if I win the cocks, then
good-bye to the glory of Anahuac, for its people will cease to be a
people, and strangers shall possess the land.'
'Let us play and see,' said Montezuma, and they went down to the
place that is called tlachco, where the games are set. Here they
began the match with dice and at first all went well for Montezuma,
so that he called aloud that already he was lord of Tezcuco.
'May it be so!' answered the aged Neza, and from that moment the
chance changed. For strive as he would, Montezuma could not win
another point, and presently the set was finished, and Neza had won
the cocks. Now the music played, and courtiers came forward to
give the king homage on his success. But he rose sighing, and
'I had far sooner lose my kingdoms than have won these fowls, for
if I had lost my kingdoms they would still have passed into the
hands of one of my own race. Now alas! my possessions and his must
come under the hand of strangers, who shall cast down our gods and
bring our names to nothing.'
And having spoken thus, he rose, and taking farewell of the
emperor, he departed for his own land, where, as it chanced, he
died very shortly, without living to see the fulfilment of his
On the morrow of his departure came further accounts of the doings
of the Spaniards that plunged Montezuma into still greater alarm.
In his terror he sent for an astronomer, noted throughout the land
for the truth of his divinations. The astronomer came, and was
received by the emperor privately. What he told him I do not know,
but at least it was nothing pleasant, for that very night men were
commanded to pull down the house of this sage, who was buried in
Two days after the death of the astronomer, Montezuma bethought him
that, as he believed, I also was a Teule, and could give him
information. So at the hour of sunset he sent for me, bidding me
walk with him in the gardens. I went thither, followed by my
musicians and attendants, who would never leave me in peace, but he
commanded that all should stand aside, as he wished to speak with
me alone. Then he began to walk beneath the mighty cedar trees,
and I with him, but keeping one pace behind.
'Teule,' he said at length, 'tell me of your countrymen, and why
they have come to these shores. See that you speak truth.'
'They are no countrymen of mine, O Montezuma,' I answered, 'though
my mother was one of them.'
'Did I not bid you speak the truth, Teule? If your mother was one
of them, must you not also be of them; for are you not of your
mother's bone and blood?'
'As the king pleases,' I answered bowing. Then I began and told
him of the Spaniards--of their country, their greatness, their
cruelty and their greed of gold, and he listened eagerly, though I
think that he believed little of what I said, for his fear had made
him very suspicious. When I had done, he spoke and said:
'Why do they come here to Anahuac?'
'I fear, O king, that they come to take the land, or at the least
to rob it of all its treasure, and to destroy its faiths.'
'What then is your counsel, Teule? How can I defend myself against
these mighty men, who are clothed in metal, and ride upon fierce
wild beasts, who have instruments that make a noise like thunder,
at the sound of which their adversaries fall dead by hundreds, and
who bear weapons of shining silver in their hands? Alas! there is
no defence possible, for they are the children of Quetzal come back
to take the land. From my childhood I have known that this evil
overshadowed me, and now it is at my door.'
'If I, who am only a god, may venture to speak to the lord of the
earth,' I answered, 'I say that the reply is easy. Meet force by
force. The Teules are few and you can muster a thousand soldiers
for every one of theirs. Fall on them at once, do not hesitate
till their prowess finds them friends, but crush them.'
'Such is the counsel of one whose mother was a Teule;' the emperor
answered, with sarcasm and bitter meaning. 'Tell me now,
counsellor, how am I to know that in fighting against them I shall
not be fighting against the gods; how even am I to learn the true
wishes and purposes of men or gods who cannot speak my tongue and
whose tongue I cannot speak?'
'It is easy, O Montezuma,' I answered. 'I can speak their tongue;
send me to discover for you.'
Now as I spoke thus my heart bounded with hope, for if once I could
come among the Spaniards, perhaps I might escape the altar of
sacrifice. Also they seemed a link between me and home. They had
sailed hither in ships, and ships can retrace their path. For
though at present my lot was not all sorrow, it will be guessed
that I should have been glad indeed to find myself once more among
Montezuma looked at me a while and answered:
'You must think me very foolish, Teule. What! shall I send you to
tell my fears and weakness to your countrymen, and to show them the
joints in my harness? Do you then suppose that I do not know you
for a spy sent to this land by these same Teules to gather
knowledge of the land? Fool, I knew it from the first, and by
Huitzel! were you not vowed to Tezcat, your heart should smoke to-
morrow on the altar of Huitzel. Be warned, and give me no more
false counsels lest your end prove swifter than you think. Learn
that I have asked these questions of you to a purpose, and by the
command of the gods, as it was written on the hearts of those
sacrificed this day. This was the purpose and this was the
command, that I might discover your secret mind, and that I should
shun whatever advice you chanced to give. You counsel me to fight
the Teules, therefore I will not fight them, but meet them with
gifts and fair words, for I know well that you would have me to do
that which should bring me to my doom.'
Thus he spoke very fiercely and in a low voice, his head held low
and his arms crossed upon his breast, and I saw that he shook with
passion. Even then, though I was very much afraid, for god as I
was, a nod from this mighty king would have sent me to death by
torment, I wondered at the folly of one who in everything else was
so wise. Why should he doubt me thus and allow superstition to
drag him down to ruin? To-day I see the answer. Montezuma did not
these things of himself, but because the hand of destiny worked
with his hand, and the voice of destiny spoke in his voice. The
gods of the Aztecs were false gods indeed, but I for one believe
that they had life and intelligence, for those hideous shapes of
stone were the habitations of devils, and the priests spoke truth
when they said that the sacrifice of men was pleasing to their
To these devils the king went for counsel through the priests, and
now this doom was on them, that they must give false counsel to
their own destruction, and to the destruction of those who
worshipped them, as was decreed by One more powerful than they.
Now while we were talking the sun had sunk swiftly, so that all the
world was dark. But the light still lingered on the snowy crests
of the volcanoes Popo and Ixtac, staining them an awful red. Never
before to my sight had the shape of the dead woman whose
everlasting bier is Ixtac's bulk, seemed so clear and wonderful as
on that night, for either it was so or my fancy gave it the very
shape and colour of a woman's corse steeped in blood and laid out
for burial. Nor was it my phantasy alone, for when Montezuma had
finished upbraiding me he chanced to look up, and his eyes falling
on the mountain remained fixed there.
'Look now, Teule!' he said, presently, with a solemn laugh; 'yonder
lies the corse of the nations of Anahuac washed in a water of blood
and made ready for burial. Is she not terrible in death?'
As he spoke the words and turned to go, a sound of doleful wailing
came from the direction of the mountain, a very wild and unearthly
sound that caused the blood in my veins to stand still. Now
Montezuma caught my arm in his fear, and we gazed together on
Ixtac, and it seemed to us that this wonder happened. For in that
red and fearful light the red figure of the sleeping woman arose,
or appeared to rise, from its bier of stone. It arose slowly like
one who awakes from sleep, and presently it stood upright upon the
mountain's brow, towering high into the air. There it stood a
giant and awakened corpse, its white wrappings stained with blood,
and we trembled to see it.
For a while the wraith remained thus gazing towards the city of
Tenoctitlan, then suddenly it threw its vast arms upward as though
in grief, and at that moment the night rushed in upon it and
covered it, while the sound of wailing died slowly away.
'Say, Teule,' gasped the emperor, 'do I not well to be afraid when
such portents as these meet my eyes day by day? Hearken to the
lamentations in the city; we have not seen this sight alone.
Listen how the people cry aloud with fear and the priests beat
their drums to avert the omen. Weep on, ye people, and ye priests
pray and do sacrifice; it is very fitting, for the day of your doom
is upon you. O Tenoctitlan, queen of cities, I see you ruined and
desolate, your palaces blackened with fire, your temples
desecrated, your pleasant gardens a wilderness. I see your
highborn women the wantons of stranger lords, and your princes
their servants; the canals run red with the blood of your children,
your gateways are blocked with their bones. Death is about you
everywhere, dishonour is your daily bread, desolation is your
portion. Farewell to you, queen of the cities, cradle of my
forefathers in which I was nursed!'
Thus Montezuma lamented in the darkness, and as he cried aloud the
great moon rose over the edge of the world and poured its level
light through the boughs of the cedars clothed in their ghostly
robe of moss. It struck upon Montezuma's tall shape, on his
distraught countenance and thin hands as he waved them to and fro
in his prophetic agony, on my glittering garments, and the terror-
stricken band of courtiers, and the musicians who had ceased from
their music. A little wind sprang up also, moaning sadly in the
mighty trees above and against the rocks of Chapoltepec. Never did
I witness a scene more strange or more pregnant with mystery and
the promise of unborn horror, than that of this great monarch
mourning over the downfall of his race and power. As yet no
misfortune had befallen the one or the other, and still he knew
that both were doomed, and these words of lamentation burst from a
heart broken by a grief of which the shadow only lay upon it.
But the wonders of that night were not yet done with.
When Montezuma had made an end of crying his prophecies, I asked
him humbly if I should summon to him the lords who were in
attendance on him, but who stood at some distance.
'Nay,' he answered, 'I will not have them see me thus with grief
and terror upon my face. Whoever fears, at least I must seem
brave. Walk with me a while, Teule, and if it is in your mind to
murder me I shall not grieve.'
I made no answer, but followed him as he led the way down the
darkest of the winding paths that run between the cedar trees,
where it would have been easy for me to kill him if I wished, but I
could not see how I should be advantaged by the deed; also though I
knew that Montezuma was my enemy, my heart shrank from the thought
of murder. For a mile or more he walked on without speaking, now
beneath the shadow of the trees, and now through open spaces of
garden planted with lovely flowers, till at last we came to the
gates of the place where the royal dead are laid to rest. Now in
front of these gates was an open space of turf on which the
moonlight shone brightly, and in the centre of this space lay
something white, shaped like a woman. Here Montezuma halted and
looked at the gates, then said:
'These gates opened four days since for Papantzin, my sister; how
long, I wonder, will pass before they open for me?'
As he spoke, the white shape upon the grass which I had seen and he
had not seen, stirred like an awakening sleeper. As the snow shape
upon the mountain had stirred, so this shape stirred; as it had
arisen, so this one arose; as it threw its arms upwards, so this
one threw up her arms. Now Montezuma saw and stood still
trembling, and I trembled also.
Then the woman--for it was a woman--advanced slowly towards us, and
as she came we saw that she was draped in graveclothes. Presently
she lifted her head and the moonlight fell full upon her face. Now
Montezuma groaned aloud and I groaned, for we saw that the face was
the thin pale face of the princess Papantzin--Papantzin who had
lain four days in the grave. On she came toward us, gliding like
one who walks in her sleep, till she stopped before the bush in the
shadow of which we stood. Now Papantzin, or the ghost of
Papantzin, looked at us with blind eyes, that is with eyes that
were open and yet did not seem to see.
'Are you there, Montezuma, my brother?' she said in the voice of
Papantzin; 'surely I feel your presence though I cannot see you.'
Now Montezuma stepped from the shadow and stood face to face with
'Who are you?' he said, 'who wear the shape of one dead and are
dressed in the garments of the dead?'
'I am Papantzin,' she answered, 'and I am risen out of death to
bring you a message, Montezuma, my brother.'
'What message do you bring me?' he asked hoarsely.
'I bring you a message of doom, my brother. Your empire shall fall
and soon you shall be accompanied to death by tens of thousands of
your people. For four days I have lived among the dead, and there
I have seen your false gods which are devils. There also I have
seen the priests that served them, and many of those who worshipped
them plunged into torment unutterable. Because of the worship of
these demon gods the people of Anahuac is destined to destruction.'
'Have you no word of comfort for me, Papantzin, my sister?' he
'None,' she answered. 'Perchance if you abandon the worship of the
false gods you may save your soul; your life you cannot save, nor
the lives of your people.'
Then she turned and passed away into the shadow of the trees; I
heard her graveclothes sweep upon the grass.
Now a fury seized Montezuma and he raved aloud, saying:
'Curses on you, Papantzin, my sister! Why then do you come back
from the dead to bring me such evil tidings? Had you brought hope
with you, had you shown a way of escape, then I would have welcomed
you. May you go back into darkness and may the earth lie heavy on
your heart for ever. As for my gods, my fathers worshipped them
and I will worship them till the end; ay, if they desert me, at
least I will never desert them. The gods are angry because the
sacrifices are few upon their altars, henceforth they shall be
doubled; ay, the priests of the gods shall themselves be sacrificed
because they neglect their worship.'
Thus he raved on, after the fashion of a weak man maddened with
terror, while his nobles and attendants who had followed him at a
distance, clustered about him, fearful and wondering. At length
there came an end, for tearing with his thin hands at his royal
robes and at his hair and beard, Montezuma fell and writhed in a
fit upon the ground.
Then they carried him into the palace and none saw him for three
days and nights. But he made no idle threat as to the sacrifices,
for from that night forward they were doubled throughout the land.
Already the shadow of the Cross lay deep upon the altars of
Anahuac, but still the smoke of their offerings went up to heaven
and the cry of the captives rang round the teocallis. The hour of
the demon gods was upon them indeed, but now they reaped their last
red harvest, and it was rich.
Now I, Thomas Wingfield, saw these portents with my own eyes, but I
cannot say whether they were indeed warnings sent from heaven or
illusions springing from the accidents of nature. The land was
terror-struck, and it may happen that the minds of men thus smitten
can find a dismal meaning in omens which otherwise had passed
unnoticed. That Papantzin rose from the dead is true, though
perhaps she only swooned and never really died. At the least she
did not go back there for a while, for though I never saw her
again, it is said that she lived to become a Christian and told
strange tales of what she had seen in the land of Death.*
* For the history of the resurrection of Papantzin, see note to
Jourdanet's translation of Sahagun, page 870.--AUTHOR.
THE NAMING OF THE BRIDES
Now some months passed between the date of my naming as the god
Tezcat and the entry of the Spaniards into Mexico, and during all
this space the city was in a state of ferment. Again and again
Montezuma sent embassies to Cortes, bearing with them vast
treasures of gold and gems as presents, and at the same time
praying him to withdraw, for this foolish prince did not understand
that by displaying so much wealth he flew a lure which must surely
bring the falcon on himself. To these ambassadors Cortes returned
courteous answers together with presents of small value, and that
Then the advance began and the emperor learned with dismay of the
conquest of the warlike tribe of the Tlascalans, who, though they
were Montezuma's bitter and hereditary foes, yet made a stand
against the white man. Next came the tidings that from enemies the
conquered Tlascalans had become the allies and servants of the
Spaniard, and that thousands of their fiercest warriors were
advancing with him upon the sacred city of Cholula. A while passed
and it was known that Cholula also had been given to massacre, and
that the holy, or rather the unholy gods, had been torn from their
shrines. Marvellous tales were told of the Spaniards, of their
courage and their might, of the armour that they wore, the thunder
that their weapons made in battle, and the fierce beasts which they
bestrode. Once two heads of white men taken in a skirmish were
sent to Montezuma, fierce-looking heads, great and hairy, and with
them the head of a horse. When Montezuma saw these ghastly relics
he almost fainted with fear, still he caused them to be set up on
pinnacles of the great temple and proclamation to be made that this
fate awaited every invader of the land.
Meanwhile all was confusion in his policies. Day by day councils
were held of the nobles, of high priests, and of neighbouring and
friendly kings. Some advised one thing, some another, and the end
of it was hesitation and folly. Ah! had Montezuma but listened to
the voice of that great man Guatemoc, Anahuac would not have been a
Spanish fief to-day. For Guatemoc prayed him again and yet again
to put away his fears and declare open war upon the Teules before
it was too late; to cease from making gifts and sending embassies,
to gather his countless armies and smite the foe in the mountain
But Montezuma would answer, 'To what end, nephew? How can I
struggle against these men when the gods themselves have declared
for them? Surely the gods can take their own parts if they wish
it, and if they will not, for myself and my own fate I do not care,
but alas! for my people, alas! for the women and the children, the
aged and the weak.'
Then he would cover his face and moan and weep like a child, and
Guatemoc would pass from his presence dumb with fury at the folly
of so great a king, but helpless to remedy it. For like myself,
Guatemoc believed that Montezuma had been smitten with a madness
sent from heaven to bring the land to ruin.
Now it must be understood that though my place as a god gave me
opportunities of knowing all that passed, yet I Thomas Wingfield,
was but a bubble on that great wave of events which swept over the
world of Anahuac two generations since. I was a bubble on the
crest of the wave indeed, but at that time I had no more power than
the foam has over the wave. Montezuma distrusted me as a spy, the
priests looked on me as a god and future victim and no more, only
Guatemoc my friend, and Otomie who loved me secretly, had any faith
in me, and with these two I often talked, showing them the true
meaning of those things that were happening before our eyes. But
they also were strengthless, for though his reason was no longer
captain, still the unchecked power of Montezuma guided the ship of
state first this way and then that, just as a rudder directs a
vessel to its ruin when the helmsman has left it, and it swings at
the mercy of the wind and tide.
The people were distraught with fear of the future, but not the
less on that account, or perhaps because of it, they plunged with
fervour into pleasures, alternating them with religious ceremonies.
In those days no feast was neglected and no altar lacked its
victim. Like a river that quickens its flow as it draws near the
precipice over which it must fall, so the people of Mexico,
foreseeing ruin, awoke as it were and lived as they had never lived
before. All day long the cries of victims came from a hundred
temple tops, and all night the sounds of revelry were heard among
the streets. 'Let us eat and drink,' they said, 'for the gods of
the sea are upon us and to-morrow we die.' Now women who had been
held virtuous proved themselves wantons, and men whose names were
honest showed themselves knaves, and none cried fie upon them; ay,
even children were seen drunken in the streets, which is an
abomination among the Aztecs.
The emperor had moved his household from Chapoltepec to the palace
in the great square facing the temple, and this palace was a town
in itself, for every night more than a thousand human beings slept
beneath its roof, not to speak of the dwarfs and monsters, and the
hundreds of wild birds and beasts in cages. Here every day I
feasted with whom I would, and when I was weary of feasting it was
my custom to sally out into the streets playing on the lute, for by
now I had in some degree mastered that hateful instrument, dressed
in shining apparel and attended by a crowd of nobles and royal
pages. Then the people would rush from their houses shouting and
doing me reverence, the children pelted me with flowers, and the
maidens danced before me, kissing my hands and feet, till at length
I was attended by a mob a thousand strong. And I also danced and
shouted like any village fool, for I think that a kind of mad
humour, or perhaps it was the drunkenness of worship, entered into
me in those days. Also I sought to forget my griefs, I desired to
forget that I was doomed to the sacrifice, and that every day
brought me nearer to the red knife of the priest.
I desired to forget, but alas! I could not. The fumes of the
mescal and the pulque that I had drunk at feasts would pass from my
brain, the perfume of flowers, the sights of beauty and the
adoration of the people would cease to move me, and I could only
brood heavily upon my doom and think with longing of my distant
love and home. In those days, had it not been for the tender
kindness of Otomie, I think that my heart would have broken or I
should have slain myself. But this great and beauteous lady was
ever at hand to cheer me in a thousand ways, and now and again she
would let fall some vague words of hope that set my pulses
bounding. It will be remembered that when first I came to the
court of Montezuma, I had found Otomie fair and my fancy turned
towards her. Now I still found her fair, but my heart was so full
of terror that there was no room in it for tender thoughts of her
or of any other woman. Indeed when I was not drunk with wine or
adoration, I turned my mind to the making of my peace with heaven,
of which I had some need.
Still I talked much with Otomie, instructing her in the matters of
my faith and many other things, as I had done by Marina, who we now
heard was the mistress and interpreter of Cortes, the Spanish
leader. She for her part listened gravely, watching me the while
with her tender eyes, but no more, for of all women Otomie was the
most modest, as she was the proudest and most beautiful.
So matters went on until the Spaniards had left Cholula on their
road to Mexico. It was then that I chanced one morning to be
sitting in the gardens, my lute in hand, and having my attendant
nobles and tutors gathered at a respectful distance behind me.
From where I sat I could see the entrance to the court in which the
emperor met his council daily, and I noted that when the princes
had gone the priests began to come, and after them a number of very
lovely girls attended by women of middle age. Presently Guatemoc
the prince, who now smiled but rarely, came up to me smiling, and
asked me if I knew what was doing yonder. I replied that I knew
nothing and cared less, but I supposed that Montezuma was gathering
a peculiar treasure to send to his masters the Spaniards.
'Beware how you speak, Teule,' answered the prince haughtily.
'Your words may be true, and yet did I not love you, you should rue
them even though you hold the spirit of Tezcat. Alas!' he added,
stamping on the ground, 'alas! that my uncle's madness should make
it possible that such words can be spoken. Oh! were I emperor of
Anahuac, in a single week the head of every Teule in Cholula should
deck a pinnacle of yonder temple.'
'Beware how you speak, prince,' I answered mocking him, 'for there
are those who did they hear, might cause YOU to rue YOUR words.
Still one day you may be emperor, and then we shall see how you
will deal with the Teules, at least others will see though I shall
not. But what is it now? Does Montezuma choose new wives?'
'He chooses wives, but not for himself. You know, Teule, that your
time grows short. Montezuma and the priests name those who must be
given to you to wife.'
'Given me to wife!' I said starting to my feet; 'to me whose bride
is death! What have I to do with love or marriage? I who in some
few short weeks must grace an altar? Ah! Guatemoc, you say you
love me, and once I saved you. Did you love me, surely you would
save me now as you swore to do.'
'I swore that I would give my life for yours, Teule, if it lay in
my power, and that oath I would keep, for all do not set so high a
store on life as you, my friend. But I cannot help you; you are
dedicated to the gods, and did I die a hundred times, it would not
save you from your fate. Nothing can save you except the hand of
heaven if it wills. Therefore, Teule, make merry while you may,
and die bravely when you must. Your case is no worse than mine and
that of many others, for death awaits us all. Farewell.'
When he had gone I rose, and leaving the gardens I passed into the
chamber where it was my custom to give audience to those who wished
to look upon the god Tezcat as they called me. Here I sat upon my
golden couch, inhaling the fumes of tobacco, and as it chanced I
was alone, for none dared to enter that room unless I gave them
leave. Presently the chief of my pages announced that one would
speak with me, and I bent my head, signifying that the person
should enter, for I was weary of my thoughts. The page withdrew,
and presently a veiled woman stood before me. I looked at her
wondering, and bade her draw her veil and speak. She obeyed, and I
saw that my visitor was the princess Otomie. Now I rose amazed,
for it was not usual that she should visit me thus alone. I
guessed therefore that she had tidings, or was following some
custom of which I was ignorant.
'I pray you be seated,' she said confusedly; 'it is not fitting
that you should stand before me.'
'Why not, princess?' I answered. 'If I had no respect for rank,
surely beauty must claim it.'
'A truce to words,' she replied with a wave of her slim hand. 'I
come here, O Tezcat, according to the ancient custom, because I am
charged with a message to you. Those whom you shall wed are
chosen. I am the bearer of their names.'
'Speak on, princess of the Otomie.'
'They are'--and she named three ladies whom I knew to be among the
loveliest in the land.
'I thought that there were four,' I said with a bitter laugh. 'Am
I to be defrauded of the fourth?'
'There is a fourth,' she answered, and was silent.
'Give me her name,' I cried. 'What other slut has been found to
marry a felon doomed to sacrifice?'
'One has been found, O Tezcat, who has borne other titles than this
you give her.'
Now I looked at her questioningly, and she spoke again in a low
'I, Otomie, princess of the Otomie, Montezuma's daughter, am the
fourth and the first.'
'You!' I said, sinking back upon my cushions. 'YOU!'
'Yes, I. Listen: I was chosen by the priests as the most lovely in
the land, however unworthily. My father, the emperor, was angry
and said that whatever befell, I should never be the wife of a
captive who must die upon the altar of sacrifice. But the priests
answered that this was no time for him to claim exception for his
blood, now when the gods were wroth. Was the first lady in the
land to be withheld from the god? they asked. Then my father
sighed and said that it should be as I willed. And I said with the
priests, that now in our sore distress the proud must humble
themselves to the dust, even to the marrying of a captive slave who
is named a god and doomed to sacrifice. So I, princess of the
Otomie, have consented to become your wife, O Tezcat, though
perchance had I known all that I read in your eyes this hour, I
should not have consented. It may happen that in this shame I
hoped to find love if only for one short hour, and that I purposed
to vary the custom of our people, and to complete my marriage by
the side of the victim on the altar, as, if I will, I have the
right to do. But I see well that I am not welcome, and though it
is too late to go back upon my word, have no fear. There are
others, and I shall not trouble you. I have given my message, is
it your pleasure that I should go? The solemn ceremony of wedlock
will be on the twelfth day from now, O Tezcat.'
Now I rose from my seat and took her hand, saying:
'I thank you, Otomie, for your nobleness of mind. Had it not been
for the comfort and friendship which you and Guatemoc your cousin
have given me, I think that ere now I should be dead. So you
desire to comfort me to the last; it seems that you even purposed
to die with me. How am I to interpret this, Otomie? In our land a
woman would need to love a man after no common fashion before she
consented to share such a bed as awaits me on yonder pyramid. And
yet I may scarcely think that you whom kings have sued for can
place your heart so low. How am I to read the writing of your
words, princess of the Otomie?'
'Read it with your heart,' she whispered low, and I felt her hand
tremble in my own.
I looked at her beauty, it was great; I thought of her devotion, a
devotion that did not shrink from the most horrible of deaths, and
a wind of feeling which was akin to love swept through my soul.
But even as I looked and thought, I remembered the English garden
and the English maid from whom I had parted beneath the beech at
Ditchingham, and the words that we had spoken then. Doubtless she
still lived and was true to me; while I lived should I not keep
true at heart to her? If I must wed these Indian girls, I must wed
them, but if once I told Otomie that I loved her, then I broke my
troth, and with nothing less would she be satisfied. As yet,
though I was deeply moved and the temptation was great, I had not
come to this.
'Be seated, Otomie,' I said, 'and listen to me. You see this
golden token,' and I drew Lily's posy ring from my hand, 'and you
see the writing within it.'
She bent her head but did not speak, and I saw that there was fear
in her eyes.
'I will read you the words, Otomie,' and I translated into the
Aztec tongue the quaint couplet:
Heart to heart,
Though far apart.
Then at last she spoke. 'What does the writing mean?' she said.
'I can only read in pictures, Teule.'
'It means, Otomie, that in the far land whence I come, there is a
woman who loves me, and who is my love.'
'Is she your wife then?'
'She is not my wife, Otomie, but she is vowed to me in marriage.'
'She is vowed to you in marriage,' she answered bitterly: 'why,
then we are equal, for so am I, Teule. But there is this
difference between us; you love her, and me you do not love. That
is what you would make clear to me. Spare me more words, I
understand all. Still it seems that if I have lost, she is also in
the path of loss. Great seas roll between you and this love of
yours, Teule, seas of water, and the altar of sacrifice, and the
nothingness of death. Now let me go. Your wife I must be, for
there is no escape, but I shall not trouble you over much, and it
will soon be done with. Then you may seek your desire in the
Houses of the Stars whither you must wander, and it is my prayer
that you shall win it. All these months I have been planning to
find hope for you, and I thought that I had found it. But it was
built upon a false belief, and it is ended. Had you been able to
say from your heart that you loved me, it might have been well for
both of us; should you be able to say it before the end, it may
still be well. But I do not ask you to say it, and beware how you
tell me a lie. I leave you, Teule, but before I go I will say that
I honour you more in this hour than I have honoured you before,
because you have dared to speak the truth to me, Montezuma's
daughter, when a lie had been so easy and so safe. That woman
beyond the seas should be grateful to you, but though I bear her no
ill will, between me and her there is a struggle to the death. We
are strangers to each other, and strangers we shall remain, but she
has touched your hand as I touch it now; you link us together and
are our bond of enmity. Farewell my husband that is to be. We
shall meet no more till that sorry day when a "slut" shall be given
to a "felon" in marriage. I use your own words, Teule!'
Then rising, Otomie cast her veil about her face and passed slowly
from the chamber, leaving me much disturbed. It was a bold deed to
have rejected the proffered love of this queen among women, and now
that I had done so I was not altogether glad. Would Lily, I
wondered, have offered to descend from such state, to cast off the
purple of her royal rank that she might lie at my side on the red
stone of sacrifice? Perhaps not, for this fierce fidelity is only
to be found in women of another breed. These daughters of the Sun
love wholly when they love at all, and as they love they hate.
They ask no priest to consecrate their vows, nor if these become
hateful, will they be bound by them for duty's sake. Their own
desire is their law, but while it rules them they follow it
unflinchingly, and if need be, they seek its consummation in the
gates of death, or failing that, forgetfulness.
THE FOUR GODDESSES
Some weary time went by, and at last came the day of the entry into
Mexico of Cortes and his conquerors. Now of all the doings of the
Spaniards after they occupied the city, I do not propose to speak
at length, for these are matters of history, and I have my own
story to tell. So I shall only write of those of them with which I
was concerned myself. I did not see the meeting between Montezuma
and Cortes, though I saw the emperor set out to it clad like
Solomon in his glory and surrounded by his nobles. But I am sure
of this, that no slave being led to sacrifice carried a heavier
heart in his breast than that of Montezuma on this unlucky day.
For now his folly had ruined him, and I think he knew that he was
going to his doom.
Afterwards, towards evening, I saw the emperor come back in his
golden litter, and pass over to the palace built by Axa his father,
that stood opposite to and some five hundred paces from his own,
facing the western gate of the temple. Presently I heard the sound
of a multitude shouting, and amidst it the tramp of horses and
armed soldiers, and from a seat in my chamber I saw the Spaniards
advance down the great street, and my heart beat at the sight of
Christian men. In front, clad in rich armour, rode their leader
Cortes, a man of middle size but noble bearing, with thoughtful
eyes that noted everything, and after him, some few on horseback
but the most of them on foot, marched his little army of
conquerors, staring about them with bold wondering eyes and jesting
to each other in Castilian. They were but a handful, bronzed with
the sun and scarred by battle, some of them ill-armed and almost in
rags, and looking on them I could not but marvel at the indomitable
courage that had enabled them to pierce their way through hostile
thousands, sickness, and war, even to the home of Montezuma's
By the side of Cortes, holding his stirrup in her hand, walked a
beautiful Indian woman dressed in white robes and crowned with
flowers. As she passed the palace she turned her face. I knew her
at once; it was my friend Marina, who now had attained to the
greatness which she desired, and who, notwithstanding all the evil
that she had brought upon her country, looked most happy in it and
in her master's love.
As the Spaniards went by I searched their faces one by one, with
the vague hope of hate. For though it might well chance that death
had put us out of each other's reach, I half thought to see de
Garcia among the number of the conquerors. Such a quest as theirs,
with its promise of blood, and gold, and rapine, would certainly
commend itself to his evil heart should it be in his power to join
it, and a strange instinct told me that he was NOT dead. But
neither dead nor living was he among those men who entered Mexico
That night I saw Guatemoc and asked him how things went.
'Well for the kite that roosts in the dove's nest,' he answered
with a bitter laugh, 'but very ill for the dove. Montezuma, my
uncle, has been cooing yonder,' and he pointed to the palace of
Axa, 'and the captain of the Teules has cooed in answer, but though
he tried to hide it, I could hear the hawk's shriek in his pigeon's
note. Ere long there will be merry doings in Tenoctitlan.'
He was right. Within a week Montezuma was treacherously seized by
the Spaniards and kept a prisoner in their quarters, watched day
and night by their soldiers. Then came event upon event. Certain
lords in the coast lands having killed some Spaniards, were
summoned to Mexico by the instigation of Cortes. They came and
were burned alive in the courtyard of the palace. Nor was this
all, for Montezuma, their monarch, was forced to witness the
execution with fetters on his ankles. So low had the emperor of
the Aztecs fallen, that he must bear chains like a common felon.
After this insult he swore allegiance to the King of Spain, and
even contrived to capture Cacama, the lord of Tezcuco, by treachery
and to deliver him into the hands of the Spaniards on whom he would
have made war. To them also he gave up all the hoarded gold and
treasure of the empire, to the value of hundreds of thousands of
English pounds. All this the nation bore, for it was stupefied and
still obeyed the commands of its captive king. But when he
suffered the Spaniards to worship the true God in one of the
sanctuaries of the great temple, a murmur of discontent and sullen
fury rose among the thousands of the Aztecs. It filled the air, it
could be heard wherever men were gathered, and its sound was like
that of a distant angry sea. The hour of the breaking of the
tempest was at hand.
Now all this while my life went on as before, save that I was not
allowed to go outside the walls of the palace, for it was feared
lest I should find some means of intercourse with the Spaniards,
who did not know that a man of white blood was confined there and
doomed to sacrifice. Also in these days I saw little of the
princess Otomie, the chief of my destined brides, who since our
strange love scene had avoided me, and when we met at feasts or in
the gardens spoke to me only on indifferent matters, or of the
affairs of state. At length came the day of my marriage. It was,
I remember, the night before the massacre of the six hundred Aztec
nobles on the occasion of the festival of Huitzel.
On this my wedding day I was treated with great circumstance and
worshipped like a god by the highest in the city, who came in to do
me reverence and burned incense before me, till I was weary of the
smell of it, for though such sorrow was on the land, the priests
would abate no jot of their ceremonies or cruelties, and great
hopes were held that I being of the race of Teules, my sacrifice
would avert the anger of the gods. At sunset I was entertained
with a splendid feast that lasted two hours or more, and at its end
all the company rose and shouted as with one voice:
'Glory to thee, O Tezcat! Happy art thou here on earth, happy
mayst thou be in the Houses of the Sun. When thou comest thither,
remember that we dealt well by thee, giving thee of our best, and
intercede for us that our sins may be forgiven. Glory to thee, O
Then two of the chief nobles came forward, and taking torches led
me to a magnificent chamber that I had never seen before. Here
they changed my apparel, investing me in robes which were still
more splendid than any that I had worn hitherto, being made of the
finest embroidered cotton and of the glittering feathers of the
humming bird. On my head they set wreaths of flowers, and about my
neck and wrists emeralds of vast size and value, and a sorry
popinjay I looked in this attire, that seemed more suited to a
woman's beauty than to me.
When I was arrayed, suddenly the torches were extinguished and for
a while there was silence. Then in the distance I heard women's
voices singing a bridal song that was beautiful enough after its
fashion, though I forbear to write it down. The singing ceased and
there came a sound of rustling robes and of low whispering. Then a
man's voice spoke, saying:
'Are ye there, ye chosen of heaven?'
And a woman's voice, I thought it was that of Otomie, answered:
'We are here.'
'O maidens of Anahuac,' said the man speaking from the darkness,
'and you, O Tezcat, god among the gods, listen to my words.
Maidens, a great honour has been done to you, for by the very
choice of heaven, you have been endowed with the names, the
lovelinesses, and the virtues of the four great goddesses, and
chosen to abide a while at the side of this god, your maker and
your master, who has been pleased to visit us for a space before he
seeks his home in the habitations of the Sun. See that you show
yourselves worthy of this honour. Comfort him and cherish him,
that he may forget his glory in your kindness, and when he returns
to his own place may take with him grateful memories and a good
report of your people. You have but a little while to live at his
side in this life, for already, like those of a caged bird, the
wings of his spirit beat against the bars of the flesh, and soon he
will shake himself free from us and you. Yet if you will, it is
allowed to one of you to accompany him to his home, sharing his
flight to the Houses of the Sun. But to all of you, whether you go
also, or whether you stay to mourn him during your life days, I say
love and cherish him, be tender and gentle towards him, for
otherwise ruin shall overtake you here and hereafter, and you and
all of us will be ill spoken of in heaven. And you, O Tezcat, we
pray of you to accept these maidens, who bear the names and wear
the charms of your celestial consorts, for there are none more
beautiful or better born in the realms of Anahuac, and among them
is numbered the daughter of our king. They are not perfect indeed,
for perfection is known to you in the heavenly kingdoms only, since
these ladies are but shadows and symbols of the divine goddesses
your true wives, and here there are no perfect women. Alas, we
have none better to offer you, and it is our hope that when it
pleases you to pass hence you will think kindly of the women of
this land, and from on high bless them with your blessing, because
your memory of these who were called your wives on earth is
The voice paused, then spoke again:
'Women, in your own divine names of Xochi, Xilo, Atla, and Clixto,
and in the name of all the gods, I wed you to Tezcat, the creator,
to sojourn with him during his stay on earth. The god incarnate
takes you in marriage whom he himself created, that the symbol may
be perfect and the mystery fulfilled. Yet lest your joy should be
too full--look now on that which shall be.'
As the voice spoke these words, many torches sprang into flame at
the far end of the great chamber, revealing a dreadful sight. For
there, stretched upon a stone of sacrifice, was the body of a man,
but whether the man lived or was modelled in wax I do not know to
this hour, though unless he was painted, I think that he must have
been fashioned in wax, since his skin shone white like mine. At
the least his limbs and head were held by five priests, and a sixth
stood over him clasping a knife of obsidian in his two hands. It
flashed on high, and as it gleamed the torches were extinguished.
Then came the dull echo of a blow and a sound of groans, and all
was still, till once more the brides broke out into their marriage
song, a strange chant and a wild and sweet, though after what I had
seen and heard it had little power to move me.
They sang on in the darkness ever more loudly, till presently a
single torch was lit at the end of the chamber, then another and
another, though I could not see who lit them, and the room was a
flare of light. Now the altar, the victim, and the priests were
all gone, there was no one left in the place except myself and the
four brides. They were tall and lovely women all of them, clad in
white bridal robes starred over with gems and flowers, and wearing
on their brows the emblems of the four goddesses, but Otomie was
the stateliest and most beautiful of the four, and seemed in truth
a goddess. One by one they drew near to me, smiling and sighing,
and kneeling before me kissed my hand, saying:
'I have been chosen to be your wife for a space, Tezcat, happy maid
that I am. May the good gods grant that I become pleasing to your
sight, so that you may love me as I worship you.'
Then she who had spoken would draw back again out of earshot, and
the next would take her place.
Last of all came Otomie. She knelt and said the words, then added
in a low voice,
'Having spoken to you as the bride and goddess to the husband and
the god Tezcat, now, O Teule, I speak as the woman to the man. You
do not love me, Teule, therefore, if it is your will, let us be
divorced of our own act who were wed by the command of others, for
so I shall be spared some shame. These are friends to me and will
not betray us; and she nodded towards her companion brides.
'As you will, Otomie,' I answered briefly.
'I thank you for your kindness, Teule,' she said smiling sadly, and
withdrew making obeisance, looking so stately and so sweet as she
went, that again my heart was shaken as though with love. Now from
that night till the dreadful hour of sacrifice, no kiss or tender
word passed between me and the princess of the Otomie. And yet our
friendship and affection grew daily, for we talked much together,
and I sought to turn her heart to the true King of Heaven. But
this was not easy, for like her father Montezuma, Otomie clung to
the gods of her people, though she hated the priests, and save when
the victims were the foes of her country, shrank from the rites of
human sacrifice, which she said were instituted by the pabas, since
in the early days there were no men offered on the altars of the
gods, but flowers only. Daily it grew and ripened till, although I
scarcely knew it, at length in my heart, after Lily, I loved her
better than anyone on earth. As for the other women, though they
were gentle and beautiful, I soon learned to hate them. Still I
feasted and revelled with them, partly since I must, or bring them
to a miserable death because they failed to please me, and partly
that I might drown my terrors in drink and pleasure, for let it be
remembered that the days left to me on earth were few, and the
awful end drew near.
The day following the celebration of my marriage was that of the
shameless massacre of six hundred of the Aztec nobles by the order
of the hidalgo Alvarado, whom Cortes had left in command of the
Spaniards. For at this time Cortes was absent in the coast lands,
whither he had gone to make war on Narvaez, who had been sent to
subdue him by his enemy Velasquez, the governor of Cuba.
On this day was celebrated the feast of Huitzel, that was held with
sacrifice, songs, and dances in the great court of the temple, that
court which was surrounded by a wall carved over with the writhing
shapes of snakes. It chanced that on this morning before he went
to join in the festival, Guatemoc, the prince, came to see me on a
visit of ceremony.
I asked him if he intended to take part in the feast, as the
splendour of his apparel brought me to believe.
'Yes,' he answered, 'but why do you ask?'
'Because, were I you, Guatemoc, I would not go. Say now, will the
dancers be armed?'
'No, it is not usual.'
'They will be unarmed, Guatemoc, and they are the flower of the
land. Unarmed they will dance in yonder enclosed space, and the
Teules will watch them armed. Now, how would it be if these
chanced to pick a quarrel with the nobles?'
'I do not know why you should speak thus, Teule, for surely these
white men are not cowardly murderers, still I take your words as an
omen, and though the feast must be held, for see already the nobles
gather, I will not share in it.'
'You are wise, Guatemoc,' I said. 'I am sure that you are wise'
Afterwards Otomie, Guatemoc, and I went into the garden of the
palace and sat upon the crest of a small pyramid, a teocalli in
miniature that Montezuma had built for a place of outlook on the
market and the courts of the temple. From this spot we saw the
dancing of the Aztec nobles, and heard the song of the musicians.
It was a gay sight, for in the bright sunlight their feather
dresses flashed like coats of gems, and none would have guessed how
it was to end. Mingling with the dancers were groups of Spaniards
clad in mail and armed with swords and matchlocks, but I noted
that, as the time went on, these men separated themselves from the
Indians and began to cluster like bees about the gates and at
various points under the shadow of the Wall of Serpents.
'Now what may this mean?' I said to Guatemoc, and as I spoke, I saw
a Spaniard wave a white cloth in the air. Then, in an instant,
before the cloth had ceased to flutter, a smoke arose from every
side, and with it came the sound of the firing of matchlocks.
Everywhere among the dancers men fell dead or wounded, but the mass
of them, unharmed as yet, huddled themselves together like
frightened sheep, and stood silent and terror-stricken. Then the
Spaniards, shouting the name of their patron saint, as it is their
custom to do when they have some such wickedness in hand, drew
their swords, and rushing on the unarmed Aztec nobles began to kill
them. Now some shrieked and fled, and some stood still till they
were cut down, but whether they stayed or ran the end was the same,
for the gates were guarded and the wall was too high to climb.
There they were slaughtered every man of them, and may God, who
sees all, reward their murderers! It was soon over; within ten
minutes of the waving of the cloth, those six hundred men were
stretched upon the pavement dead or dying, and with shouts of
victory the Spaniards were despoiling their corpses of the rich
ornaments they had worn.
Then I turned to Guatemoc and said, 'It seems that you did well not
to join in yonder revel.'
But Guatemoc made no answer. He stared at the dead and those who
had murdered them, and said nothing. Only Otomie spoke: 'You
Christians are a gentle people,' she said with a bitter laugh; 'it
is thus that you repay our hospitality. Now I trust that
Montezuma, my father, is pleased with his guests. Ah! were I he,
every man of them should lie on the stone of sacrifice. If our
gods are devils as you say, what are those who worship yours?'
Then at length Guatemoc said, 'Only one thing remains to us, and
that is vengeance. Montezuma has become a woman, and I heed him no
more, nay, if it were needful, I would kill him with my own hand.
But two men are still left in the land, Cuitlahua, my uncle, and
myself. Now I go to summon our armies.' And he went.
All that night the city murmured like a swarm of wasps, and next
day at dawn, so far as the eye could reach, the streets and market
place were filled with tens of thousands of armed warriors. They
threw themselves like a wave upon the walls of the palace of Axa,
and like a wave from a rock they were driven back again by the fire
of the guns. Thrice they attacked, and thrice they were repulsed.
Then Montezuma, the woman king, appeared upon the walls, praying
them to desist because, forsooth, did they succeed, he himself
might perish. Even then they obeyed him, so great was their
reverence for his sacred royalty, and for a while attacked the
Spaniards no more. But further than this they would not go. If
Montezuma forbade them to kill the Spaniards, at least they
determined to starve them out, and from that hour a strait blockade
was kept up against the palace. Hundreds of the Aztec soldiers had
been slain already, but the loss was not all upon their side, for
some of the Spaniards and many of the Tlascalans had fallen into
their hands. As for these unlucky prisoners, their end was swift,
for they were taken at once to the temples of the great teocalli,
and sacrificed there to the gods in the sight of their comrades.
Now it was that Cortes returned with many more men, for he had
conquered Narvaez, whose followers joined the standard of Cortes,
and with them others, one of whom I had good reason to know.
Cortes was suffered to rejoin his comrades in the palace of Axa
without attack, I do not know why, and on the following day
Cuitlahua, Montezuma's brother, king of Palapan, was released by
him that he might soothe the people. But Cuitlahua was no coward.
Once safe outside his prison walls, he called the council together,
of whom the chief was Guatemoc.
There they resolved on war to the end, giving it out that Montezuma
had forfeited his kingdom by his cowardice, and on that resolve
they acted. Had it been taken but two short months before, by this
date no Spaniard would have been left alive in Tenoctitlan. For
after Marina, the love of Cortes, whose subtle wit brought about
his triumph, it was Montezuma who was the chief cause of his own
fall, and of that of the kingdom of Anahuac.
On the day after the return of Cortes to Mexico, before the hour of
dawn I was awakened from my uneasy slumbers by the whistling cries
of thousands of warriors and the sound of atabals and drums.
Hurrying to my post of outlook on the little pyramid, where Otomie
joined me, I saw that the whole people were gathered for war. So
far as the eye could reach, in square, market place, and street,
they were massed in thousands and tens of thousands. Some were
armed with slings, some with bows and arrows, others with javelins
tipped with copper, and the club set with spikes of obsidian that
is called maqua, and yet others, citizens of the poorer sort, with
stakes hardened in the fire. The bodies of some were covered with
golden coats of mail and mantles of featherwork, and their skulls
protected by painted wooden helms, crested with hair, and fashioned
like the heads of pumas, snakes, or wolves--others wore escaupils,
or coats of quilted cotton, but the most of them were naked except
for a cloth about the loins. On the flat azoteas, or roofs of
houses also, and even on the top of the teocalli of sacrifice, were
bands of men whose part it was to rain missiles into the Spanish
quarters. It was a strange sight to see in that red sunrise, and
one never to be forgotten, as the light flashed from temples and
palace walls, on to the glittering feather garments and gay
banners, the points of countless spears and the armour of the
Spaniards, who hurried to and fro behind their battlements making
ready their defence.
So soon as the sun was up, a priest blew a shrill note upon a
shell, which was answered by a trumpet call from the Spanish
quarters. Then with a shriek of rage the thousands of the Aztecs
rushed to the attack, and the air grew dark with missiles.
Instantly a wavering line of fire and smoke, followed by a sound as
of thunder, broke from the walls of the palace of Axa, and the
charging warriors fell like autumn leaves beneath the cannon and
arquebuss balls of the Christians.
For a moment they wavered and a great groan went up to heaven, but
I saw Guatemoc spring forward, a banner in his hand, and forming up
again they rushed after him. Now they were beneath the wall of the
palace, and the assault began. The Aztecs fought furiously. Time
upon time they strove to climb the wall, piling up the bodies of
the dead to serve them as ladders, and time upon time they were
repulsed with cruel loss. Failing in this, they set themselves to
battering it down with heavy beams, but when the breach was made
and they clustered in it like herded sheep, the cannon opened fire
on them, tearing long lanes through their mass and leaving them
dead by scores. Then they took to the shooting of flaming arrows,
and by this means fired the outworks, but the palace was of stone
and would not burn. Thus for twelve long hours the struggle raged
unceasingly, till the sudden fall of darkness put an end to it, and
the only sight to be seen was the flare of countless torches
carried by those who sought out the dead, and the only sounds to be
heard were the voice of women lamenting, and the groans of the
On the morrow the fight broke out again at dawn, when Cortes
sallied forth with the greater part of his soldiers, and some
thousands of his Tlascalan allies. At first I thought that he
aimed his attack at Montezuma's palace, and a breath of hope went
through me, since then it might become possible for me to escape in
the confusion. But this was not so, his object being to set fire
to the houses, from the flat roofs of which numberless missiles
were hailed hourly upon his followers. The charge was desperate
and it succeeded, for the Indians could not withstand the shock of
horsemen any more than their naked skins could turn the Spaniards'
steel. Presently scores of houses were in flames, and thick
columns of smoke rolled up like those that float from the mouth of
Popo. But many of those who rode and ran from the gates of Axa did
not come back thither, for the Aztecs clung to the legs of the
horses and dragged their riders away living. That very day these
captives were sacrificed on the altar of Huitzel, and in the sight
of their comrades, and with them a horse was offered up, which had
been taken alive, and was borne and dragged with infinite labour up
the steep sides of the pyramid. Indeed never had the sacrifices
been so many as during these days of combat. All day long the
altars ran red, and all day long the cries of the victims rang in
my ears, as the maddened priests went about their work. For thus
they thought to please the gods who should give them victory over
Even at night the sacrifices continued by the light of the sacred
fires, that from below gave those who wrought them the appearance
of devils flitting through the flames of hell, and inflicting its
torments on the damned, much as they are depicted in the 'Doom'
painting of the resurrection of the dead that is over the chancel
arch in this church of Ditchingham. And hour by hour through the
darkness, a voice called out threats and warnings to the Spaniards,
saying, 'Huitzel is hungry for your blood, ye Teules, ye shall
surely follow where ye have seen your fellows go: the cages are
ready, the knives are sharp, and the irons are hot for the torture.
Prepare, ye Teules, for though ye slay many, ye cannot escape.'
Thus the struggle went on day after day, till thousands of the
Aztecs were dead, and the Spaniards were well nigh worn out with
hunger, war, and wounds, for they could not rest a single hour. At
length one morning, when the assault was at its hottest, Montezuma
himself appeared upon the central tower of the palace, clad in
splendid robes and wearing the diadem. Before him stood heralds
bearing golden wands, and about him were the nobles who attended
him in his captivity, and a guard of Spaniards. He stretched out
his hand, and suddenly the fighting was stayed and a silence fell
upon the place, even the wounded ceased from their groaning. Then
he addressed the multitude. What he said I was too far off to
hear, though I learned its purport afterwards. He prayed his
people to cease from war, for the Spaniards were his friends and
guests and would presently leave the city of Tenoctitlan. When
these cowardly words had passed his lips, a fury took his subjects,
who for long years had worshipped him as a god, and a shriek rent
the air that seemed to say two words only:
Then I saw an arrow rush upwards and strike the emperor, and after
the arrow a shower of stones, so that he fell down there upon the
Now a voice cried, 'We have slain our king. Montezuma is dead,'
and instantly with a dreadful wailing the multitude fled this way
and that, so that presently no living man could be seen where there
had been thousands.
I turned to comfort Otomie, who was watching at my side, and had
seen her royal father fall, and led her weeping into the palace.
Here we met Guatemoc, the prince, and his mien was fierce and wild.
He was fully armed and carried a bow in his hand.
'Is Montezuma dead?' I asked.
'I neither know nor care,' he answered with a savage laugh, then
'Now curse me, Otomie my cousin, for it was my arrow that smote him
down, this king who has become a woman and a traitor, false to his
manhood and his country.'
Then Otomie ceased weeping and answered:
'I cannot curse you, Guatemoc, for the gods have smitten my father
with a madness as you smote him with your arrow, and it is best
that he should die, both for his own sake and for that of his
people. Still, Guatemoc, I am sure of this, that your crime will
not go unpunished, and that in payment for this sacrilege, you
shall yourself come to a shameful death.'
'It may be so,' said Guatemoc, 'but at least I shall not die
betraying my trust;' and he went.
Now I must tell that, as I believed, this was my last day on earth,
for on the morrow my year of godhead expired, and I, Thomas
Wingfield, should be led out to sacrifice. Notwithstanding all the
tumult in the city, the mourning for the dead and the fear that
hung over it like a cloud, the ceremonies of religion and its
feasts were still celebrated strictly, more strictly indeed than
ever before. Thus on this night a festival was held in my honour,
and I must sit at the feast crowned with flowers and surrounded by
my wives, while those nobles who remained alive in the city did me
homage, and with them Cuitlahua, who, if Montezuma were dead, would
now be emperor. It was a dreary meal enough, for I could scarcely
be gay though I strove to drown my woes in drink, and as for the
guests, they had little jollity left in them. Hundreds of their
relatives were dead and with them thousands of the people; the
Spaniards still held their own in the fortress, and that day they
had seen their emperor, who to them was a god, smitten down by one
of their own number, and above all they felt that doom was upon
themselves. What wonder that they were not merry? Indeed no
funeral feast could have been more sad, for flowers and wine and
fair women do not make pleasure, and after all it was a funeral
At length it came to an end and I fled to my own apartments,
whither my three wives followed me, for Otomie did not come,
calling me most happy and blessed who to-morrow should be with
myself, that is with my own godhead, in heaven. But I did not call
them blessed, for, rising in wrath, I drove them away, saying that
I had but one comfort left, and it was that wherever I might go I
should leave them behind.
Then I cast myself upon the cushions of my bed and mourned in my
fear and bitterness of heart. This was the end of the vengeance
which I had sworn to wreak on de Garcia, that I myself must have my
heart torn from my breast and offered to a devil. Truly Fonseca,
my benefactor, had spoken words of wisdom when he counselled me to
take my fortune and forget my oath. Had I done so, to-day I might
have been my betrothed's husband and happy in her love at home in
peaceful England, instead of what I was, a lost soul in the power
of fiends and about to be offered to a fiend. In the bitterness of
the thought and the extremity of my anguish I wept aloud and prayed
to my Maker that I might be delivered from this cruel death, or at
the least that my sins should be forgiven me, so that to-morrow
night I might rest at peace in heaven.
Thus weeping and praying I sank into a half sleep, and dreamed that
I walked on the hillside near the church path that runs through the
garden of the Lodge at Ditchingham. The whispers of the wind were
in the trees which clothe the bank of the Vineyard Hills, the scent
of the sweet English flowers was in my nostrils and the balmy air
of June blew on my brow. It was night in this dream of mine, and I
thought that the moon shone sweetly on the meadows and the river,
while from every side came the music of the nightingale. But I was
not thinking of these delightful sights and sounds, though they
were present in my mind, for my eyes watched the church path which
goes up the hill at the back of the house, and my heart listened
for a footstep that I longed to hear. Then there came a sound of
singing from beyond the hill, and the words of the song were sad,
for they told of one who had sailed away and returned no more, and
presently between the apple trees I saw a white figure on its
crest. Slowly it came towards me and I knew that it was she for
whom I waited, Lily my beloved. Now she ceased to sing, but drew
on gently and her face seemed very sad. Moreover it was the face
of a woman in middle life, but still most beautiful, more beautiful
indeed than it had been in the bloom of youth. She had reached the
foot of the hill and was turning towards the little garden gate,
when I came forward from the shadow of the trees, and stood before
her. Back she started with a cry of fear, then grew silent and
gazed into my face.
'So changed,' she murmured; 'can it be the same? Thomas, is it you
come back to me from the dead, or is this but a vision?' and slowly
and doubtingly the dream wraith stretched out her arms as though to
Then I awoke. I awoke and lo! before me stood a fair woman clothed
in white, on whom the moonlight shone as in my dream, and her arms
were stretched towards me lovingly.
'It is I, beloved, and no vision,' I cried, springing from my bed
and clasping her to my breast to kiss her. But before my lips
touched hers I saw my error, for she whom I embraced was not Lily
Bozard, my betrothed, but Otomie, princess of the Otomie, who was
called my wife. Then I knew that this was the saddest and the most
bitter of dreams that had been sent to mock me, for all the truth
rushed into my mind. Losing my hold of Otomie, I fell back upon
the bed and groaned aloud, and as I fell I saw the flush of shame
upon her brow and breast. For this woman loved me, and thus my act
and words were an insult to her, who could guess well what prompted
them. Still she spoke gently.
'Pardon me, Teule, I came but to watch and not to waken you. I
came also that I may see you alone before the daybreak, hoping that
I might be of service, or at the least, of comfort to you, for the
end draws near. Say then, in your sleep did you mistake me for
some other woman dearer and fairer than I am, that you would have
'I dreamed that you were my betrothed whom I love, and who is far
away across the sea,' I answered heavily. 'But enough of love and
such matters. What have I to do with them who go down into
'In truth I cannot tell, Teule, still I have heard wise men say
that if love is to be found anywhere, it is in this same darkness
of death, that is light indeed. Grieve not, for if there is truth
in the faith of which you have told me or in our own, either on
this earth or beyond it, with the eyes of the spirit you will see
your dear before another sun is set, and I pray that you may find
her faithful to you. Tell me now, how much does she love you?
Would SHE have lain by your side on the bed of sacrifice as, had
things gone otherwise between us, Teule, it was my hope to do?'
'No,' I answered, 'it is not the custom of our women to kill
themselves because their husbands chance to die.'
'Perhaps they think it better to live and wed again,' answered
Otomie very quietly, but I saw her eyes flash and her breast heave
in the moonlight as she spoke.
'Enough of this foolish talk,' I said. 'Listen, Otomie; if you had
cared for me truly, surely you would have saved me from this
dreadful doom, or prevailed on Guatemoc to save me. You are
Montezuma's daughter, could you not have brought it about during
all these months that he issued his royal mandate, commanding that
I should be spared?'
'Do you, then, take me for so poor a friend, Teule?' she answered
hotly. 'Know that for all these months, by day and by night, I
have worked and striven to find a means to rescue you. Before he
became a prisoner I importuned my father the emperor, till he
ordered me from his presence. I have sought to bribe the priests,
I have plotted ways of escape, ay, and Guatemoc has helped, for he
loves you. Had it not been for the coming of these accursed
Teules, and the war that they have levied in the city, I had surely
saved you, for a woman's thought leaps far, and can find a path
where none seems possible. But this war has changed everything,
and moreover the star-readers and diviners of auguries have given a
prophecy which seals your fate. For they have prophesied that if
your blood flows, and your heart is offered at the hour of noon to-
morrow on the altar of Tezcat, our people shall be victorious over
the Teules, and utterly destroy them. But if the sacrifice is
celebrated one moment before or after that propitious hour, then
the doom of Tenoctitlan is sealed. Also they have declared that
you must die, not, according to custom, at the Temple of Arms
across the lake, but on the great pyramid before the chief statue
of the god. All this is known throughout the land; thousands of
priests are now offering up prayers that the sacrifice may be
fortunate, and a golden ring has been hung over the stone of
slaughter in such a fashion that the light of the sun must strike
upon the centre of your breast at the very moment of mid-day. For
weeks you have been watched as a jaguar watches its prey, for it
was feared that you would escape to the Teules, and we, your wives,
have been watched also. At this moment there is a triple ring of
guards about the palace, and priests are set without your doors and
beneath the window places. Judge, then, what chance there is of
'Little indeed,' I said, 'and yet I know a road. If I kill myself,
they cannot kill me.'
'Nay,' she answered hastily, 'what shall that avail you? While you
live you may hope, but once dead, you are dead for ever. Also if
you must die, it is best that you should die by the hand of the
priest. Believe me, though the end is horrible,' and she
shuddered, 'it is almost painless, so they say, and very swift.
They will not torture you, that we have saved you, Guatemoc and I,
though at first they wished thus to honour the god more
particularly on this great day.'
'O Teule,' Otomie went on, seating herself by me on the bed, and
taking my hand, 'think no more of these brief terrors, but look
beyond them. Is it so hard a thing to die, and swiftly? We all
must die, to-day, or to-night, or the next day, it matters little
when--and your faith, like ours, teaches that beyond the grave is
endless blessedness. Think then, my friend, to-morrow you will
have passed far from this strife and turmoil; the struggle and the
sorrows and the daily fears for the future that make the soul sick
will be over for you, you will be taken to your peace, where no one
shall disturb you for ever. There you will find that mother whom
you have told me of, and who loved you, and there perhaps one will
join you who loves you better than your mother, mayhap even I may
meet you there, friend,' and she looked up at me strangely. 'The
road that you are doomed to walk is dark indeed, but surely it must
be well-trodden, and there is light shining beyond it. So be a
man, my friend, and do not grieve; rejoice rather that at so early
an age you have done with woes and doubts, and come to the gates of
joy, that you have passed the thorny, unwatered wilderness and see
the smiling lakes and gardens, and among them the temples of your
'And now farewell. We meet no more till the hour of sacrifice, for
we women who masquerade as wives must accompany you to the first
platforms of the temple. Farewell, dear friend, and think upon my
words; whether they are acceptable to you or no, I am sure of this,
that both for the sake of your own honour and because I ask it of
you, you will die bravely as though the eyes of your own people
were watching all.' And bending suddenly, Otomie kissed me on the
forehead gently as a sister might, and was gone.
The curtains swung behind her, but the echoes of her noble words
still dwelt in my heart. Nothing can make man look on death
lovingly, and that awaiting me was one from which the bravest would
shrink, yet I felt that Otomie had spoken truth, and that, terrible
as it seemed, it might prove less terrible than life had shewn
itself to be. An unnatural calm fell upon my soul like some dense
mist upon the face of the ocean. Beneath that mist the waters
might foam, above it the sun might shine, yet around was one grey
peace. In this hour I seemed to stand outside of my earthly self,
and to look on all things with a new sense. The tide of life was
ebbing away from me, the shore of death loomed very near, and I
understood then, as in extreme old age I understand to-day, how
much more part we mortals have in death than in this short accident
of life. I could consider all my past, I could wonder on the
future of my spirit, and even marvel at the gentleness and wisdom
of the Indian woman, who was able to think such thoughts and utter
Well, whatever befell, in one thing I would not disappoint her, I
would die bravely as an Englishman should do, leaving the rest to
God. These barbarians should never say of me that the foreigner
was a coward. Who was I that I should complain? Did not hundreds
of men as good as I was perish daily in yonder square, and without
a murmur? Had not my mother died also at the hand of a murderer?
Was not that unhappy lady, Isabella de Siguenza, walled up alive
because she had been mad enough to love a villain who betrayed her?
The world is full of terrors and sorrows such as mine, who was I
that I should complain?
So I mused on till at length the day dawned, and with the rising
sun rose the clamour of men making ready for battle. For now the
fight raged from day to day, and this was to be one of the most
terrible. But I thought little then of the war between the Aztecs
and the Spaniards, who must prepare myself for the struggle of my
own death that was now at hand.
THE KISS OF LOVE
Presently there was a sound of music, and, accompanied by certain
artists, my pages entered, bearing with them apparel more gorgeous
than any that I had worn hitherto. First, these pages having
stripped me of my robes, the artists painted all my body in hideous
designs of red, and white, and blue, till I resembled a flag, not
even sparing my face and lips, which they coloured with carmine
hues. Over my heart also they drew a scarlet ring with much care
and measurement. Then they did up my hair that now hung upon my
shoulders, after the fashion in which it was worn by generals among
the Indians, tying it on the top of my head with an embroidered
ribbon red in colour, and placed a plume of cock's feathers above
it. Next, having arrayed my body in gorgeous vestments not unlike
those used by popish priests at the celebration of the mass, they
set golden earrings in my ears, golden bracelets on my wrists and
ankles, and round my neck a collar of priceless emeralds. On my
breast also they hung a great gem that gleamed like moonlit water,
and beneath my chin a false beard made from pink sea shells. Then
having twined me round with wreaths of flowers till I thought of
the maypole on Bungay Common, they rested from their labours,
filled with admiration at their handiwork.
Now the music sounded again and they gave me two lutes, one of
which I must hold in either hand, and conducted me to the great
hall of the palace. Here a number of people of rank were gathered,
all dressed in festal attire, and here also on a dais to which I
was led, stood my four wives clad in the rich dresses of the four
goddesses Xochi, Xilo, Atla, and Clixto, after whom they were named
for the days of their wifehood, Atla being the princess Otomie.
When I had taken my place upon the dais, my wives came forward one
by one, and kissing me on the brow, offered me sweetmeats and meal
cakes in golden platters, and cocoa and mescal in golden cups. Of
the mescal I drank, for it is a spirit and I needed inward comfort,
but the other dainties I could not touch. These ceremonies being
finished, there was silence for a while, till presently a band of
filthy priests entered at the far end of the chamber, clad in their
scarlet sacrificial robes. Blood was on them everywhere, their
long locks were matted with it, their hands were red with it, even
their fierce eyes seemed full of it. They advanced up the chamber
till they stood before the dais, then suddenly the head priest
lifted up his hands, crying aloud:
'Adore the immortal god, ye people,' and all those gathered there
prostrated themselves shouting:
'We adore the god.'
Thrice the priest cried aloud, and thrice they answered him thus,
prostrating themselves at every answer. Then they rose again, and
the priest addressed me, saying:
'Forgive us, O Tezcat, that we cannot honour you as it is meet, for
our sovereign should have been here to worship you with us. But
you know, O Tezcat, how sore is the strait of your servants, who
must wage war in their own city against those who blaspheme you and
your brother gods. You know that our beloved emperor lies wounded,
a prisoner in their unholy hands. When we have gratified your
longing to pass beyond the skies, O Tezcat, and when in your
earthly person you have taught us the lesson that human prosperity
is but a shadow which flees away; in memory of our love for you
intercede for us, we beseech you, that we may smite these wicked
ones and honour you and them by the rite of their own sacrifice. O
Tezcat, you have dwelt with us but a little while, and now you will
not suffer that we hold you longer from your glory, for your eyes
have longed to see this happy day, and it is come at last. We have
loved you, Tezcat, and ministered to you, grant in return that we
may see you in your splendour, we who are your little children, and
till we come, watch well over our earthly welfare, and that of the
people among whom you have deigned to sojourn.'
Having spoken some such words as these, that at times could
scarcely be heard because of the sobbing of the people, and of my
wives who wept loudly, except Otomie alone, this villainous priest
made a sign and once more the music sounded. Then he and his band
placed themselves about me, my wives the goddesses going before and
after, and led me down the hall and on to the gateways of the
palace, which were thrown wide for us to pass. Looking round me
with a stony wonder, for in this my last hour nothing seemed to
escape my notice, I saw that a strange play was being played about
us. Some hundreds of paces away the attack on the palace of Axa,
where the Spaniards were entrenched, raged with fury. Bands of
warriors were attempting to scale the walls and being driven back
by the deadly fire of the Spaniards and the pikes and clubs of
their Tlascalan allies, while from the roofs of such of the
neighbouring houses as remained unburned, and more especially from
the platform of the great teocalli, on which I must presently give
up the ghost, arrows, javelins, and stones were poured by thousands
into the courtyards and outer works of the Spanish quarters.
Five hundred yards away or so, raged this struggle to the death,
but about me, around the gates of Montezuma's palace on the hither
side of the square, was a different scene. Here were gathered a
vast crowd, among them many women and children, waiting to see me
die. They came with flowers in their hands, with the sound of
music and joyous cries, and when they saw me they set up such a
shout of welcome that it almost drowned the thunder of the guns and
the angry roar of battle. Now and again an ill-aimed cannon ball
would plough through them, killing some and wounding others, but
the rest took no heed, only crying the more, 'Welcome, Tezcat, and
farewell. Blessings on you, our deliverer, welcome and farewell!'
We went slowly through the press, treading on a path of flowers,
till we came across the courtyard to the base of the pyramid. Here
at the outer gate there was a halt because of the multitude of the
people, and while we waited a warrior thrust his way through the
crowd and bowed before me. Glancing up I saw that it was Guatemoc.
'Teule,' he whispered to me, 'I leave my charge yonder,' and he
nodded towards the force who strove to break a way into the palace
of Axa, 'to bid you farewell. Doubtless we shall meet again ere
long. Believe me, Teule, I would have helped you if I could, but
it cannot be. I wish that I might change places with you. My
friend, farewell. Twice you have saved my life, but yours I cannot
'Farewell, Guatemoc,' I answered 'heaven prosper you, for you are a
Then we passed on.
At the foot of the pyramid the procession was formed, and here one
of my wives bade me adieu after weeping on my neck, though I did
not weep on hers. Now the road to the summit of the teocalli winds
round and round the pyramid, ever mounting higher as it winds, and
along this road we went in solemn state. At each turn we halted
and another wife bade me a last good-bye, or one of my instruments
of music, which I did not grieve to see the last of, or some
article of my strange attire, was taken from me. At length after
an hour's march, for our progress was slow, we reached the flat top
of the pyramid that is approached by a great stair, a space larger
than the area of the churchyard here at Ditchingham, and unfenced
at its lofty edge. Here on this dizzy place stood the temples of
Huitzel and of Tezcat, soaring structures of stone and wood, within
which were placed the horrid effigies of the gods, and dreadful
chambers stained with sacrifice. Here, too, were the holy fires
that burned eternally, the sacrificial stones, the implements of
torment, and the huge drum of snakes' skin, but for the rest the
spot was bare. It was bare but not empty, for on that side of it
which looked towards the Spanish quarters were stationed some
hundreds of men who hurled missiles into their camp without
ceasing. On the other side also were gathered a concourse of
priests awaiting the ceremony of my death. Below the great square,
fringed round with burnt-out houses, was crowded with thousands of
people, some of them engaged in combat with the Spaniards, but the
larger part collected there to witness my murder.
Now we reached the top of the pyramid, two hours before midday, for
there were still many rites to be carried out ere the moment of
sacrifice. First I was led into the sanctuary of Tezcat, the god
whose name I bore. Here was his statue or idol, fashioned in black
marble and covered with golden ornaments. In the hand of this idol
was a shield of burnished gold on which its jewelled eyes were
fixed, reading there, as his priests fabled, all that passed upon
the earth he had created. Before him also was a plate of gold,
which with muttered invocations the head priest cleansed as I
watched, rubbing it with his long and matted locks. This done he
held it to my lips that I might breathe on it, and I turned faint
and sick, for I knew that it was being made ready to receive the
heart which I felt beating in my breast.
Now what further ceremonies were to be carried out in this unholy
place I do not know, for at that moment a great tumult arose in the
square beneath, and I was hurried from the sanctuary by the
priests. Then I perceived this: galled to madness by the storm of
missiles rained upon them from its crest, the Spaniards were
attacking the teocalli. Already they were pouring across the
courtyard in large companies, led by Cortes himself, and with them
came many hundreds of their allies the Tlascalans. On the other
hand some thousands of the Aztecs were rushing to the foot of the
first stairway to give the white men battle there. Five minutes
passed and the fight grew fierce. Again and again, covered by the
fire of the arquebusiers, the Spaniards charged the Aztecs, but
their horses slipping upon the stone pavement, at length they
dismounted and continued the fray on foot. Slowly and with great
slaughter the Indians were pushed back and the Spaniards gained a
footing on the first stairway. But hundreds of warriors still
crowded the lofty winding road, and hundreds more held the top, and
it was plain that if the Spaniards won through at all, the task
would be a hard one. Still a fierce hope smote me like a blow when
I saw what was toward. If the Spaniards took the temple there
would be no sacrifice. No sacrifice could be offered till midday,
so Otomie had told me, and that was not for hard upon two hours.
It came to this then, if the Spaniards were victorious within two
hours, there was a chance of life for me, if not I must die.
Now when I was led out of the sanctuary of Tezcat, I wondered
because the princess Otomie, or rather the goddess Atla as she was
then called, was standing among the chief priests and disputing
with them, for I had seen her bow her head at the door of the holy
place, and thought that it was in token of farewell, seeing that
she was the last of the four women to leave me. Of what she
disputed I could not hear because of the din of battle, but the
argument was keen and it seemed to me that the priests were
somewhat dismayed at her words, and yet had a fierce joy in them.
It appeared also that she won her cause, for presently they bowed
in obeisance to her, and turning slowly she swept to my side with a
peculiar majesty of gait that even then I noted. Glancing up at
her face also, I saw that it was alight as though with a great and
holy purpose, and moreover that she looked like some happy bride
passing to her husband's arms.
'Why are you not gone, Otomie?' I said. 'Now it is too late. The
Spaniards surround the teocalli and you will be killed or taken
'I await the end whatever it may be,' she answered briefly, and we
spoke no more for a while, but watched the progress of the fray,
which was fierce indeed. Grimly the Aztec warriors fought before
the symbols of their gods, and in the sight of the vast concourse
of the people who crowded the square beneath and stared at the
struggle in silence. They hurled themselves upon the Spanish
swords, they gripped the Spaniards with their hands and screaming
with rage dragged them to the steep sides of the roadway, purposing
to cast them over. Sometimes they succeeded, and a ball of men
clinging together would roll down the slope and be dashed to pieces
on the stone flooring of the courtyard, a Spaniard being in the
centre of the ball. But do what they would, like some vast and
writhing snake, still the long array of Teules clad in their
glittering mail ploughed its way upward through the storm of spears
and arrows. Minute by minute and step by step they crept on,
fighting as men fight who know the fate that awaits the desecrators
of the gods of Anahuac, fighting for life, and honour, and safety
from the stone of sacrifice. Thus an hour went by, and the
Spaniards were half way up the pyramid. Louder and louder grew the
fearful sounds of battle, the Spaniards cheered and called on their
patron saints to aid them, the Aztecs yelled like wild beasts, the
priests screamed invocations to their gods and cries of
encouragement to the warriors, while above all rose the rattle of
the arquebusses, the roar of the cannon, and the fearful note of
the great drum of snake's skin on which a half-naked priest beat
madly. Only the multitudes below never moved, nor shouted. They
stood silent gazing upward, and I could see the sunlight flash on
the thousands of their staring eyes.
Now all this while I was standing near the stone of sacrifice with
Otomie at my side. Round me were a ring of priests, and over the
stone was fixed a square of black cloth supported upon four poles,
which were set in sockets in the pavement. In the centre of this
black cloth was sewn a golden funnel measuring six inches or so
across at its mouth, and the sunbeams passing through this funnel
fell in a bright patch, the size of an apple, upon the space of
pavement that was shaded by the cloth. As the sun moved in the
heavens, so did this ring of light creep across the shadow till at
length it climbed the stone of sacrifice and lay upon its edge.
Then at a sign from the head priest, his ministers laid hold of me
and plucked what were left of my fine clothes from me as cruel boys
pluck a living bird, till I stood naked except for the paint upon
my body and a cloth about my loins. Now I knew that my hour had
come, and strange to tell, for the first time this day courage
entered into me, and I rejoiced to think that soon I should have
done with my tormentors. Turning to Otomie I began to bid her
farewell in a clear voice, when to my amaze I saw that as I had
been served so she was being served, for her splendid robes were
torn off her and she stood before me arrayed in nothing except her
beauty, her flowing hair, and a broidered cotton smock.
'Do not wonder, Teule,' she said in a low voice, answering the
question my tongue refused to frame, 'I am your wife and yonder is
our marriage bed, the first and last. Though you do not love me,
to-day I die your death and at your side, as I have the right to
do. I could not save you, Teule, but at least I can die with you.'
At the moment I made no answer, for I was stricken silent by my
wonder, and before I could find my tongue the priests had cast me
down, and for the second time I lay upon the stone of doom. As
they held me a yell fiercer and longer than any which had gone
before, told that the Spaniards had got foot upon the last stair of
the ascent. Scarcely had my body been set upon the centre of the
great stone, when that of Otomie was laid beside it, so close that
our sides touched, for I must lie in the middle of the stone and
there was no great place for her. Then the moment of sacrifice not
being come, the priests made us fast with cords which they knotted
to copper rings in the pavement, and turned to watch the progress
of the fray.
For some minutes we lay thus side by side, and as we lay a great
wonder and gratitude grew in my heart, wonder that a woman could be
so brave, gratitude for the love she gave me, sealing it with her
life-blood. Because Otomie loved me she had chosen this fearful
death, because she loved me so well that she desired to die thus at
my side rather than to live on in greatness and honour without me.
Of a sudden, in a moment while I thought of this marvel, a new
light shone upon my heart and it was changed towards her. I felt
that no woman could ever be so dear to me as this glorious woman,
no, not even my betrothed. I felt--nay, who can say what I did
feel? But I know this, that the tears rushed to my eyes and ran
down my painted face, and I turned my head to look at her. She was
lying as much upon her left side as her hands would allow, her long
hair fell from the stone to the paving where it lay in masses, and
her face was towards me. So close was it indeed that there was not
an inch between our lips.
'Otomie,' I whispered, 'listen to me. I love you, Otomie.' Now I
saw her breast heave beneath the bands and the colour come upon her
'Then I am repaid,' she answered, and our lips clung together in a
kiss, the first, and as we thought the last. Yes, there we kissed,
on the stone of sacrifice, beneath the knife of the priest and the