The aztec treasure house, p.25
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       The Aztec Treasure-House, p.25
 

           Thomas A. Janvier

  XXIII.

  A RESCUE.

  That the two parties should be thus battling for possession of us gaveus a gleam of hope for the saving of our lives. While we remainedprisoners, in the ward of the Priest Captain, we knew that our death wasinevitable; inasmuch as the witness which we bore against him, ifsuffered to be published, must of necessity bring his authority to anend. But should we pass into the ward of the Council, there was everyreason why we should be cherished and protected; because, in theirbehalf, we would be witnesses to the justice of their rebellion againstItzacoatl's rule. Nor would this feeling of amity towards us be confinedto the leaders of the revolt; for we had perceived the substantialnature of the reasons which Tizoc had given us in support of hisassurance that the hope of deliverance from oppression which our comingbrought would raise up around us a host of friends. Therefore we knewthat upon the issue of the battling that we heard the sounds of soloudly, and yet that might as well have been a thousand miles away forall that we could see of it, our fate must depend.

  And knowing this, it was a hard trial of our nerves and tempers to beforced to remain there idle in the dark, without the chance to strike inour own behalf a single blow. Young strode backward and forward in sucha fashion, and the mutterings beneath his breath were so like growls,that the likening of him to a wild beast in a cage, while trite, isstrictly accurate. Rayburn, not less resolute, but more self-contained,pressed close against the bars and never stirred, save that now and thenhe cracked his thumbs and fingers together with such vigor that thesound was like a pistol-shot. And even I, who am not naturally of ablood-thirsty disposition, found the need of walking briskly about ourprison in order to quiet a little my strong longing to be outside with aweapon in my hands wherewith I could crack some skulls open. Indeed,among us all, only Fray Antonio maintained an outward show of calm.

  Thus far, all the sounds which we had heard had come to us from thedirection of the front of the house, whence we inferred that the fightwas being waged, greatly to the disadvantage of the assailants, throughthe grating by which the entrance was closed. But suddenly there was anoutcry of alarm close by us in the court-yard, and then the sound ofhurrying feet there, and then a roar of shouting mingled with the fierceclash of arms--so that we knew that the assailants, either by beating inthe grating or by scaling the roof, had got inside. They and thedefenders were engaged, hand to hand, almost within arm's-length of us.We could hear loudly the yells with which every stroke was accompanied,and the clang of metal striking upon metal, and the dull, crushing soundof the blows which went home truly and carved through flesh andbone--and we could see no more of it all than if we were dreaming, andthese sounds of savage warfare were but the imaginings of our brains!One man, being, as we supposed, pursued by another from the central partof the court-yard--where, as it seemed, the fight raged most hotly--madea stand just outside the curtain that overhung the bars whereby we werepent in; and we could hear him panting as he struck and parried there,and then the splitting of his flesh and the crash of his bones as atremendous blow overcame his guard, and the soft, deep groan that hegave as his life left him. His body fell against the curtain and draggedit a little; and presently, as I stood there by the bars, I found thatmy feet were in a pool of blood.

  It was only a moment or two after this that the sounds of conflict verysensibly diminished, and we heard a rush made, and the confused tread offeet upon the stairs that led upward to the temple, and then came sojubilant a shouting that we knew that to one side or the other had comevictory.

  "If th' Priest Captain's outfit's on top," Young said, grimly, "I guesswe've about got t' th' end of a division; an' there's not much chance ofour changin' engines an' keepin' on with th' run." To which figurativesuggestion Rayburn gave an immediate grunt of assent.

  But at that very instant there was a lull in the tumult outside, and weheard a voice that I recognized as Tizoc's loudly calling to us; and tohis hail, that carried such joyful meaning with it, I joyfully andloudly answered. To Rayburn and Young, of course, the call wasunintelligible, nor did they recognize the voice of him who called; andthey therefore were disposed to think, when I fell to shouting, that mybrain was addled. However, they changed their views a minute or twolater--the dead body resting against the curtain having been thrownaside, and the curtain itself torn down--when they saw Tizoc's friendlyface outside the bars, and then saw the bars rapidly removed.

  "Colonel," said Young, very seriously, as we stepped forth thankfullyonce more into the sunshine, "you may not know what a brick is, but youare one. Shake!" and very much to Tizoc's astonishment, though heperceived that the act was meant to express great friendliness, Youngmost vigorously shook his hand. Under more favorable circumstancesTizoc, no doubt, would have asked for an explanation of this curiousceremony, but just then his whole mind was given to making good hisretreat and so securing us against recapture. There was not a moment tolose, he said; throughout the city the priests everywhere were rallyingforces to Itzacoatl's support, and at any instant we might be attacked.As he spoke he drew us away with him towards the street, where the mainbody of his men still remained--for only a small part of them had joinedin scaling the roof, and so taking the enemy by surprise in the rear.

  "But what of Pablo, our young companion?" I asked, stopping short as Ispoke.

  "My men are looking for him; they will find him in a moment; he surelyis safe; he may be already outside. Come."

  The possibility that Pablo truly might be outside of the building wasthe only argument that could have induced us to leave it without him;and that possibility was so reasonable a one that we made no more delay.Indeed, we fully realized the necessity for promptness. From all partsof the city came a humming, angry sound, which assured us thateverywhere the people were aroused; and Tizoc bade us arm ourselves withwhat weapons we could use most effectively among those which werescattered about the pavement of the court-yard, as we surely would haveneed of weapons soon. A sword was the only instrument of warfare ofwhich I had knowledge--which knowledge was acquired during my Germanstudent days--and I took, therefore, one of the heavy maccuahuitls; andthe others also, excepting Fray Antonio, similarly armed themselves,each with a sword that they found lying beside the dead hand that neverwould wield it more. It was as we obeyed Tizoc's order that we saw howfierce and how bloody the fight had been; for the court-yard was redwith blood, like a slaughter-house, and over the stones everywhere deadbodies were lying, all cut and gashed with ghastly wounds. Excepting afew of Tizoc's men, who had bound up their hurts, and who staggeredalong with us, not a wounded man remained alive; whence we inferred thatthe fight had been waged on strictly barbarous principles, and that noquarter had been given. And of this we had proof; for as we passedthrough the guard-room we found there a moaning wretch, belonging to thePriest Captain's party, in whose chest was a great hole made by aspear-thrust--and at a sign from Tizoc one of our men stepped aside, andwith a blow of his heavy sword coolly mashed in the wounded man's skull,and so finished him.

  The metal grating that closed the entrance had been raised by Tizoc'speople from the inside, and we passed out beneath it to where the mainbody of his men was drawn up in readiness to march. But of Pablo and ElSabio there was no sign. Tizoc was not less distressed by the loss ofthe lad than we were, for he had counted upon the moral effect which theexhibition of Pablo and El Sabio most certainly would produce to aidpowerfully in fomenting the spirit of revolt. When, therefore, werefused to go forward until further search had been made, he did notoppose us; but he told us plainly that further looking for him in thatplace was useless, for already every room in the building had beenexamined without the finding of a trace of him. There could be no doubt,he said, that when we had been made prisoners Pablo, and El Sabio withhim, had been taken up the stair to the temple for greater security; inwhich place, if they were not both by this time dead, they stillremained. Whereupon Young was for making an attack upon the templeinstantly, and in this project Rayburn and I warmly seconded him; andeven Fray A
ntonio said that this was a case in which he felt justifiedin using carnal weapons, since the fighting would be to rescue fromamong infidels a Christian soul.

  But Tizoc hurriedly explained to us the hopelessness, at that time, ofsuch an assault. The success that had attended his bold rescue of us hadbeen due to the suddenness of it; for the majority of the people in thecity, including the large force of soldiery there, assuredly was on thePriest Captain's side. It was outside the city that the strength of therevolution must be gathered; and his orders were, when his rescue of usshould be accomplished, to carry us safely out beyond the walls with allpossible speed. Such of the Council of the Twenty Lords as had decidedto take the chances of revolt--being all the members of that body savethe five priests that had belonged to it--already had gone down to thewater-side, together with the small force that they had gathered, thatthey might seize the water-gate and hold it until we should join them.Even now it was certain that in going down through the city we shouldhave to fight our way, and each moment that we delayed our retreatincreased our danger. Capturing the temple now was a sheerimpossibility. Our only hope of saving Pablo's life lay in our gettingaway promptly, and so beginning the preparations that would lead toultimate victory.

  All the while that Tizoc spoke he was edging us away towards the outerface of the terrace, where steps led downward; and when the men who hadbeen searching the building once more for Pablo returned without him, heresolutely gave the order to march. To the arguments that he hadadvanced we were compelled to yield; but our hearts were heavy withsorrow for the boy whom we were leaving behind us, and little hope wasin our breasts that we ever again should see him alive.

  The truth of Tizoc's words about the great danger that we ourselves werein became apparent as we crossed the terrace next below that on whichour march began. Where the street passed through the rampart by a narrowportal, and so by a flight of stone steps descended to the next level,soldiers were clustered together with the evident intention of disputingthe way with us. Their number was so much less than ours that we madeshort work of them; killing a few, and driving the remainder down thesteps before us. But those who escaped ran on ahead of us to where thenext rampart was, and there joined themselves to a much larger body thatlay in wait for us. Here our work was less easy; for the force thatconfronted us was nearly our equal, and some resolute fighting wasrequired before we could drive it before us and so pass on. Some of ourmen were killed there, and more of the enemy; and I got a trifling hurtin my arm from the point of a javelin, that, luckily, did little morethan graze the skin. I do not think that I killed anybody there, but Iremember very plainly the look of pain and of anger on the face of thatfellow who poked his javelin at me when I gashed his arm, and broke thebone of it, with a blow from my sword. I was glad, at the moment, that Ihad succeeded in giving him a worse hurt than he had given me; and thenthe absurdity occurred to me of my thus fighting with a total stranger,against whom I had no personal ill-will; and I could not but feel sorrowfor him as I thought of the long time that he must suffer severe painand great inconvenience because I had chanced to strike him that blow.However, from the way in which they went cutting and slashing aboutthem, it was evident that neither Rayburn nor Young were troubled withany compunctions of this nature. They were only too glad, apparently, toget a chance to whack away at any of the Priest Captain'srepresentatives; and they made such use of their opportunity that theAztlanecas fighting with us cried out in admiration of their prowess andtheir strength. Fray Antonio was more sorely tried than any of us duringthis passage, for I knew that his flesh greatly longed to take part inthe fighting, and that only the strong spirit which was within himsubdued the flesh and so held his hands.

  With a final rush we succeeded in forcing the enemy through the narrowopening in the rampart, and so down the steps beyond; but as we pursuedthem across the next terrace, keeping close at their heels so that theymight not have time to form again, many of our wounded fell out from theranks and dropped by the way--and we had left behind us a dozen or moreof our dead on the ground where the fight had been.

  Our tactics of rapid pursuit of the force that we had defeated served uswell at the next rampart; for the men whom we pursued and we ourselvescame to it almost in one body, and thus threw into such confusion thefresh force that was waiting for us that, without any long fightingabout it, we drove right through them and went on downward; and in thesame dashing fashion we carried the rampart beyond. However, when thosemen whom we had pushed aside from our path so easily got over theirsurprise at being so lightly handled, they formed in our rear and camehurrying after us; the result of which was that as we approached thelast of the ramparts that we had to pass through, where was gathered thelargest body of men that we had yet encountered, we found ourselvesfairly wedged in between two bodies of the enemy and outnumbered four toone. Here, too, the passage through the rampart had been closed by themetal bars that were in readiness for that purpose. Setting these inplace was no real barrier to our passage, for, being intended to closethe portal against assailants from below, the fastenings which held themwere on the side nearest to us. But to remove them it was necessary thatwe should fight our way through the crowd--with no possibility ofdriving the enemy before us, as we had done upon the upper terraces,since here the way was closed. What we did was literally to cut a paththrough the throng; and over the men who fell dead or wounded beneathour blows we made our advance. There was a curious creeping, uneasysensation in the region of my stomach as I trod thus on the bodies ofwounded men who were not dead yet, and felt them moving, and heard theirgroaning; and I was conscious of a feeling of relief when a body that Itrod upon did not squirm beneath my foot, and so by its stillnessassured me that I was standing only on dead flesh that had no feeling init.

  Very slowly did we go forward, for while the living barrier that we hadto deal with was not at the outset more than twenty feet, orthereabouts, in thickness, hacking it down took us a tediously longtime. While still we faced a dozen or more very desperate fighters, whoheld us off most resolutely from the metal bars which closed the way, apang of dread and sorrow went through me as I perceived that FrayAntonio, who a moment before had been close beside me, had disappeared.That he might the better restrain his longing to take part in thefighting he had remained in the centre of our men; and it was hard tounderstand how, in that position, harm could have come to him, formissiles had no share in the work that was going forward, which was afiery struggle hand to hand.

  As I looked for him in the throng--so far as I could do this and at thesame time keep up my guard against the man whom at that moment I wasfighting with--I saw some signs of uneasy movement among the enemy inadvance of us, and several of them evidently made an effort to reachdown as though to get at something that was on the ground; which effortwas wholly futile, for they were wedged so tightly together by ourpressure upon them that reaching downward was impossible. By a luckyblow, I just then finished the man with whom I was contending, and sohad a moment's breathing spell; and at that instant I saw one of theenemy, whose back was ranged against the bars, rise up in the air asthough a strong spring had been loosed beneath him, and then fallsidewise upon the heads and shoulders of his fellows. And then, in theplace thus made vacant, the cowled head of Fray Antonio instantlyappeared--whereby I guessed, what afterwards I knew certainly, that hehad crawled along the ground through the press until he reached theplace that he aimed at, and then had risen up beneath one of the enemywith such sudden violence that he fairly had sent the man spinningupward into the air. What his purpose was I saw in a moment, for nosooner did he stand upright than he had his hands upon the metal bars,and then I heard the clinking together of stone and metal as he liftedthem bodily away.

 
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