The aztec treasure house, p.31
Larger Font   Reset Font Size   Smaller Font       Night Mode Off   Night Mode

       The Aztec Treasure-House, p.31
 

           Thomas A. Janvier

  XXIX.

  THE ASSAULT IN THE NIGHT.

  Neither the Council, in its irresolute parleyings, nor Fray Antonio, inhis resolute action, had at all considered certain factors which theythemselves had interjected into the problem that they then were dealingwith from such widely different stand-points and in such widelydifferent ways. The Council, at a stroke, had transformed the Tlahuicosinto soldiers, and had given the promise that in reward for theirfaithfulness and valor these slaves thenceforward should be freemen.Fray Antonio had preached to all those assembled at Huitzilan a creedthat had taken strong hold upon many hearts, and that especially hadwon the hearts of those of the long-oppressed servile class--to whom itsdoctrine of equality seemed to hold out an absolute assurance that theirlife of slavery was at an end.

  When, therefore, the terms which the Priest Captain offered were spreadabroad through the town, and through the camp close beside the town inwhich the army lay--being there in readiness instantly to occupy theCitadel should the enemy appear--a very lively anger was aroused becausesuch terms should even be listened to. For what the Priest Captaindemanded was that the apostle of the new religion should be relinquishedto him to be slain as a sacrifice to the Aztec gods, and that once morethe Tlahuicos should be thrust back into slavery; while what heconceded--in that it affected only the higher classes--made the lot ofthe Tlahuicos but the more unjustly cruel and hard to bear.

  And those who resented the delay on the part of the Council in sendingback the Priest Captain's envoy with a sharp denial, presently went onfrom hot words to violent deeds; being directly led from mutinous talkto mutinous action by the knowledge that the Council had so far acceptedthe offered terms as to send Fray Antonio to the great city to beslain--for not one among them could be led for a moment to believe, soimpossible from their stand-point did such an act appear, that the monktruly had gone thither of his own free-will.

  Practically, the whole army was involved in the movement that then tookplace; for even its officers, while not of the servile class, dreadedthe punishment that their revolt might bring upon them, and sopreferred to take the chances of the war rather than to yield themselvesto be dealt with as the Priest Captain might dispose. Therefore it was,on the day that Fray Antonio departed from us, that all the soldierstogether marched in from their camp and massed themselves compactlyabout the Council Chamber within the Citadel, and then with loud criesdemanded that the envoy should be sent back to the great city with anabsolute refusal of the offered terms. Thus was there created arebellion within a rebellion; and one that the Council was powerless toput down, for the reason that practically the whole of the force whichit had created to serve against the enemy was now risen against its ownauthority with a most masterful strength.

  In the case that thus was presented there was no opportunity totemporize. The fierce, wild creatures of whom soldiers suddenly had beenmade stood there before the Council Chamber, shouting and waving theirspears angrily and clashing together their arms. And so they continued,without one moment of quiet, until their will was obeyed. Through thesavage and tumultuous throng the envoy was led forth--his looks showingplainly his very natural expectation that his life would be let out ofhim amid that ferocious company--and so down to the water-side; andthence was sent back again to Culhuacan with the firm assurance--whichmessage of defiance the soldiers themselves dictated--that the termsoffered by the Priest Captain would be accepted only when all theTlahuicos then risen together in arms against him had been slain!

  "Bully for th' Tlahuicos!" cried Young, as I translated to him theseringing words. "Just tell 'em, Professor, that I've volunteered forthree years or th' war, an' that they can count on me t' keep up a fullhead o' steam as long as there's any fightin' t' be done. Accordin' t'my notions, now that th' Padre's over there in th' city--t' say nothin'o' what we owe 'em on Pablo's account--th' row can't begin one minutetoo soon. These Tlahuicos are th' boys for me! Didn't I tell you thatnobody could stop 'em when they once got fairly started? They're a toughlot; but they're just everlastin' rustlers--an' their style suits meright now all th' way down t' th' ground floor!"

  The sharp excitement attendant upon this vigorous action gave place, asthe day wore on, to a dull heavy pain as our thoughts dwelt upon thefate that Fray Antonio had gone forth to meet, and upon our presentpowerlessness to defend him in any way against it. Although the envoyhad been sent back, and war was now resolutely determined upon, thesituation remained unchanged in so far as concerned the necessityof our waiting for the Priest Captain to take the initiative. Toattack that great walled city was so hopeless a task that even theTlahuicos--flushed though they were by their victory over theCouncil--did not venture to propose it; for they knew, as we all did,that our only chance of carrying the enemy's stronghold lay in firstdefeating its garrison in a battle in the open field. Yet this dullinaction of waiting was a scarce of grave danger to us, in that ittended to wear out the spirits of our men and to make them still morecareless of their guard. What Rayburn and I had seen that morning hadshown how little trust could be placed in them, in so far as thesoldierly attribute of watchfulness was concerned; and Tizoc, with whomwe conferred in regard to this important matter, had little to say thatwe found comforting. Being himself a thorough soldier, he perceived thedanger to which the unsoldierly lack of vigilance on the part of theTlahuicos exposed our camp; but the situation was such that he waspowerless to take effective measures for our protection. The few regulartroops in our little army were not enough to do sentry duty everywhere,and the best that could be done would be to dispose them at the pointsmost open to attack--"And then trust to luck," Rayburn put in, ratherbitterly, "that the enemy will be polite enough to try to surprise onlythe part of the camp where the sentries are awake!"

  Partly that we might see for ourselves how our pickets were disposed,but more that by action of any sort we might divert our thoughts fromthe sorrow that was gnawing at our hearts, we walked out together in thelate afternoon to the rocky heights of the promontory that on thewestern side of the town extended far into the lake. From a militarystand-point this position was of great importance to us, inasmuch asbowmen or slingmen gaining access to it could command a considerablepart of the town, and even could annoy very seriously the garrison ofthe Citadel; and it also was of value to us as a place of lookout whencean attacking party coming by way of the lake from the city could beperceived while yet it was a long way off.

  We were surprised, therefore, when we had come well out upon thepromontory, that no sentinel challenged us; but our surprise vanished amoment or two later as we perceived one of our men curled up comfortablyagainst a sunny rock and apparently sound asleep. However, as we gotclose to the man it was clear to us that his sleep was one that he neverwould waken from, for a pool of blood stained the rock beside him, andan arrow was shot fairly through his heart. We made but a short stopbeside this fellow--who plainly had been shot in his sleep, and sodeserved the fate that had overtaken him--and then went forwardanxiously that we might see how the other sentinels stationed hereaboutshad fared. The result of our quest was as bad as it could be; for in oneplace or another among the rocks we found all five of the men who hadbeen posted upon the promontory, and all of them were dead. Three moreof them certainly had been shot while asleep or wholly off their guard,as was shown by the easy attitudes in which we found them sitting orlying among the rocks. The fifth had not been instantly killed; as weinferred from finding a broken arrow sticking in his left arm, and somesigns of a struggle about where he lay, and a great split in his skull,as from a sword stroke, that finally had let the life out of him. Itstruck us as strange that this man had not aroused the camp with hisshouts; but his post was at the extreme end of the promontory, so thathe must have called very loudly in order to be heard; and it waspossible that in the suddenness of his danger he never thought to callat all. However, the important matter, so far as we were concerned, wasthat these five sentinels had been slain close beside the town and inbroad daylight, and that but for the chan
ce of our coming out upon thepromontory the most important of our outposts would have remainedunguarded until the night relief should have come on. It was Rayburn'stheory that the plan of the enemy was to place his own men on the vacantposts--trusting to the reasonable certainty that in the dusk of eveningone naked Indian would look much like another--and so despatch therelief, one by one, as the guard was changed.

  Of those of the enemy who had accomplished this piece of work soskilfully we could see no sign--unless it were a boat that we dimly sawa long way off on the lake, and that presently wholly disappeared in abank of haze; and despite the hot sunshine basking upon us a chill wentthrough me at thought of the stealthy daring and truly devilish cunningof the men who thus could do their evil work in the full light of day,and close to the encampment of an army, and yet could get safely awaywithout leaving a trace of their presence save the dead bodies of theirfoes.

  Having made sure by carefully searching among the rocks throughout thelength of the promontory that none of the enemy was hidden there, wehastened back to the town to tell what we had come upon, and to providefor mounting fresh sentinels in the place of those who had been relievedby death. We had expected that the news which we brought would stir up agreat commotion; and we were not a little troubled, therefore, knowinghow serious the matter was in its exhibition of the carelessness of ourguards, by finding that only Tizoc and a few other tried soldiers weremore than lightly discomposed by what we had to tell. The generalfeeling seemed to be--inasmuch as our lucky discovery had dispelled thedanger--that there was no need to worry about a calamity which had notoccurred; and what after all was the most essential consideration--theconstant danger that threatened us by reason of the criminal laxity ofthe watch maintained by our pickets--practically was lost sight of.Apparently neither the Council nor the higher officers of the army hadthe power to remedy this dangerous condition of affairs. At no time hadany very strong authority been exercised over the Tlahuicos--for all theorders which until now had been given to them had been directed onlytowards urging them along a way that they were glad enough to follow oftheir own accord--and since their assertion of their will that morning,what little control had restrained their waywardness seemed to have beenwholly lost.

  However, as there was a chance in it of fighting, and as fighting waswhat they longed for earnestly, our unruly soldiers were willing enoughthat a strong detachment should be placed in ambush on the promontory,to the end that the force which the enemy probably would land there thatnight might be summarily dealt with. And the better to carry out ourplan of a counter-surprise the dead sentinels were left where we foundthem. Tizoc was given the command of the ambushed force, and hewillingly granted our request that we might accompany him; whichrequest was prompted by the desire that we fully shared with theTlahuicos to get at close quarters with the enemy, and also by theconviction that in Tizoc's company--though in his company we were liketo have hot fighting and plenty of it--we would have better chances ofsafety than anywhere else in all our camp.

  For this expedition we put on for the first time our armor of quiltedcotton cloth; and the look of these garments certainly did justifyYoung's comments upon them. "It's a pity we can't get photographed now,"he said, "so's t' send our likenesses in this rig home t' our folks.You'd just jolt the Cap Cod folks, Rayburn, with that pair o' telegraphpoles you call your legs stickin' out from under th' tails o' that thingthat looks like a cross between a badly made frock-coat and anundersized night-shirt. And I guess your college boys 'd be jolted, too,Professor, if they could get a squint at you. And I s'pose that if someo' th' hands on th' Old Colony happened t' ketch up with me dressed thisway they'd think I'd gone crazy. But I haven't got anything t' sayagainst these little night-shirts except about their looks. When you getright down t' th' hard-pan with 'em, they're a first-rate thing."

  For three American citizens, belonging to the nineteenth century, wecertainly presented a strange appearance, and appeared also in verystrange company, as we marched out from the town late that afternoonwith Tizoc and his men. Each of us carried half a dozen darts, andstrapped around our waists, outside our cotton-cloth armor, we each worea maccahuitl--the heavy sword with a jagged double edge that we knewfrom experience was an excellent weapon when wielded by a strong hand.Indeed, Young and I carried the darts rather to satisfy Tizoc thanbecause we expected to make any very effective use of them, and all ofour reliance both for assault and defence was upon what we could do withour swords at close quarters. Rayburn, however, had been practisingdart-throwing very diligently, and as he naturally was anextraordinarily dextrous man he had made rapid progress in this savageart. The soldiers in our company, naked creatures, lithe and sinewy,were armed for the most part with spears and slings; and the officerswore each a sword and carried each a handful of darts. As we all steppedout briskly together I could not but think how amazed would be thePresident of the University of Michigan, and my fellow-members of theFaculty of that institution of learning, should they happen to encounterme in that barbarous company, and arrayed in that most barbarous garb!

  THE LAST RALLY]

  It was a little before sunset when we reached the place that Tizoc hadselected for our ambush upon the promontory; and an hour later, just asthe shadows of evening were beginning to fall, one of our lookout menreported that a large boat--of which the oars must be muffled, for nosound came from it--was pulling around a point just beyond where we lay.There was a little stir among our men when this news was received, and ashifting and arranging of weapons, so that all might be in readinesswhen the moment for opening the ambush came; but we had a picked forcewith us, each man of which fully understood how necessary was silenceto the success of our plans, and the quick thrill of movement was soguarded that it scarcely ruffled the deep stillness of the night.

  But the moments lengthened out into minutes, and the minutes slowlyslipped by until a full hour had passed, and the thick darkness oftropical night was upon us, and still there was no sign of a foe. Tizocgrew uneasy, for it was evident that we were in error in our conceptionof the enemy's plan. Had he intend-to mount his own men as sentinels inplace of our men whom he had slain, and then get save possession of thepromontory by killing the relief as it came on, we should have been longsince engaged with him; but here the night was wearing on, and,excepting only the boat that our scouts had seen, there had been nothingto show that the attack which we had expected so confidently wasanything more than a creation of our own fears. Yet our only course wasto remain where we were until morning; for some accident might havedelayed the attack, and the necessity of holding the promontory was sourgent that we could not take the risk of withdrawing our force.

  It was weary work sitting there in the darkness, after all the wearinessof so exciting a day, and as the hours dragged on I found myself now andthen sinking into a doze, for which I reproached myself; yet alsoexcused myself by the reflection that I did not at all profess to haveeither the training or the instincts of a soldier, but had been broughtup, as a man of peace and as a scholar, in accordance with the soundprinciple that night rationally is the time set apart for sleep. It wasfrom a most agreeable nap--in which I was dreaming pleasantly of my oldlife in Ann Arbor--that I was roused suddenly by Rayburn's quick gripupon my shoulder, and by his sharp whisper, "What's that?"

  In an instant I was thoroughly awake, and as I bent forward and listenedintently I heard very distinctly a faint cry of alarm, that seemed tocome from a long way off. Tizoc, I perceived--for he had risen to hisfeet--also was most eagerly listening; and I heard a slight sound ofmovement and of arms clinking as our men roused themselves, showing thatthey also had heard that warning cry.

  But in a moment there was no need to strain our ears to catch the soundswhich came to us. The cry that a single throat had uttered was taken upby a thousand; and so grew into a dull, distant roar, that pierced theblack and sullen stillness of the night. And with this came also thehigher notes of savage yells, and then we heard the clash of arms--whichevidence that fighting was
going on, no less than the direction whence,as we now perceived clearly, the sounds came, assured us that while wehad maintained our watchful guard on the promontory the enemy hadsurprised our camp.

  Rayburn sprang up with a growl like that of a savage beast. "By G----d!"he cried, "they meant us to do just what we've done, and we've walkedinto their trap like so many d----n fools!"

 
Turn Navi Off
Turn Navi On
Scroll Up
Scroll
Add comment

Add comment