Page images
PDF
EPUB

famous hot baths, so much frequented by the Peruvian princes. Along the slope south of the hills white pavilions covered the ground as thickly as snowflakes for the space of many miles. The city was comparatively deserted, for the Inca and his people were in their camp. It was the 15th day of November, 1532, during a storm of rain and hail, that Pizarro's little army entered the city in battle array.

Hernando Pizarro, Estevan, De Soto, Felipillo and a few others were sent as envoys to the Inca, who was encamped just outside the city with a vast army of men. When informed of the visit of Pizarro he said:

“Tell your captain I am observing a fast which will end to-morrow morning. I will then visit him with my chieftains. In the mean time let him occupy the public buildings on the square, and no others until I come, when I shall direct what is to be done.”

Observing the wonder with which the Inca watched the fiery steeds, De Soto determined to exhibit his horsemanship before him. Giving his war-horse the rein, he struck his iron heel into its flank and dashed wildly over the plain; then, wheeling him round and round, displaying all the beautiful movements of his charger, he suddenly checked him in full career, bringing the animal to its haunches so near to the person of the Inca that some of the foam which flecked the sides of the charger was flung on the royal garments. But Atahualpa was unmoved.

Estevan, who had trembled with dread and apprehension at the feat of De Soto, was disappointed at the Inca's unconcern.

On reaching the city, Estevan was placed on guard duty. It had grown dusk, and Estevan was pacing to and fro, when he descried a slender form stealing toward him. He was about to challenge him, when he recognized Nicosia.

“Estevan,” he whispered, “I have come to talk with you.” Then, drawing nearer, he asked, “Have you learned the general's desperate plan?”

“No; what is it?” “He has determined to seize Atahualpa to-mor

row.”

“How can he do that?”

“When the Inca enters the square, at a given signal we are all to rush upon him.”

“It will be a desperate undertaking, for they are a thousand to one of us.”

“I realize it. Let me remain by you, and if we must fall, let us die side by side.”

He consented, and then, regarding the grave occasion as a fitting one for the unravelling of mys

teries, he asked Nicosia to tell who he was. But he shook his head and heaved a bitter sigh.

“I cannot now—I cannot now!”

The awful night of November 15, 1532, closed on a scene of hushed excitement. Only the careful tread of the sentry, or some soldier breathing a prayer in whispers, broke the stillness.

CHAPTER XIX.

SEIZING A KING.

LATE in the night Estevan was relieved, and retired to his quarters; but he did not sleep. There was something portentous in the whispering among the officers of the army. Occasionally the rattling of a sword, the tread of a sentry, or the murmur of a sleepy soldier reached his ears; all seemed to fill the coming morrow with dread. Estevan sat in his quarters with Nicosia at his side, and, not feeling inclined to sleep, prepared to pass the night in watching.

“Can you not sleep, Nicosia ?” he asked.
“No.”
“Do you dread the morrow?"

“I fear some dread calamity will befall us, señor. If it comes not to-morrow, it will not long delay.”

“Is life so sweet that you dare not take the desperate chances of winning the jewels a king might envy?”

"It is not that life is sweet, but that death is awful,” replied Nicosia. “I have little to hold

me to this world; but I dread that leap into dark futurity.”

Estevan made no reply. He was strangely impressed by Nicosia’s remark. His own life had been a checkered one; for the few bright patches of happiness there had followed broad stretches of misery. His mind naturally recurred to Inez. Had she arrived at Panama without sending him any message? Her long silence was sufficient to fill him with forebodings, and in his conjectures he concluded that her ardent love had consumed itself in its own warmth, and he was forgotten.

“This farce called life will soon be over," he thought. “To-morrow may see the end of it all.” The night was well-nigh spent when he slept.

On awaking, he found the dark clouds of night passing away and the east growing rosy with light. At his side sat Nicosia, still awake and grasping his spear. Rising, Estevan gazed off to the east to witness perhaps the last dawn of day upon earth. It was Saturday, the 16th of November, 1532, a memorable day in the history of Peru. With the first streak of dawn, a blast of trumpets called the Spaniards to arms, and Estevan, rubbing the sleep from his eyes, saw the grim general Pizarro hurrying along the lines, posting the men, and briefly acquainting the officers with the plan of assault.

The public square, or plaza, in which the Span

« PreviousContinue »