’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 them.
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