"It is, then, for you to decide. You know that I wish well to you, and hold you in great esteem, deeming that your visit here will give prosperity, as well as honor, to Tabasco. But there are those among my people who are foolish and headstrong, and who view your coming with suspicion. The priests, too, are unfavorably disposed towards you, and have long urged that you would make a most acceptable sacrifice to the gods. So far I have withstood them, but I am old and cannot look to live long, and after I have gone your enemies would assuredly have their way. Therefore I think it is for your good that you should go with these merchants."
The cazique was speaking the truth, but not the whole truth. The merchants had offered, in slaves and goods, an amount which had excited his cupidity; and he was, moreover, glad to be rid of the presence of one who was the cause of constant dispute and trouble in his councils. At the same time, he still believed in the supernatural powers of his visitor; and was afraid that, if the latter went against his will, he might invoke all sorts of ills and misfortunes upon Tabasco.
He was much relieved then, when Roger replied that he was willing to go with the merchants.
"I have seen," he said, "that my presence here is unwelcome to many, and that I was the cause of trouble. I know, too, cazique, that you have befriended me to the utmost, while many others have been against me. I am willing, then, to depart."
Great was the grief of Malinche when she learned, from Roger, that he was to go with the Anahuans.
"Could not my lord take me with him?" she asked presently, as her sobs lessened in violence.
"I shall be but a slave myself, Malinche."
"If you ask the cazique he will let me go with you. I am but of little value to him."
Roger did not answer for some minutes. He would have been glad, indeed, to have had Malinche—who had been his companion and friend, and whom he regarded almost as a sister—with him, but there were many things to be considered. He might be well received in this new country, but he might be sacrificed to these gods of theirs; and in that case Malinche might share his fate—as she said that even women were offered up. Even if well received, he might not be able to have Malinche with him.
Besides, of course he did not want her as an attendant, and in what other capacity could she go? If he got into trouble, and had to try to escape from their land, he might not be able to carry her off, too. If they were separated, what was to become of her? She could not go to the mother who had sold her as a slave. No; certainly, he decided, he must go without her.
"Malinche," he said, after a long silence, "it cannot be. There is no saying what my fate may be, among your people. I may be offered up to those terrible gods you told me of. I may be treated as a slave. There is no saying what might happen. At any rate, I shall be unable to afford you any protection. Were we separated, as it is almost certain we should be, where could you go, or what would become of you? Besides, how in any case could we keep together? I could not have you as a slave, even if I wanted to do so, in your own country; and how else could you go with me? If you like, I will ask the cazique for your freedom, so that you might travel back to your own country with the merchants."
The girl shook her head.
"I have no friends there, now," she said. "Where should I go?"
"That is just what I am saying, Malinche. There is nowhere for you to go except with me; and I do not see how you could go with me. If you do not like this, I will promise you that, if things turn out well with me in your country, I will send by the next merchants who come here, and buy you from the cazique, and find friends for you there, and place you with them."
"You would have wives there," the girl said passionately; "and you would never think any more of me."
Roger burst into a loud laugh.
"Why, Malinche, I am only a boy! I am not yet eighteen; and in my country we do not think of taking wives, until we are eight or ten years older than that. It is a serious thing with us, for each man has only one wife; and it behooves him, therefore, to be very careful in making his choice. I hope, long before it comes to my time for thinking of marriage, to be back in my own country and among my own people. If I were to marry here, how could I ever think of going away? I could not go and leave a wife behind me. I could not take her away with me, because she would never be happy among a strange people, any more than I should be happy if I lived here.
"No, no, Malinche, there is no fear of my marrying, any more than there is of my forgetting you. You can trust me. If I live, and do well in your country, I will send for you; and I will tell your people that you have been as a sister to me, and will see that this mother of yours does you justice, and that you shall come to your own again, and you shall marry some cazique of your own choice. If you do not hear from me, you will know that things have gone badly with me, and that either I have been sacrificed to your gods, or that I am held as a slave and have no power, whatever, to help you."
Malinche said no more. Her dark eyes were full of tears, but with the habit of submission natural to Mexican women, she simply took Roger's hand and placed it against her forehead.
"Malinche will wait," she said, and then hurried from the room.
Before leaving, Roger gave Malinche several of the handsomest of the bracelets and necklaces that had been bestowed on him, in the first flush of his popularity at Tabasco; and gave presents also to the old woman. The two girls wept bitterly when he said goodbye to them, and Roger, himself, had to fight hard to restrain his tears.
"It is as bad," he said to himself, "as it was saying goodbye to Dorothy and Agnes. Color does not matter much, after all. Malinche is just as good and kind as if she were white."
The cazique himself conducted Roger to the Anahuac encampment. He had, that morning, made him various presents of robes and mantles, for he was very desirous that his visitor should part in goodwill from him; and he again impressed upon him the fact that he only parted with him because he felt that he could not protect him from the ill will of some of his people.
The merchants made no secret of their satisfaction, as soon as they had handed to the cazique the goods and slaves they had agreed to give, in exchange for Roger. They had, like the cazique, pretended to be indifferent as to the bargain; and had haggled with him over the terms of the purchase. But both parties were equally desirous of concluding the agreement and, while the cazique considered that he was making an excellent bargain for the visitor who had voluntarily placed himself in his hands, the merchants were still more delighted.
In the first place, the Mexicans were, as Malinche had told Roger, looking for the arrival of Quetzalcoatl, or of a white descendant of his from the sea; and if Roger were to turn out to be the expected god, the honor which would fall upon them, as his producer, would be great, indeed. But even should this not prove so, they would gain great credit, to say nothing of profit, by bringing home so singular a being, who would either be received in high honor by the king, or would be one of the most acceptable sacrifices ever offered to the gods.
As soon, therefore, as the cazique had left, they addressed Roger in terms of high respect, and presented to him some of their most handsome feather robes, tiaras with plumes, ornaments, and arms.
To their stupefaction, Roger replied in their own language, and as they were in ignorance that the cazique possessed a countrywoman of their own, among his slaves, they regarded this as a miracle of the most singular kind, and as an indisputable proof of the supernatural nature of their visitant. It was true that he did not speak as a native, but Quetzalcoatl, himself, might well have forgotten somewhat of his own language, in his hundreds of years of absence from Mexico.
The large tent was at once placed at Roger's disposal, the merchants contenting themselves with a smaller one, raised beside it. A number of slaves were told off to attend upon him, and his meals were served with the greatest ceremony and deference.
That night, as Roger lay upon the soft pile of quilted rugs prepared for him, his mind was sorely troubled as to his position. Was he right in allowing them to deceive themselves into a belief that he was a supernatural being? Ought he not, rather, to tell them that all these gods they worshiped were false, and that there was but one true God—He who was worshiped by the White men?
Thinking it over in every way, he concluded at last that there was no necessity for him, at present, to undeceive the Anahuans. He would do no good by doing so, and would ensure his own destruction. He resolved however, that nothing should induce him to pay honor to their gods, or to take any part in their bloody sacrifices.
"They can kill me if they will," he said; "but I am not going to be false to my religion. If they should not kill me I may be able, in time, to persuade them that their gods are false; but for the present it would be madness to try to do so. From what Malinche said they are devoted to their religion, and the priests are all powerful. If I am to do any good, therefore, it must be done gradually.
"What should we think, at home, if an Indian were to arrive, and to try and teach us that our God was a false one? Why, he would be burnt at the stake, in no time. And one cannot expect that these Indians would be more patient, in such a matter, than we should. When the Spaniards come, they will doubtless overthrow their gods, and force them to be Christians, just as they have the peoples in the islands."
The next morning, early, the tents were pulled down, the slaves loaded up with what merchandise remained unsold, with the tents and provisions for the journey, and the caravan started for the west. A party of the soldiers marched first. Then came the merchants, with Roger and a small guard of armed men. They were followed by the slaves, and another body of troops brought up the rear.
For six days they passed through a country more or less cultivated, with villages scattered about. One of these was always chosen for their stopping place, and Roger admired the regularity and order with which the encampment was formed, and the good conduct observed in the dealings with the people.
Provisions were obtained by barter, and the inhabitants mingled fearlessly with the trading party. He remarked on this to the merchants, who replied that it was always their custom to keep on the most friendly terms with the people.
"Our caravans," they said, "visit all the countries round our own, and did one of them ill treat the natives, the others would suffer for it. Therefore, we are always particular to give them no cause for dissatisfaction. The empire is extensive, and many parts of it are but newly conquered; therefore we should be gravely blamed, were we to embroil ourselves with its neighbors, until the king desired to carry his arms in that direction.
"Sometimes we have trouble. We were with a party who, a few years back, were attacked of the people of Ayotlan. We saw that trouble was coming, and fortified our camp; and for four years carried on war with the town, and in the end captured it. But this was forced upon us, and we had the approval of the king. All those concerned in the struggle were permitted to have banners of their own, and military emblems."
"How did you supply yourselves with provisions all the time?"
"The country people were neutral. That was the advantage we had from having always treated them well, while the cazique of Ayotlan had been a tyrant, and had greatly oppressed them. So they brought in provisions to us for sale, and we had less difficulty, in that way, than the people of the town."
At last the villages of the Tabascans were left behind. For some days the caravans traveled through a very sparsely populated country, and then arrived at a large village, where the Anahuac language was spoken.
"We are now in the country of the king," the principal merchant said. "All over it you will find the same language spoken; for although there are many people who lived under their own chiefs, and many of whom have been but lately conquered, the language is similar, though spoken with differences, for all the tribes came down from the north and settled here."
"And who dwelt here before they came?"
"A people called the Toltecs. They were a great people, well instructed in agriculture, great workers in metals and builders of grand cities."
"And what became of them?"
"It is not known, but misfortunes came upon them, famine or disease, and it is said that they went away to the south. Then came a people called the Chichemecs, a barbarous people from the north, whom we found here when we came. Of us, the greatest tribe were the Aztecs, who settled on one side of the great lake and built a city there, called Tenochtitlan, or sometimes Mexico, from the great war god Mexitli.
"Another great tribe were the Tezcucans, to which we belong; and our capital is Tezcuco, on the eastern side of the same lake. Mexico and Tezcuco formed an alliance; and with us was Tlacopan, a smaller kingdom, hard by. It was agreed that in all wars, one-fifth of the spoil should go to the Tlacopans, and the rest be divided between the Aztecs and the Tezcucans. This alliance has remained unbroken, and together we have conquered all the countries round, and from sea to sea."
"What sea?" Roger interrupted.
"There is, on the west, another great sea like this on the east, which stretches away no man knows whither; and between these two seas all the peoples, save one, acknowledge the dominion of Mexico—for although we are in alliance, the Aztecs have of late years taken the lead, for they have had very great monarchs, and are more war loving than we of Tezcuco; and our kings, and those of Tlacopan, acknowledge the Aztecs to be the leading power, and give to their king the title of Emperor.
"We maintain our own laws and usages. Our king places the crown upon the head of each new monarch of Mexico, but we own him to be the chief of our Confederacy, and the more distant countries, that have but recently been conquered, have been assigned entirely to the Aztecs, although we have had our proper share in the slaves and spoil taken in the war."
"And what is the one state that has not been conquered by your Confederacy?"
"Tlascala. It lies high up among the mountains and, although but a small state, has maintained its independence, and has several times repulsed the attacks of our best soldiers."
Roger thought that Tlascala must be a sort of Mexican Switzerland.
"It is singular that a small state should have resisted so long," he said.
"They have not been very often attacked," the merchant replied. "There is little to be got from them but hard knocks. The country is not fertile, the cold is too great, and they have only the necessities of life. Except for slaves, and for sacrifice to the gods, there is nothing to be gained by their conquest."
"And you all worship the same gods?" Roger asked.
"Assuredly," he said, "although some are thought more highly of in one kingdom, some in another. Mexitli—or as he is generally called, Huitzilopotchli—is of course the greatest everywhere; but he is worshiped most of all by the Aztecs. Quetzalcoatl is also greatly worshiped."
As he spoke, the merchant glanced furtively up at Roger. The lad saw that this was a favorable opportunity for creating an impression. He smiled quietly.
"It is right that he should be," he said, "since he taught you all the good things you know; and was, like myself, white."
This proof of the great knowledge possessed by the being before him vastly impressed the Mexican. How could this strange being know the Mexican tongue, and be acquainted with its gods, unless he were one of them? It had pleased him to assume ignorance of other matters, but doubtless he was well aware of everything that had passed in the country since he left it. Henceforth the respect which he and his companions paid to Roger was redoubled.
As soon as they had reached the borders of Mexico, a swift runner had been dispatched to the nearest post with a message, to be sent forward to the King of Tezcuco, with the tidings of the arrival of a strange white being in the land; and asking for instructions as to what was to be done with him. In the meantime, the merchants told Roger that they wished him to abstain from going out into the various villages and towns at which they stopped.
"Until we know what are the king's wishes concerning you, it were better that you were not seen. In the first place, all this country by the coast is under the Aztec rule, and as soon as you were seen, messages would be sent forward to Mexico, and the Emperor might desire that so great a wonder should be sent direct to him; whereas, if our own King sends first for you, you would be his property as it were, and even Montezuma would not interfere.
"It will not be long before an answer arrives, for along all the roads there are post houses, two leagues apart from each other. At each of these couriers are stationed, men trained to run at great speed, and these carry the dispatches from post to post, at the rate of eight or nine miles an hour."
"But the messages must get changed, where they have to be given so often?"
"Not at all," he said. "The couriers know nothing of the dispatches they carry."
"Oh, they are written dispatches?" Roger said. "Then you possess the art of writing?"
"Writing, what is writing?" the merchant asked.
"Letters are inscribed on paper," Roger said, "so that the person receiving them at a distance understands exactly what the one who wrote wished to say."
The merchant shook his head.
"I know nothing of what you call letters," he said. "We draw pictures, on a fabric formed of prepared skins, or of a composition of silk and gum, but chiefly on a paper prepared from the leaves of the aloe. Besides the pictures there are marks, which are understood to represent certain things. These picture dispatches are made in the form of rolls, or books. I myself have a slave who is skilled in such work, and who has depicted you, and added all particulars, and the roll has been forwarded to Tezcuco."
Chapter 7: A Wonderful Country.
So anxious were the merchants to avoid arriving at any town of importance, where there would be an Aztec commander and garrison, until they received an answer from Tezcuco, that they traveled by very slow stages, camping in small villages where they could obtain water and supplies. Roger asked many questions of them as to the country, and learned that the hot and arid soil they were now crossing extended only about one-third of the distance to be traversed. Then that they would pass over a range of lofty mountains, offering great difficulties to travel, that the cold was extreme, and that snow lay almost continuously upon the highest summits. After crossing this range they would journey across a rich country, and descend at last into a most lovely and fertile valley, in which lay the lake, upon which the capitals of the two countries were situated.
The country they were now traversing varied considerably. In some places it consisted of parched and sandy plains, almost free of vegetation. In others, where the rains were less able to drain quickly away, were districts of extraordinary fertility. Here grew the cocoa, vanilla, indigo and aromatic shrubs innumerable, forming thick and tangled jungles, impervious to the foot of man. Flowers of gorgeous colors bordered these groves, and lofty trees of foliage, altogether strange to Roger, reared their heads above them.
The lad was delighted with the extraordinary richness of color, and the variety of the foliage, but he would have enjoyed it more had it not been for the intense heat of the sun, and the closeness of the air.
They crossed several large streams. They cut down the great rushes which bordered them and, tying these together in bundles, formed rafts, upon which four or five at a time were ferried over. Roger learned that the principal road from the coast ran from Cempoalla, a large town near the sea, but that this lay a long distance to the north, and that the route they were traveling ran nearly due west to Tepeaca, and thence northwest to Pueblo, after which the towns lay thickly, all the way to the lake. As far as Roger could learn the distance, from the coast which they had lately been following to Mexico, was by this route about three hundred miles.
On the fifth day after the messenger had been dispatched, a courier ran into the camp, just as the caravan was about to start, and handed to the chief merchant what looked to Roger like a portfolio. This, indeed, was something of its character. It consisted of two thin boards, within which was a sheet of paper. It contained a number of paintings and signs, of which Roger could make nothing, but the merchants informed him that it expressed the satisfaction of the King of Tezcuco, at the news that had been sent him of the arrival of a strange white personage in the land; that the priests would consult the auguries, and decide whether it boded well or ill for the country; and in the meantime that they were to journey on to Tepeaca, where they would be met by an envoy, charged to receive the white stranger and to conduct him to Tezcuco.
The merchants themselves were only able to gather the general contents of this picture dispatch, but the slave who had drawn the one sent forward interpreted every sign and color; for Roger found that colors, as well as signs, had their meaning. He learned from the merchants that this picture writing was a science in itself, and that it needed years of instruction and labor to acquire it. In every town and village there were certain persons skilled in the art, so that messages of all kinds could be sent to the capital, and orders and instructions received. The national archives were entirely written in this manner, and in the temples were immense stores of these documents, affording information of every event of interest, however minute, in the history of the people.
The caravan now pushed on rapidly. After traveling, as Roger calculated, nearly a hundred miles from the sea, the ground began to rise rapidly, and in a single day the change in temperature was very marked. Roger felt the sense of listlessness and oppression, which had weighed upon him while crossing the low country, pass away as if by magic; and it seemed to him that he was again breathing the air of Devonshire.
The vegetation had greatly changed. The vanilla, cocoa, and indigo had disappeared, and trees totally different from those of the plain met his eye.
Another day's march, and they were four thousand feet above the sea. Here everything was green and bright, showing that rain constantly fell. Groves of a tree of rich foliage, which was, the merchant told him, the liquid amber tree, grew near the road; while on both sides lofty mountains rose precipitously to a great height, their summits being clothed in snow. Some of these, he heard, had in times past burnt with terrible fires, and vast quantities of melted rock flowed over the country, carrying destruction in its course. In many cases the road was a mere track winding along the side of these mountains, with precipices yawning below.
A day's march through the mountains brought them into a lofty plateau, some seven thousand feet above the sea. Here were wide-spreading forests of trees, which Roger recognized as large oaks and cypress. Around the villages were clearings, and whereas in the plains below maize was chiefly cultivated, the largest proportion of the fields, here, were devoted to plantations of the aloe or maguey. Here, even at midday, the temperature was not too hot to be pleasant; while at night the cold was great, and Roger was glad to pile the thick quilted rugs over him.
After traversing this plateau for some distance, they came upon another range of hills, far loftier than those they had before crossed, and vastly higher than anything Roger had ever before beheld in his travels. These mountains were, the merchant told him, the Cordilleras; they extended from unknown regions in the north through Anahuac to the south. The snow never melted upon the summits, and several of the highest of these were terrible volcanoes, whose eruptions were dreaded by the whole nation.
"Sometimes before these commenced," the merchant said, "the earth trembled and shook, so that men could scarce stand upon it: Houses were thrown down, and terrible destruction of life and property took place. Fortunately, these are rare occurrences; but several of them have taken place since the time when the Aztecs first established themselves here."
The passage through this range was attended with real hardship. Roger, accustomed to our English winter only in the mild climate of South Devonshire, felt the cold to be severe; but the natives suffered far more, and the merchants continued their march right through one night, for the labor of carrying their burdens kept the blood of the thinly clad slaves in motion; whereas, if they had halted, many would have succumbed to the cold. At last the path began to descend, and soon after daybreak, as the road crossed a shoulder of the hill, they saw a plateau similar to that they had left, stretching out below them as far as the eye could reach.
Even at the height at which they were standing, Roger could see that it was densely populated. Villages were scattered thickly, and the forest was restricted to patches, here and there, the greater portion of the land being under cultivation.
Directly in front rose the lofty buildings and temples of a town of considerable size. Seen through the clear mountain air it seemed but three or four miles away, and Roger had difficulty in believing the merchants, when they assured him that it was fully twenty. This was Tepeaca.
The slaves, wearied as they were, quickened in their pace; and in two hours they emerged from the mountain gorges onto the temperate plateau. Here they halted for some hours near a post house, a courier being sent on to Tepeaca, to inform the king's envoys that they had arrived thus far; and to ask whether they should proceed at noon, when the slaves had rested, or make their entry into the town in the morning.
In a little over four hours the answer was received. The merchants were directed to wait where they were until three hours after noon, then to move forward until they arrived within eight miles of the town, and then to halt for the night, and to start again at sunrise next morning.
Roger was as glad as were the slaves that he had not another fifteen miles' march before him, for the journey had been a most fatiguing one. He thought that the absolute distance traversed did not exceed thirty miles, but owing to the difficulties of the road, and the care that had to be taken in traversing it at night, even with the assistance of the torches carried by the soldiers of the caravan, it had taken them twenty hours, including occasional halts, to perform the journey. An abundance of food was brought in by the neighboring villagers, and the merchants issued an extra supply of cocoa to the slaves; and when the march was resumed, late in the afternoon, the latter had completely recovered from their fatigue.
After a march of little more than two hours' duration, the caravan halted for the night, and resumed its journey at daybreak. The merchants had presented Roger with a mantle, more highly decorated than that which he had before worn, and with some rich plumes of feathers for his head; and seeing that they wished him to make as brave a show as possible, he put on some of the gold necklaces and bracelets he had received, at Tabasco.
The caravan was formed up in military order, the standards of the traders being displayed at the head of the column. The porters were placed four abreast, and the soldiers who marched on either side were ordered to see that they kept their ranks. The merchants had put on their handsomest mantles, and everything was done to show off the procession to the best.
As they approached Tepeaca the road was lined with people, the news of the approach of the wonderful white man having spread rapidly. As Roger passed they bowed to the ground, with the same respect that they paid to their own chiefs. He fully came up to their expectations, for not only was the whiteness of his skin and the color of his hair wonderful to them, but he stood many inches higher than the merchants who walked by his side; for Roger had now attained his full height—although but a few months past seventeen—and stood six feet two in the thin sandals that he wore. He was, as yet, far from the width that he would attain in another five or six years, but looked broad and massive as compared with the slight frames of the Mexicans.
When within a quarter of a mile of the gates of the town, a procession was seen approaching from it. At its head were two nobles, whose appearance far exceeded anything Roger had hitherto seen. They wore cuirasses formed of thin plates of gold, and over these mantles of gorgeous feather work. On the head of one was a helmet of wood, fashioned to represent the head of the puma, or Mexican lion. The other wore a helmet of silver, above which was a cluster of variegated feathers, sprinkled with precious stones. They wore heavy collars, bracelets, and earrings of gold and precious stones. Beside them were borne their banners, richly embroidered with gold and feather work, while behind them were a body of soldiers, in close vests of quilted cotton, and a train of slaves.
The merchants bowed low as the nobles approached. The latter paused for a moment as they came near to Roger, and then saluted him by touching the ground with their hands, and then carrying them to their heads. Roger did the same. In the meantime several attendants round the nobles were filling the air with incense, from censers which they bore.
"The King of Tezcuco has sent us to welcome you," one of the nobles said. "He longs to see the white stranger who has arrived in our land."
"I have heard of the greatness of the king," Roger replied, "and desire to look upon him. I have come from a great distance beyond the sea, to see for myself the greatness of the Anahuac kingdoms, and am glad to meet two of its great nobles."
The Mexicans were not surprised at Roger understanding their language and replying in it, for the dispatches had already acquainted the king with the fact that the white stranger could converse in their language.
There had been an animated debate, at the royal council at Tezcuco, when the news of his coming had arrived. Some were of opinion that it was an evil omen, for there was a prophecy existing among them that white strangers would come from beyond the seas, and overthrow the Aztec power; but upon the other hand, it was pointed out that this could only refer to a large body of men, and that as this stranger came alone, it was far more probable that he was either Quetzalcoatl himself, or one of his descendants, and that he came in a spirit of goodwill. If he were a man, one man could do nothing to shake the Aztec power. If he were a god, he could work evil to the whole country, whether he remained on the seashore or advanced to the capital; and it was far better to propitiate him with gifts, than to anger him with opposition.
Some slaves next brought forward some delicately wrought mats, and laid upon them the various articles they had brought. A shield, helmet, and a cuirass, all with embossed plates and ornaments of gold; a collar and bracelets of the same metal; sandals and fans; crests of variegated feathers, intermingled with gold and silk thread, sprinkled with pearls and precious stones; imitations of birds and animals in cast and wrought gold and silver, of exquisite workmanship; curtains, coverlets, and robes of cotton as fine as silk, of rich and various colors, interwoven with feather work so finely wrought that it resembled the delicacy of painting.
Roger was astonished at the richness and variety of these goods, and as he viewed them muttered to himself:
"If I were but back in Plymouth with these, my Cousin Mercy and Dorothy and Agnes would open their eyes, indeed. I wish to goodness I had something to send back to the king. One of the cannon from the Swan, with a supply of ammunition and bullets, would have astonished him. However, as it is, I suppose that I must make the best of it."
When the goods were all displayed, Roger addressed the ambassadors, saying how great was the pleasure that the gifts afforded him. Not, he said, because he desired gold or jewels or articles of luxury, but because they were proofs of the goodwill of the king, and of the mightiness of his power.
"Will you convey my earnest thanks to him for these presents, and say that I regret deeply that I have come to his country empty handed, and have naught to send him in return; but that there are reasons why I could not bring aught with me, from the place far across the seas from which I came? There are many strange and wonderful things there. People move across the water in floating castles as big as your temples. They ride on great animals, which carry them with the speed of the wind. When they fight they use weapons which twenty men could not lift, which make a noise like thunder, and destroy their foes at two or three miles' distance. But I was not permitted to bring, at present, any of these wonders from the far-distant country. I wanted to come myself, and I have come; but as I have said, I had to come alone and empty handed. In time these wonderful things will be brought to your shores, but the time has not come yet."
The nobles listened with respectful attention. It seemed to them probable enough that a supernatural personage might convoy himself vast distances through the air, but that he could not burden himself with mortal appliances—if, indeed, such things were the work of merely mortal men.
"I could bring with me," Roger went on, "but one small specimen of the metal most used in that distant country."
Then the merchants advanced, and handed to Roger his knife, which they had purchased of the cazique of Tabasco in exchange for two accomplished slaves, and he presented it to the nobles.
"You see it is a metal of extraordinary hardness. Swords made of it will cut through a man's head to the chin. No arrows or spears will penetrate armor made of it. It can be beaten into all shapes, when hot. The weapons of which I spoke to you are constructed of it, and it is now used in the arts, in manufacture, and for domestic purposes, as well as for armor and weapons. So common is it that, as you see, the handle is made only of rough horn; which shows you that it is such a one as is commonly used, and is prized but little. It may be that such a metal is found in your country, though as yet you know it not; for in its natural state it is but a stone like others, although greater in weight; and if so, I may be permitted, some day, to instruct you in the methods of working it."
The nobles were greatly impressed with this speech. Quetzalcoatl had instructed the Mexicans in all the arts that they possessed, and this hint that their visitor might bestow upon them the knowledge of this new, and most valuable metal, seemed a fresh proof of his relationship to the White God, whose return had been so long expected and longed for.
They now begged him to enter the city, and a party of their slaves took up the gifts, and ranged themselves behind him. The Mexican troops fell in on either side, and prevented the crowd from pressing in upon them; and then, accompanied by the two nobles, and followed immediately by the merchants, Roger headed the procession as it again set forward.
As he entered the town, Roger saw that it was vastly in advance of Tabasco. The walls were of stone, strong and massive. The streets were wide and straight, bordered by well-built houses with flat roofs, upon which great numbers of people were assembled. These uttered cries of welcome as he came along, and threw down wreaths of flowers.
The Aztec governor, with a strong guard of soldiers, met them in a large square in the center of the town; and in the name of the Emperor Montezuma welcomed Roger, and presented him with gifts of even greater value than those sent by the King of Tezcuco, saying that his master hoped that he would pay a visit to his capital, as well as to that of the neighboring sovereign.
Roger replied suitably, and the procession then took its way to a large house that had been assigned to the visitor. Here a banquet was served in grand style, the governor and the two ambassadors, alone, taking their seats with him. The meal was served up on golden dishes, and pulque was handed round, in goblets of the same metal, by white-robed slaves.
Strains of music rose in the air, the performers being stationed in an adjoining apartment. The music was unlike anything Roger had ever before heard, and seemed to him to be of a plaintive nature.
With the exception of the fruits, the dishes served were all strange to him, and he was unable even to guess at their nature. Among them was a large bird, which Roger judged to be either a swan or a peacock; but which he was informed was a turkey, a bird common in the country, but of which he had never before heard.
There were other sorts of game, and all these were prepared with delicate sauces and seasonings. There were a large number of various confections and pastry, and a great variety of vegetables and fruits. Under the dishes of meats, small fires of charcoal were burning in order to keep them hot. The table was ornamented with vases of silver and gold, of delicate workmanship, and the confections were eaten with spoons made of gold or silver, or of tortoise shell. Several varieties of pulque, flavored with sweets and acids, were handed, as also chocolate flavored with vanilla and other spices.
When the viands were removed, slaves brought round, as they had done before the meal began, basins of water and soft cotton towels; and each of those present washed his hands and face. Then a surprise even greater than those which had preceded it awaited Roger. Two attendants brought round waiters, upon one of which was placed a pile of a substance which looked to Roger as if it were the leaves of some vegetable, broken into small pieces, and also a gold box containing a brown dust. On the other tray were placed a variety of instruments, of whose use Roger was ignorant. They were small tubes, inserted into bowls of gold or silver; and in addition to these were some things that looked like yellowish-brown sticks, of two or three inches in length, with tubes into which they fitted.
These trays were first handed to Roger, who, after examining their contents, turned to the noble next to him and said:
"I know not what these may be, or how they are used. They are not in use in the country from which I come."
The noble looked surprised.
"It is yetl," he said, "and is good for soothing the nerves and preparing for the siesta, besides being very pleasant. All these are made from the same leaf," and he touched the short sticks, the heap of broken leaves, and the powder.
"This powder we apply to the nose," and he and his companions took a pinch from the box, and thrust it into their nostrils.
Roger followed their example, but a pungent odor brought the tears into his eyes, and in another moment he was seized with a violent fit of sneezing, from which he was some time before he recovered.
"You will get over this, in time," the noble said gravely, but with a slight smile. "This effect is only experienced when the herb is first used."
Much as Roger had been astonished by the effect of the powder, he was still more surprised at the use to which the broken leaf and the little sticks were put. Two of the Mexicans filled the small bowls with the leaf, while the other took one of the tubes holding a small stick. An attendant then approached with a small piece of wood, on fire. This was applied first to the stick, and then to the small bowls; and, to Roger's stupefaction, great clouds of smoke at once issued from the mouths of the three Mexicans. Had it not been that, from the tranquil expression of their faces, he saw that this was the regular course of events, he would have thought that some accident had occurred, and that the Mexicans had, in some mysterious way, taken fire in the interior.
He remained silent for a minute or two, and then asked:
"Do you like it? Is it really pleasant to you?"
"It is, indeed," the governor said. "This herb is largely used. Its effect is to produce a feeling of repose and contentment. You will get to like it, in time."
"Possibly I may," Roger replied; "although at present, that hardly seems probable."
The music now struck up a more lively air. Presently a number of young men and women, who had been feasting in another apartment, came in and performed several graceful dances, to the accompaniment of the music; singing, as they did so, a sort of chant, which reminded Roger of those he had so often heard in the churches at home.
When all was over the ambassadors withdrew, saying that, doubtless, their guests would wish to enjoy a siesta during the heat of the day. Some slaves led the way into another apartment, in which was a couch heaped with soft rugs, and here Roger threw himself down.
"Was there ever an English boy in so strange a strait as mine?" he said to himself. "What an extraordinary people! Gold seems as plentiful with them as common pottery with us; and as to the magnificence of their dresses, I verily believe that the court of King Harry would make but a poor show beside them. If I could land at Plymouth tomorrow, with all the presents I have received today, I should be a rich man. Here they are valueless.
"I received presents at first at Tabasco, and yet, had I remained there a month longer, I should have been sacrificed to those cruel gods of theirs. These presents mean really nothing to me. They seem magnificent, but gold is so common, here, that it is no more than if, at home, one presented a man with necklaces of glass, and some woolen cloths. It is a mark of civility, but that is all.
"When I get there, the priest will be inquiring into my religion, and when they see that I pay no honor to their gods, they will be sure to raise a cry against me.
"Malinche was telling me that, every year, some special prisoner is chosen for sacrifice, and is treated with great honor, and has every luxury until the time comes, and then they put him to death. Brutes! I have no doubt they will consider that, from my very rarity, I shall make a specially acceptable sacrifice.
"I wish I was back on the Hoe again. Cousin Diggory, and Mistress Mercy, and the girls little think into what a horrible fix I have fallen—alone among a strange people, who breathe smoke out of their mouths, and load me with rich presents one day, and may kill me on the next. Well, when the day comes I shall try not to disgrace my country, and religion, and color; but it is very hard, being all alone here. If I had but two or three of my companions of the Swan with me, I should feel that I could face whatever came; but it is hard to stand quite alone, and I am only a boy.
"Still, they shall find that I can strike a rough blow or two, before I die. They shall not find that it is a lamb that they are going to sacrifice, but a Devonshire lad, with such bone and muscle as one gets from a life on the sea.
"It is strange that these people should be so cruel. They seem so mild and so gentle, and yet Malinche says they sacrifice tens of thousands of captives, every year, to their gods. They never kill in battle if they can avoid it, striving only to take their enemies prisoners, for this horrible service.
"I must try, if I can, to make friends among them. The old cazique of Tabasco stood by me well, and it may be that here I may find some like him; but it will need a powerful protector, indeed, to stand against the priests, who, Malinche says, are far more powerful here than in Tabasco."
Three hours later an attendant came in, and said that the governor invited his guest to walk with him through the town, and survey the temples and other edifices.
"Now for it," Roger said, clenching his fist. "Now, Roger Hawkshaw, you have got to show yourself a true man, whatever comes of it."
He fastened the sword, which was one of the weapons with which he had been presented, to his girdle; and then went out into the great hall, from which all the other apartments opened. The governor and the two nobles from Tezcuco were awaiting him.
Upon sallying out, Roger found that the streets were as crowded as when he entered. He was received with a long quavering cry of welcome by the women, and by a deeper hum of applause by the men. All bent to the ground before him and his companions, before whom a party of soldiers moved to clear the way.
"Now, we will go first to the Great Temple," the governor said. "It is but small in comparison with those of the great cities of the valley, but it is a very holy shrine; and numbers come, from all the cities round, to pay their devotion there on the days of festival. There are forty temples in the town, on all of which fire burns night and day; but this is the largest and holiest of them."
After passing through several streets, Roger saw a great hill rising in front of him. Whether it was the work of man, or had a natural hill for its foundation, he knew not. It was four sided and pyramidal in form. There were terraces rising, one above the other, supported by stone walls. Steps at the angles led from one terrace to another, but these were so placed that anyone mounting had to pass right along the terrace round the pyramid, before he arrived at the steps leading to that above. The top of the pyramid seemed to be cut off, leaving an area of, as far as he could judge, some fifty feet square. Smoke ascended from the summit, where, as Malinche had told him, fire always burns before the altar in its center.
Just before reaching the foot of the pyramid, the governor pointed to a building of considerable size.
"Here you will see," he said, leading Roger towards a great gateway, "how well the god has been honored."
As he neared the gateway, Roger saw that the building was well-nigh filled with an immense pile, carefully built up, of what at first appeared to him cannon balls, only of larger size than any he had seen piled in the batteries of Plymouth, and of a white color. Then the thought struck him they were great turnips, or some such root, which might be held sacred to the god. But as he entered the building the truth flashed across him—the great pile was composed entirely of human skulls.
Roger had made up his mind that, although he would not give way in the slightest in the matter of his faith, he would yet abstain from shocking the religious feeling of the natives. After the first involuntary start at the discovery, he silenced his feelings, and asked how many skulls there were in the heap. He could not, however, understand the reply, as he had not yet mastered the Aztec method of enumeration, which was a very complicated one.
Roger walked along one side of the pile, counted the number of skulls in a line, and the number of rows, and then tried to reckon how many skulls there were. Roger was not quick at figures, although his father had tried hard to teach him to calculate rapidly, as it was necessary for one who traded, and bought and sold goods of all descriptions, to be able to keep his own figures; or he would otherwise be forced always to carry a supercargo, as was indeed the custom in almost all trading ships, for there were few masters who could read and write, far less keep accounts. However, as he found there were a hundred skulls in each line, and ten rows, and as the heap was nearly square, it was not a difficult task to arrive at the conclusion that there must be a hundred thousand skulls in the pile.
This seemed to him beyond belief, and yet he could arrive at no other conclusion. If a hundred thousand victims had been offered up, in one temple of this comparatively small city, what must be the total of men killed throughout the country? The pile had, no doubt, been a long time in growing, perhaps a hundred years; but even then it would give a thousand victims, yearly, in this one temple.
Although it seemed well-nigh impossible to Roger, it was yet by no means excessive, for according to the accounts of all historians, Mexican and Spanish, the number of victims slain, annually, on the altars of Mexico amounted to from twenty-five to fifty thousand.
"The god has good reason to be pleased?" the Aztec ambassador, who was watching Roger's face closely, remarked.
"If he is fond of blood and sacrifices, he should indeed be pleased," Roger said quietly; "but all gods do not love slaughter. Quetzalcoatl, your god of the air, he who loved men and taught them what they know—such a god would abhor sacrifices of blood. Offerings of fruit and flowers, which he taught men to grow, of the arts in which he instructed them, would be vastly more pleasing to him than human victims."
Roger spoke in a tone of authority, as if he were sure of what he stated.
"When the white god left your shores, there were no human sacrifices offered to the gods"—this fact Roger had learned from Malinche, who had told him that the custom had been introduced in comparatively late years. She said ten generations, which he supposed would mean about two hundred years—"and such a custom would be abhorrent to him."
The Aztec governor looked very grave. It was to the god of war that these sacrifices were offered, but the idea that the kindly white god, who stood next to him in public estimation, might not only object to be so worshiped himself, but might object altogether to human sacrifices being offered, was unpleasant to him; and yet this white stranger clearly spoke as if he were acquainted with the mind of Quetzalcoatl.
The Tezcucan envoys, on the other hand, looked pleased. Tezcuco had maintained for a long time a milder form of worship. Her people were more gentle than the Aztecs, and had only reluctantly, and in part, adopted the terrible rites of their formidable neighbors.
"Will you ascend the temple?" the governor asked.
"No," Roger said firmly. "I say not aught against the god of battles. Let those who will make offerings to him. The God of the Air," and Roger raised his hand towards the sky, "loves flowers and fruit and peace and goodwill. When He came down to earth He preached peace, and would have had all men as brothers; and I, who follow Him, will not bow down at altars where human beings have been sacrificed."
The Mexican naturally thought that Roger was speaking of Quetzalcoatl, and this strange knowledge he possessed of the god, and his ways and wishes, struck him with deep awe. Without making any further attempt to induce him to ascend the teocalli, which was the name they gave to their pyramidal temples, the governor led the way back to the palace.
The next morning Roger started with the Tezcucan envoys on his journey. They informed him on the way that the Aztec governor had, on the previous evening, dispatched an officer of high rank to Mexico, to give the emperor the full details of the conversation and sayings of the strange visitor; for the dispatches were available only for sending news of facts and occurrences, but could not be used as mediums for conveying thought.
"Montezuma is mild and gentle in his disposition, and quite unlike his two predecessors, who were mighty warriors; and doubtless, in his heart, he will welcome the words you said yesterday concerning Quetzalcoatl. But he is swayed wholly by the priests, and such sentiments will not be agreeable to them, for sacrifices are forever going on at the teocalli. At the dedication of the great temple for Huitzilopotchli, just thirty years ago, seventy thousand captives were put to death."
"They must have been miserable creatures," Roger said indignantly, "to have submitted tamely to such a fate. They might, at least, have rushed upon their guards, however numerous, and died fighting."
Roger said little more during that day's journey. The admiration he had at first felt, for the arts and civilization of these people, had been succeeded by a feeling of abhorrence. He had heard, from Malinche, that all victims sacrificed to the gods were afterwards cooked and eaten; and although he had scarcely believed the girl, in spite of her solemn assurances, he could now, after seeing the vast pile of human skulls, quite believe that it was true.
Chapter 8: At Tezcuco.
In each city through which they passed, and several of these were of vastly greater size and importance than Tepeaca, Roger was received with the same welcome and rejoicings that had greeted him there. The houses were decorated with flowers and garlands, dense crowds lined the streets, processions came out to meet him; banquets were given in his honor, and everything seemed gay and joyous. But Roger was low and depressed. To him the whole thing appeared a mockery. He seemed to see blood everywhere, and the fact that, as he learned from the casual remark of one of the envoys, numbers of victims were offered upon the altars on the evening before his arrival at each town, in order to please the gods and bring about favorable omens, added to his depression; and he thought that he had better, a thousand times, have been drowned with his father and friends, than be the cause of men being thus put to death.
It was true that, as he was told, these captives were reserved for this purpose, and had they not been slain on that night might have been sacrificed on the next; but this was a small consolation. It seemed to him that above the joyful cries of greeting he could hear the screams of agony of the victims, and to such a pitch was he wrought up that, had he seen any whom he could have recognized as priests, he would have fallen upon them with his sword.
But the priests held aloof from the gatherings. They knew not, as yet, how their chiefs would regard this stranger, and it was not their policy to join in welcoming one who might, afterwards, be denounced and sacrificed as an enemy of their religion; nor, upon the other hand, would they commit themselves to hostility to one who might be held to be a god.
From the summits of the teocallis they looked down upon the great gatherings; angry that instead of, as usual, figuring in the chief places in the procession, they were forced to stand aloof. As in Egypt, the Aztec priests embraced within their order all the science and learning of the nation. They were skilled in the sciences of astrology and divination, and were divided into numerous ranks and classes. Those best instructed in music took the management of the choirs, others arranged the festivals conformably to the calendar, some superintended the education of the young of both sexes, others had charge of the hieroglyphic paintings and records and of the oral traditions, while the rites of sacrifice were practiced by the chief dignitaries of the order. They were each devoted to the service of some particular deity, and had quarters provided within the spacious precincts of his temple.
Here a certain number were always on duty, and men living there practiced the stern severity of conventual discipline. Thrice during the day, and once at night, they were called to prayers. They mortified the flesh by fasting and cruel penance, drawing blood from their bodies by flagellation or by piercing themselves with the thorns of the aloe. When their turn of duty was over, they resided with their wives and families outside the temples.
The great cities were divided into districts, placed under the charge of a sort of parochial clergy. These administered the rites of baptism, confession, and absolution, each of which strongly resembled that of the Christian religion. In baptism the lips and bosom of the infant were sprinkled with water, and the Lord was implored to permit the holy drops to wash away the sin that was given to it, before the foundation of the world, so that the child might be born anew. The secrets of confession were held inviolable, and penances were laid upon the penitents. There was one peculiarity in the Aztec ceremony of confession—namely, that the repetition of an offense, once atoned for, was deemed inexpiable—and confession was therefore made but once in a man's life, and generally deferred until a late period of it.
One of the most important duties of the priesthood was that of education, to which certain buildings were appropriated, within the enclosure of the principal temple of each city. Here the youth of both sexes, of the middle and higher classes, were placed when very young; the girls being entrusted to the care of priestesses, for women exercised all sacerdotal functions except those of sacrifice. In these institutions the boys were drilled in monastic discipline. They decorated the shrines of the gods with flowers, fed the sacred fires, and took part in the religious chants and festivals. Those in the higher schools were initiated in the traditionary law, the mysteries of hieroglyphics, the principles of government, and in astronomical and natural science. The girls were instructed in all feminine employments, especially in weaving and embroidery. The discipline, both in male and female schools, was stern and rigid.
The temples were supported by the revenue from lands bestowed upon them by successive princes. These were managed by the priests, who were considered as excellent masters, treating their tenants with liberality and indulgence. Besides this they were entitled to the first fruits of all produce, and were constantly receiving rich offerings from the pious. The surplus, beyond what was required for the support of the priests, was distributed in alms among the poor, charity being strongly prescribed by the moral code of the nation.
Thus the Aztec religion was a strange mixture of good and evil. The moral discipline enforced by it was excellent. Many of its precepts resembled very closely those of Christianity, and yet the whole was contaminated by the wholesale sacrifices. It is supposed that this dual religion was the result of the mixture of two peoples, the mild and gentle tenets of the Toltecs being adopted by the fierce Aztec invaders, who added to them their own superstitious and bloody rites.
All this, however, was unknown to Roger at the time. He saw the dark side of their religion, only, and was ignorant that there underlay it a system which, in point of morality, love of order and method, and a broad charity, was in no way inferior to that practiced among Christian nations.
For some reason, of which Roger was ignorant—but which was, doubtless, in order to avoid the delays occasioned by stoppages at large towns, and to push on the faster towards the capital, where the king and his counselors were impatient to behold the white stranger—a detour was made. The towns of Puebla and Cholula were avoided, and the party pushed on rapidly across the plateau land they were now ascending, where the air was again keen and piercing. The road passed between two of the highest mountains in the North American continent—the great volcano Popocatepetl, meaning "the hill that smokes," and Iztaccihuatl, or "the white woman," so called from the bright robe of snow which extended far down its sides. The lower part of these mountains was covered with dense forests, above which rock, lava, and ashes extended to the summit of the crater of the volcano.
At night the party sheltered in one of the stone buildings, erected by government at intervals along the road, for the accommodation of travelers and couriers. Pushing on the next morning, they came upon a view which caused an exclamation of surprise, and delight, to burst from Roger. At their feet lay the valley of Mexico, with its lakes glistening in the sunshine, its cultivated plains, and numerous cities and villages. Stretching away, from the point at which he was standing, were forests of oak, sycamore, and cedar; beyond, fields of yellow maize and aloe, intermingled with orchards and bright patches of many colors. These were flowers, which were grown on a very large scale, as they were used in vast quantities in the religious festivals, and almost universally worn by the women.
In the center of the valley lay the great lakes, their borders thickly studded with towns and hamlets. Rising from an island, in the center of the largest of these, was the city of Mexico; its great buildings and lofty teocallis being seen clearly through the dry atmosphere. The envoys first pointed out the capital to Roger, and then another great city, some distance to the right, as being Tezcuco. Beyond the lakes, a barrier of dark hills rose, forming a suitable background to the lovely prospect.
Upon the road, Roger learned much from the Tezcucan envoys of the character of the king of their country, and of the Emperor Montezuma.
The grandfather of the present king had been the greatest and most powerful of the Tezcucan princes. In his youth he had gone through a series of strange adventures. Tezcuco had been captured, the people subjugated by the Tepanecs, and the king killed when the young prince was but fifteen years old. The boy himself was thrown into a dungeon, but escaped and fled to Mexico; and on the intercession of the king of that city was allowed to return, and to live for eight years, quietly, in a palace belonging to the family. When the Tepanec usurper died, his son Maxtla, who succeeded him, determined to kill the rightful heir to the throne; but being warned in time Nezahualcoyotl escaped, and for a long time wandered about the country, hotly pursued by his enemies; who were many times on the edge of capturing him, but he was always sheltered by the peasantry.
At last the neighboring powers, fearing the aggression of the Tepanecs, united and routed them. Maxtla was put to death, and the lawful prince placed upon the throne. He showed great magnanimity, granting a general amnesty, and then set about to remodel the government.
Three departments were formed: the Council of War, the Council of Finance, and the Council of Justice; and in each of these bodies, a certain number of citizens were allowed to have seats with the nobles and state officers. The highest body was composed of fourteen members, all belonging to the highest orders of nobles. This was called the Council of State, which aided the king in the dispatch of business, and advised him in all matters of importance. Its members had seats provided for them at the royal table.
Lastly, there was a tribunal known as the Council of Music. This was composed of the best instructed persons in the country, without regard of rank, and was devoted to the encouragement of all branches of science and art. All works on these subjects had to be submitted to them, before they could be made public. They had the supervision of all the productions of art, and the more delicate fabrics. They decided on the qualifications of the teachers of the various branches of science, inquired into the proper performance of their duties, and instituted examinations of the pupils. The Council gave prizes for historical composition, and poems treating of moral or traditional topics. It was, in fact, at once a board of education, and a council of science and art. The kings of the three allied states had seats upon it, and deliberated with the other members on the adjudication of the prizes.
Thus Tezcuco became the center of the education, science, and art of Anahuac, and was at this time the head of the three allied kingdoms. Nezahualcoyotl greatly encouraged agriculture, as well as all the productive arts. The royal palace and the edifices of the nobles were magnificent buildings, and were upon an enormous scale, the Spaniards acknowledging that they surpassed any buildings in their own country.
Not satisfied with receiving the reports of his numerous officers, the monarch went frequently in disguise among his people, listening to their complaints, and severely punishing wrongdoers. Being filled with deep religious feeling, he openly confessed his faith in a God far greater than the idols of wood and stone worshiped by his subjects, and built a great temple which he dedicated to the Unknown God.
After fifty years' reign this great monarch died, and was succeeded by his son Nezahualpilli, who resembled his father in his tastes, encouraging learning, especially astronomical studies, and building magnificent public edifices. He was severe in his morals, and stern in the execution of justice. In his youth he had been devoted to war, and had extended the dominion of Tezcuco; but he afterwards became indolent, and spent much of his time in retirement.
His Mexican rival took advantage of this, for as the rule of Tezcuco became relaxed distant provinces revolted, the discipline of the army became shaken, and Montezuma, partly by force, partly by fraud, possessed himself of a considerable portion of its dominions, and assumed the title, hitherto held by the Tezcucan princes, of Emperor.
These misfortunes pressed heavily on the spirits of the king, and their effect was increased by certain gloomy prognostics of a great calamity, which was shortly to overwhelm the country. His health rapidly gave way. He had died but two years before, and had been succeeded by his son Cacama, the present king, a young prince who was two-and-twenty years old when he ascended the throne, after a sanguinary war with an ambitious younger brother. In Tezcuco, as in Mexico, the office of king was elective and not hereditary. It was, indeed, confined to the royal family; but the elective council, composed of the nobles and of the kings of the other two great confederate monarchies, selected the member of that family whom they considered best qualified to rule.
Roger was greatly impressed with these accounts of the government of this strange country. It appeared to him that art and learning were there held of much higher account than they were in England; and it seemed more strange to him than ever, that a people so enlightened could be guilty of such wholesale human sacrifices as those of which he had heard, and had indeed seen proof; still more that they could absolutely feast upon the flesh of these victims of their cruel superstitions.
Descending into the valley the party avoided, as before, the numerous cities in the plain. The Tezcucans told him that they did so simply because they were anxious to arrive as soon as possible at the capital; but as Roger learned from them that the sway of Montezuma was paramount in this part of the valley, he thought it probable that they feared the Aztecs might take him from their hands, and send him direct to the emperor.
After a long march across a richly cultivated country, they approached the town of Tezcuco just as evening was closing in. A messenger had gone on ahead, to announce the exact hour at which they would arrive; and a party of soldiers were stationed a short distance outside the town, to escort them through the city to the royal palace. They formed up on either side of the party when they arrived and, without a pause, the caravan kept on its way.
Roger had been astonished at the magnificence of the houses of the wealthy, scattered for a long distance round the city, and at the extraordinary beauty of the gardens with their shady groves, their bright flowers, their fish ponds and fountains; but the splendor of the buildings of the capital surpassed anything he had before beheld. Not even in Genoa or Cadiz were there such stately buildings, while those of London were insignificant in comparison. The crowd in the streets were quiet and orderly and, although they looked with curiosity and interest on the white stranger, of whose coming they had heard, evinced none of the enthusiasm with which he had been greeted at Tepeaca. This was natural enough. The inhabitants of a capital, being accustomed to splendid fetes and festivals, are less easily moved than those of a small provincial town by any unaccustomed events, and are more restrained in the expression of their feelings.
The dresses of the people were greatly superior to those he had seen hitherto. They wore over their shoulders a cloak, made of cottons of different degrees of fineness, according to the condition of the wearer. These and the ample sashes worn round the loins were wrought in rich and elegant figures, and edged with a deep fringe, or tassels.
The women went about as freely as the men. Instead of the cloaks, they wore mantles of fur or gorgeous feather work. Beneath these were several skirts or petticoats of different lengths, with highly ornamented borders. Sometimes loose flowing robes were worn over these, reaching to the ankles—those of the upper classes being of very fine textures, and prettily embroidered. Some of the women wore veils made of fine thread of the aloe, or that spun from the hair of rabbits and other animals. Others had their faces entirely exposed, their dark tresses falling luxuriantly ever their shoulders. These, Roger learned afterwards, were Aztecs, the rest of the women of Anahuac mostly wearing the veil; which was, however, extremely thin, and scarcely concealed the features.
The guards ahead with difficulty cleared the way through the crowd, until they at last arrived at the king's palace, a building of extraordinary splendor. A number of nobles, in gorgeous attire, received the party at the entrance; and passing along a stately corridor, they entered a vast hall. A cornice of carved stonework covered with thin plates of gold ran round the walls, and from this dropped hangings of the most delicately embroidered stuffs. The roof was of carved cedar, the floor a mosaic of stone of different colors, so delicately fitted together that they seemed one.
At the farther end of the hall, upon a raised dais, was a throne. Upon this the young king was sitting, while a number of his counselors and nobles, together with several princesses and ladies of the court, were gathered around him.
When Roger approached, he bowed low, saluting in Mexican fashion. The king rose as he approached, looking with lively curiosity and interest at the strange visitor, of whom he had already received so many reports.
Roger, on his part, regarded the king with no less interest. He saw before him a young man of three or four and twenty, with a bright intelligent face. His figure showed signs of considerable strength as well as activity, and there was a certain martial air in his carriage that spoke of the soldier rather than of the king. The nobles had endeavored to impress upon Roger the necessity for him to salute the king, by prostrating himself on the ground as they themselves did. But Roger had refused to comply with their request.
"King Hal, himself, would not expect me to go before him like a worm, if he gave me audience," he said to himself; "and I will not demean myself, as an Englishman, to bow as a slave before any other monarch. Besides, to do so would be to acknowledge that I was his humble subject, and would at once show that I have no pretension, whatever, to be the superior creature they seem to consider me. I will salute him as his nobles saluted me—paying due deference to his rank, and no more."
The king himself did not seem displeased at Roger's breach of the usual etiquette. He looked with admiration at the tall figure of this strange white man, and at the frank and honest expression of his pleasant face, his blue eyes, and sunny hair.
"Whoever he may be, he comes not as an enemy," he said in a low voice to his sister, who was standing next to him. "There is neither deceit nor treachery in that face."
Then he said aloud to Roger:
"You are welcome, white stranger. We rejoice to see you in our courts. We have heard wonderful stories concerning you, and about the people in the distant lands from which you come; and shall gladly hear them from your lips, for we are told that you speak our tongue."
"I thank you, King Cacama, and I am glad, indeed, that it is my good fortune to behold so great and magnificent a king. I have come, as you have heard, from a far country, towards the rising sun; so far that it takes many months to traverse the sea which divides it from you; but had the distance been far greater than it is, I should have been more than repaid for the journey by the sight of you, and of this great city over which you rule."
"And is it true that your people move about the sea in floating castles, and that they fight with weapons that make a noise like thunder, and can batter down walls at a distance of two miles?"
"They can kill men at more than that distance, Sire, but for battering down walls they are used at shorter distances. The ships are, as you say, floating castles, and will carry hundreds of men, with provisions and stores for many months, besides merchandise and goods. These castles are armed with weapons such as you speak of, some of them carrying twenty or more; besides which each man carries a weapon of the same kind, but small and light in make, so that it can be carried on the shoulders. These weapons also make a great noise, though not comparable with that of the large pieces, which are called cannon."
"And they have animals on which they sit, and which carry them at a speed far greater than that at which a man can run?"
"That is so, Sire."
"Of what color are they, and of what form?"
"They are all colors: some are black, and some white, others brown, or gray, or roan, or bay."
This answer seemed to surprise the king more than any other he had heard. All the beasts and birds with which he was acquainted were of the particular color which appertained to their species, and that the animals of any one kind should thus differ in so extraordinary degree from each other struck him as remarkable, indeed.
Roger had always been fond of sketching, and had often whiled away dull hours on board ship with pencil and paintbrush; and his cousins at home had quite a collection of sketches that he made for them in, foreign parts. He now said:
"If your Majesty will order that gentleman, who is at present taking my likeness, to hand me a sheet of paper and his brushes, I will endeavor to draw for your Majesty an outline of the animal I speak of, and which we call a horse."
At the king's order the scribe at once handed the necessary materials to Roger, who in three or four minutes dashed off a spirited sketch of a horse, with a rider upon his back. The king was greatly struck with the representation. The Aztecs possessed the art of copying objects with a fair amount of accuracy, but the figures were stiff and wooden, without the slightest life or animation. To the king, then, this little sketch appeared almost supernatural. Here was before him an animal which looked alive, as if already in movement. He passed it to those next to him, and continued the conversation.
"And the men fight on the backs of those animals?"
"The nobles and a certain portion of the troops fight on horseback, the rest of the army on foot."
"And are not these animals frightened at the terrible noises made by the weapons you speak of?"
"They speedily become accustomed to them, Your Majesty, just as men do; and will carry their rider into the midst of the enemy, however great the noise. Some other time I will draw for your Majesty a representation of one of our knights, or captains, charging in full armor; which is, as you have perhaps heard, made of a metal that is not known here."
"And these weapons that you speak of are made of the same metal?"
"They are mostly made of that metal, Sire, though sometimes they are made of a metal which we call brass, which is a compound of copper, and of another metal called tin, which adds greatly to its strength and hardness."
"But how do they work? What machinery can be used to hurl a missile at so vast a distance?"
"There is no machinery, Sire. The weapon is a hollow tube of vast strength, closed at one end, with only a small hole left there by which fire can be applied. A black powder, composed of various substances, is placed in the tube and pressed up to the end, a wad of cotton or other material being forced down upon it. A large ball made of this metal, which is called iron, and almost the same diameter as the tube, is pushed down upon the wad; and the weapon is pointed at the enemy, or at the wall to be knocked down. Then fire is applied to the small hole, the powder at once explodes with a noise like thunder, and the ball is sent through the air with so great a speed that the eye cannot follow its flight, and all that it strikes goes down before it."
"Even one of these captains on his horse?" the king asked.
"Fifty of them, Sire, were they ranged up in line, one behind the other."
"Will you be able to teach us to make such weapons?"
"Your Majesty, I have had a share in the using of these weapons, but not in the making of them; and they require great skill in their manufacture. I know not whether iron stone exists in this country, and were it found it would require a long experiment and great knowledge to manufacture a cannon from it. As to the powder, it is composed of three ingredients—one is charcoal, which can be obtained wherever trees grow; another is called by us saltpeter; and the third, sulphur; but I cannot say whether either is found in this land. Nor, your Majesty, do I think that such knowledge, could I impart it, would be a blessing to the land; on the contrary, the battles would be far more terrible and bloody than they now are. Vast numbers would be slain, and valor and bravery would avail but little, against these terrible missiles."
"No," the king said, thoughtfully: "you would take few prisoners, if you fought with such weapons as these. You take some prisoners, I suppose?"
"Yes, your Majesty; we always take as prisoners those who ask for mercy."
"And what do you do with them?"
"We treat them honorably and well, as is befitting men who have fought bravely. We exchange them for men of our own side who have been taken prisoners by the enemy, or if they are knights or nobles they pay a ransom according to their rank to their captor, and so return home."
"That is good," the young king said, with animation; "though it differs altogether from our usages; but then, how are their altars of the gods to be served?"
"I believe," Roger said, "that your Majesty's grandfather erected a temple here to the Unknown God. It is the Unknown God—unknown to you, but known to us—that the white peoples across the sea worship. He is a good and gentle and loving God, and would abhor sacrifices of blood."
The king did not reply for a minute. The introduction of human sacrifices was a comparatively recent innovation in Tezcuco, and although the Aztecs had, lately, almost forced their own hideous rites upon their neighbors, there were many who were still, at heart, opposed to them. He turned the subject by saying:
"There will be much for you to tell me, when we have leisure. At present the banquet waits."
The eighteen months that had elapsed, since the wreck of the Swan, had prepared Roger for taking part in such scenes as those in which he was, at present, placed. From living so long among natives, and in native costume, he had acquired something of their manner; which, unless under strong excitement, was quiet and dignified. He had done this the more because, whenever he went out, all eyes had been upon him, and he had felt that it was necessary, so far as he could, to support the mysterious reputation he possessed. He had lost, alike, the sailor walk and carriage, the careless gaiety of a boy, and the roughness of one brought up to life at sea. He himself was only half conscious of this transformation, but to one who had seen him last when he sailed from Plymouth, it would have appeared absolutely marvelous. Undoubtedly it impressed both the king and his nobles most favorably; and as the party followed the king and Roger to the banqueting hall, there was a chorus of approval of the manners, bearing, and appearance of the white stranger.
The banquet was similar, but on a vastly greater scale, to that of which Roger had partaken at Tepeaca. Mexico contained, within comparatively narrow limits, extreme diversities of climate; and by means of the swift couriers, the kings and nobles could place upon their tables the tropical fruits and vegetables from the zone of the sea, the temperate fruits from the lofty plateau land, and the products of the rich and highly cultivated valley of the capital.
The twenty counselors sat down at table with the king. Other tables were spread at which the principal nobles feasted, while the king's wife and sister and other ladies dined in the same hall, but had tables apart. The king abstained from asking questions of Roger about his country, during the meal, but conversed with him concerning his journey, and his impressions of the country; and inquired particularly whether he was perfectly satisfied with the treatment he had received from the merchants. Roger assured him that nobody could have been kinder or more courteous than they had been, and that he hoped his Majesty would express his satisfaction at their conduct.
"That has already been done," the king said. "The reports of my envoys were sufficient for that. They have been raised in rank, have received permission to carry specially decorated banners, with other privileges and immunities."
After dinner was over, the king, without waiting as usual for the smoking and entertainments of musicians, dancers, and acrobats, rose, saying to Roger:
"I am too anxious to talk with you to take pleasure in these amusements. Come with me now."
He led the way to the entrance to the private apartments. These were enclosed by magnificent hangings, which were drawn aside by two attendants as he approached them. The walls were here entirely hidden by hangings, and the floor covered with a thick carpeting of richly-dyed cotton stuff. The air was heavy with odors of perfumes.
The king led the way to an apartment of considerable size, although small in comparison to the two great halls they had left. Couches of quilted mats, covered with silken embroidery, extended round the room; and a general air of comfort, as well as luxury, pervaded it.
From the open windows, a view extended over a lovely garden below, and then across the lake to the walls and temples of Mexico, shining in the moonlight and dotted with innumerable spots of fire on the summits of the teocallis. The room itself was lighted with open lamps, in which burned cotton wicks embedded in wax.
Cacama clapped his hands, and a young noble in attendance entered. The king bade him summon six of his counselors, and tell the queen and the princess that he awaited them.
In a short time these entered. The pomp and ceremony of royalty were, to a considerable extent, laid aside in Tezcuco in the interior of the palace—the custom there differing much from that which prevailed at the court of Montezuma, where the emperor never relaxed, in the slightest, in exacting the lowliest and most profound homage from all who approached him.
Chapter 9: Life In A Palace.
"Now," the young king exclaimed joyously, as soon as the party he had invited had assembled, and the silk hangings at the entrance of the door had been closed: "Now we can talk at our ease. In the first place, what can I call you?"
"My name is Roger Hawkshaw, your Majesty."
The king repeated the name.
"It is two words," Roger said. "With us, people have two names—the one which is common to all the family, the other which is given particularly to each person. The name of my family is Hawkshaw, my own name is Roger. Your Majesty can call me by either one, or by both."
Long names were common in Mexico, and Roger Hawkshaw seemed by no means long to the king.
"Roger Hawkshaw shall be your name in public," he said. "It has a strange grand sound, and will impress the people; but I will call you Roger. This is my queen and first wife, Maclutha. This is my sister, Amenche. These are two of my oldest and ablest counselors—both are great nobles, and have led the armies of my father to victory. These four young men are, as you see, my friends—they are the sons of four of my chief nobles, and have been brought up with me since we were children. Now, tell us more about yourself and your people."
The whole party took their seats upon the couches, half sitting, half reclining. Attendants brought in cocoa of many different flavors, confections, and tobacco. Roger took the cocoa, but refused the tobacco.
"We do not know this herb in our country," he said.
"That is a grave misfortune for you," the king remarked. "It is known and used by all peoples that we know of, here. It was used by the people we found here, when we came from the far north, and all the tribes there used it also.
"First, tell me what induced you to make this long journey across the sea."
Roger had been expecting this question, and as he had already determined that he would, in all matters, adhere to the truth, he did not hesitate in his reply.