"Your Majesty will understand that all the white peoples who dwell on the borders of the sea journey much in ships, which is the name we give to the floating castles. We do trade with many peoples. For example there is, far to the south of us, a great land wholly inhabited by people who are quite black."
A general exclamation of astonishment broke from the party.
"They must be frightful!" the young queen exclaimed.
"They are very ugly," Roger said, "with very wide mouths and very thick lips, and flat noses; and instead of having long soft hair, they have only a short, curly sort of black wool on the top of their heads."
"Have you seen them yourself?" asked Cacama, rather gravely.
"I have seen some of them, Sire," Roger replied. "I was in a ship that was attacked by others, manned by a people who live on the northern coast of this land, and who are themselves not black but yellow; and they had with them several of these people of whom I speak, who were frightful in their ugliness; but who, to do them justice, fought bravely, though we managed at last to beat them off.
"I pray your Majesty not to doubt any facts that I may tell you, for in my country it is considered disgraceful to lie; and however extraordinary some of the things I may say may appear to you, I can assure you that they will all be absolutely true. They may seem to you hard to believe, but you must remember that things which are strange to us always seem wonderful. My own countrymen, for example, would find it hard to believe that there could be a people who took delight in drawing in the smoke of a burning vegetable, and puffing it out again."
"I will not doubt what you say, in future," Cacama said. "Now, continue what you were telling us."
"The white people are divided into nations, as are your people on this side of the water. Some, however, are much more powerful than others. While in times of peace all the ports of different countries are open to the ships of the others, there are two countries that claim the right over great seas, although as yet untraveled and unknown."
"But how can they claim such a right as that?" one of the two chief counselors asked.
"Partly by the right that they have been the first to try to make discoveries in those seas; secondly because one of these countries is the strongest, at the present time; and thirdly, because they have been confirmed in their claim by the pope, who is the chief priest of the religion that is held in common among all white people. To the Spaniards was assigned that vast space of water lying towards the setting sun."
"You do not belong to that nation?"
"No. My country is called England. It is a great island divided into two kingdoms, of which ours is the larger."
"Are your people great fighters?"
"Yes. We have fought many obstinate wars with the nation lying on the mainland opposite to us, and our men have beaten theirs when they have outnumbered us many-fold; but at present we are at peace. We found that, while we could beat them in battle, we could not continue to hold a country that lay separated from us by the sea."
"And you are friends with the Spaniards also?"
"Yes. We have never warred with Spain, and our king has as his wife a princess of that country. Trading at Spanish ports, we learned that there was a rumor among the Spaniards that, far to the west, lay a great people possessing vast stores of gold, and riches of all kinds; and so my father, who was the captain of one of these floating castles, determined to sail across the sea and, in despite of the Spaniards and their rules, endeavor to perform the adventure of discovering, if possible, this great nation."
"What would have happened if the Spaniards had met you, as you passed through their waters?"
"Had they succeeded in taking our ship, they would have killed us without mercy; but we had a strong crew, and would have matched ourselves, willingly enough, against any Spanish ship, however big, that interfered with us."
"And what became of your ship?"
"She struck during a gale on the coast of Tabasco, and was dashed to pieces. My father and all on board were drowned. But God protected me, and I was thrown ashore unhurt; it being doubtless His intention that I should live to be the first white man to see your great country, and to bring to you the news of the white peoples beyond the sea."
"You know the story about our god, Quetzalcoatl," the king said, after a long pause. "We had news that you knew all about him. We believe that his descendants will return hither, to teach us many things."
"I am aware of it, Sire."
"But do you know, also, that we of Tezcuco have reason to view the arrival of the Whites with fear? My father, who was full of learning and wisdom, predicted when on his deathbed that a white people would shortly arrive, from the sea, and would overthrow the Anahuac kingdoms. It is strange, indeed, that within three years of his death you should appear."
"It is strange," Roger agreed. "Assuredly, your Majesty, your father's prophecy did not allude to my people. We are a comparatively small nation, and are not even masters of the whole of our island. We have not one ship to fifty that the Spaniards possess, and have no desire for foreign conquests. We are strong if attacked, and even Spain would find it a hard matter, did she endeavor to conquer us; but we should not dream of challenging the rights she exercises over the seas to the west of her. Moreover, our climate is a cold one, and we should not be able to support, with comfort, the heat of a country like this. It is not from our nation that danger can ever approach you."
"But from the Spaniards?" the king asked, gravely.
"I cannot think, Sire, that so great and powerful a nation as yours has reason to dread conquest by the Spaniards. But they are a mighty people. They have extended their rule over many peoples, on the other side of the water; and they have captured many islands which lie not so very far from your shores."
"How far away?" one of the old counselors asked.
"A vessel with a favoring wind would sail to your coast, thence, in twelve or fourteen days," Roger replied.
There was a general exclamation of surprise and uneasiness from Roger's hearers. Many questions were asked him, as to the number of men the Spaniards could put in the field. His answer somewhat reassured them.
"Perhaps two thousand would be the utmost they could send from these islands," he said; "though I know not the strength of their various garrisons. But from Spain they could, if they chose, send across the seas in their ships ten times as many."
"We could put over two hundred thousand in the field," the king said proudly.
Roger was silent.
"You do not think," the king went on after a pause, "that twenty thousand of these men are to be feared by a host like ours?"
"With equal arms and armor, no, your Majesty; but with the advantage of their weapons, the fact that they are clad in armor which your spears and arrows and knives would be powerless to pierce, and that many of them would be mounted soldiers, whose rush and impetus in battle it is nigh impossible—even for white infantry, who have no fear of the horses, and are themselves clad in armor—to withstand; and that they have, in addition these, terrible cannon of which I spoke to you, I think that should twenty thousand of the Spaniards land here, they would be irresistible.
"However, I do not think that there is any chance of such an army being brought against you. Rich and powerful as Spain is, the expense of preparing such an expedition, and the ships required to carry it, would be so vast that I do not think she would undertake it. Moreover, she is always so occupied with wars at home that she could not spare such a force for a distant expedition; and I do not, therefore, think you have any ground for alarm, in the present.
"I believe that in a very short time Spanish ships may arrive at your ports, and will open trade with your people. I wonder that they have not, long since, found their way here. Trade would be beneficent to both. They have many commodities that would be most useful to you. You have others that they would prize greatly."
"What are our products they would most value?" the king asked.
"First, and most of all, gold," Roger said. "It is with us the scarcest and most valuable of metals, and all things are valued by it. As with you bags of cocoa are your standard of value, so with them are pieces of gold. A wide estate is worth so much gold; a ship, or a horse, or a suit of armor, so many pieces of gold; and so through everything. All your delicate embroidery work would be valuable in their eyes, as being strange and different to anything we possess; while on their side they could provide you with silks, and satins, and velvets, and cloths, and other fabrics new to you; to say nothing of arms and iron work vastly superior to any you possess."
One of the old counselors whispered something in the king's ear, and the latter said to the queen:
"Maclutha, I would talk these matters over with my counselors. I am sure that you and my sister are longing to hear, from Roger Hawkshaw, all about the ladies of his race, and their dresses and fashions. Take him, therefore, into your room, while we discuss this matter here."
The two ladies and Roger thereupon went into another apartment, similar in style to that which they had left. The conversation here took a light turn, unrestrained by the presence of the king and his counselors. They plied him with questions, which Roger answered to the best of his power. He was soon furnished with paper, pens, brushes, and paint; and he drew them several sketches, showing ladies in European fashions, which filled his companions with surprise. It seemed to them impossible that a woman could move with ease and comfort in so much clothing. Then he drew for them a noble in the court dress of the period, and also the figure of a knight in full armor.
The last astonished them most of all. How could a man move and breathe, thus enclosed in metal? Roger admitted that, in a hot climate like that of Mexico, the heat would be terrible. But he pointed out that men so clad were carried on horses, and had no occasion for movement; save of their arms, which, as there were joints in the armor at the shoulder, could be moved in any way with freedom.
"There cannot be much bravery required to fight, when protected in this way by metal," the queen said.
"Numbers are killed, nevertheless," Roger replied. "The armor, strong as it is, will not resist the missiles fired from cannon; and the helmets—that is, the part that protects the head—can be beaten in by blows with heavy maces. Moreover, when two parties similarly armed charge, the shock is so terrible that horses and riders are alike thrown to the ground, and when thrown down they may be trampled to death by the horses, or killed by footmen before they can recover their feet. Still, there are many who think that some day armor will be given up altogether; for the guns are being improved constantly, and when the balls sent by those carried by footmen are able to pierce any armor, it will no longer be any protection, whatever."
"And these ladies of yours," the Princess Amenche asked; "are they very pretty? Because these matters are more to our taste than these ugly arms."
"They differ much from each other, just as they do here," Roger said. "Some are homely, and others are pretty."
"Are their eyes always blue, and their hair of a bright color, like yours?"
"Oh no! There is a great difference. Some have hair almost as light as flax; some almost as dark as yours, but not quite so dark. Some have hair almost exactly the color of gold; some a red, like the fringe of your garments; then there are many shades of brown, between red and black. The eyes vary in the same way. People with light hair, and golden, and red, have either gray or blue eyes. Those with brown hair of different shades have brown eyes, sometimes light and sometimes dark brown."
"How strange it must be," the girl laughed, "to see people with hair of so many colors! And which do you like best, Roger Hawkshaw?"
"At the present moment, Princess, I cannot imagine any color more beautiful than a deep, glossy black."
The girl colored through her hazel skin.
"Ah, you know how to flatter in your country, also!"
Roger was about to reply, when a message was brought from the king, desiring them to return to the next room.
"We have been taking all these things that you have told us into grave consideration," the king said, when they were seated; "and have concluded that it will be for the best that this matter of these Spaniards should remain an absolute secret, and that no word shall be spoken to a single person, however dear, by any of those who have heard it. The country has long been in a disturbed state, and constant expeditions are necessary, for ourselves and for Mexico, to suppress risings, and put down outbreaks of discontent. Were the news to be whispered about that there is a strange, terrible white people within but a short distance of our shores, the result would be disastrous.
"Men's minds would become unsettled, their ordinary employment would be neglected, all sorts of dismal forebodings would seize them, the very worship of the gods might be affected; and instead of being able, should the time of danger ever come, to meet our invaders boldly and fearlessly, they would find us disorganized and disheartened, and our power of resistance greatly diminished.
"You, Roger Hawkshaw, have told us everything with frankness. We feel that every word you have spoken is true, and that you have a real feeling of friendliness towards us, and that your sympathies are with us, rather than with the people of this other white nation. But others would not see it so. Even as it is, there is sure to be a party against you. Were it known that a nation, possibly hostile, of your color were but a short distance away, nothing could save you. You would be sacrificed at once to the gods. Therefore as, for the sake of the nation, we have decided that what you have told us shall remain a profound secret to ourselves; so, for your own sake, we pray you henceforth to say nothing to any of what you have told us. Let men think what they like as to how you have reached our shores. Preserve a sort of mystery as to yourself. There is no reason why you should not speak, but even then guardedly, of the wonders of the land inhabited by white men many months' sail across the seas; but it were best that as little should be said as possible.
"Montezuma is sure to wish to see you, but before you visit him, we will again take counsel together."
"I will, to the best of my power, carry out your Majesty's orders," Roger said. "I fully recognize their wisdom. Indeed, neither at Tabasco nor upon the journey, either to the merchants or to your envoys, have I said a word respecting the Spaniards; but I thought that it was but right that you should know the truth of the matter, especially when you told me of the prediction of your royal father. In future, when I am asked questions, I can always fall back upon silence and reply, truly, 'I am forbidden to tell this.'"
"That will do excellently," the king said. "There is but one point connected with you now that puzzles us—a point which, before you came, confirmed us in the belief that there was something supernatural in your character: How is it that you have come to understand and speak our tongue?"
"To anyone else, your Majesty, I should have replied, 'I am forbidden to answer that question;' but I wish not to have any mystery with you. During the time I was at Tabasco I was waited upon by a Mexican slave girl, who taught me her tongue."
The king burst into a hearty laugh, in which even the grave counselors joined, at this simple solution at what had appeared to them so strange a mystery.
"Cuitcatl," the king said to one of the young nobles, "I hand over Roger Hawkshaw to your charge. You see you need not be afraid of him, and he will throw no spells over you. Show him all there is to see in the city; but go not far away, for we shall have frequent occasions to speak to him. He will have a seat in the council, and at our own table. See that all know that we most highly esteem and desire to honor him."
Bowing deeply to the king, queen, and princess, Roger followed the young noble into whose charge he had been given. For a long time they continued their way down passages and corridors, until it seemed to Roger that it was a town, rather than a building, that he was traversing. At last his conductor pushed aside a hanging, and entered an apartment.
"These are my rooms," he said. "You are now master here. All the nobles of the council, and those whom the king wishes to have about his person, have suites of apartments in the palace. I hope some day to have the pleasure of entertaining you on my own estate, which lies a day's journey away to the northeast of the lake. Now, you will doubtless be glad to retire to rest at once, for you have had a long and weary time."
So saying, he led the way to a small chamber, leading out of the larger one. Here a luxurious couch was arranged, and it was not many minutes before Roger was asleep; for he was indeed completely worn out, and was too much fatigued even to think over the strange position in which he found himself.
He woke early, for upon his journeys the caravan had always started at daybreak, so as to get as much as possible of the journey done before the heat of the day set in. For a moment he wondered vaguely where he was, and then, as recollection returned to him, he leaped from his couch, threw back the hangings before the window, and gazed out.
Glass was unknown in Mexico, nor was it a requisite in the balmy climate of the valley. The prospect was a charming one. Before him lay a garden, more beautiful than any he had ever beheld. It was filled with shrubs and flowers, and a delightful perfume filled the air. Fountains of bright water threw their jets high above the sweet-scented groves and shrubberies. Several large ponds glistened in the morning sun. On some of these were islands accessible by light bridges, and on the islands were fanciful pavilions. Waterfowl floated on the surface of the ponds, or stalked fearlessly on the marble pavement that surrounded them. The songs of innumerable birds filled the air. Roger was gazing in delight at the scene, when Cuitcatl's voice saluted him.
"So you are up betimes; are you ready for your bath, or will you take some chocolate first?"
"Bath first, please," Roger replied; and his guide led the way across the large room and, drawing a hanging aside, showed Roger into a bathroom.
The walls and floors were entirely covered with marble. In the center was a bath, some seven feet square, with a stream of water running into it from the mouth of a grotesque animal's head.
"Every apartment has its bathroom," Cuitcatl said. "The water runs for an hour after sunrise only, but it can be turned on at any hour. It seems a waste, but we are far above the lower portion of the garden, and the water therefore runs into a tank and thence works the fountains there. Would you like your attendant to rub you in the bath, or when you come out of it? For both methods are in use with us."
Roger declined both alternatives, and it was not very long before he rejoined his companion in the central apartment. Chocolate, light cakes, and fruit were at once served.
"We had best visit the gardens first, before the sun gains too much power. There are charming arbors and pavilions, in shady spots, for taking one's ease at the middle of the day; but for walking about, the early hours are the best."
The gardens were of great extent, and Roger was surprised at the extreme fearlessness of the innumerable birds, of all kinds, that seemed to regard them as their natural home.
"Why should they not be fearless?" Cuitcatl said, when he expressed his surprise. "They have never been frightened, and regard all who come here as their friends, rather than as their enemies. They have abundance of the food which they love best. They make their nests among the plants, or in the trees which they would use, were they wild. The ponds are full of fish, and the water birds can find a far richer supply, here, than elsewhere. When the ladies come, the birds flock around them and settle on their heads and shoulders, and take crumbs of sweet cake from their hands.
"Many birds must, of course, be caged, and you will see that there are large aviaries scattered here and there in the garden. In these are the hawks and eagles, and many other birds which could not be tamed so far as to remain in the garden, unconfined."
After wandering for nearly two hours in the garden, they returned to the palace; and afterwards went down to the marketplace, which was crowded, as it was the fifth day of the week. Cuitcatl had taken with them six officials of the palace, to clear the way and prevent the people from crowding in upon them.
Roger was struck with the orderly demeanor of the people. They seemed merry and lively, but their mirth was of a quiet kind; and there was, everywhere, an air of decorum and gentleness, in strong contrast to that of a European crowd.
"Why," he said to himself, "there is more noise at home, when two or three boats come in laden with pilchards, than is made by all these thousands and thousands of people!"
There was no pressing or pushing, and the order of the officials, "Make way for the king's guest, the great Roger Hawkshaw!" was at once obeyed; and the people drew aside, gazing at him curiously but respectfully, and saluting as if to one of their own great nobles.
The market was an extensive square, surrounded by deep porticoes, and each description of merchandise had its allotted quarter. In one was seen cotton piled up in bales, or manufactured into dresses and articles of domestic use, such as tapestry, curtains and coverings. The goldsmiths had a quarter assigned to them. There Roger admired bracelets, necklaces and earrings, delicately chased and carved, together with many curious toys made in imitation of birds and fishes, with scales and feathers alternately of gold and silver, and with movable heads and bodies.
In another quarter were the stores of the potters, with dishes and plates, cups and basins of every degree of fineness, for the use of poor and rich, vases of wood elaborately carved, varnished or gilt. Near these Roger examined some hatchets made of copper, alloyed with tin; and as he felt the hardness of the metal, thought to himself that the natives, if informed as to the size and proportions of cannon, would have no difficulty in founding those weapons.
Then there were certain shops devoted to the sale of articles needed by soldiers. The helmets, fashioned into the shape of the head of some wild animal, with grinning teeth and bristling crest; the quilted doublets of cotton; the rich surcoats of feather; mail and weapons of all sorts; copper-headed lances and arrows; and the broad Mexican sword, with its sharp blade of itztli, a hard polished stone, which served many of the purposes of steel to the Aztecs. Of this material were the razors made, with which barbers were engaged in operating in their booths.
Many shops were well provided with drugs, roots, and different medicinal preparations; for Mexico abounded in medicinal plants, and the study of their uses was considered one of the most useful of the sciences, and in this respect the Mexicans were considerably in advance of the people of Europe. There were shops for the sale of blank books, or rolls, for the hieroglyphic picture writing. Under some of the porticoes were hides, raw and dressed; and various articles for domestic or personal use, made of leather.
Animals, both wild and tame, were offered for sale; and near them Roger saw a gang of slaves, with collars round their necks, and these were also, Cuitcatl told him, for sale.
The portion of the market devoted to the sale of provisions was a large one. Here were meats of all kinds, domestic poultry, game from the neighboring mountains, and fish from the streams; together with an immense variety of fruit, green vegetables, and maize. Here were ready-cooked foods for immediate use—sold hot to passers by, and eaten as they stood—with stalls of pastry of many kinds, bread, cakes, and confectionery; chocolate, flavored with vanilla and other spices, and pulque, prepared with many varying flavors, tempted the passers by. All these commodities, and every stall and portico, were set out and well-nigh covered with flowers.
After leaving the market, Roger proceeded with his companion to the edge of the lake. It was dotted with countless canoes, traversing it in all directions, filled with people passing to and fro between the great capitals or neighboring cities, bent either upon pleasure or trade. After feasting his eyes for a considerable time upon the lovely and animated scene, Roger returned with his companion to the palace.
In the afternoon there was a great gathering of nobles at the palace, to enable a far wider circle than those assembled the evening before to see and hear the king's white guest. One of the old counselors, who had been present at the previous meeting, acted as questioner, and this enabled Roger to escape certain queries to which he would have had difficulty in replying; and while the assembly heard much of the various wonders of the white people, they learned nothing of the manner in which the stranger had reached their shores, or the object of his coming; and at the end, the general impression that remained upon them was that he was a mysterious and supernatural being, who had come to teach the people new arts and inventions.
When the meeting was over, Roger retired again to the private apartments, and entertained the ladies there with many details of European life and manners, and by sketching for them houses, and ships, and other objects they demanded.
Two hours later, Cacama came in. He was evidently vexed and anxious.
"I am sorry to say, Roger Hawkshaw," he said, "that tomorrow you must accompany me across the lake to Mexico. I have had four dispatches today from my Uncle Montezuma. He blames me for having permitted you to enter the city before consulting the priests at his capital. You know they are all powerful there. Montezuma, with all his pride and haughtiness, is but their humble servant. He says that sacrifices have been offered up, and that the auguries are unfavorable, and that the priests proclaim your presence to be a danger to Mexico.
"I have no doubt that, when they see you, this opinion will be changed; and I shall do my best to prepare the way for you. I have already sent a private messenger to the high priest, speaking in the highest terms of you, and strengthening my recommendation by some valuable presents, to which priests are not more than other men inaccessible."
Roger saw, by the look of dismay upon the faces of the queen and the princess, that they considered the news very grave.
"Must he go?" the queen asked, in a low voice.
"How can it be helped?" Cacama replied. "Montezuma is supreme; and he and the priests, together, are all powerful. Roger is not like other men. Were he so, I would tell him when night falls to fly, and Cuitcatl would risk the consequences, I am sure, and act as his guide; but being as he is, where could he go, or where could he hide? Were it known in the morning that he was missing, a hundred messengers from Mexico would carry the news to every town and village in the country. Even if we colored his skin and his hair, his height would attract attention; for he is taller by half a head, and broader, by far, than any Mexican. But even did he, by traveling by night and hiding by day, get at last beyond the boundary of our kingdoms, what would then be his fate?—To die of hunger or thirst, or to be slain by wild tribes.
"What say you, Roger Hawkshaw? Will you risk these unknown dangers, or will you go to Montezuma tomorrow?"
"Were I sure that the priests would decide against me, and that I should be sacrificed to their great idol, I would risk death in any other form, rather than that," Roger replied. "But it may be that, when they see I have no evil intentions, and neither thought nor power of injuring Mexico, they may lay aside their animosity against me."
"They do not believe that you will injure Mexico," Amenche said, passionately. "They only want you for a sacrifice. They think that a being so strange and rare as a white man would be, of all, the most acceptable victim to their god.
"My brother, do not let him go," and the girl burst into tears.
"My little sister," Cacama said tenderly, "you know that I am powerless in the matter. In my grandfather's time, he would have answered a demand that a guest of his should be given up by a message of defiance; but times have changed since then, and the greater part of my kingdom no longer remains to me. My brother, who disputed my right to the throne, reigns over a large portion of it. Montezuma has seized fertile provinces. I am little more than the lord of a city; and could offer no resistance, for a single day, to the power of the Emperor.
"But you must remember that, as yet, we do not know that the priests will decide against him. I myself shall go with him, and I have already, as I have told you, taken some steps to incline the priests in his favor. When I arrive there tomorrow, I will exert myself personally. I have many friends among the highest at Montezuma's court, and will also pray these to use their influence.
"Should I fail, all will not be lost. It is likely that, if they decide upon sacrificing you, Roger, they will make you the victim to the god Tezcatlepoca, 'the soul of the world.' For him is always chosen the captive most distinguished for his appearance. For a year he is treated as the representative of the god. He is nobly cared for, he is attended by a train of royal pages, is worshiped by the people as he passes through the street, and is feasted at the tables of the nobles. Were you selected for this, as we consider it, great honor, there would be at least a year before you; and you might then, in some manner, make your escape beyond our boundaries. At any rate, some time is sure to elapse before your fate will be determined upon; and I can promise that I will do all in my power to aid you to escape, should you determine upon flight."
"I thank you most heartily," Roger said. "I have no fear of death in battle, but to me it would be very horrible to be put to death as a victim, on a festival; and I would rather escape and drown myself in the lake, than that such should be my fate. Still, if it must be so, it must; and I trust that I may behave as befits an Englishman, in such an extremity."
Amenche here stepped forward to her brother, and spoke earnestly in his ear.
"My sister reminds me," he said, "that we have sometimes another form of sacrifice; and that if I can do naught else, I might be able to persuade the priests to pronounce in favor of that. It is only adopted in the case of a captive of distinction; who, instead of being sacrificed, is sometimes matched against a number of Mexicans. The combat takes place on a great circular stone, in the sight of the whole city. The captive is provided with arms, and meets his opponents one by one. If he defeat them all—which has more than once happened in our history—he is allowed to go free."
"That would suit me best, by far," Roger said eagerly. "I have no doubt but that I should be killed, still, I should die in fair fighting against numbers; and it would be no worse than if I had fallen fighting the Moorish pirates, on the deck of our ship."
"I should think that it could be managed," Cacama said. "I should tell them that, at present, none could say whether you were a superhuman being or no; and that it might bring some misfortune upon the nation, were a messenger of the gods put to death. This trial would prove that. If the gods protected you, you would triumph. If they were not on your side, you would be defeated."
"I should do my best," Roger said quietly. "I have been well taught the use of arms, and in our long voyage here we practiced daily. In point of skill I could hold my own with any on board, though there were many to whom I was but a child, in point of strength. In that matter, however, I have doubtless gained much since then.
"I shall be thankful indeed, Prince, if you can persuade them to fix on this mode of execution for me; and I thank you very gratefully, Princess, for suggesting it."
They talked for some time longer, and then Roger retired to his apartment. The next morning, soon after sunrise, he embarked with Cacama in a canoe, paddled by six rowers.
"My wife and sister bade me say farewell to you," Cacama said. "They are sorely grieved at your going, and hope that you may return with me this afternoon. But if not, they bade me say that they will do all that is in their power; and women can exert influence, as well as men, on your behalf."
It was a long row across the lake to Mexico. Large as was the population of Tezcuco, which was estimated by the Spaniards to contain a hundred and twenty thousand inhabitants, that of Mexico was fully three times as great. As Montezuma had not yet determined upon the course which was to be pursued towards this mysterious stranger, the people had not been informed of his coming. A strong guard of soldiers, with several officers of the palace, met the party upon its landing, surrounded them, and marched quickly through the streets to the palace.
The buildings resembled those of Tezcuco, and were massive and solid in character; but were not, Roger thought, grander or more splendid than those in the rival capital. The town was intersected by canals, and the bridges across these could be raised, adding largely to the defensive power of the place.
Upon reaching the palace the soldiers drew back, and the palace guard took charge of the party and led them into a large apartment, where they waited until the emperor was ready to receive them. Presently two court officials entered and, placing a mantle of coarse cotton over Roger, signed to him to take off his sandals. Cacama had already informed him that even the highest nobles of the land, with the exception of those of royal blood, were obliged to enter Montezuma's presence in this attire, as emblematic of their humility. He also charged Roger that it was the etiquette that all should keep their eyes fixed on the ground, until addressed by Montezuma.
Accompanied by Cacama, Roger followed the officials. Passing through several corridors they entered a vast hall. Roger was aware that at the farther end the emperor was seated, surrounded by a numerous body of nobles; but the instant he entered the room he followed the instructions of Cacama, and saluted to the ground, and then advanced with downcast eyes until the officials by his side ordered him to pause.
Montezuma was a victim of superstition, and had been seriously discomposed at the news of the arrival of this mysterious visitor; the more so that the priests, themselves, were unable to decide whether his visit was a good or evil augury. As he looked at the tall figure before him, with its strange-colored skin and hair, and the air of independence and fearlessness that was visible in the pose, notwithstanding the downcast eyes, he could not but be favorably impressed, despite his fears.
"You are welcome to our court," he said, "if you come in peace and goodwill."
"I come in peace and goodwill to your Majesty and your empire," Roger said.
"We have heard that you come from far beyond the seas, where dwell a people having strange ways, who live in floating castles, and who fight with weapons making thunder."
"Your Majesty has been correctly informed."
"Do the people there worship the same gods that we do?"
"They do not, your Majesty. The people there worship the one Great God—the God of the skies, the air, and the earth."
"And that God sent you hither?" Montezuma asked.
"Assuredly, Sire. He directs all things."
"Each country has its gods. The gods of Mexico have given us victory over all the peoples from sea to sea."
Roger bowed. He did not feel called upon to contradict the emperor.
"How is it that you came alone to this land?"
"I wished to see it," Roger said, "reports of its greatness and power having reached across the seas. Had I come with others, it might have been thought that I came as an enemy; but coming alone, and without arms, it could not be suspected that my intentions were other than friendly."
Montezuma appeared impressed with this answer. The audience lasted for upwards of half an hour, Montezuma asking many questions about the ships, the arms, the mode of government, and other matters among the white people, He then bowed his head.
The official signified that the audience was over, and that Roger was to retire. As he had been instructed by Cacama he withdrew, keeping his face to the emperor.
He was conducted to a different apartment. Here a table was laid, and he was served by attendants of the court; who, however, made no reply to any questions he asked them, and had evidently received orders to hold no verbal communication with him.
Chapter 10: News From The Coast.
It was with a feeling of pleasure and relief that, after some hours, Roger saw the hangings drawn aside, and Cacama enter.
"Come, my friend, the council is over, and you may return with me."
Cacama was evidently anxious to be off at once, and Roger followed him without a question. One of the pages of the palace led the way through a long series of passages, and at last Roger found himself outside the palace, where a door opened into a canal. Here Cacama's boat was lying. The young king and Roger took their seats, and the canoe dashed off at once.
"It has been a hard fight in the council," Cacama said. "No two men were of the same opinion. Even the priests were divided among themselves; and Montezuma was as undecided, at the end, as he was at the beginning; so that the decision is postponed. Then the question arose, were you to be treated as a guest or as a prisoner? And this I settled by saying that I would take you back with me to Tezcuco, and produce you whenever required. So in order to avoid excitement among the people, I sent word for the boat to be brought round to that quiet entrance to the palace, by which means we avoided passing through the streets, altogether.
"At one time it seemed to me that the decision would go against you, on the ground that, had you been a supernatural being, you would have had new arts to teach the people. Fortunately, I had brought with me the pictures you made for my wife and sister, and these I showed them. I pointed out that they were altogether different from the work of our own scribes; that these drew stiff images that looked like representations, not of men and animals, but of wooden creatures, while in your drawings it seemed as if the men and animals were moving across the paper; and that, were you to teach our scribes thus to portray objects, it would make a profound alteration in Mexican art.
"This made a great impression upon them. Many of the nobles belonging to the Council of Education were present, and Montezuma himself is fond of art. All were greatly struck with your paintings, and these certainly went a long way towards strengthening my party. When we get back, you shall do some pictures of things such as they see here, and are accustomed to. Perhaps you could do even better, still, if you were to try."
"I could make much more finished pictures," Roger said. "These were only sketched off in haste, and with such colors as came to hand; but if I had pigments, and could mix the colors as I wanted them, I could produce very much better effect."
Roger, as a child, had been placed by his father, during the latter's long absences from home, at a school kept by some monks at a monastery at Plymouth, in order that he might learn to read and write—as these accomplishments would be of great use to him, as a master mariner. His fondness for painting attracted the attention of one of the old monks, who illuminated missals; and he had permitted him to copy many of the manuscripts in the monastery, and had given him instructions in the art. He had, indeed, been so struck with the talent the boy showed, that he told Reuben Hawkshaw that if he would let his son devote himself to art, he would make a famous painter. The sailor had scoffed at the idea; and Roger himself, fond as he was of painting, would have been reluctant to abandon the idea of going to sea.
The instructions he had obtained, however, up to the age of twelve, when he went on his first voyage with his father, had been of great assistance to him. Thanks to his natural talent, his visits to the churches at the various ports at which the ship touched, and to the fact that he had plenty of time on board to practice the art, his pictures were surprisingly good, and had excited a great deal of attention on the part of the friends and acquaintances of Master Diggory Beggs.
Upon his return to Tezcuco, Cacama ordered the scribes to furnish him with large sheets of the best paper, brushes, and pigments. The colors were all bright and glaring ones; but by mixing them, and adding some sombre dyes he obtained in the market, Roger succeeded in getting the required tints. Taking his place in the garden, at a point where he commanded the lake, near at hand, dotted with canoes; and the city of Mexico, with its background of hills, in the distance, Roger set to work. To the surprise of the scribe who had been ordered to assist him, he mixed the colors with oil instead of water, and then began his picture. He worked as long as there was sufficient light, and recommenced it the next morning, directly after sunrise, and continued at work all day; and by evening had finished the picture, three feet by two, which, although it would not be considered remarkable in Europe, excited the most lively admiration on the part of Cacama and the ladies.
He explained to the king that, as he had none of the spirit that was used in conjunction with the oil to make it dry rapidly, it would be some days before the picture would be sufficiently dry to be touched. Cacama, however, sent it off the next morning under charge of his principal scribe to Montezuma, who sent back word that he was astonished, indeed, at this work of art, which seemed to him to be almost magical; and he sent, in return, a large golden goblet to Roger, in token of his satisfaction.
Cacama was summoned to a council on the following day; and returned, saying that the picture had quite turned the scale in Roger's favor; that it had been examined by the chief scribes and the men of science, who all agreed that no such thing had been seen before; and that a person who was thus able to turn, as it were, a leaf of paper into a mirror, to fix upon it the representation of scenes just as the eye beheld them, must be possessed of powers altogether strange and supernatural. They desired to know whether he would teach his methods to some of the chief scribes of the emperor.
Cacama warmly congratulated Roger on the result.
"You are now safe, for the present, at any rate," he said, "and the priests are silenced. You may have trouble in the future, but for the time Montezuma's love of art has overcome his doubts and fears as to good and evil omens."
"Shall I have to take up my residence in Mexico?"
"I hardly think so," Cacama replied. "Tezcuco is still acknowledged the center of the arts and sciences of Anahuac. Here are the best schools of the scribes, and they come here to be instructed in hieroglyphic writing from all parts of the kingdom. Moreover, in that way Montezuma will have less uneasiness concerning you. He will think that, even if the omens be unfavorable, there will be no danger so long as you are at a distance from his capital; therefore, I think he is more likely to order some of the scribes to take up their residence here, for a time, than he is to bid you to cross to teach them there."
Such in fact was the purport of the message received from Montezuma on the following day. Six of the most accomplished scribes of Mexico were to proceed at once to Tezcuco, there to be instructed in the new art; and the next day Roger found himself established in a room in the palace, with the six Aztec scribes, and six of those most celebrated for their skill in Tezcuco. Some attendants were told off to mix colors under his directions, and to purchase for him, in the market, all kinds of dyes and colors he might require. A male and female slave were, at Roger's request, placed at his service to act as models; and the attendants had orders to fetch, from the cages and aviaries, any beasts and birds he might desire to copy.
Roger had, at first, some difficulty in preserving his gravity at thus undertaking charge of an art school. At first he confined himself to sketching, from the models, with a burnt stick on the white paper, and in seeing that his pupils did the same. Their drawing had hitherto been purely conventional. They had always drawn a man in a certain way, not because they saw him so, but because that was the way in which they had been taught to draw him; and he had great difficulty in getting them to depart altogether from these lines, and to draw the model exactly as he stood before them.
What he called his school hours lasted but four hours a day; and as he did this work in the middle of the day, when it was too hot to go out, but very pleasant in the rooms with their thick walls and semi-shaded windows, it interfered but little with his daily life. He had now a set of apartments next to those of Cuitcatl, with attendants to wait upon him; but his time was spent as much in the young noble's rooms as in his own. In the morning they walked together, either in the town or beyond its walls. In the evening they spent hours upon the lake, sometimes in large canoes with gay parties, the boats decked with flowers; while at a short distance another boat with musicians followed in their wake, the melody, which was by no means agreeable to Roger when close, coming softly across the water. With Cuitcatl as a guide, Roger visited the schools where the young nobles were educated, and which reminded him much of that at which he had, for five or six years, been taught.
He also frequently witnessed the drilling of the soldiers. This was of a very simple character, consisting principally in teaching them to move together in masses, and to shoot with a bow. The bows were light and the arrows small, and Roger thought that they could scarcely be very formidable weapons, even against men clad in quilted cotton; for although they might wound and annoy, they could seldom kill.
One evening, about five months after his arrival, Roger had just returned from an excursion upon the lake; and he and Cuitcatl were seated in the latter's rooms, sipping chocolate, when the hangings of the door were drawn aside suddenly, and Amenche entered. With an exclamation of surprise, the two young men rose to their feet and saluted deeply.
"You must fly," she exclaimed to Roger, "and at once. The royal boat has just come from Mexico, with two nobles and a guard. They have orders to carry you back with them. The news has arrived that several floating castles, filled with white men with strange arms and animals, have arrived on the coast. Secret council has been held, and Montezuma is full of alarm. The priests have decided that you are undoubtedly a spy, and must be sacrificed, at once, to the gods. I happened to be behind the hanging, heard what was said, and hurried away to warn you.
"There is not a moment to lose. Go round to the garden, and conceal yourself in the shrubbery near the eagle house. I will tell Cacama where you are, and he will come or send down to you, to say what had best be done, and where you are to go. Do not delay an instant. The orders were urgent, and they will be here in a minute or two to seize you.
"Not a word, now. Go! I must not be found here. I will see you again," and she was gone.
"Come, my friend," Cuitcatl said; "there is evidently not a moment to be lost."
Roger ran into his room; emptied, from a drawer where they were lying, the gold ornaments and presents he had received, and tied them in a cloth; caught up his sword and then, with Cuitcatl, hurried down the passage. Just as they reached the end, they saw a party appear at the other extremity, preceded by an official carrying torches.
"We are but just in time," the young noble said. "The princess has saved your life."
In two or three minutes they were in the garden and keeping carefully in the shade of the shrubs, so as to escape the view of any who might be sitting at the windows, or on the flat roof of the palace, enjoying the lovely evening and the bright moonlight. They made their way cautiously down to the eagle house, which lay at the other end of the garden, nearly half a mile from the palace. The whole thing had come so suddenly upon Roger that he could scarcely believe, even now, that his pleasant and tranquil time had come to an end, and he was in danger of being dragged away and instantly sacrificed.
Scarce a word was spoken until they reached the spot indicated. Close to this grew a large patch of bamboos.
"We will take refuge here, for the present," Cuitcatl said. "It is hardly likely they will search the gardens at night. It would need an army to do so thoroughly. If we hear footsteps approaching, we can take refuge inside; and meantime, let us seat ourselves here.
"These must be the people you told us of, the first night you came."
"No doubt they are so; but, Cuitcatl, you had best return at once to your chamber. You will be missed as well as I shall, and it would be suspected that you had a share in my flight; and if I should make my escape, the emperor's vengeance may fall on you. Pray leave me at once. I should be most unhappy if my misfortunes brought trouble upon you. You have been like a brother to me, since I came here."
"I should not think of leaving you," the young noble said firmly.
"But you can do me more good by going, Cuitcatl. You will see what is taking place there, and may throw them off the scent; while here you can do me no good whatever, and indeed might do me harm. Were I found here with you, I should be forced to surrender without striking a blow; for I should be afraid to resist, lest I should bring harm upon you; whereas, if I am alone, I would fight to the death rather than surrender. Besides, you will be able to consult the princess, and can bring down such things as you may consider will aid me in my flight—though how I am to escape the search there will be after me is more than I can guess. Pray go at once, for the sooner you go the sooner you can bring me back news of what is being done up there."
Cuitcatl saw the justice of Roger's reasoning.
"I may, at least, throw them off the scent," he said, "and see about preparing for your flight. You promise to hide in the bamboos there, if searchers should come in this direction?"
"Certainly I do. I will do all in my power to conceal myself, and will only fight if there be no other way."
Cuitcatl at once glided noiselessly off, keeping as before in the shadow of the bushes. For an hour and a half Roger remained alone. He was sitting under the shadow of the bamboos, and could in a moment withdraw himself among them.
At last he thought he heard a slight noise, and drew back towards the thick canes. A moment later, however, he stepped forward, as a figure he at once recognized advanced across a patch of moonlight from the next clump of shrubs.
"All is well so far," Cuitcatl said. "Directly I entered the palace, an attendant told me that I was being inquired for, and I proceeded straight to the royal apartments. Montezuma's messengers were there. They at once asked me if I had seen you. I said yes, that we had been walking together, but that you had not returned with me, as you said that the night was so lovely you should remain out for some time longer. They asked me if I could lead them to where you were; but I said that you had not told me which way you should go, and you might, for aught I knew, have taken a canoe and gone for a moonlight row on the lake, as was often your custom.
"Orders have been issued to the city guard to arrest you, immediately, wherever you might be found; and the envoys themselves started at once, with the guard they had brought with them, to the waterside. Up to that time Cacama, who had not left them, was in ignorance what had become of you; and I could see he was anxious, and much troubled."
"'Do you know where he is?' he asked me, as soon as we were alone.
"'Would it not be better, your Majesty,' I said, 'that you should remain in ignorance? Should he escape, Montezuma will be furious; and it might be well that you should be able to affirm, on your oath, that you knew nothing of him, and were in no way privy to his escape.'
"'But is there a chance of his escaping?' he asked.
"'We will do what we can,' I said; 'and we can do no more. With a disguise, a guide, and arms, Roger Hawkshaw may be able to make his way through the country, in spite of Montezuma and his army. I should think that the best thing will be to get him into a small canoe, take him to the end of the lake, and land him near Tepechpan. Then he can strike up north, take to the hills there, and then journey east. All the roads direct from here will be so guarded that it will be impossible to get through. The search will be close everywhere; but there will be more chance of escape, on that line, than from here.'
"'But how about the guide? Whom can we trust?'
"'I have one of my hunters in the town. He brought some game down from my estate today, and was not to return until tomorrow. I know where he lodges. He is a brave fellow, and carried my banner in the last campaign.'
"'You will let me know before he starts?' the king asked.
"'I will, your Majesty. The moon will not be down for three hours, yet, and he cannot attempt to fly until it has set.'
"As I left the royal apartment, one of the female attendants came up and, putting her finger on her lip, signed to me to follow her. I did so, and she led me to the apartment where the Queen and Princess Amenche were awaiting me.
"'You have left your friend safe, Cuitcatl?' the queen said. 'The princess has told me the part she has taken in the affair. It was foolish, but I cannot blame her, though if Montezuma knew by whose means the prey had slipped from his fingers, the least she could expect would be to be ordered to retire, for life, to one of the temples. Have you formed any plans?'
"I told her what I had thought of.
"'That seems as good a plan as any other,' she said. 'He will need paints to disguise himself, the dress of a peasant, and arms.'
"'He has his sword,' I said.
"'He cannot take that. Its golden handle would betray him, at once. A heavy woodman's ax, and a bow and spear, would be the most suitable.'
"'He shall have them,' I said. 'My hunter shall take them, and place them in the canoe, in readiness.'
"'What are you going to do now?'
"'I am going first into the town, to give my hunter his instructions, and bid him be at the lake entrance to the gardens, half an hour after the moon has set. I shall want the key of the gate. Next I shall go down, and tell Roger what preparations have been made; and then return here, for it is best I should be seen in the palace. Then, just as the moon sets, I shall go down again to him.'
"'Come here on your way, Cuitcatl. I shall go down with Amenche to say goodbye to him. This obstinate girl has determined to go, and I cannot let her go alone.'
"As soon as I left them, I went down to the town and found my hunter, who has taken a vow to lay down his life to save you, if necessary.
"Here are some peasant's clothes—a coarse cotton mantle, and a short skirt. Here is a jar of dye. You had better strip at once, and let me color you, and then put on these clothes. It will be too dark to see to do it properly, when I return. Besides, time will be short then.
"This small jar contains some dye from the juice of a plant which will turn your hair black—at least, as they use it for dyeing the skins of animals black, I suppose it will affect your hair."
Roger at once took off his gaudy attire, and was stained from head to foot with the contents of the jug, and then rubbed his hair with the liquid from the smaller vessel. Then he put on the peasant's clothes.
"You will pass well, now," Cuitcatl said, heading him out in the moonlight, so that he could obtain a good view of him. "It is only your height that is against you. Still, some men are taller than others; though I never saw one as tall as you, and you will certainly be stared at.
"Is there anything else in the way of arms you would like, beside the ax and spear?"
"I shall make myself a bow and arrows, when we get fairly away," Roger said.
"I did not know you could use them."
"I could not use such little things as those your people carry; but we still use the bow in England, and every boy is obliged, by law, to practice with it. With such a bow as I should make, I could send an arrow three times as far as those puny weapons of yours, and could keep my foes at a distance; whereas, otherwise, they could shoot me down as they chose."
"They will not shoot you down," Cuitcatl said. "You may be quite sure that the orders will be to take you alive, and this will give you a great advantage, if you are attacked. But I must be going up now to the palace again, to show myself, for a time, among our friends. Just as the moon sets I will be here."
"Will you thank the queen and princess for their kindness," Roger said, "and say that, much as I should like to say goodbye to them, I would not that they should run any risks by coming to see me?"
"They will come," Cuitcatl said, "unless I am greatly mistaken. The princess would come, even if her uncle Montezuma were, himself, watching her."
Roger sat down again, and watched the moon going down. He felt a certain sense of exhilaration at the thought that he was about to enter upon a life of active adventure, again. It had seemed to him, lately, that his life was to be spent in this strange country, cut off from all chances of ever returning to England; and that, sooner or later, he was assuredly destined to form a part of their hideous sacrifices. The party against him had been silenced for a moment, but would be sure to gather strength again; and he would be called upon either to worship these bloodstained idols, or to die.
Life was pleasant enough as it was, at present, with the friendship of the young king, and the kindness of the queen and princess; but he would soon be tired of it, with its everlasting sunshine, and its flowers, and its idleness.
At last the moon set, and in a few minutes he heard footsteps approaching, and Cuitcatl and two veiled figures came up. The queen came straight up to him.
"We are very sorry to lose you, Roger Hawkshaw," she said, gently; "and were there a hope of doing so successfully, we would defy the cruel orders from Montezuma. But it would bring ruin on our people."
"I know that it cannot be done, Madam," Roger said. "I thank you and the king, most heartily, for all your kindness to me. If I escape to my own country, I shall remember it all my life; and I will pray, to the God we worship, to give you happiness."
"Take this," the queen said, putting a small bag into his hand. "You have told me that these gems are as much prized among your people as they are here, and you can more easily conceal them than gold. I have taken them, with the king's permission, from the royal treasure; and should you reach your distant home in safety, they ought to make you rich for the rest of your life.
"And now, farewell. Whatever the priests may say, Cacama and I know that you came as a friend, and meant us no harm.
"Now, Amenche," she said, "come and say goodbye."
The girl came forward slowly. She took Roger's hand, and gazed up into his face. She seemed to try to speak, and then Roger felt her sway suddenly, and caught her just as she would have fallen.
"Give her to me," the queen said. "It is best so, by far.
"Hurry away, Roger. You have done harm enough, without meaning it.
"Cuitcatl, take him away, at once."
The young noble took Roger's hand, and hurried him away.
"What is the matter?" he asked, bewildered. "What did the queen mean—that I had done harm enough?"
"Do you mean to say that you have not seen that Amenche loves you?"
"I never dreamed of such a thing," Roger exclaimed.
"Cacama and the queen, and all of us who have seen her with you, knew it long ago; and had it not been for this unlucky news, today, Cacama would, in a short time, have offered you her hand. There has been a scene tonight between her and her brother; for she declared that she would go with you, and share your dangers, whatever they might be. She has for the last three hours been confined in her chamber, and she was only allowed to come down to say goodbye to you, on her swearing that she would return with the queen to her room."
"I am awfully sorry," Roger said. "I never dreamed of such a thing. The princess has always been very kind to me, but I should never have thought of raising my eyes so high. Besides, as I have told you, I am still scarce a man; and with us, one does not think of marriage until he is five or six years older than I am."
"No one blames you at all," Cuitcatl said. "The king and queen both told her that they were sure you had not thought of her in that way; though they naturally supposed that, had you remained here, you would have gladly formed such an alliance when it was offered you. However, it is no use talking any more about it. You will have difficulties enough before you, and would have had no chance whatever of getting through them, if encumbered with her.
"Cacama told her so, but she scoffed at the idea of danger. Mexican women, when they love, are ready for any sacrifice. Cacama did not press that, but chiefly spoke of the terrible scandal it would be, were she—his sister and the niece of Montezuma—to be brought back with you, a captive."
They were now at the gate. Cuitcatl opened it, and locked it again after him. A figure was standing outside.
"This is my follower. You may rely upon him to serve you, to the last.
"Bathalda, this is my white friend. You will serve him as you would me."
The man took Roger's hand, and carried it to his forehead.
"My life is yours, my lord," he said.
"Is everything ready, Bathalda?" asked Cuitcatl.
"Yes, my lord. I have the canoe hidden among the rocks, with the arms and some food. It is but a few hundred yards away."
"Let us be off then, at once," Cuitcatl said.
The man led the way down to the lake, and then along the shore for some little distance.
"There is the canoe," he said.
Cuitcatl embraced Roger.
"I wish that I could go with you, my white brother, and share your dangers down to the coast," he said; "but I could aid you but little, and my life would be forfeited on my return. May the gods of Mexico, and the God you worship, protect you.
"It may be—who knows?—that some day you may return hither. Cuitcatl's heart will be rejoiced to see you."
"Thank you for all your kindness," Roger said. "Whatever befalls me, I shall never forget it. Thank Cacama for all he has done in my favor, and say goodbye for me to the princess. Tell her that it is better so, for that so soft a flower would soon droop, and pine away, in my cold country."
Roger took his seat in the canoe, Bathalda seized the paddle, and the little boat shot out from the shore. For some distance they kept close in under the shadow of the land, Bathalda saying that two or three royal canoes were rowing up and down, opposite the town, and that every canoe putting off had been stopped and questioned. Several times, when the sound of a paddle was heard out on the lake, Bathalda stopped rowing for a time; but after keeping close to the shore for an hour, he struck out more boldly and, after two hours' further rowing, approached the shore again.
"This is the point where we must land," he said. "Four hours' walking will take us among the hills; but before we leave the canoe we will half fill it with stones, then knock a hole in her bottom and push her out into the lake to sink. Were she found here in the morning, it might afford a clue as to the way we had taken."
This was done, and then they started for the hills. Alone, Roger would have had great difficulty in making his way along the paths running between the cultivated fields; but his companion led the way without hesitation, seeing, apparently, as well as if it had been broad daylight. Roger carried the ax, which was a heavy one, on one shoulder; and in the other hand the spear, which he used as a walking stick.
Before daylight broke they were ascending the hills, which were wild and rugged. They passed several villages lying high up on rugged hilltops, and inaccessible, save by ladders, which could be drawn up in case of attack.
"The tribes here have only recently been conquered," Bathalda said. "They pay tribute to Mexico, but are a wild race; and as there is nothing to be obtained from them but hard knocks, they are but little interfered with."
Getting deeper among the hills, Bathalda, just as morning was breaking, led the way up a ravine down which a little stream trickled, and found a resting place among a number of great rocks that had fallen from above.
"Here," he said, "we shall be perfectly safe for the day. It is not likely that even a shepherd will enter this ravine, and if he does, he is not likely to come upon us here. First, let us eat our breakfast; and then we will lie down, and sleep till evening. I will keep watch if you like, but I do not think there is any occasion for it."
"Not the least," Roger agreed. "We had both better get what sleep we can. We shall have a long tramp before us, tonight."
They were undisturbed during the day and, as soon as the sun set, were again on their feet. The journey was a toilsome one. The country was so broken that they were continually either climbing the steep hills or descending into the valleys. After the moon had set they were forced to come to a halt, for some hours, finding it impossible to climb the steep hills in the darkness. With the first light of day they were again in motion, and continued walking for some hours.
"There," Bathalda said at last, as he gained the brow of the hill, "that is the plateau land. The town you see there, away on our right, is Otompan. Now we will keep due west. There are no large towns now, till we reach Tlatlanquitepec and Perote. From that point our danger will be the greatest, for all the roads across the mountains are sure to be watched. The guards at the station houses on these roads have, no doubt, by this time had orders to look for you and arrest you; but by traveling at night, we may pass them safely.
"We may as well enter that field of maize, and lie down until evening. After that we will follow a path till we gain a main road, and then travel straight on. We can go so much faster on a road than through the fields; and I know where the post houses are situated, so we can make a detour to avoid them."
That night they walked, as far as Roger could guess, fifty miles, and again entered a very hilly country. In the morning they left the road and encamped in a wood, far up the hillside. During the day they saw several parties of troops following the road; and many couriers passed along, at a swift run.
"The whole country is up," Bathalda said. "We shall have to be very careful, in future."
The first night, while passing through the low, hot country near the lake, Roger had cut a strong bamboo; together with a bundle of smaller rods, suitable for arrows. Bathalda had brought with him a bag of sharp obsidian arrowheads, and some feathers for winging them, together with a bowstring of twice the ordinary strength. He had looked on with amusement when Roger cut the bamboo, making it, as was the custom of English archers, of his own height.
"My lord is not intending that, surely, for a bow?" he said.
"Yes, Bathalda, I think that will do well," Roger said, trying with his knee the stiffness of the cane.
At the halt next day, Roger had cut the notches for the string.
"Now, Bathalda," he said, "can you string this?"
"No, my lord; nor can any other man."
"I think it is about the strength of the bows we use at home," Roger said. "The stringing them is a matter of knack, as well as of strength."
And, to the amazement of the Aztec, he strung the bow.
"Now," said he, "let us make some arrows. They should be a cloth yard in length—that is, from the middle of my chest to the end of my middle finger."
A dozen of the light bamboos were cut to this length. The huntsman fitted the obsidian points to them, and Roger stepped back a hundred yards from the small tree, with a trunk some six inches in diameter, under whose shade they had been sitting. Then he fitted the arrow to the string, bent the bow to its head, and loosed the arrow. It struck the trunk, but glanced off.
"I am out of practice, indeed," he said, "or I should have hit that fair in the center."
To the huntsman, however, the shot seemed well-nigh miraculous, the distance being twice as great as the Mexican bows would carry, with anything like accuracy; while the speed with which the arrow flew, and the distance it went after glancing from the tree, showed that it would have been fatal at least fifty yards beyond the object aimed at. Taking the bow from Roger, he fitted another arrow in and tried to bend it; but with all his efforts could only draw the arrow four or five inches.
"It is wonderful," he said, returning the weapon to Roger. "If I had not seen it done, I could not have believed it."
"It is merely a matter of practice," Roger said. "My people are famous for their dexterity with the bow, and I have seen men hit a mark no bigger than the palm of my hand, ten times in succession, at that distance."
The next time they halted, Bathalda made the rest of the bamboos into arrows and, making a quiver of the bark of a tree, hung them over his shoulder. Roger left his spear behind; using the bow, which he had unstrung, as a walking staff. Bathalda offered to carry the spear, in addition to his own weapon, but Roger told him that he did not care about it.
"If it should come to a hand-to-hand fight," he said, "I would rather rely on my ax. Besides, the bow, now it is unstrung, makes an excellent quarterstaff, a weapon with which I have practiced a great deal. With a spear your people would know quite as much as I should; but I fancy that, with a quarterstaff, I should astonish them. It has the advantage, too, that it disables without killing; and as your soldiers would only be doing their duty in arresting me, I should be sorry to do them more harm than I could help.
"There were a great many men on the road below there, today."
"A great many, my lord; and no doubt the garrisons of the two towns we shall have to pass tonight will be all out, and on the watch. This is the most dangerous part of the journey. The mountains are rugged, and there are only certain passes by which we can travel, and they are sure to be watched narrowly. They will guess that we shall travel by night."
"I suppose it will not be possible to make a detour, either to the south or north?"
The Aztec shook his head.
"To the north lie terrible mountains, of whose passes I know nothing. Our provisions are exhausted, and we must, in future, depend upon maize and other things we can pick by the way. Were we to go there, we should find nothing.
"To the south lies Tlascala, whose people are independent of Montezuma. They are fierce and warlike, and would seize and offer you to the gods, without pity."
"Still, they would not be on the lookout for us; and we might, therefore, pass through their country without being seen."
"We might do so, my lord," Bathalda agreed.
"At any rate," Roger said, "it seems to me that there would be more chance, in that direction, than in going straight forward. From what you say, it seems well-nigh impossible for us to get through the passes ahead of us, without being captured."
Accordingly, when night fell they struck off to the south. The journey was a very toilsome one, for they were now crossing the spurs of the hills, running far down into the plateau. As before, they had to halt when the moon set, but continued their way at daybreak.
"There is a road down in the valley there," Roger said, after three hours' more walking.
Bathalda stood looking down, for some time.
"I know it, now," he said. "It is the last road north of Tlascala, and runs from Huejotlipan to Yxtacamaxtitlan. We are already east of Tlascala, and about fifteen miles from Yxtacamaxtitlan. If we get past that town without accident, we shall then have to cross the Pass of Obispo, over the great range of mountains, and come down near Naulinco. Once past that town our dangers will be over, for there are few towns and villages in the Tierra Caliente. Our great danger will lie in the pass. There are but two or three roads across these mountains, and they will know that we must follow them."
"Well, we must take our chance," Roger said. "So far we have met with no difficulties, whatever, and provided we don't come across too large a force, we ought to be able to manage to get through. I noticed there were trees right through the pass I came over; and I see the country ahead is thickly wooded. How far is the pass from where we are now?"
"About thirty miles. It is where you see that cleft in the great line of hills."
"Well, we can get near it before the moon sets, and will try to pass through by daylight. It would be useless attempting to make our way through the trees at night; and if we have to fight, I would rather do so in the light. We will lie down now, for I own I am completely tired out."
Chapter 11: Cortez.
The expedition, whose arrival had caused such excitement in Mexico, was commanded by Hernando Cortez, a man who united in his person all the gifts requisite for a great leader of men. He possessed a handsome person, great strength and skill at arms, extraordinary courage and daring, singular powers of conciliation and of bringing others to his way of thinking, pleasing and courteous demeanor, a careless and easy manner which concealed great sagacity and wisdom, an inexhaustible flow of spirits, and an iron determination.
Born in Estremadura in 1485, of an ancient and respectable family, he was—like many others who have distinguished themselves as great soldiers—while at school and college remarkable rather for mischievous freaks, and disregard of authority, than for love of learning. At the age of seventeen he had exhausted his parents' patience, and was on the point of starting with the expedition of Ovando, the successor to Columbus, when he so injured himself by a fall, incurred in one of his wild escapades, that he was unable to sail with it. Two years later, however, he went out in a merchant vessel to the Indies.
On reaching Hispaniola Ovando, who was governor of the island, received him kindly, and gave him a grant of land and a number of Indians to till it. The quiet life of the planter, however, little suited the restless young fellow; and after taking part in several military expeditions against insurgent natives, under the command of Diego Velasquez, he sailed in 1511, with that officer, to undertake the conquest of Cuba.
He displayed great courage and activity during the campaign, and his cheerful manner and fund of high spirits made him a great favorite with the soldiers. When the fighting was over, Cortez soon became discontented with the quiet life in the island, and joined a party of men who were disaffected to Velasquez, owing to their not having received such rewards as they considered their services merited. Cortez undertook to carry their complaints to the Governor of Hispaniola, and was about starting when the matter came to the ears of Velasquez, who seized him, put him in irons, and threw him into prison. He was not long in making his escape, and sought sanctuary in a church; but a few days later, when carelessly strolling outside its walls, he was again seized and imprisoned.
He was put on board a ship to be sent to Hispaniola, there to be tried for exciting disaffection and revolt; but at night, before she set sail, he managed to free himself from his irons, gain the deck, and swim ashore, where he again took refuge in the church. Here several influential people interfered on his behalf—among them the family of Catalina Xuares, a young lady to whom he was engaged—and a reconciliation was brought about between him and the governor. Cortez received a large estate, with an ample number of Indians for its cultivation; married, and settled down, and for some years devoted himself to agriculture and gold mining.
Success attended him, and he accumulated some three thousand castalanos—a considerable sum. So he might have lived and died, had not the news of discoveries made by Grijalva—who had sailed west and discovered Yucatan, and traded with Tabasco, and had returned with a good deal of gold and wonderful tales of fabulous wealth, existing in a great nation farther to the north—caused an excitement in the islands. The governor at once prepared to fit out a large expedition, and among the many who offered to undertake its command, and to contribute largely towards its expenses, he finally selected Cortez, who had gained the ear and influence of the governor's secretary, Duero, and the royal treasurer, Lares.
Cortez was appointed captain general of the expedition, and at once set to work, with his accustomed energy, to gather material for it. He not only contributed all the fortune he had made, but raised funds by mortgaging his estates to their full value, and by borrowing money from merchants and others, on security of the wealth that was to be acquired by the expedition.
His personal popularity in the island enabled him to gather numerous recruits, and many of his intimate friends, who joined him, assisted him from their own resources or by raising money on their estates. Velasquez himself contributed comparatively little towards the expenses, which were almost entirely borne by Cortez and his friends.
Six ships were fitted out, and three hundred recruits enrolled. The instructions Cortez received were first to find Grijalva and, joining company with him, to visit Yucatan, and endeavor to rescue six Christians who were reported as still living there, the survivors of a vessel wrecked, years before, on the coast. He was to make a survey of the whole coastline, to acquaint himself with the natural productions of the country, and with the character and institutions of the native races. He was to barter with the natives, and to treat them with kindness and humanity, and to remember, above all things, that the object the emperor had most at heart was the conversion of the Indians. He was to invite them to give in their allegiance to the king, and to send such presents as would ensure his favor and protection. The governor gave no directions for colonizing or conquering, having received no warrant from Spain that would enable him to invest his agent with such powers.
But while Cortez was preparing to start, many of the leading men of the island, who were jealous of his rapid rise, roused the suspicions of Velasquez against him; saying that, when he had once sailed, he would no longer recognize the governor's authority, and would be thinking only of winning renown and wealth for himself. Velasquez determined to appoint another commander, but Duero and Lares, to whom he confided his intentions, at once informed Cortez of them. With the same promptitude that always distinguished him in moments of danger, Cortez went round to his officers after nightfall, got them and his men on board, visited the contractor, carried off all his stock of meat (giving him a massive gold chain in security for payment), and before daybreak the fleet left its moorings and the sails were hoisted.
As soon as the news was carried to Velasquez, he hurriedly dressed and rowed down to the shore. Cortez, when he saw him, got into a boat and rowed to within speaking distance.
"This is a courteous way of taking leave, indeed!" the angry governor said.
"I was pressed for time," Cortez replied. "There are some things that should be done even before they are thought of. Has your Excellency any orders?"
Velasquez saw, by the innuendo in the words of Cortez, that the latter was aware of his intention to deprive him of his command. He had no orders to give, for it was evident that Cortez would not obey them. The latter therefore returned to his vessel, and the fleet instantly set sail for the port of Macaca. This was in November, 1516.
The act of Cortez was doubtless one of insubordination; but, after he had embarked the whole of his resources in the expedition, and had received the command from the governor, this being ratified by the authorities of Hispaniola, it could hardly be expected that he would submit to disgrace and ruin being brought, not only upon himself, but upon all the friends who had aided him in the enterprise. At Macaca Cortez laid in some more stores, and then sailed for Trinidad, an important town on the southern coast of Cuba. Here he issued proclamations inviting recruits to join him. These came in in considerable numbers, among them a hundred men from Grijalva's ship, which had just before reached the port.
What was still more important, several cavaliers of high family and standing joined him: among them the Alvarados, Olid, Avila, Velasquez de Leon (a near relation of the governor), and Sandoval. He purchased at Trinidad large military stores and provisions. While he was taking these and other steps to strengthen his position, Verdugo, the commander of the town, received letters from Velasquez ordering him to seize Cortez; but upon his communicating these orders to the principal officers of the expedition, they pointed out to him that, if he attempted to take such a grave step, the soldiers and sailors would certainly resist it, and the town would not improbably be laid in ashes. The expedition then sailed round the island to Havana, where Cortez completed his preparations; and in spite of another ineffectual attempt of Velasquez to detain him, set sail.
In the time that had intervened between the inception of the expedition and its departure, the historians agree that a remarkable change had come over Cortez. He was still frank and pleasant in his manner, courteous and cheery with all; but he was no longer the gay, careless character who had been liked, but scarcely greatly respected, in the island. His whole actions were marked by an air of resolute determination and authority. He himself superintended every detail of work and exhibited a thoughtfulness, prudence, and caution that seemed alien to his former character. He was immensely popular both among his soldiers and officers, but all felt that he was entitled to their respect as well as their liking, and that he was not only commander, but thoroughly master, of the expedition.
Although extremely careless himself as to food, comfort, or appearance, he now assumed the state befitting his appointment and authority. He dressed handsomely but quietly, appointed officers and domestics for his household, and placed it on the footing of a man of high station. Before sailing he dispatched a letter to Velasquez, begging him to rely on his devotion to his interests.
On February 10th, 1519, the expedition started. It consisted of eleven vessels, only one of which was as large as a hundred tons; of a hundred and ten sailors, five hundred and fifty-three soldiers, and two hundred Indians of the islands. There were ten heavy guns and four light ones, and sixteen horses.
Before sailing, Cortez gave an address to his soldiers, and aroused their enthusiasm to the utmost. He had the advantage of obtaining the services, as chief pilot, of Alaminos, a veteran who had acted as pilot to Columbus on his last voyage, and to Grijalva in his late expedition. Soon after they started they met with a storm, and put in at the island of Cozumal; and Cortez thence sent Ordaz to Yucatan, to try to recover the captives said to be there. That officer returned without tidings, but before the fleet sailed a canoe arrived containing one of them, Aquilar, who had been wrecked there eight years previously. He had been a priest, and had so won the esteem and reverence of the barbarians among whom he lived, that they had with great reluctance allowed him to depart, in exchange for glass beads and other trinkets promised by Ordaz.
The fleet now sailed along the coast of Yucatan, until they reached the mouth of the Tabasco River, where Grijalva had carried on so profitable a trade. Leaving the ships at anchor they ascended the river in boats; but instead of meeting with the friendly reception that Grijalva had done, they found the banks lined with the natives, whose menacing attitude showed that a landing would be opposed.
After solemnly summoning them to surrender, Cortez landed. The natives fought bravely, but were unable to resist the astounding effect of the Spaniards' firearms; and the invaders, advancing, drove them back and took possession of the town, which was found to be deserted.
Two strong parties were sent out next morning to reconnoiter, but were attacked and driven back to the town. They reported that the whole country was under arms. Cortez was much vexed at finding himself thus engaged in a war, from which no benefit was to be gained; but he felt that it would impair the confidence of his troops, were he now to draw back. He therefore landed six of the guns and the horses, and the following day sallied out to the attack. Ordaz commanded the infantry, while Cortez himself led the little body of cavalry, the horses being mounted by the cavaliers of the party.
After marching a league, the infantry came in sight of the enemy. The natives attacked them as they were struggling through deeply irrigated ground, poured volleys of missiles of all kinds upon them, and wounded many before they could get across to solid ground, where they could bring the guns into play. But even these, and the discharges of musketry did not appall the natives, who pressed forward with such fury that, after the engagement had lasted an hour, the position of the Spaniards became perilous in the extreme.