Part 3 out of 8
contrived to fashion a sail that drew us through the water at a
good speed. But the ocean was vast, and we did not know whither we
were sailing, and every hour the agony of thirst pressed us more
closely. Towards mid-day a child died suddenly and was thrown into
the sea, and some three hours later the mother filled a bailing
bowl and drank deep of the bitter water. For a while it seemed to
assuage her thirst, then suddenly a madness took her, and springing
up she cast herself overboard and sank. Before the sun, glowing
like a red-hot ball, had sunk beneath the horizon, the priest and I
were the only ones in that company who could sit upright--the rest
lay upon the bottom of the boat heaped one on another like dying
fish groaning in their misery. Night fell at last and brought us
some relief from our sufferings, for the air grew cooler. But the
rain we prayed for did not fall, and so great was the heat that,
when the sun rose again in a cloudless sky, we knew, if no help
reached us, that it must be the last which we should see.
An hour after dawn another child died, and as we were in the act of
casting the body into the sea, I looked up and saw a vessel far
away, that seemed to be sailing in such fashion that she would pass
within two miles of where we were. Returning thanks to God for
this most blessed sight, we took to the oars, for the wind was now
so light that our clumsy sail would no longer draw us through the
water, and rowed feebly so as to cut the path of the ship. When we
had laboured for more than an hour the wind fell altogether and the
vessel lay becalmed at a distance of about three miles. So the
priest and I rowed on till I thought that we must die in the boat,
for the heat of the sun was like that of a flame and there came no
wind to temper it; by now, too, our lips were cracked with thirst.
Still we struggled on till the shadow of the ship's masts fell
athwart us and we saw her sailors watching us from the deck. Now
we were alongside and they let down a ladder of rope, speaking to
us in Spanish.
How we reached the deck I cannot say, but I remember falling
beneath the shade of an awning and drinking cup after cup of the
water that was brought to me. At last even my thirst was
satisfied, and for a while I grew faint and dizzy, and had no
stomach for the meat which was thrust into my hand. Indeed, I
think that I must have fainted, for when I came to myself the sun
was straight overhead, and it seemed to me that I had dreamed I
heard a familiar and hateful voice. At the time I was alone
beneath the awning, for the crew of the ship were gathered on the
foredeck clustering round what appeared to be the body of a man.
By my side was a large plate of victuals and a flask of spirits,
and feeling stronger I ate and drank of them heartily. I had
scarcely finished my meal when the men on the foredeck lifted the
body of the man, which I saw was black in colour, and cast it
overboard. Then three of them, whom from their port I took to be
officers, came towards me and I rose to my feet to meet them.
'Senor,' said the tallest of them in a soft and gentle voice,
'suffer me to offer you our felicitations on your wonderful--' and
he stopped suddenly.
Did I still dream, or did I know the voice? Now for the first time
I could see the man's face--it was that of JUAN DE GARCIA! But if
I knew him he also knew me.
'Caramba!' he said, 'whom have we here? Senor Thomas Wingfield I
salute you. Look, my comrades, you see this young man whom the sea
has brought to us. He is no Spaniard but an English spy. The last
time that I saw him was in the streets of Seville, and there he
tried to murder me because I threatened to reveal his trade to the
authorities. Now he is here, upon what errand he knows best.'
'It is false,' I answered; 'I am no spy, and I am come to these
seas for one purpose only--to find you.'
'Then you have succeeded well, too well for your own comfort,
perhaps. Say now, do you deny that you are Thomas Wingfield and an
'I do not deny it. I--'
'Your pardon. How comes it then that, as your companion the priest
tells me, you sailed in Las Cinque Llagas under the name of
'For my own reasons, Juan de Garcia.'
'You are confused, senor. My name is Sarceda, as these gentlemen
can bear me witness. Once I knew a cavalier of the name of de
Garcia, but he is dead.'
'You lie,' I answered; whereon one of De Garcia's companions struck
me across the mouth.
'Gently, friend,' said de Garcia; 'do not defile your hand by
striking such rats as this, or if you must strike, use a stick.
You have heard that he confesses to passing under a false name and
to being an Englishman, and therefore one of our country's foes.
To this I add upon my word of honour that to my knowledge he is a
spy and a would-be murderer. Now, gentlemen, under the commission
of his majesty's representative, we are judges here, but since you
may think that, having been called a liar openly by this English
dog, I might be minded to deal unjustly with him, I prefer to leave
the matter in your hands.'
Now I tried to speak once more, but the Spaniard who had struck me,
a ferocious-looking villain, drew his sword and swore that he would
run me through if I dared to open my lips. So I thought it well to
'This Englishman would grace a yardarm very well,' he said.
De Garcia, who had begun to hum a tune indifferently, smiled,
looking first at the yard and then at my neck, and the hate in his
eyes seemed to burn me.
'I have a better thought than that,' said the third officer. 'If
we hung him questions might be asked, and at the least, it would be
a waste of good money. He is a finely built young man and would
last some years in the mines. Let him be sold with the rest of the
cargo, or I will take him myself at a valuation. I am in want of a
few such on my estate.'
At these words I saw de Garcia's face fall a little, for he wished
to be rid of me for ever. Still he did not think it politic to
interfere beyond saying with a slight yawn:
'So far as I am concerned, take him, comrade, and free of cost.
Only I warn you, watch him well or you will find a stiletto in your
The officer laughed and said: 'Our friend will scarcely get a
chance at me, for I do not go a hundred paces underground, where he
will find his quarters. And now, Englishman, there is room for you
below I think;' and he called to a sailor bidding him bring the
irons of the man who had died.
This was done, and after I had been searched and a small sum in
gold that I had upon my person taken from me--it was all that
remained to me of my possessions--fetters were placed upon my
ankles and round my neck, and I was dragged into the hold. Before
I reached it I knew from various signs what was the cargo of this
ship. She was laden with slaves captured in Fernandina, as the
Spaniards name the island of Cuba, that were to be sold in
Hispaniola. Among these slaves I was now numbered.
How to tell the horrors of that hold I know not. The place was
low, not more than seven feet in height, and the slaves lay ironed
in the bilge water on the bottom of the vessel. They were crowded
as thick as they could lie, being chained to rings fixed in the
sides of the ship. Altogether there may have been two hundred of
them, men, women and children, or rather there had been two hundred
when the ship sailed a week before. Now some twenty were dead,
which was a small number, since the Spaniards reckon to lose from a
third to half of their cargo in this devilish traffic. When I
entered the place a deadly sickness seized me, weak as I was,
brought on by the horrible sounds and smells, and the sights that I
saw in the flare of the lanterns which my conductors carried, for
the hold was shut off from light and air. But they dragged me
along and presently I found myself chained in the midst of a line
of black men and women, many feet resting in the bilge water.
There the Spaniards left me with a jeer, saying that this was too
good a bed for an Englishman to lie on. For a while I endured,
then sleep or insensibility came to my succour, and I sank into
oblivion, and so I must have remained for a day and a night.
When I awoke it was to find the Spaniard to whom I had been sold or
given, standing near me with a lantern and directing the removal of
the fetters from a woman who was chained next to me. She was dead,
and in the light of the lantern I could see that she had been
carried off by some horrible disease that was new to me, but which
I afterwards learned to know by the name of the Black Vomit. Nor
was she the only one, for I counted twenty dead who were dragged
out in succession, and I could see that many more were sick. Also
I saw that the Spaniards were not a little frightened, for they
could make nothing of this sickness, and strove to lessen it by
cleansing the hold and letting air into it by the removal of some
planks in the deck above. Had they not done this I believe that
every soul of us must have perished, and I set down my own escape
from the sickness to the fact that the largest opening in the deck
was made directly above my head, so that by standing up, which my
chains allowed me to do, I could breathe air that was almost pure.
Having distributed water and meal cakes, the Spaniards went away.
I drank greedily of the water, but the cakes I could not eat, for
they were mouldy. The sights and sounds around me were so awful
that I will not try to write of them.
And all the while we sweltered in the terrible heat, for the sun
pierced through the deck planking of the vessel, and I could feel
by her lack of motion that we were becalmed and drifting. I stood
up, and by resting my heels upon a rib of the ship and my back
against her side, I found myself in a position whence I could see
the feet of the passers-by on the deck above.
Presently I saw that one of these wore a priest's robe, and
guessing that he must be my companion with whom I had escaped, I
strove to attract his notice, and at length succeeded. So soon as
he knew who it was beneath him, the priest lay down on the deck as
though to rest himself, and we spoke together. He told me, as I
had guessed, that we were becalmed and that a great sickness had
taken hold of the ship, already laying low a third of the crew,
adding that it was a judgment from heaven because of their cruelty
To this I answered that the judgment was working on the captives as
well as on the captors, and asked him where was Sarceda, as they
named de Garcia. Then I learned that he had been taken sick that
morning, and I rejoiced at the news, for if I had hated him before,
it may be judged how deeply I hated him now. Presently the priest
left me and returned with water mixed with the juice of limes, that
tasted to me like nectar from the gods, and some good meat and
fruit. These he gave me through the hole in the planks, and I made
shift to seize them in my manacled hands and devoured them. After
this he went away, to my great chagrin; why, I did not discover
till the following morning.
That day passed and the long night passed, and when at length the
Spaniards visited the hold once more, there were forty bodies to be
dragged out of it, and many others were sick. After they had gone
I stood up, watching for my friend the priest, but he did not come
then, nor ever again.
THOMAS COMES TO SHORE
For an hour or more I stood thus craning my neck upwards to seek
for the priest. At length when I was about to sink back into the
hold, for I could stand no longer in that cramped posture, I saw a
woman's dress pass by the hole in the deck, and knew it for one
that was worn by a lady who had escaped with me in the boat.
'Senora,' I whispered, 'for the love of God listen to me. It is I,
d'Aila, who am chained down here among the slaves.'
She started, then as the priest had done, she sat herself down upon
the deck, and I told her of my dreadful plight, not knowing that
she was acquainted with it, and of the horrors below.
'Alas! senor,' she answered, 'they can be little worse than those
above. A dreadful sickness is raging among the crew, six are
already dead and many more are raving in their last madness. I
would that the sea had swallowed us with the rest, for we have been
rescued from it only to fall into hell. Already my mother is dead
and my little brother is dying.'
'Where is the priest?' I asked.
'He died this morning and has just been cast into the sea. Before
he died he spoke of you, and prayed me to help you if I could. But
his words were wild and I thought that he might be distraught. And
indeed how can I help you?'
'Perhaps you can find me food and drink,' I answered 'and for our
friend, God rest his soul. What of the Captain Sarceda? Is be
'No, senor, he alone is recovering of all whom the scourge has
smitten. And now I must go to my brother, but first I will seek
food for you.'
She went and presently returned with meat and a flask of wine which
she had hidden beneath her dress, and I ate and blessed her.
For two days she fed me thus, bringing me food at night. On the
second night she told me that her brother was dead and of all the
crew only fifteen men and one officer remained untouched by the
sickness, and that she herself grew ill. Also she said that the
water was almost finished, and there was little food left for the
slaves. After this she came no more, and I suppose that she died
It was within twenty hours of her last visit that I left this
accursed ship. For a day none had come to feed or tend the slaves,
and indeed many needed no tending, for they were dead. Some still
lived however, though so far as I could see the most of them were
smitten with the plague. I myself had escaped the sickness,
perhaps because of the strength and natural healthiness of my body,
which has always saved me from fevers and diseases, fortified as it
was by the good food that I had obtained. But now I knew that I
could not live long, indeed chained in this dreadful charnel-house
I prayed for death to release me from the horrors of such
existence. The day passed as before in sweltering heat, unbroken
by any air or motion, and night came at last, made hideous by the
barbarous ravings of the dying. But even there and then I slept
and dreamed that I was walking with my love in the vale of Waveney.
Towards the morning I was awakened by a sound of clanking iron, and
opening my eyes, I saw that men were at work, by the light of
lanterns, knocking the fetters from the dead and the living
together. As the fetters were loosed a rope was put round the body
of the slave, and dead or quick, he was hauled through the
hatchway. Presently a heavy splash in the water without told the
rest of the tale. Now I understood that all the slaves were being
thrown overboard because of the want of water, and in the hope that
it might avail to save from the pestilence those of the Spaniards
who still remained alive.
I watched them at their work for a while till there were but two
slaves between me and the workers, of whom one was living and the
other dead. Then I bethought me that this would be my fate also,
to be cast quick into the sea, and took counsel with myself as to
whether I should declare that I was whole from the plague and pray
them to spare me, or whether I should suffer myself to be drowned.
The desire for life was strong, but perhaps it may serve to show
how great were the torments from which I was suffering, and how
broken was my spirit by misfortunes and the horrors around me, when
I say that I determined to make no further effort to live, but
rather to accept death as a merciful release. And, indeed, I knew
that there was little likelihood of such attempts being of avail,
for I saw that the Spanish sailors were mad with fear and had but
one desire, to be rid of the slaves who consumed the water, and as
they believed, had bred the pestilence. So I said such prayers as
came into my head, and although with a great shivering of fear, for
the poor flesh shrinks from its end and the unknown beyond it,
however high may be the spirit, I prepared myself to die.
Now, having dragged away my neighbour in misery, the living savage,
the men turned to me. They were naked to the middle, and worked
furiously to be done with their hateful task, sweating with the
heat, and keeping themselves from fainting by draughts of spirit.
'This one is alive also and does not seem so sick,' said a man as
he struck the fetters from me.
'Alive or dead, away with the dog!' answered another hoarsely, and
I saw that it was the same officer to whom I had been given as a
slave. 'It is that Englishman, and he it is who brought us ill
luck. Cast the Jonah overboard and let him try his evil eye upon
'So be it,' answered the other man, and finished striking off my
fetters. 'Those who have come to a cup of water each a day, do not
press their guests to share it. They show them the door. Say your
prayers, Englishman, and may they do you more good than they have
done for most on this accursed ship. Here, this is the stuff to
make drowning easy, and there is more of it on board than of
water,' and he handed me the flask of spirit. I took it and drank
deep, and it comforted me a little. Then they put the rope round
me and at a signal those on the deck above began to haul till I
swung loose beneath the hatchway. As I passed that Spaniard to
whom I had been given in slavery, and who but now had counselled my
casting away, I saw his face well in the light of the lantern, and
there were signs on it that a physician could read clearly.
'Farewell,' I said to him, 'we may soon meet again. Fool, why do
you labour? Take your rest, for the plague is on you. In six
hours you will be dead!'
His jaw dropped with terror at my words, and for a moment he stood
speechless. Then he uttered a fearful oath and aimed a blow at me
with the hammer he held, which would swiftly have put an end to my
sufferings had I not at that moment been lifted from his reach by
those who pulled above.
In another second I had fallen on the deck as they slacked the
rope. Near me stood two black men whose office it was to cast us
poor wretches into the sea, and behind them, seated in a chair, his
face haggard from recent illness, sat de Garcia fanning himself
with his sombrero, for the night was very hot.
He recognised me at once in the moonlight, which was brilliant, and
said, 'What! are you here and still alive, Cousin? You are tough
indeed; I thought that you must be dead or dying. Indeed had it
not been for this accursed plague, I would have seen to it myself.
Well, it has come right at last, and here is the only lucky thing
in all this voyage, that I shall have the pleasure of sending you
to the sharks. It consoles me for much, friend Wingfield. So you
came across the seas to seek vengeance on me? Well, I hope that
your stay has been pleasant. The accommodation was a little poor,
but at least the welcome was hearty. And now it is time to speed
the parting guest. Good night, Thomas Wingfield; if you should
chance to meet your mother presently, tell her from me that I was
grieved to have to kill her, for she is the one being whom I have
loved. I did not come to murder her as you may have thought, but
she forced me to it to save myself, since had I not done so, I
should never have lived to return to Spain. She had too much of my
own blood to suffer me to escape, and it seems that it runs strong
in your veins also, else you would scarcely hold so fast by
vengeance. Well, it has not prospered you!' And he dropped back
into the chair and fell to fanning himself again with the broad
Even then, as I stood upon the eve of death, I felt my blood run
hot within me at the sting of his coarse taunts. Truly de Garcia's
triumph was complete. I had come to hunt him down, and what was
the end of it? He was about to hurl me to the sharks. Still I
answered him with such dignity as I could command.
'You have me at some disadvantage,' I said. 'Now if there is any
manhood left in you, give me a sword and let us settle our quarrel
once and for all. You are weak from sickness I know, but what am I
who have spent certain days and nights in this hell of yours. We
should be well matched, de Garcia.'
'Perhaps so, Cousin, but where is the need? To be frank, things
have not gone over well with me when we stood face to face before,
and it is odd, but do you know, I have been troubled with a
foreboding that you would be the end of me. That is one of the
reasons why I sought a change of air to these warmer regions. But
see the folly of forebodings, my friend. I am still alive, though
I have been ill, and I mean to go on living, but you are--forgive
me for mentioning it--you are already dead. Indeed those
gentlemen,' and he pointed to the two black men who were taking
advantage of our talk to throw into the sea the slave who followed
me up the hatchway, 'are waiting to put a stop to our conversation.
Have you any message that I can deliver for you? If so, out with
it, for time is short and that hold must be cleared by daybreak.'
'I have no message to give you from myself, though I have a message
for you, de Garcia,' I answered. 'But before I tell it, let me say
a word. You seem to have won, wicked murderer as you are, but
perhaps the game is not yet played. Your fears may still come
true. I am dead, but my vengeance may yet live on, for I leave it
to the Hand in which I should have left it at first. You may live
some years longer, but do you think that you shall escape? One day
you will die as surely as I must die to-night, and what then, de
'A truce, I pray you,' he said with a sneer. 'Surely you have not
been consecrated priest. You had a message, you said. Pray
deliver it quickly. Time presses, Cousin Wingfield. Who sends
messages to an exile like myself?'
'Isabella de Siguenza, whom you cheated with a false marriage and
abandoned,' I said.
He started from his chair and stood over me.
'What of her?' he whispered fiercely.
'Only this, the monks walled her up alive with her babe.'
'Walled her up alive! Mother of God! how do you know that?'
'I chanced to see it done, that is all. She prayed me to tell you
of her end and the child's, and that she died hiding your name,
loving and forgiving. This was all her message, but I will add to
it. May she haunt you for ever, she and my mother; may they haunt
you through life and death, through earth and hell.'
He covered his face with his hands for a moment, then dropping them
sank back into the chair and called to the black sailors.
'Away with this slave. Why are you so slow?'
The men advanced upon me, but I was not minded to be handled by
them if I could help it, and I was minded to cause de Garcia to
share my fate. Suddenly I bounded at him, and gripping him round
the middle, I dragged him from his chair. Such was the strength
that rage and despair gave to me that I succeeded in swinging him
up to the level of the bulwarks. But there the matter ended, for
at that moment the two black sailors sprang upon us both, and tore
him from my grip. Then seeing that all was lost, for they were
about to cut me down with their swords, I placed my hand upon the
bulwark and leaped into the sea.
My reason told me that I should do well to drown as quickly as
possible, and I thought to myself that I would not try to swim, but
would sink at once. Yet love of life was too strong for me, and so
soon as I touched the water, I struck out and began to swim along
the side of the ship, keeping myself in her shadow, for I feared
lest de Garcia should cause me to be shot at with arrows and musket
balls. Presently as I went I heard him say with an oath:
'He has gone, and for good this time, but my foreboding went near
to coming true after all. Bah! how the sight of that man frightens
Now I knew in my heart that I was doing a mad thing, for though if
no shark took me, I might float for six or eight hours in this warm
water yet I must sink at last, and what would my struggle have
profited me? Still I swam on slowly, and after the filth and
stench of the slave hold, the touch of the clean water and the
breath of the pure air were like food and wine to me, and I felt
strength enter into me as I went. By this time I was a hundred
yards or more from the ship, and though those on board could
scarcely have seen me, I could still hear the splash of the bodies,
as the slaves were flung from her, and the drowning cries of such
among them as still lived.
I lifted my head and looked round the waste of water, and seeing
something floating on it at a distance, I swam towards it,
expecting that every moment would be my last, because of the sharks
which abound in these seas. Soon I was near it, and to my joy I
perceived that it was a large barrel, which had been thrown from
the ship, and was floating upright in the water. I reached it, and
pushing at it from below, contrived to tilt it so that I caught its
upper edge with my hand. Then I saw that it was half full of meal
cakes, and that it had been cast away because the meal was
stinking. It was the weight of these rotten cakes acting as
ballast, that caused the tub to float upright in the water. Now I
bethought me, that if I could get into this barrel I should be safe
from the sharks for a while, but how to do it I did not know.
While I wondered, chancing to glance behind me, I saw the fin of a
shark standing above the water not twenty paces away, and advancing
rapidly towards me. Then terror seized me and gave me strength and
the wit of despair. Pulling down the edge of the barrel till the
water began to pour into it, I seized it on either side with my
hands, and lifting my weight upon them, I doubled my knees. To
this hour I cannot tell how I accomplished it, but the next second
I was in the cask, with no other hurt than a scraped shin. But
though I had found a boat, the boat itself was like to sink, for
what with my weight and that of the rotten meal, and of the water
which had poured over the rim, the edge of the barrel was not now
an inch above the level of the sea, and I knew that did another
bucketful come aboard, it would no longer bear me. At that moment
also I saw the fin of the shark within four yards, and then felt
the barrel shake as the fish struck it with his nose.
Now I began to bail furiously with my hands, and as I bailed, the
edge of the cask lifted itself above the water. When it had risen
some two inches, the shark, enraged at my escape, came to the
surface, and turning on its side, bit at the tub so that I heard
its teeth grate on the wood and iron bands, causing it to heel over
and to spin round, shipping more water as it heeled. Now I must
bail afresh, and had the fish renewed its onset, I should have been
lost. But not finding wood and iron to its taste, it went away for
a while, although I saw its fin from time to time for the space of
some hours. I bailed with my hands till I could lift the water no
longer, then making shift to take off my boot, I bailed with that.
Soon the edge of the cask stood twelve inches above the water, and
I did not lighten it further, fearing lest it should overturn. Now
I had time to rest and to remember that all this was of no avail,
since I must die at last either by the sea or because of thirst,
and I lamented that my cowardice had only sufficed to prolong my
Then I prayed to God to succour me, and never did I pray more
heartily than in that hour, and when I had finished praying some
sort of peace and hope fell upon me. I thought it marvellous that
I should thus have escaped thrice from great perils within the
space of a few days, first from the sinking carak, then from
pestilence and starvation in the bold of the slave-ship, and now,
if only for a while, from the cruel jaws of the sharks. It seemed
to me that I had not been preserved from dangers which proved fatal
to so many, only that I might perish miserably at last, and even in
my despair I began to hope when hope was folly; though whether this
relief was sent to me from above, or whether it was simply that
being so much alive at the moment I could not believe that I should
soon be dead, is not for me to say.
At the least my courage rose again, and I could even find heart to
note the beauty of the night. The sea was smooth as a pond, there
was no breath of wind, and now that the moon began to sink,
thousands of stars of a marvellous brightness, such as we do not
see in England, gemmed the heavens everywhere. At last these grew
pale, and dawn began to flush the east, and after it came the first
rays of sunlight. But now I could not see fifty yards around me,
because of a dense mist that gathered on the face of the quiet
water, and hung there for an hour or more. When the sun was well
up and at length the mist cleared away, I perceived that I had
drifted far from the ship, of which I could only see the masts that
grew ever fainter till they vanished. Now the surface of the sea
was clear of fog except in one direction, where it hung in a thick
bank of vapour, though why it should rest there and nowhere else, I
could not understand.
Then the sun grew hot, and my sufferings commenced, for except the
draught of spirits that had been given me in the hold of the slave-
ship, I had touched no drink for a day and a night. I will not
tell them all in particular detail, it is enough to say that those
can scarcely imagine them who have never stood for hour after hour
in a barrel, bare-headed and parched with thirst, while the fierce
heat of a tropical sun beat down on them from above, and was
reflected upward from the glassy surface of the water. In time,
indeed, I grew faint and dizzy, and could hardly save myself from
falling into the sea, and at last I sank into a sort of sleep or
insensibility, from which I was awakened by a sound of screaming
birds and of falling water. I looked and saw to my wonder and
delight, that what I had taken to be a bank of mist was really low-
lying land, and that I was drifting rapidly with the tide towards
the bar of a large river. The sound of birds came from great
flocks of sea-gulls that were preying on the shoals of fish, which
fed at the meeting of the fresh and salt water. Presently, as I
watched, a gull seized a fish that could not have weighed less than
three pounds, and strove to lift it from the sea. Failing in this,
it beat the fish on the head with its beak till it died, and had
begun to devour it, when I drifted down upon the spot and made
haste to seize the fish. In another moment, dreadful as it may
seem, I was devouring the food raw, and never have I eaten with
better appetite, or found more refreshment in a meal.
When I had swallowed all that I was able, without drinking water, I
put the rest of the fish into the pocket of my coat, and turned my
thoughts to the breakers on the bar. Soon it was evident to me
that I could not pass them standing in my barrel, so I hastened to
upset myself into the water and to climb astride of it. Presently
we were in the surf, and I had much ado to cling on, but the tide
bore me forward bravely, and in half an hour more the breakers were
past, and I was in the mouth of the great river. Now fortune
favoured me still further, for I found a piece of wood floating on
the stream which served me for a paddle, and by its help I was
enabled to steer my craft towards the shore, that as I went I
perceived to be clothed with thick reeds, in which tall and lovely
trees grew in groups, bearing clusters of large nuts in their
crowns. Hither to this shore I came without further accident,
having spent some ten hours in my tub, though it was but a chance
that I did so, because of the horrible reptiles called crocodiles,
or, by some, alligators, with which this river swarmed. But of
them I knew nothing as yet.
I reached land but just in time, for before I was ashore the tide
turned, and tide and current began to carry me out to sea again,
whence assuredly I had never come back. Indeed, for the last ten
minutes, it took all the strength that I had to force the barrel
along towards the bank. At length, however, I perceived that it
floated in not more than four feet of water, and sliding from it, I
waded to the bank and cast myself at length there to rest and thank
God who thus far had preserved me miraculously. But my thirst,
which now returned upon me more fiercely than ever, would not
suffer me to lie thus for long, so I staggered to my feet and
walked along the bank of the river till I came to a pool of rain
water, which on the tasting, proved to be sweet and good. Then I
drank, weeping for joy at the taste of the water, drank till I
could drink no more, and let those who have stood in such a plight
remember what water was to them, for no words of mine can tell it.
After I had drunk and washed the brine from my face and body, I
drew out the remainder of my fish and ate it thankfully, and thus
refreshed, cast myself down to sleep in the shade of a bush bearing
white flowers, for I was utterly outworn.
When I opened my eyes again it was night, and doubtless I should
have slept on through many hours more had it not been for a
dreadful itch and pain that took me in every part, till at length I
sprang up and cursed in my agony. At first I was at a loss to know
what occasioned this torment, till I perceived that the air was
alive with gnat-like insects which made a singing noise, and then
settling on my flesh, sucked blood and spat poison into the wound
at one and the same time. These dreadful insects the Spaniards
name mosquitoes. Nor were they the only flies, for hundreds of
other creatures, no bigger than a pin's head, had fastened on to me
like bulldogs to a baited bear, boring their heads into the flesh,
where in the end they cause festers. They are named garrapatas by
the Spanish, and I take them to be the young of the tic. Others
there were, also, too numerous to mention, and of every shape and
size, though they had this in common, all bit and all were
venomous. Before the morning these plagues had driven me almost to
madness, for in no way could I obtain relief from them. Towards
dawn I went and lay in the water, thinking to lessen my sufferings,
but before I had been there ten minutes I saw a huge crocodile rise
up from the mud beside me. I sprang away to the bank horribly
afraid, for never before had I beheld so monstrous and evil-looking
a brute, to fall again into the clutches of the creatures, winged
and crawling, that were waiting for me there by myriads.
But enough of these damnable insects!
THE STONE OF SACRIFICE
At length the morning broke and found me in a sorry plight, for my
face was swollen to the size of a pumpkin by the venom of the
mosquitoes, and the rest of my body was in little better case.
Moreover I could not keep myself still because of the itching, but
must run and jump like a madman. And where was I to run to through
this huge swamp, in which I could see no shelter or sign of man? I
could not guess, so since I must keep moving I followed the bank of
the river, as I walked disturbing many crocodiles and loathsome
snakes. Now I knew that I could not live long in such suffering,
and determined to struggle forward till I fell down insensible and
death put an end to my torments.
For an hour or more I went on thus till I came to a place that was
clear of bush and reeds. Across this I skipped and danced,
striking with my swollen hands at the gnats which buzzed about my
head. Now the end was not far off, for I was exhausted and near to
falling, when suddenly I came upon a party of men, brown in colour
and clothed with white garments, who had been fishing in the river.
By them on the water were several canoes in which were loads of
merchandise, and they were now engaged in eating. So soon as these
men caught sight of me they uttered exclamations in an unknown
tongue and seizing weapons that lay by them, bows and arrows and
wooden clubs set on either side with spikes of flinty glass, they
made towards me as though to kill me. Now I lifted up my hands
praying for mercy, and seeing that I was unarmed and helpless the
men laid down their arms and addressed me. I shook my head to show
that I could not understand, and pointed first to the sea and then
to my swollen features. They nodded, and going to one of the
canoes a man brought from it a paste of a brown colour and aromatic
smell. Then by signs he directed me to remove such garments as
remained on me, the fashion of which seemed to puzzle them greatly.
This being done, they proceeded to anoint my body with the paste,
the touch of which gave me a most blessed relief from my
intolerable itching and burning, and moreover rendered my flesh
distasteful to the insects, for after that they plagued me little.
When I was anointed they offered me food, fried fish and cakes of
meal, together with a most delicious hot drink covered with a brown
and foaming froth that I learned to know afterwards as chocolate.
When I had finished eating, having talked a while together in low
tones, they motioned me to enter one of the canoes, giving me mats
to lie on. I obeyed, and three other men came with me, for the
canoe was large. One of these, a very grave man with a gentle face
and manner whom I took to be the chief of the party, sat down
opposite to me, the other two placing themselves in the bow and
stern of the boat which they drove along by means of paddles. Then
we started, followed by three other canoes, and before we had gone
a mile utter weariness overpowered me and I fell asleep.
I awoke much refreshed, having slept many hours, for now the sun
was setting, and was astonished to find the grave-looking man my
companion in the canoe, keeping watch over my sleep and warding the
gnats from me with a leafy branch. His kindness seemed to show
that I was in no danger of ill-treatment, and my fears on that
point being set at rest, I began to wonder as to what strange land
I had come and who its people might be. Soon, however, I gave
over, having nothing to build on, and observed the scenery instead.
Now we were paddling up a smaller river than the one on the banks
of which I had been cast away, and were no longer in the midst of
marshes. On either side of us was open land, or rather land that
would have been open had it not been for the great trees, larger
than the largest oak, which grew upon it, some of them of
surpassing beauty. Up these trees climbed creepers that hung like
ropes even from the topmost boughs, and among them were many
strange and gorgeous flowering plants that seemed to cling to the
bark as moss clings to a wall. In their branches also sat harsh-
voiced birds of brilliant colours, and apes that barked and
chattered at us as we went.
Just as the sun set over all this strange new scene the canoes came
to a landing place built of timber, and we disembarked. Now it
grew dark suddenly, and all I could discover was that I was being
led along a good road. Presently we reached a gate, which, from
the barking of dogs and the numbers of people who thronged about
it, I judged to be the entrance to a town, and passing it, we
advanced down a long street with houses on either side. At the
doorway of the last house my companion halted, and taking me by the
hand, led me into a long low room lit with lamps of earthenware.
Here some women came forward and kissed him, while others whom I
took to be servants, saluted him by touching the floor with one
hand. Soon, however, all eyes were turned on me and many eager
questions were asked of the chief, of which I could only guess the
When all had gazed their fill supper was served, a rich meal of
many strange meats, and of this I was invited to partake, which I
did, seated on a mat and eating of the dishes that were placed upon
the ground by the women. Among these I noticed one girl who far
surpassed all the others in grace, though none were unpleasing to
the eye. She was dark, indeed, but her features were regular and
her eyes fine. Her figure was tall and straight, and the sweetness
of her face added to the charm of her beauty. I mention this girl
here for two reasons, first because she saved me once from
sacrifice and once from torture, and secondly because she was none
other than that woman who afterwards became known as Marina, the
mistress of Cortes, without whose aid he had never conquered
Mexico. But at this time she did not guess that it was her destiny
to bring her country of Anahuac beneath the cruel yoke of the
From the moment of my entry I saw that Marina, as I will call her,
for her Indian name is too long to be written, took pity on my
forlorn state, and did what lay in her power to protect me from
vulgar curiosity and to minister to my wants. It was she who
brought me water to wash in, and a clean robe of linen to replace
my foul and tattered garments, and a cloak fashioned of bright
feathers for my shoulders.
When supper was done a mat was given me to sleep on in a little
room apart, and here I lay down, thinking that though I might be
lost for ever to my own world, at least I had fallen among a people
who were gentle and kindly, and moreover, as I saw from many
tokens, no savages. One thing, however, disturbed me; I discovered
that though I was well treated, also I was a prisoner, for a man
armed with a copper spear slept across the doorway of my little
room. Before I lay down I looked through the wooden bars which
served as a protection to the window place, and saw that the house
stood upon the border of a large open space, in the midst of which
a great pyramid towered a hundred feet or more into the air. On
the top of this pyramid was a building of stone that I took to be a
temple, and rightly, in front of which a fire burned. Marvelling
what the purpose of this great work might be, and in honour of what
faith it was erected, I went to sleep.
On the morrow I was to learn.
Here it may be convenient for me to state, what I did not discover
till afterwards, that I was in the city of Tobasco, the capital of
one of the southern provinces of Anahuac, which is situated at a
distance of some hundreds of miles from the central city of
Tenoctitlan, or Mexico. The river where I had been cast away was
the Rio de Tobasco, where Cortes landed in the following year, and
my host, or rather my captor, was the cacique or chief of Tobasco,
the same man who subsequently presented Marina to Cortes. Thus it
came about that, with the exception of a certain Aguilar, who with
some companions was wrecked on the coast of Yucatan six years
before, I was the first white man who ever dwelt among the Indians.
This Aguilar was rescued by Cortes, though his companions were all
sacrificed to Huitzel, the horrible war-god of the country. But
the name of the Spaniards was already known to the Indians, who
looked on them with superstitious fear, for in the year previous to
my being cast away, the hidalgo Hernandez de Cordova had visited
the coast of Yucatan and fought several battles with the natives,
and earlier in the same year of my arrival, Juan de Grigalva had
come to this very river of Tobasco. Thus it came about that I was
set down as one of this strange new nation of Teules, as the
Indians named the Spaniards, and therefore as an enemy for whose
blood the gods were thirsting.
I awoke at dawn much refreshed with sleep, and having washed and
clothed myself in the linen robes that were provided for me, I came
into the large room, where food was given me. Scarcely had I
finished my meal when my captor, the cacique, entered, accompanied
by two men whose appearance struck terror to my heart. In
countenance they were fierce and horrible; they wore black robes
embroidered with mystic characters in red, and their long and
tangled hair was matted together with some strange substance.
These men, whom all present, including the chief or cacique, seemed
to look on with the utmost reverence, glared at me with a fierce
glee that made my blood run cold. One of them, indeed, tore open
my white robe and placed his filthy hand upon my heart, which beat
quickly enough, counting its throbs aloud while the other nodded at
his words. Afterwards I learned that he was saying that I was very
Glancing round to find the interpretation of this act upon the
faces of those about me, my eyes caught those of the girl Marina,
and there was that in them which left me in little doubt. Horror
and pity were written there, and I knew that some dreadful death
overshadowed me. Before I could do anything, before I could even
think, I was seized by the priests, or pabas as the Indians name
them, and dragged from the room, all the household following us
except Marina and the cacique. Now I found myself in a great
square or market place bordered by many fine houses of stone and
lime, and some of mud, which was filling rapidly with a vast number
of people, men women and children, who all stared at me as I went
towards the pyramid on the top of which the fire burned. At the
foot of this pyramid I was led into a little chamber hollowed in
its thickness, and here my dress was torn from me by more priests,
leaving me naked except for a cloth about my loins and a chaplet of
bright flowers which was set upon my head. In this chamber were
three other men, Indians, who from the horror on their faces I
judged to be also doomed to death.
Presently a drum began to beat high above us, and we were taken
from the chamber and placed in a procession of many priests, I
being the first among the victims. Then the priests set up a chant
and we began the ascent of the pyramid, following a road that wound
round and round its bulk till it ended on a platform at its summit,
which may have measured forty paces in the square. Hence the view
of the surrounding country was very fine, but in that hour I
scarcely noticed it, having no care for prospects, however
pleasing. On the further side of the platform were two wooden
towers fifty feet or so in height. These were the temples of the
gods, Huitzel God of War and Quetzal God of the Air, whose hideous
effigies carved in stone grinned at us through the open doorways.
In the chambers of these temples stood small altars, and on the
altars were large dishes of gold, containing the hearts of those
who had been sacrificed on the yesterday. These chambers,
moreover, were encrusted with every sort of filth. In front of the
temples stood the altar whereon the fire burned eternally, and
before it were a hog-backed block of black marble of the size of an
inn drinking table, and a great carven stone shaped like a wheel,
measuring some ten feet across with a copper ring in its centre.
All these things I remembered afterwards, though at the time I
scarcely seemed to see them, for hardly were we arrived on the
platform when I was seized and dragged to the wheel-shaped stone.
Here a hide girdle was put round my waist and secured to the ring
by a rope long enough to enable me to run to the edge of the stone
and no further. Then a flint-pointed spear was given to me and
spears were given also to the two captives who accompanied me, and
it was made clear to me by signs that I must fight with them, it
being their part to leap upon the stone and mine to defend it. Now
I thought that if I could kill these two poor creatures, perhaps I
myself should be allowed to go free, and so to save my life I
prepared to take theirs if I could. Presently the head priest gave
a signal commanding the two men to attack me, but they were so lost
in fear that they did not even stir. Then the priests began to
flog them with leather girdles till at length crying out with pain,
they ran at me. One reached the stone and leapt upon it a little
before the other, and I struck the spear through his arm.
Instantly he dropped his weapon and fled, and the other man fled
also, for there was no fight in them, nor would any flogging bring
them to face me again.
Seeing that they could not make them brave, the priests determined
to have done with them. Amidst a great noise of music and
chanting, he whom I had smitten was seized and dragged to the hog-
backed block of marble, which in truth was a stone of sacrifice.
On this he was cast down, breast upwards, and held so by five
priests, two gripping his hands, two his legs, and one his head.
Then, having donned a scarlet cloak, the head priest, that same who
had felt my heart, uttered some kind of prayer, and, raising a
curved knife of the flint-like glass or itztli, struck open the
poor wretch's breast at a single blow, and made the ancient
offering to the sun.
As he did this all the multitude in the place below, in full view
of whom this bloody game was played, prostrated themselves,
remaining on their knees till the offering had been thrown into the
golden censer before the statue of the god Huitzel. Thereon the
horrible priests, casting themselves on the body, carried it with
shouts to the edge of the pyramid or teocalli, and rolled it down
the steep sides. At the foot of the slope it was lifted and borne
away by certain men who were waiting, for what purpose I did not
know at that time.
Scarcely was the first victim dead when the second was seized and
treated in a like fashion, the multitude prostrating themselves as
before. And then last of all came my turn. I felt myself seized
and my senses swam, nor did I recover them till I found myself
lying on the accursed stone, the priests dragging at my limbs and
head, my breast strained upwards till the skin was stretched tight
as that of a drum, while over me stood the human devil in his red
mantle, the glass knife in his hand. Never shall I forget his
wicked face maddened with the lust for blood, or the glare in his
eyes as he tossed back his matted locks. But he did not strike at
once, he gloated over me, pricking me with the point of the knife.
It seemed to me that I lay there for years while the paba aimed and
pointed with the knife, but at last through a mist that gathered
before my eyes, I saw it flash upward. Then when I thought that my
hour had come, a hand caught his arm in mid-air and held it and I
heard a voice whispering.
What was said did not please the priest, for suddenly he howled
aloud and made a dash towards me to kill me, but again his arm was
caught before the knife fell. Then he withdrew into the temple of
the god Quetzal, and for a long while I lay upon the stone
suffering the agonies of a hundred deaths, for I believed that it
was determined to torture me before I died, and that my slaughter
had been stayed for this purpose.
There I lay upon the stone, the fierce sunlight beating on my
breast, while from below came the faint murmur of the thousands of
the wondering people. All my life seemed to pass before me as I
was stretched upon that awful bed, a hundred little things which I
had forgotten came back to me, and with them memories of childhood,
of my oath to my father, of Lily's farewell kiss and words, of de
Garcia's face as I was hurled into the sea, of the death of
Isabella de Siguenza, and lastly a vague wonder as to why all
priests were so cruel!
At length I heard footsteps and shut my eyes, for I could bear the
sight of that dreadful knife no longer. But behold! no knife fell.
Suddenly my hands were loosed and I was lifted to my feet, on which
I never hoped to stand again. Then I was borne to the edge of the
teocalli, for I could not walk, and here my would-be murderer, the
priest, having first shouted some words to the spectators below,
that caused them to murmur like a forest when the wind stirs it,
clasped me in his blood-stained arms and kissed me on the forehead.
Now it was for the first time that I noticed my captor, the
cacique, standing at my side, grave, courteous, and smiling. As he
had smiled when he handed me to the pabas, so he smiled when he
took me back from them. Then having been cleansed and clothed, I
was led into the sanctuary of the god Quetzal and stood face to
face with the hideous image there, staring at the golden censer
that was to have received my heart while the priests uttered
prayers. Thence I was supported down the winding road of the
pyramid till I came to its foot, where my captor the cacique took
me by the hand and led me through the people who, it seemed, now
regarded me with some strange veneration. The first person that I
saw when we reached the house was Marina, who looked at me and
murmured some soft words that I could not understand. Then I was
suffered to go to my chamber, and there I passed the rest of the
day prostrated by all that I had undergone. Truly I had come to a
land of devils!
And now I will tell how it was that I came to be saved from the
knife. Marina having taken some liking to me, pitied my sad fate,
and being very quick-witted, she found a way to rescue me. For
when I had been led off to sacrifice, she spoke to the cacique, her
lord, bringing it to his mind that, by common report Montezuma, the
Emperor of Anahuac, was disturbed as to the Teules or Spaniards,
and desired much to see one. Now, she said, I was evidently a
Teule, and Montezuma would be angered, indeed, if I were sacrificed
in a far-off town, instead of being sent to him to sacrifice if he
saw fit. To this the cacique answered that the words were wise,
but that she should have spoken them before, for now the priests
had got hold of me, and it was hopeless to save me from their grip.
'Nay,' answered Marina, 'there is this to be said. Quetzal, the
god to whom this Teule is to be offered, was a white man,* and it
may well happen that this man is one of his children. Will it
please the god that his child should be offered to him? At the
least, if the god is not angered, Montezuma will certainly be
wroth, and wreak a vengeance on you and on the priests.'
* Quetzal, or more properly Quetzalcoatl, was the divinity who is
fabled to have taught the natives of Anahuac all the useful arts,
including those of government and policy, he was white-skinned and
dark-haired. Finally he sailed from the shores of Anahuac for the
fabulous country of Tlapallan in a bark of serpents' skins. But
before he sailed he promised that he would return again with a
numerous progeny. This promise was remembered by the Aztecs, and
it was largely on account of it that the Spaniards were enabled to
conquer the country, for they were supposed to be his descendants.
Perhaps Quetzalcoatl was a Norseman! Vide Sagas of Eric the Red
and of Thorfinn Karlsefne.--AUTHOR.
Now when the cacique heard this he saw that Marina spoke truth, and
hurrying up the teocalli, he caught the knife as it was in the act
of falling upon me. At first the head priest was angered and
called out that this was sacrilege, but when the cacique had told
him his mind, he understood that he would do wisely not to run a
risk of the wrath of Montezuma. So I was loosed and led into the
sanctuary, and when I came out the paba announced to the people
that the god had declared me to be one of his children, and it was
for this reason that then and thereafter they treated me with
THE SAVING OF GUATEMOC
Now after this dreadful day I was kindly dealt with by the people
of Tobasco, who gave me the name of Teule or Spaniard, and no
longer sought to put me to sacrifice. Far from it indeed, I was
well clothed and fed, and suffered to wander where I would, though
always under the care of guards who, had I escaped, would have paid
for it with their lives. I learned that on the morrow of my rescue
from the priests, messengers were despatched to Montezuma, the
great king, acquainting him with the history of my capture, and
seeking to know his pleasure concerning me. But the way to
Tenoctitlan was far, and many weeks passed before the messengers
returned again. Meanwhile I filled the days in learning the Maya
language, and also something of that of the Aztecs, which I
practised with Marina and others. For Marina was not a Tobascan,
having been born at Painalla, on the southeastern borders of the
empire. But her mother sold her to merchants in order that
Marina's inheritance might come to another child of hers by a
second marriage, and thus in the end the girl fell into the hands
of the cacique of Tobasco.
Also I learned something of the history and customs, and of the
picture writing of the land, and how to read it, and moreover I
obtained great repute among the Tobascans by my skill in medicine,
so that in time they grew to believe that I was indeed a child of
Quetzal, the good god. And the more I studied this people the less
I could understand of them. In most ways they were equal to any
nation of our own world of which I had knowledge. None are more
skilled in the arts, few are better architects or boast purer laws.
Moreover, they were brave and had patience. But their faith was
the canker at the root of the tree. In precept it was noble and
had much in common with our own, such as the rite of baptism, but I
have told what it was in practice. And yet, when all is said, is
it more cruel to offer up victims to the gods than to torture them
in the vaults of the Holy Office or to immure them in the walls of
When I had lived a month in Tobasco I had learned enough of the
language to talk with Marina, with whom I grew friendly, though no
more, and it was from her that I gathered the most of my knowledge,
and also many hints as to the conduct necessary to my safety. In
return I taught her something of my own faith, and of the customs
of the Europeans, and it was the knowledge that she gained from me
which afterwards made her so useful to the Spaniards, and prepared
her to accept their religion, giving her insight into the ways of
So I abode for four months and more in the house of the cacique of
Tobasco, who carried his kindness towards me to the length of
offering me his sister in marriage. To this proposal I said no as
gently as I might, and he marvelled at it, for the girl was fair.
Indeed, so well was I treated, that had it not been that my heart
was far away, and because of the horrible rites of their religion
which I was forced to witness almost daily, I could have learned to
love this gentle, skilled, and industrious people.
At length, when full four months had passed away, the messengers
returned from the court of Montezuma, having been much delayed by
swollen rivers and other accidents of travel. So great was the
importance that the Emperor attached to the fact of my capture, and
so desirous was he to see me at his capital, that he had sent his
own nephew, the Prince Guatemoc, to fetch me and a great escort of
warriors with him.
Never shall I forget my first meeting with this prince who
afterwards became my dear companion and brother in arms. When the
escort arrived I was away from the town shooting deer with the bow
and arrow, a weapon in the use of which I had such skill that all
the Indians wondered at me, not knowing that twice I had won the
prize at the butts on Bungay Common. Our party being summoned by a
messenger, we returned bearing our deer with us. On reaching the
courtyard of the cacique's house, I found it filled with warriors
most gorgeously attired, and among them one more splendid than the
rest. He was young, very tall and broad, most handsome in face,
and having eyes like those of an eagle, while his whole aspect
breathed majesty and command. His body was encased in a cuirass of
gold, over which hung a mantle made of the most gorgeous feathers,
exquisitely set in bands of different colours. On his head he wore
a helmet of gold surmounted by the royal crest, an eagle, standing
on a snake fashioned in gold and gems. On his arms, and beneath
his knees, he wore circlets of gold and gems, and in his hand was a
copper-bladed spear. Round this man were many nobles dressed in a
somewhat similar fashion, except that the most of them wore a vest
of quilted cotton in place of the gold cuirass, and a jewelled
panache of the plumes of birds instead of the royal symbol.
This was Guatemoc, Montezuma's nephew, and afterwards the last
emperor of Anahuac. So soon as I saw him I saluted him in the
Indian fashion by touching the earth with my right hand, which I
then raised to my head. But Guatemoc, having scanned me with his
eye as I stood, bow in hand, attired in my simple hunter's dress,
smiled frankly and said:
'Surely, Teule, if I know anything of the looks of men, we are too
equal in our birth, as in our age, for you to salute me as a slave
greets his master.' And he held his hand to me.
I took it, answering with the help of Marina, who was watching this
great lord with eager eyes.
'It may be so, prince, but though in my own country I am a man of
repute and wealth, here I am nothing but a slave snatched from the
'I know it,' he said frowning. 'It is well for all here that you
were so snatched before the breath of life had left you, else
Montezuma's wrath had fallen on this city.' And he looked at the
cacique who trembled, such in those days was the terror of
Then he asked me if I was a Teule or Spaniard. I told him that I
was no Spaniard but one of another white race who had Spanish blood
in his veins. This saying seemed to puzzle him, for he had never
so much as heard of any other white race, so I told him something
of my story, at least so much of it as had to do with my being cast
When I had finished, he said, 'If I have understood aright, Teule,
you say that you are no Spaniard, yet that you have Spanish blood
in you, and came hither in a Spanish ship, and I find this story
strange. Well, it is for Montezuma to judge of these matters, so
let us talk of them no more. Come and show me how you handle that
great bow of yours. Did you bring it with you or did you fashion
it here? They tell me, Teule, that there is no such archer in the
So I came up and showed him the bow which was of my own make, and
would shoot an arrow some sixty paces further than any that I saw
in Anahuac, and we fell into talk on matters of sport and war,
Marina helping out my want of language, and before that day was
done we had grown friendly.
For a week the prince Guatemoc and his company rested in the town
of Tobasco, and all this time we three talked much together. Soon
I saw that Marina looked with eyes of longing on the great lord,
partly because of his beauty rank and might, and partly because she
wearied of her captivity in the house of the cacique, and would
share Guatemoc's power, for Marina was ambitious. She tried to win
his heart in many ways, but he seemed not to notice her, so that at
last she spoke more plainly and in my hearing.
'You go hence to-morrow, prince,' she said softly, 'and I have a
favour to ask of you, if you will listen to your handmaid.'
'Speak on, maiden,' he answered.
'I would ask this, that if it pleases you, you will buy me of the
cacique my master, or command him to give me up to you, and take me
with you to Tenoctitlan.'
Guatemoc laughed aloud. 'You put things plainly, maiden,' he said,
'but know that in the city of Tenoctitlan, my wife and royal
cousin, Tecuichpo, awaits me, and with her three other ladies, who
as it chances are somewhat jealous.'
Now Marina flushed beneath her brown skin, and for the first and
last time I saw her gentle eyes grow hard with anger as she
'I asked you to take me with you, prince; I did not ask to be your
wife or love.'
'But perchance you meant it,' he said dryly.
'Whatever I may have meant, prince, it is now forgotten. I wished
to see the great city and the great king, because I weary of my
life here and would myself grow great. You have refused me, but
perhaps a time will come when I shall grow great in spite of you,
and then I may remember the shame that has been put upon me against
you, prince, and all your royal house.'
Again Guatemoc laughed, then of a sudden grew stern.
'You are over-bold, girl,' he said; 'for less words than these many
a one might find herself stretched upon the stone of sacrifice.
But I will forget them, for your woman's pride is stung, and you
know not what you say. Do you forget them also, Teule, if you have
Then Marina turned and went, her bosom heaving with anger and
outraged love or pride, and as she passed me I heard her mutter,
'Yes, prince, you may forget, but I shall not.'
Often since that day I have wondered if some vision of the future
entered into the girl's breast in that hour, or if in her wrath she
spoke at random. I have wondered also whether this scene between
her and Guatemoc had anything to do with the history of her after
life; or did Marina, as she avowed to me in days to come, bring
shame and ruin on her country for the love of Cortes alone? It is
hard to say, and perhaps these things had nothing to do with what
followed, for when great events have happened, we are apt to search
out causes for them in the past that were no cause. This may have
been but a passing mood of hers and one soon put out of mind, for
it is certain that few build up the temples of their lives upon
some firm foundation of hope or hate, of desire or despair, though
it has happened to me to do so, but rather take chance for their
architect--and indeed whether they take him or no, he is still the
master builder. Still that Marina did not forget this talk I know,
for in after times I heard her remind this very prince of the words
that had passed between them, ay, and heard his noble answer to
Now I have but one more thing to tell of my stay in Tobasco, and
then let me on to Mexico, and to the tale of how Montezuma's
daughter became my wife, and of my further dealings with de Garcia.
On the day of our departure a great sacrifice of slaves was held
upon the teocalli to propitiate the gods, so that they might give
us a safe journey, and also in honour of some festival, for to the
festivals of the Indians there was no end. Thither we went up the
sides of the steep pyramid, since I must look upon these horrors
daily. When all was prepared, and we stood around the stone of
sacrifice while the multitude watched below, that fierce paba who
once had felt the beatings of my heart, came forth from the
sanctuary of the god Quetzal and signed to his companions to
stretch the first of the victims on the stone. Then of a sudden
the prince Guatemoc stepped forward, and addressing the priests,
pointed to their chief, and said:
'Seize that man!'
They hesitated, for though he who commanded was a prince of the
blood royal, to lay hands upon a high priest was sacrilege. Then
with a smile Guatemoc drew forth a ring having a dull blue stone
set in its bezel, on which was engraved a strange device. With the
ring he drew out also a scroll of picture-writing, and held them
both before the eyes of the pabas. Now the ring was the ring of
Montezuma, and the scroll was signed by the great high priest of
Tenoctitlan, and those who looked on the ring and the scroll knew
well that to disobey the mandate of him who bore them was death and
dishonour in one. So without more ado they seized their chief and
held him. Then Guatemoc spoke again and shortly:
'Lay him on the stone and sacrifice him to the god Quetzal.'
Now he who had taken such fierce joy in the death of others on this
same stone, began to tremble and weep, for he did not desire to
drink of his own medicine.
'Why must I be offered up, O prince?' he cried, 'I who have been a
faithful servant to the gods and to the Emperor.'
'Because you dared to try to offer up this Teule,' answered
Guatemoc, pointing to me, 'without leave from your master
Montezuma, and because of the other evils that you have done, all
of which are written in this scroll. The Teule is a son of
Quetzal, as you have yourself declared, and Quetzal will be avenged
because of his son. Away with him, here is your warrant.'
Then the priests, who till this moment had been his servants,
dragged their chief to the stone, and there, notwithstanding his
prayers and bellowings, one who had donned his mantle practised his
own art upon him, and presently his body was cast down the side of
the pyramid. For my part I am not sufficient of a Christian to
pretend that I was sorry to see him die in that same fashion by
which he had caused the death of so many better men.
When it was done Guatemoc turned to me and said, 'So perish all
your enemies, my friend Teule.'
Within an hour of this event, which revealed to me how great was
the power of Montezuma, seeing that the sight of a ring from his
finger could bring about the instant death of a high priest at the
hands of his disciples, we started on our long journey. But before
I went I bid a warm farewell to my friend the cacique, and also to
Marina, who wept at my going. The cacique I never saw again, but
Marina I did see.
For a whole month we travelled, for the way was far and the road
rough, and sometimes we must cut our path through forests and
sometimes we must wait upon the banks of rivers. Many were the
strange sights that I saw upon that journey, and many the cities in
which we sojourned in much state and honour, but I cannot stop to
tell of all these.
One thing I will relate, however, though briefly, because it
changed the regard that the prince Guatemoc and I felt one to the
other into a friendship which lasted till his death, and indeed
endures in my heart to this hour.
One day we were delayed by the banks of a swollen river, and in
pastime went out to hunt for deer. When we had hunted a while and
killed three deer, it chanced that Guatemoc perceived a buck
standing on a hillock, and we set out to stalk it, five of us in
all. But the buck was in the open, and the trees and bush ceased a
full hundred yards away from where he stood, so that there was no
way by which we might draw near to him. Then Guatemoc began to
mock me, saying, 'Now, Teule, they tell tales of your archery, and
this deer is thrice as far as we Aztecs can make sure of killing.
Let us see your skill.'
'I will try,' I answered, 'though the shot is long.'
So we drew beneath the cover of a ceiba tree, of which the lowest
branches drooped to within fifteen feet of the ground, and having
set an arrow on the string of the great bow that I had fashioned
after the shape of those we use in merry England, I aimed and drew
it. Straight sped the arrow and struck the buck fair, passing
through its heart, and a low murmur of wonderment went up from
those who saw the feat.
Then, just as we prepared to go to the fallen deer, a male puma,
which is nothing but a cat, though fifty times as big, that had
been watching the buck from above, dropped down from the boughs of
the ceiba tree full on to the shoulders of the prince Guatemoc,
felling him to the ground, where he lay face downwards while the
fierce brute clawed and bit at his back. Indeed had it not been
for his golden cuirass and helm Guatemoc would never have lived to
be emperor of Anahuac, and perhaps it might have been better so.
Now when they saw the puma snarling and tearing at the person of
their prince, though brave men enough, the three nobles who were
with us were seized by sudden panic and ran, thinking him dead.
But I did not run, though I should have been glad enough to do so.
At my side hung one of the Indian weapons that serve them instead
of swords, a club of wood set on both sides with spikes of
obsidian, like the teeth in the bill of a swordfish. Snatching it
from its loop I gave the puma battle, striking a blow upon his head
that rolled him over and caused the blood to pour. In a moment he
was up and at me roaring with rage. Whirling the wooden sword with
both hands I smote him in mid air, the blow passing between his
open paws and catching him full on the snout and head. So hard was
this stroke that my weapon was shattered, still it did not stop the
puma. In a second I was cast to the earth with a great shock, and
the brute was on me tearing and biting at my chest and neck. It
was well for me at that moment that I wore a garment of quilted
cotton, otherwise I must have been ripped open, and even with this
covering I was sadly torn, and to this day I bear the marks of the
beast's claws upon my body. But now when I seemed to be lost the
great blow that I had struck took effect on him, for one of the
points of glass had pierced to his brain. He lifted his head, his
claws contracted themselves in my flesh, then he howled like a dog
in pain and fell dead upon my body. So I lay upon the ground
unable to stir, for I was much hurt, until my companions, having
taken heart, came back and pulled the puma off me. By this time
Guatemoc, who saw all, but till now was unable to move from lack of
breath, had found his feet again.
'Teule,' he gasped, 'you are a brave man indeed, and if you live I
swear that I will always stand your friend to the death as you have
Thus he spoke to me; but to the others he said nothing, casting no
reproaches at them.
Then I fainted away.
THE COURT OF MONTEZUMA
Now for a week I was so ill from my wounds that I was unable to be
moved, and then I must be carried in a litter till we came to
within three days' journey of the city of Tenoctitlan or Mexico.
After that, as the roads were now better made and cared for than
any I have seen in England, I was able to take to my feet again.
Of this I was glad, for I have no love of being borne on the
shoulders of other men after the womanish Indian fashion, and,
moreover, as we had now come to a cold country, the road running
through vast table-lands and across the tops of mountains, it was
no longer necessary as it had been in the hot lands. Never did I
see anything more dreary than these immense lengths of desolate
plains covered with aloes and other thorny and succulent shrubs of
fantastic aspect, which alone could live on the sandy and waterless
soil. This is a strange land, that can boast three separate
climates within its borders, and is able to show all the glories of
the tropics side by side with deserts of measureless expanse.
One night we camped in a rest house, of which there were many built
along the roads for the use of travellers, that was placed almost
on the top of the sierra or mountain range which surrounds the
valley of Tenoctitlan. Next morning we took the road again before
dawn, for the cold was so sharp at this great height that we, who
had travelled from the hot land, could sleep very little, and also
Guatemoc desired if it were possible to reach the city that night.
When we had gone a few hundred paces the path came to the crest of
the mountain range, and I halted suddenly in wonder and admiration.
Below me lay a vast bowl of land and water, of which, however, I
could see nothing, for the shadows of the night still filled it.
But before me, piercing the very clouds, towered the crests of two
snow-clad mountains, and on these the light of the unrisen sun
played, already changing their whiteness to the stain of blood.
Popo, or the Hill that Smokes, is the name of the one, and Ixtac,
or the Sleeping Woman, that of the other, and no grander sight was
ever offered to the eyes of man than they furnished in that hour
before the dawn. From the lofty summit of Popo went up great
columns of smoke which, what with the fire in their heart and the
crimson of the sunrise, looked like rolling pillars of flame. And
for the glory of the glittering slopes below, that changed
continually from the mystery of white to dull red, from red to
crimson, and from crimson to every dazzling hue that the rainbow
holds, who can tell it, who can even imagine it? None, indeed,
except those that have seen the sun rise over the volcans of
When I had feasted my eyes on Popo I turned to Ixtac. She is not
so lofty as her 'husband,' for so the Aztecs name the volcan Popo,
and when first I looked I could see nothing but the gigantic shape
of a woman fashioned in snow, and lying like a corpse upon her
lofty bier, whose hair streamed down the mountain side. But now
the sunbeams caught her also, and she seemed to start out in
majesty from a veil of rosy mist, a wonderful and thrilling sight.
But beautiful as she was then, still I love the Sleeping Woman best
at eve. Then she lies a shape of glory on the blackness beneath,
and is slowly swallowed up into the solemn night as the dark draws
its veil across her.
Now as I gazed the light began to creep down the sides of the
volcans, revealing the forests on their flanks. But still the vast
valley was filled with mist that lay in dense billows resembling
those of the sea, through which hills and temple tops started up
like islands. By slow degrees as we passed upon our downward road
the vapours cleared away, and the lakes of Tezcuco, Chalco, and
Xochicalco shone in the sunlight like giant mirrors. On their
banks stood many cities, indeed the greatest of these, Mexico,
seemed to float upon the waters; beyond them and about them were
green fields of corn and aloe, and groves of forest trees, while
far away towered the black wall of rock that hedges in the valley.
All day we journeyed swiftly through this fairy land. We passed
through the cities of Amaquem and Ajotzinco, which I will not stay
to describe, and many a lovely village that nestled upon the
borders of Lake Chalco. Then we entered on the great causeway of
stone built like a road resting on the waters, and with the
afternoon we came to the town of Cuitlahuac. Thence we passed on
to Iztapalapan, and here Guatemoc would have rested for the night
in the royal house of his uncle Cuitlahua. But when we reached the
town we found that Montezuma, who had been advised of our approach
by runners, had sent orders that we were to push on to Tenoctitlan,
and that palanquins had been made ready to bear us. So we entered
the palanquins, and leaving that lovely city of gardens, were borne
swiftly along the southern causeway. On we went past towns built
upon piles fixed in the bottom of the lake, past gardens that were
laid out on reeds and floated over the waters like a boat, past
teocallis and glistening temples without number, through fleets of
light canoes and thousands of Indians going to and fro about their
business, till at length towards sunset we reached the battlemented
fort that is called Xoloc which stands upon the dyke. I say
stands, but alas! it stands no more. Cortes has destroyed it, and
with it all those glorious cities which my eyes beheld that day.
At Xoloc we began to enter the city of Tenoctitlan or Mexico, the
mightiest city that ever I had seen. The houses on the outskirts,
indeed, were built of mud or adobe, but those in the richer parts
were constructed of red stone. Each house surrounded a courtyard
and was in turn surrounded by a garden, while between them ran
canals, having footpaths on either side. Then there were squares,
and in the squares pyramids, palaces, and temples without end. I
gazed on them till I was bewildered, but all seemed as nothing when
at length I saw the great temple with its stone gateways opening to
the north and the south, the east and the west, its wall carven
everywhere with serpents, its polished pavements, its teocallis
decked with human skulls, thousands upon thousands of them, and its
vast surrounding tianquez, or market place. I caught but a glimpse
of it then, for the darkness was falling, and afterwards we were
borne on through the darkness, I did not know whither.
A while went by and I saw that we had left the city, and were
passing up a steep hill beneath the shadow of mighty cedar trees.
Presently we halted in a courtyard and here I was bidden to alight.
Then the prince Guatemoc led me into a wondrous house, of which all
the rooms were roofed with cedar wood, and its walls hung with
richly-coloured cloths, and in that house gold seemed as plentiful
as bricks and oak are with us in England. Led by domestics who
bore cedar wands in their hands, we went through many passages and
rooms, till at length we came to a chamber where other domestics
were awaiting us, who washed us with scented waters and clothed us
in gorgeous apparel. Thence they conducted us to a door where we
were bidden to remove our shoes, and a coarse coloured robe was
given to each of us to hide our splendid dress. The robes having
been put on, we were suffered to pass the door, and found ourselves
in a vast chamber in which were many noble men and some women, all
standing and clad in coarse robes. At the far end of this chamber
was a gilded screen, and from behind it floated sounds of sweet
Now as we stood in the great chamber that was lighted with sweet-
smelling torches, many men advanced and greeted Guatemoc the
prince, and I noticed that all of them looked upon me curiously.
Presently a woman came and I saw that her beauty was great. She
was tall and stately, and beneath her rough outer robe splendidly
attired in worked and jewelled garments. Weary and bewildered as I
was, her loveliness seized me as it were in a vice, never before
had I seen such loveliness. For her eye was proud and full like
the eye of a buck, her curling hair fell upon her shoulders, and
her features were very noble, yet tender almost to sadness, though
at times she could seem fierce enough. This lady was yet in her
first youth, perchance she may have seen some eighteen years, but
her shape was that of a full-grown woman and most royal.
'Greeting, Guatemoc my cousin,' she said in a sweet voice; 'so you
are come at last. My royal father has awaited you for long and
will ask questions as to your delay. My sister your wife has
wondered also why you tarried.'
Now as she spoke I felt rather than saw that this lady was
searching me with her eyes.
'Greeting, Otomie my cousin,' answered the prince. 'I have been
delayed by the accidents of travel. Tobasco is far away, also my
charge and companion, Teule,' and he nodded towards me, 'met with
an accident on the road.'
'What was the accident?' she asked.
'Only this, that he saved me from the jaws of a puma at the risk of
his life when all the others fled from me, and was somewhat hurt in
the deed. He saved me thus--' and in few words he told the story.
She listened and I saw that her eyes sparkled at the tale. When it
was done she spoke again, and this time to me.
'Welcome, Teule,' she said smiling. 'You are not of our people,
yet my heart goes out to such a man.' And still smiling she left
'Who is that great lady?' I asked of Guatemoc.
'That is my cousin Otomie, the princess of the Otomie, my uncle
Montezuma's favourite daughter,' he answered. 'She likes you,
Teule, and that is well for you for many reasons. Hush!'
As he spoke the screen at the far end of the chamber was drawn
aside. Beyond it a man sat upon a broidered cushion, who was
inhaling the fumes of the tobacco weed from a gilded pipe of wood
after the Indian fashion. This man, who was no other than the
monarch Montezuma, was of a tall build and melancholy countenance,
having a very pale face for one of his nation, and thin black hair.
He was dressed in a white robe of the purest cotton, and wore a
golden belt and sandals set with pearls, and on his head a plume of
feathers of the royal green. Behind him were a band of beautiful
girls somewhat slightly clothed, some of whom played on lutes and
other instruments of music, and on either side stood four ancient
counsellors, all of them barefooted and clad in the coarsest
So soon as the screen was drawn all the company in the chamber
prostrated themselves upon their knees, an example that I hastened
to follow, and thus they remained till the emperor made a sign with
the gilded bowl of his pipe, when they rose to their feet again and
stood with folded hands and eyes fixed abjectly upon the floor.
Presently Montezuma made another signal, and three aged men whom I
understood to be ambassadors, advanced and asked some prayer of
him. He answered them with a nod of the head and they retreated
from his presence, making obeisance and stepping backward till they
mingled with the crowd. Then the emperor spoke a word to one of
the counsellors, who bowed and came slowly down the hall looking to
the right and to the left. Presently his eye fell upon Guatemoc,
and, indeed, he was easy to see, for he stood a head taller than
'Hail, prince,' he said. 'The royal Montezuma desires to speak
with you, and with the Teule, your companion.'
'Do as I do, Teule,' said Guatemoc, and led the way up the chamber,
till we reached the place where the wooden screen had been, which,
as we passed it, was drawn behind us, shutting us off from the
Here we stood a while, with folded hands and downcast eyes, till a
signal was made to us to advance.
'Your report, nephew,' said Montezuma in a low voice of command.
'I went to the city of Tobasco, O glorious Montezuma. I found the
Teule and brought him hither. Also I caused the high priest to be
sacrificed according to the royal command, and now I hand back the
imperial signet,' and he gave the ring to a counsellor.
'Why did you delay so long upon the road, nephew?'
'Because of the chances of the journey; while saving my life, royal
Montezuma, the Teule my prisoner was bitten by a puma. Its skin is
brought to you as an offering.'
Now Montezuma looked at me for the first time, then opened a
picture scroll that one of the counsellors handed to him, and read
in it, glancing at me from time to time.
'The description is good,' he said at length, 'in all save one
thing--it does not say that this prisoner is the handsomest man in
Anahuac. Say, Teule, why have your countrymen landed on my
dominions and slain my people?'
'I know nothing of it, O king,' I answered as well as I might with
the help of Guatemoc, 'and they are not my countrymen.'
'The report says that you confess to having the blood of these
Teules in your veins, and that you came to these shores, or near
them, in one of their great canoes.'
'That is so, O king, yet I am not of their people, and I came to
the shore floating on a barrel.'
'I hold that you lie,' answered Montezuma frowning, 'for the sharks
and crocodiles would devour one who swam thus.' Then he added
anxiously, 'Say, are you of the descendants of Quetzal?'
'I do not know, O king. I am of a white race, and our forefather
was named Adam.'
'Perchance that is another name for Quetzal,' he said. 'It has
long been prophesied that his children would return, and now it
seems that the hour of their coming is at hand,' and he sighed
heavily, then added: 'Go now. To-morrow you shall tell me of these
Teules, and the council of the priests shall decide your fate.'
Now when I heard the name of the priests I trembled in all my bones
and cried, clasping my hands in supplication:
'Slay me if you will, O king, but I beseech you deliver me not
again into the hands of the priests.'
'We are all in the hands of the priests, who are the mouth of God,'
he answered coldly. 'Besides, I hold that you have lied to me.'
Then I went foreboding evil, and Guatemoc also looked downcast.
Bitterly did I curse the hour when I had said that I was of the
Spanish blood and yet no Spaniard. Had I known even what I knew
that day, torture would not have wrung those words from me. But
now it was too late.
Now Guatemoc led me to certain apartments of this palace of
Chapoltepec, where his wife, the royal princess Tecuichpo, was
waiting him, a very lovely lady, and with her other ladies, among
them the princess Otomie, Montezuma's daughter, and some nobles.
Here a rich repast was served to us, and I was seated next to the
princess Otomie, who spoke to me most graciously, asking me many
things concerning my land and the people of the Teules. It was
from her that I learned first that the emperor was much disturbed
at heart because of these Teules or Spaniards, for he was
superstitious, and held them to be the children of the god Quetzal,
who according to ancient prophecy would come to take the land.
Indeed, so gracious was she, and so royally lovely, that for the
first time I felt my heart stirred by any other woman than my
betrothed whom I had left far away in England, and whom, as I
thought, I should never see again. And as I learned in after days
mine was not the only heart that was stirred that night.
Near to us sat another royal lady, Papantzin, the sister of
Montezuma, but she was neither young nor lovely, and yet most sweet
faced and sad as though with the presage of death. Indeed she died
not many weeks after but could not rest quiet in her grave, as
shall be told.
When the feast was done and we had drunk of the cocoa or chocolate,
and smoked tobacco in pipes, a strange but most soothing custom
that I learned in Tobasco and of which I have never been able to
break myself, though the weed is still hard to come by here in
England, I was led to my sleeping place, a small chamber panelled
with cedar boards. For a while I could not sleep, for I was
overcome by the memory of all the strange sights that I had seen in
this wonderful new land which was so civilised and yet so
barbarous. I thought of that sad-faced king, the absolute lord of
millions, surrounded by all that the heart of man can desire, by
vast wealth, by hundreds of lovely wives, by loving children, by
countless armies, by all the glory of the arts, ruling over the
fairest empire on the earth, with every pleasure to his hand, a god
in all things save his mortality, and worshipped as a god, and yet
a victim to fear and superstition, and more heavy hearted than the
meanest slave about his palaces. Here was a lesson such as Solomon
would have loved to show, for with Solomon this Montezuma might
'I gathered me also silver and gold, and the peculiar treasure of
kings and of the provinces: I gat me men singers and women singers,
and the delights of the sons of men, and musical instruments, and
that of all sorts. And whatsoever my eyes desired I kept not from
them, I withheld not my heart from any joy. And behold, all was
vanity and vexation of spirit, and there was no profit under the
So he might have cried, so, indeed, he did cry in other words, for,
as the painting of the skeletons and the three monarchs that is
upon the north wall of the aisle of Ditchingham Church shows forth
so aptly, kings have their fates and happiness is not to them more
than to any other of the sons of men. Indeed, it is not at all, as
my benefactor Fonseca once said to me; true happiness is but a
dream from which we awake continually to the sorrows of our short
Then my thoughts flew to the vision of that most lovely maid, the
princess Otomie, who, as I believed, had looked on me so kindly,
and I found that vision sweet, for I was young, and the English
Lily, my own love, was far away and lost to me for ever. Was it
then wonderful that I should find this Indian poppy fair? Indeed,
where is the man who would not have been overcome by her sweetness,
her beauty, and that stamp of royal grace which comes with kingly
blood and the daily exercise of power? Like the rich wonders of
the robe she wore, her very barbarism, of which now I saw but the
better side, drew and dazzled my mind's eye, giving her woman's
tenderness some new quality, sombre and strange, an eastern
richness which is lacking in our well schooled English women, that
at one and the same stroke touched both the imagination and the
senses, and through them enthralled the heart.
For Otomie seemed such woman as men dream of but very rarely win,
seeing that the world has few such natures and fewer nurseries
where they can be reared. At once pure and passionate, of royal
blood and heart, rich natured and most womanly, yet brave as a man
and beautiful as the night, with a mind athirst for knowledge and a
spirit that no sorrows could avail to quell, ever changing in her
outer moods, and yet most faithful and with the honour of a man,
such was Otomie, Montezuma's daughter, princess of the Otomie. Was
it wonderful then that I found her fair, or, when fate gave me her
love, that at last I loved her in turn? And yet there was that in
her nature which should have held me back had I but known of it,
for with all her charm, her beauty and her virtues, at heart she
was still a savage, and strive as she would to hide it, at times
her blood would master her.
But as I lay in the chamber of the palace of Chapoltepec, the tramp
of the guards without my door reminded me that I had little now to
do with love and other delights, I whose life hung from day to day
upon a hair. To-morrow the priests would decide my fate, and when
the priests were judges, the prisoner might know the sentence
before it was spoken. I was a stranger and a white man, surely
such a one would prove an offering more acceptable to the gods than
that furnished by a thousand Indian hearts. I had been snatched
from the altars of Tobasco that I might grace the higher altars of
Tenoctitlan, and that was all. My fate would be to perish
miserably far from my home, and in this world never to be heard of
Musing thus sadly at last I slept. When I woke the sun was up.
Rising from my mat I went to the wood-barred window place and
looked through. The palace whence I gazed was placed on the crest
of a rocky hill. On one side this hill was bathed by the blue
waters of Tezcuco, on the other, a mile or more away, rose the
temple towers of Mexico. Along the slopes of the hill, and in some
directions for a mile from its base, grew huge cedar trees from the
boughs of which hung a grey and ghostly-looking moss. These trees
are so large that the smallest of them is bigger than the best oak
in this parish of Ditchingham, while the greatest measures twenty-
two paces round the base. Beyond and between these marvellous and
ancient trees were the gardens of Montezuma, that with their
strange and gorgeous flowers, their marble baths, their aviaries
and wild beast dens, were, as I believe, the most wonderful in the
'At the least,' I thought to myself, 'even if I must die, it is
something to have seen this country of Anahuac, its king, its
customs, and its people.'
* The gardens of Montezuma have been long destroyed, but some of
the cedars still flourish at Chapoltepec, though the Spaniards cut
down many. One of them, which tradition says was a favourite tree
of the great emperor's, measures (according to a rough calculation
the author of this book made upon the spot) about sixty feet round
the bole. It is strange to think that a few ancient conifers
should alone survive of all the glories of Montezuma's wealth and
THOMAS BECOMES A GOD
Little did I, plain Thomas Wingfield, gentleman, know, when I rose
that morning, that before sunset I should be a god, and after
Montezuma the Emperor, the most honoured man, or rather god, in the
city of Mexico.
It came about thus. When I had breakfasted with the household of
the prince Guatemoc, I was led to the hall of justice, which was
named the 'tribunal of god.' Here on a golden throne sat
Montezuma, administering justice in such pomp as I cannot describe.
About him were his counsellors and great lords, and before him was
placed a human skull crowned with emeralds so large that a blaze of
light went up from them. In his hand also he held an arrow for a
sceptre. Certain chiefs or caciques were on their trial for
treason, nor were they left long in doubt as to their fate. For
when some evidence had been heard they were asked what they had to
say in their defence. Each of them told his tale in few words and
short. Then Montezuma, who till now had said and done nothing,
took the painted scroll of their indictments and pricked it with
the arrow in his hand where the picture of each prisoner appeared
upon the scroll. Then they were led away to death, but how they
died I do not know.
When this trial was finished certain priests entered the hall
clothed in sable robes, their matted hair hanging down their backs.
They were fierce, wild-eyed men of great dignity, and I shivered
when I saw them. I noticed also that they alone made small
reverence to the majesty of Montezuma. The counsellors and nobles
having fallen back, these priests entered into talk with the
emperor, and presently two of them came forward and taking me from
the custody of the guards, led me forward before the throne. Then
of a sudden I was commanded to strip myself of my garments, and
this I did with no little shame, till I stood naked before them
all. Now the priests came forward and examined every part of me
closely. On my arms were the scars left by de Garcia's sword, and
on my breast the scarcely healed marks of the puma's teeth and
claws. These wounds they scanned, asking how I had come by them.
I told them, and thereupon they carried on a discussion among
themselves, and out of my hearing, which grew so warm that at
length they appealed to the emperor to decide the point. He
thought a while, and I heard him say:
'The blemishes do not come from within the body, nor were they upon
it at birth, but have been inflicted by the violence of man and
Then the priests consulted together again, and presently their
leader spoke some words into the ear of Montezuma. He nodded, and
rising from his throne, came towards me who stood naked and
shivering before him, for the air of Mexico is keen. As he
advanced he loosed a chain of emeralds and gold that hung about his
neck, and unclasped the royal cloak from his shoulders. Then with
his own hand, he put the chain about my throat, and the cloak upon
my shoulders, and having humbly bent the knee before me as though
in adoration, he cast his arms about me and embraced me.
'Hail! most blessed,' he said, 'divine son of Quetzal, holder of
the spirit of Tezcat, Soul of the World, Creator of the World.
What have we done that you should honour us thus with your presence
for a season? What can we do to pay the honour back? You created
us and all this country; behold! while you tarry with us, it is
yours and we are nothing but your servants. Order and your
commands shall be obeyed, think and your thought shall be executed
before it can pass your lips. O Tezcat, I, Montezuma your servant,
offer you my adoration, and through me the adoration of all my
people,' and again he bowed the knee.
'We adore you, O Tezcat!' chimed in the priests.
Now I remained silent and bewildered, for of all this foolery I
could understand nothing, and while I stood thus Montezuma clapped
his hands and women entered bearing beautiful clothing with them,
and a wreath of flowers. The clothing they put upon my body and
the wreath of flowers on my head, worshipping me the while and
saying, 'Tezcat who died yesterday is come again. Be joyful,
Tezcat has come again in the body of the captive Teule.'
Then I understood that I was now a god and the greatest of gods,
though at that moment within myself I felt more of a fool than I
had ever been before.
And now men appeared, grave and reverend in appearance, bearing
lutes in their hands. I was told that these were my tutors, and
with them a train of royal pages who were to be my servants. They
led me forth from the hall making music as they went, and before me
marched a herald, calling out that this was the god Tezcat, Soul of
the World, Creator of the World, who had come again to visit his
people. They led me through all the courts and endless chambers of
the palace, and wherever I went, man woman and child bowed
themselves to the earth before me, and worshipped me, Thomas
Wingfield of Ditchingham, in the county of Norfolk, till I thought
that I must be mad.
Then they placed me in a litter and carried me down the hill
Chapoltepec, and along causeways and through streets, till we came
to the great square of the temple. Before me went heralds and
priests, after me followed pages and nobles, and ever as we passed
the multitudes prostrated themselves till I began to understand how
wearisome a thing it is to be a god. Next they carried me through
the wall of serpents and up the winding paths of the mighty
teocalli till we reached the summit, where the temples and idols
stood, and here a great drum beat, and the priests sacrificed
victim after victim in my honour and I grew sick with the sight of
wickedness and blood. Presently they invited me to descend from
the litter, laying rich carpets and flowers for my feet to tread
on, and I was much afraid, for I thought that they were about to
sacrifice me to myself or some other divinity. But this was not
so. They led me to the edge of the pyramid, or as near as I would
go, for I shrank back lest they should seize me suddenly and cast
me over the edge. And there the high priest called out my dignity
to the thousands who were assembled beneath, and every one of them
bent the knee in adoration of me, the priests above and the
multitudes below. And so it went on till I grew dizzy with the
worship, and the shouting, and the sounds of music, and the sights
of death, and very thankful was I, when at last they carried me
back to Chapoltepec.
Here new honours awaited me, for I was conducted to a splendid
range of apartments, next to those of the emperor himself, and I
was told that all Montezuma's household were at my command and that
he who refused to do my bidding should die.
So at last I spoke and said it was my bidding that I should be
suffered to rest a while, till a feast was prepared for me in the
apartments of Guatemoc the prince, for there I hoped to meet
My tutors and the nobles who attended me answered that Montezuma my
servant had trusted that I would feast with him that night. Still
my command should be done. Then they left me, saying that they
would come again in an hour to lead me to the banquet. Now I threw
off the emblems of my godhead and cast myself down on cushions to
rest and think, and a certain exultation took possession of me, for
was I not a god, and had I not power almost absolute? Still being
of a cautious mind I wondered why I was a god, and how long my
power would last.
Before the hour had gone by, pages and nobles entered, bearing new
robes which were put upon my body and fresh flowers to crown my
head, and I was led away to the apartments of Guatemoc, fair women
going before me who played upon instruments of music.
Here Guatemoc the prince waited to receive me, which he did as
though I, his captive and companion, was the first of kings. And
yet I thought that I saw merriment in his eye, mingled with sorrow.
Bending forward I spoke to him in a whisper:
'What does all this mean, prince?' I said. 'Am I befooled, or am I
indeed a god?'
'Hush!' he answered, bowing low and speaking beneath his breath.
'It means both good and ill for you, my friend Teule. Another time
I will tell you.' Then he added aloud, 'Does it please you, O
Tezcat, god of gods, that we should sit at meat with you, or will
you eat alone?'
'The gods like good company, prince,' I said.
Now during this talk I had discovered that among those gathered in
the hall was the princess Otomie. So when we passed to the low
table around which we were to sit on cushions, I hung back watching
where she would place herself, and then at once seated myself
beside her. This caused some little confusion among the company,
for the place of honour had been prepared for me at the head of the
table, the seat of Guatemoc being to my right and that of his wife,
the royal Tecuichpo, to my left.
'Your seat is yonder, O Tezcat,' she said, blushing beneath her
olive skin as she spoke.
'Surely a god may sit where he chooses, royal Otomie,' I answered;
'besides,' I added in a low voice, 'what better place can he find
than by the side of the most lovely goddess on the earth.'
Again she blushed and answered, 'Alas! I no goddess, but only a
mortal maid. Listen, if you desire that I should be your companion
at our feasts, you must issue it as a command; none will dare to
disobey you, not even Montezuma my father.'
So I rose and said in very halting Aztec to the nobles who waited
on me, 'It is my will that my place shall always be set by the side
of the princess Otomie.'
At these words Otomie blushed even more, and a murmur went round
among the guests, while Guatemoc first looked angry and then
laughed. But the nobles, my attendants, bowed, and their spokesman
'The words of Tezcat shall be obeyed. Let the seat of Otomie, the
royal princess, the favoured of Tezcat, be placed by the side of
Afterwards this was always done, except when I ate with Montezuma
himself. Moreover the princess Otomie became known throughout the
city as 'the blessed princess, the favoured of Tezcat.' For so
strong a hold had custom and superstition upon this people that
they thought it the greatest of honours to her, who was among the
first ladies in the land, that he who for a little space was
supposed to hold the spirit of the soul of the world, should deign
to desire her companionship when he ate. Now the feast went on,
and presently I made shift to ask Otomie what all this might mean.
'Alas!' she whispered, 'you do not know, nor dare I tell you now.
But I will say this: though you who are a god may sit where you
will to-day, an hour shall come when you must lie where you would
not. Listen: when we have finished eating, say that it is your
wish to walk in the gardens of the palace and that I should
accompany you. Then I may find a chance to speak.'
Accordingly, when the feast was over I said that I desired to walk
in the gardens with the princess Otomie, and we went out and
wandered under the solemn trees, that are draped in a winding-sheet
of grey moss which, hanging from every bough as though the forest
had been decked with the white beards of an army of aged men, waved
and rustled sadly in the keen night air. But alas! we might not be
alone, for after us at a distance of twenty paces followed all my
crowd of attendant nobles, together with fair dancing girls and
minstrels armed with their accursed flutes, on which they blew in
season and out of it, dancing as they blew. In vain did I command