THE AZTEC TREASURE-HOUSE
By Thomas Allibone Janvier
Copyright, 1890, by Harper & Brothers.
All rights reserved.
TO C. A. J.
Departimiento y ha entre los enganos. Catales y ha que son buenos, e tales que malos, e buenos son aquellos que los omnes fazen a buena fe e a buena intencion.—ALONZO el SABIO, Setena Partida, Titulo xvi., Ley ii.
I. FRAY ANTONIO
II. THE CACIQUE'S SECRET
III. THE MONK'S MANUSCRIPT
IV. MONTEZUMA'S MESSENGER
V. THE ENGINEER AND THE LOST-FREIGHT MAN
VI. THE KING'S SYMBOL
VII. THE FIGHT IN THE CANON
VIII. AFTER THE FIGHT
IX. THE CAVE OF THE DEAD
X. THE SWINGING STATUE
XI. THE SUBMERGED CITY
XII. IN THE VALLEY OF DEATH
XIII. UP THE CHAC-MOOL STAIR
XIV. THE HANGING CHAIN
XV. THE TEMPLE IN THE CLOUDS
XVI. AT THE BARRED PASS
XVII. OF OUR COMING INTO THE VALLY OF AZTLAN
XVIII. THE STRIKING OF A MATCH
XIX. THE SEEDS OF REVOLT
XX. THE PRIEST CAPTAIN'S SUMMONS
XXI. THE WALLED CITY OF CULHUACON
XXII. THE OUTBREAK OF REVOLUTION
XXIII. A RESCUE
XXIV. THE AFFAIR AT THE WATER-GATE
XXV. THE GOLD-MINERS OF HUITZILAN
XXVI. THE GATHERING FOR WAR
XXVII. AN OFFER OF TERMS
XXVIII. THE SURRENDER OF A LIFE
XXIX. THE ASSAULT IN THE NIGHT
XXX. THE FALL OF THE CITADEL
XXXII. EL SABIO'S DEFIANCE
XXXIII. IN THE AZTEC TREASURE-HOUSE
XXXIV. A MARTYRDOM
XXXV. THE TREASURE-CHAMBER
XXXVI. THE VENGEANCE OF THE GODS
XXXVII. THROUGH DARKNESS TO LIGHT
XXXVIII. KING CHALTZANTZIN'S TREASURE
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE DYING CACIQUE
THE LETTER FROM THE DEAD
PACKING IN THE CORRAL
THE FIGHT IN THE CANON
THE CAVE OF THE DEAD
AFLOAT ON THE LAKE
EL SABIO'S PREDICAMENT
MAKING THE PEACE-SIGN
THE FULFILMENT OF THE PROPHECY
THE STRIKING OF A MATCH
CHECKING YOUNG'S OUTBREAK
THE LEAP FROM ABOVE THE WATER-GATE
THE TLAHUICOS AND THEIR GUARDS
IN THE GATE-WAY OF THE CITADEL
THE LAST RALLY
EL SABIO'S DEFIANCE
FRAY ANTONIO'S APPEAL
YOUNG'S STRUGGLE WITH THE PRIEST CAPTAIN
IN THE LIBRARY BEFORE THE OPEN FIRE
Who'd hear great marvels told— Come listen now! Who longs for hidden gold— Come listen now! Who joys in well-fought fights, Who yearns for wondrous sights, Who pants for strange delights— Come listen now!
For here are marvels told To listen to! Here tales of hidden gold To listen to! Here gallant men wage fights, Here pass most wondrous sights, Here's that which ear delights To listen to!
THE AZTEC TREASURE-HOUSE
"God sends nuts to them who have no teeth:" which ancient Spanish proverb of contrariety comes strongly to mind as I set myself to this writing.
By nature am I a studious, book-loving man, having a strong liking for quiet and orderliness. Yet in me also is a strain that urges me, even along ways which are both rough and dangerous, to get beyond book-knowledge, and to examine for myself the abstractions of thought and the concretions of men and things out of the consideration whereof books are made. And I hold that it is because I have thus sought for truth in its original sources, instead of resting content with what passes for truth, being detached fragments of fact which other men have found and have cut and polished to suit themselves, that I have gathered to myself more of it, and in its rude yet perfect native crystals, than has come into the possession of any other modern investigator. In making which strong assertion I am not moved by idle vanity, but by a just and reasonable conception of the intrinsic merit of my own achievement: as will be universally admitted when I publish the great work, now almost ready for the press, upon which, in preparatory study and in convincing discovery, I have been for the past ten years engaged. For I speak well within bounds when I declare that a complete revolution in all existing conceptions of American archaeology and ethnology will be wrought when Pre-Columbian Conditions on the Continent of North America, by Professor Thomas Palgrave, Ph.D. (Leipsic), is given to the world.
Upon this work I say that I have been engaged for ten years. Rather should I say that I have been engaged upon it for forty years; for its germs were implanted in me when I was a child of but six years old. Before my intelligence at all could grasp the meaning of what I read, my imagination was fired by reading in the pages of Stephens of the wonders which that eminent explorer discovered in Yucatan; and my mind then was made up that I would follow in his footsteps, and in the end go far beyond him, until I should reveal the whole history of the marvellous race whose mighty works he found, but of whose genesis he could only feebly surmise. And this resolve of the child became the dominant purpose of the man. In my college life at Harvard, and in my university life at Leipsic, my studies were directed chiefly to this end. Especially did I devote myself to the acquisition of languages, and to gaining a sound knowledge of the principles of those departments of archaeology and ethnology which related to the great work that I had in view. Later, during the ten years that I occupied (as I believe usefully and acceptably) the Chair of Topical Linguistics in the University of Michigan, all the time that I properly could take from my professorial duties was given exclusively to the study of the languages of the indigenous races of Mexico, and to what little was to be found in books concerning their social organization and mode of life, and to the broad subject of Mexican antiquities. By correspondence I became acquainted with the most eminent Mexican archaeologists—the lamented Orozco y Berra, Icazbalceta, Chavero, and the philologists Pimentel and Penafiel; and I had the honor to know personally the American archaeologist Bandelier, the surpassing scientific value of whose researches among the primitive peoples of Mexico places his work above all praise. And by the study of the writings of these great scholars, and of all writings thereto cognate, my own knowledge steadily grew; until at last I felt myself strong enough to begin the investigations on my own account for which I had sought by all these years of patient preparation fittingly to pave the way.
But inasmuch as my life until a short time since has been wholly that of a scholar, and wholly has been passed in quiet ways, I truly have had no teeth at all for the proper cracking of the nuts which have come to me in the course of the surprising adventures that I have now set myself to narrate. For in the course of these adventures (necessarily, yet sorely against my will) I have been thrust by force of circumstances into many imminent and prodigious perils; much time that I gladly would have devoted to peaceful, fruitful study I have been compelled to employ in rude and profitless (except that my life was saved by it) battling with savages; and—what most of all has pained me—many curious and interesting skulls that I gladly would have added entire to my collection of crania, I have been driven in self-defence to ruin irreparably with my own hands.
All of which diversities of my likings and my happenings will appear in due order, as I tell in the following pages of the strange and wonderful things which befell me—in company with Rayburn and Young and Fray Antonio and the boy Pablo—in our search after and finding of the great treasure that was hidden, in a curiously secret place among the Mexican mountains more than a thousand years ago, by Chaltzantzin, the third of the Aztec kings.
My heart was light within me as I stood on the steamer's deck in the cool gray of an October morning and saw out across the dark green sea and the dusky, brownish stretch of coast country the snow-crowned peak of Orizaba glinting in the first rays of the rising sun. And presently, as the sun rose higher, all the tropic region of the coast and the brown walls of Vera Cruz and of its outpost fort of San Juan de Ulua were flooded with brilliant light—which sudden and glorious outburst of radiant splendor seemed to me to be charged with a bright promise of my own success.
And still lighter was my heart, a week later, when I found myself established in the beautiful city of Morelia, and ready to begin actively the work for which I had been preparing myself—at first unconsciously, but for ten years past consciously and carefully—almost all my life long.
Morelia, I had decided, was the best base for the operations that I was about to undertake. My main purpose was to search for the remnants of primitive civilization among the more isolated of the native Indian tribes; and out of the fragments thus found, pieced together with what more I could glean from the early ecclesiastical and civil records, to recreate, so far as this was possible, the fabric that was destroyed by the Spanish conquerors. Nowhere could my investigations be conducted to better advantage than in the State of Michoacan (of which State the city of Morelia is the capital) and in the adjacent State of Jalisco; for in this region tribes still exist which never have been, reduced to more than nominal subjection, and which, maintain to a great extent their primitive customs and their primitive faith, though curiously mingling with this latter many Christian observances. Indeed, the independence of the Indians of these parts is so notable that the proverb "Free as Jalisco" is current throughout Mexico. Moreover, Morelia is a city rich in ancient records. The archives of the Franciscan province, that has its centre here extend back to the year 1531; those of the Bishopric of Michoacan to the year 1538; and those of the Colegio de San Nicolas to the year 1540; while in the recently founded Museo Michoacano already has been collected a rich store of archaeological material. In a word, there was no place in all Mexico where my studies and my investigations could be pursued to such advantage as they could be pursued here.
From a fellow-archaeologist in the City of Mexico I brought a letter of introduction to the director of the Museo, the learned Dr. Nicolas Leon; and so cordially was this letter worded, and so cordially was it received, that within the day of my coming into that strange city I found myself in the midst of friends. At once their hearts and their houses were opened to me, and they gave me with a warm enthusiasm the benefit of their knowledge and of their active assistance forwarding the work that I had in hand.
In the quiet retirement of the Museo I opened to that one of its members to whom the director especially had commended me, Don Rafael Moreno, the purposes which I had in view, and the means by which I hoped to accomplish them. "Surely," I said, "among the free Indians in the mountains hereabouts much may be found—in customs, in tone of thought, in religion—that has remained unchanged since the time of the conquest."
Don Rafael nodded. "Fray Antonio has said as much," he observed, thoughtfully.
"And as your own distinguished countryman, Senor Orozco y Berra, has pointed out," I continued, "many dark places in primitive history may be made clear, many illusions may be dispelled, and many deeply interesting truths may be gathered by one who will go among these Indians, lending himself to their mode of life, and will note accurately what he thus learns from sources wholly original."
"Fray Antonio has professed the same belief," Don Rafael answered. "But that his love is greater for the saving of heathen souls than for the advancement of antiquarian knowledge, he long ago would have done what you now propose to do. He has done much towards gathering a portion of the information that you seek, even as it is."
"And who is this Fray Antonio, senor?"
"He is the man who of all men can give you the wisest help in your present need. We see but little of him here at the Museo, though he is one of our most honored members, for his time is devoted so wholly to the godly work to which he has given himself that but little remains to him to use in other ways. He is a monk, vowed to the Rule of St. Francis. As you know, since the promulgation of the Laws of the Reform, monks are not permitted in our country to live in communities; but, with only a few exceptions, the conventual churches which have not be secularized still are administered by members of the religious orders to which they formerly belonged. Fray Antonio has the charge of the church of San Francisco—over by the market-place, you know—and virtually is a parish priest. He is a religious enthusiast. In God's service he gives himself no rest. The common people here, since his loving labors are among them while the pestilence of small-pox raged, reverently believe him to be a saint; and those of a higher class, who know what heroic work he did in that dreadful time, and who see how perfectly his life conforms to the principles which he professes, and how like is the spirit of holiness that animates him to that of the sainted men who founded the order to which he belongs, are disposed to hold a like opinion. Truly, it is by the especial grace of God that men like Fray Antonio are permitted at times to dwell upon this sinful earth."
Don Rafael spoke with a depth of feeling and a reverence of tone that gave his strong words still greater strength and deeper meaning. After that moment's pause he resumed: "But that which is of most interest to you, senor, is the knowledge that Fray Antonio has gained of our native Indians during his ministrations among them. It is the dearest wish of his heart to carry to these heathen souls the saving grace of Christianity, and for the accomplishment of this good purpose he makes many journeys into the mountains; ministering in the chapels which his zeal has founded in the Indian towns, and striving earnestly by his preaching of God's word to bring these far-wandered sheep into the Christian fold. Very often his life has been in most imminent peril, for the idolatrous priests of the mountain tribes hate him with a most bitter hatred because of the inroads which his mild creed is making upon the cruel creed which they uphold. Yet is he careless of the danger to which he exposes himself; and there be those who believe, such is the temerity with which he manifests his zeal, that he rather seeks than shuns a martyr's crown."
Again Don Rafael paused, and again was it evident that deep feelings moved him as he spoke of the holy life of this most holy man. "You will thus understand, senor," he went on, "that Fray Antonio of all men is best fitted by his knowledge of the ways of these mountain Indians to advise you touching your going among them and studying them. You cannot do better than confer with him at once. It is but a step to the church of San Francisco. Let us go."
What Don Rafael had said had opened new horizons to me, and I was stirred by strange feelings as we passed out together from the shady silence of the Museo into the bright silence of the streets: for Morelia is a quiet city, wherein at all times is gentleness and rest. For priests in general, and for Mexican priests in particular, I had entertained always a profound contempt; but now, from an impartial source, I had heard of a Mexican priest whose life-springs seemed to be the soul-stirring impulses of the thirteenth century; who was devoted in soul and in body to the service of God and of his fellow-men; in whom, in a word, the seraphic spirit of St. Francis of Assisi seemed to live again. But by this way coming to such tangible evidence of the survival in the present time of forces which were born into the world six hundred years ago, my thoughts took a natural turn to my own especial interests; and, by perhaps not over-strong analogy, I reasoned that if this monk still lived so closely to the letter and to the spirit of the Rule that St. Francis, six centuries back, gave to his order, most reasonably might I hope to find still quick something of the life that was in full vigor in Mexico only a little more than half that many centuries ago.
We turned off from the Calle Principal by the little old church of La Cruz, and passed onward across the market-place, where buying and selling went on languidly, and where a drowsy hum of talk made a rhythmic setting to a scene that seemed to my unaccustomed eyes less a bit of real life than a bit lifted bodily from an opera. Facing the market-place was the ancient church; and the change was a pleasant one, from the vivid sunlight and warmth of the streets to its cool, shadowy interior: where the only sign of life was a single old woman, her head muffled in her rebozo, praying her way along the Stations of the Cross. For more than two hundred and fifty years had prayer been made and praise been offered here; and as I thought of the many generations who here had ministered and worshipped—though evil hearts in plenty, no doubt, both within and without the chancel there had been—it seemed to me that some portion of the subtle essence of all the soul-longings for heavenly help and guidance that here had been breathed forth, by men and women truly struggling against the sinful forces at work in the world, had entered into the very fabric of that ancient church, and so had sanctified it.
We crossed to the eastern end of the church, where was a low door-way, closed by a heavy wooden door that was studded with rough iron nails and ornamented with rudely finished iron-work; pushing which door open briskly, as one having the assured right of entry there, Don Rafael courteously stood aside and motioned to me to enter the sacristy.
From the shadowy church I passed at a step into a small vaulted room brilliant with the sunlight that poured into it through a broad window that faced the south. Just where this flood of sunshine fell upon the flagged floor, rising from a base of stone steps built up in a pyramidal form, was a large cross of some dark wood, on which was the life-size figure of the crucified Christ; and there, on the bare stone pavement before this emblem of his faith, his face, on which the sunlight fell full, turned upward towards the holy image, and his arms raised in supplication, clad in his Franciscan habit, of which the hood had fallen back, knelt Fray Antonio; and upon his pale, holy face, that the rich sunlight glorified, was an expression so seraphic, so entranced, that it seemed as though to his fervent gaze the very gates of heaven must be open, and all the splendors and glories and majesties of paradise revealed.
It is as I thus first saw Fray Antonio—verily a saint kneeling before the cross—that I strive to think of him always. Yet even when that other and darker, but surely more glorious, picture of him rises before my mind I am not disconsolate; for at such times the thought possesses me—coming to me clearly and vehemently, as though from a strongly impelled force without myself—that what he prayed for at the moment when I beheld him was that which God granted to him in the end.
Some men being thus broken in upon while in the very act of communing with Heaven would have been distressed and ill at ease—as I assuredly was because I had so interrupted him. But to Fray Antonio, as I truly believe, communion with Heaven was so entirely a part of his daily life that our sudden entry in nowise ruffled him. After a moment, that he might recall his thoughts within himself and so to earth again, he arose from his knees, and with a grave, simple grace came forward to greet us. He was not more than eight-and-twenty years old, and he was slightly built and thin—not emaciated, but lean with the wholesome leanness of one who strove to keep his body in the careful order of a machine of which much work was required. His face still had in it the soft roundness and tenderness of youth, that accorded well with its expression of gracious sweetness; but there was a firmness about the fine, strong chin, and in the set of the delicate lips, that showed a reserve of masterful strength. And most of all did this strength shine forth from his eyes; which, truly, though at this first sight of him I did not perceive it fully, were the most wonderful eyes that ever I have seen. As I then beheld them I thought them black; but they really were a dark blue, and so were in keeping with his fair skin and hair. Yet that which gave them so strong an individuality was less their changing color than the marvellous way in which their expression changed with every change of feeling of the soul that animated them. When I first saw them, turned up towards heaven, they seemed to speak a heavenly language full of love; and when I saw them last, stern, but shining with the exultant light of joy triumphant, they fairly hurled the wrath of outraged Heaven against the conquered powers of hell. And I can give no adequate conception of the love that shone forth from them when pitying sympathy for human sorrow, or even for the pain which brute beasts suffered, touched that most tender heart for which they spoke in tones richer and fuller than the tones of words.
Don Rafael, standing without the door that he had opened in order that I might precede him, did not perceive that we had interrupted Fray Antonio in his prayers; and began, therefore, in the lively manner natural to him, when I had been in due form presented as an American archaeologist come to Mexico to pursue my studies of its primitive inhabitants, to commend the undertaking that I had in hand, and to ask of Fray Antonio the aid in prosecuting it that he so well could give.
Perhaps it was that Fray Antonio understood how wholly my heart already had gone out to him—assuredly, later, there was such close sympathy between us that our thoughts would go and come to each other without need for words—and so was disposed in some instinctive way to join his purposes with mine; but, be this as it may, before Don Rafael well could finish the explanation of my wishes, Fray Antonio had comprehended what I desired, and had promised to give me his aid.
"The senor already has a book-knowledge of our native tongues. That is well. The speaking knowledge will come easily. He shall have the boy Pablo for his servant. A good boy is Pablo. With him he can talk in the Nahua dialect—which is the most important, for it is sprung most directly from the ancient stock. And I will arrange that the senor shall live for a time in the mountains—it will be a hard life, I fear—at Santa Maria and at San Andres, in which villages he can gain a mouth-mastery of both Otomi and Tarascan. A little time must be given to all this—some months, no doubt. But the senor, who already has studied through ten years, will understand the needfulness of this short discipline. To a true student study in itself is a delight—still more that study which makes the realization of a long-cherished purpose possible. The senor, I know, reads Spanish, since so perfectly he speaks it"—this with a gracious movement of the hands and a courteous inclination of the body that enhanced the value of the compliment—"but does the senor read with ease our ancient Spanish script?"
"I have never attempted it," I answered. "But as I can read easily the old printed Spanish, I suppose," I added, a little airily, "that I shall have no great difficulty in reading the old script also."
Fray Antonio smiled a little as he glanced at Don Rafael, who smiled also, and as he turned out his hands, answered: "Perhaps. But it is not quite the same as print, as the senor will know when he tries. But it makes no difference; for what is most interesting in our archives I shall be glad—and so also will be Don Rafael—to aid him in reading.
"You must know, senor," he went on, dropping his formal mode of address as his interest in the subject augmented, and as his feeling towards me grew warmer, "that many precious documents are here preserved. So early as the year 1536 this western region was erected into a Custodia, distinct from the Province of the Santo Evangelio of Mexico; and from that time onward letters and reports relating to the work done by the missionaries of our order among the heathen have been here received. In truth, I doubt not that many historic treasures are hidden here. In modern times, during the last hundred years or more, but little thought has been given to the care of these old papers—which are so precious to such as Don Rafael and yourself because of their antiquarian value, and which are still more precious to me because they tell of the sowing among the heathen of the seed of God's own Word. It is probable that they have not been at all examined into since our learned brothers Pablo de Beaumont and Alonzo de la Rea were busy with the writing of their chronicles of this Province—and the labors of these brothers ended more than two hundred and fifty years ago. In the little time that I myself can give to such matters I already have found many manuscripts which cast new and curious light upon the strange people who dwelt here in Mexico before the Spaniards came. Some of these I will send for your examination, for they will prepare you for the work you have in contemplation by giving you useful knowledge of primitive modes of life and tones of faith and phases of thought. And while you are in the mountains, at Santa Maria and San Andres, I will make further searches in our archives, and what I find you shall see upon your return.
"With your permission, senores, I must now go about my work. Don Rafael knows that I am much too ready to forget my work in talk of ancient matters. It is a weakness with me—this love for the study of antiquity—that I struggle against, but that seems rather to increase upon me than to be overcome. This afternoon, senor, I will send a few of the ancient manuscripts to you. And so—until we meet again."
THE CACIQUE'S SECRET.
Fray Antonio punctually fulfilled his promise in regard to the manuscripts, and I had but to glance at them in order to understand the smile that he had interchanged with Don Rafael when I so airily had expressed my confidence in my ability to read them. To say that I more easily could read Hebrew is not to the purpose, for I can read Hebrew very well; but it is precisely to the purpose to say that I could not read them at all! What with the curious, involved formation of the several letters, the extraordinary abbreviations, the antique spelling, the strange forms of expression, and the use of obsolete words I could not make sense of so much as a single line. Yet when, being forced into inglorious surrender, I carried the manuscripts to the Museo, and appealed to Don Rafael for assistance, he read to me in fluent Spanish all that I had found so utterly incomprehensible. "It is only a knack," he explained. "A little time and patience are required at first, but then all comes easily." But Don Rafael did here injustice to his own scholarship. More than a little time and patience have I since given to the study of ancient Spanish script, and I am even yet very far from being an expert in the reading of it.
In regard to the other promise that Fray Antonio made me—that he would send me a servant who also would serve as a practical instructor in the Nahua, or Aztec, dialect—he was equally punctual. While I was taking, in my bedroom, my first breakfast of bread and coffee the morning following my visit to the church of San Francisco, I heard a faint sound of music; but whether it was loud music at a distance or very soft music near at hand I could not tell. Presently I perceived that the musician was feeling about among the notes for the sabre song from La Grande Duchesse—selections from which semi-obsolete opera, as I then remembered, had been played by the military band on the plaza the evening before. Gradually the playing grew more assured; until it ended in an accurate and spirited rendering of the air. With this triumph, the volume of the sound increased greatly; and from its tones I inferred that the instrument was a concertina, and that whoever played it was in the inner court-yard of the hotel. Suddenly, in the midst of the music, there sounded—and this sound unmistakably came from the hotel court-yard—the prodigious braying of an ass; and accompanying this came the soft sound of bare feet hurrying away down the passage from near my door.
I opened the door and looked out, but the passage was empty. The gallery overlooked the court-yard, and stepping to the edge of the low stone railing, I beheld a sight that I never recall without a feeling of warm tenderness. Almost directly beneath me stood a small gray ass, a very delicately shaped and perfect little animal, with a coat of most extraordinary length and fuzziness, and with ears of a truly prodigious size. His head was raised, and his great ears were pricked forward in a fashion which indicated that he was most intently listening; and upon his face was an expression of such benevolent sweetness, joined to such thoughtfulness and meditative wisdom, that in my heart (which is very open to affection for his gentle kind) there sprung up in a moment a real love for him. Suddenly he lowered his head, and turned eagerly his regard towards the corner of the court-yard where descended the stair-way from the gallery on which I stood; and from this quarter came towards him a smiling, pleasant-faced Indian lad of eighteen or twenty years old, whose dress was a cotton shirt and cotton trousers, whose feet were bare, and on whose head was a battered hat of straw. And as the ass saw the boy, he strained at the cord that tethered him and gave another mighty bray.
"Dost thou call me, Wise One?" said the boy, speaking in Spanish. "Truly this Senor Americano is a lazy senor, that he rises so late, and keeps us waiting for his coming so long. But patience, Wise One. The Padre says that he is a good gentleman, in whose service we shall be treated as though we were kings. No doubt I now can buy my rain-coat. And thou, Wise One—thou shalt have beans!"
And being by this time come to the ass, the boy enfolded in his arms the creature's fuzzy head and gently stroked its preternaturally long ears. And the ass, for its part, responded to the caress by rubbing its head against the boy's breast and by most energetically twitching its scrag of a tail. Thus for a little time these friends manifested for each other their affection; and then the boy seated himself on the pavement beside the ass and drew forth from his pocket a large mouth-organ—on which he went to work with such a will that all the court-yard rang with the strains of Offenbach's music.
It was plain from what he had said that this was the boy whom Fray Antonio had promised to send to me; and notwithstanding his uncomplimentary comments upon my laziness, I had taken already a strong liking to him. I waited until he had played through the sabre song again—to which, as it seemed to me, the ass listened with a slightly critical yet pleased attention—and then I hailed him.
"The lazy Senor Americano is awake at last, Pablo," I called. "Come up hither, and we will talk about the buying of thy rain-coat, and about the buying of the Wise One's beans."
The boy jumped up as though a spring had been let loose beneath him, and his shame and confusion were so great that I was sorry enough that I had made my little joke upon him.
"It is all right, my child," I said, quickly, and with all the kindness that I could put into my tones. "Thou wert talking to the Wise One, not to me—and I have forgotten all that I heard. Thou art come from Fray Antonio?"
"Yes, senor," he answered; and as he saw by my smiling that no harm had been done, he also smiled; and so honest and kindly was the lad's face that I liked him more and more.
"Patience for yet a little longer, Wise One," he said, turning to the ass, who gravely wagged his ears in answer. And then the boy came up the stair to the gallery, and so we went to my room that I might have talk with him.
It was not much that Pablo had to tell about himself. He was a Guadalajara lad, born in the Indian suburb of Mexicalcingo—as his musical taste might have told me had I known more of Mexico—who had drifted out into the world to seek his fortune. His capital was the ass—so wise an ass that he had named him El Sabio. "He knows each word that I speak to him, senor," said Pablo, earnestly. "And when he hears, even a long way off, the music that I make upon the little instrument, he know that it is from me that the music comes, and calls to me. And he loves me, senor, as though he were my brother; and he knows that with the same tenderness I also love him. It was the good Padre who gave him to me. God rest and bless him always!" This pious wish, I inferred, related not to the ass but to Fray Antonio.
"And how dost thou live, Pablo?" I asked.
"By bringing water from the Spring of the Holy Children, senor. It is two leagues away, the Ojo de los Santos Ninos, and El Sabio and I make thither two journeys daily. We bring back each time four jars of water, which we sell here in the city—for it is very good, sweet water—at three tlacos the jar. You see, I make a great deal of money, senor—three reales a day! If it were not for one single thing, I should soon be rich."
That riches could be acquired rapidly on a basis of about twenty-seven cents, in our currency, a day struck me as a novel notion. But I inquired, gravely: "And this one thing that hinders thee from getting rich, Pablo, what is it?"
"It is that I eat so much, senor," Pablo answered, ruefully. "Truly it seems as though this belly of mine never could be filled. I try valiantly to eat little and so to save my money; but my belly cries out for more and yet more food—and so my money goes. Although I make so much, I can scarcely save a medio in a whole week, when what El Sabio must have and what I must have is paid for. And I am trying so hard to save just now, for before the next rainy season comes I want to own a rain-coat. But for a good one I must pay seven reales. The price is vast."
"What is a rain-coat, Pablo?"
"The senor does not know? That is strange. It is a coat woven of palm leaves, so that all over one it is as a thatch that the rain cannot come through. What I was saying just now to El Sabio—" Pablo stopped suddenly, and turned aside from me in a shamefaced way, as he remembered what he also had said to El Sabio about my laziness.
"—Was that out of the wages I am to pay thee thou canst save enough money to buy thy coat with," I said, quickly, wishing to rid him of his confusion. And then we fell to talking of what these wages should be, and of how he was to help me to gain a speaking knowledge of his native tongue—for so far we had spoken Spanish together—and of what in general would be his duties as my servant. That El Sabio could be anything but a part of the contract seemed never to cross Pablo's mind; and so presently our terms were concluded, and I found myself occupying the responsible relation of master to a mouth-organ playing boy and an extraordinarily wise ass. It was arranged that both of these dependants of mine should accompany me in my expedition to the Indian villages; and to clinch our bargain I gave Pablo the seven reales wherewith to buy his rain-coat on the spot.
I was a little surprised, two days later, when we started from Morelia on our journey into the mountains to the westward, to find that Pablo had not bought his much-desired garment; though, to be sure, as the rainy season still was a long way off, there was no need for it. He hesitated a little when I questioned him about it, and then, in a very apologetic tone, said: "Perhaps the senor will forgive me for doing so ill with his money. But indeed I could not help it. There is an old man, his name is Juan, senor, who has been very good to me many times. He has given me things to put into this wretchedly big belly of mine; and when I broke one of my jars he lent me the money to buy another with, and would take from me again only what the jar cost and no more. Just now this old many is sick—it is rheumatism, senor—and he has no money at all, and he and his wife have not much to eat, and I know what pain that is. And so—and so—Will the senor forgive me? I do not need the rain-coat now, the senor understands. And so I gave Juan the seven reales, which he will pay me when he gets well and works again; and should he die and not pay me—Does the senor know what I have been thinking? It is that rain-coats really are not very needful things, after all. Without them one gets wet, it is true; but then one soon gets dry again. But truly"—and there was a sudden catching in Pablo's throat that was very like a sob—"truly I did want one."
When Pablo had told this little story I did not wonder at the esteem in which Fray Antonio held him, and from that time onward he had a very warm place in my heart. And I may say that but for his too great devotion to his mouth-organ—for that boy never could hear a new tune but that he needs must go at once to practising it upon his beloved "instrumentito" until he had mastered it—he was the best servant that man ever had. And within his gentle nature was a core of very gallant fearlessness. In the times of danger which we shared together later, excepting only Rayburn, not one of us stood face to face and foot to foot with death with a steadier or a calmer bravery; for in all his composition there did not seem to be one single fibre that could be made to thrill in unison with fear. Of his qualities as a servant I had a good trial during the two months that we were together in the mountains—in which time I got enough working knowledge of the Indian dialects to make effective the knowledge that I had gained from books—and I was amazed by the quickness that he manifested in apprehending and in supplying my wants and in understanding my ways.
As to making any serious study of Indian customs—save only those of the most open and well-known sort—in this short time, I soon perceived that the case was quite hopeless. Coming from Fray Antonio, whose benevolent ministrations among them had won their friendship, the Indians treated me with a great respect and showed me every kindness. But I presently began to suspect, and this later grew to be conviction, that because my credentials came from a Christian priest I was thrust away all the more resolutely from knowledge of their inner life. What I then began to learn, and what I learned more fully later, convinced me that these Indians curiously veneered with Christian practices their native heathen faith; manifesting a certain superstitious reverence for the Christian rites and ceremonies, yet giving sincere worship only to their heathen gods. It was something to have arrived at this odd discovery, but it tended only to show me how difficult was the task that I had set myself of prying into the secrets of the Indians' inner life.
Indeed, but for an accident, I should have returned to Morelia no wiser, practically, than when I left it; but by that turn of chance fortune most wonderfully favored me, and with far-reaching consequences. It was on the last afternoon of my stay in the village of Santa Maria; and the beginning of my good-luck was that I succeeded in walking out upon the mountain-side alone. My walk had a decided purpose in it, for each time that I had tried to go in this direction one or another of the Indians had been quickly upon my heels with some civil excuse about the danger of falling among the rocks for leading me another way. How I thus succeeded at last in escaping from so many watchful eyes I cannot say, but luck was with me, and I went on undisturbed. The sharply sloping mountain-side, very wild and rugged, was strewn with great fragments of rock which had fallen from the heights above, and which, lying there for ages beneath the trees, had come to be moss-grown and half hidden by bushes and fallen leaves. In the dim light that filtered through the branches, walking in so uncertain a place was attended with a good deal of danger; for not only was there a likelihood of falls leading to broken legs, but broken necks also were an easy possibility by the chance of a slip upon the mossy edge of one or another of the many ledges, followed by a spin through the air ending suddenly upon the jagged rocks below. Indeed, so ticklish did I find my way that I began to think that the Indians had spoken no more than the simple truth in warning me against such dangers, and that I had better turn again while light remained to bring me back in safety; and just as I had reached this wise conclusion my feet slid suddenly from under me on the very edge of one of the ledges, and over I went into the depth below.
Fortunately I fell not more than a dozen feet or so, and my fall was broken by a friendly bed of leaves and moss. When I got to my feet again, in a moment, I found myself in a narrow cleft in the rocks, and I was surprised to see that through this cleft ran a well-worn path. All thought of the danger that I had just escaped from so narrowly was banished form my mind instantly as I made this discovery; and full of the exciting hope that I was about to find something which the Indians most earnestly desired to conceal, I went rapidly and easily onward in the direction that I had been pressing towards with so much difficulty along the rocky mountain-side. The course of this sunken path, I soon perceived, was partly natural and partly artificial. It went on through clefts such as the one that I had fallen into, and through devious ways where the fragments of fallen rock, some of them great masses weighing many tons, had been piled upon each other in most natural confusion, so as to leave a narrow passage in their depths. And all this had been done in a long-past time, for the rocks were thickly coated with moss; and in one place, where a watercourse crossed the path, were smoothed by water in a way that only centuries could have accomplished. So cleverly was the concealment effected, the way so narrow and so irregular, that I verily believe an army might have scoured that mountain-side and never found the path at all, save by such accident as had brought me into it.
For half a mile or more I went on in the waning light, my heart throbbing with the excitement of it all, and so came out at last upon a vast jutting promontory of rock that was thrust forth from the mountain's face eastwardly. Here was an open space of an acre or more, in the centre of which was a low, altar-like structure of stone. At the end of the narrow path, being still within its shelter, I stopped to make a careful survey of the ground before me; for I realized that in what I was doing Death stood close at my elbow, and that, unless I acted warily, he surely would have me in his grasp. Coming out of the shadows of the woods and the deeper shadows of the sunken path to this wide open space, where the light of the brilliant sunset was reflected strongly from masses of rosy clouds over all the eastern sky, I could see clearly. In the midst of the opening, not far from the edge of the stupendous precipice, where the bare rock dropped sheer down a thousand feet or more, was a huge bowlder that had been cut and squared with ineffective tools into the rude semblance of a mighty altar. The well-worn path along which I had come told the rest of the story. Here was the temple, having for its roof the great arch of heaven, in which the Indians, whom the gentle Fray Antonio believed to be such good Christians, truly worshipped their true gods; even as here their fathers had worshipped before them in the very dawning of the ancient past.
A tremor of joy went through me as I realized what I had found. Here was positive proof of what I had strongly but not surely hoped for. The Aztec faith truly was still a living faith; and it followed almost certainly that, could I but penetrate the mystery with which it was hedged about so carefully by them still faithful to it, I would find all that I sought—of living customs, of coherent traditions—wherewith to exhibit clearly to the world of the nineteenth century the wonderful social and religious structure that the Spaniards of the sixteenth century had blotted out, but had not destroyed. What my fellow-archaeologists had accomplished in Syria, in Egypt, in Greece, was nothing to what I could thus accomplish in Mexico. At the best, Smith, Rawlinson, Schliemann, had done no more than stir the dust above the surface of dead antiquity; but I was about to bring the past freshly and brightly into the very midst of the present, and to make antiquity once more alive!
As I stood there in the dusk of the narrow pathway, while the joy that was in my heart swelled it almost to bursting, there came to my ears the low moaning of one in pain. The faint, uncertain sound seemed to come from the direction of the great stone altar. To discover myself in that place to any of the Indians, I knew would end my archaeological ambition very summarily; yet was I moved by a natural desire to aid whoever thus was hurting and suffering. I stood irresolute a moment, and then, as the moaning came to me again, I went out boldly into the open space, and crossed it to where the altar was. As I rounded the great stone I saw a very grievous sight: an old man lying upon the bare rock, a great gash in his forehead from which the blood had flowed down over his face and breast, making him a most ghastly object to look upon; and there was about him a certain limpness that told of many broken bones. He turned his head at the sound of my footsteps, but it was plain that the blood flowing into his eyes had blinded him, and that he could not see me. He made a feeble motion to clear his eyes, but dropped his partly raised arm suddenly and with a moan of pain. I recognized him at a glance. He was the Cacique, the chief, and also, as I had shrewdly guessed, the priest of the village—the very last person whom I would have desired to meet in that place.
"Ah, thou art come to me at last, Benito!" he said, speaking in a low and broken voice. "I have been praying to our gods that they would send thee to me—for my death has come, and it is needful that the one secret still hidden from thee, my successor, should be told. I was on the altar's top, and thence I fell."
I perceived in what the Cacique said that there was hope for me. He could not see me, and he evidently believed that I was the second chief of the village, Benito—an Indian who had talked much with me, and the tones of whose voice I knew well. Doubtless my clumsy attempt to simulate the Indian's speech would have been detected quickly under other circumstances, but the Cacique believed that no other man could have come to him in that place; and his whole body was wrung with torturing pains, and he was in the very article of death. And so it was, my prudence leading me to speak few and simple words, and my good-luck still standing by me, he never guessed whose hands in his last moments ministered to him.
As I raised his head a little and rested it upon my knee, he spoke again, very feebly and brokenly: "On my breast is the bag of akin. In it is the Priest-Captain's token, and the paper that shows the way to where the stronghold of our race remains. Only with me abides this secret, for I am of the ancient house, as thou art also, whence sprung of old our priests and kings. Only when the sign that I have told thee of—but telling thee not its meaning—comes from heaven, is the token to be sent, and with it the call for aid. Once, as thou knowest, that sign came, and the messenger, our own ancestor, departed. But there was anger then against us among the gods, and they suffered not his message to be delivered, and he himself was slain. Yet was the token preserved to us, and yet again the sign from heaven will come. And then—thou knowest—" But here a shiver of pain went through him, and his speech gave place to agonizing moans. When he spoke again his words were but a whisper. "Lay me—in front of—the altar," he said. "Now is the end."
"But the sign? What is it? And where is the stronghold?" I cried eagerly; forgetting in the intense excitement of this strange disclosure my need for reticence, and forgetting even to disguise my voice. But my imprudence cost me nothing. Even as I spoke another shiver went through the Cacique's body; and as there came from his lips, thereafter forever to be silent, a sound, half moan, half gasp, his soul went out from him, and he was at rest.
When a little calmness had returned to me, I took from his breast the bag of skin—stained darkly where his blood had flowed upon it—and then tenderly and reverently lifted his poor mangled body and laid it before the altar. And so I came back along the hidden path, safely and unperceived, to the village: leaving the dead Cacique there in the solemn solitude of that great mountain-top, whereon the dusk of night was gathering, alone in death before the altar of his gods.
THE MONK'S MANUSCRIPT.
When Pablo and I started, the day following, upon our return to Morelia, the village of Santa Maria was overcast with mourning. The Cacique was dead, they told us; had fallen among the rocks on the mountain-side, being an old man and feeble, and so was killed. And I was expressly charged with a message to the good Padre, begging him to hasten to Santa Maria that the dead man might have Christian burial. I confess that I found this request, though I promised faithfully to comply with it, highly amusing; for I knew beyond the possibility of a doubt that if ever a man died a most earnest and devout heathen it was this same Cacique for whom Christian burial was sought; and I felt an assured conviction that when the services of the Church over him were ended—and whatever good was to be had for him from them secured—he would be buried fittingly with all the fulness of his own heathen rites. But this matter, lying in what I already perceived to be the very wide region between the avowed faith and the hidden faith of the Indians, was no concern of mine; yet I longed, as only a thoroughly earnest archaeologist could long, to be a witness of the funeral ceremony in which Fray Antonio most conspicuously would not take part. As this was hopelessly impossible—for only by very slow advances, if ever, could I reach again by considerate investigation the point that in a moment I had reached by chance—I came away from Santa Maria reluctantly, yet greatly elated by the discovery that I had made.
So jealous was I in guarding the strange legacy that the Cacique had bequeathed to me that not until I was safe back in Morelia, in my room at the hotel, with the door locked behind me, did I venture to examine it. The bag, about six inches square, tightly sewed on all four of its sides, was made of snake-skin, and was provided with a loop of snake-skin so that it might be hung from the neck upon the breast like a scapulary. My hands trembled as I cut the delicate stitching of maguey fibre, and then drew forth a mass of several thicknesses of coarse gray-brown paper, also made of the maguey, such as the ancient Aztecs used. Being unfolded, I had before me a sheet nearly two feet square, on which was painted in dull colors a curious winding procession of figures and symbols. My knowledge of such matters being then but scant, I could tell only that this was a record, at once historical and geographical, of a tribal migration; and I saw at a glance that it was unlike either of the famous picture-writings which record the migration of the Aztecs from Culhuacan to the Valley of Mexico, and then about that valley until their final settlement in Tenochtitlan. I was reasonably confident, indeed, that this record differed from all existing codices; and I was filled with what I hope will be looked upon as a pardonable pride at having discovered, within three months of my coming to Mexico, this unique and inestimable treasure.
My natural desire was to carry my precious codex at once to Don Rafael, that I might have the benefit of his superior knowledge in studying it (for he had continued very intelligently the investigation of Aztec picture-writing that was so well begun by the late Senor Ramirez), and also that I might enjoy his sympathetic enjoyment of my discovery. As I raised the bag, that I might replace in it the refolded paper—which I already saw heralded to the world as the Codex Palgravius, and reproduced in fac-simile in Pre-Columbian Conditions on the Continent of North America—some glittering object dropped out of it and fell with a jingling sound upon the stone floor. When I examined eagerly this fresh treasure I found that it was a disk of gold, about the size and thickness of a Mexican silver dollar, on which a curious figure was rudely engraved. The engraving obviously represented an Aztec name-device, the like of which, in the ancient picture-writings, distinguish one from another the several generations of a line of kings. This name-device was strange to me; but, as I have said, I had not at that time studied carefully the Aztec picture-writings, and there were many names of kings which I would not then have recognized. But that the gold disk was the token concerning the meaning of which the dying Cacique had given so strange a hint, I felt assured.
Being still further gladdened by this fresh discovery, I carried my treasures at once to the Museo; and Don Rafael's enthusiasm over them was as hearty as I could desire. Being so deeply learned in such matters, he was able in the course of a single afternoon to arrive at much of the meaning of my codex; and his rendering of it showed that it possessed a very extraordinary historical value. In the Codex Boturini, as is well known, are several important lapses that neither that eminent scholar, nor any other archaeologist whose conclusions can be considered trustworthy, has been able to supply. All that reasonably can be imagined concerning these breaks is that the historian of the Aztec migration deliberately omitted certain facts from his pictured history. The astonishing discovery that Don Rafael made in regard to my codex was that it unquestionably supplied the facts concealed in one of the longest of these unaccountable blanks. This was not a mere guess on his part, but a demonstrable certainty. On a fac-simile of the Codex Boturini he bade me observe attentively the pictures which preceded and which followed the break in question; and then he showed me that these same pictures were the beginning and the ending of my own codex—obviously put there so that this secret record might be inserted accurately into the public record of the wanderings of the Aztec tribe.
Further, the geographical facts set forth in the Codex Boturini having been very solidly established, it was easy to determine approximately the part of Mexico to which the beginning and the end of my codex referred. But the migration here recorded was a very long one, and all that Don Rafael could say with certainty concerning it was that it told of far journeyings into the west and north. He was much puzzled, moreover, by a picture that occurred about the middle of the codex, and that seemed to be intended to represent a walled city among mountains. To my mind this picture tallied well with what the dying Cacique had told me touching the hidden stronghold of his race. But Don Rafael attached very little importance to the Cacique's words; and on archaeological grounds maintained that a walled city was an impossibility in primitive Mexico—for while walls were built in plenty by the primitive Mexicans, and still are to be found in many places, no mention of a walled city is made by the early chroniclers, and of such a city there never has been found the slightest trace.
In regard to the engraved disk of gold, Don Rafael said at once and positively that it represented a name-device which never had been figured in any known Aztec writing; and he was of the opinion—being led thereto by consideration of certain delicate peculiarities of the figure which were too subtle for my uninstructed apprehension to grasp—that the name here symbolized was that of a ruler who was both priest and king. That the piece of gold was found associated with picture-writing unquestionably belonging to the theocratic period lent additional color to this assumption. The sum of our conclusions, therefore, was that we had here the name-device of a priest-king who had ruled the Aztec tribe during some portion of the first migration. And, assuming that he had lived during the period to which my codex referred, and accepting the system of dates tentatively adopted by Senor Ramirez, we even fixed the ninth century of our era as the period in which he had lived and ruled.
During two whole days Don Rafael and I worked together over these matters in the Museo; and it was not until our investigations were ended—so far, at least, as investigations could be said to be ended while yet no definite conclusions were reached—that my thoughts reverted to Fray Antonio, and to the requirement of courtesy that I should report to him the result of my course of study in the Indian tongues. It is but justice to myself to add that, knowing him to be gone to Santa Maria to attend to the Cacique's burial, I had temporarily dismissed this matter from my mind.
But when I was come to the Church of San Francisco—carrying with me the Codex Palgravius and the engraved disk of gold, in both of which I knew that he would take a keen interest—I had no immediate opportunity of exhibiting to him my treasures.
As I pushed open the sacristy door, when I had knocked upon it and he had called me to enter, he came towards me at once in excitement so eager that his face was all lit up by it; and almost before I could greet him he exclaimed: "You are most happily come, my friend. At this very moment I was about to send for you; for I have found that which will stir your heart even as it has stirred mine. Yet perhaps," and he spoke more gravely, "it will not stir your heart in the same way that mine is stirred by it—for if I can but find the key that will unlock the whole of the mystery that here partly is revealed, I see before me such opportunity to garner the Lord's vintage as comes but seldom to His servants in these later ages of the world."
So strange was Fray Antonio's manner, and so wayward seemed his speech, that I was half inclined to think his religious enthusiasm fairly had landed him in religious madness; which thought must have found utterance in my look of doubtfulness, for he smiled kindly at me, and in a quieter tone went on:
"My wits still are with me, Don Tomas; though I do not wonder at your thinking that I have lost them. Sit down here and listen to the story of my discovery; and when it is ended you will perceive that I very well may be excited by it and still be sane."
Being assured by this calmer speech that Fray Antonio had not taken leave of his senses, I made a weak disclaimer, that he smilingly accepted, of my too clearly expressed doubts in that direction; and so seated myself to listen.
"You know, senor," he began, "that common report has declared that beneath this Church of San Francisco is a secret passage that extends under the city and has its exit in the outlying meadow-lands. I may confide in you frankly that this passage does exist, and that I, in common with all members of my Order who have dwelt here, know precisely where its entrance is and where its outlet. These matters need not be exposed, for they are not essential to my purpose. But you must know that in the midst of this passage I found on the day preceding your return from the mountains a little room of which the door was so well concealed that my finding it was the merest accident. And in the room, with other things which need not here be named, I found a chest in which are certain ancient papers of which I have been long in search. In the archives are frequent references to these papers—they are of much importance to our Order—but as with all my search I never could discover them, I had decided in my mind that in one or another of the troublous periods that our Church has passed through they had been destroyed. It is plain to me now that in one of these periods of danger they were hidden in this safe place.
"Some of these papers, dealing with mere matters of history, you will have pleasure in examining in due time. But that which I shall show you now, and which has so excited me that you not unnaturally thought that I had gone mad over it, has got among the rest, as I verily believe, by simple accident. Among the books and papers in the chest was a parchment case on which was written 'Mission of Santa Marta,' and the date '1531.' Within it were some loose sheets of paper on which were records of Indian baptisms, as is evident by the strange mixing of Christian and of heathen names. Plainly, this was the register of some mission station of our Order in that far-back time. But as I pried into the case more closely, I found, within a double fold of the parchment—yet not as though intentionally hidden, but rather as though there placed for temporary safety—a sealed letter directed to the blessed Fray Juan de Zumarraga, who was of our Order, and who, as you know, was the first bishop of our holy Church in this New Spain. As I drew forth the letter, the seal, that time had loosened, fell away and left it open in my hand. That this letter never until now has been read I am altogether confident, for the prodigy of which it tells would have made so great a stir that ample record of it would have been preserved. Nor is it difficult to account for the way in which it missed coming to the eye for which it was intended. In that early time many and many of our Order, going out to preach God's Word among the barbarians, came happily to that end which is the happiest end attainable in God's service: a blessed martyrdom." Fray Antonio's voice trembled with deep feeling as he spoke, and I remembered that Don Rafael had told me that this good brother, it was believed, himself longed for a death so glorious. "And being thus slain," Fray Antonio in a moment continued, "the mission stations which they had established were left desolate, with what they held—save such few things as might be cared for by the savage murderers—remaining there within them. In later times, as the conquering Spaniards overspread the land, many of these stations were found, with nothing to tell save nameless bones of those who had died there that God's will might be done.
"It is my conjecture, therefore, that this parchment case was found—how many years after the death of him who owned it, who can tell?—in one of the many stations that the savages thus ravaged; that the soldiers, or whoever may have found it, brought it hither, the nearest important abiding-place of our Order; and that, being carelessly examined, it was carelessly thrown aside when found to contain, apparently, only the little record of the work which our dead brother accomplished before God granted him his crown of earthly martyrdom and so made quick his way to heaven. Had the letter ever reached that 'first hand' for which the writer says he waits to send it by, it assuredly would have come to the knowledge of the gold-loving Spanish conquerors, and armies would have gone forth to answer it. But our dead brother, having written it and placed it in this fold of the parchment for safety until the chance to send it southward should come, was cut off from life suddenly; and so, of the prodigious marvel of which knowledge had so strangely come to him, only this mute and hidden record remained."
"But the letter itself?" I asked, with more energy than politeness. "What is the story that it contains? What is this mystery? Tell me of it first, and then explain as much as you please afterwards."
Fray Antonio smiled at me kindly. "Ah, you too are becoming excited," he said. "But, truly, it is not fair that I should thus have kept you waiting. Indeed, I am so full of it all that I forgot that as yet you know nothing. Come out with me into the court-yard, where the light is stronger—for the writing is very faint and pale—and I will read you this letter in which so wonderful a story is set forth."
Together we passed out through a little door in the rear of the sacristy into what had been the inner and smaller cloister court-yard of the old convent—a lovely place in which a fountain set in a quaint stone basin sparkled, and where warm sunshine fell upon the rippling water and upon beds of sweet-smelling flowers. And here it was, standing among the flowers in the sunshine, beside the quaint fountain, that Fray Antonio read to me the letter—that in this strange fashion had come to us from a hand dead for much more than three centuries, and that yet brought to us two a vital message that wholly was to shape our destinies.
The letter was without date, but, being addressed to the Bishop Zumarraga, the phrase that occurred in it—"this New Spain, wherein, Very Reverend Father, you have labored in God's service this year and more past"—showed that 1530 was the year in which it was written. As to place, there practically was no clew at all. The writer referred repeatedly to "this mission of Santa Marta, in the Chichimeca country"—but the mission had perished utterly but a little while after it was founded; and at that period the term Chichimeca country was used by the Spaniards in speaking of any part of Mexico where wild Indians were.
Being shorn of a portion of its pious verbiage, and somewhat modernized in style, the ancient Spanish of this letter contained in effect these English words:
"VERY REVEREND FATHER,—This present letter will be sent forward to you by the first hand by which it may be hence transmitted; and in your wisdom, with God's grace also guiding you, I doubt not that you will take measures for sending missionaries of our Order to the great company of the heathen whose whereabouts I am to disclose to you. And also, no doubt—keeping the matter secret from the pestilent Oidores of the Audiencia—you will communicate this strange matter through safe channels to our lord the King: that with our missionaries an army may go forth, and that so the great treasure of which I give tidings may be wrested from the heathen to be used for God's glory and the enriching of our lord the King.
"Know, Very Reverend Father, that a month since, I being then abroad from this mission of Santa Marta, preaching God's word in a certain village of the Chichimecas that is five leagues to the northward, was so strengthened by God's grace that many of the heathen professed our holy faith and were baptized. And of these was one who among that tribe was held a captive. Which captive, as I found, was of the nation that dwelt in Tenochtitlan before our great captain, Don Fernando Cortes, reduced that city to submission. But little of earthly life remained to this poor captive when I, unworthily but happily, opened to him the way to life glorious and eternal; for in the fight that happened when he was captured—of which fight he alone of all his companions had survived—he was sorely wounded; and though in time his wounds had healed he remained but a weakly man, and the service to which his captors forced him was hard. So it was that I had but little more than time to put him in the way leading to heaven before his spirit gladly forsook its weary body and went thence from earth.
"That he truly was a convert to our holy faith I am well assured, by the signs of a spirit meet for repentance which he showed in his own person; and still more by his strong longing, most earnestly expressed, that this same glorious faith of freedom should be preached to a certain great company of his people, whereof he most secretly told me, who still remain bound in the bondage of idolatry. And it is what he told me of these, Very Reverend Father, and of the marvellous hidden city wherein they dwell, and of the mighty treasure which there they guard, that I desire now to bring to your private knowledge, before it shall be known of by the Oidores, and through you to our lord the King. Here now is the whole of the mystery that he recited:
"In very ancient times, he said, his people came forth from seven caves which are in the western region of this continent, and wandered long in search of an abiding-place. And in the course of ages it came to pass that a certain wise king ruled over them to whom was given the gift of prophecy. Which king, by name Chaltzantzin, foretold that in the later ages there should come an army of fair and bearded men from the eastward, who would prevail over the people of his race: slaying many, and making of the remainder slaves. Being sorely troubled by thought of what he thus foresaw, he set himself to provide a source of strength whereon his descendants in that later time might draw in the hour of their peril—and so save themselves from cruel death and from yet crueler slavery. To which end, in a certain great valley that lies securely hidden among the mountains of this continent, he caused to be built a walled city; and this city he then peopled with the very bravest and strongest of his race. And he made for those dwelling there a perpetual law that commanded that all such as showed themselves when come to maturity to be weak or malformed in body, or coward of heart, then should be put to death; to the end that their natural increase ever should be of the same stout stuff as themselves, and also that there might be no lack of victims for the sacrifices which are acceptable to their barbarous gods. And thus he provided that in the time of need there should be here a strong army of valiant warriors, ready to come forth to fight against the fair-faced bearded men, and by conquering them to save safe the land.
"And yet more provision did King Chaltzantzin make for the strengthening and the saving of his race in the later ages. Within this walled city of Culhuacan he caused to be builded a great treasure-house, wherein he garnered such store of riches as never was gathered together in one place since the beginning of the world. And his order was that if even the power of the army which should go forth from that city sufficed not to conquer the foreign foemen, then should this vast treasure be used to buy his people's ransom, that they might not perish nor be enslaved.
"Having set all which great matters in order, King Chaltzantzin came forth from the Valley of Aztlan, leaving behind him the noble colony that he had there founded; and so with his people wandered vagrant—even as their gods had commanded that they should go until by a sign from heaven they should be shown where was to be their lasting home. And that the fulfilling of his purpose might be made the more sure, he brought his people forth from that valley by most perilous passes and through strait ways so that they might not return thither; and that they who remained might not follow, he closed the way behind him with mighty bars.
"In the fulness of time this wise king died, and others reigned in his stead; and at last the ages of wandering of the Aztec tribe were ended by the sign coming from heaven whereby they knew that the Valley of Anahuac was to be their abiding home. There built they the city of Tenochtitlan: which city the valiant captain, Don Fernando Cortes, conquered this short time since—and by conquest of it verified precisely the prophecy that King Chaltzantzin uttered in very ancient times.
"But the captive Indian told me, further, that before the coming of the Spaniards there was seen the sign of warning that King Chaltzantzin had promised should tell when the danger that he had so well prepared for should be near; which sign was the going out of the sacred fire that the priests guarded on a certain high hill. Meantime, all knowledge of their brethren hidden in the Valley of Aztlan for their help in time of peril was lost to the Aztec tribe in dim tradition; for the King had commanded, in order that his people might not fall into weakness through trusting in the strength of others for protection, that no open record of the colony that he had founded should be preserved. Therefore was this matter a secret known only to a few priests whose blood was of the royal line; in whose keeping, also, was the token that King Chaltzantzin had commanded should be sent to the walled city of Culhuacan when its warriors were to be called forth, and a map whereby the way thither was made plain. And so it was that, when the sacred fire ceased burning, the priests were alert for the threatened danger; and when the landing of the Spaniards—'fair-faced and bearded men, coming for the eastward'—was known to them, they warned their king, Montezuma, that the prophecy was fulfilled, and that the time for sending for the army and the treasure had come.
"For the bearer of this message was chosen a priest of the blood royal, with whom went also a younger priest, his son. And with these went a guard, whereof the captive Indian was one, that they might be carried in safety through the region where the wild Indians were. But the valor of the guard was useless, for the wild Indians set upon them in such prodigious numbers—in a place not far from where is this present mission of Santa Marta—that all of the company, save only this single Indian who was wounded and made captive, was overpowered and slain. Yet among the slain, the Indian said, was not found the body of the priest's son; nor was there found on the priest's body the token that he had been the bearer of, nor the map that showed the way. For a time the Indian had hoped that the younger priest had escaped out of the fight alive, and had carried to them who dwelt in the walled city of Culhuacan the message of summons; but as the years went onward and nothing came of it, this hope had died within his heart.
"This, Very Reverend Father, is the strange story told me by this Indian; who spoke with the urgent sincerity of one devout in the Christian faith who knew by sensible perception that his death was near at hand. Eagerly he begged that to these Gentiles, his brethren by blood, might be sent in their secret fastnesses the blessed Word whereby they would be delivered from the chains of their idolatry into the freedom of Christian grace. And, surely, the treasure that they ward very well may be wrested from these heathen that it may be used in part in this land in God's service, and that in part it may go to the just enriching of our lord the King.
"Nor is the matter one that is difficult of accomplishment. For a token which shall give us the right of entry into this walled city of Culhuacan we need only the Word of God and a sufficient force of men well armed with swords and matchlocks. Nor is it any bar to our quest that the map showing the way thither has been lost. The Indian told me that this way is so plainly marked that one who had found it could not lose it again. For at spaces of not more than a league or two apart, upon flat places of the rock convenient for such purpose, was cut the same figure that the token of summons had engraved upon it; and, with this, an arrow pointing towards where the next carving would be found: and so these signs went onward, the heathen priest had told him, even to the very entrance of the Valley of Aztlan. And that this matter might be made sure to me, he led me to a spot but a league to the westward of this mission of Santa Marta and there showed me one of these signs, with the pointing arrow carved also on the rock beside it—of all of which the drawing here made is an indifferent good copy. And by that guiding arrow we went onward to another like carving at a little less than two leagues away to the northward. Therefore, Very Reverend Father, I, of my own knowledge, am a witness to a part, at least, of the truth of what that Indian told. And with all my heart do I add mine own entreaty to his simple pleadings for the salvation of the souls of his brethren; and also do I venture to entreat that among those who go to carry the Word of God to this hidden heathen host I may be one; so that I, though all unworthy of such honor, shall have a part in rendering to God so glorious a service.
"The more urgently do I ask this favor because here, in this mission of Santa Marta, it is but too clear to me that I am laboring in a barren field. Some hundreds of the heathen I have indeed baptized; but among all these who have professed our Christian faith scarce a score show outward and visible signs of a true regeneration. Many, I am sadly sure, still practise in secret their old idolatry—and find little more than mere amusement in the rites of our most holy Church. When they tire of this novelty, which, in the case of folk of such light natures no doubt will be in a little while, they will return openly to their idolatry; and it probably may happen that they then will sacrifice me to their heathen gods. That, in one way or another, they do intend to kill me, and that soon, I feel quite sure. I am but twenty-three years old, Very Reverend Father; and that is an early time in life to end it. No doubt, also, in killing me they will use torture. And I long fervently to live, not only for the pleasure of it, but also that I may do good service to God, and to our Father Saint Francis, by saving many heathen souls. Therefore I beg that when the army marches to the reduction of this hidden city that I may be one of our brethren who will go with it, to hold by tender preaching of God's goodness and mercy such heathen as may remain alive after our soldiers shall have conquered that city with the sword.
"I commend you, Very Reverend Father, to the care of Our Lord in all things, and pray that he may guard your most illustrious and very reverend person, and protect you in all matters of your temporal and spiritual estate. And I am the least worthy of your servants,
FRANCISCO de los ANGELES."
"Of a truth," said Fray Antonio, as he ceased reading, "this brother of mine adhered closely to the truth when he subscribed himself the least worthy of the bishop's servants. Were it not here in his own hand, I should refuse to believe that one of our Order at that time in New Spain had any thought of saving his own life when God's work was to be done."
For myself, I must own that my heart was deeply touched by the very humanity of this poor Brother Francisco's cry for help that came up out of the dead depths of the past; and that was the more keen and pitiful because the cruel death at the hands of the barbarous Indians that he so dreaded assuredly had overtaken him. His could not have been a strong nature, and it was the weaker because of his youth; but, after all, it was the nature that God had given him, and there must have been a strain of strength in it, else he never would have braved the dangers which overcame him in the end. And he was "but twenty-three years old"!
Yet when I sought to lead Fray Antonio's mind to such consideration of the matter he replied, sternly: "This weak brother failed in his duty. To him God gave an opportunity to die gloriously for the Faith; but, instead of accepting that noble reward joyfully, his strongest wish was that he might find a way by which he might escape alive. Had all professors of the Christian creed so conducted themselves, that creed long since would have perished from off the earth. Semen est sanguis Christianorum is well said of Tertullian the Carthaginian, and, later, of the blessed Saint Jerome."
As Fray Antonio thus spoke he so drew up his slight figure, and in his sweet voice was a ring of such commanding sternness, that he was for the moment transformed. Here was a man wholly different from the gentle scholar whom I had already learned to love. In the glimpse that I thus had of his underlying character I saw vivified again the spirit of the early Christian Church; and I understood, as I never had understood before, of what stuff they were made who heard pronounced upon them the sentence, "To the lions!" and joyfully accepted their cruel fate, defiant of what man might do to them because of the perfection of their faith in the merciful forgiveness and upholding steadfastness of their Christian God.
But in a moment a look of sadness and regret came into Fray Antonio's face, and he added, sorrowfully: "God forgive me for thus judging my brother, who long since was judged! Who can say that when the hour of trial came he did not meet his death as bravely as any martyr of them all? And who can say," he went on, but speaking softly, as one communing with his own soul, "how I myself—But God gives strength." And then he ceased to speak aloud, but his lips moved silently as though in prayer. As I close my eyes I see him again as clearly as I saw him then—standing beside the old stone fountain, amid the flowers, in the gladness of the bright sunshine; in his eyes a strange, far-away look, as though the future for a moment had been opened to him; and on his strong, fine face a sternly resolute expression, which yet was softened by the traits which were so strong within him of holiness and gentleness and love. I cannot know what Fray Antonio prayed for, there in the old convent garden; but I can guess, and I am well persuaded that his prayer was heard. Truly, I think that it was something more than chance that led us thus at first to talk, not of the wonder that was in Brother Francisco's letter, but of Brother Francisco himself and of his end.
And then the subject-matter in chief of the letter claimed our attention. In itself this was sufficiently marvellous; but what increased the marvel of it was the conviction, strong within us both, that if the hidden city of Culhuacan ever had existed at all it existed still. Our belief was so entirely logical that, assuming the truth of the story told by the Indian captive, it admitted nowhere of a doubt. That the city had been hidden for a long period, through at least several hundreds of years, from the Aztecs themselves, and that no knowledge of it had been conveyed to them by wild Indians who had come by chance upon the valley wherein it was, was evidence enough of the security of its concealment. There was nothing surprising, consequently, in the fact that the Spaniards had not discovered it when they first overran Mexico, nor that it had remained unknown to the Mexicans of modern times. As is well known, there are to this day prodigious areas in Mexico which remain utterly unexplored. In the region west of Tampico; in the north-western States of Sinaloa, Durango, and Sonora; or in the far southern States of Oajaca and Chiapas, a valley as great as that in which the City of Mexico now stands might lie utterly hidden and unknown. And if, as the Indian's narrative implied, this particular valley had been selected deliberately because it was so hidden and so inaccessible, and if the described precautions had been taken to isolate its inhabitants, it very well might have continued to be lost in its deep concealment through an almost infinite range of years. That it never had been found since the Spaniards came into Mexico we were absolutely certain, for the outcry over so great a wonder would have echoed throughout the whole of the civilized world. Finally, in the name of the city, Culhuacan, we had a substantial fact which connected the extraordinary story that had come to us so strangely with matters within our own knowledge. For this name not only is given in the Aztec traditions as that of the sacred spot in which their god Huitzilopochtli spoke to them, but survives until this present day in the name of the village that lies at the foot of the sacred mountain, in the Valley of Mexico, called by the Aztecs the Hill of Huitzachtla, and by the Spaniards the Hill of the Star—on which, at the end of each cycle of fifty-two years, the sacred fire was renewed. Surely it was no accident that had caused the name Culhuacan to be given to this village on this sacred spot; rather must it have been so named by the elect few to whom the secret was known as a perpetual reminder to them of the reserve of men and treasure upon which they could draw should danger threaten their country and their gods.
"No doubt," said Fray Antonio, "what is here told of a secret record, known only to the priests, supplies one of the lapses in the pictured history of the Aztec migration; but as we know not which break in the history is thus filled in, we have no clew whatever as to the whereabouts of this hidden place. Nor have we any clew as to the whereabouts of the mission of Santa Marta, whence we might go onward, guided by the carvings upon the rocks, until we found at last the place we sought. The mission of Santa Marta, where my brother Francisco long ago ministered, might have been anywhere in all Mexico; and being so small a mission, and enduring for so short a period, it is not likely that any record of it anywhere has been preserved. Had we but the map and the token of which my brother writes, our way would be clear; without these guides it well may be a toilsome way and long. Yet do I know," Fray Antonio continued, earnestly, "that I shall find this hidden city. In my soul is a strong and glad conviction that God has called me to the most glorious work of carrying to the heathen dwelling there the message of His saving love. He has worked one miracle already to call me to this duty; in His own good time and way I doubt not that He will work another miracle by which I may be set in the way of its accomplishment."
As Fray Antonio spoke of the map of the Aztec migration, a hope came into my heart that, as I considered it, seemed surely to be a certainty. In the excitement of listening to this strange letter—concerning which not the least strange matter was, that between the writing and the reading of it had passed three hundred and fifty years—I had forgotten my own discoveries, and that my purpose was to show him the pictured paper and the curious piece of gold. But as he spoke of the migration this matter was called to my mind suddenly; and then in an instant the conviction thrilled through me that the clew which would lead us to the hidden city was in my possession.
"God already has worked that other miracle," I cried, joyfully. "Here is the token, and here is the map that shows the way!" and, so speaking, I opened the snake-skin bag that I had taken from the breast of the dead Cacique and drew forth its precious contents.
For myself, I needed no additional proof that here was all that was needful to guide us to the hidden city. Yet was I glad that in so grave a matter we should have added to absolute conviction the weight of absolute proof. And this we had most clearly; for Fray Antonio, cooler than I, compared the drawing in the letter with the engraving upon the piece of gold, and found the two to be essentially identical, save that the engraving lacked the sign of the arrow pointing the way.
"And now," I cried, enthusiastically, "for such discoveries in archaeology as the world has never known!"
"And now," said Fray Antonio, speaking slowly and reverently, "for such glorious work in God's service as has been granted but rarely to man to do!"
THE ENGINEER AND THE LOST-FREIGHT MAN.
That the weight of a strange destiny was pressing upon us, neither Fray Antonio nor I for a moment doubted. It was something more than chance, we believed, that had brought us together, and that thereafter, by such extraordinary means, had put into our hands, in places far asunder, yet at almost precisely the same moment, these two ancient papers; either of which, alone, would have been meaningless; but the two of which, together, pointed clearly the way to a discovery so wonderful that the like of it was not to be found in all the history of the world.
At the moment that I comprehended how great an adventure was before me, and what honorable fame I was like to get out of it, I determined that I would keep the whole matter secret from my fellow-archaeologists until I could tell them, not what I intended doing, but what I actually had done—for I had no desire to divide with any one the honors that fairly would be mine when I published to the world the result of my investigation of this hidden community that had survived, uncontaminated, from prehistoric times. Having this strong desire within me, it was with great pleasure that I acceded to Fray Antonio's request that our project of discovery should not be published abroad. His motive for secrecy, as I presently perceived, was bred of the one single strain of human weakness that ever I found in him. Even as I was determined that no other archaeologist should share with me the honor of discovering this primitive community, so was Fray Antonio determined that to him alone should belong the glory of carrying into that region of dense heathen darkness the radiant splendor of the Christian faith. If this were sin on his part, it certainly was a sin that he shared with many saints long since in Paradise. Even the blessed Saint Francis himself, when, at the Council of Mats, he portioned out among his followers the heathen world that they might preach everywhere Christianity, reserved for himself Syria and Egypt; in the hope that in one or the other of those countries he might crown his labors by suffering a glorious martyrdom. And perhaps in this matter Fray Antonio was not unmindful of the example set him by the great founder of the Order to which he belonged.