صور الصفحة
النشر الإلكتروني

cat, and had the snout of a fox, its colour being silvered, and half its body covered with scales; it was fitted out like an equerry who arms his horse when about to go into battle. This animal moves very little, and if he sees a man in the distance, he curls himself up like a porcupine or a turtle. This one was captured and brought on shipboard, where it lived with the other domestic animals; but when the troubles began and the provisions gave out, the abandoned creature died.

This alguazil acquits Cortes of the suspicion of having poisoned Garay, though he is very depressed, for he shared all the latter's troubles. According to him, Garay died of what the doctors call a pleurisy. While the captain and his dejected companions were wandering through the region that separates the great Panuco River from the Rio de las Palmas, they enquired of the natives what existed beyond the lofty mountains which bounded the horizon, and from which both their country and the ocean were simultaneously visible. They answered that beyond those mountains existed vast plains and great cities ruled by warlike caciques.

While we were at Mantua Carpentana, commonly called Madrid, the alguazil stated by way of comparison that those great kingdoms are separated from the maritime provinces just as the provinces of Madrid and Calatrava are separated by a mountain range from the countries of Valladolid and Burgos, where, as you know, there are beautiful cities and important fortresses, such as Segovia, Medina del Campo, Avila, Salamanca, and many others. The alguazil also knows Italy, and said that the Apennines divided Milan from Tuscany in the same manner.

When asked how Cortes dressed, what etiquette was used in his presence, by what title he wished to be saluted, what gifts he exacted, what treasures he is believed to have amassed, and whether he had seen that engine of war, the golden culverin, about which so much has been said, Hernan replied as follows: "Cortes usually dresses in black silk; his attitude is not proud, except that he likes to be surrounded by a large number of servants,—I mean intendants, stewards, secretaries, valets, ushers, chaplains, treasurers, and all such as usually accompany a great sovereign.

"Wherever he goes, he takes with him four caciques on horseback. The magistrates of the town and soldiers armed with maces to exercise justice precede him. As he passes by, every one prostrates himself, according to an old custom. He accepts salutations affably, and prefers the title of Adelantado to that of Governor, both dignities having been conferred upon him by the Emperor. The suspicion that Cortes did not pay homage to the Emperor, commonly entertained by our courtiers, is declared by this alguazil to be baseless; neither he nor anybody else has ever observed the smallest sign of treason in him. On the contrary, he has prepared and sent to the Emperor three caravels loaded with gold and silver, on one of which is the famous cannon or culverin, which the alguazil carefully examined, and which is of sufficient calibre to receive an orange, but the alguazil does not believe that it is all gold, as report has stated."


THERE is one amusing thing I will relate. In conformity with a ridiculous and simple usage, whenever the Spaniards traverse a country the native barbarians come out of their villages to meet them, bringing as many chickens as there are strangers; and these chickens are not smaller than our peacocks. If there are horsemen the natives, believing the horses eat meat, give as many chickens as there are animals. But Your Holiness should hear what clever artisans these barbarians, subdued for the Emperor by Cortes, are. Whatever they see they reproduce in painting, in metal work, or sculpture, so that it appears that they are in this respect in no degree inferior to the ancient Corinthians, who were able to reproduce nature in marble, ivory, or in any other material.

According to the alguazil's account, Cortes has in his possession great treasures, though less than report assigns to him; for he maintains at his own cost numerous captains and soldiers, usually more than a thousand horsemen and four thousand foot-soldiers. He sometimes uses these troops to maintain his authority over the recently conquered people, sometimes to explore new countries. He has even built vessels on that South Sea, in order to sail towards the equator, which is only twelve degrees distant from the shore where he has founded his settlement. He hopes to visit the islands near the equator or below it and to find much gold and silver there, and new kinds of spices. He had already attempted this, but, embarrassed by his competitors, Diego Velasquez, viceroy of Cuba, Panfilo Narvaez, and finally Garay, he was supposed to have renounced his intention.

One example will serve to illustrate how tribute is everywhere collected. In the course of our narratives relative to Temistitan, addressed by us to the Sovereign Pontiff Leo X., uncle of Your Holiness, and to his successor Adrian, we have related how the omnipotent monarch Muteczuma was sovereign over numerous and different princes, who were themselves masters of great cities. Cortes has conquered them for the most part, because they refused to obey him, but he has installed in their office and kingdoms their sons, brothers, or other relatives of inferior birth, so that the people, seeing themselves governed by the representatives of the ancient dynasties, endure more easily the yoke.

Of these cities, the one nearest to the salt lake is called Tezcuco. It numbers about twenty thousand houses and is whiter than a swan, for all its houses are washed with white bitumen. They are so brilliant that any one, beholding them from a distance, might, unless forewarned, think he saw little hills covered with snow. Tezcuco is built in the form of a square, being three miles long and about the same breadth. Cortes designated a very young man, descended from the family of ancient rulers, as chief. Otumba is another town, a trifle smaller than Tezcuco. Cortes also placed there a mild, obedient chief, who was his godson, and had been baptised under the name of Fernando Cortes. The territory of this town is extensive, fertile, and traversed by rivers, whose sands gleam with gold. To escape a visit from the Spaniards, which cannot be made without disturbance, each of the caciques pays Cortes each year, according to agreement, sixty thousand gold pesos. We have stated that the value of the peso is equal to a ducat and a fourth. In addition they supply

VOL. II—23

products of the earth, maize, chickens, and wild animals which abound in the neighbouring mountains.

All the native leaders received the same treatment, that is to say, each one pays tribute according to his resources. Cortes allows most of the provinces to enjoy real liberty, without a king, and with their old customs maintained. The only exception he makes is the odious custom of human sacrifices, concerning which he had lively disputes with Muteczuma. Even these free provinces pay a certain tribute to Cortes; one called Guaxaca has rich gold deposits. It is seventy leagues distant from the royal city of the lakes. Locpoteca is another province, where the conditions are the same. Most of the other provinces pay their tributes in gold. Cortes has also reserved certain gold mines for the royal fisc, which he has worked by prisoners of war. When he sets them at liberty, they occupy themselves in agriculture or in industrial arts.

I cite one peculiar fact worthy of notice. The province of Guacinalgo1 is governed by a king bearing the same name. This prince, accompanied only by his mother, came to salute Cortes; but his hands were not empty. Slaves carried on their shoulders thirty thousand pieces of gold, which he presented to Cortes. You will learn, not without pleasure, how he paid his homage. He approached almost naked, although he possesses plenty of valuable clothing. But we understand that it is their custom for an inferior who approaches a powerful personage, to present himself poorly dressed, with bowed head, bending the knee and stammering when he speaks; this is in token of humility.

It will not be useless to hear what happy money they use; for they have money which I call happy, because they obtain it by merely scratching the earth, and because neither the envy of the avaricious nor the terrors of war cause it to return to its subterranean hiding-place, as

'Meaning Guachinango, situated 165 kilometres north of Mexico.

« السابقةمتابعة »