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a mountain. The force of the waters was such that in a very short time they were carried fifty leagues away from their companions. They were next caught in a countercurrent, and before them stretched a vast extent of sea, running contrary to the waves coming from the west; so that it seemed as though two great rivers were flowing in opposite directions and coming into conflict with one another. The current flowing from the south seemed to resist, as does the first owner of the soil resist enemies who seek to invade his property.
Along the horizon directly in front of them the Spaniards beheld the land, but neither to the right nor the left was anything visible. They drifted about in this terrible whirlpool, and were driven first in one direction and then in another by waves which threatened to engulf them. All hope was lost and doubt prevailed; finally they decided to sail back over the current that had brought them thither. They set all their sails and even used oars, but it was with the greatest difficulty they could master the current; and when they thought they had advanced two leagues, they found that in the course of one night they had been carried back four. With the help of God, they succeeded, but they had lost twenty-two days in the course of this little maritime expedition. Rejoining their companions they recounted what had happened, believing that they had found the extremity of the land of Coluacan, and of the supposed continent. They imagined the land sighted in the distance was a part of our continent or was joined to the southern part of the coast of Baccalaos, of which I have spoken at length in these Decades. This point is still doubtful, Most Holy Father; some day it will be explained. Meanwhile I report what has been related to me.
While Alaminos and Francisco de Montejo sought to discover these secrets, the king of that country, called Muteczuma, sent one of his vassals called Quitalbitor1 who commanded a fortified town of which we have spoken, bearing a number of valuable presents, some beautifully wrought in gold and silver with precious stones. It was decided to send them to our sovereign. The project was also formed, but without consulting Diego Velasquez, the governor of Cuba, of founding a colony. The opinions on this point were divided, some believing that they had not the right to proceed thus, while others,—and they were the majority,—seduced by the artifices of Cortes, held the contrary view. It is in this connection that many stories circulated about the disloyalty of Cortes,—a thing to be discussed at length later on. The decision reached was that no heed would be paid to the governor, and that the matter would be referred to a higher tribunal, that is to say, the King. The Spaniards applied to the cacique Quitalbitor for food. The site chosen for the colony was in the midst of a fertile tract twelve leagues distant from that place, and the commander Cortes, was elected governor.
Cortes likewise appointed officials for the colony about to be founded.2 Portocarrero and Montejo, about whom enough has been already said above, were chosen to carry the gifts to our King, the Emperor, with the pilot Alaminos to accompany them. Four great leaders and two women, who, according to the national usage, were assigned for their service, accompanied them. These natives are of a brownish colour. Both sexes pierce the ears and wear golden pendants in them, and the men pierce the extremity of the under lip, down to the roots of the lower teeth. Just as we wear precious stones mounted in gold upon our fingers, so do they insert pieces of gold the size of a ring into their lips. This piece of gold is as large as a silver Carolus, . and thick as a finger. I cannot remember ever to have seen anything more hideous; but they think that nothing more elegant exists under the lunar circle. This example proves the blindness and the foolishness of the human race: it likewise proves how we deceive ourselves. The Ethiopian thinks that black is a more beautiful colour than white, while the white man thinks the opposite. A bald man thinks himself more handsome than a hairy one, and a man with a beard laughs at him who is without one. We are influenced by passions rather than guided by reason, and the human race accepts these foolish notions, each country following its own fancy. In deference to another's opinion, we prefer foolish things, while we reject solid and certain ones.
'The messengers of Montezuma were Teuthlili, governor of Ouetlaxtla, and Quitlalpitoc who had discharged a similar mission to Grijalva. Consult Las Casas, Historia de las Indias, torn, iii., p. 119; Torquemada, Monorchia Indiana, torn, iv., cap. xvii.; Orozco y Berra, Conquista de Mexico, torn, iv., p. 139; MacNutt, Fernando Cortes, cap. iii.
* Read in this connection the letter of the magistrates of Vera Cruz, included under the title of First Letter in the Cartas de Relation; MacNutt, Letters of Cortes; Prescott's Conquest of Mexico, tom. L, cap. v.; Orozco y Berra, Conquista de Mexico, torn. iv.
It is already known whence the natives obtain their gold; but the Spaniards were amazed to learn the whereabouts of their silver, which comes from lofty mountains. The summits of these mountains are covered with perpetual snow, and are only perceptible at certain periods of the year because of dense clouds and fogs. It appears therefore, that the plains and lower mountains produce gold, while silver is found in the rugged mountains and their colder valleys. So it is also with copper, of which war-hatchets and hoes for digging the ground are made, but neither iron nor steel. Let us now examine the gifts sent to the King, and we will begin with the books.*
1 A Flemish coin of the period.
• A list of the various articles of value taken to Spain by Portocarrero and Montejo may be found in the first volume of Letters of Cortes, at the end of the first letter; also in Gomara, Cronica, pp. 321-323.
WE have already stated that these natives possess books. The messengers sent from the new country of Colhuacan brought a number of these books amongst other presents. The pages on which the natives write are made of the thin bark of trees, of the quality found in the first, outer layer.1 It may be compared to those scales, found, not precisely in the willow or the elm, but rather in the edible palm-leaves, in which tough filaments cross one another in the upper layer, just as in nets the openings and narrow meshes alternate. These membranes are smeared with a tough bitumen, after which they are limbered and given the desired form; they are stretched out at will and when they are hardened, a kind of plaster or analogous substance is spread over them. I know Your Holiness has handled some of these tablets, on which sifted plaster similar to flour was sprinkled. One may write thereon whatever comes into one's mind, a sponge or a cloth sufficing to rub it out, after which the tablet may be again used. The natives also used fig leaves for making small books, which the stewards of important households take with them when they go to market. They write down their purchases with a little point, and afterwards erase them when they have been entered in their books. They do not fold the leaves into four but extend them to a length of several cubits: they are square-shaped. The bitumen which holds them together is so tough and flexible that, when bound in a wooden cover, they appear to have been put together by the hand of a skilled binder. When the book is wide open, both pages covered with characters are visible, and these first two pages conceal two others, unless they are pulled out to their whole length; for although there is one single leaf, many such leaves are fastened together. The characters are entirely different from ours, and are in the forms of dice, dots, stars, lines, and other similar signs, marked and traced as we do-our letters. They almost resemble the hieroglyphics of the ancient Egyptians. Among the figures may be distinguished those of men and animals, especially those of kings or great lords. Thus it is permissible to assume that they report the deeds of each king's ancestors. And do we not in our own times see engravers of general histories or fabulous stories draw pictures of what is told in the books, in order to entice those who see them to buy the volume? The natives are also very clever in manufacturing wooden covers for the leaves of these books. When these books are closed, they seem to differ in no respect from our own. It is supposed that the natives preserve in these books their laws, the ritual of their sacrifices and ceremonies, astronomical observations, and the precepts of agriculture.1
1 The fibrous leaves of the maguey were used for making writing tablets. See Humboldt's, Vie des Cordillieres, p. 53; Prescott, Orozco y Berra, Clavigero, Bustamante, and other writers on ancient Mexican civilisation, describe the paper used and the manner of its preparation.
1 Unfortunately for American history there seems to have been no one amongst the band of Cortes who perceived the importance of preserving these records. Many of the first missionaries who followed in the wake of the conquerors regarded the systematic destruction of everything calculated to perpetuate the heathen belief and practice they were bent upon obliterating, as essential to their success. Posterity has deplored their indiscriminating zeal. Just what loss'history has suffered by the destruction of books and records decreed by the Bishops, Fray Juan Zumarraga in Mexico and Fray Diego Landa in Yucatan, is problematical. It seems certain that the Mexicans knew surprisingly little about the origin and early history of their tribes; there was no one in Yucatan when the Spaniards