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to them the importance of their achievement, if they succeeded in bringing back one of these Spaniards; and he warmly encouraged them, for he hoped that these men would furnish him with necessary information concerning all that region. The expedition started under favourable circumstances, and six days was the period fixed for awaiting their return. Two days in excess of that time passed, and still the messengers of Cozumel failed to appear; so it was conjectured that they had either been killed or captured. Ordaz therefore gave them up, and returned to Cortes at Cozumel. The latter was preparing to leave the island, having lost all hope of finding both the much desired Christians and the islanders of Cozumel who had been left behind, but a rough sea delayed him. This delay proved most fortunate, for a canoe, rowed by islanders and one of the Christian prisoners, was seen coming from the west coast of Yucatan. This man was called Geronimo de Aguilar; he had passed seven years of his life amongst the Yucatecans, and was a native of Encija in Andalusia. The joy with which they embraced may be imagined. Aguilar recounted his misfortunes and the massacre of his companions, while the others attentively listened. I think it will not be out of place nor distasteful to Your Beatitude, to describe how this catastrophe happened. I have spoken in my first books of a certain nobleman, Valdivia, whom the colonists of Darien on the gulf of Uraba on what is supposed to be a continent, had sent to the Admiral Columbus, Viceroy of Hispaniola, and to the Royal Council charged with the affairs of the supposed continent. His mission was to give notice that the colonists suffered from destitution, and it proved an unfortunate one for him. When off the southern coast of Cuba, Jamaica, or Hispaniola this unfortunate man was overtaken by a tempest in some sandy shallows, to which perilous shoals the Spaniards have given the name of Las Viboras; a name which is merited, for many ships have been lost there, like lizards in the coils of a viper's tail. The caravel was broken to pieces, and with great difficulty Valdivia and thirty of his companions succeeded in embarking in the shallop, destitute of oars or sails. These unfortunate creatures were buffeted about by the ocean currents. We have already told in our decades that there exists in these waters a perpetual current flowing towards the west. During thirteen days they drifted without knowing whither, nor did they find any food. Seven of them died of starvation, and furnsished food for the fishes. Finally they fell into the hands of a cacique who massacred Valdivia and some of his companions, sacrificing them in honour of his zemes, and afterwards eating them in company with his invited friends. These natives only eat enemies or strangers whom they catch by chance, abstaining at all other times from human flesh. Geronimo d'Aguilar and six of his companions were kept to be eaten three days later; but during the night they escaped from this cruel tyrant, breaking their bonds and taking refuge with a neighbouring cacique, before whom they presented themselves as suppliants. They were received, but as
slaves." * Valdivia, it will be remembered, was despatched by Balboa to carry ten thousand pesos of gold to the royal treasurer of IIispaniola, Miguel de Passamonte, and at the same time to solicit provisions, arms, and reinforcements for the colonists at 1)arien. Wrecked, as is here told, on the reefs off the coast of Jamaica, the ultimate fate of the two survivors of this luckless expedition was strange and not without a touch of romance. One of them, Gonzales Guerrero was adopted by the Indians of Yucatan, married a native woman, and became a captain of their warriors. He tattooed his face, pierced his ears and nose, and became in all respects one of them, even, so it was afterwards alleged, to the extent of taking part in their ritual cannibalism. He was supposed to have led the native troops in several engagements against the Spaniards, and when the letter was brought from Cortes, he refused to abandon his family and adopted
A very sad thing is told concerning the mother of Aguilar. When informed of the fate of her son, she suddenly became crazed by sorrow. She had vaguely heard that her son had fallen into the hands of barbarians who eat human flesh, and whenever she saw meat, either boiled or fixed on spits, she made the house ring with her cries, saying “This is the flesh of my son! Am I not the most unhappy of mothers?”
When Aguilar received the letter from Cortes delivered to him by the messengers from Cozumel, he informed the cacique, his master (who was called Taximarus), of the message brought him by the islanders, furnishing many particulars concerning the power of his sovereign and the qualities of those who had just landed: their courage, their kindness towards their friends, and their severity to those who rejected or despised their wishes. Taximarus was frightened and begged his slave to see that the Spaniards did not enter his territory with hostile intent, for he wished on the contrary to have them as his friends. Aguilar promised to secure him peace and even, in case of necessity, assistance and protection against his enemies. The cacique then decided to release Aguilar, and gave him as his companions three of his servants.
Rejoicing at the deliverance and return of Aguilar, whose services as interpreter would be most useful to him, Cortes left Cozumel. It now remains for us to describe the country they next visited, and what there happened to them.
Geronimo de Aguilar of Encija was in deacon's orders. He likewise came to enjoy some consideration and to exercise some influence among his captors. This was largely owing to his ascetic mode of life, especially his strict observance of his vow of chastity. Temptations were purposely thrown in his way, but his resistance was never broken, and he rose in the native estimation. His after life in Mexico was not a worthy sequel to his heroic conduct in captivity. He rendered valuable services to Cortes, and until Marina's gifts as an interpreter came into play, Aguilar was indispensable.
NDER the direction of the pilot Alaminos, the
U Spaniards reached the mouth of the river' formerly visited by Grijalva. Sand-banks obstruct its entrance, similar to those alleged to exist at the mouth of the Nile, when the etesian” winds are blowing. It was, therefore, impossible to enter the river with the brigantines, although higher up, the stream was navigable for caravels. Cortes landed two hundred soldiers, by means of the brigantines and the shallops of the caravels. Aguilar made peaceful overtures to the natives, who enquired what the Spaniards wanted. Geronimo answered “Food.” A large sandy square lay in front of the town, and the natives made the Spaniards understand that they should assemble there; after which they departed. Next day they returned, bringing eight of their chickens which resemble our peacocks, and are of the same size and taste, but are dark coloured. They also brought sufficient maize to feed ten hungry people. At the same time they intimated to the Spaniards to leave as quickly as possible; this, however, the latter refused to do. A large multitude of men gathered round them, repeatedly asking the intentions of those unknown navigators. Through the intermediary of Aguilar, the Spaniards answered that they wished peace and to trade for food and also gold if any was to be had. The barbarians answered that they wanted neither peace nor war, but that the strangers should leave unless they wished to be massacred to the last man. They then promised to bring provisions in the morning; but this was a falsehood, for three days passed during which the Spaniards remained camping on that shore and there passing the night, before the same small amount of food as formerly was brought them, with an intimation in the cacique's name to leave. The Spaniards answered that they wished to visit the town and required a larger supply of food. The barbarians refused and gathered about them muttering threats. The men being hungry and obliged to find food, Cortes landed his lieutenants with fifty men as reinforcements, who explored the country round about the town in different directions. The barbarians attacked and ill-treated one of these companies, but the others being near at hand came to their companions' assistance at the first sound of trouble. Meanwhile Cortes used the brigantines and shallops to land some cannon and had brought the rest of his men and sixteen horses on shore. In order to protect the coasts and to prevent the landing, the barbarians assembled, fully armed, letting fly their arrows and spears at the Spaniards, of whom they wounded about twenty who were taken off their guard. Cortes had the cannon fired at the enemy, who were frightened by the effect of the bullets and by the noise and flash. While they were still up to their knees in the water, the Spaniards pursued the disorderly natives and reached the town at the same time they did. The barbarians ran straight through the town and abandoned their houses. It is reported that this town extends along the banks of the river. I hardly dare say what its length is. The pilot Alaminos mentions a league and a half. It contains twenty-five thousand houses. His companions reduce this number and diminish its grandeur, though they agree
*The Tabasco River.
* Elesiae being mild winds blowing from the north-west, about the time of the summer solstice. Lucretius, x., 741.