The aztec treasure house, p.19
The Aztec Treasure-House,
OF OUR COMING INTO THE VALLEY OF AZTLAN.
So unexpectedly had we come upon these strangers, and so marvellous wasthe finding thus of the hidden tribe for which we had sought so long,that I could not but dread, as we advanced towards the Aztec warriors,lest I should wake suddenly and find that it all was a dream. And they,also, as it seemed to me, looked upon us doubtingly, and with somewhatof dread in their regard, as though uncertain whether we were beingsfrom another world, or men of flesh and blood like themselves.
Not until we were close upon them did further words--after that firstchallenge and answer--pass between us; and then the elder of the two,still making the peace-sign with his raised right hand, and speakingwith a trembling in his voice, as though deep emotion moved him, calledto us: "Have our brothers need of our strength? Bring ye the token thatsummons us to their aid?"
I should have been glad just then for opportunity to consult with mycompanions as to what answer I should make to these questions, for Iperceived that our position was a very critical one, and that even ourlives might depend upon the wisdom of my reply. For a moment I waited inthe hope that Fray Antonio would make answer; but as he remained silent,there was nothing for it but that I should take the hazard upon myself.Therefore, bringing forth the ancient piece of gold from the snake-skinbag--for so I had carried it constantly, even as the Cacique had donebefore me, and others before him, for more than three hundred years--Iheld it towards the man who had spoken, and said, firmly: "Here is thetoken of summons left behind him by Chaltzantzin; but we come not tocall you forth to battle, but to bring tidings that the fate which thatwise king and prophet foresaw for his people, long since was fulfilled.In the time appointed, the stranger foemen overcame and enslaved yourbrethren, bringing to pass that which Chaltzantzin foretold; and themessage that then was sent to call you forth to their aid reached younot, because even the wisdom of Chaltzantzin was powerless against thewill of the gods. Yet the gods desired not to destroy your brethren, butto punish them; and their punishment now is at an end. Once more arethey free, and once more is their ruler a wise and valiant man of theirown race. Therefore, the news which we bring you is not sorrowful, butglad."
While I was thus speaking, the ringing cries which at the first alarmhad sounded over all the valley grew louder and stronger; but as yet wesaw only the two men who at the first had confronted us--for we were ina deep recess in the mountain, whence the ground dropped away in front,so that the immediate foreground was hid from us, and we saw only somedistant meadows, and then a broad lake, and over this more meadows and asweep of heavy timber, and back of all great mountains rising againstthe clear blue sky.
But as my speech ended, and before those to whom it was addressed at allhad digested the wonder of it, and so hesitated in their reply, ahalf-dozen men and a woman or two came in sight in the narrow way beforeus, panting after their rapid ascent of the acclivity; and the calls ofothers pressing up the slope behind them sounded loudly, and in a verylittle while a crowd of a hundred or more pressed about us, all gazingat us and questioning us with a most eager surprise. For the most partthese seemed to be laborers from the near-by fields; for many of themcarried agricultural implements, and their bare legs and arms weresplashed with mud and were grimy of the soil. As for the look of them,save that the flowing garments of cotton cloth which the women wore wereembroidered in a fanciful fashion, I could not have distinguished thesepeople from the tallest and strongest of the Indians dwelling in the hotlands of the coast about Vera Cruz. The men, who wore only a clothtwisted about their loins, were as magnificent fellows as I ever saw.Every one of them was tall and straight, with broad shoulders andnarrow hips, and the muscles of their arms and legs stood out likecords. From Pablo, who was an unusually tall and well-formed lad, theydiffered only in the color of their skins--which were decidedly darkerthan his, as was to be expected in the case of men dwelling in thistropical region at the level of the sea.
Towards Pablo these people manifested a familiar curiosity quite unliketheir reverential manner towards the rest of us, who so obviously werenot of their own race. And Pablo was as much perplexed by theirquestions as they were by his answers; for never was a conversationcarried on so hopelessly at cross-purposes. Our boy, being spoken to byfolk who obviously were as entirely Mexicans as he was himself, and in atongue that practically was that which he had been born to--for theIndians dwelling in the Guadalajara suburb of Mexicalcingo, being thedirect descendants of a pure Aztec stock, speak the Nahua language verycorrectly--could not at all realize that he was at last among theancient race for which we had searched so long. It was his belief thatwe had come out, in accordance with Rayburn's forecast, into the coastcountry, and that the people around him were the ordinary dwellers inthe hot lands. And the Aztecs, knowing him to be one of themselves, nodoubt believed that he knew of the purpose for which they had been leftto dwell apart, and so plied him with questions concerning theirbrethren from whom through long ages they had been separated.
As their talk went on, getting the more involved with every questionand reply, a tendency towards ill-temper began to develop itself on eachside; for Pablo considered that these people, who professed to beignorant of so important a city as Guadalajara, were making game of him;and they were not less disposed to believe that he either was answeringthem falsely or that he was a fool. Fortunately, before any harm came ofthese misunderstandings, an interruption brought a temporary end totheir talk.
There was a stir among the crowd, and then an opening was made in it,through which came an elderly man wearing military trappings similar to,but much handsomer than those worn by the two warriors whom we had firstencountered; and it was obvious, from the air of deference with whichthese saluted him, that he was their superior officer. In spite of thedignity of his demeanor it was evident that he was greatly excited byour advent, and his voice quivered and broke a little as he asked us whowe were and whence we came. As I repeated what I had already told theguard, and showed the gold token, the expression upon his face was thatof extreme perplexity. That the gold token gave us a strong claim uponhis respect, almost upon his reverence, was apparent in his manner as Ishowed it to him; but the conditions under which it was presentedobviously rendered him very uncertain as to what action was proper forhim to take.
When I had finished my statement, and had returned the token to itsplace in the snake-skin bag (for the wisdom of carefully retaining thispotent talisman in our possession was evident), the officer turned tothe two warriors, and they conversed for a while in low tones apartfrom us. Of their talk I could catch only a few words, but several timesI heard repeated the name Itzacoatl, and frequent reference was made tothe Twenty Lords. I gathered, too, that the name of the officer wasTizoc, and that the name of the elder of the two warriors, a swarthyman, was Ixtlilton. In the mean time, out of respect to the officer, thecrowd had drawn away from us--being now swelled to very considerablenumbers--but those composing it gazed at us in wonder, and among themwas a steady murmur of low talk, like the buzzing of a hive of bees.
When his conference with the warriors was ended, Tizoc approached us,and with him came a younger man, who carried a roll of paper in hishand. The face of the officer still wore a troubled, doubtingexpression, and these feelings were expressed also in the tones of hisvoice as he spoke to us. "For the coming of the token from our lordChaltzantzin we who dwell in this Valley of Aztlan have waited throughmany ages," he said; "but the promise was given that the token shouldcome to us from our brethren in the time of their need, and should bebrought by those of our own race. But you tell us that the time of needlong since is past, and ye who bring the token are of a race that isstrange to us; and even this one among you who seems to be of ourbrethren speaks strangely of strange things. Had ye come in the way thatlong past was promised, there would have been no room for questioningyour right of entry here nor your authority over us; and I, who am theWarden of the Pass--being in right succession from him whom our lordChaltzantzin appoi
To this firm but courteous speech I was in the act of replying in fitterms of equal courtesy--for all that Tizoc had said was so reasonablethat no exception could be taken to it--when an outburst on Young's partinterrupted me.
"Hold on there, young fellow!" he cried. "I'll be shot if I'm goin' t'stand bein' made a fool of that way! If you can't make a better likenessof me than that, you'd better shut up shop an' go out of th' business."
I turned quickly, and saw Young standing beside Tizoc's attendant, andlooking half angrily and half laughingly at the sheet of paper that heheld in his hand. Fearful that some harm might come from Young'smaladroitness, I joined them quickly; and only a strong sense of thegravity of our situation restrained me from laughing outright as Ibehold the cause of his wrath. For the secretary, as I now perceived himto be, had made sketches in color of each member of our party; and whilethey all did violence to our vanity, that of Young--with a bald headout of all proportion to the size of his body, and with mostaggressively red hair--was so outrageous a caricature that there reallywas some justice in his resentment of it.
But this was not a time when resentment could be safely manifested, andI hurriedly explained to Young that these pictures, no doubt, were to betransmitted as a part of the report that Tizoc was about to make to theKing concerning us, and that he must find no fault with them.
"He's goin' t' send that thing t' th' King an' say it's me, is he? No,he's not--not by a jugful! See here, Professor! here's a photograph thatI had taken last spring in Boston. I meant t' give it to a girl before Icame away, but she went back on me an' I didn't. It's not much of aphotograph, but it don't look like a squash trimmed with red clover. Ifthey want to send anything, let 'em send that." And before I could stophim, Young had taken the photograph out of his pocket-book and hadhanded it to the secretary, with the remark, "Just say t' him,Professor, that he is t' give that t' th' King, an' tell him t' tell th'King that Mr. Seth Young, of Boston, sends it with his compliments."
After all, no harm came of this absurd performance, but rather good; forthe secretary exhibited the photograph to Tizoc, and both of them, andthe two warriors also, were lost in wonder at its marvellous likeness tothe original, and evidently held us in increasingly great respectbecause we were the possessors of such an extraordinary work of art.Young was a good deal chagrined, however, because the picture of himthat the secretary had drawn was forwarded as a part of Tizoc'sdespatches. He said that since he had set up a good likeness of himself,it wasn't the square thing to send the King a bad one.
When the secretary, bearing the despatches, had departed, Tizocrequested us to accompany him to the near-by guard-house, where we couldrefresh ourselves by bathing, and where food and drink would be providedfor us. This order, for such it was, we obeyed gladly; for we were bothweary and hungry, and the prospect of what Young described as a goodwash and a square meal after it, was very pleasing to us. A detachmentof men from the guard-house, accoutred in the same handsome fashion asIxtlilton and his companion, had arrived while the secretary'sportrait-work was in progress; and I observed that all of theseguardsmen (excepting only Ixtlilton, whose skin was dark,) were muchlighter in color and more gracious in bearing than the men in the crowdaround us. So marked, indeed, was this difference that they seemedscarcely to belong to the same race.
As we moved away through the opening that the crowd made for us, with aplatoon of guardsmen in advance, and another in our rear, Pablo touchedmy arm and was about to speak to me; but before his mouth could openthere sounded suddenly from the hollow way in the mountain behind us amighty bray. "Ah, the little angel!" Pablo cried. "Hearken to him,senor, calling to me." And so moved was Pablo by this evidence of ElSabio's affection that only my firm grasp upon his arm restrained himfrom attempting a dash through the guards to where the creature waspenned in by the metal bars.
Truly, there is no sound more terrifying to those who are strangers toit than the braying of an ass; therefore, I was not at all surprisedthat a very considerable part of the crowd incontinently took to itsheels; and I needed no better evidence of the bravery of the guardsmenwho composed our escort than the steadiness with which they faced aboutin readiness to meet whatever danger might come forth from the gap inthe mountain in the wake of this great roaring. Yet what they saw therewas only the mild face of the Wise One extended towards us through theopening in the bars.
To Tizoc, who was standing beside me, and who had not displayed even theslightest tremor of alarm as the appalling noise had broken upon us, Iexplained that the roaring creature was not harmful, but gentle andbiddable; and I begged that other of the bars might be removed, so thatit might come forth and join us. That he acceded instantly to my requestgave me a good opinion of his own faithfulness and honesty; for a man ofa suspicious and crafty nature assuredly would have believed that myrequest was but a trap laid for his destruction; and thereupon the barswere removed. And the truth of my words was made manifest, as El Sabiocame instantly to Pablo and received his caresses with every sign ofgentleness and affection. But even Tizoc did not disguise his wonderupon beholding this strange beast, for the largest four-footed creaturein all that valley, as he told me, was a little animal of the deerspecies, that was not much bigger than a hare. And when I bade Pablomount upon El Sabio's back, the look of surprise in Tizoc's face changedsuddenly to an expression of troubled doubt, in which was also alarm.Under his breath I heard him mutter, "Can it be that the prophecy willbe fulfilled?" But whatever the cause of his inward disturbance was, hespoke not of it, but turned once more forward, and gave the order tomarch.
THE FULFILMENT OF THE PROPHECY]
The crowd, seeing that no harm was like to come to them, pressed forwardonce more, and gazed with open-mouthed wonder--and also, as it seemed tome, with awe--at the prodigious spectacle which Pablo, gravely ridingupon the ass's back, presented to them. And so, with the guards beforeand behind us, we marched onward into the Valley of Aztlan.
The Aztec Treasure-House by Thomas A. Janvier / History & Fiction have rating 3.3 out of 5 / Based on20 votes