THE CONQUERORS OF CENTRAL AMERICA, I

In exchange for some worthless European trinkets, the Spaniards obtained some Yucca bread, copal gum, pieces of gold worked into the shape of fishes or birds, and garments made of cotton, which had been woven in the country. As the natives who had been taken on board at Cape Cotoche did not perfectly understand the language spoken by the inhabitants of Tabasco, the stay here was but of short duration, and the ships again put to sea. They passed the mouth of the Rio Guatzacoalco, the snowy peaks of the San Martin mountains being seen in the distance, and they anchored at the mouth of a river which was called Rio de las Banderas, from the number of white banners displayed by the natives to show their friendly feeling towards the new comers.

When Grijalva landed, he was received with the same honour as the Indians paid to their gods; they burnt copal incense before him, and laid at his feet more than 1500 piastres' worth of small gold jewels, as well as green pearls and copper hatchets. After taking formal possession of the country, the Spaniards landed on an island calledLos Sacrificios Island, from a sort of altar which they found there placed at the top of several steps, upon which lay the bodies of five Indians sacrificed since the preceding evening; their bodies were cut open, their hearts torn out, and both legs and arms cut off. Leaving this revolting spectacle, they went to another small island, which received the name of San Juan, being discovered on St. John's Day; to this they added the word Culua, which they heard used by the natives of these shores. But Culua was the ancient name for Mexico, and this Island of San-Juan de Culua is now known as St. John d'Ulloa.

Grijalva put all the gold which he had collected on board one of the ships and despatched it to Cuba, while he continued his exploration of the coast, discovered the Sierras of Tusta and Tuspa, and collected a large amount of useful information regarding this populous country; on arriving at the Rio Panuco, he was attacked by a flotilla of native vessels, and had much difficulty in defending himself against their attacks.

This expedition was nearly over, for provisions were running short, and the vessels were in a very bad state, the volunteers were many of them sick and wounded, and even had they been in good health their numbers were too small to make it safe to leave them among these warlike people, even under the shelter of fortifications. Besides, the leaders of the expedition no longer acted in concert, so after repairing the largest of the vessels in the Rio Tonala, where Bernal Diaz boasts of having sown the first orange-pips which were ever brought to Mexico, the Spaniards set out for Santiago in Cuba, where they arrived on the 15th of November, after a cruise of seven months, not forty-five days, as M. Ferdinand Denis asserts in the Biographie Didot, and as M. Ed. Charton repeats in his Voyageurs Anciens et Modernes.

The results obtained from this voyage were considerable. For the first time the long line of coast which forms the peninsula of Yucatan, the Bay of Campeachy, and the base of the Gulf of Mexico, had been explored continuously from cape to cape. Not only had it been proved beyond doubt that Yucatan was not an island as they had believed, but much and reliable information had been collected with regard to the existence of the rich and powerful empire of Mexico. The explorers had been much struck with the marks of a more advanced civilization than that existing in the Antilles, with the superiority of the architecture, the skilful cultivation of the land, the fine texture of the cotton garments, and the delicacy of finish of the golden ornaments worn by the Indians. All this combined to increase the thirst for riches among the Spaniards of Cuba, and to urge them on like modern Argonauts to the conquest of this new golden fleece. Grijalva was not destined to reap the fruits of his perilous and at the same time intelligent voyage, which threw so new a light on Indian civilization. The sic vos, non vobis of the poet was once again to find an exemplification in this circumstance.