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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Aztec Treasure-house - Chapter 19. The Seeds Of Revolt
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The Aztec Treasure-house - Chapter 19. The Seeds Of Revolt Post by :gopinathindia Category :Long Stories Author :Thomas A. Janvier Date :May 2012 Read :3369

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The Aztec Treasure-house - Chapter 19. The Seeds Of Revolt


For the sake of brevity I shall summarize here the statement that Tizoc made to us, and for the sake of clearness I shall add to it some facts of minor importance which came to our knowledge later--thus at once exhibiting the whole of the troublous condition of affairs that stirred dangerously the people dwelling in the Valley of Aztlan at the time of our coming among them.

At this period the political situation, as I may term it, was exceedingly critical. Three powerful factions were in existence; and peace was preserved only by the generally diffused belief that open revolt, on the part of either one, would be crushed instantly by a temporary coalition of the other two. The beginning of this unpleasantly volcanic condition of affairs dated back six cycles--that is to say, a little more than three hundred years--and was the direct result of a violation of the law set forth by the wise King Chaltzantzin when the colony was founded, by which it was ordained that all among the Aztlanecas who, on coming to maturity, were weaklings or cripples, should be put to death.

Being once suggested, the repeal or the modification of this law found many advocates. Naturally, the change was urged most strongly by all those whose sons and daughters were sickly or malformed, and so were doomed to die in the very blossom of their years. It was urged by the nobles because the more astute among them perceived the possibility of so manipulating it that it would result in the creation of a distinctively servile class; and the priests urged it because they also perceived a way by which it might be made to provide more victims for sacrifice to the gods. And so it came to pass, through the influence of these diverse elements operating together towards a common end, that the law which Chaltzantzin had promulgated was set aside, and a law was made that embodied the provisions demanded by the nobles and the priests, whereby should be created a new social class; which class, because of the infirmities of those composing it, received the name of Tlahuicos--"men turned towards the earth." Thereafter, the sickly and the crippled were not slain upon reaching maturity, but then passed out from the class into which they were born and became servitors. And when the first cycle was ended after the making of this new law, and thenceforward every year, one in every ten among the Tlahuicos was taken by lot to be sacrificed to the gods--for the priests craftily had gained the barbarous concession that they demanded by placing the first fulfilment of it at a time so far in the future that all concerned in the granting of it would be dead in the course of nature before it became operative. Yet to the end that those of noble birth might be saved from the ignominy of servitude, it was provided that children which by reason of natural infirmity were doomed to become slaves, might be saved from that fate upon coming to maturity by being then surrendered by their parents to the priests for sacrifice. Other grace there was none. Excepting between death and slavery, there was no choice for the weak or the malformed.

As time passed on, the Tlahuicos, marrying among themselves, had greatly increased in numbers; and so far from remaining a weakling race, the had become, by reason of their frugal mode of living and of the wholesome, hearty labor in which they constantly were engaged, exceptionally hale and strong; the weak and crippled among them being mainly those who each year, because of such infirmities, were added to their number from the higher ranks of the community. And thus was collected together material as dangerous as it was inflammable; for the fresh additions to the Tlahuicos kept constantly alive in the whole body a spirit of moody discontent, that time and again, at the season when the lots were cast by which one in every ten was doomed to death, was fanned into armed mutiny. These revolts ever had as their single object escape from the valley; which fact made evident enough the need for the elaborate system of defensive works by which the outlet of the valley was barred.

From the Tlahuicos were drawn the house-servants of the rich; and by those of this wretched class who were stout of body all the heavy labor of the community was carried on--the tilling of the fields, the quarrying of stone, the building of houses and bridges and roads, the felling of timber, the carriage of all burdens, and the working of the great gold-mine, concerning which I shall hereafter have more to tell. And all of these people were held in absolute bondage, either as the serfs of individual owners or as the property of the State; for each year the new accessions to the class were sold publicly at an auction to whoever would bid the most for them; and those which none would buy, being too infirm to be useful as laborers, the State laid claim to--but only that they might be kept alive until such time as they should be needed by the priests for sacrifice.

Yet out of this custom of sale, that on the face of it was harsh and barbarous, some slight mitigation of the cruelty of the system had come; for the practice had grown up of permitting parents to buy back their own children--nominally thereafter holding them as slaves--and so to save them at a single stroke from both death and servitude. One strong cause of the hatred of the Priest Captain Itzacoatl, Tizoc said (and we wondered then at the trembling in his voice, and at the evidently deep emotion that overcame him as he spoke), was that he had but lately forbidden the continuance of this practice, by which only the letter of the law was obeyed.

Until the promulgation by the Priest Captain of this decree, the priesthood, the military aristocracy, and the mass of the army had constituted, politically, one single class. The civil government was vested in a body styled the Council of the Twenty Lords, the members of which originally had been chosen by Chaltzantzin, and from him had received authority, in perpetuity, to fill the vacancies which death would cause among them by selecting the wisest of each new generation to be Councillors. While the composition of this body was distinctively aristocratic--for its members were either military nobles or priests of a high grade--there was in it also an element of democracy; for both the priesthood and the army were recruited from all classes of society (saving only the servile class), and among the Twenty Lords there were always men who had risen from obscurity to distinction solely by their own merit. Over this body the Priest Captain presided; yet was his will superior to that of the Council, for he was the visible representative of the gods, and so centred in his own person their high authority and dreadful power.

Until the time of Itzacoatl, each successive priest captain, in the long line that here had ruled, had exercised so discreetly his theocratic rights, and in all ways had shown such wisdom in his government, that no conflict had arisen between the temporal and the spiritual powers. And thus wisely had Itzacoatl governed in the early years of his reign. But as age stole upon him--and he now was a very old man--his rule had grown more and more tyrannical. He had drawn about him certain priests for intimate advisers, and these constantly led him to run counter to the will of the Twenty Lords, not only in matters about which divergent opinions reasonably might be held, but in matters wherein the will of the whole people was at one with the advice that the Council gave. Thus, gradually, two parties were built up within the State: that of the priests, which strongly seconded the disposition that Itzacoatl manifested to make the spiritual power absolutely supreme, and that of the nobles and people of the higher class, which sought to maintain the Council's ancient rights in matters temporal. In regard to these two factions, the affiliations of the army were so nicely balanced that neither side ventured to resort to open violence--for each dreaded that the other would turn the scale against it by invoking the aid of the servile class. Thus it was that the despised Tlahuicos actually held the balance of power. Yet of this fact, Tizoc declared--but I noticed that just here there was a curious hesitancy about his speech, as though he knew more than he was willing to disclose--the Tlahuicos were but dimly conscious; while they did know certainly that in the present state of affairs any attempt on their part to rise in mutiny would be met, as it had been met many times in the past, by all the forces of both factions of their superiors overwhelmingly united against them.

But the bond that was stronger than all others in holding together this community, in which, beneath the surface, were working such potent elements of disintegration, was the loyal resolve pervading it to execute the mission to which its members were destined when they were set apart from the remainder of their race a thousand years before. Excepting only among the Tlahuicos--who, in the nature of things, could have no share in it--there had ever been among all classes a fervent longing for the summons that should call them forth to aid their brethren in the battling with a foreign foe that Chaltzantzin had prophesied. And by reason of this loyalty to a lofty purpose the open rupture that assuredly otherwise would have come had been thus far restrained. Honor forbade, Tizoc declared, that by falling to warring among themselves they should put in jeopardy their power to respond instantly to the summons that might at any instant come.

It was therefore with a profound and solemn interest--for the grave import of it was plain to him--that Tizoc, having ended his own statement, questioned us as to the full meaning of the words which we had spoken when first we entered the valley: that the prophecy of Chaltzantzin long since had been fulfilled, and that now, having in its appointed time miscarried, the summons would never come.

With awe, and in sorrowful silence, he listened as Fray Antonio and I told him how exactly the prophecy had been verified by the coming of the Spaniards, and by their conquest and enslavement of the Mexicans; yet was he cheered again as our narrative continued, and he learned of the brave fight for freedom that his brethren had made, and of the happy success that had crowned it in the end. Of the period between the achievement of independence and recent years we said but little--it is not a period of which those whose feeling towards the Mexicans is friendly have much desire to talk--contenting ourselves with emphasizing the fact that the race so long oppressed, having risen successfully against its oppressors, remained independent under a ruler of its own blood.

To that part of our narrative in which we told how we had gained knowledge of the hidden city of Colhuacan, and possession of the token of summons, Tizoc gave but little heed. It was evident that his mind was engrossed with consideration of the more important matters of which we had told him, and of the direct bearing that they had upon the troubled condition of affairs in which his own people were involved. Seeing which, we left him to his own thoughts while we talked of these same matters among ourselves.

Rayburn, in his quick, clear-headed way, grasped the situation promptly and accurately. "About the size of it is," he said, "that we've knocked the false work right from under everything that these folks have been building for the whole thousand years that they have been living here; and what they've built isn't strong enough to stand alone. As Young says, it's a cold day for the Priest Captain because we have got hold of his boss miracle; but it's still colder weather for him because the news that we have brought makes it all right for the crowd that wants to fight him to go right ahead and do it; and I guess they will do it, too, as soon as they get the fact fairly into their heads that there no longer is a chance of their being called off in the middle of their row. Unless I am very much mistaken, we shall see some pretty lively times in this valley inside of the next thirty days."

"And unless _I'm mistaken," Young struck in, "th' Colonel here will be about th' first man t' take off his coat--that is, th' thing that I suppose he thinks is a coat--an' sail in. I don't know just what he's got against th' Priest Captain, except that he seems t' be a sort of pill on gen'ral principles, but I'm sure that he's down on him from th' word go. From what th' Colonel says, I judge that his crowd has a pretty good chance of comin' out on top--for th' other crowd seems t' be made up for th' most part of parsons; an' parsons, as a rule, haven't much fight in 'em. What we'd better do it t' tie t' th' Colonel, an' when we've helped him an' his friends t' wallop th' other fellows they'll be so much obliged to us that they'll let us bag all th' treasure we want an' clear out. An' that reminds me, Professor--we haven't heard anything about any treasure so far. Just ask th' Colonel if there really is one. If there isn't, I vote for pullin' out before th' row begins. It's as true of a fight as it is of a railroad--that runnin' it just for th' operatin' expenses don't pay."

Tizoc answered my question on this head somewhat absently, for he evidently was debating within himself some very serious matter; but his answer was of a sort that Young found entirely satisfactory. In the heart of the city, he said, was the Treasure-house that Chaltzantzin had builded there; and within it the treasure remained that Chaltzantzin had stored away. What it consisted of, nor the value of it, he could not tell. The Treasure-house was also the Great Temple; and of the treasure only the Priest Captain had accurate knowledge. In the Treasure-house, Tizoc added, was stored the tribute that the people paid annually, and the metal that was taken from the great mine. This metal was the most precious of all their possessions, he said, for from it their arms were made, and also their tools for tilling the earth, and for working wood and stone. It had not always been of such value, for it naturally was too soft to serve these useful purposes; but at a remote period, until which time their implements had been made of stone, a wise man among them had discovered a way by which it could be hardened, and from that time onward the people dwelling in the valley had prospered greatly, because they thus were enabled to practise all manner of useful arts.

"And what is this metal like?" I asked, with much interest, for my archaeological instinct instantly was aroused by hearing summed in these few words a matter of such momentous importance as the transition of a people to the age of metal from the age of stone.

"It is like this," Tizoc answered, simply, disengaging as he spoke a heavy bracelet from his arm, "only this remains in its natural state of softness. To be of great value it first must be made hard."

I had no doubt in my own mind as to what this metal was, but I knew that Rayburn, who was an excellent metallurgist, could pronounce upon it authoritatively.

"Is this gold?" I asked, handing him the bracelet.

"Certainly it is," he answered, in a moment--"and it seems to be entirely without alloy."

"Then your guess about the bright, hard metal that has been such a puzzle to us," I continued, "was the right one; it is hardened gold:" and I repeated to him what Tizoc had told me.

Rayburn was deeply interested. "Scientifically, this is a big thing, Professor," he said. "These fellows can give points to our metallurgists. But for our purposes, of course, what they've caught on to here has no practical value. Gold has got to come down a good deal, or phosphor-bronze has got to go up a good deal, before it will pay us to turn gold dollars into axle-bearings and cogs and pinions. But it's mighty interesting, all the same. Fusing with silicium would give a gold-silicide that might fill the bill for hardness; but I can't even make a guess as to how they do the tempering. Ask the Colonel what the whole process is, Professor. It will make a capital paper to read before the Institute of Mining Engineers at their next meeting."

As I turned to Tizoc to ask this question, I perceived that his regard was fixed upon something on the other side of the court-yard, and in his look most tender love was blended with a deep melancholy. Following the direction of his gaze, I saw that its object was a beautiful boy, a lad of twelve or fourteen years old, who was half hidden behind some flowering shrubs, and from this cover was peering at us curiously.

"It is my Maza--my little son," Tizoc said, as he turned and saw the direction in which I looked. And then he called to the boy to come to him. For a moment Maza hesitated, but when the call was repeated he came out from behind the screen of flowers and so towards us across the court-yard; and as he advanced I perceived that he was lame. In his face was the look of wistfulness which cripples so often have, and there was a rare sweetness and intelligence in the expression of his large brown eyes. In a moment I understood why it was that Tizoc resented so bitterly the abrogation by the Priest Captain of the custom that had permitted parents to buy back their crippled children, and so to save them from slavery; and a selfish feeling of gladness came into my heart as this light dawned upon me--for I knew that when we faced the danger that threatened us (a most real danger, for our coming into the valley was nothing less than a deadly blow at Itzacoatl's supremacy) we surely would find in Tizoc an ally and a friend.

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