I was the Serpent, the Sacred
Wolf, bear and fox
By the silent shores of river and lake
Tread softly, listening lest they wake
My voice that mocks
The rattle that falling bones will make
On barren rocks.
My banded skin is the voice
of the Priest—
I am the Drum!
I sound the call to the War-God’s feast
Till Tezcatlipoca’s power hath ceased
And the White Gods come
Out of the fire of the burning East—
Hear me, the Drum!
THE GODS OF TAXMAR
If the Fathers of the Church had ever been on the other side of the world, they would have made new rules for it.
So thought Jeronimo Aguilar, on board a caravel plying between Darien and Hispaniola. It was a thought he would hardly have dared think in Spain.
He was a dark thin young friar from the mountains near Seville. In 1488 his mother, waiting, as women must, for news from the wars, vowed that if God and the Most Catholic Sovereigns drove out the Moors and sent her husband home to her, she would give her infant son to the Church. That was twenty-four years ago, and never had the power of the Church been so great as it now was. When the young Fray Jeronimo had been moved by fiery missionary preaching to give himself to the work among the Indians, his mother wept with astonishment and pride.
But the Indies he found were not the Indies he had heard of. Men who sailed from Cadiz valiant if rough and hard-bitted soldiers of the Cross, turned into cruel adventurers greedy for gold, hard masters abusing their power. The innocent wild people of Colon’s island Eden were charged by the planters with treachery, theft, murderous conspiracy, and utter laziness. With a little bitter smile Aguilar remembered how the hidalgo, who would not dig to save his life, railed at the Indian who died of the work he had never learned to do. It was not for a priest to oppose the policy of the Church and the Crown, and very few priests attempted it, whatever cruelty they might see. Aguilar half imagined that the demon gods of the heathen were battling against the invading apostles of the Cross, poisoning their hearts and defeating their aims. It was all like an evil enchantment.
These meditations were ended by a mighty buffet of wind that smote the caravel and sent it flying northwest. Ourakan was abroad, the Carib god of the hurricane, and no one could think of anything thereafter but the heaving, tumbling wilderness of black waves and howling tempest and hissing spray. Valdivia, regidor of Darien, had been sent to Hispaniola by Balboa, the governor, with important letters and a rich tribute of gold, to get supplies and reinforcements for the colony. Shipwreck would be disastrous to Balboa and his people as well as to the voyagers.