Dull are our years and hard
We dream no more of mighty days to be,
And we have lost through delving in the land
The wisdom of the sea.
Yet where beyond the sea the
And the trees talk of kings dead long ago,
Malinche sings among the giant ferns—
Ask of the birds—they know!
THE THUNDER BIRDS
“Glory is all very well,” said Juan de Saavedra to Pedro de Alvarado as the squadron left the island of Cozumel, “but my familiar spirit tells me that there is gold somewhere in this barbaric land or Cortes would not be with us.”
Alvarado’s peculiarly sunny smile shone out. He was a ruddy golden-haired man, a type unusual in Spaniards, and the natives showed a tendency to revere him as the sun-god. Life had treated him very well, and he had an abounding good-nature.
“It will be the better,” he said comfortably, “if we get both gold and glory. I confess I have had my doubts of the gold, for after all, these Indians may have more sense than they appear to have.”
“People often do, but in what way, especially?”
“Amigo, put yourself in the place of one of these caciques, with white men bedeviling you for a treasure which you never even troubled yourself to pick up when it lay about loose. What can be more easy than to tell them that there is plenty of it somewhere else—in the land of your enemies? That is Pizarro’s theory, at any rate.”
Saavedra laughed. “Pizarro is wise in his way, but as I have said, Cortes is our commander.”
“What has that to do with it?”
“If you had been at Salamanca in his University days you wouldn’t ask. He never got caught in a scrape, and he always got what he was after.”
“And kept it?”
“Is that a little more of Pizarro’s wisdom? No; he always shared the spoils as even-handedly as you please. But if any of us lost our heads and got into a pickle he never was concerned in it—or about it.”
“He will lose his, if Velasquez catches him. Remember Balboa.”
“Now there is an example of the chances he will take. Cortes first convinces the Governor that nobody else is fit to trust with this undertaking. Cordova failed; Grijalva failed; Cortes will succeed or leave his bones on the field of honor. No sooner are we fairly out of harbor than Velasquez tries to whistle us back. He might as well blow his trumpets to the sea-gulls. All Cortes wanted was a start. You will see—either the Governor will die or be recalled while we are gone, or we shall come back so covered with gold and renown that he will not dare do anything when we are again within his reach. Somebody’s head may be lost in this affair, but it will not be that of Hernan’ Cortes.”
The man of whom they were speaking just then approached, summoning Alvarado to him. Saavedra leaned on the rail musing.